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Book Review: Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

3 Aug

When terrible times are upon us, we tend to turn our backs and busy ourselves with things that are less upsetting. Although, personally, I had to make the effort to keep the phone turned down each morning so that I wouldn’t scroll down through reams of infuriating events and the comments from people who have radically different outlooks on those very events, and thereby ruin my whole day, I decided to educate myself so that I was armed with facts that would help me navigate the confusing and unprecedented time we face today in America.

If you are like me and you would like a wealth of information that traces the history of racist ideas and actions in our country, than I couldn’t recommend more highly Ibram X. Kendi’s scholarly (yet accessible) account. The book begins with the first real racist work (from a Spanish propagandist for a Prince who saw lucrative opportunities in the market for human slaves), and then follows the history of racism through the lives of five influential people in history: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Dubois, and Angela Davis.

Why would I want to do that? You ask. Well, I believe it is as good or better a time as any to take a deep look into your own misconceptions about race, history and society, so that you and I can be better fellow citizens to all of our American countrymen and women. It is a difficult journey and, honestly, there were many moments when I had to put the book down and do something mindless, or routine. The book is revealing, disillusioning, and does the job of shattering some of those hard worn conceptions about why things are the way they are.

I do not feel qualified to give this work a full review, but I feel compelled to share that my reading of the work has been transformative for me and how I might think about our history, our current events and even how I might better instruct young people about history.

For those of you who don’t have the time to read this long account of the many instances and movements of segregationists, assimilationists and anti-racists throughout American history, then you should check out Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You by Jason Reynolds and Kendi. Reynolds did a masterful job of boiling down the essence of Kendi’s work for a quicker, yet still insightful, read.

Some quick draws for me personally in this book was the inclusivity Kendi used in drawing together the events and people described in his book. He addresses sexual and gender rascism throughout and highlights many, many powerful women who have led the fight against racism. He also gives note to racism in culture, covering radio shows, and movies, showing how the different attitudes with race are metaphorically “stamped” into classic movies from Gone with the Wind, Tarzan, King Kong, Planet of the Apes and Rocky.

If you love history, wish you had a better grasp of the forces interacting still to this day on the very streets of our nation, or you just want a clearer perception of history, than I cannot recommend more this important work.

Book Review of The Twelve by Justin Cronin

10 Jul

I had the pleasure of reading Justin Cronin’s second installment to his vampire apocalypse trilogy, and I continue to be amazed with his lifelike characters, his poignant writing and clever plotting. If you haven’t read the first novel: “The Passage” you could read this one, but it would definitely decrease your enjoyment. These books are quickly ascending to my all-time favorites shelf.

The plot travels between year zero of a vampire virus epidemic that is destroying the country faster than a reality star presidency and 90 years or so later when the last stands of humanity face a land that is inhospitable at night. If you took Watership Down and turned all the rabbits into desperate humans fighting in a world ruled by hoards of countless undead, you might come close to understanding the excitement, allegory and fun of this trilogy. I cannot recommend it enough. There is a real literary standard observed by the writer that raises these texts far above other post-apocalypse or vampire novels. I can’t wait to read the final novel, and if you haven’t done so yet, read the first!

Book Review: The Blue World by Robert McCammon

10 Jul

If you haven’t checked out the incredible works of Robert McCammon, I highly recommend it. Overshadowed by the likes of King and Koontz in the 1980’s McCammon produced a ton of horror and dark fantasy work, and the good news is that he is still producing today. Some of the works that I have read that I would suggest are:

Boy’s Life – This coming of age novel centers around a young boy growing up in the 1960’s in a small southern town. There is a mystery and many, many subplots with magical realism and societal drama galore. The result reminds me of both Ray Bradbury’s nostalgic works mixed with the odd freshness of Flannery O’Connor.

Swan Song – This epic post-nuclear holocaust novel details a group of survivors who are trying to keep alive a very important little girl. Filled with memorable characters and lots of action, this novel gives King’s The Stand a run for its money.

They Thirst – This somewhat flawed but entertaining book is a perfect October read as it details the takeover of Los Angeles by a vampire epidemic.

However, Blue World is a collection of a number of McCammon’s brilliant short stories and an exciting novella (from which the title gets its name). McCammon shows the range of his craft and his ability to create clever social commentary with these gems. One of my favorite, “Nightcrawlers” was even adapted as an episode of the 1980’s reboot of the Twilight Zone. Some of these are touching, some horrifying, but all of them are thought-provoking. One of my favorites is called “Night Calls the Green Falcon” and features an aged ex-actor who once donned the super heroic persona of a Saturday matinee serial hero. The story is nail-biting and, well just plan wonderful. I recommend this anthology with great enthusiasm and a five star rating.

Love Letters to the Universe #26: Know Thyself- The Cavalier and the Paladin

4 Jun

Dear Universe,

Oh, to fall in love! Surely, that is the epitome of happiness? When else does one see the rose tint behind each scene unscrolled before them like a universe remade? When else does happiness reach such heights that it encompasses terror? When one falls in love (as I have with you), one sees his or her own existence in a new light; aye, sometimes as if he or she had not been privy to the solace of light before. In love, you know the crispness of the apple, for it is knowledge that you not only gain, but to which you must surrender.

Just as I have fallen in love with you, I have fallen in love with myself, for that one to be in love one must truly love and recognize that twin star that radiates from within oneself, not just from the object of one’s affection.

I would argue this happiness and its continuing growth should comprise the greatest proportion of one’s life. We should all be so enamored with you, that, through pursuit of your affection, we find an undiminishing appreciation for our own loveliness. To know you, my dear, is to love you. Socrates said: “Know thyself!” Surely then, this most beneficial of decrees and our need to heed it in acquiescence is never seen as poignantly as with the next two Superstar Archetypes that I lay before you to glitter in this most needed and appreciated spring sunshine:

 

  1. The Cavalier

Primary Mode of Operation: Recognition (South)

Secondary Mode of Operation: Influence (South)

Epithets: The Knight of Staves, Prince Charming, The Golden Boy, The MVP

Mythic Examples: Captain James T. Kirk, Sir Lancelot-du-Lac, Buffalo Bill

Description: When one thinks of the dashing knight in shining armor, one usually is summoning the archetype of the Cavalier to mind. The Cavalier constructs meaning for himself by establishing recognition, and through that, manifesting influence. The cavalier is usually known for his accomplishments for which he strives for tirelessly. His need for recognition also manifests as competitiveness the likes of which are not seen elsewhere in the other types. The true peacock, the Cavalier is often known for his pleasing appearance, his ingratiating charisma, his uncanny skill and drive, or a combination of all three. The cavalier enjoys attention and so will often be seen as an unrepentant flirt.

As a child, the Cavalier is the ultimate mama’s boy. His mother is of course his first audience,  and the Cavalier will challenge his father, his brothers, sisters or anyone else for her affections, attention and time. He will continue this pattern with other women as he grows, but in the end he will always remain the most faithful and the most hung up on his mommy dearest. It is why he often will leave many a starstruck maiden crushed against the rocks of lost love on his journey toward perfection.

The cavalier will find that the world is a place of masks, and he will become highly adept at fashioning a pleasing one and polishing it to a shine. He will sublimate everything about himself under this showy and gallant mask, to the point where he will often be confused about his own private inner life (with which he can dangerously lose all familiarity), and his grand social life. At heart, the cavalier can become secretly quite lonely, as he does not truly like himself, especially if he remains stunted as externally motivated for the attention of others.

Indeed, under the veneer of gallant success, the cavalier may appear to some as quite sociopathic, as he forgets that using influence to manipulate others constantly is not appropriate or beneficial for his own moral development.

Because of his drive, the Cavalier will master any number of pursuits, skills and fields of study. In his company, anyone can be made to feel a winner, however, and at his most magnanimous the Cavalier is a true champion of the people. He is a solid educator, guide, trainer, athlete, speaker, and when drawn to the helping careers, will shine as a healthcare practitioner.

The cavalier can master any external exercise, but his real problem will always stem for his often neglected inner self. This can eventually lead him into the more shadowy aspects of his archetypal personality. However, when balanced and at peace, the Cavalier will inspire, protect and aid his fellow hairless monkeys with a grace and a smile that will charm the most downhearted and sullied of souls.

Captain James T. Kirk is the perfect example of the Cavalier from popular science-fiction. His guarded inner life allows him to command the Federation’s premiere starship, while his affable charisma and competitive drive makes him suitable for dealing with whatever strange races he should encounter (both out and in the bed chamber).

A starlet will understand the Cavalier’s need for maintaining an image. She will become his best audience and a shining light, herself, inspiring the Cavalier to attain further glory on her behalf.

Ideal match: The Starlet

Challenging types for the Cavalier: The Craftsman, the She-Bear

The Shadow Type: The Glory Hound- When the Cavalier loses sight of his own inner conflicts, he is subsumed by his own ego which he wears as a mask, replete with matching tunic festooned with epaulettes and hanging medals. The Glory Hound is a self aggrandizing braggart, a heart-breaking cuckolder, and a true schlub. A good example of this would be the glory hound, Gaston, as we see in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The Glory Hound becomes a caricature of himself, a grand and showy buffoon.

There is a much darker side to many a glory hound. The desire to influence becomes so complete, that he becomes a sort of vampiric sociopath, who will revel in emotional sadism, and could very well hide the tastes of a serial killer, who one would never guess is there, buried under the pleasing and gallant aspect of the gentleman next door.

 

  1. The Paladin

Primary Mode of Operation: Recognition (South)

Secondary Mode of Operation: Intuition (West)

Epithets: The Grail Knight, the Good Cop, the Seeker

Mythic Examples: James Gordon (of Batman/Gotham), Roland Deschaines of Stephen, King’s Dark Tower series, Kung Fu

Description: When one envisions a lone rider with a white hat coming into town and having to step up against a swarm of black-hearted no-goods, that is the Paladin. The Paladin uses recognition to carve his way through the world, both externally and internally. Externally he relies on his reputation as a straight shooter and a competent adversary (or ally) to survive a world that does not walk the same path as he. Internally, he uses recognition to assess the reactions of others and aide his perceptive sense of intuition. It is this inner-compass which sets and guides the Paladin on his path through life. It makes him a highly virtuous (or at least scrupulous) individual. Although he may be the least initially trusted of his fellow knight superstars, for he answers to the sovereignty of his own conscience, which will not take orders from anyone, unless the Paladin deems their perceptions and goals are aligned.

As a young child and man, the Paladin will often dabble in many pursuits, as he is anxious to try things out and find out where he can best be recognized. The most important difference between the Paladin and the other Superstars is that recognition must also allow the Paladin the freedom to develop and act further, against his own reputation if his intuition should call for it. It is this fact which has often gotten the Paladin ousted and hunted in the very societies in which he serves.

In the end the Paladin wants to be recognized as a good man, a virtuous and honorable person. However, the realized and mature Paladin has learned to really only live off the need to recognize himself as a decent and well-intentioned person.

The Paladin will often attract many friends and admirers who will try to walk in his footsteps. He will often allow them to stumble, but will patiently turn back and show the new upstart how it should be done properly and effectively. Thus Paladin’s make excellent teachers and guides. They also would make equitable and fair lawyers, judges, and policemen. They often can be seen involved in activist, volunteer, or philanthropic services. Their career will largely depend upon the path that they are following.

The paladin’s quiet confidence can inspire a state of calm and security to people and animals, for which most paladins have a knack and affection.

A paladin is on a mission to reach a state dictated by his ideals and inner-direction. He will die on this road, and this does not bother him over much, as long as he dies well, and that is with his integrity intact. Heaven help those who try to prevent the Paladin from living according to his code. There will be no help to those who stand in direct contrast to the moral fiber of this wandering hero, not when the Paladin comes to town, that is.

Ideal match: Enchantress

Challenging types for the Paladin: The Chief (Warlord), The Matriarch

The Shadow Type: The Outlaw: Just as in the case of the Glory Hound, the Outlaw is the Paladin who has failed to understand himself and heed that singular calling of his intuition. He has lost faith in the quest, and instead has chosen some other artificial means of establishing his path. This inner calling will often be replaced by the sole desire to establish his reputation with whatever immoral means necessary. Here we have the outlaws of old, living by a code that is little better than dog eat dog. It is this philosophical failing which is the tragic and bitter fall of the outlaw. He has nothing to live for, and his anger and brutality reflects his turmoil. Occasionally a truly mad Outlaw will appear in life and in art, such as the merciless likes of the antagonist of McCarthy’s No Country For Old Man and Batman’s Two-Face, who hinge their decisions not on their own compass, but the flip of a coin.

The most interesting character in this regard is that of Jules Winnfield of Pulp Fiction fame played by Samuel Jackson. This character begins the film as an outlaw and by the end has experienced a denouement that has turned him into the roving paladin that has decided to save life rather than take it.

Just as the the Cavalier can be the inspiration for his people, the Paladin, in his fullness, can be their savior. However, they both must learn to understand their own natures and heed their own inner-calling, and, of course, undertake to fulfill the responsibilities that such natures embody.

Let’s hope there will be more heroes that undertake the quest for the betterment of themselves. For we accompany them, and become better ourselves in the process.

I promise to write more often, my sweet universe. I apologize for my interruption in our correspondence. I have been busy tackling and beating my addiction to tobacco so that the two of us will have a much longer correspondence indeed.

Your loving admirer,

Trav

The Valkyries: The Bone Snake is free for the Kindle! Download today!

23 May

For a limited time, The Valkyries: The Bone Snake is free for the Kindle! Download and start enjoying this tale of gothic terror and motorcycle mamas that ride into town to deliver a can of whoop-ass on evil. http://www.amazon.com/Valkyries-Snake-T-L-Barrett-ebook/dp/B00UB0DCPO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432403253&sr=8-1&keywords=the+valkyries%3A+the+bone+snake

Love Letters to the Universe #25: Freedom to Be

3 May

Dear Universe,

Who am I? This is the question I ask myself every day. I am a father, a husband, a teacher, a writer, a son, a citizen, a philosopher, and so many other things. Lately I have been a correspondent with you, oh great and powerful wholeness. You would think that this would be enough, but it does not feel like it is.

I believe it is vastly appropriate that I feel this way. I believe that I was conceived, grown and nurtured to ask this very question.

Earlier in our correspondence, I posited that my fellow hairless monkeys and I were created from your self-indulgent desire to experience yourself. I also posited that we have free will, the freedom to choose, and by doing so partake in the ongoing creation that is you, my lovely.

Perhaps, and I am only speaking from my limited experience and addled hairless monkey brain, that this indicates that you want to know who you are. We came from you and open our eyes and witnessed your wonders, your innate beauty and suffering.

How can I decide what you are, when I cannot even know myself? How can I know myself, without understanding what you are, the thing that we have come from? Must I not spend my entire existence in this search?

Yes, of course, it is why I am here. The search itself is beautiful, for as I see suffering, I name it as such, and I answer it with the full longing of my heart with love. Why do I do this?

It is often said: “If you love something, you must set it free.” You have set us free by giving us free will. You love us. Love is liberation. Love does not confine, enslave; it empowers.

When I do not know myself, and how I have come from this loving thing, when I do not understand this freedom of choice that I have been given, then I am filled with doubt. That doubt is fear, and it is like a raging hole inside of me. I try to fill it with drugs, with pleasure, with distraction, and with the greatest of these distractions: power. I, the hairless monkey, worried that I am not good enough will try to provoke some form of suffering in my fellow monkeys. It is how I know I have power.

We do this to those we claim to love most passionately. We torment them with accusations and mind games until they weep and beg us to stop. Inwardly we give a craven smile and think: “Oh, yes, I am powerful, see how I made them suffer!”

But, look at this groaning and poisoned world that we have made! See the injustice walking down the street  arm in arm with arrogant pride.

What if we just let others be as they would be? What if we gave them the freedom to exercise that choice that they were born innately to make? If I did this, would not my presence without pretension or expectation prove liberating to my fellow monkey? Would not they flock to me knowing that they are free from suffering in my presence?

Would this not be love?

Would my fellow monkeys, emboldened by that bit of freedom, prove brave and turn to their fellow monkeys and give the same chance of liberation? Would the world, would not you, the universe, then know what you were?

When I was a child, I was raised in a thought meme called religion that told me that we were born corrupted, evil and stained. We are taught to think that we are not worthy. We are taught shame of ourselves.

What if we aren’t? What if we are truly free to choose? Would we choose wisely? Would we nail to a tree anyone who tried to show us the secret of liberation? Would we take his or her words and twist them into another game of power?

Perhaps, but then each moment, I feel the love coming from you in an instant. That love is freedom, freedom to choose the right choice. Freedom to be loving to myself, to my fellow monkeys, freedom then to think that you are love.

It is not an easy path. We are saddled with a responsibility beyond imagining. But, just so, the reward is also beyond imagining. We hold in our souls the power to liberate all things. That power is the one thing that does not require suffering. It liberates us from suffering because it is without regret. Who has regrets for loving completely?

Not me.

Universe, thank you for giving me my freedom. Thank you for loving me so intensely. Forgive me for the times that I have forgotten this gift. I ask all of the hairless monkeys that I have so transgressed in this fashion for forgiveness, as I forgive them. Forgiveness is just another act of liberation.

It doesn’t matter who you love. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what the color of your skin, or the nature of your circumstances. We all have a choice. We are all loved that much.

May we never forget. May we spend our (hopefully) long lives remembering, and by remembering, liberating, and by liberating, loving each other.

And by loving each other, returning that sacred gift, and loving you.

Continuing this quest with love in my heart,

Trav

Love Letters to the Universe #24: Hairless Monkey Rex

25 Apr

Dear Universe,

I am humbled through my love for you. My words in these letters fall out into the void of your being mixed with the countless and fathomless well of words in so many tongues that have fallen. I know I am but one hairless monkey marking my passing here with my thoughts transcribed to clumsy symbols, desperate for what? Your approval? With the efforts to transform you? May I never fall into such a trap of ego.

For I see that I am but one hairless monkey, but I have been given existence, indelibly stamped upon creation. I have been witnessed to wonders and tragedies. I have been given the capacity to hope for less tragedy, more of the promising fulfillment that I have sensed written into me and to all of my kind. May I not think that that hope is shared by you, sweet making?

I have been given the ability to witness creation as it happens about me, and I know that it is also me that is being created, guided by pain, pleasure, regret, and celebration. It is through this humility that I feel the awe of the you in an instant, when the transcendental arrives through the smile of a friend or the sunlight reflected off a discarded can. So might I hope to smile, so reflect the light that makes no thing discarded, and all as it should be.

Oh, universe, let me be careful! Let me endow the descriptions I will attempt herein with the spirit of that humility. Let my words reflect the grace that is you.

For as I cross over into the summerlands of your wheel to describe the first of the superstars, I see that I am on somewhat foreign soil. I come from the west and the north, how then can I hope to capture the brilliance and gaudy show of those of the south?

Let me not judge. Let that humility guide me and the awe fill me that tells me that each archetype of personality is necessary as it is part of this wheel, this web which is a reflection of your wholeness. Each personality is laid over individuals and myth as a cross to bear. How appropriate then do I see the archetype before me, and know what a burden it is to be the one to draw the sword from the stone, to be called to greatness, to be…

  1. The Rex

Primary Mode of Operation: Recognition (South)

Secondary Mode of Operation: Control (East)

Epithets: The Knight of Swords, The Steward, The Inheritor, The Commander, The Facilitator

Mythic Examples: King Arthur, Tony Stark (Iron Man),  The Earl of Grantham (Downton Abbey), Oedipus Rex,

Description: The Rex feels the inherent need to be noticed and recognized so that he can assert some form of control through that recognition. The resulting child that grows from these drives can understandably become quite demanding. The child will be born aware of how expectations are constantly put upon one, and will reflect that expectation back at reality and those around them.

A natural leader, and often blessed with an innate charisma, the young rex will be a peer leader and will try to achieve recognition through mastery of skills and competitions. The child needs to feel recognized for whatever internal state he is experiencing which leads to an indulgence of character that feeds into the egomaniacal expression of some of humanity’s worst failings.

This of course can lead to a loss of control of the self, and that is when the shadowy aspects of the Rex will begin to fully take root.

To run from this, the Rex may turn to substances for relief. Substance abuse is a very real danger for the Rex that is underdeveloped.

However, once the Rex understands that the best way to keep recognition (or dominion) of oneself is to control oneself, then he begins to show some of the best qualities of the true leader that the rest of hairless monkey kind needs as an inspiration.

Then, the cross which is the very personality of the Rex is carried with humility. The noble and developed Rex will then realize the fruits of responsibility and will seek recognition by trying to better and organize the combined efforts of others. It is here that the Rex will truly shine as he is usually gifted with a quick and strategic mind, and can best utilize and recognize the skills and aptitudes of others.

At heart, the Rex is a male version of the Diva. He acts best as a facilitator and an inspiring figurehead bringing the best out of those around him. Those who do so follow the Rex will know how heavy the head is that wears the crown. They will lay down their reputations and lives, because they have faith and trust that the Rex is doing everything that he can to wield whatever privilege he has for the greater good.

Naturally, The Rex will seek employment as an administrator, an entrepreneur, or a politician. He may often hone a particular skill set which will gain him the expertise to be known as an expert and leader in a field, which is where he is most fit. The veteran Rex that has learned how to control his own ego will be happiest, for he will have a round table filled with competent and adoring friends instead of the constant battle to control a world so that it is forced to adore.

Tony Stark, born into privilege and with an uncanny technical ability, is the perfect example of the young Rex. He demands autonomy, and will often try to shirk his responsibilities. His ego is almost unparalleled and when he falls to alcoholism then we understand the weight of that ego. He, however, begins to accept his responsibilities and becomes an affable member of the heroic league which will protect his people. He is his own worst enemy, but then when he fully embraces his role, he is the consummate showman and a gallant hero. From the stone of his father’s genius and wealth, Tony has pulled a sword of technological might. When he takes on the responsibility for that wealth and power he learns to be a better man, and perhaps will not sit easier upon the throne, but will be recognized for the very best qualities that he should be championing.

Ideal match: The Queen, The Diva

Challenging types for the Rex: The Medicine Man, the Sage, The Fairy Godmother, The Medicine Woman

The Shadow Type: The Tyrant: The Rex’s shadow side is truly a frightening and awful figure to behold. The Tyrant seeks to control every aspect of everyone’s lives because that his how he is recognized. He craves power for the sake of power. When his feminine Empress quality is distorted to feed his male superstar ego, then everyone will suffer. The Rex has taken the desperate turmoil of his uncontrolled and seething ego and manifested that pain on the outside world. Anyone stuck with a tyrant in their lives will have to put up with grandstanding fits of megalomania and deceptive emotional manipulation. Nothing is ever good enough for the Tyrant unless he can put his stamp upon it. Preferring it broken over whole and well, if that is what is necessary to claim control over it. Here we see that the Tyrant is the opposite of the benevolent Rex. Whereas the Rex will bring out the best, the Tyrant actually encourages the worst in people. He will make them break their bonds of oath, their integrity and more just to satisfy his lust for obedience. He will encourage dependency and simpering hypochondria in his own children so that they will be more malleable.

We have been warned so many times by writers and historians of those who egomaniacally try to control the world when they cannot even control themselves. We have seen too many tyrants among the hairless monkey kind. Their attitudes have created systems of economic destruction and tyrannical oppression.

How wonderful, then would it be, sweet universe, if the hairless monkey would grow up, finally. What could the hairless monkey rex not inspire in us, when he lifts the sword of his mind and will toward the problems facing us all? Would we not run to his side and join in the fight for right?

Would we not forgive some of the extravagances such a shining character may make? It is said that Arthur Rex awaits rebirth. May he be so reborn again and again making each successive generation a more wonderful addition to Hairless monkey kind.

I could wish no less for the lovely recipient of this letter.

Yours Forever and Ever,

Trav

Love Letters to the Universe #23: Holding Out For a Heroine

24 Apr

Dear Universe,

I have always been taken with heroes. Since I was a little child my mind was fully occupied with thoughts as to what made a hero a hero. I studied comic books, mythology and prime time TV. I contemplated such quotes as: “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes”. I learned too well, that the violence enacted by these champions of the screen and page does not translate well to the playground. Today, we seem to need heroes more than ever, as their likenesses are reinterpreted and devoured by a growing fanbase of millions and millions.

Perhaps, more than heroes, however, we need heroines. We need to rewrite the codex of our shared dreams so that the female protagonist stands tall so that some of the damage done by centuries of wretched misogyny and cruel inequality may be undone. It is frankly ridiculous that even today when a group of heroes include a female, that the female is underrepresented by merchandise, that our girls are left with childhood heroes that are more occupied with fashion and juvenile social circles than standing up to the wrongs (however symbolically) perpetrated by the hairless monkey.

In the last few days, the attitudes opposed to this problem seem dreadfully apparent. I have watched as the Disney owned Marvel Studios have proffered entertainment with many strong and independent female characters in way that seems unparalleled in history. It hasn’t been a perfect balancing, not yet, but great strides have been made.

In just under a week, the second Avengers movie shall premiere in the United States. Sadly, there is only one returning female superhero in the mix. This is the provocative and ultra-competent Black Widow (an ordinary human surrounded by mostly godlike men whose powers stem from technology, magic and strange science). Written by the incomparable Joss Whedon, this film promises to portray the Widow as a powerful and deadly opponent to injustice. Joss Whedon has contributed much to the evolution of the super heroine in his Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.

While doing a press tour, two of the male actors in this movie were asked what their thoughts were about the romantic involvement with the Black Widow and the Incredible Hulk (not their characters). In supposed jest these two joked that the Widow was just a “slut” and a “whore”. They have since apologized, but their humor masks a very real problem with attitudes endemic to patriarchal culture at a time when the super heroine has her feet tenuously placed on the threshold of true greatness. Many of new female directed and female oriented heroic movies are slated to appear. More and more genre fans are female. We may even have a female President of the United States in the near future.

This is the problem, oh great and benevolent universe: the male hairless monkey is threatened by strong female types. When a female steps out of her more traditional subservient roles, then she is defined by her sexuality. She stops being a formidable warrior for right and becomes a “slut” or a “whore”. Many people, disgusted by this attitude, are decrying against the very medium itself, which is truly sad. It is the medium itself that stands to be the best vehicle to change these attitudes and throw the heroic female in the spotlight she deserves.

The Black Widow, a Russian spy who was taken, abused and brainwashed by the Leviathan project and turned into a weapon, has liberated herself and uses the results of her hardship to fight the good fight and was instrumental in protecting earth against invaders and has prevented a crypto-fascist coup from taking over the United States and executing thousands of free thinkers. She has met her opposite in Bruce Banner, a traumatized victim of childhood abuse. Banner’s rage manifests physically in the gamma ray-induced Hulk state. Whedon has allowed these two characters to find romantic development because of this shared pain. This truly feminist story’s poignancy is made ever the more poignant by the actors’ poor choice of humor concerning this fictional character.

We need the Black Widow. We need the woman who is brave and willing to put herself in harm’s way to make things better. We are doubly foolish to disregard her.

It is with this hope for more heroines and with a desire to see the archetype imprinted positively on both the young males and females of my hairless monkey kind, that I present to you the last member of the Empress quartet.

  1. The Heroine:

Primary Mode of Operation: Control (East)

Secondary Mode of Operation: Experience (North)

Epithets: The Dominatrix, The Lady Adventurer, The Independent Woman, the Challenger

Mythic Examples: Mulan, The Black Widow, Marion Ravenwood (Indiana Jones), Amelia Earhart, Atalanta.

Description: The Heroine feels the Empresses’ need for control while embodying the wild and free desire for true and shaping experience. Nowhere else really do we have the strength of will coupled so completely with the expansive and traditionally masculine desire to see what is on the next hillside or challenge the limits of oneself. The heroine embodies a real and tangible threat to the patriarchy, which is a good sign that the patriarchy itself is a foolish concept in need of a hasty disposal. The Heroine is a proud and defiant figure that will echo again and again in our culture, because we need her to echo.

As a young girl, the Heroine often appears to be what is traditionally described as a “Tomboy”. These girls will play rough, rise to challenges and are not afraid of a little scrape or dirt. Although they have quick minds and are ever curious, they are the least academic of the Empress types usually because of their impatient and often inattentive focus. The needs inherent in the make up of the heroine will not allow her to conform to gender expectations, nor will she be able to tolerate bullying or categorization that is based on unrealistic prejudice.

Heroines will often have a difficult time with the societal expectations centered around dating and romance. They are looking for someone who is competent enough with which to adventure through life, but who will also be able to accept her competence without resorting to insecurities.

The Heroine wants experience, and that includes sexual experience, but living in a patriarchy the rules for said behavior are stigmatized against the female. Thus, the Heroine will often be forced to experience the derision of her the less brave and adventurous peers of both sexes.

Athletic and skill based pursuits are excellent proving grounds for the young heroine. She also loves to challenge herself with outdoor excursions and physical endurance challenges such as Arctic swimming.

Very often, the Heroine in myth will have to dress, act and challenge men directly in order to get what they want accomplished. Hence they are often the first females to take on traditionally male roles as  protective service such as police, lawyers and advocates, soldiers and astronauts (explorers).

The Heroine will make demanding teachers, coaches and parents, but they are also fiercely loyal and brave advocates for those less capable than themselves. At a young age they will have often idealized some of the more competent adults around them, so they will hold their responsibility toward those who come after and may look up to them quite seriously.

The heroine’s main concern is control, and she will savor the challenge to have experiences that challenge that control and test them to their limits and beyond. When she does this she champions all of humankind.

Ideal match: The Scout

Challenging types for the Heroine: The Champion or the Valkyrie

The Shadow Type: The Femme Fatale: Our traditional literature are chock filled with these shadowy heroines who control the unwary male, lead him into a life of danger and leave him to die in the dust. Inherent in the myth of the Femme Fatale is the lie that a strong and independent woman must use men in some form of crypto-vampiric way in order to exist in the world. Sadly the power of this myth is such that it may convince young heroine’s themselves that this is their only hope to find any gratification in the world. The Noir era and even most of the modern movement of literature is filled with this evil dominatrix who lures men to their doom and a lifelong longing and despair.

When the would be heroine focuses purely on externalizing her control, she is buffered from her own experience by having to exist vicariously through men and their suffering. The femme Fatale is mostly a grossly distorted myth that stems from man’s fear. The problem lies in the pervasiveness of this myth and its ability to convince women that this is the only role open to them in their frustration. The cure for this, however, is the appearance of more and more heroine’s in firm control of their own lives and seeking without apology the experiences that will better teach them and mankind the best route to follow. These heroines will give permission to the next generation, and so on and so on.

This is why, sweet universe, I hope that the attitudes espoused by the two talented actors in regards to the heroine character, the Black Widow, be not repeated. And if they are may both men and women alike rise up and denounce the attitude whenever it rears its ugly head. The time of the Heroine is upon us, and we are in most need of her.

Sincerely,

Trav

Love Letters to the Universe #22: The Best of all Nannies- The Governess

24 Apr

Dear Universe,

I won’t mince words. I am guilty of attributing gender to you. I won’t apologize. It has been done over and over again. The hairless monkey sees things in polarities. For a very long time the majority of hairless monkeys have raised up their voices and hands to you in supplication, thanks, and astonishment and attributed a masculine identity to you and your wonders. Some of these, sadly a virulently aggressive some, have imposed a verdict that you shall only be known as ‘He’. This makes me sad because this display of exclusive insanity has led to a number of bad things. They say bad things come in threes, and so it goes. Wherever this monotheistic patriarchal thought meme has reared its ugly head we see 1) rabid misogyny and a disgraceful neglect and scorn-worthy villainization of more than half of our species, 2) a disconnection with and eventual destruction of our sacred home, the Earth, and 3) a disconnection with our own spiritual self, which is also to say with each other, which inevitably leads to the enslavement and death of millions and millions of hairless monkeys.

I won’t say that calling you a ‘she’ is the answer to these problems, except, for me it appears to be. I came from you, as a child comes from their mother. When a soft breeze ruffles the hair on our monkey brows, we would love to imagine that a hand brushes there gently, easing our troubles and helping us sleep. When things become too difficult we like to think that whatever medicine is forced upon us will also come with the spoonful of sugar which will help the medicine go down. We need to act rightly, not out of fear of punishment, but as proud sons and daughters who have had the patient and reflective teacher who has helped to shape us and will continue to proudly admire us as we go out and embody the wisdom we have gained.

Thus, I think I have found an archetype which embodies this wisdom and helps guide hairless monkey kind toward that promising fulfillment that you have always seen in us.

  1. The Governess

Primary Mode of Operation: Control (East)

Secondary Mode of Operation: Reflection (West)

Epithets: The Magical Nanny, The Girl Detective, Lady Justice, The Star Pupil

Mythic Examples: Nancy Drew, Hermione Granger, Mary Poppins, Agent Carter, Nanny Mcphee, Jane Eyre, Clara Oswald (of Doctor Who).

Description: The Governess is marked early in life by her reflective nature. Although she may appear unassuming, she is forever pondering things, even at a very early age. Her secondary or masculine Mode of operation is through reflection, which makes her consider every side of an angle. This instills in the girl governess a moral foundation for thought which is constructed by and maintained vigorously by the Governess’s primary Control Mode. The Governess is, like the rest of the Empress types, concerned with maintaining control, but she (of all the types) is more concerned with a steadfast adherence to a kind of moral common sense. This can lead to a kind of sustained outrage at the injustices done regularly by her fellow mortals. This outrage will often necessitate a kind of dogged campaign against acceptance of a faulty or unjust situation, and can lead the Governess to opposition with those who enjoy power and the fruits of selfish action.

She may also have a hard time coming to a decision easily, and can suffer from a lot of anxiety at an early age, because the self-reflective Governess understands how nearly impossible any exercise of real control actually is. If she is hard on herself, she is often verbally exasperated with her less reflective peers, which often only fosters the alienation that the young governess feels due to her masculine alien self.

The young governess desires to know all the facts, values knowledge and is thus one of the best students in any class. Here the governess stands out as an unusual underdog feminist hero. She is always concerned with propriety, and thus feels much conflict when her earnest desire for rightness comes up against the injustice of patriarchal tyranny.

As the governess grows, so does her knowledge and the confidence she has in that knowledge. She sheds off her anxiety and tunes her uncanny intuition toward solving life’s many mysteries and puzzles (she loves puzzles). It is here that Governess comes into her full mastery and can be the best advocate for rightness, justice, decency and truth.

She is the only Empress with access to the fae-enchanted west and thus her intuition acts as a kind of psychic super-power. She will often accept a wide range of occult possibilities, but never once fails to respect rational common sense above all else.

Literature is rife with Governesses that take to the teaching professions and they make great counsellors, teachers, nannies, guardians, librarians, and supervisors. Their uncanny abilities make them excellent detectives, scientists, record keepers, writers, researchers and journalists. The world will continue to benefit from the good works of these upright caretakers and marvel at the likes of Hermione Granger as she struggles to save the day despite being the accomplished “mudblood”, or Agent Carter, as she doggedly saves the day in her quiet way while living with the masculine disdain of her oafish ‘superiors’.

There is a romantic aspect to the often self-denying governess. When this woman finds someone who is worthy of her attentions, she will bend the world to be with that person and suffer greatly by the side of those who struggle to be the promise of what this magical woman has seen inside of them. She is the perfect match for the Detective, as she will bring form and consistency to the sleuth’s universe, and shine a moral light for him to sleuth by.

Ideal match: The Detective

Challenging types for the Governess: The Priestess, or the Revolutionary

The Shadow Type: The Manipulator- The shadow side of the Governess is one who has sadly embraced that feeling of alienation, and instead of seeing it as a badge of those given responsibility, they find an end in using deceit to achieve the ends of control. They are your scheming and vengeful women who use their intellect and cunning as a secret tool to sabotage those who the shadow governess deems unworthy or counter to the most desirable end. Potboiler Melodramas are full of such dark hearted tricksters who seem to get their kicks out of using their perceptions to corrupt love, endeavors and institutions merely for the sake of venomous spite. In the X-men comics, the White Queen, or Emma Frost, embodies the classic manipulator. She uses her telepathy and her will to blackmail, extort and control those around her to allow her access to wealth and power that would have otherwise been denied to her. She has even taken on students both as a member of the Hellfire Club and as a kind of stand in for Charles Xavier. Her character is fluid, however, and we see her transition into a more positive influence as a true Governess in her later appearances. However, how much her influence has led the robotic Cyclops toward his anti-hero status as Mutant revolutionary, we may never know. This is the nature of the manipulator, a truly shadowy figure which endangers trust and thereby takes away the very thing the governess inspires. Here we see we can be our own worst enemy, and how the dual side of Kali as both creator and destroyer is personified.

This is why it is so important that we celebrate the Governesses among us that decide to nurture, not pervert, to inspire strength and goodwill, not distrust. The glorious stories of such characters have inspired me, greatest Lady Universe, to believe that you will continue to look after me and inspire me toward my ultimate reformation of spirit.

With eternal love,

Trav

The Vale of Shade is Being Given Away!

24 Apr

True Believers, it is not a myth, a lie or a fable. The massive fantasy trilogy all-in-one-volume, The Vale of Shade is being given away at Goodreads.com. I will post the link below. Be sure to sign up to see if you can win this tome of totally terrifying and triumphant fantasy!

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/136091-the-vale-of-shade