Tuesday, December 22, 2015

j. Reads "The Daring Truth About Anne Boleyn: Cutting through the myth"

Note: This review contains an affiliate link to a book. Thank you for helping to support this site!

Admittedly, this is a book I read a bit ago and never reviewed here. I had it brought to my attention again recently and figured I'd give it a shot. So, without further ado, here are my feelings about The Daring Truth About Anne Boleyn: Cutting through the myth:

I'm... really not sure where to start.

This book is presented as a serious scholarly endeavor, not as one person's idle musings. The author purports to "cut through the myth" and deliver the truth about the enigmatic Tudor queen, complete with new evidence she'd discovered buried in old sources.

When it comes to actually delivering, it folds like a cheap card table.

Now, holding up Anne Boleyn as a tragic heroine is pretty tired. I get that. I also get that the Tudors are one of the best-known and most written-about families in the British monarchy. Both of these things make it refreshing when scholars take up the task of refuting some of the "common knowledge" factoids about them. I'm not an apologist for Henry or the Boleyn family at all, so (when it comes to allocating blame) I don't have a horse in this race. I've seen plenty of things contending that Anne Boleyn was complicit in the machinations that eventually led to her demise, and the idea that she had agency and wasn't a doe-eyed lamb being led to the chopping block has its own appeal. That said, hoo boy let me tell you about The Daring Truth About Anne Boleyn.

First, it's a historian's job to support their claims with some kind of evidence. That shouldn't really be surprising. Extraordinary claims also require equally extraordinary evidence to back them up. This is where this book falls spectacularly short.

Author Sylwia S. Zupanec claims that Anne Boleyn was arrogant and obnoxious. While this may very well have been true, what part did it play in her execution? What did Zupanec manage to unearth that would transform Anne Boleyn from a tragic figure into a harridan who got her just desserts?

Well... Not much.

Most of Zupanec's claims are based on reinterpretations of the same sources used by other Tudor historians. Unfortunately, these reinterpretations seem to be less "re" and more "mis." Zupanec relies heavily on her own assumptions, building her arguments on logical fallacy after logical fallacy. What is the basis for the claim that Henry VIII would only have left Catharine of Aragon for someone "ravishingly beautiful?" What evidence does Zupanec have that Anne Boleyn herself attempted to obfuscate her family tree? There's also nothing to suggest that Eustace Chapuys was an objective observer. For that matter, it doesn't appear that Zupanec is terribly objective, either -- the entire book reads like she had already come to a conclusion before researching, then sloppily troweled on whatever tenuous evidence she could find.

Plus there's the fact that Zupanec literally cites Urban Dictionary (you know, the place anyone can contribute to and where you can learn that a "Boston pancake" isn't a regional breakfast treat?) as a source. That's neat.

As for the rest, this book needed an editor very, very badly. A lot of passages are repeated over and over, there are mistakes one would expect to see red penned in a fourth grader's essay ("In this chapter, I successfully proved[...]"), and Zupanec's writing is very poor. (In her defense, she appears to be writing in what is her second or third language.) This is particularly unfortunate in a work that leans heavily on the idea that pretty much every Tudor historian has grossly mistranslated and misinterpreted their sources, as it makes her come across as unreliable.

And then came the Amazon reviews.
It's never a good look when someone jumps into the reviews to defend their own product. Ever. Unless you're a Customer Service representative offering to help ship out a part or replace a defective order, don't respond to your reviews. It's never a good idea.

If you don't take this advice, at the very freaking least don't attempt to argue with your reviewers and get a posse together to mark all of the negative reviews as "Not Helpful" within the space of an hour or two. That's just embarrassing.

In short, this book writes a lot of checks that Zupanec's writing and research can't cash. There's nothing particularly daring or truthful here. If you do want to read some interesting conjecture about the Tudor family, pick up Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII by Kyra Cornelius Kramer instead. It has its flaws, but at least the theory it offers is halfway unique and compelling.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Questionably Safe Childhood Adventures Pt. 2 -- Whose Femur Is This?

"We should go somewhere."

These words very rarely proceed anything that's a good idea. This is especially true if the speaker is:

  • Drunk, or

  • A teenager

In this case, the three of us were the latter. It was about midnight, we were having a (sort of) sleepover, and, with too much Silent Hill and boredom on our brains, we decided to go on an adventure.

Sorry. "Adventure."

I've mentioned before that I love abandoned buildings, but they had an unfortunate tendency to be a bit thin on the ground in suburban Long Island. Fortunately, spelunking was almost as fun.
And before you point out that caves are probably harder to find than abandoned buildings, I know. What there are a ton of, however, are sewers and drainage culverts. Just... Just follow me on this.

Picture it. New York, the late nineties. Three kids dodge late-night traffic, duck under a curled-up corner of a broken chain link fence, sneak into an enormous rainwater reservoir, and are immediately confronted by--

"Holy shit, that's a lot of frogs."

"Yeah, it is."

"Like, a lot-lot of frogs. I'm afraid I'm going to step on -- Is that part of a femur."

I could barely make out the tiny sliver of white under the tight beam of my flashlight. It was about as long as half my forearm, broken at one end and rounded on the other in a sort of unmistakably leggy way that suddenly had me wondering if this sleepover was beginning to turn into the plot of Stand By Me. With frogs.

"Why is there a femur?"

The darkness around us replied with a soft, ominous honk.

"It's not a femur, it's too tiny."

Honk. Honk.

"Is so. Look at it."


One of us, I don't remember who, flipped their flashlight up to look around. While navigating frogs and trying to perform amateur forensics in the muddy dark, we'd managed to miss one very, very important fact. One that, considering this was a rainwater reservoir, we really should've seen coming.

Geese. A lot of them.

They'd formed a kind of semi-circle around us, maintaining a respectful distance while they sized us up warily. Even the smallest members of the group, sill gangly and covered in baby down, appeared to be watching us with suspicion in their beady eyes and murder in their tiny hearts. Had we intruded on some kind of goose funeral? Was the bone part of their tiny, avian memorial service? Or, as I was beginning to suspect, the remains of the last bunch of jerkwad teenagers who decided it was a rad idea to sneak into a goshcrapped rainwater reservoir in the middle of the night?

[caption id="attachment_1729" align="aligncenter" width="300"]"Taste hell." "Taste hell."[/caption]

"I'm gonna go catch one," one of my friends declared, crouching down and beginning to sneak toward the group of birds with outstretched hands.

"What? No. No, not that. That's a really terrible id--..."

I didn't even see my friend move. I saw a human body vanish into the feathered throng, and, just when I had begun rehearsing the explanations I was probably going to have to give to the police (for my friend's disappearance) and my mom (to keep her from kicking my ass), saw a pair of hands thrust upward. And clutched in them, flapping furiously, was a gosling.

"I got one! I got one!" The triumphant shout echoed off of the muddy walls of the basin. The frogs, as if knowing better, began a mass exodus into the water. "I got--"

One thing I'll say about myself, I have a very finely honed fight-or-flight response. Years of having panic attacks at absolutely nothing have primed me for the moments when a sudden burst of adrenaline and made dash for your life are truly warranted. Like, say, when your friend just kidnapped a gosling in full view of eighty or so full grown, fully enraged Branta canadensis that don't seem particularly inclined to discriminate between which of the three teenage humans they were suddenly hell bent on beating senseless.

[caption id="attachment_1730" align="aligncenter" width="300"]goose "DESTROY."[/caption]

"Oh shit... Oh holy shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit ohshitoshitoshitoshit!" I chanted as I ran, unsure if I was even saying the words aloud. My sneakers slipped in the mud, flecks of the stuff splashing all over my skin and clothes as I ran, arms pinwheeling wildly as I groped through the dark. The honks and flaps grew louder, turning into a crescendo of unholy fury that threatened to flatten everything in its path and what the hell were we even going to do with a baby goose if we had one, anyway?

My friend let the gosling go. It flapped awkwardly, landed in the mud a few yards away, and waddled off toward the main group ruffled, but unharmed. Somehow, even my friend had managed to escape without suffering several broken limbs and a trepanation-by-goose. Without speaking, we found ourselves ushered out of the reservoir by the ominous honks and soft hisses of eighty-odd irritated geese and decided that it was probably a much better idea to find an empty playground to haunt instead.

Days later, we returned. Try as I might, I couldn't find the femur or any other tiny skeletal remains. Had it been stolen by a stray cat? Buried under days of accumulated mud and goose droppings? Or had the geese chosen to move their burial ground/dispose of the evidence of their crimes?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Coping Mechanisms for the Perpetually Anxious

Note: This post contains some affiliate links.

[caption id="attachment_1724" align="alignright" width="300"]Also, according to the internet, fear turns you into a giant, bald pig-baby with too many teeth. Also, according to the internet, fear turns you into a giant, bald pig-baby with too many teeth.[/caption]

Ever since I was old enough to handle my own medical issues, I've had to come up with ways of managing my anxiety. I've tried distracting myself with mantras until my voice went hoarse, taking nearly every member of the benzodiazepine tribe (no small feat for a pill phobe, let me tell you), even snapping a rubber band against my wrist until it raised purple welts on my skin. At this point, I've managed to narrow down some of the things that help me get through everything from general anxiety to a full-on panic attack.

Before I list them, I want to emphasize that, if you're experiencing anxiety or panic disorder, it doesn't have to be this way. Psychology and psychiatry have made great strides in handling anxiety, and, though I haven't personally met anyone who was fully "cured," can give you some extremely potent tools to help you manage things on your own. That said, I'm also not going to claim that anything here (or anywhere else, for that matter) is going to help you "kick anxiety's butt." Living with anxiety or panic disorder is a journey for a lot of people, not something that can be easily overcome.

No stress-reducing tool is foolproof and sometimes people need a little extra help. If you find yourself in that situation, here are some of the ways I get through it:

Get a physical and some bloodwork.

Does your heart race  and feel like it's skipping beats when you worry? Is the fear of a heart attack part of the reason you panic? I wrote an article ages ago (previously for Yahoo's freelancing program, which, for some reason, now appears here) about living with heart palpitations, and I still stand by its advice-- if you haven't seen a doctor yet, go. Even if a physical doesn't detect anything physically treatable, it can ease your mind and reduce your stress level. If possible, ask your doctor for some bloodwork. Abnormally low levels of certain vitamins and minerals can cause some really bizarre and anxiety-provoking physical symptoms.

Say, "I am having a panic attack."

This is probably the weirdest piece of advice I can give, but it's an enormous help. Even if you're telling someone you don't know well, texting a friend, or otherwise informing someone who isn't really able to help you, it can help. For me, stating that I am having a panic attack kind of cements it in reality. I acknowledge I'm having one, say the words, and it forces me to recognize that this is the same song-and-dance that I've been through a thousand times before. Acknowledge it, recognize it, and know you will make it through.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="221"] They may not look like much, but tinctures can be absolutely heaven sent in an emergency.[/caption]

Try the right herbs.

Some of the herbs I recommended for heart palpitations work for anxiety, too. Chamomile is great, as are skullcap, passionflower, and lemon balm. Try taking them as a tea, or, if you don't have any issues with alcohol-based products, use an herbal tincture. Tinctures are probably the quickest way to get the herbs into your system, so they're good to have on hand for emergencies. Try these single-herb tinctures or this anxiety-specific tincture from Mountain Rose Herbs, or this blend from HawaiiPharm. If you prefer a tea, this one's chock-full of chamomile and lemon balm, with a very pleasant, cooling flavor from the spearmint and lavender. (It makes a really nice, delicate iced tea if you find that heat or hot weather exacerbate your anxiety, too.)

Note: As with anything taking internally, please consult your doctor if you're nursing, pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are on any medications. Avoid chamomile if you have allergies to plants in the ragweed family, and avoid skullcap if you have liver problems.

Breathe to this gif.

Just follow the motions of the shapes, breathing in and out as they move. It's a simple activity that engages your eyes, encourages long, deep, calming breaths, and gets you to focus on something outside of the panicky feelings.

Try some old-fashioned smelling salts.

If you find yourself helped by aromatherapy or find that stuffy, stale air is an anxiety trigger for you, smelling salts are a great, portable way to keep some help on hand without having to worry about spillage. (As a bonus, you'll also get to feel like a very fancy Victorian lady.) Try this blend by Moon Goddess Magick, which includes plenty of anxiety-calming chamomile oil.

Try some Rescue Remedy.

If you're not familiar with Bach's flower essences, they are essentially a homeopathic dilution of different flowers. Bach maintained that physical illness was the end manifestation of a deeper malaise, and developed the flower essences as a way to treat the emotional and mental states of patients. Though flowers are used in preparing the essences, the end products themselves are highly diluted enough that they don't contain any allergens from the original plants (they are preserved with alcohol, however). Rescue Remedy is one of Bach's most famous concoctions, used on people and pets the world over during times of intense stress. I've used it myself with a degree of success, even though I'm not really down with the idea of homeopathic remedies. (Rescue Remedy is also about 15% brandy, so if the flower essences part doesn't work out...) If you're worried about spillage, try stashing some Rescue Pastilles in a pocket or purse instead.

Carry a "pocket stone" or a set of prayer beads.

If you don't use a mala, rosary, or other configuration of prayer beads in your daily life, it might be a good idea to see how they can benefit your anxiety level. I recommended them in the past for people with heart palpitations or benign arrhythmias, but the effect here is the same-- using prayer beads or rubbing a pocket stone and repeating mantras is an activity that engages your hands, your mind, and your voice. Even if you don't believe in the "power of prayer," this practice can help distract you and self-soothe. Since the throes of a panic attack can end up making minutes feel like hours, this is also a good way to help fill the minutes and avoid the feeling that you've been panicking for an eternity.

If you're so inclined, try finding a worry stone made from a gem associated with grounding or protection, like smoky quartz or obsidian. If you choose to use a beaded bracelet or necklace instead, try using wooden beads that can be anointed with anti-anxiety oils-- the added bit of aromatherapy can help add another sensory dimension to using them. Check out these lovely palm stones from Soul Mama's Rock Shop, or this black obsidian stone from The Silver Goddess.

Lastly, maintain.

For awhile, I was tempted to treat my panic attacks as something I only had to deal with while they were happening. I was perfectly content to ignore them and pretend everything was normal in the spaces between attacks, largely because that's how the people around me wanted to treat things-- normal was acceptable, acknowledging that I had panic attacks and would keep having them until something was actually done about them was not. Unfortunately, this attitude didn't get me very far.

If you aren't under the care of a psychologist, now's the time to consider it. If that isn't an option, try taking up stress-lowering activities like meditation. Meditation doesn't have to be expensive, there's no "right" way to do it, and there are endless resources online for guided meditation, transcendental meditation, self-hypnosis, and everything in between. If you're just starting out, visit Calm.com for a brief meditative break every day. It only takes a few minutes, but a few minutes per day can have a dramatic impact over time.

[caption id="attachment_1719" align="aligncenter" width="200"]I don't actually have a caption for this. I just really liked this picture. I don't actually have a caption for this. I just thought it was pretty.[/caption]

Panic attacks are a long-term issue with a short-term presentation. Knowing how to take care of yourself when you're feeling okay is just as important as knowing how to handle an actual attack. There's no simple, foolproof way to "cure" panic attacks once and for all, due in no small part to the fact that it's often the fear of having a panic attack that triggers one. (Which is a pretty messed up catch-22, isn't it?) The tips and strategies here are ones that have helped me, but they might not necessarily be as helpful for you and are not intended to take the place of a professional doctor's advice.

Do you have any panic attack reducing strategies that work well for you? Let me know in the comments!