Wednesday’s Child

Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe . . .

A Child’s Similes

This was part of a solicitation on behalf of a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence with their children.  The last line is heart-wrenching,and it raises a question: was the bruise on Erica or someone she loved?  All of this led me to explore two topics—child abuse and child bystanders in families experiencing domestic violence and abuse.

Writers, note: it behooves you to know about these things so your writing is realistic.

It turns out that data on child abuse is relatively easy to come by.  From the National Children’s Advocacy Center:

  • 91.6% of victims (all types of abuse) are maltreated by one or both parents.
  • 90% of victims of child sexual abuse know their abuser.  Besides parents, other perpetrators known to the victim included foster parents, other relatives, neighbors, and daycare providers.
  • Rates of physical abuse and neglect are affected by socioeconomic status, being more common for families living near or below the poverty line.
  • Child sexual abuse occurs at all economic levels of society.
  • Most children delay or never disclose child sexual abuse to friends, family, or authorities.
  • Few children falsely report being abused (2-10%).
  • Medical evidence is found in less than 5% of substantiated child sexual abuse cases.
  • Child neglect is the most common type of abuse in the home.
  • At least 20% of substantiated child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by females.
  • Male and female victims of sexual abuse are equally traumatized.
  • Children with disabilities are two to three times more likely than children without disabilities to be abused.

Writers: any one of these statements could be a plot point.

 

The National Children’s Alliance provides additional data:

  • In 2015, an estimated 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States.
  • Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. annually.
  • Children in the first year of life have the highest rate of victimization, 24.2 per 1,000 children.
  • Types of abuse vary, but three elements are most common: neglect, 75%; physical abuse, 17.2%; sexual abuse, 8.4%.
    • NB: some children suffered more than one type of abuse.
  • 90% of alleged abusers are related in some way to the child victim.
  • 40% of abusers were a parent or caregiver.
  • Nearly 25% of abusers were themselves children.

Writers: consider these behaviors for your villains.

Several studies have analyzed the cycle of child sexual abuse, including at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London and the University of New South Wales Faculty of Law in Sydney.   Among 747 males studied, being a perpetrator was correlated with their reports of having been victims of sexual abuse.  The overall rate of having been a victim was 35% for perpetrators and 11% for non-perpetrators.  Of 96 females studied, 43% had been victims but only one became a perpetrator.  Males who were abused in childhood by a female relative or who had lost a parent in childhood were more likely to become a perpetrator.  The bottom line: there is evidence of a victim-to-victimizer cycle for a minority of male perpetrators but not for females.

When someone says “abuse” images of physical abuse are likely to come first to mind.  However, as I learned when I volunteered at Hanover Safe Place (providing services for those suffering sexual assault and/or domestic abuse), there are at least five types of abuse.

  1. Physical abuse: hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc.  This type of abuse may include denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drugs on the victim.
  2. Sexual abuse: coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent, including marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence, or treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner.
  3. Emotional abuse: undermining a person’s sense of self-worth and/or self esteem by constant criticism, denying one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with children.
  4. Economic abuse: making a person financially dependent by taking total control of financial resources, withholding access to money, forbidding attendance at school or employment.
  5. Psychological abuse: including—but not limited to—intimidation; threatening harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets or property; forcing isolation from family, friends, school and/or work.

Writers: if you have a domineering character, consider the last three forms of abuse as tools to use.

DoSomething.org posted 11 facts about child abuse.  Some of those facts not covered in the preceding:

  • Approximately 5 children die every day because of child abuse.
  • 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18.
  • In 2012, 82.2% of child abuse perpetrators were between the ages of 18-44, of whom 39.6% were between the ages of 25 and 34.
  • Victims of child abuse/neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as juveniles, 28% more likely to arrested as adults, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.
  • About 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children meet the criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
  • 14% of all men and 36% of all women in prison were abused as children.
  • Those abused as children are less likely to practice safe sex, putting them at greater risk for STDs.
  • They are also 25% more likely to have a teen pregnancy.

Last but not least, according to National Public Radio, through WBUR, the effects of abuse and mistreatment add up over children’s lives.  Abuse and neglect survivors are much more likely to have physical and mental health problems later on, including higher risk of suicide and running afoul of the law.  Summing across years, 12.5% of children overall have experienced at least one episode of abuse or neglect by age 18.  The numbers are worse for minority children: 21% of African-American children, 14.5 percent of Native Americans, and 13% of Hispanic children.

Minority Children Affected by Abuse

 

HOW CHILDREN LIVING WITH DOMESTIC ABUSE ARE HARMED

It turns out that finding data on this topic was more difficult than finding info on abuse of children per se, but there are indices of the harmful effects of witnessing abuse.

Development and Psychopathology (Vol 15, Issue 2) included a research report documenting that children exposed to high levels of domestic violence had IQ’s that were, on average, 8 points lower than unexposed children.  The researchers attribute this to the harmful effects of extreme stress on brain development.

The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Vol 71(2)) included a meta analysis of 118 studies of the psycho-social outcomes for children exposed to “interparental violence.”  Child witnesses exhibited more child problems, and witnesses’ outcomes were not significantly different from those children who were physically abused themselves.

Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal (Vol 32, (8)) reported that children and adolescents living with domestic violence are at increased risk for emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.  They’re more likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems, and they’re more vulnerable to other adversities.  The researchers concluded that the impact of living with domestic violence can endure even after the child is safe.

Children exposed to complex trauma (including witnessing domestic violence) often experience lifelong problems that put them at risk for additional trauma and cumulative impairment (e.g., psychiatric and addictive disorders, chronic medical illness, legal, vocational, and family problems).  These may extend from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. (Psychiatric Annals, 35(5).)

Children exposed to maltreatment, family violence, or loss of their caregivers often exhibit depression, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and disorders of anxiety, eating, sleep, communication, separation anxiety, and reactive attachment.

The literature on complex trauma suggest seven primary domains of impairment in exposed children: attachment, physical illness/disease, affect regulation, alterations in consciousness, behavioral regulation, cognition, and self-concept.

Writers: consider the POV of a child witness to domestic abuse.

Emma Katz in Child Abuse Review points out that the forms of domestic abuse beyond the physical are still harmful to children.  Perpetrators’/fathers’ coercive behavior toward women (psychological, emotional, verbal, financial abuse; isolation and monitoring their activities) spills over to children.  They often prevented children spending time with their mothers and/or grandparents, visiting other children’s houses, getting involved in extra-curricular activities at school.  These non-violent acts isolate children, dis-empower them, and create a constrained world that stunts children’s resilience and development and contribute to emotional/behavioral problems.

Bottom Line for Writers: domestic abuse as it affects children is a rich vein for writers to mine.  Consider the complex possibilities: whether a character, whether now a child or adult, was a child also abused, the child’s gender and age, and the time since exposure to the abuse.  Consider whether a child witness would actively support the mother/victim (e.g., urge her to leave her abuser) or identify with the aggressor.  Take it anywhere!

This Gun for Hire

Information Writers Need About Contract Killers

handgun
I recently blogged about the going rates for body parts on the black market, and for human trafficking. Given how my mind works, that led me to murder for hire. Murder for hire is so much a part of popular culture and fiction—and so much info seems to be out there about illegal activity—that I was surprised to find only sparse and conjectural data about murder for hire. But here’s what I found, starting with the most concrete and mind-blowing.

Cost Per Hit

list of contract killers cost
Although the average payment for a “hit” is $15,000, if the offered rates are anything to go by, it can range from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars. And per the above list, it varies greatly by country.
From what I could find, hitmen are almost always men, between the ages of 25 and 49, unmarried. Murder for hire might stem from revenge, expediency (easier than getting a divorce), or a misplaced wish to spare the victim hurt. But by far the most common reason for murder-for-hire is either insurance policy payouts or a romantic relationship gone wrong. A study in Australia (supported by less rigorous data in the U.S.) indicates that contract killings account for 2%-4% of murders. The most common weapon is a firearm.  In determining a fee, the hitman needs to consider both risk and expected expenses.
Reliable information on the cost of murder for hire is hard to come by for several reasons—most especially that successful contract killers go unpunished and don’t talk about it. But fees depend on a number of factors, including:
  • the difficulty of the hit
  • the prominence of the target
  • the financial standing of the employer
  • the financial needs of the hitman

And from low to high cost:

  • straightforward murder
  • murder that looks like suicide
  • murder that looks like an accident
  • murder that looks like natural causes

HOW TO HIRE A CONTRACT KILLER

  • search online
  • check for references (really)
  • don’t meet the killer in person
  • don’t exchange names
  • don’t give a reason for the hit
  • pay in bitcoin to avoid traceability, use an escrow to pay when job is done
  • other than bitcoin, if you do know the hitman, consider jewelry, barter, etc.
  • don’t pay 50% up front because he might take the money and run
  • if you advertise, don’t accept the first two respondents, who are probably undercover law enforcement
  • to hire anonymously on line, don’t give real name, address, credit card, or phone number, and hide your IP through Tor Browser

WRITERS BEWARE

You can’t just troll around on sites like 18th Street Gan Hitmen on the dark web marketplace. If you try to get info by pretending to be a hitman, you will be asked to prove yourself by hurting a specific person in specific ways.

Why might no one take on your job?

  • You don’t have the deep pockets for an assassin who specializes in political targets, disguising homicide, or disappearances.
  • If you don’t have a reputation within the criminal world, you are a liability: you might be an undercover cop, get cold feet, or brag about it when drunk.
  • You don’t seem to have enough to lose if it fails.
police car with lights illuminated

Reasons for failure.

  • Most people who want someone killed don’t know the criminal underworld, so look to family, acquaintances, neighbors, or others who are inept or inexperienced.
  • Most people won’t do it, and would likely call the police.
  • Talking publicly and widely about wishing someone dead.
  • Mistakenly believing that not actually doing the act means no criminal liability.
Bottom line for writers: Murder for hire could be a powerful part of your story

Why Daisies? Why Not?

lettuce
Didn’t know lettuce is a member of the daisy family? Lots of people don’t. And there is much else that is surprising about this enormous plant family. But even so, so what? Well, I got interested, and when I’m interested, I explore and write. But why read this blog? Because writers can bring plants into their work in any number of ways.
  • as a character’s hobby
  • as a character’s work
  • as a reflection of a character’s character or personality
  • as a reflection of a character’s aesthetic taste (or lack thereof)
  • as factoids characters can drop into conversation to amaze and astound
aster
[Source: Plantopedia]
The big picture. Technically, the daisy family—also commonly known as the sunflower or aster family—is the Asteraceae family. It’s huge.
  • 13 subfamilies
  • 1,911 genera
  • 32,913 named species
  • for size, it’s rivaled only by orchids. Which is larger is unknown.
  • mostly annual or perennial herbs, it also includes shrubs, vines, and trees
  • this family grows worldwide, except Antarctica and the extreme Arctic
Many daisies are known primarily as food. Dandelions head this section for a reason. They were introduced into the New World by European immigrants who ate the greens—but now are more often considered a weed than a food.

 

safflower
Besides lettuce, important food crops include endive, chicory, artichokes, sunflowers, and safflower.
tarragon
Daisy species are used as culinary seasoning: tarragon, salsify, and stevia, for example.

 

chamomile
“Daisies” such as camomile are used for herbal teas. Also included here are pot marigold, and echinacea, which is used in medicinal teas. In fact, many species are used as traditional anti-parasitic medicine.
ragweed
Species such as ragweed cause allergic reactions such as so-called hay fever. Other varieties cause contact dermatitis—as many who work with flowers can testify.

 

dahlias
[Source: Midwest Living]
Many of us think of daisies first as flowers, but many varieties are important for the flower industry. Besides dahlia, think Gerbera daisies, calendula, zinnia, chrysanthemum, and many others.

 

And, BTW, chrysanthemum as well as several less familiar species have useful insecticidal properties.
marigold
[Source: Garden Design]
Marigolds serve important industrial purposes. It is used in commercial poultry feeds, and it’s oils are used in colas and in the cigarette industry.

 

Several varieties of daisies are copious nectar producers and are thus important for beekeepers. These include sunflowers, knapweed, and some species of goldenrod. Goldenrod in particular has a high protein pollen which helps honey bees winter over.
Bottom line: just imagine all the ways a little knowledge of the daisy family might season your writing!
yarrow

Happy Anniversary, 1984

george orwell 1984
Original cover of 1984 [Creative Commons]
June 8 marks the celebration of the 70th anniversary of 1984 by George Orwell, published in 1949. It will be a day to celebrate this classic novel, its impact over the last several decades, and the important lessons it teaches us.

Originally titled Nineteen Eighty-Four, the novel now goes by its more popularized title, 1984. For those who were not assigned this book to read in school:

Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life—the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language—and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written. [Goodreads]

In the novel, Great Britain (called “Airstrip One”) has become a province of a superstate named Oceania, which is ruled by “the Party,” who employ Thought Police to persecute independent thinking. The Party’s leader is Big Brother, who may not even exist. The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a Party member. Although Smith is an outwardly diligent and skillful worker, he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

1984 george orwell movie
A still from the 1956 film [Source: Bustle]
Since 1984 has been published, it has introduced several words, terms, and concepts into the English language, such as:

Since its publication, 1984 has won numerous awards, been translated into at least 65 different languages, and has been listed as one of the most important historical novels in history by such organizations as Time magazine, Modern Library, and the BBC.

Have you read 1984? What was its impact on you?

What You Think Upon Grows Day

What You Think Upon Grows Day (2)

Today is What You Think Upon Grows Day. It’s a day to remind oneself and others of the power of positive thinking. Studies have shown that there is a major difference in the lives and health of optimists and pessimists.

According to the Mayo Clinic,

Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you keep your head in the sand and ignore life’s less pleasant situations. Positive thinking just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst.

What You Think Upon Grows Day

Positive thinking like this does lead to health benefits, such as:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

What You Think Upon Grows Day

If you consider yourself a negative thinker, it’s a good idea to identify those negative thoughts and begin to reprocess them as positive. For instance, if you think to yourself, “There’s no way this will work,” you can rephrase the thought to say, “I can try to make this work.”

What You Think Upon Grows Day

Remember, these thoughts and actions do not go away overnight. It takes time and practice to become a positive thinker. Why not start on What You Think Upon Grows Day? It might be the perfect start to a new, healthier lifestyle.

Birds Here and There

birds here there
Keeping a nature diary has spotlighted how often I look for and at birds. Bird feeders just outside my kitchen provide many opportunities as I eat breakfast or lunch. Until now, my focus was mostly on beauty, dominance, and learning the names of the locals.

 

birds here there
Now, it seems I have a very narrow window on birds of the world: there are approximately 10,000 different species worldwide! They have a few things in common, however: they have feathers, wings, lay eggs, and are warm-blooded. They are thought to have evolved from theropod dinosaurs. They have hollow bones which help (most of them) to fly. (Kiwis are an exception. They are flightless. And, FYI, they lay the largest eggs relative to their body size.)

 

About 20% of bird species migrate long distances every year. And birds have the same five senses as humans: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

 

But amid these commonalities are enormous variations.

 

Sight: birds use sight for flight, evading predators, and finding food. They are especially good in perceiving motion and detail—2 to 3 times better than humans. Those with more widely positioned eyes have a wider field of vision, including being able to see directly behind themselves. (Think evading predators and evading attacks.) They have an inner eye membrane to help protect their eyes and clean them often. During flight they often spread their wings to protect their eyes, and when attacking they go for the eyes of their adversary. The owl, famously, has to turn its whole head to see.

 

ostrich head
The ostrich is the largest bird in the world, and they have the largest eyes of any land animal. They are approximately the size of billiard balls, and are actually bigger than their brains. Also, FYI, ostrich eggs are the biggest and they have the fastest maximum running speed (97 kph, just over 60 mph).

 

But in spite of eye size, other birds (e.g., murres) have been shown to see, and recognize, it’s partner several hundred meters away out at sea.

 

peacock eye
Compared to mammals, birds have relatively large eyes. In general, bigger eye means better vision. In fact, bird eyes are bigger than they look, because all but the pupil is covered with skin and feathers.

 

Diurnal birds that become active at dawn have larger eyes than birds that become active later after sunrise. Nocturnal birds (with the exception of kiwis) have relatively larger eyes.

 

People have three types of photoreceptors in the retina: red, green, and blue. Birds have these AND ultraviolet—which they use to find food as well as partners.

 

Birds use their right and left eyes for different tasks. Domestic chicks use their left eye to approach their parent. Male black-winged stilts are more likely to direct courtship displays toward females seen with their left eyes. When peregrine falcons hung, they rely mainly on their right eye. New Caledonian crows show individual preferences for one eye or the other when constructing tools or prying prey out of crevices. The stronger the preference for one side is, the better the bird is at problem solving, foraging, etc.

 

So far it is know that songbirds, ducks, falcons, and gulls can sleep with one eye open. A study of mallard ducks showed that those sleeping in the center of a group were more likely to have both eyes closed, whereas those on the edge were more likely to keep the eye facing outward from the group open.

 

There is also evidence that birds can sleep on the fly, e.g., swifts and glaucous-winged gulls.

 

Hearing is the second most important sense. Their ears are located behind and below the eyes and are covered with soft feathers for protection. The ears are funnel shaped to focus sound. Here again, owls are special. Their face plates (facial discs) help direct sound. Surprisingly, so called “ear tufts” of owls and other birds have nothing to do with hearing.

 

barn owl
Birds’ hearing is much more acute than humans  for sound recognition, though with a smaller frequency range than humans. They are especially sensitive to pitch, tone, and rhythm changes. They use this sense to recognize other individual birds, even in flocks. Birds use different sounds, songs, and calls in different situations to identify predators, mark a territory, or offer to share food. FYI: owls simply devour small prey whole (think insects, mice, etc.) and regurgitate indigestible bits like bones and fur.

 

bat san diego zoo
[Source: San Diego Zoo]
Bats and oilbirds (and perhaps others I haven’t read about) use echolocation. Bouncing chirps and clicks off solid objects is used to navigate through dark caves.

 

Touch is more important to people than to birds. Even so, birds are very sensitive to changes in air temperature, pressure, and wind speed, changes which are transferred down the feather to nerves in the skin. Some have special feathers around their bills that seem to serve a purpose when feeding.

 

Mutual preening—which involves manipulating one another’s feathers—is important in courtship for many bird species. On the other hand, they have fewer nerves in their legs and feet, which makes them less sensitive to extreme cold. Shore birds have extremely sensitive touch receptors in their bills, aiding them when feeding through mud, water, etc.

 

Taste is not well defined in birds. Depending on the species, they have fewer than 50 or as many as 500 taste buds, compared to 9,000-10,000 in humans. Birds can taste sweet, sour, and bitter, and can identify suitable and most nutritious food sources—but this is less important than sight and hearing. For those of us who hope to discourage squirrels and raccoons from a particular food source, birds are impervious to spicy-hot, as in cayenne pepper infused birdseed.

 

Smell is the least developed bird sense. They have small olfactory centers in their brains. Therefore, some claim this debunks the myth that nesting birds will reject a fledgling that has been handled by humans. In fact, songbirds cannot detect the human scent.

 

That generality aside, vultures, kiwis, honeyguides, albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters all use keen senses of smell to locate food, often from treat distances or when the odor is not noticeable to humans.

 

And now to some interesting (to me) facts about birds.
 
  • Hummingbirds can fly backwards. The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest living bird in the world, with a length of just 2 inches. Larger hummingbirds, on average, weigh less than a nickel. The smallest ones weigh closer to a penny
  • Chickens are the most common species of bird in the world.
  • Homing pigeons are bred to find their way home from long distances, and have been used as messengers for thousands of years. During WWI and WWII, Pigeons were used in this way, but also for reconnaissance.
  • Pigeons can learn to play pingpong, among things.
  • They are excellent at visual signal detection and other similar tasks.
  • A great tool-making bird is the crow. Not incidentally, they (along with ravens and rooks) have large brains compared to other birds. They mainly make probes out of wood, twigs, or wire to catch or impale larvae. But crows are among the only that create their own tools.
  • Tool use in other birds is mostly shown in intricate nest building.
  • Although not making tools, other birds use them. For example, a parrot may use a tool to wedge to crack nuts. Gulls often drop shellfish in front of cars to crack them open.
  • Although parrots are renowned for being able to talk, ravens in captivity are even better at mimicking human speech, as well as the sounds of car engines revving or toilet flushing. In the wild, they sometimes imitate other animals, such as wolves or foxes as a way to get them to make carcasses bird edible.
acorn woodpecker
  • Acorn woodpeckers store acorns in holes they drill in trees or other wood items. They have been known to store up to 50,000 acorns (each in its own tiny hole) in a single “granary” tree
  • While on the water, the black and white coloring of penguins camouflages them both from above and below by blending with the surround.
cardinal
One bird I especially like is the northern cardinal. It’s one of the most popular birds in the U.S. Indeed, the cardinal is the state bird for seven states: Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and North Carolina.

 

Although male cardinals are brighter, females have more elaborate songs. One cardinal may have more than two dozen song variations. Both sexes sing, and sing year round.

 

Cardinals are territorial—the territory defended against competitors by the male—and are noted for trying to fight their reflections in mirrors, windows, and other reflective surfaces. Cardinals are monogamous while together, and may mate for life.

 

They eat various seeds, fruits, berries, grains, and insects depending on what’s available.

 

bluebird
Another favorite is the bluebird.  They can be found throughout North America, including my back yard. Bluebirds, too, are monogamous throughout a breeding season, and may breed together for more than one season. Also like cardinals, they are territorial. The male tends to defend the outer territory while the females defend the nest.

 

A bluebird can spot caterpillars and insects in tall grass at a distance over 50 yards. They especially like live mealworms.

 

In my experience, bluebirds tend to come to the feeder in pairs—sometimes more than two pairs at a time. I think of them as family birds.

 

My backyard aviary is alive with goldfinches, purple finches, titmice, mourning doves, robins, grackles, starlings, house finches, and sometimes mocking birds, hummingbirds, crows or hawks. Right now, I know less about many of these birds. Sufficient unto the morrow.

 

Bottom line for writers: Nature writing can enhance any genre. Consider bird details for your next story.

Happy International Tiara Day!

Today is International Tiara Day, a day when all women embrace and celebrate their powers of leadership. Real or virtual tiaras are encouraged!

History of Tiaras

The word tiara (Persian in origin) is used interchangeably with its predecessor, diadem. These were head ornaments worn by both men and women of high status in several different countries. Once we reached the 18th century, tiaras became a typically female accessory, inspired by the wreaths worn by Greek and Roman leaders. Currently, Queen Elizabeth II is said to have the largest and most valuable collection of tiaras in the world, many of which are heirlooms of the British royal family.

elizabeth phillip wedding
Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) wears Queen Mary’s fringe tiara on her wedding day [Source: Getty Images]

Tiara Symbolism and Use

According to London jewelry expert Geoffrey Munn, “Any woman may wear [a tiara], but ancient tradition has it that they must be a bride or already married. The tiara has its roots in classical antiquity and was seen as an emblem of the loss of innocence to the crowning of love.” Tiaras do not represent the rank of people who wear them (like a crown would); rather, they represent the importance of an event (such as a royal wedding).

meghan markle tiara
Meghan Markle wears a tiara at the most recent royal wedding

Bottom line: You don’t need to be royal to wear a tiara! Celebrate this day with whatever degree of opulence suits you.

It’s a Hog’s Life

prize winning pig
[Source: Clickhole]
As you may recall from my previous blog about pigs, the relationship between humans and pigs has been all over the place, from despised as filthy animals to being eaten by the millions. Actually, pigs and humans have so much in common that live tissue can be transplanted from one to the other, pig insulin is a boon to humans, and pigs are often the surrogate of choice when testing potential new drugs. According to some South Sea cultures, pigs were created so humans wouldn’t have to eat each other!

papua new guinea pigs
[Source: Papua New Guinea Tourism]
Experts guess that pigs were introduced to Papua New Guinea (PNG) from elsewhere, maybe as long ago as 10,000 years. Whether they have thrived or not is a matter of definition. PNG pigs are distinctive, and scrawnier than pigs with which we are more familiar. Wild pigs in PNG are slaughtered for food, but domestic pigs are eaten only when no other protein is available. Mostly they are kept for social and political uses, and are particularly important among tribes in the Central Highlands.

papua new guinea nurse piglets
[Source: Science Source]
My interest in PNG pigs was triggered by my reading about pigs in general. I came across the fact that in Papua New Guinea, women sometimes nurse piglets. I had to know more! It turns out that in Papua New Guinea pigs have enormous economical, political, and mystical importance. They are used to buy brides, and to pay debts (for example, compensation for killing members of another tribe). Pigs are killed for important ceremonies, such as cremation, marriage, initiation rites, and to appease ancestral spirits. Pig killings are often followed by days of celebration. An exception is pigs that are sick or stolen, which are eaten as quickly as possible.

pigs papua new guinea
[Source: Minden Pictures]
A man’s wealth is judged by the number of pigs in his household, and every few years, huge pig-giving festival are held to impress other tribesmen. The importance of pigs can scarcely be overstated. They are the only domesticated animal. And the care and feeding of the pigs falls to the women—along with virtually all the other work of the family, such as gardening, cooking, hauling water, gathering firewood, caring for children—and pigs! The men hunt or fish occasionally and protect against enemy attacks.

Someone named Adam, who reports working in PNG, posted the following online: “. . . And I have seen the women breastfeeding pigs. And there is a simple reason for it. Pigs are worth more to the tribe than children. You cannot eat or sell or trade children. . . A child eats your food, which in ten, leaves less on your plate.” Pigs must be kept alive until needed at all costs.
woman pig friends
[Source: Age Fotostock]
The women have very close relationships with pigs. The pigs accompany the women everywhere. Sometimes they spend the night in specially built sties, but others sleep in the same huts as the women and their children. They eat with the family. They are often given names and are treated as pets are here, being stroked, fondled, and cajoled in tender voices. Although women are the caretakers, the pigs are the property of the men. I can’t help wondering about what happens when a man decides to kill a woman’s favorite pig.
dog nursing kittens
[Source: Arizona Daily Star]
Although some people recoil in disgust at the thought of women nursing piglets, others cite more familiar examples of cross-species care throughout the animal world—for example dogs nursing kittens—and point out that people are animals, too.

The idea of a woman nursing a piglet is strange to us, at the least. But This has been the culture in Papua New Guinea for centuries. Who are we to judge?

pig breastfeeding
[Source: Blog of Swine]

Hog Heaven

hog heaven
You may know from previous blog and FB posts that I’m enrolled in a class on nature writing. As a result, I’m even more aware of nature around me—of plants, birds, and squirrels in particular. But I’ve also been reading more about nature—particularly plants and animals, but I may move on to weather or geology at some point. But tonight, let’s talk pigs.
pigs
I grew up in farm country, with friends in 4-H who took their project pigs to the county fair, and uncles who butchered hogs on their farms. But most of us grew up hearing pig doggerel:

 

To market, to market
To buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again
Jiggedy jig.
To market to market
To buy a fat hog.
Home again, home again,
Jiggedy jog.
this little piggy
[Source: Pinterest]
This little piggy went to market.
This little piggy stayed home.
This little piggy ate roast beef.
This little piggy had none.
And this little piggy went wee, wee, wee
All the way home.
three little pigs
[Source: South London Press]
Virtually everyone knows the story of “The Three Little Pigs.” If not that classic, there is always Porky Pig, and even more recently, Miss Piggy—who is cited as saying, “Never eat more than you can lift.”

 

Pigs have been all things to all people throughout history.

 

From the 11th through 13th centuries, the sow and the boar were symbols of all sorts of vices in the Bestiaries, collections of fables involving animals meant to provide morality themes for sermons, or personal reflection. Pigs in 16th century art often represented sins of the flesh.

 

Pigs as unclean: both Islam and traditional Judaism forbid eating pork. Hindus eat no pork, while Sikhs eat very little pork.

 

The contradictory roles of pigs in Greek mythology is beautifully illustrated by the legend that a sow was supposed to have suckled Zeus and a wild boar killed him. In ancient Egypt a pig represented the spirit of Osiris when crops were planted and the spirit of Seth when they were harvested. Nevertheless, they were considered unclean, and drinking pig milk was thought to cause leprosy. Tantric Buddhists worship Marici the Diamond Sow. The Kaulong section of Papua New Guinea is a pig culture—which is fascinating, and too much to go into here, but there is a saying there: “Pigs are our hearts.”

 

chinese zodiac pig
On the positive side: 2019 is the year of the pig in the Chinese zodiac. It comes around every twelve years. In 2007, it was the Year of the Golden Pig, especially auspicious because a Golden Pig year comes only once in every sixty years. The personality of Pigs is supposed to be kind and understanding, an able peacemaker. Pigs are excellent conversationalists, truthful and to the point. A Pig believes in justice and law and order, rejects all falsehood or hypocrisy.

 

Pigs for sport.
  • Greezed pig contests
  • Pig races at the Michigan Spree Festival
Random facts: 
  • Pigs are the most ancient of nonruminant mammals, existing forty million years ago—long before humans.
  • Pigs exist in one form or another in every part of the world.
  • In three months, three weeks, and three days, a sow can produce a litter of eight piglets. With competent treatment, they can be ready for market in six months.
  • Toothbrushes were invented in China and originally used boar bristles; today, industrial and consumer products are practically limitless, from plywood adhesive and dye to glue and bone china.
  • Beyond bacon: because of similarities to humans, pig heart valves, insulin, and porcine bur dressings. These are just examples of pharmaceutical uses, which rank second only to meat in importance.
  • You can’t sweat like a pig because pigs don’t sweat.
  • Pigs put on one pound of weight for every three pounds of feed they consume.
  • If there is an option, pigs do not wallow in their own waste.
  • Pigs can be housebroken.
Pigs in phrase and fable:
  • don’t cast pearls before swine
  • don’t buy a pig in a poke
  • can’t make a silk purse from a swine’s ear
  • graceful as a hog on ice
  • hogging the (x)
  • eat like a pig
  • eating high on the hog
  • living high on the hog
  • sweat like a pig (see above)
  • pig out
  • going whole hog
  • going hog wild
  • looks like a marzipan pig (i.e., prosperous)
  • fat as a pig
  • happy as a hog in shit
  • in a pig’s eye
  • piggy bank
  • piggyback
  • hogging the road
  • pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered
  • being a porker
Bottom line: Pigs are ubiquitous. Is there a place for pigs in your writing?
 

Discovering dZi Beads

As you may know from previous FB posts and my weekend blog, I recently visited the VMFA during the creation of the Tibetan mandala. As with many special exhibits, the VMFA shop offered many items related to mandalas and Tibetan culture—and thus I became aware of dZi (pronounced Zee) beads for the first time. The Tibetan word “dZi” translates as “shine, brightness, clearness, splendor.” The name in Mandarin Chinese translates as “heaven’s bead” or “heaven’s pearl.” FYI, I’ve seen it written Dzi as well.

 

The dZi are stone beads worn as part of a necklace or bracelet. Many Asian cultures around Tibet also prize dZi as protective amulets and for positive spiritual benefits. As with many things thought to have good vibes, dZi have and have had multiple uses: ground into powder, they are sometimes used as an ingredient in traditional medicine, and sometimes used as a tool to burnish the gilt on paintings or statuary.

 

The most highly prized dZi beads are ancient, and made of smooth, natural agate. Those being hard to come by, modern-made dZi are even making inroads in Tibet. The designs can be almost anything: circles, ovals, squares, waves, zig zags, stripes, lines, diamonds, dots, etc. The colors are mainly brown to black with a design in off-white. The number of “eyes” in a design is significant, as is their arrangement.

 

DZi stones appeared between 2000 and 1000 BCE. Although the geographic origin is unknown, they are now generally known as Tibetan beads. In Tibetan culture these beads are believed to attract protectors, maybe beneficial ghosts or ancestors. Thus the beads are always treated with respect.

 

As long ago as the early 19th century, “modern era” beads in this style were made in Germany. New dZi have been produced in Asia. The most convincing replicas of ancient beads came from Taiwan during the 1990s, and  good-quality ones from mainland China over the last three year.
New beads are less likely to appeal to purists. However, attitudes toward new beads vary widely: some believe the new stones function as well as the old ones; some believe the protective energies are missing but can move into a new dZi under certain circumstances; at the same time, the ancient beads have absorbed energy—both good and bad—from all the previous owners whereas these new beads have no need to be cleansed in the same way. In any case, one should purify one’s beads and ask them to bond with you. There is an interesting and informative article online titled the Myth and Mystery of Tibetan Dzi Stone Beads that tells how to do this, and how to care for your beads in general. It also identifies the meaning attached to the number of eyes on the bead, from one to twenty-one.

 

Imitation dZi are made from materials other than agate or calcedony—virtually any other material. Some of these imitations were created a couple of hundred years ago. Some of the older mock dZi are valued in their own right. The dZi beads available in the VMFA shop are made of traditional materials (agate) and designs, but they are obviously mass-prodced and thus some would consider them to be imitations.

 

If one believes in the power of stones, these would still have the positive properties of these varieties of quartz. Agate and chalcedony are two commonly-encountered varieties of quartz.

 

Agate: all about harmony and balance. Although different varieties/colors of agate have their own properties, all types of agate stones have these agate properties at the heart of their meaning. All agate mineral rocks vibrate or resonate at a slower, less intense rate than some of their more high-frequency quartz relatives. These less intense vibrations impart strength and stability. Agate meaning includes yin and yang energy, providing a balance between the positive and negative.

 

Carnelian is known as a stone of motivation and endurance, leadership and courage. Carnelians have protected and inspired throughout history. A glassy, translucent stone, Carnelian is an orange-colored variety of Chalcedony, a mineral of the Quartz family.

 

Chalcedony is a nurturing stone that promotes brotherhood and good will. It absorbs negative energy. It brings the mind, body, emotions and spirit into harmony. Chalcedony instills feelings of benevolence and generosity. It alleviates hostility and transforms melancholy into joy.

 

Black Onyx is another variety of Chalcedony, which ranges from white-colored stones to black. It is one of the many gemstones believed to have amazing healing and spiritual properties. The story of the origin of this stone varies from culture to culture, but it does go back a very long way in time. Today it is available in pure black, as it is heated and polished.

 

BOTTOM LINE: Get thee to the VMFA, enjoy the exhibit, and learn a bit about Tibetan culture. You never know what information a writer can use down the line!