Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Learning "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin

I grew up on this song. It's kind of neat because it does two things: the bass notes go down, while simultaneously the arpeggios take the treble strings up. So you have to pay attention to two things at once as you're playing.

Still, it's not really all that difficult. The trick will be learning to play it seamlessly without the long pauses while I check the tabs (I can't read music. It's like math to me. My brain freezes.) It'll take learning it by heart, basically, but that in itself shouldn't be too difficult because really, we're just talking about something like sixteen bars of music, some of which is repetitive.

I'm just taking a breather after knocking out a second draft of my novel. The fall semester starts in about a month. Ack! Right now my book is being considered for representation by an agent, but I feel pretty sure she'll want some changes if she even agrees to represent it and try to sell it to a publisher. I've had to put it away for a while because every time I read it, I see flaws and the whole thing seems contrived to me.

Anyway, so for the moment I'm skating. And, learning songs on the guitar.  Too burned out from writing to blog much.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunrise at Sacred Lake - Traveler Photo Contest 2014 - National Geographic

Sunrise at Sacred Lake - Traveler Photo Contest 2014 - National Geographic

Dear Readers, if you like this photo I've submitted to this contest, please click "like" on the link. I think the remarkable thing about it is not just the sense of place (those mud brick walls in the foreground are over 3,000 years old) but it was one of those moments in which the lighting was just right to catch the reflections of the palm trees in the lake. Even though I took this photo with my iPad Mini and used no special lenses or equipment, it still turned out to be "postcard pretty." There are so many excellent submissions that it's hard to compete, but I'm hoping if I get enough "likes" that the judges will at least take a second look and perhaps will at least consider giving me a "merit" acknowledgment since I wasn't using pro equipment and nothing but my eye. No retouching, no color enhancement: it's exactly as I captured it. 

I appreciate your support!

Friday, June 13, 2014

My New Hero!

First, I want you to watch this video of this remarkable young woman:

Okay. Now Anna doesn't have what we think of as "stage fright" or "just nerves." Stage fright is something most of us get, butterflies in the tummy, maybe shaky knees or hands, dry mouth--all of which are just physical symptoms of too much adrenaline shooting into our bloodstream. It's your age-old "fight or flight" response wired into all of us. With stage fright, unless you're super nervous, most people can't even tell you're nervous, but once you get into your performance or speech or whatnot, you calm down, your symptoms go away and you're off and running just fine.

This video touched me deeply (and Howie Mandel as well, as is clear, because he understands phobias, having OCD and several phobias himself) because I have social anxiety disorder. This is a little different from Anna's disorder: hers sounds like panic disorder that can get so extreme she becomes agoraphobic, and then the fear of leaving her own house depresses the crap out of her (which is totally understandable). But I want people to understand how totally debilitating an anxiety disorder really is.

Therapy can help only to a certain extent. You can be taught tips for coping with fear, but at the end of the day, you already KNOW your anxiety is all in your head and no amount of people saying "It'll be okay," "I'm here," "Buck up," "You just need more confidence," and all the usual platitudes DO NOT HELP. Not really. Support from others helps way more than just being told to get over it and that it's all in your head, but you just cannot shake the knowledge that even though it's all in your head, it is totally REAL to YOU. The kindness of others helps, but it does not cure.

I can't explain Anna's disorder precisely because I'm not Anna, so I'll explain mine in the hopes of helping you better understand. Looking back on my childhood now, I can see quite clearly that signs of it were there, but I kept them to myself, thinking secretly that I was just a big pussy. I was afraid of giving speeches in classes (easily written off as stage fright). I was afraid of parties and social things (easily written off as introversion and teenage awkwardness). I was afraid to call people on the phone (just thought I was neurotic). But as I got older, things got more serious. In college, social situations became okay because I was of legal drinking age, so I got through social situations by drinking (too bad that this coping mechanism later turned into alcoholism). I got a car. But, I was terrified to pump gas in front of other people and so would organize my life so that I could go to the gas station to pump gas when people I knew weren't around. Now, THIS I knew was abnormal. But I could not shake the fear that people would think I was doing it wrong and would make fun of me. And then a horrid thing happened, that "thing" we all fear. I was in Omicron Delta Kappa (a campus leadership fraternity) and the day came to tap others in the college into the fraternity. I picked two people I knew. I figured I'd have stage fright but I wasn't ready for the overwhelming panic attack the minute I opened my mouth in the first class. Two words came out and my voice sounded so reedy and thin to me that I just flipped. I read a paragraph and was stammering and was shaking so obviously even the professor said gently, "It's okay, it's okay." I stopped and said, "I'll start over." I don't know how I got through it. I just kind of blacked out. When I finished, I was humiliated, embarrassed, and felt like a total fraud.

The next one went better. I went into the classroom and asked if I could use the lectern, so I had that crutch to lean on and remembered to take deep breaths at the end of sentences. So though I think people could see I was uncomfortable, it probably just came off as "a little nervous."

Later on, the friend I'd tapped in the first class asked me, "What happened?!" and I'm like, "I don't know." That's the thing. You just don't know when a crazy panic will set in. And so you start fearing the panic attack itself. Will I have one? Will I not? 

After that experience, it was really tough for me. To this day, I cannot do public speaking without a lectern to hide behind if I have to stand. Sitting is better because then I don't shake. In graduate school, on days I had to give papers, sometimes I just could not bring myself to go to class. That is how debilitating the fear could get. I'd call my teacher and say I was sick. This was only temporary, though, because I'd still have to give the paper in seminar the next time. The only thing that got me through is that we were always seated.  Most of the time I gave papers and nobody could tell I was nervous. But let me be clear: it was not stage fight that was causing the fear. What was causing the fear was the unshakable conviction that one day, at some point, everyone would hate what I had to say, or that I would say something stupid, and that I would be judged harshly. If I happened to look up and see someone looking at me with a puzzled expression, that could be enough to send me off into black-out land.

At this point, I was still thinking I just had bad stage fright. But after grad school, I got a job as an editorial assistant and then was rather quickly promoted up the chain to editor, then Senior Editor, and finally the company President offered me a job as an evaluation consultant for the state of California, which would have doubled my salary--AND I TURNED IT DOWN. The only reason I turned it down was that the job involved going around to school districts and doing a lot of public speaking. That did not sound like an opportunity to me: it sounded like a nightmare.

But I didn't like working for an educational test publishing company anyway, so I quit this job and went back into college teaching. By this point, I was a full-blown alcoholic, so social situations did not bother me. Teaching made me nervous the first few days of classes but the phobia wasn't so bad there. It's because students aren't my peers. But I could always hide behind the lectern anyway. And half the time I was hungover enough that my brain was more focused on remembering what I wanted to say than it was on "what are they thinking of me?"

Then the day finally came. I'd been feeling--I don't know--"flat" as of late. I had a class in which I had two students in the back who would not shut up and a very bright girl in the front who thought she was too smart to be at community college. This kind of stuff is very typical but for some reason this one class was starting to get to me. So the day came, yes. I was walking across campus towards the building the class was in, and I got hit with a total panic attack. I'd had them before, but this one was bad. BAD.

You can't breathe. You feel like you're having a heart attack, as if two hands have grabbed your heart and are squeezing as hard as they can. Knowing I was having a panic attack, I started thinking, "Calm, calm, calm" to myself and taking deep breaths. I calmed down enough to wait for class to start, then walked into the room and told the class quickly, "I'm unwell today, so class is canceled," then walked out and got the hell off of campus as fast as I could. And I went home and cried. And cried. And cried some more.

This untreated anxiety had caught up with me. Teaching was my job, my love (next to writing) and I could NOT start being afraid to go to my own classes. So, finally, I admitted to myself this was not standard stage fright, and I sought help. It took exactly one session for the psychiatrist to diagnosis me with social anxiety disorder. It is, in a nutshell, the fear of being judged. Or not a fear. It's a PHOBIA about being judged. He told me to stop drinking (the alcohol was only making it worse at this point) and put me on medication.

And thus began my journey of trying to "fix" myself. The first medication did not work, but that's probably because I didn't quit drinking. Long story short, it took getting sober and playing around with several kinds of medication to get my anxiety under control. What works: 30mgs Cymbalta daily and .5 mg ativan and 10mgs propranolol taken 30 mins before a class or something anxiety-producing. If it's the first week of classes, I take 1mg ativan and sometimes 20mgs propranolol, but I will then come home and sleep. Every three years when I know there's going to be a classroom observation of my teaching (a PEER JUDGES ME--boom! That's the RED button!), I take the double meds the entire month, or at least until the evaluation is over, because they don't tell you what they're coming in. God, what a nightmare that is for me, LOL. Nobody knows I suffer from this except those I've talked with about it. I try to not use my disorder as an excuse to be treated differently. But I do still tend to avoid things like departmental retreats and parties because I can't stay medicated all day long. I have to be careful because ativan--a benzo like valium or xanax--is highly addictive.

But here is what I'm trying to say, because I don't want this post to be about me. I want you to appreciate what this young woman, Anna, has done. She's gone from crippling bedridden anxiety to standing on a stage and playing guitar and singing in front of thousands of people in a situation in which all eyes are on her, judging her performance. That is REMARKABLE to me. It's akin to someone who has been lame just a few months before getting up and running a marathon in record time. So I say "good for her!" She's my new hero. This young woman has her destiny under control, and I wish her all the success in the world.

Learning to laugh at yourself helps too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Good Lord, I've Lost My Mind

I woke up this morning with sleep paralysis and had to just lie there like a frozen slug until my limbs could move again. Have you ever had that? It's not a lucid dream, because you've woken up at this point, but you're still experiencing "dreamy" remnants, and the freaky thing is that you can't move.

And, what a dream I'd been having, too.

I was back at Penn State, only not as a grad student this time but as a part-time lecturer with exactly three classes. One was a 7am class, but I didn't realize this until after the fact. See, I'd gotten the job like only two days before. Some man called me and hired me. So I dropped everything (apparently I didn't have a job) and went with my girlfriend (who in the dream was actually a real woman I started dating while I was at Penn State 25 years ago, and we have long since broken up, but we were back together in this dream, yet we were the ages that we are now). We had to make haste to get to State College because school started the next day. We drove all day, and by some miracle of fate, we had a halfway decent flat waiting for us and unpacked everything from the car and fell, exhausted, into bed very late, so I overslept.

Panicked because I knew I had an early class, I hopped into the shower and was showering, noticing what a remarkable shower it was because it was on the corner of our building and I could see outside to the right, all the houses and people walking on the sidewalks and some nice trees, and I could see directly in front--more houses, maybe a little shop or two, and more people, and they were looking up at me--and I realized at this point If I can see them, they can see me--so with horror I realized I hadn't drawn the shower curtains, which in actuality were nothing but ruffled window curtains. I yanked them closed, finished my shower, got dressed, grabbed my bag and hustled out of the house to make my way towards campus.

Now it has been a long time since I was in State College so the place was very different. All I knew was that the campus--and it's a sprawling one--was down directly in front of me. So I just went forward, taking what I thought were shortcuts through buildings rather than making turns at streets,  figuring I'd figure out where I was on campus when I reached the campus. So I reached the campus but everything was changed. I had no idea where I was. So I began walking through buildings trying to find something familiar from where I could deduce the location of my department. I thought, Find Old Main to get your bearings but there was no Old Main. Instead of Old Main, it seemed the center of the campus was a gothic looking medieval castle.

It looked exactly like this one.

 "Boy, that's changed," I said out loud, and some woman looked at me as if I'd just said, "Please join me in a Satanic ritual."

So I was still trying to find my department and realized I'd forgotten what department it even was. For some weird reason, it wasn't English. I had it written down in my bag somewhere, so I slipped into another maze of a building and finally found a bathroom except neither stall had a toilet where I could sit and sort through my bag (which wasn't a purse, but a bag. A little duffle bag. With strings.)
Like this.

I got out of the bathroom and there was a friendly looking chubby guy who looked about my age, so I assumed he was a professor, so I just flat-out asked him: "Do you know where the Geology Dept is?"

He was annoyed by my asking this question as if, of anybody on the planet wanting to know where something was, someone in Geology should, but his face softened and he said, "This is History. Go out that door, turn to the left, go down four buildings and it's the fourth building."

I was on my merry way when it occurred to me that how in heaven's name had I exited the bathroom remembering what department I was in when I hadn't known it going in.....but never mind.

I had the building. Now to find the room I was supposed to be in. I wandered into some random room and it was a group of grad students being lectured to about how to teach. But a man with Coke bottle glasses on the other side of the room saw me and waved me over. Actually it wasn't the other side of the room. It was more like the room had a partition in the middle and was two rooms in actuality, but the partition was open. He was sitting at a round table and seemed to know exactly who I was, sight unseen. I leaped to the conclusion that he was the guy I'd had the phone conversation with, so I sank into the chair next to him and immediately apologized for being late. I'd gotten lost in the maze of a campus. He merely shushed me from giving apologies and said it was okay. He'd only wanted to me to give me my official schedule. He handed me a piece of paper and stood up and simultaneously the class on the other side of the partition was done and they all stood up. So I stood up.

They all left and I looked at my paper.

My first class was at 7am (missed it!) Then there was this class at 10am I was standing in, and even though I wasn't a student I was supposed to participate in it. Damn, no pay for that. It was only a half hour thingy, though. Then there were a few more hours before my next class, which had some weird name that had nothing to do with geology but with feelings. And then at 3 o'clock I was supposed to show up at the Campus Police Station.

Happy happy joy joy! I actually knew where that was. It was about a hundred blocks away but I didn't care--at least I finally had a destination I knew where it was. Why I had to go there I had no idea, but, whatever. (And I knew where it was from real life because I once gotten stopped by campus police for a burned-out taillight and had been given a fix-it ticket so had had to go there to provide proof I'd gotten it fixed. Never mind that they'd taken my license and had a look at it and given it back and not even noticed it was expired. True story.)

I was terribly hungry, so I decided since I had a few hours, I would try to find my way back home and grab a bite to eat.

So I found my way home, noting I'd really taken the "long cut" by wandering through Administration and all those weird buildings and all I had to do was cross the street at the corner that had the Starbucks. Well, and the Quiznos on the opposite corner, because frankly every corner has a Starbucks. If I kept straight up a few blocks, it stopped being "College student bar and junk food land" and turned into heavily foliaged comforting homes land with a few shops and there was my house! So I jogged up the back steps and into our flat and was in the kitchen looking at how there was nothing in our refrigerator when I heard a flapping sound and looked over and saw a huge fish on the floor outside of our fish tank.

Mind you, we hadn't brought a fish tank with us, nor set one up, but there it was.  And this poor little fish--actually he wasn't so little; he was sort of Oscar-fish sized--clearly had a problem. Don't you think?

Now there was no way this fish could have jumped out of the tank since there was a cover on top, so I went to investigate. And I discovered a corner had a large hole. This defied all logic since water should also have been pouring out of the hole, not just a clever (or stupid) fish escaping via this method, but you know how physics is. The observation of something seems to make it so, so now that I'd realized water should be coming out, that's exactly what happened. Water started pouring out of the aquarium. Never mind that I didn't even know where this damn aquarium came from. I stuffed the fish back in the hole, grabbed the two split sides and shoved them back together and was standing there helplessly, holding them in place, trying to save all the fish from a certain floppy gasping death, when my girlfriend arrived.

We glued the sides of the aquarium back together and I dug out my schedule to show her. I still had no idea what the 7am class was, but she knew exactly what the "Feelings" class was. "Oh, that's an easy one to teach," she said. "You just give them an emotion and tell them to act it out."

"Shouldn't that be an acting class?"

"No, it's a pysch class. Only everybody who takes it is mentally challenged. It's meant to teach them how to express their feelings. In a healthy way."

What this had to do with geology was beyond me, but I was beyond hungry at this point. I started digging through my duffle bag and discovered a sort of "welcome" kit from the dept that had all kinds of coupons for food at various restaurants. There was one for the Starbucks. So I figured I'd grab a bite at Starbucks, go show my class how to emote, then walk down to the police station.

And that's when I regained consciousness, unable to move.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Belmont Stakes 2014 Picks! (UPDATED POST SCRATCHES)

Well, it's a day before the big race, and the Belmont Card is a good one--lots of stakes races. As usual, what I'll do for now is just list the four horses I best like in races 2-11, and tomorrow I'll tweet actual Pick 4 tickets. So far no horse is really leaping off the page at me as a single (Palace Malice would be but he's on the rail), although I'll probably do at least one Late Pick 4 ticket that goes deep in the first three legs hoping for a longer shot to hit and singles to California Chrome. I know pro handicappers are saying Chromey's a definite bet-against at his odds, especially given how difficult it is to win the Belmont, but you know.... I gotta root for my home boy.


Race Two: Life in Shambles, Kid Cruz, Misconnect, Legend

Race Three: Eriugena, Ground Transport, Micromanage, Cat Burglar

Race Four: Ben's Cat, Marchman, Undrafted, Upgrade (if you have deep pockets, you might throw in Positive Side)

Race Five: Bayern, Meadowood,  Coup de Grace, Social Inclusion, Havana, Tonito's M. (I know that's five but I think the favorite, Social Inclusion, might get upset here. Otherwise, take a stand and single him.)

Race Six: Fashion Plate, Fiftyshadesofgold, Unbridled Forever, My Miss Sophia

Race Seven: Close Hatches, Beholder, Princess of Sylmar, nice longshot with Belle Gallantey

Race Eight: Somali Lemonade, Discreet Marq, Better Lucky, and Stephanie's Kitten

Race Nine: Palace Malice, Goldencents, Normandy Invasion, Shakin It Up

Race Ten: Imagining, Grandeur, Seek Again, Five Iron (a lot of good 'cappers are also VERY hot on Rookie Sensation)

Race Eleven: California Chrome, Commissioner, Tonalist, Wicked Strong

Good luck and may they all come home safe!

Note: Early Pick 4, Pick 5, and Pick 6 tickets are up on twitter. I'll see how things are playing and tweet a Late Pick 4 ticket later.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Preakness 2014 Picks (UPDATED)

There are plenty of bets to make throughout the day, but I'll just give four choices for Races 8-12. I'll tweet actual Pick 5 and Pick 4 tickets tomorrow when I bet them.

Race 8: 1, 2, 3, 4 (9 is a scratch)
Race 9: 2, 3, 6, 7 (9 and 10 should do well too, so since you can go deep with a .10c bet and there's a mandatory payout today, include them)
Race 10: 1, 2, 4, 10 (8 is a scratch)
Race 11: 3, 6, 8, 9 (consider 1 and 5 as well)
Race 12: 3 (single California Chrome)

For Race 12 exacta, trifecta, superfecta, I like 7 and 10 since the pace should set up for closers, although I'm thinking 1, 5, 8 might hang on for a piece of the bottom. Note that this is really just a "tune-up" race for Kid Cruz (7), who is pointed at and bred to run long in the Belmont, but since this horse has won twice over this Pimlico course, I wouldn't be surprised to see him run second or third. I think Chromey will win it, but he will offer very little value, so the only value is in the gimmicks. Added note: a lot of 'cappers are high on the 4, who looked good headed towards the Derby but passed on the race because of a bruised hoof. Add him to the exotics.

Good luck!

Friday, May 2, 2014

2014 Kentucky Derby Picks!

Here are the four horses I like in each race (6-11), in no particular order.

6th: Centre Court, Effie Trinket, I'm Already Sexy, Ready Signal 

7th: Judy the Beauty, Midnight Lucky, Iotapa, Scherzinger 

8th: Storming Inti, Picozza, Quotient, Chief Barker

9th: Delaunay, Sahara Sky, Falling Sky, Broadway Empire

10th: SINGLE Wise Dan (Boisterous, Admiral Kitten, Seek Again)

11th: California Chrome, Samraat, Danza, Intense Holiday (alt: Medal Count for Samraat)

Good luck! Will post updates in the morning if there are scratches or I get more info that changes my mind about something. Today wasn't bad; I missed the Pick 5 by one leg. D'oh! Story of my life.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

2014 Kentucky Oaks Picks!

Well, I have just a few bets to put up. If I did my math right, these total $96 for the day assuming one dollar for all ,but $2 for the double.

Pick 4 (races 8-11): 4, 5, 7, 10 with 4, 5, 6, 10 with 2 with 3, 13

Oaks/Derby Double (I'm leaving out California Chrome simply for purposes of value; otherwise in my mind, if Untapable wins the Oaks, it's hardly worth the bet): 13, 3 with 4, 6, 16, 18

Oaks/Woodford/Derby: 3, 13 with Wise Dan (sorry, don't know his PP offhand) with 4, 6, 16, 18

Oaks trifecta: 13 over 7, 11, 2, 3 over 7, 11, 2, 3

Oaks superfecta: BOX 2, 3, 11, 13 and cross your fingers

Good luck!

UPDATE: The 10 is a scratch in race 9, so replace with the 3, Granny Mc'sKitten

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sing a Happy Song!

Supertramp's "Give a Little Bit." Sing offkey (or "el poopo") with me!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Music for Sunday

I was listening to a lecture on 12th century mystics last night because I'm weird like that. Naturally Hildegard von Bingen came up, about whom entire volumes have been written by feminist scholars, rescuing von Bingen from the trash heap. She was an extraordinarily gifted woman who saw visions; wrote plays, medicinal texts, theological treatises, and more letters than you can count; ran a priory, and, in her spare time when she had nothing better to do, composed music. I think there's a movie about her on Netflix.

But, hands down, the thing about her that I find most interesting is that she invented her own alternative alphabet because she found herself having to make up words to describe things for which no words existed in Latin. I'm pretty sure that had she existed today, they'd try to put her on a boatload of antipsychotics and we'd have lost one of the world's most fascinating persons.

The video above features some of her music.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cahokia Mounds, the City of the Sun

Monks Mound from Afar
I recently visited the Cahokia Mounds in Illinois; and, although I'd been aware there were once mound-builders in the Americas, I had no idea how colossal these mounds really are. Cahokia was THE major city of the native Mississippian culture, which stretched all the way from Michigan down to Louisiana. There were many smaller mound communities, but Cahokia was what we might think of as the "capital city." It was the perfect place: at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their many tributaries, so there was plenty of fishing and game nearby in the woodlands, and there was lots of land available to grow corn, or maize--so much so, in fact, that they were able to store surplus grain for the winter months and for times of drought or a scanty harvest. It's estimated that at the zenith of the culture, there were as many people at Cahokia as 20,000, which may not sound like much today, but this was around 1000 CE, so Cahokia was actually larger than London, England, at the time. It was truly a City of the Sun.

But I think the thing that struck me the most, while walking the grounds, was how similar to the ancient Egyptians this culture was, at least under Pharoah Ahkenaten, who rejected all the gods of the Egyptian pantheon and worshiped only the Aten, or sun disk, not itself as a god but as the symbol of the Divine Presence. Otherwise, the various versions of the Sun God named RA were always highly esteemed. And as we know, the Egyptians built pyramids. Kings or people of high standing were buried with grave goods. And the Pharoah was seen as the son of the gods Osiris and Isis, the son named Horus. Pharoah was considered the literal incarnation of Horus. Finally, that the Egyptians understood the heavens and the solstices and equinoxes is well known. Many of the Temples were sun temples, always facing east, to the light, and Abu Simbel's Temple of Ramses the Great fabulously shows this when, twice a year, the sun, precisely on 60 days before and 60 days after the solstices, rises, its rays entering the temple and lighting up the inner sanctuary by shining directly upon the statues of the gods inhabiting that room, one of whom is Ramses II himself.

Flat-topped Mound
Well, the Cahokians didn't have stone to build pyramids in the way the Egyptians and Incas and Mayans did, so they used what was available: dirt. With dirt they built mounds of various types, but most were round (or domed), which were often burial sites; others were flat-topped, used for building temples or other administrative buildings upon, or even the house of an important person; and some were wedge shaped, the purpose of which is yet to be determined, but archaeologists and historians surmise they were boundary markers of some kind.

First flight up stairs for Monks Mound
By far the most impressive mound is the tiered flat-topped mound named Monks Mound, which originally had four levels (or platforms, much like a step pyramid), and the chief of all the Cahokians had his house on top of this earthen pyramid. You think dirt, big deal. Well, it was a big deal: it took a LOT of work to build these! They dug up the earth and the workers would carry 50-pound basketfuls of earth to the mound and pile it on. Not so bad at the beginning, but as the mound grew larger, this was back-breaking work. They also had to figure out systems of draining to prevent the mounds from collapsing (partially successful) or turning into mudslides. Consider building a ten-story pile of dirt with four different platforms, each one smaller than the other, which is what Monks Mound is, and that the base circumference of this mound is actually larger than that of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan near Mexico City. Now consider that at least 120 mounds have been found at Cahokia alone, and you can begin to appreciate the amount of work that went into constructing this city.
Second flight of stairs leading up Monks Mound

The Cahokians worshiped the Sun God as a symbol of the Divine Presence, and the chief was considered the son of, or brother to, the Sun God. This chief ruled over all: Cahokia, the nearby mound communities (St. Louis itself was built over some 29 mounds and East St. Louis over 40), and all the mound communities up and down the Mississippi and nearby--a vast territory. They traded with each other and with other Indian communities as far away as Florida, and they highly valued seashells for ornaments. From the north they traded for copper and bronze. Cahokia itself was much like a modern city today: there was the chief, and under him the various elders of clans, who also had elevated homes (but never higher than the chief's), and the hunters and gatherers and farmers and then people who specialized in various tasks, such as priests and artisans. Cahokia was a thriving center of trade.

The inner city of Cahokia contained a grand court that was surrounded by a wooden palisade that was two miles long. Within were the temples and homes of the important personages and also a court for the sport of chunkey. It involved throwing or rolling a stone "puck" and then the players would throw their spears at the ground at the place they guessed the puck would come to a stop. Apparently this was a serious sport to many, and gambling was common; and some burials have been uncovered with chunkeys buried with the body. This land of the grand court had all been completely leveled to be perfectly flat, as well.

St. Louis from top of Monks Mound. At ten stories, it's higher than you might think!


The fact that the Cahokians understood the heavens and the movements of the sun can be seen in their construction of a circle of wooden poles with a center pole in what is now called "the American Woodhenge." It's like Stonehenge, only with poles of red cedar. Certain poles were marked with two stripes of white paint and one with one stripe that aligned with Monks Mound, and from the center pole the two striped poles marked the solstices and equinoxes. Hence they knew when it was time to plant and time to sow. The center pole also worked much like a sun dial, casting a shadow that indicated the time of day.

A better look at part of the circle itself

The only thing the Cahokians didn't have was writing--at least, not as far as we know. It could be that stories were just passed down through oral tradition, but as vast as it all was, surely some sort of record-keeping was done. We just haven't found it yet; or, it's staring us straight in the face and nobody has recognized it yet. But no matter how you slice it, the Cahokians were an impressive people. After Hernando de Soto arrived in Central America, conquering its peoples, and then moved on to North America, cutting a grand swath of destruction from Florida all across the Southern and Midwestern states and finally over to the Mississippi, Cahokia is where his army was stopped. Arrows and spears aren't that effective against guns and armored men on horseback, but the sheer organization and doggedness of this people was enough to defeat de Soto's army, and the army made haste to get away, building boats that sent them packing south down the Mississippi to the Gulf. The Cahokian (or Mississippian) people harassed them from the shores the entire way. And this was after the Cahokians had passed their zenith and had entered the period of decline.

No one really knows for sure why the culture ultimately failed. The Mayans, archaeologists say, eventually failed because of the massive deforestation of the lands surrounding their cities and the overcultivation of the land. There was no more food to be had. Something similar may be at play here, along with a change in the climate. In any case, Cahokia was abandoned some time between 1200-1400 CE, although some small related communities survived for a time, such as the Illini.

And then came the white settlers. Some Trappist monks who had been expelled from France settled at Cahokia, taking up residence on one of the flat-topped mounds, and they used Monks Mound for terraced farming (hence the name Monks Mound).

There is a 15-minute video HERE that gives much more detail about the site. By all means if you're in the St. Louis area, it's worth a visit as it is only about a 20-minute drive away. There's also a museum and theater and Interpretive Center with a gift shop with Indian-made items, and I picked up some of the decorative arrow points dug out of Mound 72. (That Mound, which contained burials, and some of them appear to be people who were human sacrifices, is another whole story in itself.) For sure the entire complex at Cahokia has not been excavated, for excavation is also destructive, so archaeologists are picking their sites carefully--because, of course, the entire site is sacred. Eventually the park wants to buy up the property surrounding the site (there are some houses and even a trailer park nearby) and expand the site to its original measurements. But it's already vast and takes several hours to walk through, going at a nice, slow pace to read everything on the various markers.

So if your picture of American Indians is limited to the Last of the Mohicans or to Sioux or Apache wars with cowboys and US cavalry, learning more about this civilization is eye-opening to say the least.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

 A short snippet from the first draft of my book Yeshua, the Master: The Undiscovered Gospel of Joseph (his nephew):
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Mary described it thus: “At the beginning, I did not realize it was our Master. And he bade me stay back and not touch him. He appeared in the shape of a man but also as a great light. He said to me, ‘Seek me not here, Mary, for here you will not find me.’”
            She saw no spirit. She saw no fully embodied man, of flesh.  She saw light, light shaped like a man.
            Yeshua said, “Go, tell the others I live. And tell them I will see them in Galilee.”

© Luck 2014
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Happy Easter to those who celebrate this momentous occasion.