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The ShanMonster

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An Apology [Feb. 1st, 2017|02:06 pm]
The ShanMonster

I remember not having empathy. Or, I remember having far less, at least. I suspect it was a coping mechanism. My religious upbringing made me think everyone was doomed unless they recanted their ways and became a Jehovah's Witness. Not a single person I met was ever convinced to become a JW, which meant that everyone around me was going to die in Armageddon. Rather than despair, it becomes easier to just not give a shit. It wasn't even a conscious thing. Looking back, I cringe at my callous behaviour.

The most egregious example is how I dealt with a coworker. I knew her from high school. She was neither a friend nor one of my bullies, ergo she was neutral. She was 17, going on 18 years old. I knew that her birthday was coming up but paid it no heed. Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate birthdays. The day after she turned 18, she came into work in a state of distress. My other coworkers asked her what was wrong. When she'd come home from celebrating her birthday, she was locked out of her house and no one would let her in. Her father had changed the locks and evicted her. In his distorted reasoning, once someone turns 18, they should live independently. Unfortunately for her, she'd had no warning. She wasn't allowed to get any of her belongings. She wasn't given so much as a quarter for a pay phone to call for help.

She managed to find a friend in the city who let her couch surf temporarily, but she had no way to get to work. She had to hitchhike 25 miles there and back to get to work. I listened to all this dispassionately. It never even occurred to me to offer to put her up at my place.

As time went on, she was becoming more and more desperate. She started carrying mace because she was so frightened about hitchhiking. After a while, she started sleeping on the floor in the back room at work rather than hitchhike every day. We worked at a campground, and some of the kids from the campground would bring her food to eat. Again, it never occurred to me to share my food with her, even when she commented on how good it smelled. I didn't think to give her clothes or offer to clean her work uniform at home. I did nothing for her. Nothing at all.

When I look back at this, I feel shame. How could I be so blind as to someone else's suffering? And yet I was.

For what it's worth, she did end up ok. I'm glad for this. I'm also glad that I'm no longer the same person I was then. Sometimes people tell me I don't have to save everyone. While I realize this, I know I have a lot of making up to do. I'm sorry, Andrea. I let you down.
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I was a teenaged AIDS educator [Jan. 25th, 2017|10:43 am]
The ShanMonster

In the mid-80s, I was a high school student raised in a Christian apocalyptic cult in a rural, conservative part of Canada. I was a homophobe, because I'd been raised to be one. My parents did not believe in public sex education, yet were supportive of my self-motivated learning. I was an unpopular child, and threw myself into academic research. I was fascinated by AIDS, and I read everything I could find on the topic.

I read everything from tabloid articles (Rock Hudson and Liberace had reams of articles written on them) to medical journals. Where most kids I knew would hang out with one another and play hockey or chat on the phone, I would beg to be taken to the university an hour's drive away. There I'd sit and read articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine. I had a written correspondence going with the World Health Organization, the science editor at Time magazine, and the head of AIDS research in Canada (I've long since forgotten his name). I talked to doctors, nurses, and professors of virology. I researched everything from social ramifications to medical testing and treatments to safe sex practices.

This latter topic was the one which landed me in the most trouble. I purchased educational pamphlets from safe sex organizations in San Francisco. Here I was, a homophobic virgin, reading about anal sex, fisting, docking, poppers, and all sorts of things for which I really had no understanding. Poppers were as mysterious to me as retroviruses, but I kept reading, hoping that eventually, I'd be able to understand what it all meant.

As a result, I ended up becoming one of the most educated people on the topic of AIDS in Canada for that short period of time. Professors started coming to me for information and my opinion. I put together an education system on teaching about AIDS in junior high schools. Suddenly I was introducing safe sex topics to rural New Brunswick. The principal accepted my program, with the exception of any sympathetic talk about homosexual behaviour. I accepted this because I figured some education was better than none. There was already one reported AIDS case in the region, after all.

I wrote up a survey to be given to the students before and after taking the lessons on AIDS education. It demonstrated that the message was getting through to the kids, and that they were learning about AIDS transmission, safe sex, blood transfusions, and IV drug use.

I took my findings to a regional science fair, and that's when things got nasty. Some of my materials (ie. the safe sex pamphlets from San Francisco bath houses) was sexually explicit. One kid kept showing up and taking my materials, taking off with them to snicker and show his friends. I had saved up my allowance to purchase these, and didn't appreciate having them taken, let alone to have them being laughed at. I managed to get them back, and put them away in my purse.

While I wasn't looking, the kid came back and stole them from my purse. I had no idea anything was wrong until an angry mother stormed over to me with my pamphlets. She screamed at me, told me I was a pervert who was corrupting her son, and then she tore up my pamphlets and brought over science fair staff. They went through my materials, ensuring there weren't any more "dirty" materials.

I was not reimbursed for my stolen and destroyed property.

I received an honourable mention for my science fair project. I was invited to address a class at a local university (I demurred, because I thought that since I was just a high school kid, I'd have nothing to teach to university students). And when I went on to the provincial science fair, I had all my materials searched for contraband perversion before I was allowed to set up.
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Jungle Fever: Pimpilala, Ecuador [Jan. 25th, 2017|10:41 am]
The ShanMonster

(This unfinished bit has been sitting in my buffer for far too long.)

I woke up before sunrise to the cacophony of crowing roosters. I was used to being up this early. I can't say I was used to being awoken by noisy chickens, but it wasn't new to me. This was the alarm clock of my childhood, since I grew up with freerange chickens doing their thing. I enjoyed the boisterous narcissism of the chooks. Every time a rooster crows, he's telling the world how amazing and important he is. He's also telling people they have no business being in bed. I didn't mind, but I'd gotten to sleep early. Most of the others had stayed up late, shooting the shit and knocking back Ecuadorean lager. I squirmed my way past the mosquito netting, shook my shoes out (in case of scorpions and bullet ants), and wandered to the bathroom. Once there, I again checked for bullet ants before making my urinary libations.

Although I'd like to wander, I didn't dare leave the homestead. I may feel at home in Canadian wilderness, but the western Amazon basin is far outside my purview. I know the warning signs for rattlesnakes and moose, but I recognize very little in the Amazon aside from a few plants I'd seen in florist shops (eg. bromeliads). This little patch of jungle is the most botanically diverse place in the world. An area of 100 square meters can contain over 500 tree species alone whereas the same area in northern Canadian taiga may contain only three. This doesn't even include the profusion of herbs and critters. In all of North America, there are about 900 species of birds. In Ecuador alone, which is not a large country, there are about 1,500. This morning I was in luck. I'd be going on a walk with Delphin, the patriarch and shaman of the household. He would be teaching us about how the Quichuan coexist with various species in the jungle.
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Welcome to the Jungle - Quito to Pimpilala, Ecuador [Sep. 11th, 2015|07:17 pm]
The ShanMonster

Sunday morning, September 6, 2015

(Rough draft as I'm typing on a touch screen and editing is difficult without touch typing.)

Kyle and I awaken bright and early for a hearty breakfast of plantain, coffee cake, eggs, fruit, juice, and coffee after a good sleep. We meet up with the other ten people of our group and load up into a small private bus. Our guide, Carlos, warns us again about the difficulties of the five-hour bus trip to come. Personal space is not a valued trait. People may lean on us. Just push them off if they do. No guaranteed bathroom breaks. Thievery is common on buses. Never leave our stuff unattended. Don't stash anything overhead. Don't carry our money all in one spot. Beware of having things on floor as a common ploy is for thieves to cut hole in the bag and pull things out from other side of seat

We drive for about half an hour to an enormous bus terminal. It was once an airport and is by far the hugest bus station I've ever seen. Our bus fare is only about $5. Transportation is incredibly inexpensive here. We are lucky and all get to sit together in one section of the bus. I choose a seat where we are surrounded by group members. This way, I felel more secure in holding my satchel between my feet.

Our five-hour ride is much longer than 5 hours. We are possibly on the slowest bus in all of South America. Everyone passes us. Maybe moseying centenarians with walkers could pass us, too. The bus regularly farts and belches clouds of thick, black smoke. The five hours stretches to seven with one short bathroom break. I don't get off the bus as I am paranoid of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning, and the air vents are a rule deception. Even worse, the heaters are on for all seven hours. Some windows are open. I do not have the benefit of an open window for most of the trip. I am concerned I'll collapse from heat exhaustion before I even make it to the jungle.

We journey from the huge, metropolitan sprawl of Quito which seems to extend to infinity in all directions. The local architecture is blocky and distinct, comprised primarily of right angles and chipped, once bright, and now faded colors. Houses cling to cliffside and are pink, orange, blue, green, etc. The demure shades of beige and white of suburban Canada are in the minority here.

After a few hours, we leave the precarious mountain- and ravine-side housing of Quito and make it to rural areas. Cattle, horses, chickens, and dogs of many breeds wander and graze. Switchback highways are standard throughout the mountains. So are drivers passing with no room to spare going around those turns. Several nerve wracking and horn blaring close calls happen, but we eventually reach our next destination of Teno unmaimed. One person, not valuing Kyle's personal space, sits on his shoulder and farts.

Tena, scorching and dusty, sits near the beginning of the Amazon jungle. Travel-stunned, sweaty, and blinking, we clamber out of the bus and stand blinking and gaping beneath the brutal equatorial sun. Carlos ushers us into a tiny scrap of shade and tells us we have ten minutes to go to the bathroom or get to a store before the next part of our trip. I queue up to go to a bathroom. An attendant charges us variable amounts of money to use the toilet. I scrabble through my wallet looking for the correct amount of change, finally locating fifteen cents. The pee is worth the money. Some people are charged more than I. Some less. Some are charged more than once. The bathroom attendant is ruthless, but the need to not piss ourselves wins out over stubborn haggling.

A pickup truck and van arrive. Our bags are tossed into the back of the truck and we squirm our way into the van. It's a tight squeeze. I only just fit with copious Shanspreading. I'm not sure how Kyle fits at all. I'm presuming his hips retract into his midsection. The van bounces and shudders down the winding dirt road into the jungle. The dense flora seems determined to swallow up the track which snakes its way through. We pass numerous small clearings which look like desperate holdouts against a juggernaut of jungle, but the opposite is true. The deforestation is happening at an appalling rate. Huge swathes of jungle are stripped from the earth leaving desiccated grass, lonely stumps, and millions of acres of lost habitat. Humans are winning out. The lushness we see is a holdout.

We arrive at our destination: the tiny village of Pimpilala. Our host family are Quichuan, one of the many indigenous people of Ecuador. Delphin and Estella are the patriarch and matriarch of the family, and their children, and a couple of young local women also live and work at the household. Two yellow dogs (Pollo and another who may not have a name) guard the property, and numerous chickens roam and roost all around. The property consists of a main building, several thatched sleeping quarters, a hammock area, and a couple of outbuildings with cold-water showers, toilets, and sinks. Kyle and I are given what I consider a spacious room. It holds a bed with mosquito netting, a battery-operated lamp, two benches, and three coat hooks. I'd been expecting something much more rudimentary. Considering the dining area has electricity, this is luxury! My quarters in rural Peru were far more spartan.

After we claim our rooms and stash our bags, we are led back down the road while supper is prepared. The chitter, buzz, and siren wail of insects and birds is loud in my ears. We follow a circuitous tendril of a path through thick jungle. One of the host's sons is our guide. He is having a blast and fashions hats from enormous leaves for several people in our group. He plucks small ferns from the underbrush and slaps them against dark clothing leaving perfect ghost images of the ferns behind on our clothing. And then we crest a hill and are met with the wondrous view of a river, mountainside, and jungle at the pale yellow cusp of sunset. Another short walk and we see yet another glorious river view, and a fragile cliff face. Rocks and clay are held in place by vines and sheer will. Darkness approaches rapidly, and we hurry back to the homestead before the mosquitos swarm us. The bugs which I'd already thought were loud turn it up to eleven.

We dine on a savoury vegetable soup garnished with popcorn. The Quichua don't really eat bread, so plain popcorn serves in its stead. I'd never had popcorn on soup this way before. It is delicious, and I intend on doing this from now on. A garnish of peppery onions and tomatoes is also used on the soup. The main course is tilapia roasted over coals I nside a rumipanga leaf (rumipanga translates to "leaf from the fire" and is used for roasting chicken, fish, etcetera. It has a unique and delicious flavor. I'm sad I won't be able to taste this outside of the Amazon.) We sip on lemongrass or cinnamon leaf tea. Afterwards, some drink Ecuadorean Pilsner.

Afterwards, most of the others in the group continue to hang out in the hammocks chatting and drinking beer, but as for me, I am done, and I shroud myself with mosquito netting and sleep deeply.
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Ecuadorean adventures [Sep. 6th, 2015|09:21 am]
The ShanMonster
(Written yesterday)
The altitude is making me feel weak and exhausted. Kyle is doing better than I because he can take altitude sickness meds. I cannot as I am allergic to them.

Great frustration this morning at the hotel. We wanted information on interesting things to see within walking distance. The concierge knew nothing. We asked about walking tours, bus tours, or museums, but she had no information. We asked if there was a map we could have. Nope. No maps. I tried looking online, but it was tricky to navigate with just my phone. Eventually, I found a big park within walking distance and we went there. We rode on a paddle boat (I am an abysmal paddle boater), and walked around.

The people of Quito appear to be athletic by default. Lots of runners, martial artists, yogis, people doing calisthenics, football players, etc. plenty of body weight trainers, too, with adult monkey bars and a couple of people setting up a lyra (aerial hoop) in a tree.

We wandered more and found a mall. The most common shop sold athletic/adventure gear.
We wandered more and found a museum just a block away from the hotel. Wonderful handicrafts there. I'll be posting pictures.

Back at the hotel now. I probably won't be going out again today as the altitude has murdered my stamina and left my feet feeling positively battered. We leave for the Amazon in the morning.


Last night we met with our group guide. His name is Carlos and he did not inspire confidence. In fact, just the opposite. Where I had been looking forward to the trip to the Amazon, I am now wondering if we made a mistake. All the optional trips, like going to the hot springs, cloud forest, etcetera, weren't even mentioned, and he made it sound like they're downright unlikely. This journeys were a huge part of what sold me on the trip in the first place. He speaks derogatorily of neighboring nations, and doesn't hugely seem to give much of a fuck as to our questions and concerns. Will I get to see the animal sanctuary or the science centre at the centre of the world? Your guess is as good as mine.

It's Sunday morning now. In a couple of hours, we will be riding a bus of questionable security to Tema in the jungle. It is likely to last ~5 hours and may not have bathroom/lunch breaks. I sure hope I won't need to pee. I'm bringing food with me. Oh yes, pickpockets are common on the bus. Fantastic. I sure hope I can sit with Kyle so we can watch out for one another.
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Coming of (m)Age [May. 11th, 2015|01:36 pm]
The ShanMonster
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(Continued from The ShanMonster Writing Machine Returns)

Read more...Collapse )
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The ShanMonster Writing Machine Returns [May. 5th, 2015|11:46 pm]
The ShanMonster
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I took suggestions under consideration. This is a work in progress. Enjoy...

(Still untitled)

My Daddy was a magus. That's what Momma told me, at least. I never got to meet him, so I have to take her word on the whole thing. She met him at a psychic festival, years ago, had a fling, and then whoopsy. There I was, nine months later. She said it was all foretold, and she knew he'd knock her up as soon as she laid eyes upon him. She has the sight and all. It's what let her know I'd be a late bloomer.Collapse )
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He Questioned My Dedication to Sparkle Motion [Apr. 28th, 2015|04:07 pm]
The ShanMonster
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I worked at a crappity retail location selling knock-off Tommy Hilfiger sweaters, tiny Hong Kong women's fashions, and cheap bongs years ago. The store was in a mall, and I frequently worked the opening shift. My boss frequently set up little tests of my loyalty and competence. He hired what he called "mysterious shoppers" to check out my customer service skills. He was a strange and suspicious man.

One day, I showed up, opened the folding security doors, and was met by a scene of chaos. Pretty much the entirety of the floor was covered by heaps of plastic coat hangers--I'm talking at least a couple of hundred coat hangers. They were in tangled heaps, and there was no way the shop could be open to the public in this condition.

I hastened to tidy up the mess wondering why my boss thought it necessary to test me so. I'd pick up one hanger, and a bunch would come attached like Bizzaroland Barrel of Monkeys. I eventually got them all picked up and stashed in two giant garbage bags. The store didn't have any storage space, so I eventually stashed them in the change room. I figured that if someone wanted to try something on, I could just haul the bags out of the way.

A few hours later, my boss strolled in. He looked around the store, nodding contentedly, then said, "Good" before leaving again.
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ShanMonster Writing Machine [Apr. 28th, 2015|03:32 pm]
The ShanMonster

I would like to get back to regular writing again, and you folks have always been great with prompts. I'd prefer no fanfic prompts. So, what do you have for me? Go!
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Margd's Beginning [Mar. 24th, 2015|11:52 am]
The ShanMonster
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(I recently rediscovered a bunch of stuff I'd written about six years ago. Here's the origin story for one of my Vampire Dark Ages characters. If you like this, check out Children of Elisabet for more.)

I was born on April 1, 1162 in the Transylvanian town of Kronstadt, deep in the Carpathian Mountains. The third of six children, I was put to work as a goose herd as soon as I could walk and wield a stick. Both of my parents were employed as servants at the Keep of the Teutonic Knights. At the age of seventeen, I married a wheelwright by the name of Nicolae. He was older than me by a decade or more, and he said he loved me. Although I didn't love him in return, he treated me well enough.

When the plague came to Kronstadt, Nicolae died first.Collapse )
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