Watch This: Dance of the Maize God

This looks like a very interesting new documentary about looting and the destruction of cultural heritage happening in the Maya region.

“If you don’t know the history of your culture, you don’t know anything.”

The scene of the temple being bulldozed and the human remains being pushed around like trash made me positively sick to my stomach. I wouldn’t exactly compare looting to rape as they do here, and I wish there were more Maya voices represented in the trailer, but the Nightfire Films website says “The story is told by villagers, looters, archaeologists, scholars, dealers and curators. For each, these vases have a radically different value and meaning,” which definitely makes me excited to watch this when I can!

Maya Revival indegogo

“Today’s Maya regaining their history and culture by learning the glyphs and calendars of their ancestors and spreading the knowledge in their own communities.”

That’s the goal of this new indegogo being run by a fellow UCLA anthropologist, Bruce Love. I’ve heard of the organization “Mayas for ancient Mayan” before, but this is the first time I’ve seen their actual work in action. And I’m THRILLED that this is happening, especially that it is driven, not by Dr. Love, but by Maya communities themselves in their desire to revive ancient knowledge.

One of my biggest issues with modern archaeology and anthropology is that it is usually driven by outsiders, usually American or European scholars that set the research agenda in indigenous communities. I am always very excited to see internally driven projects that address issues and questions being asked by the people being “studied.”

Also, not incidentally, this is exactly the issue the novel I just finished addressed – the power inherent in having access to and knowledge about you own history. Though, of course, in my fantasy book access to ancient knowledge allows people to perform magic…

My first publication!

Well, it’s official. My flash fiction piece Ixtab Takes a Day Off was posted up at Abyss & Apex Magazine!

I wrote this as an homage to one of my favorite stories, Dostoyevsky’s Dream of a Ridiculous Man, which is about a man contemplating suicide who changes his mind after an encounter with a little girl.

This was my first real attempt at flash fiction. It literally took two hours to write the first draft and I’m still happy with the piece, so yay!

I’m actually experiencing all kinds of emotions. Intense pride. Excitement. There might be a little fist-pumping boogie around the room to very mediocre pop music with my 4 year old happening.

Though I also feel a little…let down or something.

I’m beginning to suspect that every milestone along my writing journey will feel like this. Every time I achieve a goal, I see the next goalpost in the distance. Being an obsessive, type-A person, I just move right on to the next thing. Finish a book. Get a short story published. Edit a book. Query agents. Done and done.

Next is getting an agent and starting the publication process. Then publish a book. Then pen my best selling series. And then I RULE THE WORLD…okay that last part isn’t a realistic goal. To be fair, none of this feels realistic. But it’s happening so I figure I’d better pay attention and make sure I’m enjoying the journey!

PS Profanity warning in the story…sorry mom.

PPS Haha, just kidding, my mom actually taught me how to curse.

On Writing the “Other”

Photograph by Johan Ordonez, AFP/Getty Images

This blog post, 12 Fundamentals Of Writing “The Other” (And The Self), by Daniel José Older is timely.

Almost all of my stories are at least partially about people not like me. As an anthropologist I worry a lot about cultural appropriation and how to avoid it, but I still have moments of fear. I ALWAYS assume that I suck (see #2 on his list) at writing/understanding the other, but it is still a risk and so I enjoyed reading this post a hell of a lot.

I especially liked this one:

“7. Ritual ≠ spectacle.

I recently edited Long Hidden, an anthology of speculative fiction from the margins of history. My co-editor Rose Fox and I received a number of submissions that had no speculative element at all but featured non-Christian ceremonies. Other people’s cultures/beliefs are not fantasy. It’s one thing if a demigod or spirit is out walking around, interacting with the world, and even that walks a complex line, but to have people simply celebrating their beliefs be a “fantastical” element is racist cultural imperialism.”

My academic specialization focused on religion and, over time, I came to believe very strongly that ritual and religious belief is something that should always be held in respect (barring abusive beliefs, etc). I’m not Catholic, but I would never feel comfortable doing what PZ Myer did to a communion wafer. I don’t believe the cracker is actually the body of Christ, but some people do. In my opinion, religious belief is, for many people, a central, emotional, visceral, authentic part of who they are. Religious experiences aren’t just something fabricated, they are deeply felt and genuinely important. Which is why I always cringe when I see depictions of non-Western ritual as some kind of cool, weird entertainment.

Ritual does a lot of important things (helps individuals genuinely feel part of a group, verify and vivify their belief systems, etc) and so I always hesitate to represent ritual of the “other.” However, in the book I’ve just finished I do depict a few Maya rituals, and so I’m very glad to see this post from Daniel José Older, because it reminded me to always be thinking about these things.

How is this even real?

This is one of the latest images released by NASA taken by the Hubble telescope. The long-exposure image shows us the deepest space that human eyes have ever seen. In just this tiny quadrant of space they have counted thousands of galaxies.

I literally cannot wrap my brain around these photographs. It looks like a mediocre sci-fi illustration to me because the implications of this being real are too humbling for me to process.

More information and big, zoomable photos available at NASA.

That Belongs in a Museum…oh wait, no it doesn’t

This is a Katsinam — a sacred mask of the Hopi people. The Hopi believe that these are living beings, sacred spirits embodied.

Over the years, “artifacts” like these have been stolen from indigenous peoples around the world and then sold to collectors and even museums. I’m an archaeologist, I get it. These are amazing,beautiful, and meaningful. We WANT to see them. Learn about them. Honor them with places on pretty glass shelves, lit by spot lights. But no. No no no no no.

I’m not religious, but I strongly believe that people’s religious beliefs and traditions are genuinely important. I might not always agree with religious traditions, and am willing to enforce laws that protect the rights of individuals against religiously based abuses (al la genital mutilation, human and civil rights violations, etc). However, in cases like these auctions selling objects held sacred by others, just no.

It is immoral.

Which is why I love this story so much. Intrigue, spying, late night phone calls, by the amazing Annenberg Foundation to purchase a whole lot of Hopi objects being sold by an unethical auction house. The Annenberg Foundation managed to buy almost all of the sacred objects to be returned to their rightful home.

So, rock on Annengerg people, rock on.

Yeah Baby! NaNo worked!

Well, NaNoWriMo worked and I have officially finished my first full novel – a young adult contemporary fantasy done at 56,000 words (followed closely by a second novel that I’ve been working on for over a year). I’m thrilled! Something about the little NaNo achievement graph really motivated me. It needs a ton of editing, but it is the first book I’ve ever finished and I’m doin’ a little dance.


Alright, I’ve heard about it for years.

I’ve pondered the bloated corpses of half-finished novels floundering on various hard drives. I have just received an email asking to buy a piece of my fiction. (also, HELL YEAH! WOOT WOOT WOOT I SOLD SOME FICTION!) These events convince me that I might be an okay writer after all, and thus I should probably, you know, finish a book.

So, rather than farffing around with the three different works I currently have in progress, I have officially declared my intention to focus on one piece and just git ‘er done. One of my works in progress is a young adult urban fantasy type thingy with only a few thousand words written. I suspect it will end up being around 55-60,000 words. Perfect for a National Novel Writers Month project where you join hundreds of thousands of other writer in a sprint to puke up 50,000 words during the month of November.

Therefore, in a challenge to myself, I hereby declare my intention to finish a draft of this book by the end of the month. Let the writing commence!

Thinking about Belize

As I am working on my (almost finished) novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about Belize these days. The book takes place all across Central America and Mexico, but it is really the deep jungle that I hated/loved/miss/hope to never go back to. Especially my time at the Programme For Belize where I learned many things: what it’s like to be genuinely hungry, what it’s like to have fungus growing on your nether bits, how to use a machete, what it means to feel truly competent and confident in your abilities as a human being, how to survive in the wild, that people are ultimately the same everywhere, that life without technology can be truly wonderful. I could go on.

One thing I definitely miss is the wildlife. Especially howler monkeys which used to serenade us every evening. I got to see hundreds of these guys as well as spider monkeys and a few other kinds of monkey.

Also the coati, SO CUTE.

And, of course the jaguars and other big cats, which I did see in the wild exactly once. Yes, I wet myself a little.

I, however, do not miss the fer-de-lance, fondly known at the two step snake (because you will get bitten, then take exactly two more steps before you die…which is actually an exaggeration. Really you will likely only lose the limb that gets bitten, just don’t get bitten on the nose…). I did come face to face with a few of these, including one literally face to face. They tell me I levitated backwards though I have little memory of that. I also killed a few with my machete, Very Carefully.

The best part about these snakes is that they are aggressive. I heard stories of people being chased through the jungle by one of these territorial pit vipers.

Though the fer-de-lance was deadly, the real danger in the jungle was packs of peccaries. Look at this photo – see how cute they look. Until you look into the mother’s eyes. Look at them, see the cold evil? These things travel in packs and, if disturbed, will shred your ankles with their sharp tusks. Then, when you finally fall over on bloodied stumps, they feast on your corpse (okay I’m exaggerating, but only a little. I did see local guys that killed fer-de-lances like they were nothing frantically climb trees to avoid peccaries).

In addition to snakes and wild boar, the animal that truly terrified me while there…. the ocellated turkey. Don’t laugh. Check out the razor sharp spurs on that sucker. It’s hard to see it, but they are like little stiletto blades. Dual wielding even.

One of these lovely birds decided that our camp’s pit-toilets were in her territory. If you needed to piss, you needed a buddy. One person would distract the turkey while the other made a mad dash for the toilet. Once inside (behind the trash bag hung up for privacy) you had to hurry, lest the screaming mad bird notice you and attack while your pants were still down.

Living there for so long was an amazing/terrifying/life-changing experience that’s for sure. I do hope someday we can take our little Danger Monkey there to experience some of it.