Prepare Yourself, Movember is Coming!

Two years ago my friend Will Hobbs, an artist whose work you may recognize from this very website, brought Movember to my attention. With it’s commitment to men’s health issues and swaggering attitude I decided then that each year I would dedicate one post to bring attention to this spunky international fundraising organization.

What is Movember? (from the Movember United States website)

Movember challenges men to change their appearance and the face of men’s health by growing a moustache. The rules are simple, start Movember 1st clean-shaven and then grow a moustache for the entire month. The moustache becomes the ribbon for men’s health, the means by which awareness and funds are raised for cancers that affect men. Much like the commitment to run or walk for charity, the men of Movember commit to growing a moustache for 30 days.

The idea for Movember was sparked in 2003 over a few beers in Melbourne, Australia. The plan was simple – to bring the moustache back as a bit of a joke and do something for men’s health. No money was raised in 2003, but the guys behind the Mo realized the potential a moustache had in generating conversations about men’s health. Inspired by the women around them and all they had done for breast cancer, the Mo Bros set themselves on a course to create a global men’s health movement.

In 2004 the campaign evolved and focused on raising awareness and funds for the number one cancer affecting men – prostate cancer. 432 Mo Bros joined the movement that year, raising $55,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia – representing the single largest donation they had ever received.

The Movember moustache has continued to grow year after year, expanding to the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, South Africa, the Netherlands and Finland.

In 2009, global participation of Mo Bros and Mo Sistas climbed to 255,755, with over one million donors raising $42 Million US equivalent dollars for Movember’s global beneficiary partners.

The funds raised through Movember’s US campaign benefit the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) and LIVESTRONG, the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

The success of Movember can be directly attributed to the more than 627,000 Mo Bros and Mo Sistas who have supported our cause since 2003. Movember is sincerely grateful for their efforts and appreciates all they do.

To register, donate, or learn more, visit the Movember website.

Celebrate Samhain 2010

On Saturday October 23, 2010 I woke up at 5:45AM, hurriedly got dressed, got some breakfast, and by 7AM Jim and I were on the road to Peterborough, NH. What on earth could be so important as to cause me to wake up 5:45AM on a Saturday? Celebrate Samhain!

But Rebecca, you say, why drive three hours for an event? Let me lay it out for you. By taking a 3 hour drive I got to attend an event featuring nearly 30 vendors selling everything from lotions to altars to long stockings to books. Not only that, but I also had the opportunity to hear four different speakers, four very notable speakers: Dawn Hunt (“Kitchen Witch Workshop”), Christopher Penczak (“The Three Rays of Witchcraft”), Rosemary Gladstar (“Healing Herbs for Winter Health”), and Raven Grimassi (“The Cauldron of Memory”). Between presentations Jeanne Greene performed live music, and the day ended with a performance by The Gypsy Nomads. Impressed yet? Well hold onto your hats because here’s the bit that blew my mind….how much do you think it cost me to attend? Whatever you guessed is probably way too high. I had the opportunity to experience all of this for $5 a person with the donation of a nonperishable food item. $5 dollars!

With my $5 paid, what did I do at Celebrate Samhain? Holy crap the day was all about pleasing my inner fangirl! A handful of folks who have appeared on The Magical Buffet were there. You may remember seeing Christopher Penczak and The Gypsy Nomads on the site. The first thing I did was find their tables to take a moment to thank them for contributing their time to The Magical Buffet. I got to meet Christopher Penczak and Samantha of The Gypsy Nomads and they were both so genuinely nice you really just wanted to spend the day hanging around their tables talking. As an extra awesome bonus, Steve Kenson was there too! You may remember Steve from the great intro to roleplaying games interview he did for The Buffet. Anyway, just about every facet of fangirl that lurks inside of me got satisfied that day. My occult/magic fangirl got to meet Christopher Penczak, my music fangirl got to meet Samantha and Scott of The Gypsy Nomads, and my RPG/geek fangirl got to meet Steve Kenson! Walking out of the room I told Jim that alone was worth the drive.

The start of fangirl nirvana. Me with Samantha of The Gypsy Nomads. (Samantha is the awesome looking one on the right.)
Fangirl nirvana complete. Christopher Penczak (left), me (middle), Steve Kenson (right)

With that out of the way we began to roam all the vendor rooms, of which there were three. There was so much fantastic stuff I was bummed I couldn’t buy everything! I did do a little shopping though. I picked up a copy of The Gypsy Nomad’s album “Happy Madness”, I bought two pairs of adorable long stockings, and lastly, I bought a bottle of hand lotion from Rich at the Fairy Spa booth. Here’s the funny thing about discussing this last purchase, I bought it as a gift for my mother. I haven’t decided if I’ll be giving it to her for Christmas or Hanukkah yet. My mother likes fairies and has a small collection of fairy art, so when I saw there was going to be vendor of natural bath and body products called Fairy Spa at the Celebrate Samhain event I decided I had to get my mother a gift from them. If it’s a gift, how come I’m writing about this here on the internet before either holiday? It’s simple, my mom doesn’t use a computer, so I can discuss all these details with you guys, just don’t tell my mom! And seriously, Rich was a great guy and his stuff smelled and felt great! Maybe you should consider checking Fairy Spa out for your holiday shopping too.

Rich, one half of the Patrick and Richard team from Fairy Spa.

Shopping complete I was ready to hear some presentations. I got so wrapped up in shopping that I only caught the end of Dawn Hunt’s presentation “Kitchen Witch Workshop”. Upon hearing the end I immediately was bummed that I didn’t get to see the whole thing. The audience gave her a huge round of applause, and Hunt seemed humbled by their appreciation, a thing that’s always nice to witness. I decided to stay put and watch Jenna Greene perform while waiting for Christopher Penczak to start his presentation “The Three Rays of Witchcraft”. I’m glad I opted to just sit and enjoy Greene’s performance because the room filled up quick, well before Penczak’s start time!

Christopher Penczak’s presentation focused almost entirely about how his work, “The Three Rays of Witchcraft” came to be. Penczak spoke with ease and comfort about the personal journey that became “The Three Rays of Witchcraft”. What I enjoyed was learning about how much research and knowledge Penczak has about assorted schools of religion and magic. Nothing like a practitioner of Witchcraft referencing Theosophy to make my inner occult nerd squeal! Only time will truly tell, but as the room was clearing out I couldn’t help but wonder if I had witnessed a presentation by a man who years from now would be considered a defining magic worker of his generation.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I totally missed Rosemary Gladstar’s presentation about “Healing Herbs for Winter Health”, which took place after Penczak’s lecture. I took a lunch break. Even a fangirl has to eat you know! I did ask a few attendees about it and they said it was very good.

I did make sure to hightail it back quick like a bunny to snag a seat for Raven Grimassi’s presentation “The Cauldron of Memory: Retrieving Ancestral Knowledge and Wisdom”. It’s safe to say that Grimassi is an elder statesman in magical communities, and that reputation quickly translated into the room becoming standing room only. What can a person say about seeing Raven Grimassi give a lecture? He’s well-spoken and an expert at explaining complex ideas. His presentation was sprinkled with humor and the crowd adored him. I did not get a chance to speak with Grimassi personally, which is why you’ll find no photos of him here. Jim and I only take photos with the permission of the presenter, and since I never got to speak to him, I never got permission. It’s a little bit of a bummer to have not had the opportunity to shake the hand of THE Raven Grimassi, but I got to see him live and in person speak about his work, and that’s not a thing to sneeze at.

Janet (left) and Craig (right) get into the Samhain spirit!

To close out the day The Gypsy Nomads gave a live performance. I’ve heard and like their music, it’s why I did an interview with them; but listening to them on my iPod doesn’t compare to seeing them live. Samantha and Scott have boundless energy and are real showmen (or in this instance would it be show persons?). They laughed, they riffed off each other, and they kicked out some fantastic music. Being an amateur singer, I usually get bored by instrumental performances. I always want lyrics and a singer. However, The Gypsy Nomads are such great performers that their instrumentals flew by in a whirl of percussion, guitar, and clapping. I can’t recommend enough going out and seeing them live. In fact, just in case any of you are near where they’re going to be in the future, click here to see some of the places they’ll be playing next! You don’t want to miss out!

When the day was done, around 700 people came through the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church, and roughly 400 pounds of food was collected for the Peterborough Human Services Food Pantry. A big salute goes out to Jess and Kevin! The entire event was coordinated by just two people and a group of volunteers, an amazing feat in my book. Even after the three hour drive home, in the dark, along winding unfamiliar highways, I came home ready to leave for next year’s Celebrate Samhain!

Jess (left) and Kevin (right), the two coordinators for Celebrate Samhain

Moonrise

Park Street Press was nice enough to send me a copy of “Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading from the Heart”, which was edited by Nina Simons with Anneke Campbell. As I was packing for vacation I looked through the stack of books waiting to get read and thought to myself, an inspiring book of essays; that sounds like the perfect thing to read by the pool. I was wrong.

Let me explain, it’s not that “Moonrise” is bad, quite the contrary. It is full of stories from amazing people that really get out there and make a difference every day. The problem is, when your most charitable act of the day is tipping the bartender well for your Rum Swizzle, you feel a little bit like the laziest person ever. With each essay I read it felt like “Moonrise” was looking me in the eye and saying, “Wow Rebecca, two Rum Swizzles, you’re really being the change you want to see in the world, aren’t you?” I suspect my reaction is what Nina Simons was hoping for.

Nina Simons is co-CEO and cofounder of Bioneers, “a national nonprofit that identifies, gathers, and disseminates breakthrough solutions to environmental and social challenges”. When attempting to explain Bioneers in a quick nutshell to my husband I went with, Bioneers is like TED and “Moonrise” is the equivalent of the TED talks. And this is why I suspect Simons would be pleased that I found “Moonrise” to continually be asking, “What have you done today?”

The cast of characters and the stories they share are truly inspiring. On more than one occasion I found tears welling up in my eyes. The contributors to this book spared no punches and held nothing back emotionally. Lateefah Simon opens her essay “Girl Power for Social Justice” with, “We are living in impossible times. I feel it in my bones. Last night when I was reading my daughter a bedtime story, I thought to myself: I’m weary, but I’m not weak. These times are hard all over the world. Young women are struggling. Young women are dying. Young women are fighting and resisting.” She then goes on to chronicle how at the age of 19 she was appointed executive director of the Center for Young Women’s Development, which made her one of the youngest leaders of a social service agency in the country.

Judy Wicks, proprietor of the well-known White Dog Café, offers interesting economic and social insights with her essay “Local Living Economies”. LaDonna Redmond, the founder and president of the Institute for Community Resource Development in Chicago, Illinois, discusses how her son being born with severe food allergies started her on a quest to attempt to make healthier foods available in urban communities. She offers the insight that, “In my neighborhood, I can buy designer gym shoes, every kind of fast food, every kind of junk food, all kinds of malt liquor and illegal drugs, and maybe even a semiautomatic weapon, but I cannot purchase an organic tomato.” Artist Lily Yeh shares her journeys with readers as she outlines how she went from an artist to artist ambassador, working to bring art to impoverished communities. “I often find it hard to define what I do as an artist, but I’ve come to realize that broken places are my canvases. People’s stories are the pigments, and their talents, the tools. Together we weave something magical, organic, and sustainable,” Yeh shares in her essay “How Art Can Heal Broken Places”.

It’s safe to say “Moonrise” isn’t light, summertime beach reading. However, “Moonrise” should be required reading to anyone, particularly women, who are looking for inspiring ideas, unique perspectives, and calls to action with regards to the social and environmental challenges that we’re all facing.

The Origin of Deadtown

by Nancy Holzner

It started with an agent’s advice about what not to do.

A literary agent whose blog I followed would periodically post about mistakes and missteps that writers made in their query letters. She did this without revealing details about individual writers or their projects, and it was helpful to see an agent’s thoughts on problematic queries. One time, the agent ended her post with a pet peeve, saying she hated the phrase “So-and-so wrestles with his own personal demons.” Who else, she wondered, would wrestle with your personal demons besides you?

I didn’t take that as a rhetorical question. Instead, I started imagining a character who would do just that—exterminate other people’s personal demons for a living. That would be a great service, wouldn’t it? When fear or guilt or something from your past robbed you of your peace of mind, you could hire someone to make it all go away. And so Vicky Vaughn was born. As she says of her job in an early
draft of my novel Deadtown, “I’m a lot like a psychotherapist, except instead of a
couch I use a flaming sword.”

I wanted to give Vicky a history that contains a long-established enmity between her people and demons. So I started reading various mythologies. It took me a while to find one that clicked. Then I thought of the Mabinogion. Back when I was a graduate student studying medieval literature, I taught some courses in the legends of King Arthur, and one of my favorite texts was the Mabinogion, a collection of medieval Welsh tales and myths. Rereading the stories, I came across the legend of Ceridwen and Gwion Bach, which includes a shapeshifting contest (it’s a lot like the one in the Sword in the Stone, if you remember that movie). Shapeshifting seemed like a handy trait for a demon fighter, so I invented a Welsh race called the Cerddorion, the sons of Ceridwen. Among the Cerddorion, only females have the ability to shapeshift; they get it at puberty and lose it if they give birth. Unlike werewolves, they can change into any sentient creature at will (or sometimes strong emotion will force a shift), and they can shift three times per lunar cycle. These details were inspired by a very liberal interpretation of the Mabinogion tale.

My protagonist was taking shape. I knew something about her history, but I didn’t want her conflict with demons to be something from way back when; I wanted to make it personal. So I continued to explore and develop her past. Here’s what I came up with: Vicky’s father was killed by a demon ten years before the events of Deadtown—and Vicky believes his death was her fault. When the Hellion that killed her father threatens Boston, Vicky’s reasons for going after it are altruistic, professional, and—above all—personal.

By this point, I had some characters and a plot. What I needed next was to find my opening scene. Ignoring the agent’s advice about personal demons had gotten me off to a good start, so I decided to avoid another well-known piece of writing advice: Never begin a novel with a dream. Normally, that’s good advice you don’t want to readers to get involved in an exciting scene only to have the character wake up. It feels like a trick. But what if the story opened with the main character in someone else’s dream—not being dreamed about, but actually running around and doing things inside the dream?

One type of personal demon that Vicky exterminates is called a Drude, a dream demon. Drudes infest people’s dreamscapes to cause nightmares, feeding on their victims’ fear. So Vicky needed to be able to enter her clients’ dreams to root out the Drudes and destroy them. I gave her the technology to do this. Throw in an overeager teenage zombie apprentice and an extermination that goes terribly wrong, and you’ve got an entertaining opening scene.

Knowing when to play by the rules is important. But sometimes, ignoring perfectly good advice and blazing your own trail gets good results, too. Vicky Vaughn thinks so, anyway.

About the Author:
Nancy Holzner is the author of the Deadtown urban fantasy series, which features shapeshifting demon slayer Vicky Vaughn. Deadtown is out now; its sequel, Hellforged, will hit bookstore shelves on 12/28/10. You can read Deadtown’s first chapter here.

The 2010 Northern New York Paranormal Expo

Last Saturday was the 2nd Annual Northern New York Paranormal Expo hosted by the Northern NY Paranormal Research Society and the City of Plattsburgh. Roughly 900 people visited the Old Air Force Base Gym in Plattsburgh, NY to visit with vendors from across the region and to hear talks from psychics, paranormal researchers, and authors.

Like last year there were so many different talks being given throughout the day it was impossible for me to hear them all, so I ended up missing the talks that various vendors at the expo gave to attendees. The vendors discussed a wide range of topics, covering UFOs, 2012, and the human energy field. Judging by how busy the vendor tables were throughout the day I can safely assume people enjoyed what they heard.

At 10:30 AM I plopped my butt down in the main speaker room and essentially spent the rest of the day there. From my orange plastic chair I got to become familiar with author Joe Citro from Vermont. He’s written a ton of books, “Green Mountain Ghosts, Ghouls, and Unsolved Mysteries”, “The Vermont Ghost Guide”, “Curious New England”, and many more. After hearing him speak about his research into the lives and times of William and Horatio Eddy, the alleged psychic mediums from 1800’s Vermont, I can see how he’s managed to have such a long career. He’s a fascinating and enthusiastic speaker and amazingly accessible. I picked up a copy of his book “Not Yet Dead” and definitely plan on keeping up with him and his work at his website.

NNYPRS President Merrill (center) introducing me to author Joe Citro.

Next I got to see Dan Lowenski’s presentation “The Ark of the Covenant: Movies, Mysteries, and Myths”. His presentation featured art, graphics, and a replica of the Ark. That’s right, last weekend I saw the Ark of the Covenant, what did you see?

Yep, that's the Ark of the Covenant. Nice, right?

Lowenski’s presentation was followed by the Northern NY Paranormal Research Society discussing the technology they use in their investigations. The speakers were Brian, the head of the NNYPRS tech council and Buffet contributor, Carmen, one of the primary researchers for the NNYPRS, and Merrill, the President and Founder of the NNYPRS. However, despite the knowledge the three of them possessed, the real star of the presentation was Tod. Tod is actually a high end toy; a spy robot that can be controlled by a laptop. It has a camera that can take pictures, record video, and can even be set to take pictures when it detects movement and send an alarm as well. It’s also adorable. I’m hoping to convince Brian to write a profile on their newest robotic team member in the near future for the site!

The cutest NNYPRS, T.O.D.

And bringing the day to a close was a man who is no stranger to Buffet readers, David Pitkin. You may know him from this or this. As I’ve come to expect, his talk was wonderful. If you still haven’t seen him in person, you can keep tabs on him at his website to find out where he’ll be appearing next.

David Pitkin (right) with NNYPRS President Merrill (left)

The Northern New York Paranormal Research Society and the City of Plattsburgh put together another great expo. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next year!

I do have one other non-expo related, but Plattsburgh, NY relevant note to add here. While in Plattsburgh I visited Fantastic Planet, a comic book/game store at 164 Boynton Avenue Plattsburgh, NY. The owners, Pete and Donna I believe, have a fabulous, wonderful store! Clean, well organized, brightly lit, with tons and tons of glorious graphic novels as far as the eye could see (I picked up The Invisibles 1 and 2), a big ol’ wall of manga (I picked up Death Note 11 and 12), a gigantic stuffed Bone doll that was fortunately up too high for me to grab and hug until it got ruined by my make-up and would be forced to purchase it, and a respectable selection of table top roleplaying games and board games. Also, we stumbled across Corner Stone Bookshop, a truly magical wonderland of used books. I managed to show some restraint and only purchased a 1969 edition of “The Graham Kerr Cookbook” and “Jesus in India”, an English version of “Masih Hindustamein”, an Urdu treatise written by the Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

Also, my October tour of events isn’t done yet. This Saturday I’ll be going to Celebrate Samhain in Peterborough, NH where I’ll be getting to see Raven Grimassi, Christopher Penczak, The Gypsy Nomads, and more! It sounds like it will be a great time! If you’re in the area, you should stop by too!

Teachings of the Santeria Gods

“Teachings of the Santeria Gods: The Spirit of the Odu” by Ocha’ni Lele is an exploration of the patakis (an oral tradition of stories) tied to specific results achieved when using the sixteen-cowrie-shell oracle known as the diloggun in Santeria. This combination of divination and religious observance is a fascinating system I’ve never encountered before, and the patakis related to it give an insightful look at the stories that inform practioners of Santeria.

How does it start? Sixteen consecrated and modified cowry shells are cast by a trained priest with the mechanically opened side of the shell having a value of zero, whereas the natural mouth has a value of one. The numbers are added up and the result corresponds to a particular odu which is a divination pattern and the orishas (spirits) use this odu to speak to the priest. Thusly you have 16 odu that are linked to 16 orishas starting with one mouth, Okana, and ending with 16 mouths, Merindilogun.

However, this book isn’t about divination, it’s about the stories tied to the orishas that are generally passed along orally from priest to apprentice, parent to child, village to village, and across oceans. The stories embody every facet of the human condition: love, death, hope, violence, compassion, devotion, sex, greed, desire, despair, and more. Much like those consulting the diloggun, the orishas have lives, or have touched lives, filled with successes, failures, quests, and hard lessons learned.

There are stories that made me smile (and perhaps get a bit misty eyed) like the story “How a Man and a Woman Found Love” connected with Irosun who is linked to the odu of four mouths. There are also tales of intrigue, such as “The Story of Elegede” which is tied to Obara, connected to the odu of six mouths and “King Olushola Make Edo” which is connected with Ogunda, who is linked to the odu of three mouths. Also there are many stories explaining why things are the way they are, like “Why the Rooster Was First Sacrificed”, “The Creation of Copulation”, “How the Crocodile Became Powerful”, and “The Story of the Cat and the Rat”.

Loaded with stories that provide entertainment and unique perspectives, “Teachings of the Santeria Gods” is an excellent book for those looking to learn about Santeria or African folklore. I enjoyed it immensely.

Robyn’s Body Talk: Part Two

Well, here we are again, talking about Swedish pop star Robyn. That must mean only one thing, “Body Talk Pt. 2” has released! I feel it’s safe to say now that we’re three Robyn albums reviewed in here at The Buffet (here and here) that I can officially declare I have a total fangirl crush on Robyn. There, I said it. I’m not ashamed.

So what does “Body Talk Pt. 2” bring to the table that has got me so darned excited? A whole heck of a lot! Let’s dive right in because despite being only 8 songs, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover!

The album opens with “In My Eyes”. This is pure, straight ahead, pop. It’s not revolutionary by any means, but it’s upbeat, you tap your foot to it, there’s some classic synthesizer and drum machine work going on. Next up is “Include Me Out” which again is danceable pop. “In My Eyes” flows nicely into this track. With only 8 songs I value album flow greatly. I enjoy the occasional schizophrenic album that goes in a zillion different directions, but for the “Body Talk” discs and their limited number of songs, I appreciate a solid fluid selection of songs.

Okay, now that we’ve warmed up with the opening two tracks, here is where the ass kicking truly begins in earnest. Remember how I commented in my review of “Body Talk Pt. 1” that “Robyn slows it down for the last two tracks, ‘Hang With Me’ and ‘Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa’. Both songs are lovely. Robyn has such a delicate, light, airy voice that is well suited for the material, but I have to admit after Robyn kicking your ass for 6 songs, it is a little hard to switch gears.” Well for “Body Talk Pt. 2” Robyn presents us with the revamped, techno laced, version of “Hang With Me”. What started out as a catchy ballad tinged with melancholy has become, in my eyes, a happy upbeat song about two friends trying not to be in love with each other.

After “Hang With Me” we’ve got “Love Kills”. “If you’re looking for love, get a heart made of steel ‘cus you know that love kills. Don’t go messing with love, it’ll hurt you for real, don’t you know that love kills?” I adore it when pop music viciously attacks love, don’t you?

Here we are at “We Dance to the Beat”. This is a very techno/trance kind of song. The best way to describe it is, it’s as if The Android Sister, who performed satirical speak songs in the audio series “Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe”, got polished and repackaged for the dance clubs. This is The Android Sisters, and this is “We Dance to the Beat”, you be the judge.

Get ready for some real booty shaking because we’re at “Criminal Intent”. Can a night out on the dance floor represent criminal intent? It can when Robyn invites producer Diplo to join her on a track. This song packs some serious bass and is hands down the club song for this album. If anyone happens to have the ear of the folks who license music for the USA Network show “Burn Notice”, pass this song along to them please. This song is tailor made for the show, especially if they cut to black with just the end of the distorted voice saying “criminal intent” lingering for a moment before the commercials kick in. I expect to hear this song in the new season USA!

Again, referencing my review of “Body Talk Pt. 1”, you may remember me expressing disappointment in the lack of a new “Curriculum Vitae” on that album. The smack talking intro that touted the vast accomplishments of Robyn, including, but not limited to, being “listed in section 202 of the United Nations Security Act of 1979 as being too hot to wear tight sweaters in international airspace.” She makes up for that with “U Should Know Better” featuring Snoop Dogg. As I said before, “Robyn creates Swedish pop music that contains a hip hop swagger,” and she holds her own effortlessly with Snoop Dogg. The hip hop swagger runs rampant on this track as she explains that the French, the Vatican, the Russians, the CIA, the Prince of Darkness, and in fact, the whole industry should know better than to f@#k with her. Noted, will not f@#k with Robyn. Check!

This brings us to the final track of the album “Indestructible”. This is labeled as the acoustic version, which leaves me hopeful that I’ll be hearing an awesome remix of this song on the third “Body Talk” album, as this was how it went with “Hang With Me”. Again, just like “Hang With Me”, the song is beautiful and perfectly suited for her voice. Lyrically the song is wonderful, “I’m going to love you like I’ve never been hurt before. I’m going to love you like I’m indestructible.” It’s fantastic, and it’s solid enough that with it being the end cap to the album, it doesn’t feel like it drags things down. I guess “Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa” was just one slow song too many on the last album. Here “Indestructible” soars and then lands perfectly to complete the album.

I don’t always agree with the music reviews in Rolling Stone magazine, but they categorized both “Body Talk Pt. 1” and “Body Talk Pt. 2” as albums you should buy now, and I can’t agree more!

Update:
In the gap between writing this review and actually publishing the review Digital Spy confirmed my hopes, the next single out will be an alternate version of “Indestructible”.

Missing Banned Books Week

So I went on a cruise to Bermuda at the end of September. It was wonderful and there will eventually be a drink by drink article about the trip (of course), but before I get to that, I need to take a moment to address something that slipped past me while I was running around packing and making my rum priority list for this recent vacation. The last week of September was Banned Book Week.

Highlighting Banned Book Week hasn’t been a truly “traditional” feature on The Magical Buffet. I intended every end of September to bring attention to Banned Book Week, the way every October I highlight Breast Cancer Action, but alas Banned Book Week was only on the site in 2007, 2009, and this year I’m late. Oops!

In case this is all news to you, let me direct your attention to the American Library Associations website to bring you up to speed:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.
The first year I mentioned Banned Book Week here at The Buffet, I listed some examples of books that had been banned or challenged on religious grounds. Last year I gave readers a link to a nifty map from the Banned Books Week website showing book bans and challenges from 2007-2009. That map is still up and now reflects 2007-2010. Since this year’s Banned Book Week snuck up on me (You know, by occurring at the same time each year.) that instead of digging up new lists or widgets I would take a moment to dip my toe into the muddy waters of the book burning debate.

I believe in burning things in protest, as long as it’s done safely as to not harm people or property. If you hate me, feel free to burn an effigy of me; it certainly beats being set on fire. You don’t like our country, our policies, or other sundries, burn the American flag. Have at it. Ladies, still feeling the yoke of oppression? Burn as many bras as you’d like. I won’t be joining you. As I get older I depend more and more on adequate under wire support, and as a liberated woman, I can choose to have my breasts lifted in a vain attempt to pretend they’re still my breasts from high school. I may sound a bit like a fire bug, but I have a line….

It is never cool to burn books. Period. I get it, Harry Potter is a magic user, Islam is “different”, the end of “Brave New World” sucked (Hmmm…..I may be the only one who has considered the “Brave New World” book burning event.), but regardless of my personal thoughts on the content in a book, I would never condone the act of destroying someone else’s thoughts and expression. I know I’m a “liberal” and/or a “progressive” and/or a “socialist” (as the kids are saying these days), so I know my thoughts probably aren’t surprising any regular readers, however, in these tumultuous times, perhaps it’s a good idea to sit down and decide where our individual boundaries lie. I know that every person has the right to express themselves through the symbolic burning of books, and I wouldn’t stop you, but I’d hope you wouldn’t do it.

My friend once said, in character at a roleplaying game session I was at, that “information must be free”. Oddly, that fictional character’s exclamation has informed much of thoughts regarding our First Amendment and issues with freedom of speech and expression. When a book is banned, a population is deprived of the thoughts and ideas expressed by the author. In my mind, there is nothing more final than instead of banning a book opting to burn it to ash. It just doesn’t seem like freedom to me.

10 Questions with Grace Schireson

1. I won’t start by asking, “What is Zen?” I’ve been lead to believe that by asking, Zen will already be lost. So instead, could you explain to my readers the difference between Zen and other branches of Buddhism?

What isn’t Zen? It is the branch of Buddhism that emerged after Buddhism wed Taoism in China. It is said that Zen is not dependent on words or scriptures (as many other Buddhist practices are),and that it is a direct pointing to Buddha as one’s own life. The word Zen actually means meditation. The basis of all Zen practices is meditation rather than studying Buddhist scripture or belief in a system. In Zen you are expected to meditate and just get it with little explanation of what the “it” is.

2. Until seeing your book on the shelf in a bookstore I hadn’t realized that you really don’t hear that much about women in Buddhism, and even less when discussing Zen. How is it that women show up so infrequently in Buddhist texts?

Buddhism emerged from Hinduism. Hindus believe(d) that to be born a woman was a punishment for poor behavior in a previous lifetime. Since you have been doomed to the lower rungs of humanity as a woman, it is hard to understand why/how you might have anything to say. While the Buddha and his emerging religion tried to establish themselves as less superstitious and more egalitarian, considering women as chattel was part of the surrounding culture in India. In China, there were different beliefs about women, but they boiled down to the same treatment—women belonged to their fathers first, their husband’s second, and their son’s third. If they missed having sons, they belonged to their brothers. Because women were historically seen as lesser beings across Asia (and pretty much all over the world), much of this treatment crept into the Buddhist religion. It was difficult for women to get an education, to travel or to be respected as the leader of a community. Buddhist women who did manage to enter training and succeed in teaching a community were later erased by misogynistic monks establishing an all male lineage. In Zen “lineage” became the measure of authenticity. All Zen teachers claimed to trace their teacher’s credentials back to his teacher’s credentials and so on back to the Buddha. This “lineage” myth erased the contributions of women, and coincidentally, established beyond a doubt that men could fully reproduce or single handedly father men, eliminating a need for women at all.

3. What provoked your interest in seeking out the stories of the women who practiced Zen?

When I became ordained by my male teacher I realized I had no idea how to embody the job of Zen priest. There were a few Western teachers for me to emulate, but unlike the rich literature describing the Zen patriarchs, there was almost nothing suggesting the archetype of the female Zen master. Note that the word “master” itself is a gendered word. There is no equivalent engendered female term for female “master” or “mastery.”

4. What can modern Zen practitioners learn from Zen’s female ancestors?

What we call Zen in the West is entirely based on the teachings developed by Asian male monastics. It is as if we were to base the science of developing team spirit entirely on the techniques of Army boot camp. Army boot camp is just one way of training young men, it does not represent a thorough or complete synthesis of motivational training. Currently, the way Zen is taught is from the perspective of male monastic training. It does not include training from married teachers about integrating spiritual training and family life. It does not include training on how to make use of spiritual development in the world of work outside the monastery gates. Currently in the West, more than 50% of Buddhist practitioners are women, and more than 50% of Buddhists adults are married. Wouldn’t it be wise to find relevant training experience? Many female Zen ancestors had been married prior to entering training, many of them practiced within a family setting, and often the female Zen masters needed to support themselves financially through work in the community. This makes the training and teaching of female Zen masters applicable to the style of Buddhism that is evolving in the West with many Zen Buddhist teachers married and working in the world and Zen students and practitioners doing the same.

5. Is there anything that women in particular, Zen practitioners or not, can learn from these women?

The most important learning is the Nike slogan: “Just do it.” How do we tap into our own wisdom and power and not be submerged by only serving as the caregivers or beauty queens we are often programmed to become? We also cannot get lost in anger or woundedness about the fact that women are not given full opportunity. We need to note that this unfairness towards women is still sometimes true, get our shit together and accomplish what it is that matters to us. Throughout history women have used ingenuity and endurance to accomplish amazing things, this should be no less true for those of us today who have both legal and economic power that were unavailable just 100 years ago.

6. Your book, “Zen Women”, is filled with all sorts of fantastic stories about early female Zen practitioners. Do you have a personal favorite?

I love Otagaki Rengetsu who lost husbands, children, family and her home by the time she was 30 years old. After all those losses, she maintained her spiritual practice as her basis, and she transformed her losses into beautiful art. She did not repress her pain, or use positive thoughts to banish it; instead she contained her suffering within the compassionate, concentrated and flexible mind that she generated with her Buddhist meditative practice. This Buddha mind absorbed and transformed her pain suffering from which she produce beautiful poetry that expressed her losses in the most subtle tones. By not fully articulating or describing her own personal story, she invites us to join her where we accept and allow ourselves to be touched and understood. For example in a poem to her children who had died so young she wrote the following poem:

To My Beloved Children

My final message:
Flowers blooming
With all their heart
In lovely Sakurai village.

In this poem she names an historical site, Sakurai village, where a samurai lord said good-bye to his samurai son as they went off to die in battle. And yet, now the place is made lovely by each person—whether infant or samurai—blooming completely as him/herself within the web of human love and loss. All we can do is be completely ourselves, and add our presence, our brief flowering scent to the village which becomes beautified by our being.

7. Since women have sometimes had an awkward history within Buddhism, I’m curious if you’ve seen any criticism of your focus on Zen women?

Yes, there has been criticism, but not from the direction of trying to redeem Buddhism’s past mistakes. I have seen two critical reviews by readers, who both said they had not read the whole book; both criticized the view as “not Zen enough.” Interesting criticism from a layman to a Zen Abbess (me). One critique from a woman, suggested that I had not sufficiently honored the traditional heroic Zen women. Obviously, she did not read the book. I did not spend 10 years of my life studying and writing about these women because I wanted to devalue their contribution.

8. In “Zen Women” you discuss “The Appearance of the Zen Zombie” which discusses what I think may be a common belief about how Zen practitioners, male or female, behave. Can you explain what a “Zen Zombie” is for my readers?

The Zen Zombie is a Zen student or a Zen teacher or practice leader who has decided to eliminate or repress feelings in the interest of trying to be like a Zen person. They walk around in Zen robes, at Zen centers, trying to look beyond feelings and holier-than-thou. Obviously, this is an occupational hazard for all religions. If you want to know what the opposite iteration of Zen practice is, refer back to question 6 and reread how Rengetsu integrated—rather than repressed—painful feelings.

9. Last question, many of my readers spend time pondering how to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse, but I don’t think any of them have considered a possible Zen Zombie uprising. Any survival tips?

I believe the Zombies have reached their peak strength and are on the decline. But just in case, if you meet any Buddhists who say that feelings don’t matter, and there is NO self, women should run immediately to their nearest chocolate shop or head for your favorite clothing shop for a quick dose of self affirmation. Men may instead select from the following options: sports, watches or cars.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question!

How do you balance the buffet—inclusion of many spiritual options– with encouraging selection of one practice so that spiritual seekers may develop depth and commitment?

Honestly, I don’t. That said, I don’t do anything to hinder or dissuade any of my readers from choosing one practice to explore in depth. I’m fairly certain that many of my readers already have committed to a singular practice, and really only read The Magical Buffet for the rum jokes.

About Grace Schireson:
Abbess Myoan Grace Schireson is the founder and head teacher of the Empty Nest Zen Group, Modesto Valley Heartland Zen Group, and the Fresno River Zen Group. Grace is a Dharma heir in the lineage of the great Shunryu Suzuki-roshi—founder of the San Francisco Zen Center. Grace has practiced Zen meditation for more than 35 years and is author of the book “Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens and Macho Masters”. In the United States she has undergone her Soto Zen training with Sojun Mel Weitsman-roshi of Berkeley Zen Center—from who she received Dharma transmission from in 2005. Grace also has trained in Rinzai Zen in Japan under Keido Fukushima-roshi, retired abbot of Tofuku-ji Monastery located in Kyoto. She has taught classes on Zen throughout the United States and has also been trained as a clinical psychologist—teaching Asian methods of quieting the mind using techniques suitable for Westerners.

To learn more about Abbess Schireson and Empty Nest Zen, visit their website.

We Are Not Amused, Actually We Are

If you’ve been a regular reader of The Buffet for any length of time you have no doubt heard me shout about how (insert item/person/event/other) is the most awesome thing ever. Every time I feel I’ve encountered what will surely be the coolest thing to ever cross my experience, something new comes to light. That said, today we will be looking at what is surely the coolest, most awesome, most fan-freakin’-tastic thing ever! The Doomed Queens Royal Playing Cards and the companion Ask the Queens Advice Card Deck, both by Kris Waldherr and published by US Games Systems.

What is a Doomed Queens playing card deck? I’m so glad you asked! It is a traditional 52 card playing deck, but the artwork (which is stunning and much of it done by Kris Waldherr) shows a historical tragic female character and has a small blurb of text briefly describing how this individual was “doomed”. Let’s face it, any playing card deck that comes with a “Graphics Key” card to help you figure out the doom icons on the cards, is the coolest deck you’ll ever play with. The deck includes some well known ladies, such as Ann Boleyn, Cleopatra, and Marie Antoinette. However you’ll also learn the sad tales of lesser known female royalty, such as Athalia (the daughter of Queen Jezebel who was beheaded), Alute (the consort of the Tongzhi Emperor who was assassinated), and Empress Irene (wife to Leo IV, emperor of Byzantium, who was deposed).

This deck is just screaming for a night with the girls where you do nothing but drink wine, eat chocolate, and play cards! Something to keep in mind folks, the holiday shopping season is approaching, and with the sturdy box, beautiful art, bits of trivia, and a suggested retail of $12.00, who can’t you buy this for?

But don’t go yet, we’ve got more doomed queens to discuss! Let’s look at the Ask the Queens Advice Deck. Take 40 of the choicest ladies from the Doomed Queens Royal Playing Card Deck, turn them into sturdy oversized cards (ala most “oracle” decks), keep the history, but add what you can learn from that history, and you’ve got yourself the Ask the Queens Advice Deck!

What wisdom do doomed queens impart? Queen Zenobia says, “It’s better to be alive without a crown than dead with one.” The card goes on to explain, “Queen Zenobia of Palmyra chose to lead her people into battle rather than suffer Roman dominance. Zenobia’s vision for her empire did not include Roman rule. Palmyra was captured in 275, but Zenobia was freed. The former queen decided that if you can’t beat them, join them; she married a Roman senator and spent her remaining years in luxury.”

Another fine bit of doomed advice is “If you tarry with crime, you may become a victim.” So says Queen Joan. The card explains, “Joan was the niece of Phillip VI, king of France, and the granddaughter of the king of Naples, Robert the Wise. Robert made her his heir when her father died. To keep it in the family, she was betrothed to her second cousin Andrew, a Hungarian prince. Rumor held that she arranged for his murder. Joan was deposed in 1381; a year later, she was strangled in prison.”

Looking through the deck, I can’t help but say it again; with its sturdy box, beautiful art, bits of trivia, fun advice, and a suggested retail of $15.00, this would make an excellent gift for a wide range of people this holiday season.

Both “Doomed Queen” decks are unique and so much fun! Alone or together, they would truly make gifts that keep on giving.