The Last Great American Dynasty inspired more than just Lucky… ‘A Marvelous Conversation’ with artist Mary LaGarde

I spoke with artist Mary LaGarde yesterday on Instagram Live about her painting A Marvelous Time, inspired by Taylor Swift’s song, The Last Great American Dynasty. My book, Lucky, is inspired by the same. I knew we’d have lots to chat about!

Kristina: The Last Great American Dynasty is such a fabulous song— so vivid and inspirational. Why don’t we start by you telling us a little more about your painting!

‘A Marvelous Time’ oil painting by Mary LaGarde (copyright Mary LaGarde)

Mary: It all started in February of this year— on Valentine’s Day. My husband is a leukemia survivor and has a compromised immune system, so we were unable to go out for the holiday due to the pandemic. Instead, I decided we would have cocktails in the Tiki Hut in the backyard! I concocted a drink called “Cupid’s Arrow” and brought my little boom box out with us to the back. We put on a playlist— Hipster Radio, to be specific; it’s cool, smooth, and on Pandora— when all of a sudden Taylor’s song came on, “The Last Great American Dynasty.”

Now, I hadn’t heard of this song. I didn’t know Taylor Swift wrote this song, or anything about it. All I thought was, “Oh my gosh! The lyrics of this song are incredible. I wonder if Taylor Swift wrote this song. It kind of sounds like her!”

Sure enough, I went onto Pandora and found that she did write it. We listened to the song again and I became so excited. “I have got to paint this story,” I thought. There is so much to it, and Taylor has painted such a beautiful picture with her song. I started to get excited about dovetailing off this whole world— the light and the dark of Rebekah’s life— and wanted to showcase the characters of her epic story.

I think Taylor has really outdone herself with folklore and evermore. She seems to be really coming into herself with both of these albums. I will forever be a Swiftie now!

Kristina: Me too! I agree, I think that folklore and evermore have taken Taylor Swift to an entire new level with the deep themes and story telling (and not just stories of herself, anymore). The story of Rebekah Harkness was a great one for her to start with, in my opinion, because of all of the crazy parallels between the life of Taylor Swift and Rebekah Harkness. Also, Rebekah Harkness is an endlessly fascinating person, as you have also found out!

Mary: Not too long ago, I got to go up to Holiday House in Watch Hill. I sat there and tried to get the feel of the area— where the wind was blowing, where the sea was crashing in, the shoreline and the rocks, the view. I played her song while sitting there watching the waves. It was magical. I feel so lucky I was able to do that. I wanted to make sure I carried across that feeling, the energy in Holiday House.

https://videos.files.wordpress.com/LFQOoOU5/two-woman-seperated-by-50-years.mp4

Kristina: You did such a beautiful job! I actually found Mary on Instagram, through this painting. She is actually giving away prints of her painting on Instagram throughout the next few weeks, so make sure you are following her if you aren’t already. You need to be apart of this giveaway because her painting is truly iconic!

Side note, just so everyone knows how we know so much about Rebekah… Rebekah Harkness (aka Betty West) was notorious when she was alive and was frequently splashed upon the front page of the newspaper. After she passed away, Craig Unger wrote a biography about Rebekah entitled “Blue Blood.” It is the chronicle of Rebekah’s entire life, as well as the West family and the Harkness family. It’s jam-packed with tons of juicy information. But, there was only one edition ever published of “Blue Blood.” Now, it’s a rare book. It is almost impossible to find. Mary was trying to find a copy and wasn’t able to…

Mary: No, I wasn’t, but your book is a great substitute! Your book, Lucky, is awesome.

Kristina: Thank you so much! I got access to Blue Blood at a circulation-only library downtown Chicago, and I was reading it and reading different articles about Rebekah… I was like, I have access to information that not everyone is able to access. So, that was part of what drew me originally to this story and what inspired me to want to memorialize Rebekah’s story through Lucky, because it is a powerful story. It is a story that many people are interested in because there are a lot of fans of Taylor Swift and many people intrigued by the story of Rebekah Harkness.

Kristina: I would love to talk about all of the different people in your painting. You have immortalized some of the fascinating characters that have shown up throughout Rebekah’s life.

Mary: First up, is Robert Joffrey. Joffrey, of course, is world-famous for his ballet company. Rebekah actually sponsored Joffrey’s original ballet, and the dancers had a “summer camp” at Holiday House. Eventually, Rebekah decided that she wanted to have the Joffrey Ballet renamed as the Harkness Ballet, which he refused, so she retaliated by stealing all of his dancers!

Kristina: It caused a lot of drama in the dance world too. Before connecting with Joffrey, Rebekah was planning on making dance her legacy. She wanted to be known as the premier patroness of the ballet and may have let her own ego get in the way here a bit. Had she worked with Joffrey and continued to support him, her story may have had a different ending.

Mary: She ended up taking all of his dancers and traveling with the ballet all over the world, actually. She put them up in the finest hotels, gave them caviar and champagne… she offered these ballerinas the dream, everything they ever wanted. You probably know more from the Unger book which countries they went to.

Kristina: They went to quite a few different countries, but the one I talk about in Lucky is Egypt— and Rebekah took the dancers on a trip to see all of the sights, like the pyramids. I think the most interesting takeaway from the international touring, however, is that Rebekah didn’t necessarily have the the talent or leadership skills necessary to lead the ballet… she just poured money into the sets, costumes. The performances were extravagant, but fell sort-of flat. The press and reviewers didn’t have the nicest things to say about the tour. Rebekah got a lot of flack for it.

Mary: Right, she fancied herself a ballerina herself. She was quite an amazing dancer. Do you see Jose Greco in the painting? He was a famous flaminco dancer, and she hired him to train her to dance.

It does kind of sound mean what she did, but still, this was a male-dominated time. Women were not in charge of ballets, or anything. I think Rebekah took that on as a challenge. She was the one who got decide what she wanted to do with her money, and she chose to put her money into the arts. I think that’s a plus, a great takeaway. Not all of it has to be bad, right?

Kristina: Definitely not! Another thing I want to say, in regards to that, just because the press (or an author) says something about someone doesn’t make it unequivocally true. I think that is a lesson Taylor Swift has learned throughout the years… the stories written about her are not always the best reflection of who she is as a person. All we have left of Rebekah now are the newspaper articles, raunchy books, and scandalous tales… but, I think she did what she thought she was supposed to do. The most heartbreaking thing about her story, because it ends in such an epic tragedy, is that she was doing what felt right to her.

Mary: This is true. One thing I really appreciated about her, in regards to the dancers for example, she didn’t care about their race, size, hair color, age, or anything. She just cared to support the arts. If you could play the part, she was game to bring you on. I love that about her.

You know, she liked yoga… so, she brought in a world-class yoga instructor, B. K. S. Iyengar. I had to put him in the painting because I think he was a spiritual voice for her. He likely mellowed her. He probably cultured her, brought more color into her life, and helped create a more dynamic and centered nature to her personality.

Just because you have money, doesn’t mean that people will be falling over themselves to do stuff for you… in fact, sometimes it’s the opposite. You have to be quite focused when you have money to make sure you hire the best people to help you live your dream. Her dream was not attainable by not of people because

Kristina: I agree, but I also think that something that caused Rebekah’s downfall was always putting her trust and faith in other people, rather than trying to find answers within herself. She always listening to the sycophants, always around, telling her what she wanted to hear and manipulating her. So, I think that when someone has money, those type of people start coming out of the woodwork.

Mary: It’s just like winning the lottery! You hear all of these crazy stories— like when someone wins the lottery and then their long-lost cousin shows up with a dire illness… and then after you give them money, they turn out not to be your cousin! There are always people who will try to play on your sympathy, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. Rebekah was definitely a victim to that.

Kristina: For sure. I am glad, however, that you included B.K.S. Iyengar. I know the impact yoga has had on my life…

Mary: Me too!

Kristina: I can only imagine what impact learning yoga from one of the greatest yogis of all time had on Rebekah.

Mary: Agreed, it most have been pretty intense. We also have Jerome Robbins hiding behind B.K.S. Jerome did West Side Story, and he was a friend of hers and helped her a lot. We also have the famous Andy Warhol, whom Rebekah hired to do set designs. He enjoyed partying and was her party buddy as well. He probably isn’t quite as well known as, my favorite, Salvador Dali.

Kristina: and the cat!

Mary: The cat is actually a Ocelot named Babou. A Colombian dignitary or ambassador gave it to Dali as a gift, maybe in exchange for his work, I’m not sure exactly.

Dali was the type of person who always wanted to be on display. He felt that every breath he took was art, an expression of life itself. He was an artist from childhood. He wasn’t formally trained until later in life. If you ever get down to St. Petersburg, Florida, you need to check out the Salvador Dali museum! He has done remarkable work with surrealism. Warping time is one of his most famous things— with the clocks that drip and the Persistence of Memory.

Persistence of Memory— Salvador Dalí

He is the type of artist who also has different skills and backgrounds: like jewelry creation. Rebekah is wearing a brooch in my painting, I think it is called the Starfish of the Sea.

Also, all the black and white in my picture symbolizes something of yesteryear… of people who are no longer with us, but left their legacy with us. I have lots of little symbols throughout my painting.

Kristina: Yes, I read about some of them in your blog! It is so fascinating!

Mary: Do you see this dancer back here? That is Patrick Swayze. If you’ve never seen the movie Ghost with Demi Moore, you should check it out. Patrick Swayze is a famous actor from Texas. He grew up just a normal, All-American guy. He played football, but ultimately hurt himself and was unable to continue playing. Patrick’s mom was a ballerina, and she influenced him for rehab purposes. Patrick Swayze actually got a scholarship that Rebekah financed, for him to go the Harkness Ballet and dance for her.

Kristina: I did not know that!

Mary: It’s such a small, unusual world! Next to Rebekah, we have Scevers.

Kristina: Bobby!!!

Mary: Yes, Bobby. Her lover for about 25 years. He was a homosexual and stayed with her for quite a long period of time. He, apparently, really loved her. I know there were plenty of controversies regarding that, which your book goes more into!

Kristina: Yeah. You know, with Rebekah’s relationships… I could have an entire book about those in and of themselves, but I decided to try to more skim the surface of them. I wanted to respect Rebekah and her past lovers, and I realize that none of the information about her love life from her biography used her as a direct source.

So, the stories that are told about you are not always the truth… but I think that Bobby is special because he was one of few people who was with her on her death bed. He may have been the very last person Rebekah saw before she passed away. He clearly had a big impact on Rebekah’s life because she kept coming back to him. You know, she tended to marry doctors, but she kept coming back to the homosexual Bobby Scevers. It really is interesting. I know Rebekah’s children appreciated Bobby being there when she passed.

Mary: It’s rumored that Bobby became depressed when she passed away because he missed her friendship and their love. Aww, such a sweet story. It’s so funny how you see someone like Rebekah being such a harsh, aggressive, man-type of power house… she’s a masculine-female in a male’s world. But she also has a sweet, compassionate side of her too.

I wanted to showcase all of Rebekah’s influences: spiritual, artistic, dance, philosophical, and love.

I also find it fascinating that she did wonderful for so many different dancers of color, like Alvin Aley, who was an incredible dancer. Back in this time, black dancers didn’t have a big shot at getting to the main stage. Rebekah gave them that the leg up… Alvin is one of the most famous black dancers she brought up. He helped her choreograph some of her dances, he traveled with her.

Rebekah also wrote music. She was involved in every facet of art. She donated a lot of money to medicine, to help people with disabilities.

It is so funny that she had such a wild side to her— in fact, she once got kicked off of a cruise ship! She got caught skinny-dipping, she stripped down to nothing!

Kristina: She threw a plate at the conductor of the Philippines welcome band… so much scandal!

Mary: It’s all so scandalous! Of course, that brings me to the key lime dog! Which, I read was a cat… not a dog, at all. Tell me, what have you learned about that from Craig Unger’s book?!

Kristina: Yes! So it was not a dog, it was a cat. It also was not her neighbor’s, but a house guest’s! Rebekah was always playing pranks on people, that was something she was known for, but in this particular instance, the house guest did something that Rebekah didn’t like… then Rebekah dyed the cat green as revenge!

Mary: No way!! How funny! Here’s another part of the painting I wanted to talk about, the Chalice of Life.

The Chalice of Life, illustration by Om Nair

“That’s odd,” you may think, “what is that for?” Rebekah actually had this chalice created for her by Salvador Dalí, and I actually really like how you explained the chalice in your book.

Kristina: Thank you! My book is historical fiction, so I obviously took some creative liberties as I am not totally sure what happened. I believe that Dalí was encouraging Rebekah to think about her immortality, and I think they may have had some conversations about the circular nature of life and reincarnation. Here is the excerpt from Lucky:

Much of the time Dalí spent in Watch Hill was under the guise of work. That summer, he began construction of a special, custom piece of art for Rebekah. The Chalice of Life: and 18-karat yellow gold urn, adorned with twisting tree roots, diamond branches, and sapphire butterflies. The urn twirled mechanically, like a tiny dancer in a music box. One day, the urn would hold Rebekah’s ashes.

“Dalí’s Chalice of Life is Mae West’s (Rebekah’s) Holy Grail: it’s how you live in beauty forever!”

Dalí had a strong belief in reincarnation: the transmigration of the soul after death. When we was young, his parents taught him that he was the incarnation of his older brother— a boy also named Salvador, who died nine months to the day before Dalí was born.

After Dalí told Rebekah the story of his family, he easily convinced her that she had been an Egyptian princess in her past life. “Cleopatra!” Dalí proclaimed. “In the Chalice of Life, Mae West will be a princess in her next life, too.”

Lucky, Kristina Parro

Mary: I enjoyed learning that her daughter— whom with she had a tumultuous relationship— found she couldn’t fit in the urn. The chalice was too small! Her ashes were disposed of in a different manner, I guess, and the chalice went to Japan.

Kristina: Yes! It was sold off, as part of her estate. I think that is part of the true tragedy of Rebekah’s story. She pictured herself having a dignified end; she imagining her essence twirling around in the gilded chalice for eternity. The reality of her situation, however, was much different than she had pictured. Her remains were taken home in a plastic grocery store bag, as she didn’t fit into the urn. Then, with all the controversy surrounding her will and estate, I think the chalice was sold a few weeks after her death. It’s so interesting to think about. She spent so much money, thought and time on the Chalice. It was part of her legacy, and it didn’t play out like she expected it to.

Mary: One thing I liked about your book was that you talked about mathematics and the Golden Ratio. I don’t know what is truth or fiction with that, but I did use the Golden Ratio, actually, in this painting. I often do that with my works. So, to me, it is really full circle. Your book beautifully describes the Golden Ratio, and it is something we use so much in classical art. It works sort of like a conch shell— how things keep going inwards and inwards and inwards, or outwards and outwards and outwards into infinity.

Kristina: The Golden Ratio is such a beautiful thing to think about. I originally started learning more about the Golden Ratio when I was analyzing folklore’s lyrics, while I was probing into the pieces, myths, and stories. Somehow, I came across this book about the Golden Ratio by Mario Livio. It is just fascinating to me how, in folklore and Blue Blood, there are so many parallels and references to things related to the Golden Ratio. Then, too, Salvador Dalí— something that is interesting about him, is that there is quite a bit of footage available of him on YouTube— and towards the end of his life, he became obsessed with the Golden Ratio. He thought it held the key to understanding the secret of life. There were just so many weird and serendipitous connections throughout the whole web I had uncovered, that I can’t help but really feel I stumbled upon something profound.

Mary: There is, in fact, in the museum in St. Petersburg a lot of talk about Dalí’s interest in the Golden Ratio. He is most famous for surrealism, but later in his career, he really went back to the classics. He became more religious, spiritual. That’s when he started painting huge canvases. They are beautiful. It is worth taking the time to see some of those of those works.

One last thing! I want to talk about the cards. Rebekah folded her hand, she had bad cards. You can see the little “hmph” in her face. She isn’t happy with the hand she was dealt— symbolically and literally in the painting— and Dalí’s face/expression is like “ha! I won!” Dalí has a flush for his hand of cards, but Taylor Swift, she has a full house. It means she has a full house in Holiday House; she has a full house of memories with everyone visiting and all of their stories; and that Taylor has many more stories to tell. She’s letting us see that, she’s letting us see that part of her world. She’s expanding to new horizons— philosophical, artistic. I just am so happy for her! It’s so remarkable. She is an inspiration to artists, authors, philosophers, visual artists, and everything in between. I was really happy to join in. This painting was truly a work of love.

Kristina: I can tell. The detail and deep meaning is so precise and evident. You have truly done a tremendous job capturing this story. I am quite honestly obsessed with your painting. Is this your personal painting? Is it for sale? What is the situation?

Mary: I have had people interested in purchasing it, but I’m holding onto it at the moment. I eventually would like this to go to Watch Hill. I think this piece belongs in Holiday House. So, Taylor Swift, if you’re out there and reading this, CALL ME!

Kristina: CALL ME, TOO!

Mary: Call her, too! We want to bring forward your stories. I may be selling prints down the road, but I am giving away prints right now on my Instagram. Each one is signed!

Kristina: Yes! Do not miss Mary’s giveaway contest of this painting on Instagram! It is going on for the next few weeks. Make sure you follow Mary’s instagram page!

Mary: Yes! And I actually have a blog, too. It is MaryLaGarde.com! I have a blog about this painting that explains each character in more detail.

Kristina: I loved reading that blog. I also think it is so cool that you went to Watch Hill and experienced the energy of Holiday House. I think that place is fascinating— it is so powerful, in terms of universal energy exchange— that that particular place has lured so many of time’s most high-energy people over the last 150+ years. It makes me think about the time-space boundary… and I think that this story brings up philosophical thoughts in that nature. So, I am just happy we connected today and can’t wait to possibly chat more in the future.

Mary: Me too. I also hope everyone out there stays safe. We need to fight through this together. I know that you have experienced the trauma working in healthcare, and many people out there are experiencing trauma. We just need to stick together, now more than ever. Do what you can, do your part, and we will move forward.

Kristina: What a beautiful message. With that, we will let you go, but don’t forget to check out Mary’s blog for even more info about her painting ‘A Marvelous Time.’ By the way, I noticed your blog post was posted on June 10, which happens to be the same date that my book, Lucky, came out! I found that to be so funny!

Mary: Really? Wow, that is ironic.

Mary and Kristina (literally at the same time): Serendipitous!

folklore/evermore analysis with English Teacher KP (Part 3)

If you missed Part 1, check it out here.

Topics covered in Part 1: perspective is reality, art is a reflection of the society around it, why Taylor Swift is our generation’s Shakespeare, and the Hero’s Journey.

If you missed Part 2, check it out here.

Topics covered: epiphany, invisible string, the juxtaposition of free will and fate, bonus tracks, karma, and more!

English Teacher KP: What were your thoughts about Taylor Swift’s use of season imagery throughout folklore/evermore— references to winter, summer, specific months? I loved it because, obviously we talk about the hero’s journey and everything being cyclical. What is more cyclical than the seasons? Winter will come, but spring will follow.

Kristina: I have been doing a lot of deep diving into ancient history, philosophy, mythology, the foundations of Western thinking, and even the beginning of language during this past year. I think that the change of seasons is something that is echoed in the greatest art and literature because it’s a universal constant. It’s something like fate or karma, it’s part of our circle of life. I think there is also the idea here of the hero’s journey and death/rebirth. What are your thoughts?

KP: I completely agree. I love, like in august, she doesn’t want the summer to end. That’s such a universal feeling, not wanting summer to end, not wanting to go back to school or leave vacation. Summer is exciting, but then fall comes and things get more drab. Things start to die. Then in winter, everything is dead. It’s interesting that some of the more sad songs happen during winter and have Christmas references and reference the gray of it all. But then, there is also rebirth… in Spring, everything starts to come alive again. It’s just another layer. I think she also uses summer sometimes to represent nostalgia. Sometimes, when we look back on something, it isn’t exactly what we think it is.

Kristina: Our memory is just our perception! That whole idea of perception is reality comes into play here. Does that mean reality is different for different people? There’s just so many questions that go along with that. I think that may be the direction Taylor’s music may be going… I hope she continues to explore some of those deep philosophical questions about what it means to be human. What does it mean to be alive? I think that modern day pop-stars— I see it with Taylor, Billie Eillish/Finneas, and others who write their own music— are philosophers in their own way. I think that the history books will also say a similar thing.

KP: It goes back to everything being a direct reflection of society. Artists are able to capture what we’re feeling as a society, the issues we’re facing as a society, what we believe, and what’s controversial. People who write their own music are so in tune. It’s what I love about poetry. I always say I wish I were a poet.

One of my favorite poetry quotes is, “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.” If a writer is living in the moment and in tune with what is happening with society, they become in tune with those feelings. Poetry starts flowing out. I think Taylor writes music because she has to, her feelings are something she cant even contain.

Kristina: That’s how I felt when writing my book, Lucky! I had never considered myself much of a writer, but I started writing this book in September— September 18th, actually, was the day I first got access to a copy of Blue Blood by Craig Unger— and by April I had finished writing a 380-page book.

KP: That’s crazy, oh my gosh.

Kristina: I felt like I was using my book to process all of these complex feelings the pandemic was bringing up within me. Writing was all I wanted to do. I felt like it was hard to relate to people, it was more difficult to talk to other people. Everything just flowed out of me through the book. Now, I see so much more how using writing in my life helps me process complex emotions. I would recommend writing to everybody.

KP: I go back to Shakespeare. My students say, “How could he write 154 sonnets?! That’s crazy!” Well, what else was he supposed to do?! He was out of work. There was plague killing everyone. He was having problems with his family. He lost his son. He felt compelled to write through that. He was probably bursting! He had to write about it!

Kristina: It’s amazing because, still to this day, we’re studying him. We relate to him. What a legacy! Which brings up another theme of folklore/evermore… the idea of legacy. I see a realization in these albums. Taylor realizes that her story, her legacy, will not be just defined by what we’re talking about today. Her story— if you’re looking at her life statistically— her graph is so much bigger than she realized. Her legacy may be infinite. And wooh, what a realization!

KP: I think she also realized she could immortalize other people. Like in seven, with her friend, even though she can’t remember every detail she remembers how special that person was. Now, we will always be talking about how special that person is. It’s just like Sonnet 18, when Shakespeare says “I love you, bro. You’re amazing. Yeah, I know you’ll die but you’re actually going to live forever because people will read about you forever.” It’s kind of cocky, but true! It’s a similar thing with seven. Taylor remembers her childhood best friend and immortalizes her forever! She realized her power!

Kristina: I totally agree, but I have to say, seven has so many references to Rebekah Harkness, Blue Blood the biography, word-for-word references.

KP: Man! I need to read it!

Kristina: Yes!! But it’s really hard to find. There was only one edition ever published. You can buy it right now on Amazon for I think $900 and there are only three copies. It’s virtually impossible to find. If any of the people watching are in Chicago, you can find it at the Newberry Library, which is a circulation-only library downtown. But, you can only read it when you’re there!

KP: Wow, fascinating! I need to read that. I’ve heard other people say similar things, but I’m not familiar enough with Rebekah’s story…

Kristina: Let’s see if I can come up with some connections on the spot. In my opinion, seven has to do with Rebekah’s daughter, Edith. Edith was troubled. When she was 9, she first tried to commit suicide. At age 12, of the nannies told her to jump out of a window, and she did it. She does ultimately commit suicide, a few weeks after Rebekah died, with pills stolen from her mother’s death bed-side. Edith was beautiful; peculiar, but interesting. She was obsessed with Peter Pan… and we, of course, see a Peter Pan theme throughout folklore.

“I think your house is haunted, your dad is always mad and that must be why,” is an allusion to Rebekah Harkness (well actually Betty West, Rebekah’s childhood name). In Blue Blood, Craig Unger talks about how there was a rumor going around Betty’s school: her house was haunted. Her father, a business tycoon in St. Louis at the brink of the industrial revolution, was known for his temper. Betty’s friends from school wouldn’t come over to play at Betty’s house, because they were scared of her father.

There are quite a few references throughout folklore, especially, to Blue Blood and the story of Rebekah Harkness. I think Taylor spent a lot of time with that story as she was writing folklore in particular. I encoded a lot of this into my book. Now, trying to come up with exact examples on the spot, I can’t! Maybe sometime I can come on your YouTube channel and we can talk about the symbolism/ parallels between Blue Blood, folklore, and even my book Lucky!

KP: Yeah! I have alot of reading to do! I haven’t read much of Lucky yet, but just reading the prolouge…. You are a fantastic writer! I love reading literature but am not a very good writer, but I think you are very talented. I can’t wait to get the chance to read your book… it’s hard when you have a 5-year-old running around!

Kristina: I’ve tried to encode a lot of symbolism within my book, too. I think you’ll find it interesting. I went deep into mythology, philosophy, story-telling, the foundations of Western thinking. My journey started with my analysis of folklore and reading books Taylor mentioned.

Then, I uncovered a story that gave me so much hope… at a time when I felt so hopeless. Just the fact that an album can do that, and that one artist can have that type of influence on you is a really an amazingly powerful thing. I think that is a beautiful representation of Butterfly Effect/ The Chaos Theory. One small change within you can spark great change in the world around you. I think Taylor may have taken a journey into a more enlightened state over the years, and I think by listening to her music, a similar change can be sparked within you.

KP: What a testament to Taylor and her writing! She’s able to start the Butterfly Effect, or the domino effect… it’s amazing she can do that through her art.

Kristina: I think that’s the power of art, literature, and poetry. That’s why I am so excited that you’re on YouTube and spreading the knowledge! I think some of the answers to our problems can be found encoded in art, literature and music.

KP: And sometimes, the answers aren’t there! Some of my students have asked me, “How do you read the same book over and over and over again every single semester, every class, every day. How do you not get tired of it?!” And I would say, “every time I revisit it I think, what would I have done differently?” You’re forced to take on the perspective of someone else, it forces you to confront your own world-view and to think outside of your own bubble. I think that is so important. Taylor does that in a way that is literature. She forces people to think outside of the perspective where they normally sit. To me, that’s why I wanted to start my YouTube channel. I miss talking about literature. I miss analyzing things, having discussions. I got to ask my students “What would YOU do if you were in that situation.” I get to do that with songs/pop-culture. It really is the same thing as literature!

Kristina: Yes! I was talking about this with another author last week. We were talking about really good stories, but the same thing could be said about poems or song lyrics. The best stories change alongside each new person who experiences them. That includes you, as you read them over and over, you are a different person each time you listen to a song or read a story. I think that specifically songs, like poetry, is amazing because they are made up of small bits. Songs and poetry allows your mind to fill in the rest of your story for yourself.

folklore/evermore came out at a time that the world really needed them… when I really needed them. Thanks to Taylor Swift for creating magic in the chaos. Thank you to English Teacher KP for joining me on Instagram LIVE for this analysis/interview.

Make sure you check out my book, Lucky: A Novel (inspired by Taylor Swift’s folklore and the incredible true story of Standard Oil Heiress Rebekah Harkness).

Lucky is the story of the American Dream: an epic juxtaposition of glitter and tragedy. Two women- one pop-star, one heiress- are connected through the transcendental nature of time and space. Join America’s favorite pop-star, Rhea Harmonia, as she tumbles down an existential rabbit hole… through American history, Western thinking, math, music, philosophy, and time. Is the American Dream anything but a nightmare?

Follow us on Instagram: @kristinaparrowrites and @englishteacherKP

Subscribe to English Teacher KP on YouTube!

folklore/evermore analysis with English Teacher KP

Meet KP, YouTube’s favorite English teacher. She taught English in the classroom for 7.5 years before transitioning to teaching English online. The purpose of her channel is to share her love for English in a fun and engaging way— by analyzing popular music/literature. I was first introduced to English Teacher KP on Reddit after viewing one of her countless analyses of Taylor Swift songs. My initials are also KP, so right away, I knew we had a lot in common. I couldn’t wait to chat with her more.

Kristina: What originally drew you to Taylor Swift music?

English Teacher KP: I have been an Taylor fan since I was in 10th grade and Taylor’s first album came out. Teardrops on my Guitar and Tim McGraw are a few of my favorite songs. I’ve always liked how Taylor is unapologetic about writing and her own life experiences. She has never been afraid to put it all out there.

Kristina: Have you continued to relate to Taylor’s lyrics as you’ve gotten older?

English Teacher KP: Yes, but I also have love how she has matured. I feel like I have grown up with Taylor Swift. Now, Taylor’s not just writing from her own perspective, but she’s actually telling stories. It’s so beautiful and amazing… it’s what I love about folklore and evermore. She plays around with perspective. These two albums tell stories from multiple perspectives and show that nothing is one-sided. There is a grey area in life and love. folklore/evermore also show that perspective is reality.

It is very much like literature. Perspective is everything in literature.

Kristina: Agreed. Taylor has such a unique human perspective. She seems to be the pinnacle of fame, fortune, and even the American Dream. Taylor’s work can be so meaningful and inspiring because she’s sharing the perspective of someone who, deep down, many of us wish we could live like.

KP: For sure. Have you ever read the poem, The Barbie Doll by Marge Piercy?

Kristina: I haven’t!

KP: You need to! It reminds me so much about Taylor Swift. It talks about how she was born, perfect and beautiful… but also has so many expectations because of her beauty. My favorite line of the poem (and maybe one of my favorite similes in literature) is: “Her good nature wore out like a fan belt.” If you’ve ever seen Miss Americana, the Taylor Swift documentary, that’s what she talks about. Miss Americana shows that Taylor had all this pressure on her to be skinny, to stay out of politics… but now, it seems that she is working to shed the expectations and just be who she is. I love it, because I think many artists are scared to do that.

Kristina: I mean, it is scary to bare yourself to the world and be authentic… even in your day-to-day life, not to mention on a world stage. Taylor is unique in that way. What do you think that knowing more about the artist behind the music/ author behind the story contributes to your interpretation of the piece of art?

KP: I honestly try to leave that out of it. I love literary criticism. I love the idea that once the text is written, it’s alive. It’s living and breathing… it’s totally separate from the author. There was a whole movement in literature called “Death of the Author.” Now, the text can mean whatever you want it to mean, as long as you have textual evidence to back it up. Sometimes that is difficult, but I try to leave what I know about Taylor out of it… because her work is art and it means so much to so many different people.

Kristina: I watched your mirrorball analysis video and wrote down a similar sentiment, which was followed by “art and literature is a direct reflection of the society around it.” I like the idea of folklore and evermore being pieces of pandemic art… I think that these two albums will be studied for years to come as a part of this crazy time we all just experienced, a period of collective trauma.

KP: I completely agree. I’ve said this countless times, and people probably think I’m crazy, but I believe that Taylor Swift’s music will be studied the way Shakespeare is studied. His sonnets were written during a time that theaters were shut down and people couldn’t go out because of plague. When you go back and look at his sonnets, you can see that. I think that is going to happen with folklore and evermore, exactly like you are saying. Taylor is just so good. I can’t imagine more teachers not jumping on the Taylor Swift train. When I was in the classroom, I used her lyrics all the time. You can do the same thing with a Taylor Swift song that you can with a sonnet.

Kristina: Absolutely! There’s so much deep meaning and complex references in her music that an entire college course could be taught about one album! Especially folklore/evermore. What would you say are some of the biggest themes you see in these albums? We can talk about them individually or them linked, because there are obviously a lot of shared connections between the two.

KP: If we are talking about “theme” as a “universal takeaway”— that is the definition we would use in literature— I think the idea is that love is a gray moral area. Life, and love, are not black and white situations. Take the love triangle from folklore… that is a perfect example. In betty, James gets a lot of hate. But if you honestly listen to it, you feel bad for him because you’re seeing HIS perspective. In august, you see another perspective, and so your feelings change. Perspective is everything. People are not good, or bad, or right, or wrong. Taylor does such a good job depicting that as another theme throughout both albums. Like in exile… you get both perspectives in a dissolving relationship. No one’s right or wrong. It’s gray.

Kristina: That reminds me of art being a reflection of the society around us. How many of us have been taught that there IS a “right path” and that there is a “good way” to act? “Be careful if you end up on the “wrong path”,” we’re warned, “because of the monsters lurking in the shadows.”

I was an essential healthcare worker during the pandemic who worked in a nursing home as an SLP. My nursing home got hit hard with COVID at the beginning of the pandemic. Right then, I noticed shift in my own perspective. I used to think that, by being a healthcare worker, I was doing the “right thing” or the “good thing.” But then, as the pandemic played out and I realized that I didn’t get hazard pay or sick time to cover me in the case I got COVID, I ultimately quit my job and began to focus on writing full time. That is not something I would have been able to do without the realization that doing the thing that you think is “right or good” isn’t always the right thing for you to do.

KP: We talked about mirrorball earlier, which symbolizes reflection. Really, both albums are filled with reflection. You can see with many songs, such as long story short and closure, how Taylor has gone through a journey of self reflection, revelation; then how she moved on. There’s this “hero journey” archetype throughout, and I think Taylor’s own journey plays out in both albums.

Kristina: Oh yeah. There are some deep themes related to mythology throughout the albums as well. The idea of the “hero archetype” goes back to mythology. I discovered something similar as I was writing my book. I talk about the idea of the hero, villain, and rescuer… and how those are three roles you can see in the stories around you. Being the hero is fine and dandy, but there is a fine line because the line between good and evil. You don’t want to be the victim. And then with the rescuer, the line between being the hero and victim is very thin again.

KP: I love that, because it also begs the question: you may be the hero in YOUR story, but what are you in someone else’s story? You may be the villain, or the victim. It again goes back to perspective. That’s what I love about these albums… there is so much interconnected. You peel back layer after layer and uncover a masterpiece.

Kristina: It’s true… and perspective is reality. Another theme I noticed that you kept coming back to in your lyric analysis videos is the idea of death and rebirth, of new beginnings. I notice that, throughout folklore and evermore, and even in Taylor’s entire discography, are allusions to a “cycle of life.”

KP: I think the music video for willow is a great example of that. In willow, she goes into a dark place, some may call it the abyss of the hero’s journey… everyone’s wearing hoods and looking kind of sketchy. She follows the golden thread out, and that’s the idea of “rebirth”. This reminds me of the hero’s journey archetype. Part of that story is when the hero goes through something really bad or dark, leading to transformation and atonement. Afterwards, the hero is reborn.

Kristina: If you think about Taylor’s entire collection of music, you see that. Taylor was so celebrated at the beginning of her career… and then we had the album, reputation. Taylor wrote some great poetry during that era, like Why She Disappeared. “And in the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive.” I would imagine this idea has been on Taylor’s mind since about then.

KP: Yes, I think reputation was a huge turning point for her. You can see that it was a huge turning point in her music and the themes you were seeing in her music… that was a time of incredible transformation for her.

Kristina: I think our entire world needs transformation right now, and that may be why Taylor’s music is resonating with people so deeply.

Part 2 is coming soon, where KP and I talk more folklore/evermore themes including: fate, death/rebirth, cycle of life, seasons, legacy and more!

Wall Street Bets and Game Stop Squeeze: A Short Story

Gather ‘round, my friends. It’s story time.

Once upon a time, a few days ago, the short interest on Game Stop (GME) was 140% and the shares hit $490. It began to experience a short squeeze.

But what does this mean??

Let’s think about it in terms of a drug dealer… we’ll call our hypothetical drug dealer, Melvin Citadel, off the character’s inspiration.

Melvin sells MDMA. There’s a big concert coming up. Everyone wants to be like Miley, at the concert, dancing with molly.

“So, la-da-di-da-di, we like to party… and we can’t stop, and we won’t stop.”

Melvin borrows 1400 “pills” to return later and pay interest on them, even though only 1000 exist. How can he do this?

Melvin never actually holds the MDMA—he isn’t about the drug life. He’s a businessman. You can’t get high on your own supply. He borrows the pills and will return them when they’re cheaper in the future. He then pockets the change.

He has a plan — if he can sell the pills for cheaper and the local drug dealer goes out of business, then he will make a much better return on his investment.

So that’s what he does, or tries to do.

Trying to drive the friendly neighborhood drug dealer, Game Stop, out of business, Melvin drove the price of the MDMA down to $4. Melvin secretly hopes that the price of MDMA goes down to $0.

Remember, there’s only 1000 MDMA pills.

Game Stop sees what’s happening, however, and isn’t going to go down without a fight. Game Stop buys 100 MDMA pills from Melvin, all they can afford. Their friends at Wall Street Bets like MDMA too, and they buy 100 MDMA pills. Now there are only 800 MDMA pills left on the streets.

Another big investor, came in and gobbled up 300 MDMA pills. Now, there are only 500 pills left on the streets, but Melvin still need to return 1400 pills.

The price of MDMA skyrockets because the big investor decides to start selling MDMA online. Now, everyone is interested in MDMA pills.

There’s always been options available on MDMA pills. When the price starts to go up, higher option prices start being written. When the higher option prices are bought, the people (banks, etc) who write the options buy pills in case the options are exercised. This is called gamma hedging. This causes the price of the pills to go up even higher.

Someone at Wall Street Bets realized the situation that Melvin was in and the Reddit army buys more MDMA pills to fuck with Melvin. They like their neighborhood dealer, Game Stop. They don’t want him to go out of business. They don’t like Melvin. Melvin has been getting away with this kind of stuff for ages—at the expense of many of their families. The Reddit army buy 200 more pills.

The price of the MDMA pill rises from $4 to over $400, because demand far outweighed supply.

As the supply of MDMA on the streets dwindled, Melvin tried his hardest to manipulate the price of the drug.

See, Melvin and his friends invested in Robinhood, a marketplace where MDMA is sold.

Robinhood customers buy and sell drugs, as a gateway between regular people and Market Makers like Melvin. On RH, the trades don’t “settle” or “close” until 2 days later. Depending on the net of buys/sells, RH is on the hook to pay or receive money to cover the buys and sells of the drugs. That’s called credit risk. Gap risk measure is, then, their exposure to interest rate risk.

RH decided to only allow people to sell their MDMA vs buy more MDMA, which of course, caused the price to plummet d/t artificially decreased demand in order to decrease their gap risk measure. RH’s CEO got on national television and admitted to doing so to decrease the price of MDMA back to what, he thinks, is normal levels.

This is illegal.

There are rumors that Melvin encouraged RH to do this, because Melvin’s debts are starting to get called in and he is worried about paying for it.

Because Melvin sold more MDMA pills than they are on the market, the people who own MDMA pills get to determine their price. Melvin knows that soon he will have to pay any price to return the pills he borrowed.

Legend says, the price could go up to $10,000… as long as you exercise the same caution as Melvin: never get high on your own supply.

Importance of Myths in 2021

For those who don’t know me personally, I am a speech-language pathologist who specializes in working with medically-complex adults.

“But, I thought speech therapists just worked with kids who have lisps, though,” you may be thinking.

SLPs actually have many tools in their belt, to rehabilitate disorders related to speech, language, cognitive-communication, and feeding/swallowing across the lifespan. To the surprise of many, a Master’s degree is required to get certified to be an SLP.

I brag, to help explain my vast knowledge of language. Lately, I’ve become fascinated by what we can learn from it.

If you read my last blog post, you may have learned a new word: etymology. Maybe you looked up a few words on etymonline.com

Etymology is the study of the origin of words. Etymologies are not definitions; they are explanations of what modern words meant and sounded like hundreds of thousands of years ago. A word’s etymology can help make sense of invasions, migrations, and popular culture over time.

If there’s interest, I will explain this in further detail in an upcoming blog post, but I’ll try to, quickly, give you the main idea.

It turns out, most of our modern words can be traced to a theorized common ancestor—the Proto-Indo Europeans. The picture below, obtained from the Guardian, maps how languages have become, overtime. Just like humans, language is constantly changing and evolving.

Map of world languages, compiled by The Guardian

Almost all common English words stem from the European branch of the “Proto-Indo European tree.” This group has the prefix, “Proto-,“ because they are literally a prototype; a reasoned hypothesis of the language spoke between 4500 BC to 2500 BC.

The history of words can give us an unprecedented look into history throughout time, as they are, maybe, as close as you can get to a first-hand, un-biased historical account. It can also help us reinterpret the words of our ancient, intellectual fore founders.

Okay… time for what you came for.

Let’s talk about myths!

Etymology of myth, from Etsy online.com

The word, myth, is one that is difficult for us to define; probably because the word itself is a mystery, even to linguists and historians. It doesn’t have a proto-European root. It can’t be traced back; but experts believe that it may have been coined before the Intellects of Ancient Greece.

The word myth, just like the idea of it, mystically graced human-kind—through music.

Homer and Hesiod were ancient poets, who wrote ‘epic poetry.’ They travelled around Europe and the Middle East in ~700 B.C, sharing their stories with ‘hoi polloi,’ or ignorant masses. Homer and Hesiod called themselves ‘aodoi,’ a word that meant singer or bard. The word myth was first found written down in Homer’s work.

I like to think of Homer and Hesiod as modern day pop stars.

Like modern day pop stars, they were… worshipped, almost like false gods. Plato documented in his book, Republic, that Homer and the aodois knew “all the arts and all things pertaining to virtue, vice, and all things divine.” Their word, to Plato, was very close to the word of the gods.

Most of their poems, or songs, were long, winding narratives about heroes and war. Looking closer, you can see that their work articulated in writing, for the first time, a physical and moral/social order of the universe. Their work heavily influenced ancient philosophers and intellects.

Since the mid-1800’s, however, myth began to carry a connotation of “untrue,” “a rumor,” “fiction.” People began to prefer true stories, first hand accounts, stories about real lives. People began looking at myths with disdain. They became banned from schools.

And along the way, myths lost their magic.

No longer do children gather together to hear stories about courageous kings, scary monsters, beautiful but jealous gods and intelligent but promiscuous goddesses.

Myths, however, still are important.

Myths have such a deep history, they lie at the very foundation of Western thought.

Myths are something that helped our intellectual forefathers, like Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, interpret the world around them. Myths may also be how they passed on life lessons. Ancient philosophers, such as Parmenides (the father of deductive logic), understood myth (along with ‘logos,’ rational discourse) as crucial to his understanding (and potential mastering) of the universe.

Myths can’t be explained.

Like a joke, once you try to explain or prove a myth, you destroy it. Myth-telling is diametrically opposed from explanatory thinking or “science.” Still, if you look, you find them to be omnipresent—in literature, film, art, music and playing out in real life.

Myths are functional and attempt to explain.

Carl Jung believed that our psychological archetypes could be found in the fabrics of myths. Many have considered myths to be styles of existence. You study myths to recognize them, but you’ll never catch one in your net.

Myths can teach us lessons.

A return to Greek myths, in particular, help us understand the three high points in human cultural existence; the Romans, the Reinessance and the Romantic Periods. They may even be able to help us understand how (and if) human-kind has gone astray.

Myths are almost synonymous with language.

Plato understood myth to be synonymous with “oral literature.” For an ethnologist, myth is a “message or set of messages that a social group thinks it has received from its ancestors and that it transmits orally from generation to generation.”

It sounds like the ancients’ definition of ‘myth’ is kind of like… our modern definition for ‘folkore,’ doesn’t it?

Folklore album primer; the highlighted section reads: “A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible. Speculation, over time, becomes fact. Myths, ghost stories, and fables. Fairytales and parables. Gossip and lend. Someone’s secrets written in the sky for all to behold.” rights belong to Taylor Swift

We can think of folklore as a modern take on mythology. Folklore recognizes that good stories are added to and changed over time, but still have an important message. The core of every good story is transcendent. It doesn’t matter who tells it, the message is the same.

Why should we study myths?

It is not about learning all of the details, understanding the conflicting family trees and who defeated who… It is important to learn to think mythically. If you do, and study the Greek myths, they will open you wider. Myths can humble the ego. They teach us that injustice will always be met, in some way or another. They can consciously and subconsciously influence your perception of what is real and what is true.

Myths are stories of the collective unconscious playing out. However, the story-teller will never be able to tell you what the story means. You have to abduct it, yourself. A curious mind, is often an intelligent one.

I’ll leave you with these beautiful Barbara Streisand lyrics, from one of my favorite musicals. Into the Woods.

Children Will Listen

How do you say to your child in the night

Nothing is all black but then nothing is all white?

How do you say it will all be alright

When you know that it mightn’t be true?

What do you do?

Careful the things you say

Children will listen

Careful the things you do

Children will see

And learn

Children may not obey

But children will listen

Children will look to you

For which way to turn

To learn what to be

Careful before you say

“Listen to me”

Children will listen

Careful the wish you make

Wishes are children

Careful the path they take

Wishes come true

Not free

Careful the spell you cast

Not just on children

Sometimes the spell may last

Past what you can see

And turn against you

Careful the tale you tell

That is the spell

Children will listen

How can you say to a child who’s in flight

Don’t slip away and I won’t hold so tight?

What can you say that no matter how slight won’t be misunderstood?

What do you leave to your child when you’re dead

Only what ever you put in its head

Things that your mother and father had said

Which were left to them too

Careful what you say, children will listen

Careful you do it too, children will see and learn, oh

Guide them but step away

Children will glisten

Temper with what is true

And children will turn

If just to be free

Careful before you say

“Listen to me”

Children will listen

Children will listen

Children will listen

Welcome to Logos!

Hey, I’m Kristina Parro. Welcome to Logos.

My debut novel, Lucky, is coming soon.

Lucky is a modern-day allegory; an epic juxtaposition of glitter and tragedy, told through the eyes of two women who are connected through the transcendental nature of time and space. The women are connected through the unlikely coincidences that make up our human experience.

Both have extremely unique perspectives on the world. That was, originally, what piqued my attention.

Lucky tells both women’s stories, as well as my own journey through history, philosophy, math, music and time.

One is the story of an unlikely heiress, who stole away with today’s equivalent of ~$2 billion and proceeded to burn it all, in an epic fulfillment of her familial proverb, ‘shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves.’

The other story begins with a young girl who just wants to make music and be loved. In a curious chain of events, she becomes an international superstar. Her rational outlook on the world, which in large part helped her rise to that level of success, ultimately is her downfall. She gets to the top, looks around, and wonders,”is this it? Is this really what all of that was for?”

Lucky cover mock up; photos by Aleen Olivares

Rationality can get in the way of good fun. Sometimes, when you mix rationality with a good story, it becomes impossible to unsee the truth.

Writing a book is a funny thing. Some days it seems like an impossible feat, like if I tried to run a marathon or ski Mt. Everest. At the end of the day though, a book is just a bunch of words. You string the words together and, suddenly, you have a story.

As a speech-language pathologist, I’ve always been fascinated by the way words work; their history, their deep meaning, and how they can be broken into smaller parts. A single word can help you understand invasions, migrations, and popular culture throughout time. A single word can teach you things that school books never would.

Words are little symbols that can help us puzzle together a rational view of the inexplicable things that makes us human. Without the right story teller, however, at the end of the day, words are just that.

Here’s a key lesson that I’ve learned this past year: a story is greater than its string of individual words. The whole has always been greater than the sum of its parts.

Logos’ logo; the butterfly effect of reason

So to properly introduce my new endeavor, Logos Books, let’s start with a story.

Close your eyes and go back in time, to maybe mid-February 2020, pre-pandemic. Our story is set in a neighborhood bar, one of my old haunts on Division St., in Wicker Park, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

Outside, the world is turning white. A flurry of snowflakes, no two alike, fall on late-comers, waiting in line outside of the bar. A giant black SUV, an Uber, pulls up to the curb, dirtying the fresh white carpet of snow.

You can’t see all of this from inside the bar, of course. The windows are frosted and cloudy. The heat, inside, is turned on high. Your coat, which had been hanging on the back of the bar stool, has fallen to the ground. You reach down to pick it up.

Minor characters mill about—a teetering 19-year old, trying to get past the security guard in front; the horny college girls hanging on the bar top, searching for a sense of belonging; the tired bartender with his eyes glued to the clock, yearning for 3am.

The main characters in this story are pictured above.

Paired Pathos, we’ll consider them to be intertwined as one character for purposes of this story, Cool Ethos, and Logical Logos are integral to any story. It’s fitting then, that they have leading roles in this one. Of course, there is another important character in today’s story—you.

You’re sitting alone at you favorite spot at the bar, a few stools away from the door, nursing a $13 hand-crafted cocktail. It’s happy hour. For the past five minutes, you’ve stared at the cup, pondering the perfectly spiraled lemon peel balancing on top of the golden liquid inside.

As if an answer to your dreams, Paired Pathos appears next to you; a giggling, shiny mirage.

You look at them and smile. Accepting your smile as an invitation, they begin to speak

“Let me tell you a story,” they say, in perfect, disturbing unison. They, then, begin to speak. Pathos’ goal? To convince you of something.

Pathos’ story might play at your heartstrings, invoke pity or outrage, or tickle your imagination. But whatever it is, it ignites a fire inside of you. It makes you feel something.

Still, you aren’t convinced. Your emotions can’t be explained. They are irrational. You make a deduction. Pathos must be irrational. They can’t be trusted.

You send Pathos away.

A few minutes later, Cool Ethos grabs the seat next to you at the bar. “Whiskey, on the rocks,” he tells the bar tender, with a million dollar grin.

You find yourself in a similar situation as the one before.

With Ethos, however, you start with a great sense of trust. You believe what he has to say from the get-go.

Ethos’ reputation proceeds him; his outside appearance matches the rumors. When Ethos begins to speak, you become even more impressed by how articulate he is.

But, as impressed as you are with Ethos’ street cred, you realize that his words are empty. You aren’t convinced.

You send Ethos away, too.

Finally, Logical Logos arrives. She begins to speak, in a clear, rational tone.

“I’m going to tell you a story, about an old man you may remember from math class or philosophy—Pythagoras of Samos.”

Pythagoras (Art by J. Augustus Knapp, circa 1926)

She continues, “…and yes, I’m talking about the same Pythagoras responsible for the Pythagorean theorem. Calculating the sides of a right triangle.

“Now, I must start with a warning.

“Do not believe everything I’m about to tell you. Some of it may be true, some might not. But always remember this: details are not what is important in a story.

“The story I’m about to tell you reads more like a riddle. It may seem silly, on the surface.

“The purpose of stories like these, however, are to help you understand some greater truths about yourself and the world around you. Anyways, let’s get to it.

“Pythagoras was an ancient philosopher, mathematician, educator, musician and astronomer. He was one of history’s main men of logic. His way of thinking lies at the foundation of the way modern humans, especially in Western cultures, think about the world.

“Pythagoras believed that “reality” is mathematical and that numbers have abstract, but significant, attributes that explain how our universe operates. Pythagoras is known for this quote, “all is number.”

“Keep in mind, Pythagoras lived long ago; a time when the world was largely thought of as flat and long before Boston Market began selling $3.14 pies on Pi Day… Every number was thought to be rational. Just like man.

“It was extremely important to Pythagoras that man is clear in his thinking. He was confident that reality was understandable to humans via reason. Through rationality, humans could find ultimate truth. Through rationality, humans could experience their optimal levels of well-being.

“Legend has it, Pythagoras was quite the clever philosopher. He never wrote his teachings down, but he went around telling people what he knew. He developed a group of followers. They called themselves the Pythagoreans.

“Pretty soon, however, a Pythagorean, named Hubble, made a horrible discovery.

“Hubble and some other Pythagoreans were sailing, out at sea, probably making idle chitchat about mathematics and the stars. Talk turned to the theorem.

“Hubble said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about Pythagoras’ theorem, late at night, while looking at the sky and I’ve identified something truly horrifying. When you take a look at the theorem backwards, you must take the square root of some numbers. Let’s use the number 2, for example. The square root of 2 is an incommensurable number. It isn’t whole. It isn’t rational. In fact, I’d say that the number that is computed is, in fact, irrational!”

“Excited murmurs flew about on the small boat. A consensus was reached. “You should tell Pythagoras about this!”

“The next week, Hubble took Pythagoras out to sea and told him his discovery. It was a sunny day and the water was blue. One the boat, was just the two of them.

Pythagoras quickly dispelled Hubble’s notion of irrationality. “Nonsense!” he cried.

“Then, according to legend, Hubble slipped off the boat and drowned.

“The End.”

As Logos finishes her story, despite the answers not being crystal clear, you realize that somewhere deep in your brain, her words are ones you already knew.

You decide to keep logos around.

Logos, pathos, and ethos have long been considered “the argument’s best friend.” Coined by Aristotle, these words describe three modes of persuasion that have been used to convince audiences across centuries.

For a more modern interpretation, I’d also argue that logos, pathos, and ethos explain how we story and interpret the world around us. A simple diagram is helpful here.

Logos + Pathos + Ethos = how we story and interpret life

Now of course, most of the time, we don’t use any one of these methods in isolation. We constantly integrate emotions, logic, and surface-level perceptions, consciously or subconsciously, into the very essence of who we are and the way we think. Logos, pathos, and ethos are woven in the golden threads that make up our view of reality.

Over time, however, the idea of logos became understood in a way juxtaposed from Aristotle’s original meaning. Now, logos is synonymous with the idea of rationality. Rationality has facts and evidence to back it up. Rationality can be physically proven.

But here’s the thing, rationality itself is inherently irrational. Thus, it is irrational to believe that our perception of reality is the ultimate truth.

Let’s bring your attention back to me for a second; I’ve had many interesting and life-changing professional experiences since graduating from Rush University with my Masters of Science.

One of those experiences was under the instruction of Holly Shapiro, Ph.D., a real-life linguistics queen.

She developed a revolutionary method of teaching kids (from as early as kindergarten, and even those with dyslexia) how to read, using a “whole language approach” to learning. She taught me to truly discover words. Holly believes if someone truly understands a word’s structure, parts, uses through time, and history, they won’t misuse it and will always be able to read it.

Her methods are revolutionary to me, as I become more mindful of the shortcomings of my own perception of reality. So much of my reality is made of the language, the words, around me; language we’re taught, language we perceive, language we understand, and language we don’t.

So, to learn more about the idea of logos, I turned to etymonline.com, an online etymology dictionary. Etymology the study of the origin of words and the way their meanings have changed throughout time.

History of the word, logos, from etymonline.com

The word logos came from Ancient Greece. It connotes the same ideas as “word, speech, statement, discourse, computation, account, and reason.” It comes from a word used by the Proto-Indo Europeans (PIE), leg-, which meant, “to collect or gather;” with derivatives meaning “to speak,” or “pick out words.”

I hear something, like the voice of Aristotle, whispering softly in my ear. “Tell stories.”

Logos is far more than just the ability to make private feelings public. Logos makes it possible for humans to do what no other animal can. Logos conveys truth and wisdom. Logos helps us puzzle together a factual, more true, understanding of reality.

Logos is reasoned discourse about the correct order of the world. It is the collective “why” behind a meaningful life. Logos is anchored in the unknown, yet mysteriously gives us words to express the beauty of the human experience.

Logos, according to Dr. Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto, is the idea that will transcend all truth.

He believes that Western civilization will die without rebirth of the logos. And he gives quite a convincing, rational argument. If you think about it, even our economic theories are described as tragedies. Why wouldn’t the story of Western civilization end in a tragedy?

Still—what is to be, hasn’t happened yet. I believe we have the power to write our own stories and control our own destinies.

The word logos, and the importance of it’s fundamental meaning, needs to be reimagined for the 21st century and beyond. Logos can be a new way of thinking about the most fundamental questions of human nature and the universe.

2020 was a year characterized by polarization, division, fake news, and overwhelmingly, collective tragedy. Despite this, I believe our logos has remained, buried; simply lost in metaphor.

If you look hard enough, logos can be found in art, music, drama, literature and tragedy. Logos can be found in the works of Bach, Leonardo Da’ Vinci, Salvador Dali, and Taylor Swift.

If we have the power to write our own stories, I choose to write this one.

“The year was 2021. It was impossible to know at the time, as it inevitably is when one is zoomed in and focused on the details, but human kind was on the cusp of a Renaissance.

This new-fangled age of Enlightenment was one in which logos helped them understand, in an articulate manner, the purpose of human kind in this infinite, irrational universe. It was the year that humans discovered the way to move forward, is through harmony and love.

Plato once said, “all learning is, is remembering something you already know.”

Logos leads us, as individuals, to a harmonious state of being that is no longer rife with contradictions. I believe the answers to our ultimate truths lie somewhere around there, as well.

Welcome to Logos! From my journey, this is what I give you:

Reality is the ocean, our laws are the ship.

Many have never left the ship, jumped into the sea.

Jump in with me.

How do “social relationships” affect your health?

As Aristotle first noted, humans are social animals.  Social relationships are inherent, but not unique to the human species.  We are genetically designed to operate inside a framework of a group of familiar faces.  That does not mean, however, that individuals automatically love others they don’t know, just because they are humans.  We are picky about who we develop relationships with – relationships, outside of the family unit, come from the perfect recipe of similar interests, confidence, communication styles, and timing.

Certainly, both the quality and quantity of our social relationships have an affect on us. We have seen many real-world examples of how social isolation can lead to harrowing outcomes. Just look at the the bullied teenager who commits suicide, or prisoner of war who is psychologically tortured by use of social isolation. Social isolation of otherwise healthy, well-functioning individuals eventually results in psychological and physical decay, and possibly death.

In less extreme situations, our day-to-day social relationships still have a large effect on our mental health, health behavior, physical health, and risk of death. Studies show that social relationships, from childhood to adulthood, have short term and long term effects on wellness and can cause advantages or disadvantages in health. Over the past few decades, social scientists have demonstrated a clear link between social relationships and health in the general population. Adults who are more socially connected are healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers.

What exactly is a “social” or interpersonal relationship?

A social relationship is a broad term used to describe how we interact and behave with other people, and how they interact or behave with us. This can include friendships, romantic relationships, relationships with coworkers, or even just acquaintances!

Social scientists have studied several distinct features of social connection offered by relationships.

Social Isolation – the relative absence of social relationships

Social Integration – the overall level of involvement with informal social relationships, such as having a spouse, and with formal social relationships, such as those with religious institutions and volunteer organizations

Quality of Relationshipsincludes positive aspects of relationships, such as emotional support provided by significant others, and strained aspects of relationships, such as conflict and stress. 

Social Networks – the web of social relationships surrounding an individual, in particular, structural features, such as the type and strength of each social relationship. This is particularly interesting with the rise of social media.

How do social relationships benefit health?

Many types of scientific evidence show that involvement in social relationships benefits health in many ways. To name a few,

  • Individuals with the lowest level involvement in social relationships are more likely to die than those with greater involvement (and this holds true even when socioeconomic status, health behaviors, and other variables that may influence mortality are taken into account).
  • Social connection reduces mortality risk in adults with documented medical conditions (such as in this study, where they found that, among adults with coronary artery disease, the socially isolated had a risk of subsequent cardiac death 2.4 times greater than their more socially connected peers).
  • Low quantity or quality of social can lead to a variety of conditions, including development and progression of cardiovascular disease, recurrent myocardial infarction, atherosclerosis, autonomic dysregulation, high blood pressure, cancer and delayed cancer recovery, and slower wound healing.
  • Inadequate social relationship quality can lead to impaired immune function.

Once the clear link between social relationships and health was established, scientists and sociologists worked hard to figure out the why and the how. Basically, there are three broad ways that social ties work to influence health: behavioral, cognitive, and physical.

Behavioral Explanations

Good “health behaviors”, such as exercise, consuming nutritionally balanced diets, and adherence to medical regiment, tend to promote health and prevent illness. Poor “health behaviors”, such as smoking, excessive weight gain, drug abuse, and heavy alcohol consumption, tend to lead to poorer health outcomes.

Social ties can provide a sense of responsibility to engage in healthier behaviors – to protect their own health, as well as the health of others. Social ties provide information and create norms that further influence health habits. For example, if your roommate works out constantly, then you are more likely to hit the gym! Social relationships may influence health habits that in turn affect physical health and mortality. Being married, having children, and ties to religious organizations have all been linked to positive health behaviors

Of note: relationships can also have a cost… marriage and parenthood have also been associated with behaviors that are not beneficial to health – including physical inactivity and weight gain.

Psychosocial Explanations

Research shows that relationships impact your psyche – through social support, personal control, symbolic meanings and norms, and mental health. Relationships provide social support, and give people the sense that they are loved, listened to, and important. Healthy relationships may reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate, and lead to decreased stress hormones – leading to better health and less risky behaviors.

Relationships can also help provide a feeling of personal control, a feeling that you can control the outcome of your life through actions. Social connection may enhance that feeling of personal control, perhaps leading to better health habits, mental health, and physical health

There is also research to suggest that there is a symbolic meaning of particular social ties, and health habits explains why they are linked. For example, the symbolic meaning attached to marriage and your children may lead to a greater sense of responsibility to stay healthy, which promotes healthier lifestyles. Another example is young kids who start smoking or drinking. There is research that explains that the meaning attached to peer groups (aka being popular), explains the influence on alcohol, tobacco, and drug use with high school aged kids. We definitely also see this on social media and the internet – many groups have formed to promote health and well being. There’s also a huge market for lifestyle and fitness bloggers, who are almost selling the symbolic meaning of health and wellness. Fundamentally, greater social connection may lead to a sense of meaning and purpose in life, which, in turn, enhances mental health, physiological processes, and physical health.

Physiological Explanations

Quality social relationships can benefit immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular functions. It also can reduce the wear and tear on the body that stress causes. This effect on health happens throughout the entire lifespan. Emotionally supportive childhood environments promote healthy development of regulatory systems, including immune, metabolic, and autonomic nervous systems. Social support in adulthood reduces physiological responses such as cardiovascular reactivity to both anticipated and existing stressors. Also, adults in a healthy marriage experience a lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those who have experienced a marital loss – partly due to the psychosocial supports we talked to related to marriage.

Is there a “dark side” to social relationships?

While social relationships are the central source of emotional support for many people, social relationships can also have a cost.

Let’s take, for example, marriage. Marriage can be the most important source of support for many people, but it can also be a huge stressor… and it can get worse with age. Poor marriage quality has been associated with:

  • decreased immunity
  • more volatile hormones
  • depression
  • poorer physical health and fitness

Friendships are also important social relationships – but, they too can lead to stress, in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Stress in relationships contributes to

  • poor health habits (food consumption, heavy drinking, smoking, etc.) in order to cope with stress
  • increased psychological distress and physiological arousal (e.g., increased heart rate and blood pressure) that can lead to unhealthy behaviors
  • loss of sense of control, leading to difficulties with mental health
  • stress is associated with more alcohol consumption in young adulthood and greater weight gain in mid-life

Of course, strained relationships can affect health – but social ties may have other types of unintended negative effects on your health and well-being. Among other examples,

This “social contagion” of negative health behaviors can happen because of social norms, unsupportive social ties, or negative social environments. is social norms.

Having social relationships can also come with a sense of obligation. The obligation, for example, to serve as a caregiver for a sick or impaired spouse increases the risk of poor health outcomes for the caregiver and can even lead to death. Middle-aged adults, particularly women, often experience exceptionally high caregiving demands as they contend with the challenge of simultaneously rearing children, caring for spouses, and looking after aging parents. This will likely only continue to get worse, with a higher average age and fairly recent phenomenon of smaller family units.

What are the implications for you?

Research shows that social ties influence multiple and interrelated health outcomes, including health behaviors, mental health, physical health, and mortality risk. Anything that can strengthen and support your social ties has the potential to enhance the health of others connected to you – your friends, followers, family, spouses, or children.

Poor mental, physical health, and unhealthy behaviors can wreck a huge toll on you, your families, and society as a whole. This is because social ties affect mental health, physical health, health behaviors, and mortality risk. We can use this knowledge, though, to improve the health of everyone around us. Social ties are a potential resource that can be harnessed to promote population health. They can benefit health beyond target individuals by influencing the health of others throughout social networks. Social connection has both immediate (mental health, health behaviors) and long-term effects on health (e.g., physical health, mortality).

What can you do to improve the social connections, and health, of you and your loved ones?

You can contribute by being a good partner in your relationships. Effective communication is, obviously, crucial in factor in that pursuit. Educating your family and friends about the potential health effects of different social ties – the good and the bad! – can also be important. Remember, knowledge is power! If you notice that a loved one (this can be a friend, parent, or elderly family member) is at risk of social isolation, reach out for resources to help them. It is also important to prevent and alleviate negative features of social ties, both with yourself and with others. If you notice your significant other gaining weight, encourage them to reinstall healthy habits and be careful to not fall into unhealthy habits. You can work to reduce strains for those who provide care to sick family members by providing them a home-cooked meal.

Solid scientific evidence shows that social relationships affect a range of health outcomes, including mental health, physical health, health habits, and mortality risk. Do what you can to ensure your social relationships stay healthy!

Umberson D, Montez JK. Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. J Health Soc Behav. 2010;51 Suppl(Suppl):S54–S66. doi:10.1177/0022146510383501

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