Thursday, April 21, 2011


Lately I've become very interested in shipwrecks.  I'm not sure why.  Once in awhile, though, the urge to learn more about shipwrecks just strikes me.  (I'm really missing the Shipwreck Central website right now; it went down last September.  It was a very informative site, and they had a fantastic interactive map of shipwrecks from all over the world, many of which included dive videos.)  Naturally, the most famous shipwrecks are the ones I've found the most on, including what is possibly the most famous and notorious of all, the RMS Titanic.

Perhaps it's because we recently passed the 99-year anniversary of the Titanic disaster.  It's almost surreal; I've grown up with an awareness of the great ship, whose collision with an iceberg and disastrous disappearance into the ocean early in the morning on April 15, 1912 led to an appalling loss of life and many important changes to maritime law.  After the sinking, she was not to be seen again until 1985 when a team led by Dr. Robert Ballard found her lying off the coast of Newfoundland; indeed, I'm told that many people thought that she'd never be found.  One of the world's worst peacetime disasters at sea, perhaps made all the more striking because of the safety features that had been built into the ship, the Titanic disaster has held people's imaginations for nearly a century now.

I was a couple of months from turning three years old when Ballard's team found the ship's wreck, but I remember the excitement (I found out about the ship's discovery while watching TV with my parents), though I had no idea what it meant.  All I knew was that something important had happened.  And of course, what nearly-three-year-old really needs that much of an excuse to get excited about something? ;)  I kept hearing names that meant nothing to me, like Alvin and Jason, and although my memories of that time are kind of hazy (I was, after all, very young), I do remember feeling like something very important had just happened.  Maybe I even knew, on some level, at least, that a certain fascination with this disaster would stay with me for the rest of my life.

Or maybe I was just more vulnerable to the power of suggestion back then. ;)

Anyway, I'm not quite sure what to make of my interest in shipwrecks in general and the Titanic in particular.  Maybe I'm not immune to the morbid curiosity that leads, among other things, to rubbernecking at the site of really bad automobile collisions.  Maybe that early exposure to the story of the Titanic affected me more than I think it did.

Or maybe it's just because of all the stories that have come out of the disaster; I've always loved a good story, and so many of the stories that have come from the sinking of the Titanic—the ship's band playing as long as they could, almost to the end, Benjamin Guggenheim allegedly refusing a lifebelt and declaring, "We are dressed in our best and prepared to go down like gentlemen," the Countess of Rothes caring for steerage passengers during and after the sinking, Margaret Tobin Brown (who is better known now as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown") helping others to board lifeboats and doing her best to get the lifeboat she was in to go back to look for survivors of the sinking, Ida Straus' refusal to leave her husband Isidor, and the public outcry against J. Bruce Ismay for getting onto a lifeboat when so many other men didn't, among many others—are such fascinating stories.  And let us not forget the HMHS Britannic, Titanic's sister ship which was still being built at the time of the disaster, and which was given many improved safety features as a result of the Titanic's sinking, which struck a mine and ended up sinking anyway, and in less time (about 55 minutes) but with far less loss of life (about 30 people who were in lifeboats that the ship's captain didn't know had been launched; he had ordered the crew to try to get the ship as close to land as possible, so the propellor was still turning though it was mostly out of the water, and unfortunately those two lifeboats got smashed by the propellor blades with tragic results for the people within).  I've suspected for a long time that the Titanic disaster has remained so much in the public consciousness exactly because tragedies like this make such interesting stories.

Anyway, whatever the case, I think that I can probably expect my interest in shipwrecks to endure for some time yet.  It never really goes away, of course, but now I'm feeling it a bit more than I usually do, so I'll enjoy it while it lasts, as callous as that may sound, considering that most unintended shipwrecks involve a significant loss of life.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"So, what are we going to do about your weight?"

Here's what we're going to do.

We are going to approach the subject of my health as if it doesn't solely depend on the amount of fat tissue I'm carrying with me.

We are going to treat me as a human being, not an ambulatory pile of lard.

We are going to look at possible decisions for my life and my health based on whether they're actually good for me, and possible for me, and not whether they'll lead to a reduction in the size of my body.

We are going to acknowledge that I feed my body as well as I can with the resources I have available to me, and that I do get exercise even if I don't particularly care to go to a gym.  And we are going to acknowledge that these things are good for me even though they have not led to a noticeable reduction in my body's size and weight.

And here's what we're not going to do.

We are not going to talk about my weight as if it's the only possible reason why anything would go wrong with my body.

We are not going to deliberately try to reduce my weight, because I've done a lot of damage to myself—both physical and mental—while trying to shrink myself, and I've come to the conclusion that it's safer and healthier not to do anything for the express purpose of getting smaller.

We are not going to approach the subject like my clothing size is a disease.

We are not going to use death threats (i.e. "lose weight or you'll die of something terrible") to "inspire" me to become thin.

We are not going to talk about me as if I want to be a size and shape that are subject to huge amounts of social stigma (I don't), or as if I got this way by constant overeating and copious amounts of junk food (I didn't).

We are not going to put me on a diet that's so restrictive that even a moderately-active five-year-old would feel starved by the amount of food it would allow me.  I've done that already—on a doctor's orders, no less—and it didn't do anything good for me.

We are not going to treat me as if the only way I deserve to be treated with respect (or even basic courtesy) is for me to become thin.

And if you can't accept these terms, then there is no room for you in my life.  You are not good for me, and I cannot trust you with my health.

(Inspired by this post by silentbeep.  If you click through, be aware that she's posted a trigger warning for weight gain/weight loss talk.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dear Reverend Jones...

Assholes like you infuriate me.  You are human, so I have to love you.  However, that doesn't mean that I have to like you very much or endorse your rotten, hateful, spiteful actions.

Burning the Koran is no more a Christian act than bulldozing a church would be.  It's a senseless act of hate that's designed to offend.  Being a fanatic member of another religion, even one that has Christianity's history with Islam, does not give you carte blanche to be a self-righteous, conflict-seeking and bigoted little twerp.  This is not right, nor is it something that Jesus would do.  The commandment is "love one another", not "love only the people who agree with you and to Hell with everyone else", dumbass.

Now, I'm not saying that I think that there's no such thing as Islamic fundamentalism (where fundamentalism="anger that there are people who don't live by the One True Right and Only Way, which happens to be whatever the fundamentalist believes in").  That would be willfully ignorant of me to do—not to mention totally wrong.  I disapprove of them every bit as much as I disapprove of you.  But what I am saying is that for doing what you're doing, you're simply following in the same footsteps as the people you claim to condemn—you may not be directly causing death and destruction as the ones who flew those planes into the World Trade Centre all those years ago, but you are spreading ill-will that has resulted, and will continue to result, in further violence.

As for Islam itself—it isn't the devil's religion, as you once claimed it was when you first came to the world's attention for threatening to burn the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  The core belief of Islam, as I understand it, anyway, is that all life exists to glorify God; that God, incidentally, is the same God who is worshipped by Christians and Jews—and Christo-Pagans like me.  But you know what the real religion of the devil is?  It's hatred, and you've embraced it with fervour.  If you claim to follow the Prince of Peace, don't do petty, hateful things like this.  It's beneath what you're supposed to stand for.  Or has all the importance of being a pastor gone to your head and made you forget the teachings of that humble carpenter you claim to love?  Do you value publicity and the chance to feel morally superior because you've done something destructive, claiming that you're doing God's work and yet being castigated for adding nothing but yet more negativity to an already overwhelmingly negative situation?  After all, people wouldn't disagree with you or disapprove of what you do unless they're persecuting you...would they?

Don't answer that.  I already know the answer.  I've heard it all before.

I believe that anyone, even hate-filled publicity hounds like you, can change for the better.  But I suspect that you will not, because your view of the world—and of a God who you think is conveniently full of hate for the people you hate—will not allow you to.  I would weep for the tragedy of your hatred, Reverend Jones, if I didn't suspect that it would be a huge waste of time.

Zillah Threadgoode

Saturday, April 2, 2011


For the most part, I don't wear much jewellery.  I have some nice things; some are relatively expensive (these are mostly gifts from my parents for various milestone birthdays or achievements), but mostly what I've got is pairs of earrings of the sort that you can get as a three-for-ten-dollars deal at low-budget accessory shops.  Strange, offbeat earrings are one of my guilty pleasures, though I rarely indulge in a new pair.  But almost every day, I wear a chain necklace with a seven-pointed star on it.

I have two of these; one has a circle around the star, and the other is slightly smaller, bearing just the star itself.

The two pendants, side by side for a size comparison.

I wear the smaller one when I want to be more subtle about the fact that I'm wearing something that has immense symbolic value to me—for example, whenever I'm doing anything related to my church.  (Though the Pentacle is a better-known Pagan symbol than the Elven Star, there are obvious similarities, and wearing the circle-variety septegram would probably prompt the people at my church to ask me questions that I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to give them the answers to.)  In many ways, I think that the Elven Star is a great symbol for me, personally, as a Christo-Pagan, and this is why.

First, although some Pagan traditions do use the septegram as a religious symbol—Faerie Wicca and Blue Star Wicca are the first examples that come to my mind—it is by no means a commonly-known symbol, and if I'm wearing the pendant that doesn't have the circle, I can simply pass it off as a star-shape that I thought was pretty.  (That would be a heck of a lot more difficult with my pentacle, which is surrounded by representations of the phases of the moon, even if the top of it does also include a Christian cross.  Click this link if you'd like to see what it looks like—but I must note that the price given by this vendor may be a bit high as I bought mine for significantly less, though that could easily be because I bought mine offline at a local shop whose owners deal directly with the manufacturers of the goods they sell.)  Second, the number seven is a tremendously important number in the Christian tradition—stretching right back to Christianity's Jewish roots.  From God being said to create the world in seven days, to Jesus telling Peter to forgive people "seventy times seven" times to the many things in Revelations that come in sets of seven (just to name a very few), it's a highly important number.  And finally, if I stretch things just a little, I can even justify my use of the Elven Star through numerology; my birth path number, as determined by adding all the digits of the date of my birth together and then adding the digits of that result until there's only a single digit, is seven.

So, because—like the pentacle, oddly enough, which was once used to signify the five wounds of Christ—the seven-pointed star could arguably be called a very valid symbol for a Christo-Pagan.  To me, the shape of this particular star even evokes the image of a cross, or even an angel.

But you know what?  Even if I didn't have these particular justifications for my adoption of the Elven Star, whether or not it's in a circle, I'd still use it.  The things it symbolizes to me personally—time, perspective, and truth, among other things—are justification enough.  Because that's the wonderful thing about symbols; they don't have to mean what you're told they mean.  We choose whether they have meaning for us.  We choose whether to accept the meanings we're given for them.  A pentacle doesn't have to signify Wicca—and for the many non-Wiccan Pagans who use the pentacle as a symbol for their spiritual paths, it doesn't.  An upside-down cross, while popularly linked with Satanism, is also a very Christian symbol; St. Peter, we are told, was crucified upside-down, insisting that he was not worthy to be crucified in the same position as his Lord had been; in this context, it's used as a symbol of humility.  And of course the swastika, now forever linked with the evil that was Hitler's rule over Germany (and a few other places later on), was once considered a symbol of luck and protection.  Consciously or not, we give our symbols the significance that they have.  The holiest symbol in the world to one person might just be a weird-looking shape to someone else.

As so many things do, symbols ultimately come down to the power of choice.  That's what I think is so wonderfully interesting about them.  That symbols can mean everything, or nothing, or something somewhere in between, to various people—just because they choose to interpret them as they do—it's an amazing thing, and that's something I think is worth thinking about.