2013 Blog Year In Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for my blog. Don’t we all just love stats? Check out what readers were reading on Kecia’s Blog in 2013.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Slainte: The Stone of Eloquence

What do Mick Jagger, Winston Churchill, and my Mom all have in common? If you guessed they all kissed the Blarney Stone at some point in their lives, you’d be spot on. Blarney Castle regularly makes Ireland’s top ten places to visit list . Why? Because it’s the home of the stone that promises eloquence to everyone who is brave enough to plant a big smooch on a bit of grey castle rock, high in a tower, upsidedown and backwards of course.

Here’s a demo of the technique on a sunnier day. Note the stone kissing helper has a FIRM grasp on the kissers. 🙂

I haven’t been to Blarney, but I can tell you it would be on my top ten list for Ireland too. Who wouldn’t want to brave the twisty stone steps of a medieval tower and kiss a stone with a storied history all to receive the “gift of the gab”? I was actually a little surprised my mom had done the…er…deed, given her fear of heights, but then she was barely 19 at the time. Go, Mom!

A brief history of Blarney:

In 1446 the third castle was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster of which the keep still remains standing.

The lower walls are fifteen feet, built with an angle tower by the McCarthys of Muskerry. It was subsequently occupied at one time by Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster, who is said to have supplied four thousand men from Munster to supplement the forces of Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Legend has it that the latter king gave half of the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in gratitude. This, now known as the Blarney Stone, was incorporated in the battlements where it can now be kissed.

The Earl of Leicester was commanded by Queen Elizabeth I to take possession of the castle. Whenever he endeavoured to negotiate the matter McCarthy always suggested a banquet or some other form of delay, so that when the queen asked for progress reports a long missive was sent, at the end of which the castle remained untaken. The queen was said to be so irritated that she remarked that the earl’s reports were all ‘Blarney’.

So let’s compare a little of that eloquence to see what the Blarney Stone wrought…

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life. –SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL

You wake up in the morning and you look at your old spoon, and you say to yourself, ‘Mick, it’s time to get yourself a new spoon.’ And you do. –MICK JAGGER

Sometimes you’re the only one who can be your children’s advocate. No one knows them better than you. –MOM

And a couple more…

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see. –SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL

Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and fame…ooh, ooh… –MICK JAGGER, Sympathy for the Devil

If you just picked up all the clothes on this floor, you could actually find something in your room. –MOM

Though the Stones are one of my favorite bands, and you can’t go wrong with Mom’s advice, I think I will give the oratory nod to Sir Winston Churchill, mainly for this epic speech rallying England in the dark days of WWII:

We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

However, the true measure of Blarney can be summed up in this simple comparison:

“The difference between ‘blarney’ and ‘baloney’:

Baloney is when you tell a 50-year old woman that she looks 18. Blarney is when you ask a woman how old she is, because you want to know at what age women are most beautiful.”

Ah, yes…and if you say it with an Irish lilt, well…

Do YOU have the gift of the gab when you need it most? Anyone kissed the Blarney Stone and lived to tell about it? HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY, EVERYONE!!

(all photos and vid courtesy Blarney Castle’s really informative and fun website. Quotes from BrainyQuote and Greatest Winston Churchill Quotes, oh and Mom herself 🙂 )

Slainte: Did the Irish Really Save Civilization?

One of my favorite history books, Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, is a slim volume that became a national bestseller in the mid-1990s. This is from the back cover copy:

In this entertaining and compelling narrative, Thomas Cahill tells the story of how Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era. Without Ireland, the transition could not have taken place. Not only did Irish monks and scribes maintain the very record of Western civilization — copying manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, while libraries and learning on the continent were forever lost — they brought their uniquely Irish world-view to the task.

If you like audiobooks, try the abridged version with Liam Neeson reading. The way he rolls the names Cuchulainn, Derdriu, and Medb, and the characters and places from the Tain Bo Cuailnge (an early Irish prose epic) off of his native Irish tongue–truly yummy.

As with many popular historical narratives, bona fide historians have objected to Cahill’s scholarship and failure to prove his thesis. To be sure, his subject ranges over several centuries and tends to gloss over certain facts in order to make his point. But like the best storytellers, Cahill lays down the fall of Rome and the rise of Irish Christianity with all the verve of an Irish bard—with many a wink, wink at Irish culture—and, best of all, he invites the reader in to ponder the “what ifs” of history. What if the works of Virgil, Homer, Juvenal, Martial, Ausonius, Cicero, Ovid, and so many other pillars of western and Latinate literature had been lost to book-burning barbarian hordes pillaging Rome and popes uninterested in “classical” interpretations? What does Western Civilization owe to the 7th, 8th, and 9th century scriptoria of Landisfarne, Skellig Michael, Glendalough, Kildare, and Armagh? Fortunately for his argument, Cahill does not hold back in his estimation of the forces at work:

…Latin literature would almost surely have been lost without the Irish, and illiterate Europe would hardly have developed its great national literatures without the example of the Irish, the first vernacular literature to be written down. Beyond that, there would have perished in the west not only literacy but all the habits of mind that encourage thought…
Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies’ heads. Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile [in continental Europe], they reestablished literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe.
And that is how the Irish saved civilization.

Though he hammers home this larger impact of monkish diligence, it is through his portraits of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and the princely monk Columcille that Cahill humanizes the early Irish-Christian efforts to transfer the literature of the ancients to sheepskin books, for posterity. He also makes the case that the Irish were uniquely situated to take on this mission (for one thing, they have plenty of sheep in Ireland!). Finally, he makes short work of the idea of the “ignorant scribe” who unknowingly transcribed the works of the greats by rote:

Beneath a description of the death of Hector on the Plain of Troy, one scribe, completely absorbed in the words he is copying, has written most sincerely: “I am greatly grieved at the above-mentioned death.”

As are we, poor Hector. Thanks to the Irish.

Are there any “what ifs” of history you find particularly intriguing? The Codex (bound book) was considered an advance in technology over the scroll. Can you imagine entire books being copied by hand?

Slainte: Celebrating Toasts and Things Irish

“I have known many and liked not a few,
But loved only one, and this toast is to you.” Irish Toast

I have planned a series of Friday blog posts here in the month of March celebrating toasts, having been inspired by a couple of previous meanderings that have ended in toasting to (among other things) dangerous beauty, courage, and friends.

So, what is a toast, exactly? This from http://www.etymonline.com — “a call to drink to someone’s health,” 1700 (but said by Steele, 1709, to date to the reign of Charles II), originally referring to the beautiful or popular woman whose health is proposed and drunk, from the use of spiced toast to flavor drink, the lady regarded as figuratively adding piquancy to the wine in which her health was drunk. The verb meaning “to propose or drink a toast” also is first recorded 1700.

The tradition of toasting goes back a bit further to the Greeks and Romans, who lifted their glasses to show the wine was not poisoned and hid the taste of vinegary wine with burnt bread.

But it is commonly held that it was the Irish who lifted toasting to a clever art. Which makes sense as the Irish have, in general, priviledged the storyteller’s art. And what is a toast but a mini story.

And what better (and more Irish) drink to have in your glass than Guinness. Guinness for strength. Guinness for life. To your health. Slainte.

Do you have any favorite toasts? Are you Irish? Ever been to Ireland? What is your favorite St. Patrick’s Day (celebrated on 17 March) ritual (drinking or otherwise)?

All Hail the Haters

I was distressed to find that three of my favorite bloggers encountered hate mail this week in the course of providing enlightenment and entertainment through their writing and instruction. Not surprisingly, they each dealt with a similar situation in very different ways, according to their personality type and blog voice.

Even though it resurrected horrible childhood memories, Lisa Hall-Wilson recovered from a personal attack with grace, courage, and forgiveness.

Daniel Nest responded to a bizarre and seemingly random crazy with characteristic humor and a little “right-back-atcha.”

And Graeme Street, cycling trainer and fitness guru, fought back from a punch to the gut with an impressive display of physical prowess. Get a load of the TRICEPS on this guy, my friends. How can anyone say he’s phoning it in!?

So, the haters…Who can forget the author who disagreed (ungrammatically) with a review of her self-published novel last year and was publicly (and a bit unfairly, IMO) excoriated in blog comments? I blogged about my response to that incident here at Edits [that] Rock.

But my question is: do the haters help us step up our game? Or are they just a blight on the blogosphere (and elsewhere to be sure) that we all will encounter sooner or later and must deal with in our own way?

Support of like-minded writers can pull us through the dark days when the haters are chipping away at our writing, our confidence, and our dreams. Kristen Lamb in her blog post this week talked about (among other gorrillas things) writers/authors banding together in order to anticipate, not merely react to, coming changes in publishing. Her mantra is We Are Not Alone (Yay, WANA!), and I have personally seen the power in that statement. In fact, she wrote a book about social networking with WANA in the title, which you can find at her website.

Hecklers, however, may have a positive purpose too.

We often respond (as the bloggers above did) to the haters in the best tradition of Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” (That ol’ Nietzche was quite a card. He also said: “Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” 😉 )

Anyway, after the dust of emotion settles, if we can get past that lump that gathers in our throat and that ball of fear that settles in our bellies, we emerge from the incident tougher and clearer for having been through it. Or put another way, if everything was fluffy bunnies and cute kittens would we really ever reach down deep to the good stuff, the REAL stuff, and share it with the world? Sometimes we come back from a blow with our best response ever, and the comments to that response prove our worth to ourselves and our readers. Take THAT you haters, you!

A little research on the psychology of hate turned up this sage article from psychologist and writer Rick Hanson. He begins his discussion of the chemical causes of hate in your brain with the following:

I heard a story once about a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered: “In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.”

Hanson talks about how fight-or-flight chemicals from the primitive amygdala flood our brains, particularly our “rational” frontal cortex, washing everything in an “us” vs. “them” bath.

As soon as you place anyone outside of the circle of “us,” the mind/brain automatically begins to devalue that person and justify poor treatment of him. This gets the wolf of hate up and moving, only a quick pounce away from active aggression. Pay attention to the number of times a day you categorize someone as “not like me,” particularly in subtle ways: not my social background, not my style, and so on. It’s startling how routine it is.

There is some positive news for the primitive brain, however:

Humans and other primate species routinely restrain the wolf of hate and repair its damage, returning to a baseline of reasonably positive relationships with each other. In most people most of the time, the wolf of love is bigger and stronger than the wolf of hate…Love and hate: they live and tumble together in every heart, like wolf cubs tussling in a cave.

My hats off to these bloggers for coming through the storm stronger. We all need to spread more love and less hate. Include more people in our circle of “us.” Always remembering meanwhile that the Wolf of Love is still a wolf, right?

Have you ever held yourself back from a post for fear of the backlash? How do you deal with the haters? Do you turn to your supporters to buoy you up when you get stung with a hate zinger? How do you feed your wolves?

Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: The Beauty of Aggression

I offer buckets of thanks to blogger August McLaughlin and her wonderful idea for a blog festival. Inspired by Sam Levinson’s poem The Beauty of a Woman, which you can read on August’s blog here, we are talking about beauty, feeling beautiful, aging gracefully, and lots of other girlie–and not so girlie–stuff. Check out her blog today and tomorrow for stories, prizes, and links to other great blogs!

Here’s my contribution. And may I just say, this blogging thing never really turns out how you expect, but something is always revealed…

I went to college in Los Angeles, which is a varsity league kind of place for people concerned about how they look. Especially young girls—young women. I hadn’t picked USC because of the preponderance of pretty people; I was more interested in the solid reputation of the International Relations department—I know, geeky of me, wasn’t it? I quickly realized (like in the first 10 minutes of checking into my dorm!) that my J. V. grooming skills were not up to the task of competing in this world where everyone was tan, blond, and fabulous, not to mention somehow connected with the film industry. I was thrown into a river of piranhas when I didn’t even know how to tread water.

My parents were native Californians but I was from Philadelphia by way of New Mexico, and I had the short haircut and pale skin to prove it. My mom, who had nurtured me all the way to this crossroads–her second child, her last child, her only daughter–looked around at the sudden influx of Barbie look-alikes (and maybe at my shell-shocked face) and promptly took me shopping. God bless her! Believe me, shopping was not, and is not to this day, anywhere on my mom’s list of favorite things to do. But a few hours at the Galleria, and several hundred dollars later, she left me sitting on my dorm room bed feeling a little better because now I had a few OP (remember those?) tops and some cute shorts to go with them. Who wears shorts in September in Philly? But I wasn’t in Philly anymore, I was in Southern California. Still, I cried when my mom walked out of the dorm and got in her car. Buckets.

I eventually found my niche at USC, academically and socially. I grew my hair out, enhanced the blond, had a boyfriend, and graduated with honors. One night near graduation, I was in a friend’s room primping for a party. A friend of hers was there too. This other woman was drop dead gorgeous, a standout in a land of standouts. She didn’t go to our school. In fact, she wasn’t in college at the time, but earning a living as a model. I was sitting on the bed sipping wine and watching my friend curl this knockout’s long, shiny blond hair. They were both in their underwear so as not to get hairspray and long strands of hair on the little black dresses they were going to wear. I have such a clear picture in my head of them laughing together in front of a floor length mirror. I didn’t feel part of their group of two, so I wasn’t talking, just sitting. Out of the blue, the beautiful girl turned to me, flames shooting out of her lovely eyes, and yelled, “Stop f*%ing STARING at me!”

I bobbled my wine glass. “I’m not staring,” I mumbled. Then I made some excuse and left the room, fighting tears. My friend later apologized to me for her friend’s outburst, but I had shrugged off the sharp needle of hurt by then. What kind of inner imbalance and pressure was such a woman under to react that way to me? I asked myself snottily.

Maybe I should have asked, What kind of vibe was I giving off to cause that reaction? I was so envious, after all. And I had been thinking (even though I knew better), Look how beautiful she is, it must be so easy for her…

What I really WANTED to say back to her (later, when I thought of it) was, “I’m NOT staring at YOU. Get over yourself, bitch.”

Maybe what I should have said was a much more honest, “Oh, wow. Didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I was just thinking how amazing you look. And envying you. What products do you use in your hair to make it shine like that, or is that just God-given luck-of-the-draw?”

Here’s the thing. We women compete for men and resources and position. We vie with our looks, our brains, and our bodies. We judge, we evaluate, we make improvements, we collude with each other at the expense of others, and we send out little darts that draw blood. But I have always thought (and it’s not a terribly original thought, just a true one): What if we used all that energy we spend competing on collaboration? We could rule the world, maybe. And wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?

In my late twenties and thirties, I plunged into all the feminist and post-feminist manifestos: Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, the classics of Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan, Ms. magazine. One book stuck with me though, and I have it prominently on my bookshelf even now. Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography spoke to me with her truth and her language. Here she is on why we struggle to conflate the aggression that wells up inside us with the image of ourselves that our culture hands us:

“The problem with ignoring female aggression is that we who are aggressive, we girls and women and obligate primates, feel confused, as though something is missing in the equation, the interpretation of self and impulse. We’re left to wander through the thickets of our profound ferocity, our roaring hungers and drives, and we’re tossed in the playground to thrash it out among ourselves, girl to girl, knowing that we must prove ourselves and negotiate and strut and calibrate but seeing scant evidence of the struggle onscreen or in books or on biology’s docket. We are left feeling like “error variants,” in the words of one female scientist, wondering why we aren’t nicer than we are, and why we want so much, and why we can’t sit still.”

So for our celebration today of The Beauty of a Woman, I offer a toast to women: Here’s to roaring hungers and profound ferocity. Beautiful, dangerous, and strong. May we feel the envy, but reach out a hand anyway.

What about you, my readers? Were you ever in a place and time you felt out of your league? Was it the people around you, or was it really YOU causing your discomfort? Can women work together, collaborate, share? What makes you feel beautiful?

Sports As Inspiration

Susie Lindau’s (hilarious!) post about snowboarder Louie Vito and Shaun White’s recent perfect 100 score in the X Games Superpipe … and of course the huge sporting event coming up this weekend that will have the majority of Americans parked in front of their TV’s (hint: starts with SUPER, ends with too much chili 🙂 ) inspired this week’s picture blog of sports related ephemera. Enjoy and let me know what inspires you…

Sports have it all: highs, lows, comic relief and unimaginable drama. But what inspires us so much about athletic events? Of course there is the sheer, balletic athleticism.

There is also the cathartic shedding of emotions through the medium of a sporting event.  That’s why we yell at the TV, right? Go! Go! GO!

And then there’s the idea that we can do this stuff too. If we only had the chance…and the right equipment…and a trainer…and, oh, the athletic ability.

And last, let’s not forget the poetry of the human body, honed to perfection through training and discipline, pitted against another in a contest to see who wins. Because there can only be one winner.

Do sports inspire YOU? Would you rather do or watch?