Listening to the Beat of a Different Drummer: On Becoming Aware of Fertility

Aaron Copland is one of the most famous American composers of the 20th century. In 1939, he published a perennially popular guide to music called What to Listen for in Music. In it, Copland says that he wants to raise two important questions. “1. Are you hearing everything that is going on? 2. Are you really being sensitive to it?” (Copland vii). To truly be musical, Copland insists, is not to know music history or to memorize the notes of a popular song. To be musical, there is “one minimum requirement for the potentially intelligent listener.” That one requirement is that “he must be able to recognize a melody when he hears it” (Copland 16).

Women’s health science is a very important body of knowledge, and at the center of it is the icon of her womanhood: ovulation. But for most Americans, ovulation — this singular melody of women’s reproductive health — is unrecognizable. Controlling fertility has been a component of women’s health since the advent of the Pill, and sex education has become ubiquitous even as it has remained controversial. But women still have very little fertility awareness. They are not “hearing everything that is going on” and are not “really being sensitive to it.” Learning to understand body literacy, in particular the signs surrounding ovulation, brings a wide range of benefits with it.

What most American people already know about the science of a woman’s reproductive system is not difficult to sketch out. There are the various body parts: the two ovaries, the uterus, the fallopian tubes, the egg, the cervix. Many people learn in primary school about the biology of reproduction. Every month, the lesson goes, a woman goes through a cycle. Her body sloughs off the lining of the uterus and disposes of the disintegrated egg. Then, a few days later, the follicles on the ovaries begin to engorge. A hormone coursing through the body, aptly named follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), is what causes this. After a few days of these ovarian follicles swelling, one of the follicles bursts and releases an egg. Ovulation occurs when the egg is released. This egg then spends 12-24 hours travelling down the Fallopian tube toward the uterus. This occurs usually about midway in a woman’s monthly cycle. If the egg is fertilized by sperm, the new embryo imbeds into the uterus. If the egg is not fertilized, it disintegrates and, a couple of weeks later, is discharged from the body along with the lining of the uterus with the onset of menses. And the cycle begins again: the follicles engorge; a follicle bursts; the egg travels; fertilization may or may not happen; if not, the lining of the uterus is discharged; and repeat.

That is what most people know. That pattern of the follicle bursting, ovulation happening, the egg traveling, the sperm (if present) fertilizing, and (if not present) the discharge of the disintegrated egg and the uterine lining is the faintest shape of a biological melody that is burdened with much deeper texture and profundity.

Toni Weschler, in her national bestseller Taking Charge of Your Fertility, details an outline of events in the reproductive system. What is more, these details are possible to chart. Further below, some of the life-changing benefits of knowing how to “hear” the music of the body will be explained. For now, it is enough to know that these changes are not just happening, but are observable – sometimes with the naked eye (44-70, 89-98).

After the first few days of a woman’s cycle, in a slowly rising and then sudden flood of estrogen, the follicles on the ovaries begin to swell. What also begins to happen is that a fluid is secreted from the cervix. Within the female body, this fluid acts like a hostel for sperm. It accommodates them and helps them on their journey. As the day approaches for the follicle to burst and release the egg, the cervical mucus becomes more and more viscous, slippery and clear. Actually, a woman can observe this change from day to day. Early in the cycle, the mucus is thick and tacky; but by the time the egg is finally released in ovulation, the mucus is stretchy and often clear, like raw egg whites. In the days after the egg has disintegrated, the mucus dries up. Mucus acts like a biological valve, in a way, because, without it, sperm are no longer viable. Mucus is healthy and normal. It is a note that the body is sounding that tells the observer that a fertile egg is being released for conception (52-60).

That is one observable sign or note. There are three more. The second discernible change is in the position of the cervix, which a woman can feel with her hand. The cervix is the opening to the uterus, where the egg is destined to arrive after its Fallopian journey. Normally, the cervix is situated relatively low and has a firmness to it. When ovulation is happening, the cervix does three things. It pulls upward; it softens; and the opening of the cervix widens. This occurs so that sperm can pass through that opening, through the uterus, and into the Fallopian tube as they travel in the above-mentioned fluid (66-67).

The third sign is one that is felt. The word that describes this is ‘mittelschmerz’ and it means “pain in the middle.” A follicle burst and the egg is released, and many women literally feel an ache in their midsection when this happens. It is like a kettle drum sounding the entry of the main character of an opera, the egg. Everything has been building up to ovulation. Everything changes after ovulation (70).

The fourth sign comes after ovulation. The egg travels down to the uterus and new hormones enter the symphony. Estrogen and follicle stimulating hormone leave the stage and, from the very place of the follicle burst, a new hormone-secreting structure shows up, sending luteinizing hormone (LH) into the body. A woman can observe when this happens. Her resting body temperature will rise about 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit. This part of the cycle – after ovulation – is called the luteal phase of the cycle, and this is the time that the hormone progesterone is present (89-98).

Through visually observing mucus, physically touching the cervix, sensing pain in the lower abdominal region and recording daily temperatures, a symphony about fertility can unfold, for every fertile woman, every day. And every body, literally, is unique. Deviations from this general process happen, and each deviation reveals something about the state of fertility.

Image result for woman with ear horn

There are nearly two billion fertile women on earth today, aged 15-49 (UNFPA 8). There are seventy-six million fertile women in the U.S. (Monte and Ellis 9). Most of them do not recognize their bodies’ ovulation melodies. The statistics show that even the medical establishment — doctors and medical students — has not often encountered this kind of body literacy. Dr. Thomas Hilgers, an expert on fertility, a clinical professor at the Creighton University School of Medicine, the developer of natural procreative NaPro Technology, and author of The NaPro Technology Revolution, says, “These major physiologic events that affect greater than 50 percent of our population during the reproductive years, have been almost completely ignored by the medical profession” (xviii, italics are in the original). His assertion is not mere opinion.

His claim is backed up by his and others’ commanding research. Not only do women remain ignorant of the facts about fertility awareness (Lundsberg et al. 767-8) but when over 200 third-year medical students were asked a battery of seven questions – including “During a woman’s cycle, when is progesterone produced in the highest amount?” and “How does cervical mucus act as a biological valve?” – test scores averaged 38% (Danis et al. 3). In another study, less than half of practicing physicians had up-to-date information about fertility awareness (Stanford et al. 672-5). Most doctors are unequipped to confidently investigate health problems and prescribe treatments based on fertility awareness.

Sex educators have not focused on fertility awareness, either. SIECUS, a leading organization in the development and promotion of so-called “comprehensive” sex education in the United States, states plainly and boldly, “We advocate for the right of all people to accurate information, comprehensive education about sexuality, and the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health services” (SIECUS). Yet, among the hundreds of lessons available for primary and secondary students, a search for “fertility awareness” yielded nothing. Their focus is on breaking down reservations about sexuality, encouraging sexual activity while preventing disease and pregnancy, and exploring homosexual and gender identities. The bedfellows of SIECUS are Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), and the Kinsey Institute. Among all four of their websites, a search for “fertility awareness” netted two entries, even though they all use the same language to describe their interest in biology and sexuality and “comprehensive” sex education. (“Comprehensive” is a misnomer; it is used to describe sex education that focuses on contraceptive use as well as abstinence, and is contrasted with “abstinence-only” sex education.) The highly regarded Guttmacher Institute, a leading research organization in the area of sexuality, charted the focus of different sex education requirements in each of the 50 states, and fertility awareness is not mentioned at all (Guttmacher “Sex”). Laura Wershler, a rare pro-choice feminist who advocates for fertility awareness, and has sat on the board of Planned Parenthood Canada for 10 years, and edits a blog for the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, makes the import of their neglect plain when she says, “I say this over and over again. If anyone who considers themselves to be a pro-choice sexual and reproductive health care provider, if they are not [competently educating women on fertility awareness methods], they are not who they say they are. It’s as simple as that” (Wershler 00:17:45-00:18:05). In the musical metaphor, the influential sexuality educators might promote the free choice to perform opera in coffee houses or nursing homes, or to always protect one’s cello with a reliable case, or even to try to use every instrument in the orchestra for maximum musical pleasure; but the one neglected topic would be what a melody is and how to recognize it.

This state of affairs is lamentable. Only a few organizations are giving serious priority to educating men and women about fertility awareness, such as the Fertility Awareness Collaborative to Teach the Science (FACTS) and Teen STAR (Klaus “Allowing” 5), which has programs in 30 countries, as well as recent app developers (Kindara). Various small natural family planning programs are in place to teach fertility awareness (ARCHSTL). The benefits that accrue to a woman when she becomes aware of the facts about fertility, of course, relate to being in control of her fertility. Below are some more benefits, but first, it is helpful to understand how the Pill works.

Many women use the Pill for birth control, as well as for a way to temper painful symptoms of irregular cycles. According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 14 million American women use some kind of hormonal birth control, whether it be the Pill, an IUD, a patch, or DepoProvera. That is 18% – nearly 1 in 5 – fertile women who use synthetic hormones (Guttmacher “Contraceptive”).

This is what is happening to them. The body naturally has an ebb and flow of hormones. Four are mentioned in this paper: estrogen and FSH prior to ovulation, and progesterone and LH after ovulation. The Pill and its cousins suppress this natural interplay of hormones. Regardless of what kind of synthetic hormone is used, the effect is nearly the same. The body is flooded with hormones that have a negative feedback loop. The natural process of ovulation, along with all the interplay of the hormones estrogen, FSH, progesterone, and LH, is shut down. The body ceases to ovulate. The cervical mucus thickens. The reproductive system is rendered infertile (Briden). A reliable sameness overtakes the body, and what once was a biological melody is shouted out by a chemical foghorn.

The effect that synthetic hormones can have on teenagers is worrisome. The results can be impaired bone development and delayed return of fertility after stopping using the Pill, among other known side effects. Says one researcher, “As an endocrinologist, I am deeply concerned about the consequences of the widespread use of powerful synthetic hormones by [teenagers] for both the reproductive and bone systems” (Prior 75). The negative potential of the Pill is not a necessary evil. Fertility awareness can help women skirt the physical risks of chemical contraceptives.

Fertility awareness cannot be practiced while synthetic hormones suppress fertility. But if one chooses to pass on the chemicals and practice fertility awareness instead, the benefits are wide-ranging. For teenagers, the benefit of having a knowledgeable woman teach fertility awareness has helped teens to have a deeper respect for their bodies, to have confidence in knowing when to expect their next period (after ovulation, during the luteal phase, the time from ovulation to the next cycle normally lasts the same number of days, every cycle). And, for those teens who learn fertility awareness after having been sexually active, many return to chastity (Klaus et al. “Undergirding”) . Dr. Hanna Klaus has developed an international sexuality education program for teenagers that incorporates fertility awareness and self-help coaching. Because of its success rate in encouraging abstinence, Teen STAR has been funded as an AIDS prevention program in Ethiopia and Uganda (Klaus “Allowing” 3-4). Even the young men who enter the program exhibit deeper self-respect for matters sexual.

For adults, the most obvious use that fertility awareness is put to is to regulate conception. For both the couple who is seeking to conceive and the couple who is seeking to come together without conceiving, knowing how to detect ovulation is powerful knowledge. One of the important facts about ovulation that informs natural family planning (NFP) is that the egg, once released from the ovary, lasts only 12-24 hours. The cervical fluid can keep sperm viable for up to 5 days. A woman could have sexual relations on Monday and conceive a child the following Friday, because the sperm can survive in the fertile mucus for up to 5 days. But, woman cannot conceive a child on any given day. Because the fertile window of each cycle is only 5-6 days, the rest of the cycle is naturally infertile (Weschler 161-79). The math is easy. If a woman has a cycle every month of the year, she is able to conceive only 70 or 80 days out of the whole year. The rest of the time, it is physically impossible for her to conceive.

Although the old joke, “What do you call a couple that uses NFP? Parents!” is funny, the truth is that fertility awareness methods of avoiding pregnancy have as high of a success rate as the most successful artificial contraception. And, while Planned Parenthood’s website claims that fertility awareness-based methods of avoiding conception have only a 76% effectiveness rate and that they are difficult to use, the Chinese women who demonstrated a 99% user-effectiveness rate would beg to differ (Xu 195-6). A state-side study of over 1,800 couples likewise yielded a high user-effectiveness rate of 95% (Creighton). And another peer-reviewed, prospective study shows that fertility awareness-based methods of avoiding conception had a user effectiveness rate of about 99%  (Frank-Hermann et al. 1310-1). Dr. Sally Dierschke-Kurz, the president of the Catholic Medical Association and a family practitioner in St. Louis, wistfully said in conversation, “I wish they [Planned Parenthood] would stop dragging out that awful study [with the 76%].” Among its weaknesses, the flawed study does not actually measure the use of scientific fertility awareness, but includes the “calendar method”, which is a method that is based on the average day of ovulation for many different women. It is not based on the individual biology of a woman, but rather on averages detached from the individual woman. The flawed study also does not take in to account whether the couple was seeking to conceive or seeking to avoid conception (Dierschke-Kurz).

Planned Parenthood’s bad science is only half of the problem, though. The other problem is what some women find to be patronizing counsel. What Planned Parenthood says is, “Fertility awareness methods don’t work as well as other types of birth control because they can be difficult to use” (Planned Parenthood). While fertility awareness advocates recommend learning fertility awareness from a competent instructor (Fertility Friday “22”), some women take offense that the science of fertility is too difficult for them. A not-uncommon response to being told that fertility awareness is too difficult is, “Excuse me? Since when are women too stupid to take their temperature, know if one of their body parts is currently releasing fluid, and write that down?” (Ransom). Feminists, Chinese women living under a one-child government policy and many others have taken the challenge of becoming aware of their own fertility and have discovered that they can overcome whatever difficulties Planned Parenthood meant to refer to.

That is all about avoiding conception. As for helping to achieve conception, the benefits of fertility awareness are dramatic. “Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a child after one year of unprotected intercourse. For women who are older than 35, infertility is defined as six months without conception” (Johns Hopkins). That is the current working definition of infertility. Infertility not only bars a couple from becoming parents, but also injects confusion and discord into a couple’s home. They wrestle with the doubts, unmet desires, lack of understanding of the other spouse’s coping mechanisms, feelings of inadequacy and a sense that life has unfairly deprived one of a great blessing (Tao et al. 71). Additionally, since the advent of assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization, there has been a decreased interest in addressing the underlying causes of infertility (Hilgers 208).

What fertility awareness brings to the infertile woman, in the best of cases, is a child. By observing fertility, a couple will know that there is a fertile window within the woman’s cycle. Fertility-focused intercourse alone has had great effects. While the normal rate of infertility is estimated to be around 10% in the U.S., fertility-focused intercourse allowed 98% of random couples, whether fertile or infertile, to conceive a child by the third cycle (Hilgers 207, 235). This suggests that, by using fertility awareness, most cases of infertility can be solved.

But there is more. By charting the signs of fertility, a woman has at her fingertips a tool for diagnosing the underlying cause of her truly persistent infertility. For example, the part of the cycle after ovulation is called the luteal phase; and an embryo uses this phase as a time to implant into the uterus. The high levels of progesterone during this time help him to settle in for the first nine months of his existence. But, “the single most common hormone abnormality in women of childbearing age is most likely the dysfunctional luteal phase” (Hilgers 106). If a woman observes that her luteal phase is rather brief, like fewer than 12 days, it could be that she will miscarry (and she can discover this risk before conceiving and before experiencing a miscarriage). In addition, we mentioned earlier that the luteal phase is marked by a slightly higher body temperature. But if the woman observes that her short luteal phase is also marked by a drop in temperature, it signals that she is a good candidate for miscarriage. This kind of information is very valuable in addressing this kind of infertility, and, sometimes, it might be corrected quite easily with a knowledgeable doctor. So, here again, infertility can be overcome with the help of fertility awareness knowledge. But without fertility awareness – without this information about the luteal phase recorded for a knowledgeable doctor – the next best approach to diagnosing a problem like this is to perform a hormone test on the 21st or 22nd day of the cycle (Hilgers 103). The accuracy of guessing at the luteal phase is obviously lower than not guessing. It would be like a karaoke singer closing his eyes and stopping his ears as a song begins, waiting for what feels like 30 seconds, and then beginning to sing, hoping to successfully harmonize with the melody. It might take a few songs before he makes a decent sound.

Other causes for infertility exist, and they, too, can be treated more effectively with the help of fertility awareness. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a fertility problem. The follicles that are supposed to engorge and then produce an egg are defective. Instead of having the normally-spaced follicles, the follicles are lumped together like grapes. The result is that the follicles do not engorge properly and rarely produce an egg. Although some women who have PCOS tend to be overweight, have more than normal amounts of facial hair, and perhaps even have diabetes, some do not. One of the surest signs, and surely the simplest to detect, is a longer-than-normal cycle or a non-existent cycle (Glenville 9-23). And, again, apart from charting the signs of fertility, diagnosing PCOS is more difficult. And, again, this cause of infertility can be treated. The aforementioned Dr. Dierschke-Kurz shared that a woman with PCOS can have her cycle essentially jump started with a month of hormone treatments (Dierschke-Kurz), and the ovaries, even with the unusual follicle formation, will afterward begin to ovulate normally. And, once that has happened, the woman could very soon become a mother.

The reality of the situation is that, every day, thousands and thousands of women shut down their reproductive systems with chemicals, conceive unplanned and sometimes dangerous pregnancies, become sexually active at the wrong time, or feel beaten by infertility. Every day, the vapid platitudes of women’s health advocates and a commitment to responsible sexuality are repeated to society. And every day, the United States remains in a Dark Age of reproductive health. The science is available and is being used by a small percentage of the population, and to great effect! They have discovered what the ancient psalmist knew, that humans are mysteriously wrapped in dignity, even down to their bodies; that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Life Application Study Bible, Psalm 139:14). But a huge majority of otherwise well-informed and responsible adults are still tone-deaf to their own fertility oeuvre. No amount of wishing it were not so will change the fact that ignorance abounds about the benefits of knowing about ovulation. It remains true that the people who do understand fertility are rare and self-motivated, and that knowing fertility awareness is a tool for improved health, increased self-confidence, and effective family formation.

Image result for piano keyboard

Works Cited

AASECT https://www.aasect.org/about/about

ARCHSTL. ‘The Different Methods.’ Archdiocese of St. Louis. archstl.org/naturalfamilyplanning/page/different-methods

Briden, Lara. ‘Pill Bleeds Are Not Periods.’ Hormones Matter. 3 June 2015. http://www.hormonesmatter.com/pill-bleeds-periods/

Copland, Aaron. What to Listen for in Music. McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1967.

Creighton. ‘Effectiveness of the System.’ 2017. http://www.creightonmodel.com/effectiveness.htm

Danis, Peter G., et al. ‘Medical Students’ Knowledge of Fertility Awareness-Based Methods of Family Planning.’ Frontiers in Medicine, 1 June, 2017. dx.doi.org/10.3389%2Ffmed.2017.00065

Dierschke-Kurz, Dr. Sally. Telephone Interview. 5 Aug. 2017.

FACTS. ‘Home.’ 2017. Factsaboutfertility.com

Fertility Friday. ‘23 Fertility Awareness Websites You Should Know About.’ 2017. fertilityfriday.com/22-fertility-awareness-websites-you-should-know-about/

Frank-Hermann, P. et al. ‘The Effectiveness of a Fertility-Based Method to Avoid Pregnancy in Relation to a Couple’s Sexual Behavior During the Fertile Time: A Prospective Longitudinal Study.’ Human Reproduction, Vol. 22, Issue 5, 1 May 2007, pp 1310-19. doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dem003

Glenville, Marilyn. Natural Solutions to PCOS. MacMillan, 2012.

Guttmacher Institute. ‘Contraceptive Use in the United States.’ Sept. 2016. http://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/contraceptive-use-united-states

Guttmacher Institute. ‘Sex and HIV Education.’ 1 August 2017. http://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education

Hilgers, Thomas W. The NaPro Technology Revolution: Unleashing the Power in a Woman’s Cycle. Beaufort Books, 2010.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. ‘Infertility Evaluation and Treatment.’ 2017. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/signature_obgyn/conditions_treatments/gyn_specialization/infertility_evaluation_treatment.html

Kindara. ‘Kindara Announces 75,000 Pregnancies Achieved With Fertility Tracking App.’ 10 June 2015. http://www.kindara.com/press-release/kindara-announces-75000-pregnancies

Kinsey Institute. ‘Our Research.’ 2017. http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/research/index.php

Klaus, Hanna. ‘Allowing the Body to Speak: The Power of Fertility Education.’ Humanum: Issues in Family, Culture and Science, No. 3, 2015, pp 1-5. humanumreview.com/uploads/pdfs/Klaus-2015IssueThree.pdf

Klaus, Hanna et al. ‘Undergirding Abstinence Within a Sexuality Education Program’. Teen STAR, 21 Oct 2001. http://www.teenstar.org/page.asp?DH=15

Life Application Study Bible: King James Version. General Editor, Ronald A. Beers. Tyndale House Publishers, 2004.

Lundsberg, Lisbet et al. “Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices Regarding Conception and Fertility: A Population-Based Survey Among Reproductive-Age United States Women.” Fertility and Sterility, Vol. 101, Issue 3, March 2014. Pp. 767-774.

 

Monte, Lindsay M. and Renee R. Ellis. ‘Fertility of Women in the United States: 2012.’ United States Census Bureau. July 2014. http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p20-575.pdf

Planned Parenthood. ‘Fertility Awareness.’ 2017. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/fertility-awareness

Prior, Jerilynn C. ‘Adolescents’ Use of Combined Hormonal Contraceptives for Menstrual Cycle-Related Problem Treatment and Contraception: Evidence of Potential Lifelong Negative Reproductive and Bone Effects.’ Women’s Reproductive Health, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2016. Pp 73-92.

Ransom, Hannah. ‘7 Reasons Fertility Awareness is a Feminist Act.’ Holistic Hormonal Health. 4 August 2013. holistichormonalhealth.com/how-is-fertility-awareness-a-feminist-act/

SIECUS. ‘About us’. 2017. http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&pageId=472

Stanford, Joseph B., et al. ‘Physicians’ Knowledge and Practice Regarding Natural Family Planning.’ Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 94, No. 5, 1999, pp. 672-8.

Tao, Peng et al. ‘Investigating Marital Relationship in Infertility: A Systematic Review of Qualitative Studies.’ Journal of Reproduction and Infertility, Vol. 13, No. 2, Apr-Jun 2012, pp. 71-80.

UNFPA. The State of the World Population 2011. United Nations Population Fund, 2011. ec.europa.eu/health//sites/health/files/eu_world/docs/ev_20111110_co01_en.pdf

Weschler, Toni. Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health. William Morrow, 2015

Wershler, Laura. ‘Increasing Body Literacy with Fertility Awareness.’ Fertility Friday, Episode 36, 31 July 2015. fertilityfriday.com/laurawershler/

Xu XJ et al. ‘Billings Natural Family Planning in Shanghai, China.’ Advances in Contraception, Vol. 10, No. 3, Sept. 1994. Pp. 195-204.

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A Rollicking Series

A Rollicking Series of Adjectival Lamentations

An extremely unfortunate blunder.

A dreadfully one-sided report.

A rumor that rumbles like thunder.

A largely uncalled-for retort.

 

An offensive response to an invite.

A comment that feels like abuse.

A dastardly error of insight.

An absurd, unenforceable truce.

 

A distressing decision to render.

An unforeseen tangle in plot.

A nasty surprise in your blender.

An unsightly trickle of snot.

 

A truly disturbing reflection.

A worrisome change in the weather.

A plan that will not pass inspection.

A consortium of birds of a feather.

 

A precipitous fall from a ladder.

A honking disturbance of geese.

An untimely failure of bladder.

An intractable blemish of grease.

 

A motley collection of kittens.

An effluvium of unpleasant gas.

A basket of mis-matching mittens.

A slither of snakes in the grass.

– Luci Shaw

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Oldest Trousers Ever Discovered

See Article at Smithsonian

The World’s Oldest Pants Were Developed for Riding Horses

3,000-year-old pants discovered in ancient tomb in China

These pants, which were recovered from a tomb in China, are about 400 years older than the previous record holder for “oldest pants,” which were found on Cherchen Man, who was buried in the same area.

new study revealed that these newest oldest pants were likely developed for riding horses. From the study’s abstract:

The tailoring process did not involve cutting the cloth: instead the parts were shaped on the loom, and they were shaped in the correct size to fit a specific person. The yarns of the three fabrics and threads for final sewing match in color and quality, which implies that the weaver and the tailor was the same person or that both cooperated in a highly coordinated way. The design of the trousers from Yanghai with straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch-piece seems to be a predecessor of modern riding trousers.

The owner of the pants was likely a warrior in his mid-40s and was buried with other horse-related implements, including a bit, whip, bridle and a horse tail, in addition to weapons. Horses were obviously important to the culture that buried this individual. Scientists believe that horses were first domesticated somewhere in Central Asia between 4,000 and 3,500 years ago, and it is likely that trousers were invented soon after the first human figured out that horses were really good at carrying people on their backs.

It makes sense that people would develop a way to ride horses comfortably soon after horses were domesticated. Riding a horse in a skirt before a proper sidesaddle was invented? Ouch.

If you want to see modern recreations of the kinds of clothes worn in China 3,000 years ago, like the pants, you only have to wait until 2017, when researchers from Germany and China plan on organizing an international fashion show showcasing what people on the Silk Road wore three millennia ago.

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Those wyr the best dayes of mie lyf

 

Sumer is Icumen In!

By Danièle Cybulskie

When I hear people talk about the Middle Ages, I get the impression that most people picture it as a time of mud and dreariness, in which people slogged miserably through their daily lives. While mud would certainly have been a big part of reality, there was also beauty, liveliness, and entertainment.

One of the most famous pieces of music that has survived is a Middle English song about summer: “Sumer is Icumen In”. Like us, medieval people were overjoyed at the coming of warm weather, and all of the loveliness that comes with it. Here are the lyrics (in Middle English, and in my own translation):

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu
Sing cuccu!

Awe bleteþ after lomb
Lhouþ after calue cu
Bulluc sterteþ bucke uerteþ
Murie sing cuccu
Cuccu cuccu
Wel singes þu cuccu
Ne swik þu nauer nu

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Summer has come in!
Loudly sing “Cuckoo!”
The seeds are growing, the meadow is blowing,
And the wood is springing newly.
Sing, “Cuckoo!”

The ewe is bleating after the lamb,
The cow is lowing after the calf,
The young bull is jumping, the buck is farting,
Merrily sing, “Cuckoo!
Cuckoo! Cuckoo!”
You sing well, “Cuckoo!”
Don’t ever stop now!

Sing, “Cuckoo!” now, sing “Cuckoo!”
Sing, “Cuckoo!” Sing, “Cuckoo” now!

Now, I do wonder if the whole “farting” thing might have been supposed to be more like “snorting”, but medieval people did like their fart jokes (just watch or read one of their plays, and you can see for yourself!).

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‘If’- Rudyard Kipling’s Benghazi Moment

Here is the remarkable story behind ‘If’. Original source

Kipling was inspired by a failed British raid against the Boers in 1895

Empire building

… the unlikely truth is that [‘If’ was] composed by the Indian-born Kipling to celebrate the achievements of a man betrayed and imprisoned by the British Government – the Scots-born colonial adventurer Dr Leander Starr Jameson.

Although it may not seem so to the millions who can recite its famous first line (‘If you can keep your head when all about you’), If is also a bitter condemnation of the British Government led by Lord Salisbury, and the duplicity of its Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, for covertly supporting Dr Jameson’s raid against the Boers in South Africa’s Transvaal in 1896, only to condemn him when the raid failed.

Kipling was a friend of Jameson and was introduced to him, so scholars believe, by another colonial friend and adventurer: Cecil Rhodes, the financier and statesman who extracted a vast fortune from Britain’s burgeoning African empire by taking substantial stakes in both diamond and gold mines in southern Africa.

In Kipling’s autobiography, Something Of Myself, published in 1937, the year after his death at the age of 70, he acknowledges the inspiration for If in a single reference: ‘Among the verses in Rewards was one set called If – they were drawn from Jameson’s character, and contained counsels of perfection most easy to give.’

But to explain the nature of Kipling’s admiration for Jameson, we need to return to the veldt of southern Africa in the last years of the 19th century.

What was to become South Africa was divided into two British colonies (the Cape Colony and Natal) and two Boer republics (the Orange Free State and Transvaal). Transvaal contained 30,000 white male voters, of Dutch descent, and 60,000 white male ‘Uitlanders’, primarily British expatriates, whom the Boers had disenfranchised from voting.

Rhodes, then Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, wanted to encourage the disgruntled Uitlanders to rebel against the Transvaal government. He believed that if he sent a force of armed men to overrun Johannesburg, an uprising would follow. By Christmas 1895, the force of 600 armed men was placed under the command of Rhodes’s old friend, Dr Jameson.

Cecil RhodesCecil Rhodes, left, in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1896

Back in Britain, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, had encouraged Rhodes’s plan.

But when he heard the raid was to be launched, he panicked and changed his mind, remarking: ‘If this succeeds, it will ruin me. I’m going up to London to crush it.’

Chamberlain ordered the Governor General of the Cape Colony to condemn the ‘Jameson Raid’ and Rhodes for planning it. He also instructed every British worker in Transvaal not to support it.

That was behind the scenes. On the Transvaal border, the impetuous Jameson was growing frustrated by the politicking between London and Cape Town, and decided to go ahead regardless.

On December 29, 1895, he led his men across the Transvaal border, planning to race to Johannesburg in three days – but the raid failed, miserably.

The Boer government’s troops tracked Jameson’s force from the moment it crossed the border and attacked it in a series of minor skirmishes that cost the raiders vital supplies, horses and indeed the lives of a handful of men, until on the morning of January 2, Jameson was confronted by a major Boer force.

After seeing the Boers kill 30 of his men, Jameson surrendered, and he and the surviving raiders were taken to jail in Pretoria. The raiders never reached Johannesburg and there was no uprising among the Uitlanders.

The Boer government handed the prisoners, including Jameson, over to the London government for trial. A few days after the raid, the German Kaiser sent a telegram congratulating President Kruger’s Transvaal government on its success in suppressing the uprising.

When this was disclosed in the British Press, a storm of anti-German feeling was stirred and Jameson found himself lionised by London society. Fierce anti-Boer and anti-German feelings were inflamed, which soon became known as ‘jingoism’.

Jameson was sentenced to 15 months for leading the raid, and the Transvaal government was paid almost £1million in compensation by the British South Africa Company. Cecil Rhodes was forced to step down as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.

Jameson never revealed the extent of the British Government’s support for the raid. This has led a string of Kipling scholars to point out that the poem’s lines ‘If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you’ were designed specifically to pay tribute to the courage and dignity of Jameson’s silence.

Typical of his spirit, Jameson was not broken by his imprisonment. He decided to return to South Africa after his release and rose to become Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1904, leaving office before the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

His stoicism in the face of adversity and his determination not to be deterred from his task are reflected in the lines: ‘If you can make a heap of all your winnings / And risk it at one turn of pitch and toss / And lose, and start again from your beginnings / And never breathe a word about your loss . . .’

As Kipling’s biographer, Andrew Lycett, puts it: ‘In a sense, the poem is a valedictory to Jameson, the politician.’

All in all, an impressive hero for Kipling’s son, John. ‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute/ With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run/ Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it/ And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!’

But Kipling’s anger at Jameson’s treatment by the British establishment never abated.

Even though the poet had become the first English-speaking recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, he refused a knighthood and the Order of Merit from the British Government and the King, just as he refused the posts of Poet Laureate and Companion of Honour.

The tragedy was that Kipling’s only son, Lieutenant John Kipling, was to die in World War I at the Battle of Loos in 1915, only a handful of years after his father’s most famous poem first appeared. His body was never found.

It was a shock from which Kipling never fully recovered. But his son’s spirit, as well as that of Leander Starr Jameson, lives on in the lines of the poem that continues to inspire millions.

As Andrew Lycett told the Daily Mail: ‘In these straitened times, the old-fashioned virtues of fortitude, responsibilities and resolution, as articulated in If, become ever more important.’

Long may they remain so.

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New Photos of the Trenches of WWI

Life and death in the trenches
Never-before-published images show daily life for soldiers during World War I

Soon enough, the front lines became home to millions of soldiers from France, Germany, Russia, the U.S., and many other nations. For the next four years, soldiers slept, ate, bathed, prayed, and died on these front lines.

And now, thanks to a collection of never-before-seen photographs released by Reuters Pictures, we can witness those everyday actions as they unfold in muddy trenches, at camp sites, and across the dried out fields tragically peppered with freshly dug graves. Hundreds of glass plates were reportedly left behind by a viscount who was entrenched with the Armoured Cavalry Branch of the French Army at the time. That the specifics of the photographer and the dates go unknown make the bleak scenes all the more powerful.

Soldiers maneuver a cannon on the rear guard near an unknown front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Officers inspect trenches on the Argonne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Artillery officers relay instructions via telephone on how to adjust cannon fire in a trench. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

A soldier aims an anti-aircraft machine gun from his post in a trench at Perthes les Hurlus, in eastern France. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Carcasses of animals await cooking by soldiers on the Champagne front, in eastern France. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Troops from the rear guard pause to eat lunch near Arras, in northern France. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

A soldier pauses after taking a shower, next to a placard which reads: “Thermal complex of the Poilu, showers, massages, chiropodist, manicurist. Free massages for women.” | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Soldiers attend an entertainment show at Suippes, on the Champagne Front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

A priest conducts mass for French soldiers on the Champagne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Soldiers pose outside their shack, which they called, “The Chalet,” at la Sapiniere, near Lachalade on the Argonne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

An officer stands near a cemetery of recently dug graves, at Saint-Jean-sur-Tourbe, on the Champagne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

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Helen Keller reviews Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

Original source for this post found here

93 Seminole Avenue,
Forest Hills, L. I.,
February 2, 1924.


The New York Symphony Orchestra,
New York City.

Dear Friends:

I have the joy of being able to tell you that, though deaf and blind, I spent a glorious hour last night listening over the radio to Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.” I do not mean to say that I “heard” the music in the sense that other people heard it; and I do not know whether I can make you understand how it was possible for me to derive pleasure from the symphony. It was a great surprise to myself. I had been reading in my magazine for the blind of the happiness that the radio was bringing to the sightless everywhere. I was delighted to know that the blind had gained a new source of enjoyment; but I did not dream that I could have any part in their joy. Last night, when the family was listening to your wonderful rendering of the immortal symphony someone suggested that I put my hand on the receiver and see if I could get any of the vibrations. He unscrewed the cap, and I lightly touched the sensitive diaphragm. What was my amazement to discover that I could feel, not only the vibrations, but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music! The intertwined and intermingling vibrations from different instruments enchanted me. I could actually distinguish the cornets, the roll of the drums, deep-toned violas and violins singing in exquisite unison. How the lovely speech of the violins flowed and plowed over the deepest tones of the other instruments! When the human voice leaped up trilling from the surge of harmony, I recognized them instantly as voices. I felt the chorus grow more exultant, more ecstatic, upcurving swift and flame-like, until my heart almost stood still. The women’s voices seemed an embodiment of all the angelic voices rushing in a harmonious flood of beautiful and inspiring sound. The great chorus throbbed against my fingers with poignant pause and flow. Then all the instruments and voices together burst forth—an ocean of heavenly vibration—and died away like winds when the atom is spent, ending in a delicate shower of sweet notes.

what beautiful music

Of course, this was not “hearing” but I do know that the tones and harmonies conveyed to me moods of great beauty and majesty. I also sensed, or thought I did, the tender sounds of nature that sing into my hand—swaying reeds and winds and the murmur of streams. I have never been so enraptured before by a multitude of tone-vibrations.

As I listened, with darkness and melody, shadow and sound filling all the room, I could not help remembering that the great composer who poured forth such a flood of sweetness into the world was deaf like myself. I marvelled at the power of his quenchless spirit by which out of his pain he wrought such joy for others—and there I sat, feeling with my hand the magnificent symphony which broke like a sea upon the silent shores of his soul and mine.

Let me thank you warmly for all the delight which your beautiful music has brought to my household and to me. I want also to thank Station WEAF for the joy they are broadcasting in the world.

With kindest regards and best wishes, I am,

Sincerely yours, 

(Signed)

HELEN KELLER

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The Insufferable Man Behind The Ugly Duckling

The life and work of Hans Christian Andersen: http://theam.cn/RuDhw5. “On June 11 1857, Hans Christian Andersen arrived at Charles Dickens’s house, having previously arranged to stay for a week. A month later he was still there. ‘We are suffering a great deal from Andersen,’ Dickens wrote to a friend on July 10, and when his guest finally left he put a note on the mantelpiece that read: ‘Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed to the family AGES!’ His daughter Katey was even harsher, declaring that Andersen was ‘a bony bore” who “stayed on and on’.”

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Thomas Kuhn’s Unrevolutionary Foreign Language

http://theamericanscholar.org/the-best-foreign-language-for-writers/#.Ul1kdFAqhnh

 

The Best Foreign Language for Writers

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By Maxine Kumin

 

 

I am grateful to the late Thomas (Tommy) Kuhn, a famous physicist and philosopher, who was the pal of my older brother. The two of them were college students, wise and worldly. I was about to transfer from the small, snug environment of grammar school to the big, heterogeneous student body of high school. This involved changing classrooms and selecting “electives.”

“Never mind choosing between French and Spanish,” Tommy said. “Take Latin, straight through; you’ll never be sorry. Four years of Latin will do you more good than 14 of any other subject.”

He was right. Latin syntax is precise, its vocabulary comprehensible. Those four years, plus an elective my senior year spent translating stories from Ovid’sMetamorphoses, gave me the courage to begin writing my own poetry. I’ve never looked back.

 

Maxine Kumin won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and was the Library of Congress poet laureate in 1981-82. Her 17th collection, Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010, won the Los Angeles Times Book Award in 2011.

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Shakespeare’s telling penmanship

“What we’ve got here isn’t bad writing, but bad handwriting,”

read more here

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