Friday, January 30, 2015

Achievements of the Mayan Civilization Compared to Other Latin American Civilizations

(written for Latin American History Class, University of S. Indiana, 1994)
There are many similarities between the Latin American cultures of Olmecs, Maya, Toltecs, Aztecs. All of these civilizations made some important individual achievements, but they also borrowed from other previous civilizations to some degree. Each had large ceremonial centers, with great pyramids; they each practiced human sacrifice; they all had ritual calendars. However, when compared, the most notable achievements in the use of calendars, astronomy, mathematics, and writing belong to the Maya.

The construction of the ceremonial centers and the great pyramids for all these cultures may have resulted from their fascination with their gods. Many ancient people believed that the gods controlled everything: life, death, wind, rain, and the growth of crops. If one believes that the closer one gets to one's god the better, then tall pyramids make sense.

The conquering of one group by another would also explain the mingling of the religions and adoptions and adaptations of various gods. If the god possessed appealing qualities it would be kept; if it was similar to one of their own, alterations could be made to suit the new rulers. For example, the rain god Tlaloc appears in most of the Latin American cultures, albeit under other names and with changes in appearance. 

The Maya, Toltec, and Aztec all had their own version of Quetzelcoalt. The Maya worshiped a sun god. Throughout Mesoamerica the jaguar was held sacred. Even today, the modern day Yanamamo, a native tribe of South America, consider the jaguar sacred and many of their myths are centered around the jaguar.

There is some evidence that each of these societies practiced human sacrifice, although none is likely to have reached the level of cruelty as that of the Aztecs. One Aztec religious ceremony is reported to have cost 20,000 people their hearts. Most crimes brought death or mutilation. An extremely cruel society will usually collapse in time, from inner or outer influence. One wonders how long the Aztec would have lasted had the Spanish not arrived when they did.

The Aztecs were a monarchy in which the monarch was chosen by the Council of 100, possibly from an elite class. Power was not shared but the Council probably had some control. They were a people who dealt in treachery, using one tribe as allies to defeat an enemy tribe and then defeating their allies. 

The only Aztec achievement worth noting is the building of Tenochtitlan in Lake Texcoco. The aqueducts, paved streets, causeways and floating gardens sound more like Rome or Greece than Central America. A great deal of ingenuity went into the creation or it would not have lasted centuries. In spite of this the Aztecs, and the Toltecs, were not a creative people; they built their empires with the creative achievements of previous civilizations.

Maya society was probably as well organized as that of the Aztecs. According to Norman Hammond in Ancient Maya Civilization it was multi-layered, the ruling class at the top, and each successive layer possibly containing many specialist such as priest, artisans, warriors, traders, and farmers. Rulers probably inherited their positions through their fathers. The family was central in Maya society.

The cultures of Mesoamerica had ritual calendars and their very lives were bound up in the cycle of days. Some days were considered evil and anything that happened on these days was doomed. Knowing you were born on a bad day must have been a real bummer. From the moment of your birth you are marked. It would be interesting to know how much psychology had to do with the development of such individuals. It is doubtful they would have turned into model citizens if everyone expected them to be otherwise.

In The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico, Nigel Davis says "the Olmecs invented the art of writing" and the use of putting dates on stone. Although the Olmec probably developed the first calendar, once source indicates that they may not have had it before 500 B. C.

Regardless of who the inventor was, the Maya used both the calendar and writing to their fullest potential. The Maya used three calendars, a long count, a secular, and a religious calendar. The secular calendar had 360 days with 5 evil days added; it was only 2/10,000 longer than our current calendar. The religious calendar had 260 days and was based on the year of Venus. With the long count calendar they could count up to 157,700 years. When one thinks of the knowledge of astronomy necessary and the time involved in developing these systems, it is unbelievable that a primitive people could accomplish such a thing. However, they were able to predicted eclipses, both solar and lunar, with incredible accuracy, and their calculations in time are truly awe inspiring.

Equally amazing is their invention of one of the most complicated system of writing during this time. They used a hieroglyphic form on stela, tall stones covered with carved symbols, These stela have helped unravel much of the mystery of the Mayan culture. They also had books made of fig bark, most of which were burned by the Spanish. No other Latin American culture used the stela idea, nor did they have a form of written communication. During the post classic period of the Mayan empire there are no more stela and the long count calendar is lost. This may suggest that those who knew how to utilize these things disappeared. Whether by conquest or by choice is a debatable question. 

The 260-day calendar is still used by Mayan descendants today.
The city of Teotihuacan is said to have been a central influence on many of the Latin American cultures for hundreds of years. It is difficult to explain, however, why the Maya began "their most spectacular period" after the decline of Teotihuacan. It may have been because contact with the city hindered their creativity in some way. It could also be that the city itself was a spur to the Mayan creative desires.

The ability to take an idea and expand on it was something the Maya did to near perfection. Nearly everything they borrow is improved. The disappearance of the long count and the writing is an indication that the Mayan brain pool declined, and that loss is never regained. But perhaps the greatest achievement of the Maya civilization lies not in their monuments, their mathematics, their astronomy, or their writing; perhaps it lies in their survival. In spite of conquering tribes and invading armies they have retained their identity as a people for thousands of years. Perhaps a people's greatness should be measured on their ability to survive instead of the monuments they leave behind.


Davies, Nigel. The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico. Penguin Books: 27 Wrightslane, London W8 5TZ, England. 1983: 9-256.
Fagg, John. Latin American History. The Macmillian Company: London. 1969: 3-34.
Hammond, Norman. Ancient Maya Civilization. Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, New Jersey. 1990: 5-303.
Stuart, Geroge E. and Gene S. Stuart. The Mysterious Maya. The National Geographic Society: Washington D.C. 1977: 17-195.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My New "Job"

I've worked most of the day on the revision with lots of new writing done. I've reached an interesting conclusion about my current methods. When I made the decision to do this, I decided that I needed to focus on it as if it were my "job". No, I'm not getting paid but I've always worked better with a routine and a schedule. So, from the start I set up a schedule for how I wanted the week structured..

Monday - Friday

7:30 a.m.-- Get up:
7:45 a.m. -- Sarah on the bus
8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. -- Dress, brush teeth, devotional time
9:00-9:30 am. -- Start work (writing or  revising)
11:30 - 12:30 -- lunch somewhere in this hour (doesn't take an hour)
3:00 p.m. -3:45 p.m. Stop- Sarah home.

A few times I've worked in the evening but I'm so tired by then and there are so many other things I have to do that I just don't get very far. I also try to take short breaks every hour or so to do some stretching and moving around to prevent back and neck problems later. Potty breaks are usually ideal for this because I have to get up anyway. A couple of times, when I stopped for the day, I lay down and took a half hour nap before Sarah gets home because I was really very tired.

Last night I really wanted to get back to work on the book after supper but I did not sleep well Sunday night and Monday was rough. So, I decided to leave the novel for the night because I felt I needed to give me time to relax. So, I read and watched t.v. until I went to bed around 10:30. I slept better last night but not much. I really think the weather is a factor at the moment. I've had a lot more neck and shoulder pain at night. My right hand really doesn't want to work properly either.

Weekends are open. I don't write unless I want to and have the time. Most of it is spent cleaning and doing laundry and I go to church.

After a couple of weeks of working this way I notice it is easier to sit down between 9 and 10, after Sarah is off to school and I've done what I need to get myself motivated. I can focus for the rest of the day. I'm anxious to get the first draft done but things are moving very slow at the moment. However, I can see being done by my deadline of April 22, 2015. Thank you, Autumn Baker for making this  possible.

I've broken my routine to write this blog and I am feeling the effects of that. Still, I have to give myself some credit. When I began the revision on January 15 my word count was at 59,187. As of right today, January 27, the word count is 62, 210.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Bonus

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at
Today the blog is aptly named. I have been "writing" my life away. A few weeks ago, after some ribbing from my writing group, I made up my mind I was going to finish one story.

I had three to choose from that were near completion but after examining them, I selected  The Long Summer Run, my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel. I worked on it again in the 2013 July Camp session and nearly completed the story arc then. I continued to work on it, even setting it up in a closed blog.

I haven't touched the story much in the last year and I decided that before I started writing again, I needed to read through the whole story just to refresh my memory.

It occurred to me that while I was doing that it would be foolish not make notes where I found problems such as errors in spelling, usage, and just bad writing. I use Scrivener for all my writing and it has notes sections but I'm one of those people who still likes editing a paper copy. So, I printed off everything I'd written to-date, which was right at 200 pages (60K words). One look at that stack and I immediately felt stressed. This is the part I really hate.

When I was in college I loved editing my friends work. I don't know why. Rereading my work was a pain because invariable, once I know the story I just don't want to do it again. Part of the problem is that when you read your own work you miss a lot of errors. Your mind simply switches on auto-correct and sends you on your way. You really don't "see" certain types of errors.

Then I remembered the Adobe "Read Aloud" feature. If you didn't know Adobe had that feature, I'm not surprised. There is really no reason to use it if you're not visually challenged. However, in the past I found it was a great way to edit a variety of documents. When I had a real job I used it for long letters or training manuals I created for work. I realized that there was no reason it couldn't work just as well for editing a very long piece, like a novel, too.

So, I used OpenOffice to set TLSR up as a PDF and opened it in Adobe. I turned on Adobe's "Read Aloud" feature. Adobe's Robot voice read the story to me and even though I've used it before, I was surprised at how much it helped.

I was able to refresh my memory about what was happening in the story while focusing on problems. I found it much easier to spot commonly misspelled words and those misspelled by my own quirky typing. I located stray clauses and phrases. I also recognized problems with continuity. And oh, the plot holes I found.

While Adobe Robey (my nickname for the female voice) read to me, I made notes in the margins, corrected errors with my pen, and stopped when something occurred to me that required longer notes. These I typed into my project notes in Scrivener.

Today I will finish my review and I hope, start making the corrections, write in the ending, and fill in the plot holes. I have to say I'm a bit excited. This is as close to a whole first draft I've ever had and now I'm sort of pumped to get it completed.

This is a story I really didn't like in 2012. I liked it better after Camp NaNo but today, after rereading the whole story, I realize that it is a really good story and I love it. I love the characters and will probably use some of them in another story.

Some days writing is a bust. Some days, writing your life away is worth it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Progress on Paper

I've spent the last three days working on The Long Summer Run. I wrote most of the day on Tuesday, taking breaks so I didn't hurt myself and set up neck problems that could put me down for a week. I managed to write about 1000 words that day.

After I did that, I realized I needed some additional writing in the earlier part of the story to set up for the ending of the story. I have four possible solutions to my mystery. A couple could work with minor edits. Two of them will need more extensive changes and additions. I can't really proceed until I actually know which ending I am going to use. I know which one I feel inclined to use but it is rather tragic and I'm reluctant, which probably means that is the one I should use. 

So, on Wednesday, I compiled the story in Scrivener and printed it off. I ran out of ink at page 100. I have to reprint 101-146. I used a small font because it reduced the number of pages by nearly 50. I did front and back. Then, I saved it as a PDF and opened Adobe Reader and turned on the Read Out Loud feature. I've been following along as the program reads it to me.

Let me say this is not like reading aloud to yourself. The robotic voice is boring. There's no inflection, no emotion, and no accent. It mispronounces words and does weird things to some words, like spelling "OH!" instead of saying it. "It is" used together is also a problem for some reason that defies logic. The important thing is that it is, overall, quite helpful. 

I've been able to catch misspellings, incorrect usage, missing words, too many words, poor structure, and areas that need work. I know I'll have to do this again after all the corrections but it will be that much less work. I don't know if I'll do it with Adobe again. 

I have no idea if I'll have an actual novel length story. That's problematic. I'm at 60K words and there's more to write but I'm not sure there's 100K. These are basically unedited words so in theory there'll be less. 

The bonus to doing this is that I realized again that I love this story. Really. I think it may be one of my favorites. There are places that I get lost in because I like it so much. I hate not actually writing but I have to tell myself this is part of it. 

So, I've made some progress but it is sooooo slow. I'm not a patient person. Today I didn't even start on the read through until after about 7 p.m. I spent the day reading something for fun. I've taken a short break from the read thru to post this and then it is back to it for a short while. Tonight will be an early night for me.

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