fantasy author

The Lie of Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy for BOAW Blogfest by Marcy KennedyThe dental hygienist peered into my mouth at the gap where my front tooth used to be. “How did it happen?” she asked. “Did you fall?”

“I bit a piece of soft caraway-rye bread.”

“Oh.”

It started when a previous dentist botched a simple filling. I returned to him four times to have it fixed, and on the final visit, he hit my root, so I needed a root canal. During the root canal, he compromised the integrity of my tooth enough that I had to have my tooth ground down to a peg and a cap placed on. No surprise that, instead of lasting ten years, the peg snapped after three, breaking off at the gum line.

And so there I sat in the office of my new dentist, a hole in my mouth, with two important flute performances (one of which was my brother’s wedding) scheduled, and my own wedding day less than six months away, and asked, “What are my options?”

My dentist adjusted my x-rays on the 8”-by-11” illuminated screen. “You could have a bridge put in, but that would mean destroying the healthy teeth on the sides.”

Ruining two more teeth? No thanks. “What else?”

“We could try to drive a peg into what remains of the tooth pulp, but there’s not much left and we can’t guarantee how long it’ll last.”

“So I’d lose my tooth again at some undefined time in the future?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Are there any other options?”

“An implant.”

“How long does that take?”

“Usually eight months to a year.”

And my wedding was in . . .

That night, when I got onto webcams with my fiancé (now my husband), I didn’t even want to look at my image on the screen. Not only did I have no front tooth, but my eyes were puffy from crying and ringed in black from a lack of sleep.

And maybe that shouldn’t have mattered. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so devastated. It was just a tooth.

But I’d bought into the Helen of Troy lie. In Greek mythology, Helen was a demigod, the daughter of Zeus and the queen of Sparta. When Helen reached marriageable age, anywhere from 11 to 36 suitors (depending on the source you read) competed for her hand because she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

Reports differ on how Helen later ended up with the Trojan prince Paris, but the Greek poet Sappo says she simply deserted her husband and nine-year-old daughter to go with him to Troy. Her husband wanted her back, and put together an army to attack Troy. Unfortunately, the ships they were to travel on couldn’t sail because there wasn’t any wind.

Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, to get wind. For Helen.

Iphigenia’s mother (who was also Helen’s sister) argued with Agamemnon, telling him he was “buying what we most detest with what we hold most dear” (Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, 1170). She called her sister a “wicked woman,” but to no avail. Iphigenia died. Troy fell. Helen abandoned Paris and later betrayed to death the man she took as a lover after him. When her husband went to kill her for her infidelity, she dropped her robe and her beauty stayed his hand.

They didn’t compete for her, fight for her, kill and die for her because she was loyal or intelligent or brave. They did it because she was beautiful. Her beauty made her the most desirable and valued woman in the Greek world.

The lie of Helen of Troy is that beauty is purely physical and that it matters more than character, more than honor, more than intelligence. The lie of Helen of Troy drove me to starve myself and work out for four hours or more a day to try to become beautiful.

The lie of Helen of Troy made me actually worry that my fiancé might stop loving me if I wasn’t pretty on the outside.

But he knew that without me ever having to tell him because he knew me. When our webcams turned on, he called me beautiful, but then told me what made me beautiful to him.

It wasn’t my eyes. It was the things we had in common. It wasn’t whether or not I had wrinkles (or a tooth). It was my brain. It wasn’t anything physical at all. What I looked like was just a bonus, he said. What made me beautiful was who I was inside and the things I did.

I’ve never felt more beautiful than when I saw myself through his eyes. And thanks to him, I’m starting to see the lie of Helen of Troy for what it is—just a lie.

When have you bought into the lie of Helen of Troy? What helped you see it for a lie?

This post was written as part of the Beauty of a Woman blogfest being hosted by the truly beautiful August McLaughlin. Visit her blog tomorrow (Friday, February 10th) to read a bunch of inspiring stories and for chances to win awesome prizes, including a Kindle Touch or a $99 Amazon gift card, body image coaching, BOAW mugs, and more.

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What Star Trek Race Are You?

When two nerds fight, especially two married nerds, it can take a very strange turn. She tells him that the problem is she’s a Vulcan and he’s a Klingon, and he counters that she’s not a Vulcan, she’s a Borg. And he’s not like a Klingon, he’s more like a Hirogen.

And pretty soon they forget what they were fighting about in the first place because she says, “Hey, wouldn’t that be a fun blog post?” And off they go discussing the traits that are unique to each race in Star Trek.

So now it’s your turn – what Star Trek race are you? Read the descriptions below and write down the letter of the one that’s most like you. (Don’t look for it to be exact, since you might be half-human, half-alien.) At the end, I’ll tell you what race you picked 🙂

(A) You hide your emotions and often devalue them, refusing to let them control you. You prefer things you can quantify and measure, so you’re drawn to math and the hard sciences. You’re rational and like your home to be neat and tidy.

(B) You like traditions and value honor above all else. You tend to see the world in black and white and don’t like indecision. Sometimes you can be hot-headed and easily offended, but you’re also strong and willing to fight for what you think is right.

(C) You’re a good judge of character. You’re also the kind of person complete strangers tend to open up to (whether you like it or not). You have a big heart and hurt when others hurt. You believe that honesty is always the best policy, sometimes to the point of embarrassing your loved ones.

(D) You strive for perfection, and love order and efficiency. You don’t know how to accept defeat and are creative in solving problems. You can be stubborn. Others’ opinions matter to you more than you’d like.

(E) You’re quirky and have a strong sense of humor. You enjoy the company of people and the simple pleasures in life like food, a hot bath, or working with your hands. Unfortunately, sometimes you’re also gullible because you think the best of everyone.

(F) You’re a very spiritual person and love culture and the arts. You defend your beliefs against attack and tend to prefer to associate with people who think the same way you do because you’ve been hurt in the past.

ANSWER KEY:

(A) You’re a Vulcan like Spock in the original Star Trek, Tuvok in Voyager, and T’Pol in Enterprise. Due to nearly allowing their strong emotions to destroy them, Vulcans learned how to control and repress their emotions through meditation so that they no longer feel them. Vulcans prize logic and are a generally peaceful, honest people unless logic dictates they must fight or lie.

(B) You’re a Klingon like Worf in The Next Generation or B’Elanna Torres (half-human) in Voyager. Klingons are a warrior species, passionate in all they do (including love). They’d prefer an honorable death in battle to going home in defeat. Ritual, tradition, and family honor are core values in their society.

(C) You’re a Betazoid like Deanna Troi in The Next Generation. Even though Betazoids look human, they have empathic and telepathic abilities, meaning they’re able to sense other people’s emotions and thoughts. While this means they can help others (for example, by counseling them), they need to be careful not to use their abilities to manipulate others for their own benefit.

(D) You’re Borg like Seven of Nine in Voyager. The Borg don’t reproduce like other species, but rather assimilate people from other species (usually against their will) into the Borg Collective. Their goal is to attain perfection by adding each species’ “biological and technological distinctiveness” to their own. Borg don’t consider themselves individuals because they’re all connected through a hive mind and function as a unit. They’re able to quickly adapt to almost any situation.

(E) You’re a Talaxian like Neelix in Voyager. Talaxians are a friendly, gregarious, well-meaning race who is always willing to lend a hand when needed, leaving them open to being taken advantage of. They enjoy food and entertainment, which made Neelix a perfect choice for cook and morale officer on Voyager (even though his cooking was often too creative for some).

(F) You’re a Bajoran like Kira Nerys in Deep Space Nine and Ro Loren in The Next Generation. Bajorans have a long history and rich culture, but their fertile planet was oppressed and pillaged by the Cardassians for years, making them fiercely independent (understandably) now that they have their freedom back. The major unifying force for Bajorans is their religion.

I still think that my husband is more like a Klingon than a Hirogen, but in the end, I had to admit he was right about me. I’m basically a Borg. Resistance is futile 😉

What race (or combination of races) are you?

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Something Like This, But Not This

Writing can be one of the most confusing professions around. We’re told that agents and editors are looking for something fresh and unique–but not too fresh and unique. We go to our critique group or send out our manuscript to beta readers and what one person loves, another hates. And everyone wants to tell us how they think our book should end.

And we end up feeling exactly like this . . .

Have you ever been in a situation where none of the advice you’re being given makes sense and you start to suspect that the person giving it doesn’t have any more of a clue than you do? 😉

Are You Brave Enough to Punch A Shark?

Scuba diving with sharksWhen most people think of their honeymoon, they envision sipping drinks on a beach, touring the museums and art galleries of Paris, or eating their way around Italy. My husband and I dreamed about scuba diving with sharks.

So when my grandpa gave us a very generous gift and made us promise we’d spend it on a honeymoon, we booked tickets to Australia and found a place that offered a no-experience-necessary chance to breathe underwater and face one of the world’s scariest predators.

After two hours of training in the classroom and pool, we swam out into OceanWorld Manly’s Shark Dive X-Treme tank, coming face to face with giant turtles, stingrays big enough I could have used them as a blanket, and sharks ranging in size from three to 10 feet and weighing up to 770 pounds.

They gave us three very simple rules to follow when it came to the sharks.

(1)   Don’t touch the sharks.
(2)   Don’t hop up and down or wave your hands in front of the sharks.
(3)   Whatever you do, don’t go into the section of the tank where they feed the sharks.

Makes sense, right? The idea is to avoid notice. Don’t mark yourself as food, but don’t mark yourself as a threat either. If you’re either, even a peaceful shark will bite. If you’re neither, a shark will swim by, even brush against you, without danger.

It’s the perfect advice for real sharks, but I think it might be the opposite of what we need to do with the sharks in life.

We often use the term shark to refer to a person who preys on others by cheating them or otherwise tricking them out of something.

With the sharks in life, you want to be noticed. You need to punch them in the nose to show them you’re not afraid.

I’m a softy and painfully shy, making me easy shark bait because I rarely stand up for myself. But this past weekend, I faced a shark and I don’t know what happened. Whether it was the sleep deprivation, the elation from the agent requests, or that I’d just had enough of sharks taking advantage of me in the last couple months, for the first time, I stood up and made sure the shark noticed me.

My co-writer (Lisa Hall-Wilson) and I went to New York for the Writer’s Digest conference, and because we’re both navigationally challenged, we stayed on-site at the hotel—where everything costs extra, including the Internet. We decided to buy just one day’s worth of Internet access so we could communicate with our families, and asked questions of the reception staff until we were sure how it worked. When we got our bill at checkout, they’d charged us twice (once for each of our laptops) even though we were told they wouldn’t because we were sharing a room.

Maybe they thought the amount was small enough we wouldn’t bother to argue over it.

What they didn’t count on was that to me it sounded like a lot of money. It represented my husband needing to work two additional hours at a job he hated, or no coffee for a month, or no treats for our dog.

Lisa and I told the lady at reception about the mistake, and she told us the charge was automatic and they had nothing to do with it. She wasn’t going to refund the second charge.

I gathered all my trembling insides together and stared her in the eye. “It’s unfortunate that we have to pay for a mistake made by your desk staff.”

And then I waited, making it clear we weren’t leaving until she fixed it. And grumbled a bit to Lisa the way you see really rich people do in movies when something isn’t to their liking.

And she removed the charge.

I’m realistic enough to know that I won’t always have the courage to face life’s sharks and force them to notice me, but maybe this is the start of a trend where I will be brave enough to punch at least some of those sharks right in the nose and win.

How do you usually deal with sharks? Have you ever challenged a shark and won?

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My Life As A Three-Headed Chimera

Chimera Marcy Kennedy fantasy authorThe Khimaira (Chimera) who snorted raging fire, a beast great and terrible, and strong and swift-footed. Her heads were three: one was that of a glare-eyed lion, one of a goat, and the third of a snake, a powerful drakon ~ Hesiod, Theogony, 319ff (trans. Evelyn White).

For years, I lived life as a chimera with multiple heads, never sure which one I needed to survive. You won’t see them in any pictures, but they were there.

In The Iliad, the earliest written mention of the chimera, Homer describes her as a fire-breathing animal with a front like a lion, a midsection like a black goat, and hindquarters with a tale like a dragon or serpent. Each head grew out of the matching part to create a grotesque animal with no real front or back. 

But what made the chimera so despised wasn’t only the way she terrorized the people of Lycia by scorching their fields and ravaging their herds. What made the chimera so despised was how she wasn’t a lion, or a goat, or a serpent.

What goat has scales like a snake? What lion has cloven hooves like a goat? What snake has a mane like a lion?

In trying to be all three, she failed to be any of them. She became nothing but a monster. Belonging nowhere.

Eventually, Greek hero Bellerophon rode Pegasus to find her and killed her with a block of lead. He shoved it down her throat, and her fiery breath melted it so the metal suffocated her.  

In the medieval era, the term chimera was generalized to mean any creature made up of the body parts of various animals. By the time of Dante’s Inferno, chimerical creatures came to embody deception and hypocrisy.

And, much later, me.

Despite having a happy childhood overall, some of the memories I can’t seem to shake aren’t good ones. Like how, at ten, a mutual friend told me that my cousins, who I thought were my friends and who I had frequent sleepovers with, couldn’t stand me. Like how once we hit high school, another cousin refused to admit we were related. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong.

I so wanted to be loved and accepted that I started to change my personality to fit whoever I was with. You like hockey? Me too! You find math hard? Me too! Didn’t matter if it was true or not.

I kept at it all through high school and into university, and I was suffocating.

I’d sit with my university roommate, wondering why the latest guy had chosen some other girl over me. Hadn’t I proven how much we had in common? Why couldn’t I find someone who liked me for me? I think they could tell I had as many heads as a chimera, and they weren’t any surer of which one was real than I was.

I’d spent so much of my time trying to make everyone like me that I’d never stopped to figure out if I liked playing an instrument or if I only played because all my closest friends in high school were band geeks. Did I really enjoy competing in horse shows or was I still showing because a lot of my friends growing up were horse crazy?

A funny thing happens when you start to ask yourself whether you really like the things you’ve always thought you liked. You find out that, in a lot of cases, the answer is no.

By the time I met my husband, I wasn’t afraid to admit I loved science fiction and fantasy and hated sports. All of them. I wasn’t afraid to tell him I was great at math (even though he wasn’t and hated it).

I didn’t have to try to be everything anymore, and by just being me, I finally found a man who loved me for what I was, not for what I was trying to be.

It’s still a challenge, but now I focus on connecting with people on what we truly have in common. I’ve come to value fewer authentic relationships over more relationships built on smoke and chimeras. And I’m happier for it.

What have you done in the past to try to fit in? How did you finally figure out what was really you and what wasn’t?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Who’s Your Unicorn?

 

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Versatile Blogger Award

In early November 2011, I officially launched my blog Life At Warp 10. You can imagine how thrilled and honored I was when, less than two months later, one of my favorite bloggers passed along the Versatile Blogger Award to my baby blog. Thanks so much to fantasy author Jessica O’Neal for giving me this award! If you haven’t yet checked out her site, be sure to go there next because you don’t want to miss her series on the characters of Harry Potter or her awesome post on learning to shoot a bow.

Versatile Blogger Award

One of the conditions for accepting this award is that I need to share seven things about myself.

(1) I’m a stray animal magnet. Literally. They show up at my door, and I’m incapable of turning them away. I currently have seven cats, down from my high of 12.

(2) I’m writing a historical fantasy for the ABA with Lisa Hall-Wilson that asks, “What if the Arthurian legends originated not in Britain, but near the Black Sea from an Amazon warrior’s pursuit for equality and a barbarian Scythe’s spiritual quest?

(3) When I was 10, I broke a boy’s nose. In my defense, it was an accident, and I’ve felt bad about it ever since, but apparently I have a mean right hook.

(4) I enjoy editing. The biggest compliment I ever received about my editing skills was that I “make the page bleed red.” (*Shameless Plug Alert* I offer manuscript critiques for fiction, as well as various levels of editing for fiction and non-fiction if you’re looking to hire a freelance editor. *End Shameless Plug*)  

(5) I play the flute and violin, can play very simple songs on the piano, and played percussion in my high school concert band. I can’t sing. At all. It’s painful to listen to.

(6) I can eat an entire large pepperoni pizza by myself (and then some).

(7) When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I received the Governor General’s Silver Medal, which means I had the highest GPA of all the students who graduated from my university that year. When I graduated with my master’s degree, I graduated summa cum laude. Yet I have to have my husband remove my digital camera memory card because I can’t figure it out.

The final part of the Versatile Blogger Award is to pass it along to 15 recently discovered blogs that I think deserve recognition. I’m going to loosely interpret “recently discovered” to mean “sometime in the last year.” (In alphabetical order because I’m like that.)

Amber West – A Day Without Sushi

Angela Wallace – Believe, Dream, Awaken

August McLaughlin – Savor the Storm

Coleen Patrick – Read. Smile. Repeat.

Debra Kristi – Sparks In the Fire

Emma Burcart – Occasional Epiphanies

Fabio Bueno – Diamonds & Rust

Gene Lempp – Unearthing the Future

Ingrid Schaffenburg – Threadbare Gypsy Soul

Jenny Hansen – More Cowbell

Lena Corazon – Flights of Fancy

Lisa Hall-Wilson – Through the Fire

Myndi Shafer – Blogging Barefoot

Nicole Maggi – From Getting the Call to Seeing the Book on the Shelf

Samantha Warren – Stealing Starships

If you’re one of the people I passed the Versatile Blogger Award on to, I hope you’ll also pass it along, but there’s no pressure. If you don’t want to do it now, you can always do it later, and I know some of you have already received it (but I love your blogs enough to second the award).

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