Monday, December 29, 2014

The Santa Gift and my armpit hair...

Mix Bakeshop
Soy cappuccino
Chocolate Fox-shaped Cookie

A few thoughts before the end of the year...

Book stuff is coming right along.  I have just over 100,000 words.  It's crazy.  I hope to have actual copies in hand when we head down to SoCal in March.  Hold me to that!  It also means that I will continue to be scarce.  I still have tons to say, and I still will from time to time, but for the sake of publishing an actual hold-in-your-hand book, I have to shut up sometime.

Second, I stopped shaving about a month ago.  It was weird at first since I associate stubble with not having gotten a shower recently.  I got over that really fast, though.  This is the first time I have ever let my body hair fully grow out, and it just feels completely normal and not the least bit unattractive.  Of myself and my husband, however, I am the only one who feels like this.  He's dealing with it with very little commenting, though, and, since I know some of you are wondering, it has not been a roadblock to intimacy.

Others of you are wondering why the hell I am sharing this.  Moving on...

I shared this little bit on my Facebook wall, earlier this month...

Quick thought on handling Santa stories...

They're still young to understand it all, but we are not telling the boys that Santa is real. We are saying that there was a real person who lived a long time ago who was very kind and who did give little gifts to the children where he lived. And we do give them one "Santa Gift" at Christmas to remember that kind spirit of giving. We explain that the stories they hear are just fun stories people tell to celebrate, and the Santa they meet in the mall every year is another person that is helping people celebrate the season. We are also explaining that some people will still tell them that Santa is real, and that a lot of kids would be very sad to hear otherwise. Just because some grownups get carried away with the stories, that doesn't mean we should go around making kids cry by telling them Santa isn't real - that would go against the spirit of kindness. So we just "make room" for people to believe how they want to believe.

We'll get into the Jesus (and Mithras) stuff later.

I'm thinking of trying to convert this idea into some kind of childrens book.  Know any good illustrators?

Also regarding Christmas, this year I went out to see Into the Woods on Christmas Day.  I try not to abuse the privilege of the theatres being open on Christmas, but I had to make use of it this year as an offered public service.  Mommy was done and needed to get the hell out of there for the good of the whole family.  It did what I needed it to do.  I got out of my head for a little while, and came back calmer and more able to deal with the Christmas Night chaos.

So, before I close this out, my New Year's wish for all of you is the same as ever: just a little peace and love and understanding.

And damn fine coffee.

Happy holidays and every days.  Good night!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Weapon of the Enemy

The living room
Sleepytime Sinus Soother Tea
Pumpkin pie (expired)

I'm starting this at home.  Will probably finish elsewhere.

This is why I never finish my housework.  Well, this is partly why.  Anyway.

If you think about it, there's only one true sin in the Bible.  Everything else is only a sin under certain circumstances.  Sex is not a sin, just premarital sex.  Killing someone is not a sin, not at all.  There are numerous passages delineating under what circumstances and by what method someone shall be put to death: female sorceresses, back-talking children, women who are raped who don't cry for help, but only if they live in the city because women who are raped in the country might not live close enough to someone who could have heard them so it's okay if they just didn't bother.

You can even steal someone else's land if you say God really wanted you to have it.

No, the only act that appears to be inherently sinful is disobedience.  Everything else seems to have an asterisk.  You can even put your beloved son on the alter if the big G tells you to.  Obeying the command to kill your child is - in a biblical context - the righteous act.  More righteous than obeying the standing order to not kill anybody (except where explicitly commanded to do so) because it was a direct order.

Even our military and police forces are expected to not obey a direct order if it conflicts with the laws established in the Constitution.

Oh, military and police forces... how you have so often failed to disobey...  How often you have protected those among your ranks who have defiled their sacred obligations.  Instead of casting these criminals out of your body, you have so very often closed in around them and formed a protective cyst, a tumor, and doomed your body to sickness.

Again and again and again...

Mix Bakeshop
Pumkin-something Macaroon

...And that's where I left it when the boys got home.  Let's see if I can finish this before closing time.

Today, we went to the library.  As the boys played with the Thomas the Train set in the kids section, we heard chanting and shouting outside.  From the window we could see another Ferguson rally marching across the street, blocking the crosswalk for a time to address the stopped traffic, then continuing on to the heart of downtown.

"No justice!  No peace!"

"Hands up!  Don't shoot!"

As their voices receded Oliver began crying.  He was upset because he had wanted to throw something into the recycling bin but Daddy had done it first.  I thought how lucky we are that that's all he has to cry about.  When I posted that later - the picture of the marchers and Oliver's incongruent despair - a friend of mine replied with "#FirstWorldProblems".

Amen, sister.

We live in another Gilded Age.  As before the Great Crash, the news buzzes about the extraordinary wealth of our age, the billionaires being churned out by Wall Street.  And the seeming normalcy of Middle America is only achieved through massive debt - student loans that may or may not be paid off before your children are ready for school, and the 30 year mortgage you had to refinance to get the loan to pay for the car repairs on that 2 door subcompact you were supposed to trade-up before you had the 2 car seats in the back, but now you can't afford to replace it so you have to string it along, and you can't put it on the credit card because you maxed it out on 4 crowns and 6 fillings - and that's with insurance! - and the Black Friday specials you sacrificed your Thanksgiving for because they told you it was your only chance to get it cheap enough and you could pay it off when you got your tax refund but then they cut the Earned Income Credit you were banking on so your interest rate just got jacked up to a rate you didn't know was legal.  But you sure look comfortable.  When everyone looks so comfortable, it's easy to think that it's your fault.

God forbid you get sick.

God forbid you're the victim of a hit and run while you're marching down to the Plaza for those among us who are dying in this Age of Gilded Freedom.  That's your ER bill.  Good luck.

This country is most definitely not well, but the worst part is that we cannot have the conversations we need to have to fix it because reality is obscured by the gilding of lies.  Equal opportunity?  Not a bit.  Not economically, not legally...  We don't even have an equal opportunity to stay alive just walking down the street.

Around the country, some of those who see the injustice, especially those who have been the victims of it, have taken to the streets to grieve, to demand change - they march.  And some, they scream their grief, their frustration - their fear - they riot.

Song lyrics come to mind... "I need something to break!"

On the right, they have been stoking fear of the president, of immigrants, and those "thugs" who just happen to, ya know, bounce less light in the sun...  Frankly, calling Obama a "tyrant" is an insult to the people of Syria and Libya and anyone else who has really lived under a tyrant.  But the fearful shall defend themselves.  They have been stockpiling their bunkers and talking openly of insurrection for years.

They want something to break, too.

What we do when we are afraid, when we are threatened... that is when we earn our humanity, or when we fail it.

When Henry David Thoreau saw the injustice of American aggression in his time, he simply stopped paying for his share of it.  And he happily went to jail for it.  He disobeyed, civilly.  That was the righteous thing to do.

But what about today?

We do need change.  A lot of it, on many fronts.  You could use the term revolution.  But I wouldn't go too far with that.  I certainly would not say insurrection.  So long as the basic structure remains in tact, we need to try to work within it.

I've known people who say we need to tear down the whole system and rebuild on whatever survives.  I don't think highly of that kind of nihilism.  I think of it as an immature human mind, the intellectual equivalent of a toddler's tantrum.  So it's hard?  So it's frustrating, and slow?  So what?  It's a lot harder to bury your sons and daughters sacrificed on the alter of revolution.  And the societies built upon the ruins of revolutions most often do not survive, let alone thrive.

There are exceptions.  But there is also a cost.  Always a cost, not the least of which is our humanity.

I have no disrespect for someone who defends themselves or their families, but only when it is necessary.  In the case in Ferguson, the only way Wilson might have needed to shoot Mike Brown dead from 150 feet away is if he mistook Mike Brown for Luke Skywalker and had a reasonable expectation that Mike Brown would imminently use The Force to steal his gun.  Which is silly, of course, because Brown could have just choked him before Wilson could reach.  Or tossed his police cruiser.

Which makes me think of burning witches.  How stupid is that logic?  If she's a witch, don't you think she could get out of it?  In which case, the only people you'd end up burning would be innocent.  Oh, the folly of the righteous...  Committing obvious sins in the name of God.  Murder, torture, destruction, violence... whatever... for the Greater Good.

Didn't we learn anything from the Lord of the Rings?  You never use the weapon of the Enemy.

If killing someone, on purpose, is wrong, then it doesn't stop being wrong if you change the scenery or put the trigger in another person's hand.  Injustice must be answered, and in a meaningful way, but you don't go outside the system you're trying to fix if there is any path at all left open.  There is no social system that will ever be free of corruption.  The strength of the institution comes from the ability to address and amend injustice within itself.

In Ferguson, there was clear abuse of power and corruption - and there are still paths left to address those trespasses of justice.  And more broadly, there is wide-spread racial injustice and abuse of police authority - and that, too, can be addressed.  There are white allies, and those in positions of power - yes, even white police officers, too - who see and will march alongside those seeking justice.

And even those of us who may only march our fingers across keyboards in suburban coffeehouses, we are doing our best to scrape the fool's gold off the bullshit that's being oversold, hand over bloodied fist, to keep us from seeing that one simply truth: There's no such thing as Other People.  We're all in this together, and we can change things for the better and be our higher human selves.

I am such a damn hippy.  Coffee shop is closing.  Time to go.

I love you all.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cozy in my uncertainty

Rogue Valley Roasting Co.
16oz Coffee
Vegan Pumpkin Walnut Bread

Some people have a very dismissive or negative view of agnosticism.  I've heard people refer to agnostics as if they were just indecisive or afraid to commit.  I say "they" but I mean "we."  I have said numerous times that I am agnostic.  If you want a good understanding of what the term means, I recommend visiting its Wikipedia page.  In a nutshell, the term means "without knowledge," and since it is usually used to describe someone's religious views, that generally means that the person has no knowledge to give them a belief in any kind of deity.

The nuances of that meaning diverge from that point.  Some will say "I don't know - can't know - and neither can anyone else."  I keep it a little more close.  The concept of god, by definition, goes beyond the typical objective reality with which we are familiar.  That is not to say god is not part of our reality, just that god doesn't function in a way that we can define in our usual physical terms.  In other words, old-school miracles - like the creation of all existence - cannot be duplicated in a laboratory.

And yet, that which used to seem miraculous to our ancestors has been revealed to be very normal, predictable phenomena.  It's good to remember, sometimes, that most all religious texts were written before human beings understood the water cycle (evaporation, condensation, precipitation, all that).  If any religion was truly inspired by divine words, remember that they flowed through human messengers.

For myself, I believed in God as a child because everyone around me talked about God as if He was a done deal.  I asked my father why, then, were there other religions if everyone knew about these miracles Jesus had performed.  Surly, with so many witnesses, there would be extensive contemporaneous accounts to validate that these had, in fact, taken place (yes, I was a weird 8 year-old).  So my father explained that these accounts were recorded by just a couple people decades after Jesus' death, and there were not the innumerable written or oral accounts I would expect, so people have to choose to believe or not believe that these things had taken place.

Oh, these are stories?!

And I became an atheist, because it was too much to be asked to believe these stories of spectacular miracles unless there was some really strong evidence that they had actually occurred.

But I got older, and I kept thinking and pondering and listening to the great thinkers and ponderers of human history.  And I softened my views a bit.  Because how do I know there isn't a god, anyway?  Maybe human beings are screwy and can't get the story straight, but maybe there's a god in spite of all that.

The point is what we know and what is knowable.  Right now, I can't see a way for the human mind to be able to know with demonstrable certainty that god exists.  I have heard the smartest people in modern society argue with authority that it's illogical to think there is no god.  And I have heard equally brilliant minds argue that it's illogical to think that there is a god.  The problem is that logic doesn't have an imperative when it comes to how the divine is or isn't.  At least, none that I can see.  Perhaps someday we will find a way to know definitively one way or another.

Most people who believe, it seems to me, believe because they feel a personal connection to the divine.  They have opened themselves to the Holy Spirit(s) and have felt a divine presence.  And it doesn't matter which religion you're talking about, from the outside, every practitioner sounds the same.  They know The Truth.  All the other religions are actually false and their practitioners are deceiving themselves, or are being deceived.  Once they, and I, leave behind these self-deceptions and open our hearts to The True Religion, we'll know the difference; we'll Know. The. Truth.

It all sounds the same from here.  But epiphanies, as I've said before, can be the most true and least reliable form of knowledge.  Maybe one of these groups has it right.  I can't say they are wrong or right from the outside.  But you can't convert me based on your certainty.  And, as I said before, logic breaks down.  So, what's left?  Empiricism?  You want me to believe my lyin' eyes?

Empiricism used to "prove" spontaneous generation, proof of god, because you could see meat miraculously turn into maggots.  When it was shown that it was not an act of the divine, that maggots were actually fly larvae, religious minds resisted the truth because they thought it invalidated the existence of God.  Likewise, many refused to believe in any kind of micro-biology in spite of the fact that... oh, what's his name... proved that women were dying in childbirth needlessly because doctors were not washing their hands in between deliveries.  Or after eating.  Or pooping.  Or ever.  The point is that what you see, what you hear, what you feel in the most intimate crevices of your senses, does not necessarily mean what you think it does.

And yet... we exist.  There is ...stuff.  Why is there something instead of nothing?  Even if we are nothing more than a dream in the mind of some slumbering divine entity and all we see or feel or experience is an illusion - we are still the dream.  The dream is.  I am okay not knowing all the answers.  I don't know if there is a greater purpose to all this.  I'm okay not ascribing grand notions of purpose or grand destinies if I don't feel a compelling certainty in them.

I am open to listen to what you believe is true.  But I am not seeking some answer.  Try not to be too disappointed if you try to say, for example:

1. I have problems.
2. I am not a Christian.
3. Ergo, I should be Christian.

And I will reply with:

1. You're right - I have problems.
2. I am not a Buddhist.
3. Ergo, I should be a Buddhist.

Actually, Buddhism has a lot to offer.  But so do most religions, to an extent.  They tend to break down when you get to dealing with people who don't follow the same religion or who deviate within the religious order.  But the 'be kind and respectful to others' part - that's pretty solid.  I am willing to accept the parts of any religion that I feel hold true outside of the confines of that religion.  If a particular doctrine is consistent with reason and empathy, I have no reason to reject it.  I just don't embrace it solely because it was given by an authority figure.

To those who still think that agnosticism is weak or non-committal or wishy-washy, you still misunderstand.  It is commitment the pursuit of truth that keeps agnostics from going any further.  The scientific mind says only what it can say.  This is what we know, this is what we know is knowable, and this is what can be said given that.  That doesn't preclude there being more than that.  That doesn't mean we won't be able to know more someday.  We just don't try to make things fit to make the world more comfortable for us.  That would be faithless and false.

What about the afterlife?  What if there is a god and its followers have been trying to tell me the grand Truth but I have rejected it this whole time?  It's not so much rejection as much as not accepting it without reason.  But aren't I afraid of going to some hell?  Aren't I afraid of some divine punishment?  Frankly, I don't think much of any deity who would condemn me to eternal suffering for having a reasonable doubt and not bearing false witness.

Damnation for utilizing the spectacular mental faculties we have been gifted with?  What a douche!

Fear of divine wrath is not a reason for believing in the divine.  That falls under "incentive."  Like, in the checkout aisle at the grocery store, if I buy two pieces of candy, I can get two more free!  That's an incentive.  But the reality is: I need no candy.

If there is some kind of afterlife, I will have to accept whatever consequences await me.  Maybe I just think more highly of god, but I don't tremble in fear for not following some other person's dogma, no matter how popular.  Maybe there is an afterlife, maybe there is nothing.  Maybe the remnants of our holographic mind continue.  Maybe they dissipate.  Maybe we are reincarnated.  Maybe we just turn into mulch.

All I know is that who I am now ends at my death.  If a part of me continues, it will be in some other form.  I will not again walk in this body and be just as I am now.  If I exist in spirit, I am still not quite the same as me now - I will know things unknowable now.  If I am reincarnated, then who I am will continue to change and evolve.  I can never live this story of me, exactly, ever again.

So, why wait for the answer of what is beyond this life?  All I can do is make this life the best that I can.  If you've ever met me and wondered why I often wear an ankh (sorry, not a cross, folks) it's because it is the symbol of life.  I wear it to remind myself to live while I'm alive.  Because agnosticism is not living without morality or fear of eternal consequence.  It is living with the accountability of your earthly actions.  It is not disregarding any possibility of the after.  It is about truly living within the now.

I feel like I've said all of this before.  Apologies for my redundancy.  And love to all.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A hard and beautiful thing

The Humbling Abode
Vanilla Honeybush Tea

This is overdue, both the blog and the topic.  A friend asked me to ponder what it means to be a mom - to choose to be a mom at all.  I've been ruminating on the topic since.  There's so many ways to answer that.

For one thing, everybody's sick all the time and that's going to throw off your blogging days from time to time.  But then you also get those gems, in that three-year-old lisp: 


"Ovi, are you tooting?"

"No, Mommy!  It must have been a helicopter... in my butt... that made that sound!"

And then there are the buttons missing from the keyboard as I struggle to type this on my husband's computer because my computer can no longer be moved without the screen disconnecting and going black... all courtesy of my little fucking angels.

The one thing that has really hit home for me, one thing that I had not really thought out, is that there is a difference between being a "single mom" and being a "solitary mom."  Single moms might still have family and close friends who support them in the raising of a child, even if it's just by keeping them from going crazy while raising a child.  I can't imagine trying to be a mom without my husband helping me.  I lean on him - heavily.  But he's also almost all I have to help me here.

We are hundreds of miles from the nearest family.  We're also transplants to the area and, though we have some friends, we never established those kinds of... daily... friendships before starting our family.  The kinds where people come over and hang out, and just check in and bring you coffee.  Even the few friendships we've made with neighbors haven't been that close.  We might chat for a while coming from or going to the laundry room, we might get a knock when someone's locked out or needs to borrow something.  Mostly, our neighborly visits have pertained to "hey, could you keep it down - the baby's trying to sleep."

Those are not the kind of friendships we would have if we had grown up in the area - and our friends and family had stayed in the area, too.  And if I were just better at cultivating friendships.  I'm a very friendly person, and the friends we have have often said we could call on them whenever.  But I tend to keep my crap to myself.  I've been head-down, trying to get it together.  How do I call someone up, or strike up a conversation for the sole purpose of dragging someone into my crazy?  Or to drag me out of it, really.

It would be nice if I were religious.  Churches are one of the few socially acceptable places where you can walk up to a stranger and say, "I need some help."  But I'm not religious, nor am I seeking any religion be a fix for my earthly problems.  I'm sure they'd probably be happy to chat with me anyway, but it never felt right, or at least, comfortable.  Seeking therapy was more to the point, and more effective while I had it.

But even therapy can't fix problems like being stuck at home all day without so much as a lunch break.  Eating lunch is not the same as getting a lunch break.  When you take a lunch break at work, you generally get to clock out.  At least, you get to hide somewhere and power through your sandwich before someone rings a bell and you're on deck again.  No such luck at home.  Even when the boys are playing by themselves, I'm still on duty.  The noise - the noise - is still going, and I must be ready at a moment's notice to separate them or save one or both from imminent injury.  Naps?  Ha!  Nap time is fight time around here and I have finally given up trying.

Naptime elicited tweets from me pining to be more like a cartoon mom because, "Miss Spider doesn't lose her shit over naptime."

But this is me and we know that I have more going on than a lot of people would normally have to deal with.  There's the postpartum depression and anxiety stuff, there's the fibromyalgia, the financial woes (okay, most of us that have that crap, but I've had the court kind, too), and now we know we've been trying to cope with a child with autism.  I don't want to scare anyone off with my grousing.  Nor do I want to diminish the struggles a couple with just one totally healthy, developmentally normal child may experience.

One child is hard.  One child under the best of circumstances is hard.  Don't let anyone who was a single parent and raised 5 kids while working 3 jobs and earning 2 degrees tell you that you have nothing to complain about.  But a lot of things that are hard are doable.  But... should you do it?  That is a much harder question.

I have so many friends with so many stories.  Many of my school friends ended up getting pregnant while still in school, or shortly afterward.  My older brothers both started their own families very young.  The results of all these early families has been mixed.  Many are still struggling today, but I can't think of a single one saying they would go back and not have that child they have borne and raised.  Once that child is there in your arms... As my mother told me years ago, while I struggled with the decision of whether or not to continue my first pregnancy, you just won't be able to imagine your life without your children.

I might still question if I made the right choices, to be a mother at all, I might wish I had done things differently.  But given the opportunity, I could not choose to not have my boys.  In unromantic fairness, by choosing this family, I have chosen to not have the other children that might have been - I've still got plenty of eggs, after all.  But two is plenty.  For us, and, frankly, more than enough for the planet.

But there are so many more stories... stories of couples who desperately want to conceive but can't, those who've had a multitude of miscarriages or even stillbirth... It's a harrowing experience.  It is such a forceful biological drive for most of us, once it has been triggered... to have it denied...  That's something I can only imagine, and I try not to if I can.

For some, it is a deliberate choice to not have a child.  Sometimes a person can come to see themselves as someone who would struggle to be a good parent.  Sometimes that's a physical challenge and sometimes mental.  Only they can say whether or not that's a fair conclusion.

But sometimes the choice is only to delay until such and such is better, the situation more stable.  Often completing your education and getting a career established is the rationale.  And that seems perfectly sound logic.  Sometimes that takes longer than expected.  Relationships change, and sometimes the fertility clock has already chimed by the time a person feels situationally ready to start a family.  It's not impossible for older couples to get pregnant, even without fertility assistance.  But biology starts to work against you, and even youth is no guarantee.

The question is: do you need it?  Is it worth it?  Is it right for you?

Okay, that's several questions.  Some people who remain childless, whether because they were unable to conceive or because they found some reason they felt was more compelling to not conceive, they often find some peace with the situation.  I hope they do, anyway.  They may find fulfillment in a life's work, some passion that they recognize would make it difficult for them to pursue and be a good parent as well.  Or, they may find their peace in some kind of surrogate relationship, raising or mentoring a close family member or friend.

Sadly, I know that that often isn't enough.  A pain remains, more deeply for some, that I simply can't speak to.

My husband talks about our children as his "immortality."  I roll my eyes at this.  When he and I kick off - we're done.  Our children will have their own lives and destinies.  They will bear the mark of our parenting, for better or worse.  But we will not own them.  They alone will own themselves.  And who cares about immortality anyway?  It's a damn overrated concept.

People (okay, I'm looking at you men of old) have been so flipping fixated on their name and their "seed" carrying on.  Who cares?  Okay, on some genetic diversity level, sure, it's sad to have that special little batch of DNA out of the mix.  But the world will get over it.  Sorry.  Yes, your desire to reproduce is healthy and normal and I'm not being dismissive of that.  But get over yourself.  At least, when it comes to your perpetuity.

Gah.  It's late, and I have hardly spoken of adoption and step-parenting and those special people who occupy the role of a parent without any official title.  I don't want to leave this as if they were not also parents, too.

And the money!  Our beaten down wages and our absurd health care system and our chaotic and pathetic public assistance programs and our lack of mandatory paid maternity leave -  are huge hindrances to even becoming a parent in the first place, let alone being able to be a good parent once you've brought a child into this overburdened world.  And that brings me - at last - to choice.

Everyone should have as much support as we can muster to choose for themselves whether or not to start a family and who and how many get to join it.  It is, perhaps, our most innate and compelling instinct.  But this is the world we live in, and it's just not an easy choice to make.  Someday, if we don't all voluntarily choose smaller families, or adopting instead, we will not have the luxury to choose for ourselves.  Limited resources for a crowded planet will make the choice for us.  But for any size of family, it's exhausting, excruciating, hilarious, frightening, joyous and trying.

It's a hard and beautiful thing to be a parent.

Monday, November 10, 2014

God, man, and my body.

Downtowne Coffeehouse
12oz Soy Campfire Mocha
Vegan Peanut Butter Cookie

I think I said in my last blog that I could dedicate a whole blog to my comment about the hijab.  Here's the tweet in question, from November 2nd:

"There are two ways you could make me wear a hijab: convince me you're right, or use violent manipulation.
Only one might save my soul."

Well, I'm glad I waited to tackle the topic because I got a reply to my original tweet with an article in support of wearing it.  I read the article, and replied within my limited 140 characters that I appreciated the article but remained unconvinced.  My correspondent has replied with links to two more articles, but I have delayed responding because I knew that I was going to need a lot more than 140 characters.

These are the links he sent, for your reference:

On the prohibition of wearing the hijab in French schools...

A shorter one on the ideas of oppression and liberation...

On the impact of psychoanalysis...

Firstly, I greatly appreciate this correspondence as a civil attempt to win over my heart and mind, so to speak.  To be clear, the man in the 60 Minutes interview that prompted my initial comment about the hijab, didn't seem to care what I thought about it, so long as I submitted to it.  My correspondent, on the other hand, I believe holds more peaceful and hopeful intentions.  Even though I disagree with a number of his assumptions, I could not ask for more than to approach this dialogue with that spirit.  So...

As I initially replied to the first article, I agree that France's decision to ban headscarves - a de facto ban on a Muslim girl's observance of her religious obligation - is hypocritical and intolerant.  America has plenty of this "stupid" too.  Schools all over this country have no idea how to deal with dress codes, in general, and get especially stupid when it comes to religion.

In general, this country has not uniformly figured out how to handle religious plurality and the government's relationship to it.  The predominant trend seems to be to try to make schools, or other government institutions, religiously aseptic.  They dither and quake and create prohibitions about any references to any religion, for fear of lawsuits, usually.  I remember before we could learn about the rise of Islam in our history class, the teacher had to spend a good ten minutes disclaiming how the school was not in any way endorsing or promoting Islam or any other religion, but simply spending the time to discuss the impact of the development and expansion of the religion on the events of world history.

Or, if a school or government courthouse, for instance, has some religious artifact or custom - a copy of the Ten Commandments, or pre-game prayer - that they wish to hang on to, they may offer, rhetorically, to also provide time or space to any other religion that wishes to be represented.  To avoid being sued.  This is why I find it so amusing when the Satanists demand to put a statue in the rotunda and they have to allow it lest they lose their own preferred religious artifacts.  That's not because I support Satanism, but because I love to see people called out on their hypocrisy.

Here's how I feel about school and religion in a nutshell: if it doesn't actually demonstrably prevent the other kids from being able to learn, there is no reason to prohibit any religious accoutrement or observance.  And I do not recognize "distraction" or intolerance as valid reasons for preventing learning.  If anything, the kids who are distracted by or hostile towards the kids who are different are the most in need of some more learnin'.

Lastly, this country has wisely learned to make reasonable accommodations for people living with physical or mental disabilities - making wheelchair accessible ramps, incorporating special education into the regular school system.  It would take significantly less effort to just not ban certain religiously-prescribed clothing, or to adjust the class schedule slightly to allow a student to observe a prescribed prayer time.

I'm not equating religion with a disability, by the way.  Just clarifying that it is incredibly easy to make space when we recognize differences as being a part of the unified whole.

As for other government institutions, while I don't think there is any need to inhibit any individual's ability to practice and be faithful to their religious belief, I think it is simply inappropriate to incorporate any religious concept, artifact, or practice into the actual government structure.  I think it is totally inappropriate to have "In God we trust" on our money, or "one nation under God" in our pledge of allegiance.  The far more accurate and appropriate pledge would be something like the one illustrated by artist and author, Micah Wright, which pledged to the Constitution (instead of the flag) and the "one nation of many peoples" it created.

The problem of allowing religion - any religion - to be used as the foundation for the establishment of any law, is that it requires universal agreement on, not only which religion and denomination is to be used, but also the interpretation of dogma set forth therein.  For instance, my grandfather is a retired Methodist minister and, while the official position of the United Methodist Church is currently against marriage equality, my grandfather supports it.  More and more ministers within the Methodist Church are also beginning to openly support it, even officiating same-sex marriages.  It seems very possible that the organization will, in time, also come to support it.  Yet, if that denomination were recognized as the basis for all laws of the land, where would the right to marry stand in the meantime?  We have immutable divine law one day, then a different immutable law the next?

The other problem is, what if we don't all agree with the predominant religious views of the land?  Such a system can't protect my religious freedom to not be ruled by what I might view as the heretical religious practices of others.  What if I did agree, initially, but then had a crisis of faith?  If the divine imperative behind the law were lost, and if our premise is that a law ought to be followed because it comes from a divine authority, what then would be my compelling incentive to abide by that law?  As it is, the hope is that our religiously open social contract must use universal reasoning, and empathy, to construct our laws, not supposedly divine authoritarianism.  We have set down certain governing principles that should apply to all human beings, and we endeavor to construct our laws in keeping with those first principles.

That's the idea, anyway.  As I said before, we still got a whole lot of stupid around here.  Anytime the majority forgets its humility, that it is ultimately no different and no less vulnerable than any minority group, the majority will tend to try to establish laws that benefit it best - unless we cultivate the safeguards necessary to protect against this. be continued at another coffeehouse that is not closing in 15 minutes...

Dobra Teahouse
(open til 10pm - woo-hoo!)
Shakespeare's Tea
(found in The Winter Tale, Act IV, Scene 4 - so good and winter-y)

So, where was I two hours ago?

Ah, yes - god, government, authority.  That was the part of that first article that I agreed with - the hypocrisy.  What I did not agree with was the assumption that the discrimination was against modesty.  I think the example that less-dressed women were currently being afforded more protection than more completely dressed women was ironic, not indicative of men still imposing their preferences on women.  I think the matter was entirely about religious intolerance.

That being said, I think supposedly liberated cultures like ours are, in fact, still dealing with pressure to abide by men's preferences in our beauty standards.  That does not, then, mean that women are only "liberated" when they "free" themselves from the lustful stares of men by covering themselves from head to foot.  That's a pretty Orwellian interpretation - "Freedom is slavery" kind of thinking.

When societies make a great shift in their institutions or ways of thinking, they rarely have a totally healthy "correct" alternative structure or philosophy ready to take its place.  We found tyrannical monarchy unacceptable and moved towards democracy as keeping with a truer state for mankind.  And we kept slavery at the same time.  It takes a long time to shake all the stupid out of better ideas.  We're still working on it.  And since the freedoms women are finally being granted are fairly recent recognitions, we're still dealing with the vestiges of the mentality we are trying to leave behind.

Feminists use the term "Patriarchy," but it should be understood that is meant to refer to male-gendered dominance, not some inherently masculine values or behaviors.  Feminism, if you need it spelled out, is not about hating men.  It's about valuing men and women equally, allowing people the freedom to define themselves by whatever traits they feel fit them best, and to exercise their wills with equal freedom.

If a woman must hide herself in public, she is inherently not exercising her will freely.  Even if you don't agree that she has to be completely covered to be considered modestly dressed, her attire should not be a requisite to be treated respectfully or to go about her life safely.  To say that she must dress a certain way to keep men from lusting after her to such intensity that they are driven to assault her, or engage in other criminal or deviant acts in their sexual madness - that is absurd.  It assumes men are savage and cannot cope with their emotions.

And if men are so weak, shouldn't they be the ones who should wear blindfolds to protect women and the greater population, being led around by their obviously superior female family members who are somehow capable of mastering their own desires?

I have grown up surrounded by men - my single father, brothers, uncles, even male family friends who lived with us at different periods of time.  None of these men suffered any kind of ungovernable lust or psychosis because of the abundance of female skin in our society.  My parents' generation, in fact, threw off many cultural norms, including, for some of them - clothing.  Nudity was embraced as the natural state of being for many of their peers.  They viewed clothing as representing old religiously-based fears of sexuality, especially woman's sexuality.  And all the convoluted garments the women of their parents' generation were expected to contort into, were viewed as extensions of the same old desire for men to control women's bodies - from bodice to Burka to brassiere.

And while I happen to think they are generally right, and though I happen to be wearing flowers in my hair right now, I have no desire to strip down and run around like the Flower Children of my parents' generation.  I'm just not there.  Plus, it's chilly out.  And that's why I don't think clothes are going anywhere in our modern society.  Because we now build permanent structures for our jobs and permanent homes from whence to go to those jobs, we are stuck in environments with variable weather, necessitating weather-appropriate outerwear.

Also, I've worked a number of food jobs - I want the people handling my food to wear underwear!

The problems in our society are not nudity or semi-nudity.  Our problem is the sexualization of nudity, and a latent fear of sexuality, itself.  Frankly, it's just a body.  It does not inherently drive a person to lust and craziness.  I remember in one anthropology class, seeing a video of an indigenous tribe of ... New Guinea, I think... and the members of the tribe were almost totally naked.  Men tended to have something tied to their boy-bits, and women routinely wore a kind of long net sack on their heads, running down their back.  That was their form of modesty because, for that particular tribe, a woman's back was the most alluring feature.  Which made me think, "It's always something, damn it."  But the exposure of all the rest of a woman's body was completely incidental.  That particular society had no problem with that much feminine nudity, and exhibited no disproportionate amount of violence or "deviant" behavior within the tribe.

The truth is there is no level of modesty that will keep a woman safe from male violence.  There is no age that will keep her safe, no number on the scale, no disfigurement or degree of ugliness to make her so repellent that she will be left alone.  This culture has a real problem with sexual violence, but neither modesty nor religion, alone, will stop it, because the problem lies more within the presumed authority of men that still lingers.  How do I make this assertion?  Because that's what the statistics say.

Women in Burkas get raped.  Little boys and girls nowhere near sexual maturity or "desirability" get raped.  Old women get raped.  Fat people, thin people, sinner and saint.  They all are within the statistics.  And they have been for centuries - even when Western women's ankles were scandalous - and all around the world.  This is the World Health Organization's study on the subject, which includes the statistic that 37% of women in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (including many Muslim countries that require women to wear the hijab) have been victims of violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner.  There's more to be said about the details of those statistics.  The point is simply that the violence exists even where "modesty" is common practice.

The most attractive thing to a predator is opportunity.  And opportunity is not just proximity, a dark and convenient venue for the crime.  Opportunity is also about the ability to get away with it, the permissiveness of the culture which collectively assumes the victim did something to deserve what she - or he - got, or that the victim is lying.  Sometimes the culture just collectively assumes that rape isn't really rape because, oh, he paid for dinner, or she had said yes once before.  Or because it was her husband.  This is rape culture, and it allows some predators to believe that they are not even predators.  We are most definitely dealing with this reality.  At least, we are beginning to deal with it.

And that is the first step to changing it, because it absolutely can be changed.  First, we acknowledge that it's happening.  Second, we put the responsibility to change the behavior on those perpetrating it - not the victims of it.

There was a viral video of a woman in America walking to work where she was cat-called - the common term for street harassment - 100 times.  In response, a model in New Zealand recreated the video.  She was not subjected to a single cat-call.  The only difference is how that culture deals with men who engage in street harassment.  Men here just need to be taught better.  It is as simple as that.

When a man sees a woman walking down the street - no matter what or how much she's wearing - that he finds particularly attractive, he does not need to feel bad about having that feeling.  It's normal and healthy.  It's also healthy to view her as a whole being, essentially no different than him.  Just another human being walking down the street.  And instead of following her, or hollering out what he thinks is a compliment, or leering at her with that creep smile we women know only too well, he can just quietly "bank it for later" and leave her, the person, alone to go about her day.

And when I say "bank it for later," yes, I am talking about masturbation.  Because that, like sex, is healthy.  Healthy for everybody - of an appropriate age - when practiced safely and consensually.  Desire to dominate and abuse someone else, is not healthy or normal.  It does not originate with lust or arousal, but with suppression and fear of those and other emotions, and with an implicit belief in superiority over others.

Women feel lust.  We can look at a man walking down the street and think that he is attractive, even experience arousal.  (In fact, if women never experienced sexual arousal, sexual intercourse would be an exceptionally painful experience every time, because it is her body's arousal that provides the lubrication for the act).  But the reason women are almost never the abuser, is because we are not taught that we have any implicit authority over men.

The first article I referenced above included this passage:

"The believers are directed in the Quran:

"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain Bliss. [Quran 24:31]"

It is reasonable to think that men of the same biological family would not normally be attracted to women of their family (there have been studies to this affect - in one, women found the sweat of men most genetically different to be the most appealing), and thus, could safely view their beauty.  But there are a few men on that list that are permitted to view the beauty of women not biologically related to them.  What is to stop them from lust-driven acts because of this open exposure (at home, anyway) to female attractiveness?  Rules, Commandments, social norms?  If they are capable of overcoming this supposedly inherent animal aggression when they view these select few women, why can't they extend that ability to all women?  Do they not also have obligations to all women?  Obligations to respect them and their autonomy?

Ultimately, I am not trying to talk anyone out of practicing their own religious customs.  I point these things out to say that the logic and assumptions behind these customs don't fly with me.  Since I am agnostic and have no religious regulations to adhere to, there is no rationale left for me to abide by these customs.  I don't believe men are incapable of self-control.  I don't believe women are safe when they conform to any standard of cultural modesty - or beauty, for that matter.  I believe objective statistics, including historical accounts, confirm that.  I believe that reason confirms that.

Finally, I will say that, while I think there is nothing overtly sexual in simple nudity, I don't believe that anyone has the right to force the exposure of anyone's body.  I think the recent publication of nude celebrity photos is a kind of sexual violence.  Because we do still have cultural taboos about nudity, and it is a fundamental violation of a woman's consent to share her nudity with whom she pleases.  It is akin to being stripped down in the middle of town, over and over again, against her will.  I hope some day we will recognize that act, the sharing nudity without consent, as the shameful act it is.

But that's another aspect of this culture we need to work on.  And that makes me hopeful, because we are so very capable of change - for the better.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chop Suey

Mix Bakeshop
Soy Decaf Cappuccino
Whiskey Apple something something scone thingy (which was awesome)

Sorry, not a System of a Down reference (sadly).  It's list time!  It's been eventful lately and I couldn't settle on what to write so here we go.

1.  Go fucking vote!  Fuck your fucking cowardly cynicism - even if it is valid and based on reality!  Vote anyway!  You may not change an outcome, but your not-voting definitely will.  It makes you a tool of those who want to see your demographic stay home, who want to you stay disaffected and uninvolved.  People fucking died for this!  They died in the Revolution.  They died in the Civil War.  They were beaten, falsely imprisoned, hanged! - in the decades of Jim Crow and Women's Suffrage!  Show them some fucking respect and get your ass to the poll!

If they give you shit about your address or registration - demand a provisional ballot.  If your employer gives you shit, inform them that it's a protected right that they have to give you time to exercise and retaliation is prosecutable offense.  I don't care what your other reasonable excuses are - they're reasonable, they're valid - now get the fuck out there and vote anyway!

Okay done.

2.  Last night I watched a segment on 60 Minutes where a female reporter was interviewing a fundamentalist British Muslim leader, of some sort or other.  At one point in their discussion he said she should wear the hijab.  She said something to the effect of, "That's ridiculous."  Which is a totally valid reaction that will in no way impact his thinking.  But what would?  That, to me, is the most unsettling question.

I tweeted later (around 2am - so much for getting that extra Daylight Savings hour for sleeping):

There are two ways you can make me wear a hijab: convince me you're right, or use violent manipulation.
Only one might save my soul.

And I could expound on that, but on to...

3.  Henry has a touch of autism.

We finally met with an evaluator from the school district and she said, in her opinion, that is the term that best describes his symptoms right now.  Someday down the road a few years, there may be a more succinct diagnosis, or combination of diagnoses.  That does not mean we should be trying to make his symptoms go away - no parent should hold on to that, to try to refuse to accept what is.  It's not about him being "cured" of autism.  It's just that he's 4 years old.  He has a lot of developing to do, and how we react and guide his behaviors now can greatly impact his mental terrain in the future.  Plus, more distinct behaviors may come to light over time.

One thing I really appreciated her explaining was that the door thing is a soother for him.  When he is generally more anxious - like after starting school, or going way off our really loose schedule - he will gravitate towards opening and closing doors to help him calm down.  Halloween was crazy with the doors, which brings me to...

4.  Halloween!  Oliver was an astronaut and Henry was a rock star.  So, naturally, Oliver wanted to be a rock star astronaut.  We tried to walk in the parade this year since we finally got there in time for the beginning, but it was too much for Oliver.  The parade here in Ashland is crazy and wonderful but just too overwhelming for one tiny toddler.  He loved the trick-or-treating though.  He giggled every time someone put a piece of candy in his bag, because he just could seem to believe this was a legitimate deal.

Mom was a vaguely Steampunk poet again.  My hat was spectacular - a top hat with a crow... wearing a top hat!  Unfortunately, I didn't like any of the pictures of me and I didn't have the same awesome jacket I had last year because I'm still about 25 pounds heavier than last year.  However, I am getting healthier, and that leads me to...

5.  Health update: I am not crazy inflamed woman anymore.  Also, less crazy, too.

I mentioned in my last fibromyalgia blog that I had my CRP levels checked earlier this year and they showed that I was super-inflamed.  Twenty-two point something.  I just had them rechecked, and they are not only under the four-point-whatever maximum, they are loooooow.  Okay, I forget that number, too, but, still - a 20-point drop?  To what do we owe this dramatic change?  Unfortunately, I can't quite say.  Here's a recap of what I've been doing.

So, last year, I weaned Oliver and started taking Prozac (or Faux-zac, as I called it since it was the generic).  Hence, my cool Steampunk jacket not fitting anymore.  But it did basically nothing, so I decided to try a diet change-up and tried to drop almost all animal products from my diet (I like my honey).  Unfortunately, I didn't sit down with a nutritionist first and structure my diet, and that led to my weight going up even more and, when we checked my CRP, mucho inflammation.

The problem was protein, in this case.  I woefully underestimated how much I would need, and I just wasn't getting enough calories during the day.  This brought on intense sugar/carb cravings in a desperate attempt to to catch up - and to make my head feel better.  Craving sweets is craving serotonin, too.  So, as part of my depression and pain treatment, I met up with a dietitian and came up with a 1400 calorie plan.  I struggled with it, especially getting the protein.  I finally was given a number to shoot for: since I was about 180 lbs by that point, I needed about 65 grams per day.  (Oh.)  That number will go down as my weight continues to go down again.

I added eggs back and that helped.  And here's another interesting factor - with the eggs came more salt.  And in my case, that seems to be a good thing.  When I was younger my friends used to joke about getting me a salt-lick.  No one would share my pop corn (and, in fairness, it was a little too much for me, too, sometimes).  But, as un-American as it sounds, I think I've generally been lacking salt throughout my life.  I used to get rid of headaches sometimes by pouring salt on my hand and licking it off.

So there's that.  And considering that I have wonky nerve functions, and that salt is involved somehow or other with the electro-chemical process, I think there may be a legitimate connection to my fibromyalgia and/or depression/anxiety symptoms.  Even if I can't quite explain it all properly.  At any rate, more salt (but not too much) makes me feel noticeably better.  But there's still a lot of other stuff going on.

I also cut my grain intake - particularly processed grains - way, way down.  Half a cup of oatmeal (non-instant) w/my breakfast, and maybe half a cup of rice w/dinner.  Two servings a day - that's it.  And in between... in addition to a mighty big salad for lunch, I have made it a part of our exploding budget to buy a good green powder mix and a good (non-dairy) protein mix, and I use that concoction to knock down my morning pills.

And, oh, pills...

First, we upped the fish oil (3 grams/day), and in addition to some other tweaks, I added GABA, Kava Kava, and turmeric.  I think these last ones have been the final, most important factors in the big turnaround.  GABA is good for anti-anxiety and as a muscle relaxer.  Then I brought in the kava and it has been the Great Mellower.  I am so much better about keeping my cool, and recovering it, with the boys now.  (Be careful with the kava, though, should you decide to give it a try.  There was a great kerfuffle over it about a decade ago.  Just make sure to not take any more than is recommended, and, as always, talk to your doc before taking it.)

The last thing I added was the turmeric.  There has been a lot of research coming out lately about its anti-inflammatory properties.  I used to take a certain brand a while ago (it had ginger in it, as well, which is another known anti-inflamer... that doesn't sound right... any-hoo) and I could tell that it helped bring down my pain a bit.  But I can't get that brand anymore and I don't have as noticeable an effect with the new brands I've tried.  But with the emerging data, it seems like it might be the biggest influence on my 20-point drop.

But I don't know.  We weren't checking my levels all the way through this last six month change-up, so I can't pinpoint one particular cause for the turnaround.  I offer this summary, these clues, because all of these - the diet, the supplements - seemed to have a benefit.  So many of my friends are struggling with pain in one form or another.  These are some clues to what just might help.  Maybe it's all of it together.  I wish I could be more definitive.  I hope some of it helps.

and the shop is closing.  No edits, once again.  Good night, and good luck!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Cult of Pumpkin Spice

12oz Decaf Soy Pumpkin Spice Latte w/Light Whip

...yes, I felt rather douche-y when she called out my order.  But I figured if the soy pumpkin spice steamer (just steamed milk with flavoring) cost almost $4, then I might as well order the infamous Starbucks PSL and just go for it.  I regret this decision.  It's not worth the hype and the $4.55 price tag.

I've tried various pumpkin spice creations this autumn and I am mostly disappointed.  The pastries have been the most successful (I fondly remember devouring half a pumpkin spice cheesecake in one night, but I was pregnant at the time, so I have an out), but the beverages have been mostly too "flavored" and sicky sweet.  I favor just focusing on the wonderful warm spices - nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove - and stop ramping up the sugar and the strange, artificial squashy flavor.  My favorite fall drink is a "harvest coffee" which is just the spices and a little hazelnut and vanilla flavoring in regular coffee, with a little bit of whip or some soy - just a bit.  A true comfort beverage.

End coffee ramble.

Some of you reading this (some of my old barista brethren and sistren) are probably nodding and smiling and thinking fondly of your next visit to ye old coffeehouse.  Or, like me, you are thinking of all things autumn: cool evenings and scarves, the smell of wet, fallen leaves.  Others are probably groaning or being outright condescending.  And it's you people I want to talk to today.  You may have your rationale for your distaste - I, too, am pretty damn annoyed with the Cult of Pumpkin Spice.  Capitalism is great for ruining a good thing with its commoditization and market over-focus.  But, still, I ask you all:

Don't poop on other people's happiness.

And, while we're at it, don't let anyone ever make you feel bad for what brings you joy.

I think back to when I was a kid imagining my future career.  I seriously wanted to be just about everything at once.  And everything was a possibility.  I was never told I couldn't do something because I was a girl, and girls couldn't do math or drive trucks for a living.  But my dad let his distaste be known for some of the careers I thought I wanted to go for, like being a singer or an actress.  I think he tried to walk it back later on when he realized that I was into those things.  But the damage had been done, so to speak.

My dad was the center of my young universe.  He gave me the gift of wonder, of questioning, of a slightly off-beat taste in humor.  And I felt embarrassed to like something he didn't think so much of.  So I diminished my dreams of doing those things and refocused on other things that I loved... that he happened to esteem a bit more than the theater stuff.  I wasn't fully aware until I was older how I had altered my desires around my father's opinions.

Now, I'm secure enough to hold on to the things that I love, to defend them without being defensive.  The same holds true of my opinions.  It was jarring during my adolescence, when I starting running into situations where my peers had vastly different ideas than I did, and I didn't know how to respond at first.  Now, I can still love and esteem the person and allow for us to have different opinions and preferences.  It's also why I'm not so rigid on some of my opinions any more, because the truth is probably somewhere in between.  I know my mind, I know why I believe what I believe and how much room there is for alternate perspectives.

Live and let live.  That's why I don't declare outright hatred or wrongness for anything... like pumpkin spice lattes or Justin Bieber, everyone's favorite pop culture whipping-boy.

I will engage in discussions about opinions if I think it's an appropriate situation to do so, but without any hate or condescension.  In particular, if I think someone is being hateful or hurtful to others, whether they have intended to or not, I have decided to be the one to (lovingly) poke a hole into their worldview.  Too often we are insulated in these ideological bubbles and only hear the same, increasingly myopic, flippant, and hostile commentary rebounding back at us.  I may not always come off even-tempered and kind (especially at 2 am over the internet) but it's all meant with love.

Because people are people... quothe Depeche Mode... and everybody deserves respect and space to love what they want to love, so long as they're not hurting anybody else.  Simple enough, right?

So... to wrap up this ramble... as a parent myself, now, I have vowed to keep my opinions about the things my boys like to myself.  I am really leaning on their father to do the same.  No matter how young they are, they can still absorb the contempt and snide remarks about some of the most annoying of their cartoons and such.  And it's never too early to cultivate the practice of allowing them the freedom to love what they want.

And, fortunately, at this age, I can limit their access to the most annoying stuff (they have no idea who Barney is, so no one send them any videos for Christmas, please!).  Right now they have excellent taste in music, if you are someone who believes that excellent taste includes the Beatles, the Pretenders (Oliver's doll "Chris" is now "Chrissy"), Talking Heads, the Smiths, TV on the Radio, Henry Rollins, Foo Fighters, Radiohead, lots of Moby, and the Smashing Pumpkins, which Henry requested in the car today since we were on our way to pick out our Halloween pumpkins.

Alright, I've lost the plot again.  The boys are done playing in the Barnes & Noble kids section and are itching to go home.

I guess I can add on a happy note that, while I did not pursue a career as a singer, music is actively part of my life.  I'm singing again in a choir at the local community college.  I might even go out for a solo this quarter.  I don't need the celebrity I once imagined as a child - just the little joy, each Tuesday night, of getting together with other people who share the love.

Aaaand I'm done.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Forever in love with the moon

Mix Bakeshop
16oz decaf Americano (w/cinnamon because I will not hide my love for the autumn spices!)

I made my mom cry last time, so we're going with something a little lighter this week...  I woke up from a dream with a song in my head.  It was complete in my dream and had a sing-song, waltzy quality to it.  Of course, I couldn't remember more than the last few lines upon waking... which have become the chorus in this song, constructed from the remnants of that dream.

In honor of the moon being especially spectacular this week...

A Waltz for the Moon

Nothing is nearer
nor more distant than a dream
No extremities farther flung
than the arms of this galaxy
And all I want is
to wrap them around us
til all the stars fall in
and together we are crushed
by the gravity

My feet are earth-bound
but I'm forever in love with the moon
Love dies on the ground
and I'm forever in love with the moon

A million years searching
every glance for the starlight,
confusing candlelight for supernovae
while black holes await
my over-eager heart

My feet are earth-bound
I'm forever in love with the moon
Love dies on the ground
I'm forever in love with the moon

Warm curves of earth cradle me
on red fallen leaves,
I inhale the first rains of autumn,
more sensations surrounding
than there are stars in the sky

But I remain
the steadfast astronomer
hungering for light
from stars already fading,
untouched by the dewy grass
on which I lay

My feet are earth-bound
I'm forever in love with the moon
Love dies on the ground
I'm forever in love with the moon

Forever in love with the moon

Monday, October 6, 2014

Being the Poor Kid

Mix Bakeshop
Soy Cappuccino
Morning Roll

Scrolling through these blog titles, I don't know if I've ever explained being The Poor Kid.  I feel like I must have mentioned it along the way, but... I wasn't just poor as a kid.  I was The Poor Kid.  And I paid for it.

When I was born, my parents were married with two boys ahead of me, and owned their own fledgling businesses.  Hippie businesses, of course - health food stores, a juicing company - but job creators, nonetheless.  The American Dream, right?

And it fell apart.  My mom left while I was still in diapers.  My dad borrowed money, trying to keep the businesses afloat as business partners left and employees stole food from inventory and he paid other people to take care of us.  And finally, he had to make the decision to let it all go, because he felt it was more important to be the one to raise his own children.  The businesses went bankrupt and he filed for welfare.  This being the very early eighties, the case, initially, had to be filed under my mother's name because it was so uncommon for the father to be the caregiver.

Soon after, we had to move south to live in my grandparent's home in southern California.  Redlands.  I still have not fully made my peace with that place.  It's blazing hot and dry compared with the beautiful redwood coast of my birth.  And it was not a kind place to me.

There's a trade-off, being a poor kid in a well-off neighborhood.  You don't have to deal with many of the disadvantages that come with impoverished neighborhoods.  It was very safe, clean and well-maintained by the city.  And it had a "great school."  But you stand out among the well-groomed, healthy "rich" kids.  In hindsight, I don't know if they were even rich, or just upper middle-class.  They just seemed worlds away from where I was.

I was mixing peanut butter and jelly on a plate because we didn't have bread, while one of my neighbors is putting in a fountain.  Kind of big one, too.  Our clothes weren't always new, and they certainly weren't stylin'.  Our shoes were well-worn before we got new ones.  We didn't have a lot in the way of stuff.  We were just "without" a lot of things.  When things broke, they stayed broken.  A broken window, central air or heat.  I remember one very cold winter huddled around the lone space heater.  I used to ask my dad about financial details, what our bills were, because I was often anxious about what might get shut off next.

It's hard enough to deal with the stress of being poor, even for a kid.  Harder still to be aware of what's missing, and how close and how seemingly easy the fix is.  It's harder still to be a child hungering for a missing parent, and having the one beside you struggling to fill that need for comfort.  Especially when they are so broken, too.  I didn't understand the damage for all of us until much later.

And our financial problems were always supposedly temporary.  We were always just a month or two from off welfare.  My dad was always working on something or other.  Sometimes he worked a little under the table - he taught himself everything he could learn about computers and would repair or build them for people.  It wasn't enough to earn a living outright, and you can only make a very tiny amount or you are ineligible for assistance.  But when my father took an actual full-time job, his pay was garnished (for the money he borrowed trying to keep the businesses afloat) and he actually received less than when we were on welfare.

So, he was always working on some project or other to jump start us out of poverty.  My father is an incredibly smart person.  I have met few people in my life as smart as him, or with such a strong moral conviction.  And the fact that this intelligent man, formerly his own employer, couldn't get us out of our situation ate away at him.  I will never forget his face after getting dirty looks in the supermarket for using food stamps.  We almost never ate outright junk food, but he had deigned to buy a bottle of grapefruit soda - that had to cost all of $0.59 - and that was a moral outrage to some pious snob in the line behind him.

If he had known how long things were going to stay like that he says he would have done things differently.  But temporary things, in my life, have tended go on for years.  At least, we were safe.  We had a roof over our heads - a house, too! - some food in the fridge, and clothes on our backs.  All that really is a privilege, even if I couldn't feel it at the time.  And partly, I had a hard time feeling grateful for anything because of that "great school" we went to.

I used to say that I was teased at school.  Now, I can call it what it was: bullying.  It was relentless psychological torture.  From first grade through sixth, I got it every day.  Because I stood out.  I had the free lunch ticket and not a lot of friends.  And because it worked.  When the insults started being thrown, the struck hard, probably because I was already down.  I wasn't a whole 6 year-old.  What I needed was love and support and healing - and confidence.  What I got was contempt.

It wasn't just from the kids at school, either.  This was the Reagan era and shaming the poor was in the air.  Even one of my teachers made the remark in class that poor people, homeless people, really wanted to be that way and they could help themselves if they actually wanted to.  They just wanted a hand-out.

I'm amazed her head didn't spontaneously combust under my red hot glare.

I don't remember the first time I thought about suicide, but it was well before that incident.  That was 5th grade - it was way before that.  Second grade, maybe?  I'm kind of glad no one was talking about cutting back then, because that would have been in my brain and I'm not sure I wouldn't have experimented with it.  But I never did go through with it, the times I held a knife to my little wrist.  Partly, I was afraid of pain, but mostly I thought, "I'm not going to let those fuckers win."

Yep, I even had a potty mouth back then when I was eight.

My parents, of course, had no idea things were that bad.  No one did.  Because kids don't tell.  They don't know the words to express the darkness they're feeling, nor do they know exactly what to ask for.  After all, everybody gets "teased."  It's not like I was being "bullied" - no one was beating me up.  Not physically.  And like I said, I was the Poor Kid.  I deserved it, didn't I?

All those days I stayed home sick, I wasn't trying to dodge a math test.  I was worn out from the stress of having to go to school and put myself through wringer every damn day.  I really could make myself sick from it.  And putting myself through that crucible changed someone who loves learning into someone who hates the institution that could offer it.

But fifth grade was also a turn-around year.  First, my principle bully (who had no idea, years later, why on earth I "hated" him) was not in my class, for the first time since first grade.  But more importantly, a group of moms started coming into class every so often to talk about self-esteem.  They acted out skits, gave us techniques that I still use today.  And I was not too old to love Harmony Bear.  I hope they know, wherever they are today, how much they radically improved my whole life.

But still, so much damage was already done.  My formative years were not healthy ones.  I've come a long, long way from then, but when your foundation is so unsteady, it takes a lot more just to be okay.  Still, I don't hate those kids now - not even my old bully.  They were just kids.  It was just happenstance that they were well-off and I was not.  If things had gone differently with my parents, I could have been among them.  (Although, that might have meant being raised in an unhappy, dysfunctional marriage, which does its own damage... who knows?).

The parents of those mean kids (some of my classmates were really sweet, by the way) failed them as much as people think my parents failed me because they didn't teach me how to "shake it off" when I was teased.  My parents didn't know that I was in a psychological crisis.  Their parents didn't know their darlings were contributing to it.  Apparently, the kids didn't know it, either.  It's difficult to teach lessons you don't know you need to teach.

The first step is acknowledging the behavior for what it is.  We've come a long way on that front.  But there's still resistance out there.  There are people who think stopping the kind of behavior I was subjected to is tantamount to coddling.  And that's making us a nation of wusses, too weak, too fragile to handle the harsh realities of life.  That really is not the problem we face today.  It was the harsh realities of life that made me vulnerable to the abuse.  And, really, how resilient is a 6 year-old supposed to be? ...a 7 year-old? ...8 year-old? ...9 year-old? ...10 year-old? ...11 year-old? ...12 year-old?

The persistence of it is what causes the deep, lasting damage, and what distinguishes it as bullying, not banter or occasional teasing among peers.  It is also that it takes place between people who are not fully peers - jock to nerd, homophobe to queer, snob to ramenista, to employ a few stereotypes...

Obviously, I read an article that explains that all much better, but, of course, I'm not going to link to it because I'm already more than an hour over my parking limit.

Let me just say, before I post yet another unedited blog (sorry- I'll edit it for the book - yes, that is still happening - no, really), and before I collect another parking ticket... my experience as the Poor Kid infuses my understanding and empathy for the Outsider, but it doesn't make me vindictive.  Nor does it keep me from being able to see facts that may be presented from the other side of the discussion.  If they are facts.  But we have spent so long demagoguing the poor that we have a long way to go to even be in the same conversation.  As difficult as it was to live poor, and we were on welfare years longer than most people are, but I still had it way easier than most.  And I have the painful privilege of an understanding of the consequences of social policies that other people who have not been poor just cannot have.

Unless they listen.  I'll listen too.

And it's time to go.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sacrilicious Sunday Services blog: Too much tech?

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The second and last blog...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Are we more connected or less connected because of social media?

So it's not Sunday... whatevs... This blog will be switching to a vlog (or blog/vlog hybrid or something) once I get it all sorted out. In the meantime, I'll give you a topic...

I saw this link yesterday to a video called Look Up arguing that we are cut off by our obsessive social media activities. It's like slam poetry but a bit slower. And it's good, but I find myself wanting to tell the author to just calm the hell down. It's so dire. I can't say that the amount of time we're spending on electronics isn't a problem, especially kids, but it's not the only thing going on. It's also not like this is the first time in history we've had anti-social trends.

There was a black&white picture going around recently of a crowded commuter train fully of nobody talking to each other because they were all behind their newspapers. Then came radio, and then television, personal computers and video games, each being hailed as the end of civilization as we know it. That isn't entirely wrong. The old norms pass away, but some things always remain.

I'm sitting in coffee shop right now. Some people are chatting, some on their computers, some behind a book or a newspaper. Almost everyone has checked their phone at some point. Even head-down over an app, we're communicating. We're chatting or texting with a friend. We're receiving information about the inane and momentous things going on in their lives right now. We're losing ourselves in a story, fictional or autobiographical. Some of us are reading about upcoming statistical research papers (because we are unashamed geeks). None of this stuff is new.

But I don't dismiss the truth that the amount of electronic interface time is changing. We can be accessible at all times. Some of us are physiologically addicted to checking our twitter and facebook accounts. I know the kids are supposed to be crazy texters - I remain one of the world's slowest - and so they come from a different mindset than when I was younger. There is no doubt that young brains develop differently when they spend too much time in front of a screen, at least partly because the brain reacts differently to an electronic screen than it does to the light bounced off a book, or the face of a friend. And it can't be argued that we can treat people differently when we are behind an internet connection than when we have to look at them eye to eye. We can be far, far crueler...

But I have found the various forms of electronic media to be the lifeline I have needed at different times in my life. When I have been homebound for long periods of time, being able to interact, even with strangers, online, I have felt like I still existed in the world. It has saved me from the rabbit hole of my own mind. It can get pretty dark down there, and you can always count on a little lolcat to drive away some of the darkness. Even so-called mindless cable TV helped abate some of the post-partem depression and loneliness I experienced after both of my boys were born.

There's a limit, of course. We need social interaction, but we can't get it all at a distance. We need to breath in other human thoughts and other human faces. We need empathy and discourse. We need human touch. And we need nature, fresh air and greenness. We need play and self-stimulous and imagination. If we are to remain a healthy society, we need to find the balance of all these forces.

Think of our electronics as a kind of food group. It's okay to ingest them, just in the right proportions for each person. It also means treating them like mealtime. A little snack is okay, even a meal of two. But some of us pop tweets like we pop potato chips. It's not healthy to be constantly eating, even small amounts, all day and especially not all night.

One last thing before I post this without editing and run off to my physical therapy appointment. In this video, it shows a missed opportunity for a relationship because of these nefarious electronics. You know how else you can miss out on talking to that person? Stopping to smell the flowers. Being on the other side of the street. Or even being at the park, which plenty of kids still do around here. You can't spend your life standing around on street corners waiting to have that chance encounter with "The One." That's why it's called chance.

Silly people. But I take your point.

So, anyone reading this, go meet up with some friends or strike up a conversation with some strangers and tell me what you think. Is our technology a leash or a lifeline?


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Pumpkin Scone

From the Sacrilicious Sunday Services blog that nobody read: Patriotism.

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Pumpkin Spice Muffin
(screw you, pumpkin spice haters!)

I won a free coffee and it's National Coffee Day!  I has a happy.

Anyway... A few months ago, I tried to start up a new blog with the intent to create a discussion topic for my tiny handful of readers to engage other people in, and then respond with thoughts from their discussions.  People seemed to have missed the memo... and the comment thingy was having issues.  So, I think I shall try it again as a video blog later on.  Maybe after the new year.  I'm going to focus on finishing up book stuff (yeah, I'm still doing the book thing) in the meantime.  Anyway, here is the first topic from that blog from April.  Feel free to discuss with your bus driver or annoyed barista...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Let's start with patriotism.

What is your definition of patriotism, and do you think it is a good thing?

Voltaire is often quoted as saying, "It is lamentable that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind." Or something like that. I tried to tease out a more definitive definition from the online dictionary pages, but I wasn't quite satisfied. The interpretations seemed to be a little more modern, and the origins were a little... abrupt, and unclear. All that's clear is that it comes from the words for father and fatherland. The modern definitions mention love and devotion, and that just seems a little more romantic to me - more benign. I recall thinking that patriotism most implied an expectation of loyalty - loyalty to your fatherland.

And that's why I tend to agree with Voltaire's interpretation.

I don't believe in unquestioning, unwavering loyalty, not to any person or country or land. I don't believe in elevating my country and countrymen to some higher kind of humanity. And I do not think anyone, even someone I trust and care about, should be obeyed without scrutiny. No one is infallible, and even someone I reasonably trust now may prove to be a complete idiot about something else later. This is why I would make a bad soldier. That, and certain physical shortcomings we need not dwell on here.

All that's enough to get labeled a coward or weak, or that I somehow hate the troops. Fuck that. Just because I recognize that every other human being on this planet is a human being, that doesn't mean I don't care about my home and my family. And I include my country and countrymen when I say that. If the proverbial wolf is at the door, I would not cower. I would not hesitate to rise to the defense. For some people that means signing up and taking up arms. I respect that, but I can't do that. I can't put myself at other people's discretion to direct. I don't trust those people on the best of days, and committing to all the acts of war on someone else's say-so... just can't do it.

If I am patriotic at all, then I fulfill my patriotic duty by trying to keep the men and women who swear themselves to defend me from ever having to fulfill that sacrifice. I will always question the need to go to war. War is the definition of failure in my eyes. If you have to go to war then every other means of resolution must have been tried and must have failed.

(Oh, my goodness... "It's the final countdown!")

Anyway. I guess talk of patriotism always turns to war because that seems to be the finest test of loyalty - put your life on it or you don't really mean it. I hate that notion, too. I agree with that bumper-sticker: Peace is Patriotic. Yes, I was born in America so I have to tend to the matters of my family. That means supporting it, trying to make it better. It is my homeland and I love it, but it doesn't get a pass. I believe in the idea of America - the idea of it is truly one of the greatest humanity has come up with. But America isn't the idea it wants to be, or thinks it is. And America isn't the only great idea, either.

I wouldn't be a good patriot if I pounded on my chest shouting, "American Exceptionalism!" That would be a self-deluding lie, and lies are not going to make us a better country. A human being is a human being is a human being, and countries might help in an organizational sense (for things like getting your social security check in the mail) but not much for purposes of compassion and understanding. These arbitrary delineations are just another way of creating a false distance between us.

So, am I a patriot? I don't know. I'm not a nationalist, I know that. I'm not a chest-pounder, or cheerleader. I'm not much for competitive sports, or dominance, anyway. I will never shove my flag in anyone's face. But I care about the place I live and the people that live in it. But I care about everyone else, too.

I guess, if I'm a patriot, I'm a disobedient patriot.

...You know, I thought that was going to be the last line, but then I remembered that whole Bundy Ranch thing...

My "patriotic disobedience" doesn't include aiming automatic weapons at other people when I disagree with them. I believe in the rule of law. I know that laws can be wrong, and administrators of laws can be corrupt and abusive (I'm not saying that's the case here, just saying...). But we have means of recourse built into the system. Armed insurrection is not one of them, not while the system is still basically in tact. If people are not perfect, then no system we come up with can be perfect. So if you tear down one system with violence, whatever system you come up with will still have that fatal flaw running through it. The best we can do is try to make the system we have as balanced and transparent as we can, with viable means of challenging fault when we find it.

Okay... Thoughts?

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