Tuesdays with Abhorrent Fiends vol. 49: My kingdom for a chair!

And evolving from the sea
Would not be too much time for me
To walk beside you in the sun

~the Pixies

Please, I ask indulgence of all my readers, you in particular--who will in due course be identified. Kind of.

I was going to post a long, involved, reasonable-sounding follow-up to my last post, but fuck it. Those sorts of things never, ever, ever have their intended effect, and besides, about two-thirds of the way through I realized I didn't even know what my intended effect was.

From time to time lately I have been depressed. Mostly, this is because I have been unable to find gainful employment that gets me out of the apartment and makes me feel useful. There are also other reasons, some involving my being unable to magically fix Dave's depression or magically bring my father back from the dead. One of the reasons I have lately been depressed, however, I intend to address right now. And see what happens.

People (or, at least, this particular person whom I allegedly am at the moment) write complicated, long-winded analyses of religious viewpoints for at least one of three reasons:

1. To convince themselves of the correctness of their current viewpoint, of which they are then unsure,
2. To convince people of the opposing viewpoint of the correctness of theirs, or
3. To inform third parties, not otherwise involved in the discussion, of their (the author's) understanding of the terms of the dispute between the two viewpoints.

#2 does not happen. It never works. Ever, ever, ever. People change their beliefs only when they, themselves, confront a situation in their lives for which their current belief set is incapable of providing them with the appropriate transformations to effectively confront. If an argument presented in such a way ever did sway somebody, it was because they already experienced a crisis for which their current belief set was insufficient and was looking to add in new parts anyway. So I am not going to become a Christian because of logical debates, nor is a certain particular loved one of mine going to become a non-Christian of any stripe because of logical debates. We'd just sit there, either at our respective keyboards or on our respective couches, flapping our fingers and/or gums until we became blue in the hands and/or face, without accomplishing anything other than carpal tunnel and/or anoxia. As long as our respective belief sets are getting the job done for us, we are not going to commit any of our precious, precious mana to any others, and all the appendage-flapping in the world isn't going to change that one jot or tittle. I am totally fine with that, and differences of opinion even on matters of such great importance should not be an impediment to loving relationships between people who have gone through hell and high water together.

And Christianity itself isn't especially the problem. Belief sets, in and of themselves, never are. One of the things I believe is that virtually any belief set can be employed to produce virtually any mental/emotional state, depending on the goals, opinions, and available personality energies employed by the individual believer. So it is neither my goal to deconvert, nor to be deconverted.

"What, then," I ask myself, "o mighty analyzer of many motives, is your motivation? What exactly is it that you are trying to accomplish?"

I want to understand. I want to understand what happened that caused you (yes, you!) to believe as you believe, hoping somehow that offering a step-by-step account of how I came to believe as I believe might make it a fair trade. I want a step-by-step breakdown of the process that led, either from inactive disbelief through inactive belief to active belief, or from some other point A to some other point B. Because I Do Not Get It. I was blind or stupid or not paying attention or all wrapped up in selfish concerns and somehow, somewhere along the line I missed something very important that was happening inside you.

Was there anything I could have done, at any point, to make your search for a more effective belief set easier or more pleasant? Did you attempt to consult me and have me blow you off because I was selfish and stupid? Or did you consciously decide not to consult me, either because it was a matter too private to get a sororial second opinion on, or for some other reason that seemed sensible to you at the time? Did it sneak up on you overnight, as un-analyzed emotions boiled up out of the back of your brain and made a de facto decision for you? Or did it happen slowly, under the light of day, as you took out certain key experiences and emotional states one by one and riffled through possible belief sets to see which one provided the transformations which would make all of them bearable?

I realize this is not, possibly, the best place for this sort of discussion. Especially considering the fact that whatever your thoughts and feelings on the subject have been, you have not shared them with me yet for one reason or another. Maybe it's all too raw and bloody in there and you still don't want to think about it consciously. Or maybe my judgment is compromised, I'm an unreliable confidant, and so you didn't think it was worth explaining to me because of how I would react. Perhaps there is some completely different reason. Such as the fact that I have not, until now, come out and asked in a plain and simple manner. If you would rather respond by email than by comment, which hangs out here on the internet where as many as a half-dozen people might possibly take the time to read it, that's cool.

But I am going nuts over here trying to figure out what the blazes is going on with you. And I am tired of taking the oblique approach. Well, yes, this still counts as an oblique approach. Cowardly, even. Of all my vices, I've lived with the awareness of that one the longest. I'm not cowardly as often or to the extent I used to be, or even in quite the same ways all the time. But the basic broad yellow streak is still etched across my soul. And rather than have you throw a small piece of furniture in my general direction (well do I remember the discussion in which you explained that you were not actually throwing it at me, just trying to startle some kind of non-zombie-like reaction out of me!), I would rather experience any of the just rewards of my cowardice out here on the internet, where I feel more at home.

Dammit, woman, I have been a fear zombie and a guilt zombie and a shame zombie, sometimes concurrently, other times consecutively. I flatter myself I can recognize the signs. You have turned yourself into some kind of a zombie. And I do not like it. I miss you, miss watching you live life as your most excellent, feisty, sarcastic, uppity self. The you who is always in charge of her own thoughts and feelings and has an opinion on everything. An opinion which is absolutely right at all times, even if it has recently changed in response to newly available data. I do not recognize this mousy, retiring head-in-the-intoxicating-sands-of-fictional-realities person, except in the memory of my own shameful past. And I do not like it. I did not like being it and I do not like seeing it!

Even in your response to my last post, I did not get a single one of YOUR opinions, nor any idea of what led you to them. Merely the opinions of Christian orthodoxy, which of late you apparently espouse, for reasons which utterly mystify me. I myself am undoubtedly to blame for having framed the discussion in terms of generalities and hypotheticals and other such cowardly evasions. So I was not, previously, asking for your opinions. Just kind of hoping that you would be so good as to volunteer some, given a non-threatening context.

Which is why I am now throwing a piece of rhetorical furniture in your general direction! I am not obliquely referring to matters on which you may or may not possess an individudal opinion; I am asking for your freaking opinion! Because I desperately want to know it!

Abhorrent? On a weekend?! (aka Tuesdays 48: Sin and forgiveness)

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the whole paradigm of sin and forgiveness, and I'm starting to think that it's broken. It is an idea with a lot going for it, but the effects on a personality rarely produce a long-term positive result when it is completely followed through.

Christians are supposed to forgive others, and thereby follow in the footsteps of God's forgiveness of all humankind. By so doing, they also support the correctness of their religion by demonstrating that adherence to divinely mandated standards of behavior produces the type of individuals that everybody wants to be around.

John Weaver recently posted something about forgiveness and abuse by clergymen that gave me some new insight on the topic. Here's a quote:

I find the politics of how abuse is handled in the church deeply frustrating. I have heard abuse victims being told to forgive their abusers, and then condemned if they did not choose to do so.

As I read it, the attitude that frustrates John is one in which the victim's lack of forgiveness is more troubling to those in authority than the perpetrator's crime, not to mention the perpetrator's repentance or lack thereof. In such a situation, the mandate to forgive is being selectively enforced as a means of social control, rather than universally enforced as a means of spiritual transformation. The weak are always required to forgive, but the strong are not always required to refrain from doing harm. Which is exactly the sort of attitude that having a close, personal relationship with God is supposed to help people eradicate from themselves and fight against in their social groups.

Dave and I recently watched an episode of Scientific American Frontiers that was all about chimps. (It's an awesome PBS show, hosted by Alan Alda--reruns air on Saturday mornings at some freakishly early hour, but thanks to our DVR we can watch at our leisure.) In between interviews with Jane Goodall and disturbing images of the bush meat trade, we got to see a center where they study the apes' social behavior. As it turns out, chimpanzee groups function using some of the basic building blocks of morality. Generous sharing is repaid by favors, fighting and selfish behavior are punished, senior members of the group mentor younger members of the group in appropriate action, etc. (Here's an article with some further info on the topic.) Moral behavior in chimps can help a group band together and cooperate in ways necessary to succeed in inter-group warfare, or survive hostile conditions in their environment.

The main distinction I can see between the human capacity for morality and that of the chimpanzee is that we have the ability to expand our moral compass--to apply the rules of good behavior to everyone, not just those who are already our allies. I say merely that we have the ability because we don't always use it. Whether it's a racial-supremacist group claiming that everyone outside their little genetic pool deserves to die, a high school clique whose members feel they don't have to be polite to other kids who aren't part of the "in" crowd, or a church whose members have collectively forgotten that heretics are people too, we can all succumb to our ancient instincts. But we each have the ability to move beyond that kind of insular attitude. We can teach ourselves to believe that all strangers are potential allies, that no person deserves to be branded an enemy in our minds unless they, as an individual, have wronged us, and that forgiveness and reconciliation, when such are possible, are always preferable to hostility and estrangement.

To me, the doctrine of original sin is meant to be a symbolic formula for inducing this transformation in the minds of people who believe in it. It goes something like this: "An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God is the head of a tribe which includes all humanity. He is the model for all behavior towards all people. I have wronged him, but he has forgiven me, even though he knows I will inevitably wrong him again. Therefore I must conform my behavior to the model he has provided for me, and forgive others even when my instincts tell me not to do so." If a person takes this bit of emotional algebra in and invests belief in it, then it will allow them to transform their personality in a way that overrides the instinctive human desire to use a double standard of morality. They will be able to adhere to a single moral code and apply it equally to all people, out of deference to the ultimate authority of God.

But like any other piece of perfectly nice emotional algebra, like any other symbolically encoded belief, forgiveness for original sin is subject to the same types of shortcuts I discussed back in Tuesdays 46. Much like the doctrine of predestination, you really only need to change one part of one element in original sin to completely negate its transformative power. Let's say that, instead of "God has forgiven me, even though he knows I will inevitably wrong him again", a person processed the belief as "God has forgiven me, because I have promised to try to obey him in the future."

An easy enough mistake to make, to be sure! In emotional terms the new version is less counterintuitive and easier to swallow. But it has changed the terms of the contract between God and supplicant. Instead of forgiveness offered freely, what you have is forgiveness offered in exchange for submission.

The eventual effect of this will be the double standard reborn, in a slightly different form. Submission to God's authority is required in order to obtain God's forgiveness. And since the interaction between the believer and God is the model for all other relationships, those who are under the authority of other human beings must submit to that authority. If they do not, they lose their status as bona fide members of the human authority figure's group, just as they would lose God's forgiveness if they ceased submitting to his authority.

But wait! you may be thinking. All I've really done so far is to support the traditional beliefs of Christianity--that it is good to believe humans are saved from their inherent sinfulness by grace alone. So why shouldn't we just go ahead and believe in Christianity, but be very very careful to believe exactly as the Bible instructs, without changing "one jot or tittle"? And what does any of it have to do with chimpanzees?

A belief is a hardworking thing. It doesn't just sit there in the back of your personality, to be taken out and dusted off when you're having a philosophical discussion. Belief shapes action the same way a spaghetti machine shapes dough. (I almost used a much less pleasant metaphor!) It forces out all the nebulous potential for effort, attention, and affection inside the personality through a rigidly defined set of possible means of expression, which imposes limitations but also provides direction and form.

In order for a belief to perform this important function, it needs to have the following essential qualities:
1. a positive value judgment (X is valuable and to be sought)
2. a negative value judgment (Y is not valuable and to be avoided)
3. a motive for accepting the belief (which binds the person's mana to it and allows it to be integrated into the structure of the personality)

(Keeping in mind my definition of "mana", which, similar to Freud's "libido", is the combined potential of the personality to produce effort, attention and affection. Dog, I really need to post a glossary one of these days. Or maybe an NAQ--Never Asked Questions. Yeah. I like the sound of that.)

The Christian concept of sin and forgiveness contains the first two elements, but the third is a cipher. The doctrine makes logical sense, but on an emotional level the would-be believer is faced with a nasty fill-in-the-blank. God offers forgiveness of sin. God also commands obedience to his moral standards--but not, we are told in no uncertain terms, in exchange for forgiveness of sin. The two interactions are part of the same relationship, but we are to consider them as being completely separate from one another in terms of causation. Forgiveness of sin is exchanged for repentance. Obedience, again according to doctrine, may be correlated with repentance, but we are not to presume to know the extent to which they are linked. What, then, is the motive which will allow the would-be believer to integrate God's moral commands into the day-to-day functions of their personality? I've already discussed "submission to God's authority" as a possible answer, so let's look at some others:

--Nothing. After all, God offers forgiveness freely. So long as one is prepared to apologize to God for all sins, one is perfectly free to keep committing them. For reasons of social pressure and/or cognitive dissonance, however, many people who try this one in practice usually either ease their way out of the religion entirely or switch to a different motive.

--Peer pressure. This one swaps out adherence to God's commands for adherence to those of God's commands that are actively enforced by the members of one's social group. It's not doctrinally sound and hence doesn't produce the personality transformation, but it is extremely practical and satisfies all the instinctive cravings humans have for peer reinforcement of beliefs and hierarchical social structure based on adherence to a group-specific worldview. And hey, free other-determined identity!

--Gratitude. Now, gratitude for divine favor is is a beloved talking point with the more superstition-minded elements in Christianity ("God got me this great new car!"), but this is a distortion that radically changes what the religion is all about. These types of believers aren't in it for an immaculate Christ who died to make it possible to obtain God's forgiveness; they're after a fairy godfather who will bring prosperity and good luck to those who play nice and wish really hard for the things they want.
But the kind of gratitude I'm talking about here is a whole different animal. Original sin means that all humans were born lacking the ability to make a spiritual connection with God--or that we have it as children, but lose it as soon as we develop the capacity to think for ourselves. The reason God created us was so that he could enjoy being connected to us, so when this is not possible, we have zero value. Christ's sacrifice allows us to fulfill our purpose again, which raises our value from zero to infinity. (Anything God wants is of infinite positive value. That's the nice thing about divinity.) Therefore we should have infinite gratitude. Looked at logically, this is a tautology, a circular argument: obey God because obey God. Looked at emotionally, it's actually a subtler version of the submission to authority motive: God is the only one who has the authority to determine value. If you obey God, you are valuable. If you do not obey God, you are worthless.
Now, it is possible for this to degrade into the same situation we ran into with submission to authority. If a believer acknowledges any other human being as more capable than themselves of interpreting God's judgments, then that person becomes a proxy for God, and as such can dispense judgments of ultimate value or worthlessness. But since, with gratitude, the thing for which the believer is grateful comes directly from God, it is possible to avoid this problem.

So, as far as I'm concerned, gratitude is the only remotely usable motive on this list. Using this motive, a person can bind the Christian moral code into the functional framework of their personality, apply its constraints to guide their actions, and expand their moral compass so that these morals affect their interactions with all humans, not just those within their group of allies. Here's where it gets interesting.

Any unrepented sin severs the connection between a person and God, changing their status from "saved and infinitely valuable" to "damned and completely worthless." Remember, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in life are not punishments for sin--they are the inevitable results of living in a world where sin exists. The only punishment for sin is in the afterlife. But since each sin is equally able to cause damnation, each requires a new act of repentance. And in between the commission of a new sin and its corresponding repentance, the believer's understanding of themselves must change to mirror their status in the eyes of God. Repentance is always possible, because God never stops forgiving, but is also constantly necessary, because human beings are innately flawed and can never stop sinning.

This sets up a non-stop rollercoaster, filled with constant heart-pounding peril and narrow escapes. Every situation is a life-or-death situation, and every misstep ushers in the specter of ultimate doom. "Oh no! I'm damned! Please help me, God, I regret this as much as I've ever regretted anything! Phew, now I'm saved. I better not do anything like that agai--oh, no, I'm damned!" The believer's mind and heart stand to attention at all times, teetering on a razor's edge between the terror of absolute guilt and the bliss of divine absolution.

No personality can sustain this. Flipping back and forth between maximum self-worth and total self-loathing requires a level of energy that would, if mana were heat, strain the resources of a small sun. It is horribly inefficient and totally impracticable. (The character of Joan of Arc in The Messenger seems to have managed it, but in real life that level of intensity tends to result in total gibbering mental breakdown rather than heroic feats of wonder.) Instead, in practice a person will gradually work their way into an equilibrium at some random point on the spectrum between the two.

If they land somewhere in the middle, the drama and magic of their faith will fade with time, as the emotional energy required to hope for salvation and fear damnation gets siphoned off into other personality functions.

If they land somewhere near the bottom, the constant self-loathing and desperate need to constantly obtain reassurance of God's forgiveness can have one of three effects. They can become whimpering automatons and retreat from reality. They can become so convinced of their own inability to reach God that they look to others to provide reassurance--thus switching to the peer pressure motive and losing their expanded moral compass. Or, like me, they can leave the religion entirely.

If they land somewhere near the top, they will usually take the euphoria of the assurance of salvation as a license to arrogate the value-determining powers of God. As one of God's favored, saved individuals, they come to believe they possess a special insight into what he wants from others. They will often then use this assumed moral authority to attempt to gain social power over others. A rare individual here and there is able to refrain from doing this, and these are the humble, happy Christians who see the bright side of everything and are kind and compassionate to everyone no matter how bad things get. I don't know that I've ever seen one outside of fiction; those I've met in person who vaguely resemble this ideal were some of the loopiest, shallowest, most gullible saps I've ever wanted to run away from screaming. Once or twice I've run across a humble-before-God-but-not-you Christian who had high self-esteem and felt they had a special insight into God's judgments, but also used that insight on themselves and as many of their own flaws and failings as they were willing to consciously acknowledge. I have more respect for them than any other type of Christian. But on the other hand, I've met non-Christians with the exact same qualities, who felt they had developed the ability to make sound moral judgments on their own, and were equally willing to apply those judgments to themselves as to other people.

The point of all this brings me back to the chimpanzees. We all have to learn to live with each other, just like the chimps do. We have to learn to behave in ways that make us functional members of a social unit, people other people want to be around, just like apes need to act like the kind of apes other apes want to be around. And as a human being, I want to be able to expand my moral compass to the point where I consider every individual my ally who has not specifically earned my enmity. It is an incredibly delicate and exacting task all by itself.

Original sin and divine forgiveness does offer a pre-defined set of moral values and an emotional algebra which makes it possible to expand my moral compass to include every other person in existence. But it is also a belief set which, at the very best, drops me into an infinite emotional loop from which I must somehow escape before I can even take up the work of constructing my personality to meet the challenges of everyday life. And once I have done so, I've got a set of moral values whose real-life applications I must work out for myself and an identity forged in the tension between my attitude towards the actions I take and the opinions my allies have of me. Plus one extra ally, God--whose opinion of me is either absolutely supportive or absolutely condemnatory or both at the same time, depending on what I've been up to lately and how deeply I'm willing to think it through. And gives me the opportunity to either completely support or completely condemn the people around me, depending on what I know about what they've been up to lately and how deeply I'm willing to think it through.

In other words, it costs a lot, leaves me exactly where I started, and imposes behavioral constraints not of my choosing in the process.

This is why I vastly perefer to invest my belief in a more biological-style model of the afterlife. If we can continue to participate in life in some altered form after our current bodies stop working, then I don't have any problem with the idea that life on that side is kind of like life on this side. Uncertain, difficult, sometimes fun, sometimes unbearable, and constantly changing. I could live with that.

Swiss cheese sleeping bag

(New song! Too happy about it to wait for Monday. "Doubt salmon" in verse two is a reference to the late great Douglas Adams, and "my brother" in the same verse refers to Myke, since I have no biological brothers. If you don't know who that is, I'll spare you the story. This song is a genuine rocker, which pleases me! The chorus uses some of those E-form bar chords I learned in order to be able to play "The Sad Punk" by the Pixies. Oh yeah.)

I don't mean to be a drag
but I'm all full of holes
like a Swiss cheese sleeping bag
with no pressure I come undone
jellyfish melting away in the sun
my mind climbed up above the tree line
and the cold wind always seems to be finding

the holes
the holes
the holes

the crooks ran out of banks to rob
and I'm hung from a fishing pole
trying to land me a job
a doubt salmon, a tuna melt
now I know how my brother felt
I crawled here on my own, but look
can someone please get me off of the hook

through the holes
the holes
the holes

my Swiss cheese sleeping bag got wet
think I smell mold
but I ain't dropping it yet
I got nowhere else to be
and nobody I can blame but me
so boil hot water, don't sit scratching
thread that needle, girl, start patching

the holes
the holes
the holes

Tuesdays with Abhorrent Fiends vol. 47: It's all in good fun 'til somebody loses an eye

So I've been out of work for a month and a half, and it has affected my self-esteem. This is not too surprising, since I have the kind of personality that is, shall we say, hypersensitive to the winds of time and circumstance. Like a whippy little reed, bent by the slightest breeze, but broken only by a sub-zero frost followed by a blizzard. Or something equally poetic.

Due to my lack of forward momentum in real life, I've turned more and more to games for that little hit of empowerment and validation they can provide. It's kind of like watering a plant with club soda. It gets the hydration in there and aerates the soil, but ultimately weakens the root system and makes the plant pale and stringy. Man, I've got to get away from these plant metaphors.

I'm aware that it's not entirely healthy to obsess over roleplaying games, be they online or console or PC-based. But the idea of taking on the role of an alter ego is only a small part of the appeal for me. The big draw is that in any game, you know that you will only be presented with problems you can solve. You will never confront a puzzle unless all the pieces necessary to solve it exist in the game, never be presented with a monster that is actually impossble to defeat. If you, the player, are patient and plan ahead, load your character up with all the items and skills and spells appropriate to the task, you will be able to overcome any challenge the game sets you.

So here's a list of all my beloved PBBGs.

The Kingdom of Loathing. I don't play as often as I used to--got my big sister into it, and she is a way more disciplined and accomplished player than me. The nice thing about KoL is that once you've beaten the game, you get to "reincarnate" back at the beginning as a new character class, retaining a few useful things you've obtained or accomplished in your previous run. It's turn-based, so you can only spend a finite amount of time on it every 24 hours. Also it is freaking hilarious.

I'd also signed up for a game with a similar gameplay layout to KoL but which is not funny. However, I've forgotten the name of the game, hence can't go back and play my characters. Yes, characters. It is a rare game that'll have me playing less than two characters. Many games frown on multis because people might use multiple characters to beef up one character with the items and buffs meant for a single one. But me, I crave perfect information. I want to run the first one through as a test character, with all the skills I might like to have, testing out the various action options and sequences of events. Then for the second character, I know which skills are actually more powerful, which courses of action most likely to bear fruit, and I can concentrate on those. Or, in the case of KoL, just have two characters in different phases of the game at all times so in case I get bored bashing hippes for the war effort, I can go fight possessed cans of tomatoes to help out the Captain of the Gourd.

BARP. Very, very similar to the NES game Ultima, if y'all have ever played that. A 2D, low-rez, graphics based environment that runs fairly speedily in a browser. I haven't played all that much for awhile, ever since I managed to get my character trapped in some underground caves filled with extremely powerful enemies, and haven't been able to find my way out. One nice thing about it is that you can load your own custom character icon. (Mine is The Cheat.)

Sryth. A text-based RPG with a very D&D style combat system, truly well-written quests and interesting dungeons. The major drawback? More than two thirds of game content is only available to subscribers. Arrgh.

And, most recently, Perenthia. The gameplay itself hearkens back to Zork, the grandaddy of all text-based dungeon games. But the game runs on the Microsoft Silverlight plugin, for which I had to use IE because it runs like a sullen, arthritic slug on Firefox. But the very best thing about it from my perspective is that it is still in the Alpha testing phase.

Every social group of living creatures has a hierarchy. From ants to chickens to chimps to people, there are those whose opinions hold weight and those whose views are brushed aside. And as anyone who has dipped a toe into an online community knows, alpha testers are the slightly less miniscule fish in the incredibly tiny pond, second only to mods and programmers. All others, however impressive their accomplishments, are mere Johnny-5-come-latelies. They get to reminisce about the old days before all the bugs were fixed and lord it over the newbies in the forums. They

When I realized how happy I was about this, I began immediately to question my motives. Am I so desperate for social power? Am I so frustrated with the trials and tribulations of real life that I turn to a crappy, bugs-not-fixed-yet text-based online universe?

Yes. Yes I am.

Musical Monday vol. 7

Back after a week without internet. The joy! The delight!

Well, not so much with the joy. The things that amuse me have all become less amusing. The things I take pride in all make me feel less proud. I have, how do you say, gone stir crazy. Am rethinking all over again just what I want to do with my life. In terms of what I think it may be possible to do. And it is frustrating.

But I have been taking great comfort in playing the guitar and singing, making shiny sounds. I did write a new song last week, so I'll post it up here. It being Musical Monday and all.

[leave it to you]

the window is closed but the cold gets in anyway
I've stopped waiting for the day it finally melts
my coffee cup's empty but I've sucked down plenty
god said, "call me when you get over yourself"

Jesus, I swear I've been paying attention
paying attention is all I can do
Jesus I care, but I have no intention
I have no intention to leave it to you

I just thought of something to write on my resume
ten thousand hours in the fantasy war
boss lady will pay me but then she will say to me
"I never thought you could handle much more"

lady, I swear, I've been paying attention
paying attention is all I can do
you may get there without my intervention
but I've no intention to leave it to you

you shrug and tell me what's happened inside your head
month sober and you're dead under the skin
dressed up or naked I've never been faking it
but that ain't the reason we're living in sin

baby, I swear I've been paying attention
but paying attention ain't all I will do
if you can't bear what your cold hands are clenching
I have no intention to leave it to you
it will always be
the end of time

the end of law
the end of life
~Mike Doughty

There's a point in Daniel Quinn's book Ishmael where the narrator realizes, with the help of his teacher, that when human beings choose to believe in a myth that places themselves at the end of time, it predisposes them to choose actions that help bring about the end of human life. It comes as a great surprise to the narrator, who has believed in such myths himself without even recognizing their narrative bias. The story that places man at the endpoint, the apex, of a long struggle of evolutionary progress can be just as apolcalyptic, in its own subtle way, as the story that names man the heir of God's new kingdom which will rise from the ashes of an imminent armageddon.

Over these past weeks, while I've been unemployed, I've come to realize just how much I rely on my social environment to provide working material for my internal narrative. Not only what I'm doing and with whom I'm doing it, but why I want to, why it matters, why I even exist, to a certain extent. Strip away the emotional bonds through which beliefs about reality are absorbed, and the ability to confront reality on a solid psychological footing gradually deteriorates. Isolation, as the God of Genesis remarked to Adam, is not good for us.

The social environment, as I've often discussed, is the proving grounds in which people develop their identities. There the fantasies and desires of the interior ego confront the necessity of taking on social roles, adapting to others' viewpoints, and effectively drawing on the personality's resources to meet the challenges and stresses of action in real life.

blah! humbug!

Please, if you've got the time, go on over to The Repository.

The illustrious Geds started it as a place to house stories etc., and I've actually taken him up on the offer to join him. He's already got a story going, Redemption Songs, about a man who is learning to appreciate life. You should read it, it's good! At first I looked at the narrator's introspectiveness and saw only what I knew of the author, but after awhile I started to kinda see where he was going with it. So I'm interested to see what happens next.

The story I posted today is the first fiction piece I've written since, well, middle school. I've tried to write prose story things since then--scifi, autobiography, and even, with great trepidation and mixed results, erotica--but insecurity always got the better of me within at most a page or two. I always had to shut it down, or else collapse in a gibbering heap of self-recrimination. But I always hoped, still, that eventually I'd work through whatever issues I wrestled with enough to pick up tale-telling, to get some of the scenes I picture in my imagination or dream while sleeping out in a form other than poetry. (Although I intend "The Knees of the Gods" to alternate chapters between prose and poetry. Keep me from gnawing off all my fingernails over this thing. I might not have the stones to try dactylic hexameter for chapter 2, but it is Zeus talking, so I should at least try.) Of late I am more determined than ever to avoid Dad's fate--dead, with a twenty-year-old first draft gathering dust in a drawer, and only the oral accounts of the bulk of the stories remaining.

Oy vey. Shouldn't be that hard, should it? I've gone like a week without posting here.

Not so much that I haven't been able to write, as that I've been casting around in my mind for something that seems worth writing about. I'm in one of those transitional phases where everything that usually amuses me feels flat and stale. Seems like depression, but I know it isn't. It's actually the first part of the upward slope in the sine wave of my long mood cycle.

See, everybody has a mood cycle. I think of it as a homeostatic balance in the personality, as it goes through a regular series of necessary maintenance functions. The shorter, day-to-day moods are as variable as the stock market, and as bizarrely interrelated with the events of a day. But the longer cycle has to do with personal growth, the identity meeting and adapting to new actions and circumstances. There's the peak, when a new lesson or piece of the identity puzzle has just been integrated. You feel like the world's your oyster, or like taking on the whole Empire yourself. Then the slow downslope, as you take your new knowledge or identity part and test it out in daily life. Although it's usually an improvement on the way things were before, you notice more and more aspects of reality and yourself that you still can't quite handle, even with your newfound excellence. After a while you hit a bottom (not THE bottom, which is a whole different kettle of worms), where you realize you need to change something else, learn something new, in order to keep going. The slow upslope is the time of figuring out what new thing it is you're going to learn, what else you're going to become next. Eventually you learn it, experience the "eureka!" and the euphoria that comes with it, and the cycle starts anew.

Today sure didn't feel like a eureka moment. On the other hand, I did write a story. So in the immortal words of Lois Bujold's young Emperor Gregor, "Let's see what happens."

too lazy to come up with my own content

Just wanted to pay my respects to an awesome poem: The Curator by Miller Williams. Found it linked in an interview with Sister Y over at The View From Hell. This poem made me cry, not only the first time I read it, but the second. So go read it.