Grief (Part 1)

In January of this year, I lost my Grandmother. It was hard and sad but I find myself not overly grieving over her death, which comes as a shock to many in the family because I was close to her. Was being the operative word.

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Grandma Yarrington & I; I think I am about 1 or 2.

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Uncle Joe & I at a family reunion, probably about 2000. His wife, Arlene, had passed away at this point.

Two years ago, my Grandmother was dangerously sick and was placed in Hospice. Her kidneys and liver were not functioning and many of us thought she was near the end. A lot of grieving was done. But she bounced back and refused to let go. She went home to her trailer and refused for a nurse or nurse’s aid to come in and see to her well being. I should mention that she was notoriously stubborn. She went on dialysis and it seemed to do well for her. The two aunts who are close by are extremely inept and fought over every little thing to do with her health. One convinced my grandmother to give her power of attorney, which devastated my mom as she and her brother had it. My mom is a nurse and one would logically think she would be the nest person to handle medical issues. One would think, anyways. But these two aunts are inept and cruel, not to mention just all out exasperating. Both barred me from contacting my grandmother and they did, in turn, isolate her from the other grandchildren as well. To be fair, my grandmother was not particularly close to any of the grandchildren except for my bother and I. And I believe one of the reasons for this was because we lived in Illinois, not in Michigan, so we were conveniently distant from the day to day issues and anxiety that arose all the time. Grandma’s love was conditional.

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Grandma Weld (my Grandma’s Mom), and I in December 1982.

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My father and I at the same event as the previous picture.

It’s really sad to write this, but her love was conditional. When we were all little, she loved all of us and delighted in having the grandkids over for things like have ice cream or cookies, etc. But as we all got older, because my brother and I weren’t around, she grew distant from the others. Because they grew up and were no longer children. they had  thoughts and feelings that were not in line with her thoughts and feelings. And that’s hard to accept. I noticed that about 5 or 6 years ago, things began to drive my Grandmother from me. While she normally liked talking on the phone with me every week, she started to not want to talk to me. I would write letters and got no response, which I accepted since her hands weren’t as steady as they once were, but not being able to talk to her was hard. Now, I loved my Grandma. I really did and I still do. Nothing will ever change that. But Grandma wasn’t perfect. She was stubborn, quick to anger and slow to forgive. She was not a reader, so never understood my passion for books. Now, her husband, my grandfather, was a reader. It was something instilled in him by his mom, Edith. My grandfather died when my mom was a teenager so any information I have on him as a person came from my Uncle Joe, his brother.

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Dadi and I, 1981.

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My mom and I, 1981.

When Dadi died (my father’s mother), Grandma resented that I mourned her. Dadi is the one who gave me my name. She came over when I was born and spent months taking care of me. Like myself, she was a poet and was published (and well known). She knitted and loved me. And I loved her. I still love her. I am more like her than I care to admit with my short, fat fingers, my love of the Arts, and the poetry. Grandma resented that. So, the fracture betwixt us started when I was 12. She also resented that I grew close to my Uncle Joe.  In College, I would call him every week just to talk. Now, he didn’t always answer, being hard of hearing in both ears he would take out the hearing aids when he wanted quiet time to work on a crossword puzzle or when reading. He taught me how to fish. He and Arlene, his wife, loved Elvis (who doesn’t) and they just were a happy, loving couple. He was the closest thing I had to a grandfather on my mother;s side. I miss him a lot.

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My brother & I in front of the Giant Chicken that, sadly, has been removed in recent years. It used to be outside of a Fried Chicken Restaurant in Michigan.

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Grandma and her second husband, Turk. Both loved each other but were both stubborn. They divorced but still saw each other. He loved her until the day he died. This was taken on January 25, 1975.

But that’s not to say my Grandma was all terrible and ugliness. She thought it funny that I have a thing for Paleontology, so would often send me clippings of new Dinosaur or even findings in Egypt. She taught me to sing “Hey Good Lookin'” by Hank Williams by the time I was three and I still can sing it because I have it memorized. It’s also a very inappropriate song to teach a three year old, but I guess I was cute singing it. She taught me how to make very fine stitches when hand-sewing. She encouraged my drawing and musical skills like singing. Grandma had a led foot and could flirt her way out of a speeding ticket. She enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics because she used to ice skate. She used to bowl and be very good at it and I remember her taking me and teaching me to bowl using her ball. She liked the Beach Boys and Elton John. Grandma always had canaries growing up. She had a few finches later on too. She also had a thing for penguins because “they are always well dressed.” She also had a thing for Garfield the cat. Other than birds, Grandma wasn’t an animal person, but she loved our one dog Beethoven (he adored her) and thought our cats were funny. Grandma loved butter pecan ice cream, cherry cordials, and fruit Mentos. So, it’s not as if I don’t have any good memories.

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My Grandma, Doris Weld, summer 1943.

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Grandma, aged 75, in AZ on a Harley. She developed a taste for them in her late life.

Grandma also had a little girl (or young lady) ghost in her trailer. Apparently the spirit liked it when I visited when I was little and would touch my teddy bear (which I still have). Mainly, the ghost would sit on her feet, wake her up, and then go away. Now, I’ve never seen the spirit, but it was always a running joke that when her trailer became too crowded with all of her stuff (she was a hoarder), the ghost decided it was too crowded and left. Grandma also once made me promise to “take” the ghost with me when she died. I don’t think it’s possible and since I’ve never seen the spirit, I cannot “take” it with me. She also made me promise to write her eulogy. I believe she feared that no one would want to speak at her funeral. So I did write her one. I didn’t get a chance to deliver it and that’s OK. A pastor and my Uncle Bill spoke at her funeral. My aunts didn’t dress her int he outfit she wanted to be buried in, which I am still upset about. She didn’t look peaceful, but then the toxins in her body made her stiff and it wasn’t easy to prepare her. Yes, I spoke to the funeral staff to thank them. They did their best with the makeup as my one aunt refused to give them any of Grandma’s makeup. She also refused them to allow them to do her nails, which I think would have been nice. But I cannot change what happened.

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Teddy and I, 1982. That bear was already 20 yrs old when I got him. I still have him.

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Teddy at Camp Innisfree (Howell, MI) in 2012. Still here. Still a bear.

I’m trying not to sound flippant but no matter how much it upsets me over things like her clothes, the nails, the makeup, the fact remains she was passed caring. And I had to accept this. Now, I feel guilty over not mourning her as much as I think I should. But i also realize that when she was sick two years ago, I truly mourned her and have been for close to two years. I mourn the closeness we once shared that just disintegrated. I mourn the fact that she didn’t like it that I grew up. I mourn that she never got to see Vivienne in person, never made it to my brother’s wedding. I mourn that she never really appreciated all that my mom did for her. I mourn that I can no longer call her just to chat.

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Grandma on her 75th Birthday wearing the earrings I got her. This was the outfit she wanted to be buried in.

Baritric Surgery: Sleeve

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Me at age 4 months. My mom still has this outfit.

As many of you may not know, I had Gastric Sleeve surgery on May 14th of this year. My surgery was p[performed at Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington by Dr. Cheregi (who’s been simply FANTASTIC). I have long struggled with my weight and even as a child, I was chubby.

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Uncle Neil and I; I was about 2 or 3 at this time.

At one point, during my Concordia University days, I had slimmed down to 230 lbs from 270, which is not an easy feat. I then worked for Meijer (a mega supermarket chain originating in Michigan) where I got exposed to some nasty chemicals that led to  spontaneous pnemothoraxes. In essence, I had coughed so much and so hard, I ended up with 3 holes in my lungs. This led to being put on some major cortisone steroids (and other medications). Steroids for Asthmatics are not the same as those used by athletes. When you are on a dosage, you have to be weaned off and there are notorious for making  one gain weight. I was on such a high dosage, it took nearly a year to be weaned off. So I went from 230 to 300 in a year. Not my proudest moment. Then I went to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where they discovered I was diabetic. The medication they put me on made me jump from 300 to 350 (diabetes medication is also well known to cause weight gain). Transferred to Kansas State, put on different diabetic medication and slimmed down to 300 again. After graduation, cannot afford the better medication, so put on Metformin, which not only makes me nauseous but causes me to gain weight (some lose weight on it, I didn’t). This led me to being over 330 lbs again by the time my niece was born two years ago.

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Vivienne and I, May 2017

So, I made the decision to ask my primary doctor about seeing a nutritionist. And she’s been wonderful! Kate has been helpful and has helped try to understand what foods were triggering higher blood sugars (all of them), plus has helped me lose over 30 lbs in the year that I’ve been seeing her. Unfortunately, losing weight did not help my blood sugars at all. I was running over 200 into the 300s on a daily basis. Finally taken off of Metformin by an endocrinologist and put on Insulin. And the dosage kept getting higher and higher. Even though I was eating right, exercising, and had lost weight, the blood sugars just wouldn’t come down. So the Endo first brought up the subject of gastric surgery last August. So I did what I do best and started researching, talking to my primary, and talking to the nutritionist.

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Classmates and I at the 20 yr HS Reunion this past Autumn.

By December, I had made the decision to have the surgery. This meant calling the insurance company, finding out what steps I had to take, and finding a surgeon. By January, I had meet Dr. Cheregi and had done all the tests needed for the insurance company. We had a tentative surgery date of April as I needed the psychiatrist to write a letter. And I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally after calling repeatedly for days and weeks on end, the letter was submitted and a surgery date was scheduled. Last minute blood work was done and all was set up. At the same time, i had started a new job and had been there about a month. They were all fine with me needing a few days off (they forced me to take a week, which really was the best decision).

Surgery was not as bad as one might think. They give you anti-anxiety meds so I was fairly chill going into surgery. And once they put you under, you are out. At least I was. Next thing, I was in recovery with a male nurse forcing me to take some ice chips. And the first 8 hours were not pleasant. I am not going to lie about that. The anti-nausea medication actually made me nauseous. You have a drain put in to reduce swelling, and a pillow is needed to press against the stomach when coughing or gagging. But I did well as I didn’t ask for pain medication too often and sometime just getting liquid Tylenol was enough to take the pain away. Mainly, I slept.  The next day, I has some broth (meh), Crystal Light lemonade (ok), tea (because I needed it), and a Popsicle (yum!). The Popsicle was needed do to sore throat from being intubated. But I wasn’t really hungry. Did walk and sat in the recovery chair most of the day, snoozing. Got the drain removed and went home. And for about three days, did nothing more than take some pain meds, sleep, drink copious amounts of broth, protein water (I highly recommend Protein2O), eat some Popsicles and had some tea, on occasion. From the date of my surgery to my 1 week check up, I lost 13 lbs (I was 288 the day of surgery). Today I weigh 270, which is 60 lbs lighter than I was a year ago, and 18 lbs since the surgery (I thought it was 17, thinking I was under 288 day of surgery, but I checked and I was wrong).

The hardest part was while doing all of this prep work since January, I lost my Grandmother and my cat. Doris died in January and Jack had surgery before Christmas to remove a tumor that was on his head. We thought he would have at least 6  months before the tumor came back. He had six weeks. My grandmother I didn’t mourn as much, mainly because she had been declining for two years. But Jack was my baby and I still miss him. He was only 9.5 yrs old. So, it’s been hard to recover from that and the surgery at the same time.

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My boy Jack during our time at Kansas State. He had a thing for the linen closet.

After that first week post-op, things got better. I still don’t get hungry, but sometimes a bit peckish. The rules of eating post-op are the first week, clear liquids, then second full liquids. Then weeks 3 & 4 you can add things like soft scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes…you get the picture. But it’s important to realize that these are guidelines and every one will recover differently. I’m technically in week four, but couldn’t tolerate eggs until recently. It can take me 20-30 minutes to consume 3 oz of soup. And that’s the trick everyone has to learn. You have to take small bites and also take your time chewing. I have had a few missteps and have vomited since the surgery. Drinking water too fast and too quickly was one lesson. The other is eating too fast. But I am learning, losing weight and my blood sugars are finally within a more normal range. One day I woke up and it was 90, which is considered normal. This was the main reason I did the surgery, to help with the diabetes. Will it cure diabetes for me? For some, they are able to get off all medication. I may never because it runs on both sides of the family. But what sounds better, a low dose of insulin for years and years or having to increase it until it’s a few hundred units a day? I’ll take the low dose, to be perfectly honest.

So, why write about this? Why inform everyone? Because in America, there’s a stigma against people who have weight loss surgery. Which I think is ridiculous because no one undergoes having half (or more) of their stomach removed (or those who get bypass have a small pouch and no longer use their stomach) for the thrill of it all. People do this for medical reasons. Diabetes is a major reason it’s done, but not the only one. There are famous celebrities who’ve had surgery yet won’t admit to it. And I think that’s truly awful. There should be no shame in getting proper medical treatment that improves one’s quality of life. It’s not for everyone and that’s fine. There are people that are able to lose weight on their own or with assistance from a nutritionist or even a personal trainer. Some of us aren’t that lucky and do need the surgery. For me, the part of the stomach that was removed is also the part of the body that tends to create insulin resistance issues (meaning I kept having to get the insulin increased in order to work). So now the insulin can actually work and do it’s job in controlling the blood sugars. The bonus is that I will also be able to lose weight, which will help the diabetes, the asthma, and even the depression & anxiety that I have. Because as one loses weight, medications get adjusted and can work more efficiently.

Basically I wanted to share this to be upfront and honest, but also just tell people that it’s OK if you get weight loss surgery and it’s OK if you don’t. There are many people out there that are overweight and it’s not always a result of over eating. Yes, food is involved, but things like medications and actual medical issues can also cause weight gain and retention. I’m not looking to be a model after I lose most of the weight because that’s not my goal. I would like to be able to shop in a regular store, run after my niece, and make myself a pelisse or two. I did this for me and not for anyone else. And that’s all that matters.

Hysterics & Hysterical: Why I dislike the words

As many of you should know by now, I have a penchant for the 19th Century. While I tend to focus on the late Georgian/Regency Era for my writing (and where the bulk of my research is, to be honest), that doesn’t mean I haven’t researched outside of the Regency period. The entire 19th Century is an amazing span of years to look at for any historian. We go from horse drawn carriages to steam locomotives and gas lighting inside the homes. We also go from paintings and drawings of people to photography. It’s an incredible century to look at and do any kind of research into. Yes, it can get overwhelming at times, which is why people tend to focus on certain areas or time periods within the century because it can be too much. So this brings me to a sort of affinity I have which is about female hysteria.

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Hysteria was a female malady that was still a term used in American medicine until the early 1950s. Symptoms included anxiety, loss of appetite, increased appetite. shortness of breath, fainting, sexual desire, lack of sexual desire, insomnia, water weight, irritability, or as women know it as-HORMONES. Hysteria comes from the Greek word for Uterus, and many ancients (men) considered the uterus a “wandering womb” and hysteria was a result of this. Proof that men have never understood female anatomy. From the 11th Century to the 16th (roughly) it was called melancholy and most thought it appeared as a result of demonic possession.

 

Hippocrates (far right) recommending Marriage as a cure for female wandering womb (courtesy of University of Texas)

In the 16th & 17th Centuries, men dismissed the whole demonic possession for the uterus must be retaining fluid. They believed the uterus must expel the excess fluid. How? Well, they weren’t sure how to but left it to midwives to deal with. Though Physician Abraham Zacuto in his Praxis Medica Admiranda from 1637 recommends marriage and vigorous intercourse with the husband as a cure-all for this situation. Again, men only see marriage and sex as a cure for something that they don’t understand. The 18th Century gave us enlightenment and men started to see hysteria as a neurological disorder rather than a physical one. It didn’t last long.

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The 19th Century saw a reversal of the neurological thinking and again put hysteria to blame on a woman’s uterus. However, this led to a very interesting solution by male doctors-intimate massages to alleviate the symptoms. Men suffering from cramped hands then turned to science for an easier solution. Hence, the vibrator was born to hep alleviate a woman’s hysteria effectively and quickly. But what is important to note that hysteria was only considered a white woman’s disease. Women of color exhibiting these same symptoms were often regulated to insane asylums, or just thought to be lazy or stupid. Hysteria was seen as a consequence of too much civilization, which was clearly meant to exclude women of color because they were never civilized enough. For an era that many consider prudish (the Victorian Era), they were obsessed with sex and sexual gratification but only as it applies to white people. I should mention that with the advent of photography, erotica became an overnight seller (yes, naughty pictures of prostitutes was a big seller in those days).

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Now, while all of this is interesting, and it is, why then do I dislike the terms hysteria and hysterical? Mainly because it is a term used primarily by men to dismiss a woman’s feelings or even thoughts on any subject by equating them with their emotions and uterus. Hysteria is intimately connected with the female reproductive organs that I cringe whenever any woman  is deemed hysterical, even in films and television because I truly feel women are being seen as less than a person and only as a sexual organ. After all, a hysterectomy is the removal of a uterus and is while the ovaries are not always removed, the actual uterus is (ovaries are sometimes left because HORMONES). Now, no where is there a male equivalent term to hysterical. I suggest vasectical since a vasectomy deals with the male reproductive organ.  So when a man is being overly brisk, overly overbearing, I do think we should be allowed to call him vasectical because he’s clearly only the sum of his reproductive organs if we are called hysterical.

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So while I acknowledge the history of the words hysteria and hysterical, I do not like them being used to describe any woman in today’s society. We are more than just a uterus. We have rational feelings and thoughts. While I understand that the word may be used in writing a pre-1950s novel, it doesn’t have to be used. Too many politicians are making laws regarding women’s bodies and whenever any woman objects, she is labeled as “hysterical.” She is being labeled as nothing more than a uterus, which is the very law she is trying to protest. It’s important to understand the origins of such words because they often have a derogatory meaning and are very unpleasant for people to be labeled as.

Vasectical: the male equivalent of hysteria

More Information on Hysteria:

Grant Shreve “The Radicalized History of Hysteria”. JSTOR Daily, September 20, 2017.

Hysteria Beyond Freud (1993).

Matt Simon “Fantastically Wrong: The Theory of Wandering Wombs” Wired Magazine, 2014.

Rachael Maines’s book The Technology of Orgasm (1999)

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology: A Review

I have the Audible version of this as read by Neil Gaiman (which I highly recommend as it’s lovely to have it read by the author) but I decided to read the book myself. I devoured it. Norse Mythology has always intrigued me. Long before the Marvel Films came out, before it became popular and trendy, I used to read myths, legends, and faerie stories as a child in between samplings of Shakespeare, Tolkien, and Stephen King. Besides Greek & Roman (which one needs to understand works such as the Iliad and Shakespeare), Norse mythology is wonderful as it is terrible. Unlike other mythologies, there really is no happy ending, but a cycle of death, destruction, and life (more reminiscent of Hinduism and the concept of rebirth and reincarnation). While people think my fascination stems from my enjoyment of the Marvel Films (and I do enjoy them), I started getting interested in them due to JRR Tolkien’s works.

JRR Tolkien (Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate)

Most people don’t know (though they should), Tolkien’s works were inspired by the Eddas, which are heavily influenced by the Norse mythologies. Tolkien was also influenced by Arthurian legends and works such as Beowulf and other Medieval literature. Yet I live for Austen, so go figure that one out. But there is something dark, mysterious, sensual about Norse Myths that Tolkien never really touched upon and Neil Gaiman hints at: Loki.

Loki

Loki is the God if Mischief and Gaiman points out is Blood Brother to Odin. He is a dark God. He is a sensual God. He is Chaos. He brings gifts and order, but at the same time, brings destruction and death. Out of all Aesir, he is the horniest (seriously, he sleeps around a lot), and has the most interesting offspring: monsters and goddesses and gods. We equate him with the Devil now only because the Eddas were written down in the early Christian Era by monks and most of the stories have been lost. What we do have shows a very complex mythos and Loki is a key figure in almost every single one of them. He saves the Asguardians yet is punished by them. He helps divert destruction away from Asgard, causing mischief, but saves the day. Loki is a shapeshifter as well and takes on many forms. One can see why Kirby and Lee chose him as the antagonist for their comics and why this character became more popular as an antihero. Because he is neither good nor bad, but both, which makes him more like the humans who are listening to the tales than the gods whom the tales are about. Loki is also called the Silver Tongue, the Lie Smith and while Poetry and Writing are said to be gifts from the Gods (there is a tale about that Gaiman talks about), I often wonder if Loki was gifted at telling stories. So many tales are referenced and have been lost and while Silver Tongue can mean many things, I have often wondered if this meant Loki was a protector of writers since he is also associated with nets and netting (knots). Writers “knit” words together. It’s not an unusual assumption.

Odin (Pinterest)

No matter how many times I read about Odin, or hear about him, he reminds me of Gandalf. Though Gandalf comes across a bit more caring and likable than Odin. Gaiman does an excellent job of picking certain stories and retelling them in a way to make them sound new, yet ancient all at the same time. Odin still sounds old and you can hear echoes of Gandalf and all other wizards in his words and deeds. And while you don’t realize it, Odin is as dark or even a darker God than Loki ever was. Odin hung himself in tribute to himself (yep, that’s a fact in Norse Mythology that Odin is the Gallows God), gave up an eye for Wisdom (tore it out!), and killed his own grandparent to make the universe. I’ve often wondered why then experts note that Odin was definitely worshiped while Loki wasn’t considering how bloody and violent Odin is from his tales. Probably why I enjoy Thor; Rangnorak (MCU Film) then because it does bring up Odin’s bloody past.

Thor (as described from the myths) via Pinterest

Thor comes across as pompous and blusters without thinking, reminding one more of an early Hulk than Thor of the comics. It’s interesting to compare the old tales with what is really the new tales-the comics. You can see parallels between the characters we recognize from the films and comics and trace their origins back to what they used to be, which I throughly enjoyed. I much prefer Lady Sif to be a badass warrior than Thor’s vain wife. And one can see why Marvel made Loki into Thor’s sibling instead of Uncle (it works much better as a comic antagonist character).

What I enjoyed most was the tales themselves, of which Gaiman has given us only a taste of all the tales that are out there. You can hear the Dwarves tinkering away at their anvils, creating the most beautiful things that you can ever imagine. Lady Sif is vain and uncaring and only Heimdall is anyone of interest (sort of). Loki creates the problems, but also offers solutions that tend to come with benefits for the Gods (while Loki gets punished). The tales are magical as they are sad. They are funny and scary. They end. Then they give hope that they will begin anew and will give rise to a new set of Gods. And Loki? While I still consider him a dark God, I’ve realized that Odin is much darker and much scarier. But Loki is Chaos, and his tales are really some of the best. I don’t think Chaos is ever really defeated. I think we need Chaos. We need the uncertainty as much as we hate it and fear it, we crave it.

Loki Odinson (courtesy of Marvel’s Wiki)

What does that say about me then? I’m not sure why I prefer the tales of Loki over the other Gods other than Loki comes across as the most Human, the most accessible. He’s not unlike the Greek Prometheus, who is punished for brining fire to Humans. Yet he is not as sacrificing as Prometheus. There are shades of other Gods in the tales of Loki, which fascinates me as a reader and as a writer. He is neither good no evil, but simply exists. Loki is dark, mysterious, and definitely a sexual dark God who also comes across as loving all his children, even if they don’t look acceptable to others, and really does his best to be accepted by the other Gods. Perhaps Loki is more like a fallen angel-not quite Lucifer but not unlike Lucifer at the same time. All I know is that I will return to Gaiman’s retellings over and over again because they are so enjoyable and when I do crave that taste of Chaos, the hint of darkness.