Three Things … Because There Are Always Three

So, now that we’ve sprung forward, it feels like (finally) Spring has arrived – which means a couple of things in the world of Sandra Moran:

  • Allergies
  • Easter Candy
  • Longer Days (I say this recognizing that the days technically are no longer than usual (still 24 hours) but that there is simply more daylight.)

So, it’s Spring, it’s lighter longer and the best candy season is in full swing. Great. But what, you may ask, do these three things have in common? Well, the answer is (of course) running. The warmer weather allows for more running. And more running allows for more time to think. And more time to think means … well … more thinking. And boy howdy, have I been thinking. For example, the other day I was considering how strange the concept of working out would seem to someone from the Middle Ages. Imagine the conversation:

Me: “So, yeah, we do this thing we call ‘working out.’”

Medieval Woman: “I know not what this is. Explain to me this ‘working out.’” (Because that’s how they talked back then.)

Me: “Well, there are different ways you can do it. You can go to the gym where there are cardio machines and weights, or you can go for a run.”

Medieval Woman: “Why would you run? Are you being chased?”

Me: “No. It’s so you can be healthy and keep your body fit. It helps keep your weight down.”

Medieval Woman: “I don’t understand. Doesn’t your work keep you healthy?”

Me: “I have a desk job – not much heavy lifting. That’s why I go to the gym and lift weights.”

Medieval Woman: “You go someplace special to lift heavy objects?”

Me: “Yeah. Sometimes I use the weight machines and sometimes I use free weights.”

Medieval Woman: “You pay to use the machines but the weights are free.”

Me: “Actually, I have to pay for both of them, but when I use the term ‘free weights,’ it’s because they aren’t attached to anything.”

Medieval Woman: “…?”

I could go on and on with this, but I think you see my point. Our First World need for exercise to burn off our calorie surplus and to make up for the absence of physical activity in our “desk jobs” would seem strange to someone from earlier time periods or to people from the Third World. Trying to explain why I like to go out and run long distances for “fun” would be tough. It makes perfect sense to me, but not so much to others with different perceptions of the world.

In my Cultural Anthropology class, I have my students read an article from the 1950s titled “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” Written by Horace Miner and published in American Anthropologist, it looks at “a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles. Little is known of their origin, although tradition states that they came from the east.” The article goes on to examine the ritual activity of these people as it pertains to the human body and beautification — particularly the torture these people endure in the pursuit of attractiveness. House shrines, charm boxes, mouth-rites, head baking … this group does it all.

It’s crazy.

And creepy.

And the best part about it is that … it’s us. Seriously. Naciarema is American spelled backward. And the shrines, charms, and head-baking? Medicine cabinets, bathrooms, dental care, and a visit to the beauty parlor. What Miner was trying to do was get the reader to step back and see what is familiar, as foreign.

After having the class read the article, I then ask them to take something that is culturally familiar and significant to us and describe it objectively, as if they were anthropologists studying a “new and foreign” culture. I encourage them to be creative – which is what I’m going to do now, with this blog.

Here is a link to the article: http://www.sfu.ca/~palys/Miner-1956-BodyRitualAmongTheNacirema.pdf. Give it a gander and then, if you’d like, write up your own description of a familiar activity from an outsider’s point of view. Have fun with it. Submit it here in the comments section within the next week or send it to me at Moran.Sandra.D@gmail.com. I’ll pick one or two winners who will receive a copy of my new novel, All We Lack.

Need inspiration? I’ll get you started:

Every Fall, when the air turns crisp and the leaves turn to brown, the people of the central portion of the North American continent engage in a weekly ritual they call, simply, “The Gating of the Tail.”

They wake early for this activity, filling the backs of their motorized wagons with sacred cow flesh and fermented beverage. They then drive, in single file, to the sacred grounds where their chosen group of warriors meet for battle. It is not uncommon for the participants of this activity to paint their faces or the wear the colors of their chosen warrior. Some elders within the group chose to wear garb honoring past, powerful warriors who no longer engage in battle. Others …

You can take it from there. I look forward to seeing what (if anything) you come up with. And, until next month, be good and be kind to each other.

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10 thoughts on “Three Things … Because There Are Always Three

  1. This reminds me of the book The Weans that we read in 8th grade history, about how archaeologists of the future would interpret our culture. Fun.

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  2. The people we’ve been observing take part in an almost constant form of possibly spiritual engagement with a glowing rectangle, possibly an altar. On another rectangle, they tap buttons in seemingly random, sometimes rhythmic, patterns. This tapping corresponds to symbols transferring from the rectangle they tap onto the glowing tablet. Until we crack the code of these patterns, the meaning remains a mystery.

    By the way, longer days and more running allow for more candy to be consumed. Not sure how allergies fit in.

    Fun post! Thanks!

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  3. Oh yes, the Gating of the Tail, you speak of my favorite sacred ordeal. Ordeal I say, for all this ritual is precursor to the great battle of the gods, twelve of which must die and be vilified, and twelve of which will go onto battle again, after seven days and seven nights have passed. For the Clan of the Losers there will be much weeping and pulling of hair. For the Clan of the Winners there will be much chanting of the ceremonial song and the carefully orchestrated clapping of fellow clan members hands high in the air. Both clans will continue copious consumption of the cathartic aforementioned fermented beverage, often finishing the ceremony many hours later, either stretched as one of the dead warriors upon a narrow, high sided bed, or worshipping on their knees at a fixed, white porcelain altar. If the observer is fortunate enough, they may be able to hear the softly whispered final words of this most sacred of autumnal rites: “I will never, ever do that again.” The mantra seems to signify to most trained observers that the clan member is promising to return to this very same spot and worship in the very same manner in exactly one weeks time.

    You rock. xxoo

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  4. This reminds me of the Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay. The following is the Amazon blurb for the book, not mine.

    It is the year 4022; all of the ancient country of Usa has been buried under many feet of detritus from a catastrophe that occurred back in 1985. Imagine, then, the excitement that Howard Carson, an amateur archeologist at best, experienced when in crossing the perimeter of an abandoned excavation site he felt the ground give way beneath him and found himself at the bottom of a shaft, which, judging from the DO NOT DISTURB sign hanging from an archaic doorknob, was clearly the entrance to a still-sealed burial chamber.

    I loved this book.

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