the distributive middle

We have pitched our tent in the excluded middle and abdicated any responsibility to check things out.
~Fred Clark, in his recent post, "Reporting the controversy"

Under the leaden wings of night
I see this brood of melancholy
half-gods and half-men,
pitiable because they are neither
the one nor the other.

I grow afraid and turn away
from the bottomless pit of perfect
~Max Ehrmann, from "The Abyss of Perfect Knowledge"

Surely the cure for fear was not more fear.
~Lois Bujold, in The Warrior's Apprentice

Dad used to joke that if you were bad in a past life you had to live in New York, if you'd been good you got to live in Los Angeles, and you ended up in Chicago like us if they didn't know what to do with you. Weatherwise, I can kind of see the joke, except for how southern California catches fire every fall. But no country, no really big assemblage of people, I think, would be complete without somewhere that fills each of those metaphorical roles. New York, a place where cutthroat deals are brokered, heads are rolled, and heaps of competitors exist to be clawed out of the way. Los Angeles, a center of creativity, culture, fashion, and every kind of insanity under the sun, all inextricably mixed together so that what ought to be terrifying becomes, with just a little bit of distance, charming. Chicago, a place where the details are ironed out, the language clarified, the contracts drawn up, and the red tape wrapped up and stowed away in good order. A city of clerks, lawyers, accountants, go-betweens. That is the place where I feel most at home; those are the fallow fields in which I yearn to (metaphorically) dirty my hands. Not the undistributed, but the distributive middle. The place from which things hurry to their proper destinations. It's a role I feel proud to aim at, and if it started as reflex and self-defense, it became something else. The kid who was terrified of bats and muggers achieved his potential for good when he became Batman. I don't have the resources, athleticism or awesome secret cave necessary to become Batman. But perhaps there's something else awesome, another role yet to be named, for me to try.

And even though pity, like condescension, is a thing I am confident in despising due to intimate, omnidirectional familiarity, being pitied by peers who had no personal agenda with me had one very positive result. People, as a rule, do not pity those whose warps and flaws they consider irreparable. To be pitied disinterestedly, to be pitied with exasperation rather than dismissal, implied there was something I could do about it.

It's hard to describe what I've been doing with myself without sounding, to my own ears, like a complete bore or a complete terminology snob. I have a really, really good reason for being a terminology snob, though. It goes something like this list of, er, guidelines. Formulated in numbered style just now. It's an amalgalm of proverbs cadged from books, advice given by people, and observations carefully named long after I'd learned their right use. If you recognize a reference, good for you! I agree with and applaud your taste.

1. Anything is a weapon if you are determined to use it as one.
2. A weapon you don't know how to wield is a weapon in the hands of your opponent.
3. Whoever is not against you, is for you.
4. An ally is one who can both "shoot" (wield a given weapon) and "aim at your enemy" (understands your necessities well enough to know who else is your ally).
5. The mind is the only weapon; all other "weapons" are merely tools.
6. To name a thing is to define your relationship to it. Once you have outwardly expressed your understanding of a thing, that is how you will perceive it until you openly express a change in your view.
7. You pay most attention to that which you have named.
8. You store memories of those things to which you pay attention.
9. You approach new experiences based on what you remember.
10. The degree to which, and the ways in which, you adapt yourself to new experiences both reveals and shapes your identity. (You are what you do. Choose again, and change. Oh, and also Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.)

As an adolescent, my mind, my emotions, my memories, were things I did not trust. And thus felt I had to assume, till I could confidently name them otherwise, that everything inside me was a weapon in the hands of an opponent, visible or invisible. Furthermore I had no way to determine which persons, visible or invisible, were in fact my allies as opposed to my opponents, until I was able to restore the integrity of my organs of perception. To put a metaphor on it, you need to be reasonably sure you've been looking through a telescope and not a kaleidoscope before you step out of your cave to make the long, grueling journey across the desert.

Every embarrassing, depressing or otherwise broken thing I found in my psyche was in this sense a positive sign. One less piece of the machinery of my self that was liable to rise up and bite me when my back was turned. It's still frustrating and depressing, though, to discover one thing after another in myself that's smashed or clogged or so hopelessly slagged as to require a complete overhaul. Hence the most important guideline, best rendered in all caps:


(With its lesser-known corollary: if you never feel stupid, you are probably being very, very stupid indeed. Although, I hope you're all about to object, it is decidedly unhelpful if you always feel stupid.)

So. Onward and inward, to things tangled enough I'm not sure how to name them except in metaphor and generalization. Not quite right to say that cities are like people--they are a whole different order of organism, made of people, by people, but with their own strange kind of life. But people are surely like cities, like our ideas of cities at least, more so than is comfortable to admit sometimes. Many things go on inside us that are so very difficult to etch in the memory, prison in words, mark down on the map. The map which never quite matches the territory.

Religiously, I started out firmly planted on one side of the fence: belief. Then I flung myself over it (like a Californian!) into disbelief, in hopes that the grass on that side of the fence was a little less on fire. Much later I tried climbing back up onto the fence, seeking a better view. Only to find that the fence itself was little better than a polite fiction, a string drawn taut across the grass. The relationships between the names people use and the things to which they refer with those names are complex and not easy to unravel. That there are realities behind the names, that the things in which the thoughtful and sincere have invested their belief, have truths behind them, seems very likely. We're dealing here with matters where objective proof is off the table. So it's incredibly important to me to understand both my own subjective experiences and the subjective experiences of others as best I can. These are the experiences which shape our beliefs regarding our purpose in life, the attitude we should take about our place in the universe, the possibilities for hope. Our beliefs in this area feed directly into our operating assumptions about our identities, and those identity assumptions are the engine which permits the personality to take shape and to function at all. And the only primary-source knowledge that exists on the subject is inside living people. All else is hearsay.

Unfortunately (for me and my insatiable curiosity), the people who've invested belief most totally are also the ones most likely to fall into "A therefore A therefore A" descriptions when you try to get them to explain how and why they came to do so. Not that they're unwilling to share their experiences--very much the opposite! Rather, the difficulty is that, having chosen a reference frame, you have to move into it with them in order to make any sense of how they put it together. And once you demonstrate the ability to move within their symbol set to their satisfaction, they quite naturally assume that since you're inside their home paradigm you must already agree with them, so there's no point belaboring the obvious by explaining things which you clearly must already know and are simply too stubborn to admit.

On the other hand, the people most willing to pour out their innermost thoughts into any handy reference framework they are offered tend to be those who haven't thought through their own experiences or tested them to the point where they have any useful idea what they're going to do with them. People who may have heard of various symbol systems or structures of imbedded belief, but who through lack of understanding, lack of confidence, or lack of motivation, have not managed to put any of them to very much use. (You know that saying, "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who say there are two kinds of people of the world, and those who don't"? If we do that with the people-types I'm describing here, I'd say I belong in with the people described in this paragraph.) They are like the data-tape spewed out by the little robot-demon in the Cyberiad. Every word of it, once properly understood, is a true witness of the person's worldview, and much of it would be extremely useful in the proper context. But since it has never been honed on the whetstone of any single perspective, the likelihood of the right knowledge cozying up with the right information (to therefore beget wisdom) can seem depressingly small.

In trying to understand the experience of belief, then, and not merely its function, my ongoing investigation faces some handicaps. The worst information sources are the best, the best the worst, in a sense. The thing, namely myself, with which I can take that information and combine it with knowledge (with metaphorically sexy results!) is in hopefully-diminishing ways as suspicious as the information itself. It has taken the better part of ten years to painstakingly reach that place where my judgment, such as it is, on those matters where I deem myself competent to give names, is something I am willing to trust.

I want to distinguish between belief, lack of belief, and disbelief.

Belief and disbelief are both positive, definite stances; they give the names, true and untrue, to the things they name. Once a personality's resources--faith, hope, love, and the mother of these, attention--have been committed to a positive stance, personality structures can be built on it. And a lot of those personality structures involve really important things. Such as the ability to have certain kinds of shared experiences with others whose selves are built on functionally identical beliefs.

Lack of belief indicates an attitude of information-gathering. Personality resources have not yet been invested in a name, a definite category of perception, a stable relationship. (Those three things are causally and functionally linked, if not identical.) The idea is that when observation and experience in favor of either belief or disbelief reach a critical mass, the personality tumbles over into the appropriate stance without a conscious application of will. If a conscious effort of will is necessary to push the personality into a positive stance, this means the individual is not actually convinced. They have conceded to the acceptance of the name of truth or falsehood without having, themselves, acquired the wisdom to rightly apply that name. They have, to translate it into the system by which I understand these things, placed the weapon of their own identities in the hands of someone else. Of whoever gave them that name, which they accepted without truly believing.

All this to say that yes, I absolutely have the ability to force myself back into my former belief. Or into a simulacrum of it, cobbled together from the ruins of that belief and the assertions and descriptions of others. But this is something I will not do. It is too important to force, to do half-heartedly. A half-hearted conversion is no conversion at all. It is, and please forgive the intimate metaphor, the spiritual equivalent of faking an orgasm. Something you only do when you have lost all hope of having a real one.

If it is in fact good and right and just for me to be a bride of Christ, I will not be the sort of bride who lays down on the marriage bed gritting her teeth and muttering "let's get this over with." So don't ask it of me. It would be repugnant and a disservice to both parties.

On to the question that a believing Christian must, in good conscience, always ask, even in cases where tact and wise caution restrain them from asking it out loud. What would it take to convince me? At this time, I have a very short answer.

An unambiguous religious experience. If the name of Savior-and-Lord is a name with something real and solid behind it, if it is something so infinite that I will never have to wisdom to bestow it, then I want it from the horse's mouth. To smash a metaphor.

I've had, as I mentioned in some previous posts, several experiences in my life to which I have given the name religious or spiritual experiences. (If not without some trepidation. If I were lazier or it wasn't important to me, it would have been equally possible to write these off as projections or imaginings simply because they are subjective. But I've been over and over them and I'm still of the opinion that there is a noticeable distinction between these and the ones I imagined. Though, obviously, I have yet to name the cause.) Times when I brushed up against--nouns, you might say. Person, place, thing, idea, or some weird amalgam of all four. Some I could definitively name opponents. A few, by their actions and the stamp of their presence, can be called allies. Some number involved those which were more difficult to qualify--rather like trying to decide if a rock or a tree is your ally or not. But an experience of this caliber in which the Great Big Thing of Refulgent Wonder and Unadulterated Joy came up to me in some way and said, "You should call me Jesus. That's my name, has been all along. Thought you should know." That would convince me.

Things that are unlikely to convince me, or any other person whose mind is not yet made up, include things the Jesus described in the stories did not do, to the best of my recollection. He did not threaten people with hell, even by reminding them obliquely that hell exists. In fact, from what I know of the Bible, unbelievers are described as descending into Sheol, the grave, or to outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The lake of fire is said to be for the devil and his angels, witches (described somewhere in Samuel, I think, as those who compel the souls of the dead to do things against their will) and Sodomites (and the defining wickedness of Sodom, according to Judges, was a predilection for gang rape without preference as to the victim's gender). Jesus did get pretty harsh with those who abused their religious authority to gain social power over others, but he tended to criticize them for their present evil deeds and only rarely went on to describe the future results of those deeds. He did not condemn people for breaking religious laws--even broke a few himself, when he judged the cause was just--but instead demonstrated his love and acceptance and urged them to do better. (If I can do it, you can do it!) He did not withdraw or shrink away in moral repugnance from people whose lives were steeped in distasteful acts or humiliating failures, but befriended them, ate at their houses, treated them as though they already were the people he saw dimly within them. Jesus did not sigh at and turn away and whisper over those who were being led astray. Instead he took people who had lost all hope, and helped them to see themselves through his eyes--as redeemable, as worthy, as wonderful.

Which is one of many reasons, many reasons I've gone into here and elsewhere, and some I've yet to name, that the idea of returning to Christianity in truth fills me with trepidation. The person in those stories is a damn hard act to follow.

Miercoles con los Amigos Invisibles vol. 18: how it is I came to deconvert

God is dead. Pity killed him.

You see, my view is that even when we think it's about abstract things like God and hell and creationism, it's really about other people and out relationships with them. Which I suppose is just one further proof that we all are shaped by our personal narratives. Since for me, deconverting was about relationships with people, or rather, the delightful discovery that I was able to have them.

Once upon a time I was a Christian.

This of course isn't the beginning of the story. Long before I had any doubts about God, I had not doubt, but rather certainty that my own emotional and cognitive reflexes were completely unreliable. I had zero confidence in my own ability to perceive and judge accurately, and only marginal and situational trust in the ability of others to perceive and judge accurately. (When was the last time you walked down a street knowing, deep in your bones, that everything you see is certainly not what it appears to you to be, may be friendly or inimical, and in any case by the time you find out it will already be too late?) This has mostly to do with my parents' divorce and the emotional environment it fostered. Two highly intelligent people, who are passionately devoted to one's welfare in slightly different ways, each of whom believe (at the time) that the other is the apotheosis of evil and wishes only to brainwash and torment oneself, and each of whom has (relatively speaking) absolute power over oneself in one context or another, are bound to produce this effect. I got used to sort of watching my own life with a sick feeling of apprehension, waiting for the next inevitable, inexplicable event which I was certain I could have prevented, if only I had opened myself up to believe X or Y. Guilt and self-disgust were like air, plentiful and endlessly renewed. I am sure my sisters had nearly identical experiences, with the exception that they seemed to have been able to believe X or Y from time to time. I have no idea whether or not that made it easier. I think we each of us came away from the 90s with the feeling that we, ourselves, had been least damaged and had sacrificed most to protect the other two. I'm now certain I was wrong, and I had even less power over the situation than I assumed at the time. That, though, is another story.

By the time I was in sixth grade I had determined it was necessary to completely abandon all my judgments about people. Everything I thought I knew was wrong, or at least, dangerously incomplete. Whenever I acted by reflex, mimicking the things Mom or Dad or various authority figures had taught me, the results were disaster. People's feelings were hurt; they got mad at me, rejected me, reacted as though I were being a self-righteous ass. So I tore everything down and started from scratch at about that time. I spent most of my mental effort on this. (It was easier than spending my effort on family problems I knew I had no power to solve.) When I encountered a person and the reflex assumptions and categories sprang up in my mind, I would smack them down again. Viciously at first. As my new habits started to kick in, the new reflexes started to come more naturally. I would say silently to myself--in French, to minimize potential emotional baggage tied to terms--"C'est un/une que je ne connais pas." He/she is one whom I do not know. Obervation and inference as careful as I could manage filled in the gaps.

There were demons, of course. Mom believed in them, that they crept into the lives of believers and unbelievers alike, to cause misfortune and the desire for wickedness. This may not be entirely accurate, but it was my perception. I knew they were real because I could feel them, always, like a buzzing, predatory cloud just outside my skin. Mostly outside. Which parenthetically is the major reason I never did seriously consider suicide during that time: I knew they were there, waiting for me. Without the feeble protection of my body I would have been mincemeat. Evildoers and wicked actions and thoughts, I learned, brought demons into the lives of those they influenced. And every undesirable attitude and behavior had its own demon. Demons of disobedience, rebelliousness, sullenness. Demons which congregated around one's bed at night, or around one's awareness in the daytime, like invisible mosquitoes who whispered mind-shattering confidences and responded to every exercise of will with mocking laughter. Prayer would take the demons away, I learned. Only prayer to Jesus, only the complete submission of self to Jesus, the annihilation of self. The proof would not only be that the presence of the demons would recede--the real proof would be the changes in attitude and behavior. If I prayed and prayed and got no result, it was because my prayer was insincere, was not sufficiently abject, my soul not yet a fitting sacrifice. God was testing me. Again, my perception; at the time, though, it was my universe.

Sometimes it even worked. What the evangelicals call "mountaintop experiences" were the times when I had temporary relief. Surrounded by fellow believers, in a holy place, supported by the prayers of others who presumably were not so completely infected, the demons would recede. For days, sometimes weeks afterwards, it was quieter inside me. When I prayed it would seem to be going somewhere, rather than being swallowed up and muffled on the way there. Yes, intellectually, I knew God could always hear me, whether I felt like I was being heard or not. But it was hard. I felt like a selfish brat, a whiny little bitch, for wanting to know God was there at the other end when I prayed--all the time, no matter how thick around me the demons congregated. How dare I ask for such unusual favor? Me, who didn't have to worry about where I would sleep or what I would eat or fear being beaten? I was a worthless, selfish, totally corrupt piece of trash, and if God didn't think I was worthy to have my demonic entourage curbed, it was less, far less than I deserved, and I ought to be grateful it was no worse. I thanked God every day that it was no worse, and prayed desperately for some relief from the loathing in my heart or the pain in my gut. (Which latter, I later learned was an undiagnosed non-perforated duodenal ulcer, but that's another story.) The lack of response was further proof of my own unworthiness.

Once upon a time, I was a Christian. I was one of about three total charismatic evangelicals at an extremely liberal Chicago high school. Given my previous experiences within the evangelical community, I was kind of expecting people's responses to the "witnessing" strategies I'd learned to vary from the script. After all, one's teachers and youth pastors and Christian age-mates, far more righteous and in tune with God than oneself, could vary from their scripts. So it was to be expected that poor unsaved souls with no notion that their suffering could be relieved might do the same. It wasn't a surprise to me, then, that the biology teacher rolled her eyes and scoffed at the subject when I brought up creationism, that the principal took me and my Christian Club co-founder aside and carefully explained that it would make her life easier if we did not have revivals and Holy Spirit manifestations on school property, that my atheist classmate Nick Lambrecht (whose Eschew Obfuscation t-shirt I still fondly recall) threw up his hands in exasperation at me when our two-person creation/evolution debate ended with me stubbornly insisting "God did it!!!" All these things were to be expected, and I would have gladly endured them in the service of my faith, if not for one thing.

They pitied me.

I had by this time spent several years studying the reactions of people, you recall, learning to sift what they really meant out of the morass of what they did and said. So I could tell what kind of pity it was. Some of it was the condescension, of which I'd so often been explicitly or implicitly accused. The condescension, namely, of the person who believes they already have all the answers and rejects as unworthy any person whose opinions do not agree with their own. This I set aside (on an intellectual level, after wallowing in self-pity, and recrimination for said self-pity, of course!) as the child of ignorance and laziness. What remained was a kind of pity I'd never experienced before. Sometimes my peers expressed it in words or actions; other times I had to strain it out from clues of posture, facial expression and tone. It roughly translated to something like,

Why is she making herself so sad?
You're a good vibe, but you need to get in trouble.
Why do you hate yourself so much? You're nice and I like you.
Sure, you're annoying, but that's no reason why you have to be miserable.

I was not, at this time, a very well socialized person. I had what I then called verbal diarrhea, what one of my later therapists suggested might have been undiagnosed ADD. Maybe an unlooked-for side effect of homeschooling, where I'd gotten used to one-on-one interaction and had trouble developing other habits. At any rate, I couldn't hear speech without some part of my brain assuming it was directed completely at me, and formulating a response. A response I absolutely had to verbalize, or else experience an almost physical pain, like that of an overfull bladder when no bathroom is in sight. (Hence the verbal diarrhea moniker.) My interpersonal reflexes and assumptions were not only untrustworthy, I was aware that they were untrustworthy. So when I took a bit of harmless friendly sarcasm as being in deadly earnest and fled to weep about it, spouted off a piece of smutty innuendo in total ignorance of its implications, or misread a social situation to the point where I mortally insulted somebody by repeating a phrase or action outside its appropriate context, I was always aware that I had erred, but not how or why or how to fix it. Among fellow Christians this was a fairly simple procedure. They and I all pretended that none of it had ever occurred, and I was ostracized from further meaningful interaction with whichever social set my misbehavior had offended. One of several reasons I was glad we changed churches every few years when I was a kid--it gave me a way to gauge my progess at being a more effective simulacrum of a functional human being.

But in high school, this was not the case. Yes, my social faux pas were counted against me, but the fact that I was pitied granted me a certain amount of leniency. People would give me second and even third chances, and when I (as I felt at the time, inevitably) used them up, even then there were not really hard feelings. Just a change in the tenor of the pity they felt for me. This was novel. This was even encouraging. At this point, you may imagine, my relationship with God was such that I was pretty much exhausted, or at least had gone beyond my wits' end to some numb place where I just waited for something, anything to change without really expecting it to change.

So, having heard many stories of people who backslid and later came back to the Lord even better and holier than before, I decided to experiment. With my own eternal soul. Because what else, in the final analysis, was mine enough that I could presume to mess with it? And it's not like God would be losing anything much if I screwed it up.

A song I wrote within the past year sums up my thought process pretty well.

[afraid of god]

all through my first sixteen years
you know I did believe it
waded through demons up to my ears
until I had to leave it
prayed to god at the time
said, "dear lord, with respect
I've just got to find something
that has an effect"

you know I was so afraid of god
but not afraid of ain't no god
I was so afraid of god
not afraid of ain't no god

you say you can't imagine a world
with no one to create it
you say I am just one little girl
who's too opinionated
I don't mean to be mean
but I think that's a crock
can you call yourself free
hiding under that rock

honey then you're afraid of god
but so afraid of ain't no god
I say that you're afraid of god
more afraid of ain't no god

well there ain't no polite way to say
you're gonna rot in a cemetery
and there ain't no polite way to say
I think your god is imaginary
but you politely tell me
I must burn in hell
unless I will believe
in your savior as well

well if I'm afraid of god
you're afraid of ain't no god
honey if I'm afraid of god
you're afraid of ain't no god,
ain't no god
uh-huh, uh-huh uh-uh uh.

Yeah, the last verse is more of a recent attitudinal development. The first verse, however, is definitely how I approached it at the time. "Look, God, I don't know why you've chosen not to relieve me of these demons or their constant presence in my life, but I'm a human being who's weak and I can't take it anymore. I am going to do whatever I can think of to help myself. And if nothing I do works, you can bet I'll come crawling back to you begging fvorgiveness, like everyone always tells me I will, and because you're God I know that in that event you will forgive me. So please understand, this is something I have to do."

So I started wrangling the demons my damnself, instead of praying "Jesus please come rescue me!" and hiding in a corner, hoping maybe Jesus would finally come this time and chase them away. I started yelling at them, demanding things of them, trapping the sense-of-presence of one at a time under my intellect and dissecting them emotion by emotion, assumption by assumption. It has been, what, ten years or so since I started this process. Today I am essentially demon-free, in the sense that one might say one is disease-free despite the fact that the everyday living environment is full of germs which are simply not strong enough to overwhelm the body's immmune system. Do I now consider a demon to be an invisible creature with its own life or a complex of memes generated and fueled by a human psyche? The closest I can get, short of an entire separate post, is to quote The Simpsons' Rev. Lovejoy: "Short answer: no, with an 'if'. Long answer: yes, with a 'but'."

As for me and alleged Jesus, the situation is a little different.

Studying human beings, myself first and most strenuously, gives me a constantly evolving awareness of the dynamic tension between the ideas we hold in our conscious minds, the real evaluative emotional categories we use to ineract with external reality, and the things we do and say. Relationships are an extremely subjective experience--quintuply so for relationships with invisible people. As I wrote in another song (the full text of which I will NOT reprint at the moment, I've hurt too many feelings already today):

I needed help from the whole congregation
to tell God apart from my imagination

And when you get down to the brass tacks of those things commonly termed "religious experiences", I have had equal numbers of them on both sides of the conversion/deconversion fence. There are a lot which fall into the category of "possible contacts with lesser positive beings," none of which of course left denominational calling cards. There are a whole host of minor subjective experiences and wrinkles in causality which could equally be attributed to good guys giving me a heads-up or bad guys trying to fool me. There are a few unambiguously evil experiences. There are a few experiences--I can count them on the fingers of one hand!--which absolutely fall under the aegis of goodness, which as the campfire song says:

That's how it is with God's love
Once you've experienced it
You want to sing
It's fresh like spring
You want to pass it on

But as with the other possibly good ones, no calling cards. Equally powerful and meaningful experiences as a non-Christian and as a Christian, with no notable differences in content or tone. No statement to the effect that "Christianity is the one proper expression of my presence on Earth, and you should align yourself with it, come what may." Which is something of a relief to me, in a way. The example of Christ, the Christ of myth or history, however you slice it, is a hell of a thing to live up to, and I wonder that more well-meaning Christians don't break under the strain.

So I'm fairly well convinced that there is some sort of invisible side to life, if only because my training and habit predisposes me to believe in such. As my little sister is fond of saying, the cavemen who saw lions when no lion was there are the ones who lived. However, I reject the term "supernatural." If any of this crap exists, then it is part of nature, whether it arose as part of a freakish pocket of anentropy to provide balance to a largely entropic universe, or was engineered by a benevolent intelligence as an expression of said intelligence's love and undying devotion to the flawed tiny self-directed beings it caused to exist for some inscrutable purpose.

And I will conclude with some words from my most beloved piece of ancient poetry, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as translated by Edmund Fitzgerald:

What! from his helpless Creature be repaid
Pure Gold for what he lent him dross-allay'd--
Sue for a Debt he never did contract,
And cannot answer--Oh, the sorry trade!

a good discussion

I had a lovely time over the weekend at the family reunion. Children, kittens, relatives I hadn't seen in an age, smores, campfire pass-the-guitar-around time, and sleeping in tents. Win!

This'll be an unusually busy week for me, with actual errands to run and possibly more relatives coming into the state to visit. So for today at least, in lieu of my own content, I'm'a post links to a really good discussion between Ryk, an atheist, and Tracy Wagman, a Christian. Their talks are a model of a most excellent way for believers and unbelievers to have a useful discussion with one another.

Here is the original post at Tracy's blog. The conversation starts in the comments. (I only read Ryk's and Tracy's comments to one another, and even so there are a lot of them!)
A response/partial repost over at Ryk's blog.
A further post at Tracy's blog.

Key issues include the capacity to suspend disbelief and/or invest faith, the theodicy, and the relative validity of varying beliefs which each require faith.

Hope you enjoy as much as I did!

shiny things

Cable being out in our dwelling, if I get one of my urges to stare at lovely, lovely shiny things I must either dig through boxen to find all the jewelry I've bought or been given, but never have the urge to wear, or go to the internet. It's like with hats or dresses, really. I think they're pretty and enjoy looking at them, but it's a very rare duck I'll actually be willing to put on and walk around in public with. Perhaps it's my hidey-hidey nature.

Anyhow, it just now occurred to me that since I'm finding them on the intertubes, I can share some of the shiny things with you!

These are all from Etsy.

From trophies' shop, some clever pendants (one vulgar, but thoughtfully blurred).

Yes, there are pendants which say "Off with her head!" and "A cat may look at a king", as well as a couple of other Alice quotes. There are some good Harry Potter ones as well.

I think this could make a hilarious gift to a friend with whom a quarrel had just been patched up. If both the friends involved had the sort of sense of humor where this sort of thing would be appropriate, I mean. "See hon? I do give a flying f---!"

I completely agree. In fact, I'm going to go make some tea right now, to fortify myself whilst I show you some more wonderful shiny things.

From beadnurse's shop, some pretty bracelets. (She also has the blog, "Madness: tales of an emergency room nurse" through which I found Etsy in the first place. Props!)

There are lots of different color combos with this lovely wraparound design. This one is called "marrakech."

Coral beauty cuff. Odd how a mineral from the sea can look so warm and comfy!

From lizix26's shop:

This one's called miracle nest. The name somehow makes the necklace even prettier!

Mermaids dancing. You go, high-fiving dancing mermaid babes! Yeah!

Sunset. I love those little petals; I bet they'd look like little lightbulbs if the sun hit them right.

From the valley. This is probably my favorite of the things I've found so far. Simple, elegant; looks at once both totally natural and totally the work of a talented crafter. And totally, totally impractical for everyday wear, alas, especially for someone like me with really long hair. I'd break off two of those petals within ten minutes of putting the ring on!

From edmdesigns's shop. They do a jewelry style called "steampunk" or "steampunk vintage", I'm not sure which. It involves incorporating vintage machine parts into the jewelry, and looks really cool.

This brass bracelet is essentially a watch, only without that pesky time-telling function!

Silver-plated watch parts, silver filigree, red Swarovski crystal. Doesn't it look like something an evil supergenius in a sci-fi movie would wear? Or something a rich teenage grungeoid would wear to prove how much like a robot they are? I can just hear someone in the background saying "don't wear that ring, you'll put your eye out!"

This one, on the other hand, makes me purr. If it weren't so gosh-darned expensive I would either wear it myself or give it to someone as a gift.

That concludes this edition of shiny things. Perhaps later there will be more!

dream log: too much Heroes IV, not enough healthy elephants

Lately my dreams have been both vivid and interesting, but until this last sleep-time there hasn't really been one where I could remember all three acts in sufficient detail to want to log it.

Dream logging started out as part of my determined quest not to be sideswiped by those parts of myself I don't trust very much. But even as I've become more comfortable in my own skull, I still find it fun and challenging to try and glean useful psychological info from the welter of images. My current theory includes, as things no longer really in dispute, the ideas that a) each "act" is the product of one REM cycle within a given sleeptime, and that b) when a dream is remembered fully, easily and in detail, this means the working problem it represents has come to some sort of useful conclusion. In addition, various in-dream actions and structural elements (light levels, indoor/outdoor environments, eating food or conversing in words) are ones which I've identified as important for study, but for which I haven't settled on a single preferred interpretation as yet. And perhaps most interesting to me are the images which recur across more than one dream over a long period of time, with alterations from one dream to the next. These I am certain represent ideas, beliefs, or aspects of the relationships between myself and the universe which are both important to me and changing as I live my life.

In any case, whatever is going on down there in the depths of the Fiatbrain right now, I rather approve of it.

Act one took place in a large building. The place was well-lit, the decor was sort of gray and white and efficient-functional, and it was crowded with large numbers of people milling about in a desultory fashion or standing in line. I had the impression this activity was a continuous, 24/7 sort of thing, so that whenever one visited the place it would be found in roughly the same state.

The purpose of the building was to enable people to get into one of many, many pocket universes. All these universes were similar, more or less patterned on the same plan. Green fields, a map that stretched far and wide across a kind of fantasy landscape, and a conflict of some kind. I don't remember the nature of the action; there was some sort of fairie kingdom, but one which was unusually densely populated and efficiently regulated by a tiny but singleminded queen. Come to think of it the fairie kingdom had a lot of the social elements of a beehive. At any rate, different versions of this universe had slightly different parameters. There were "soft" versions where everyone was always nice and no one was allowed to put anyone in danger, and there were "difficult" versions where everyone you met would attack you on sight. There were ones where you studied the situation from afar, the whole kingdom spread out like a map, and there were places where your perspective was always first-person. Within each universe there were a kind of portals or gates that you could use, once you'd gotten that kingdom's difficulties more or less under control, to move into other mini-universes.

What took me a bit to figure out, and almost got me lost in the process, was that each pocket universe had its own version of the original building by which one entered in the first place. There were kingdoms within kingdoms, fractal, all the way down, and if one wasn't careful it would be very easy to just hop from one universe to another, similar one, without ever getting anywhere or accomplishing anything different. When I realized this I started poking around the nearest entry building, and found something curious. There were portals or doorways all through the building, of course, but people generally only used those to which they'd been directed by the staff. (Not pictured. The building staff was skipped, meaning not manifest, assumed in the frame of the story--even later in the act, when I interacted with them more or less directly.) I was trying out different doorways to see if I could get directly from one building back to its counterpart in the previous universe. And when I used one of the doorways which allowed me to do this, some of the "troops" I'd assembled in that universe came back out with me into the previous one.

They got clobbered at once--there were guards on the exit, y'see--but this was the first time I'd had anything except myself carry over from one place to another. I was mightily interested. Perhaps, it occured to me, with a sufficiently large force, one could bring something all the way out into the original building and make use of it in the real world! So I waltzed myself back out into the original building to see if I could find a staff member who could explain to me what was going on.

My inquiries (skipped, as I mentioned earlier) resulted in me sitting down across the table from a guy who was clearly an experienced player, who was bemused and somewhat pleased that anyone had figured this out. The room itself didn't have any lights on and so was somewhat dim, but clear daylight came in through a smallish window in one wall, so we could see perfectly well. Even so, beyond a general impression of sharp, laughing eyes, of lean and somewhat grizzled competence, the guy's features were pretty much skipped. He explained that there were a lot more places in the pocket universes than anyone from outside normally visited. Those like himself, who'd been there for a great while and were no longer part outside life, tended to stay in the areas that only they knew about. The crowds who muddled in and out of the building tended to travel only to the pre-programmed destinations, never suspecting there was anywhere else to go. And said crowd, since they didn't put much thought into it and were only there to occupy themselves, made awful gamers. He showed me some kind of roster: people like himself from the "old days" were all off in one category, while the more recent roster of those who'd withdrawn from outside life were mostly at levels where they didn't get much done and eventually faded into the background. Which was bad indeed, because there was something that needed doing, something kind of urgent. Something on which people both inside and out needed to collaborate, and this crop of newbies didn't have their head in the game at all, and weren't likely to be very much help.

Act two began as I pondered this, and I went out by the main building entrance. There was a revolving door through which the crowd of people pushed their way in and out. And as I looked at them more closely through the glass of the door I saw what the guy had been talking about. Old, young, male, female, all races, all styles of dress--they all had a bored, defeated look to them. Most were obese, slumped into themselves, distracted by various electronic devices whose cords led back into their purses and satchels, or some combination of all these. Small wonder, I thought, that when they get inside they don't do much of anything, if that's what they're like out here.

Then I was on a bus, talking to someone about--of all things!--Scientology. The bus didn't have any other occupants; the day visible through the windows was clear, blue-skied, with diffuse early afternoon light. My conversation partner was one of those dream-people with an entirely skipped apprearance, so I'll use the plural instead of a gendered singular noun. They were standing up and holding on to the straps, as I was, but beyond that I've no idea what they looked like. The bus drove past a large, shiny building. Not quite a skyscraper, as it wasn't that tall and stood pretty much on its own, but with that windows-everywhere look I associate with skyscrapers. We were saying how pointless it was for them to have such a pretty building, when what they actually did in it was so unbelievably dumb. My conversation partner said something sarcastic about some similarity between Scientology and Christianity. I laughed, shook my head, and said something about how it had been a fun challenge at first to get myself into the Scientology organization and move up through the levels, all while resisting their attempts to brainwash me. "But I've been all through it, like, three times in two months," I continued, thinking to myself that this was a slight exaggeration--it was more like three times in three or four months, "and I'm so bored!"

Act three started with a clean scene shift; how I got off the bus etc. was entirely skipped. I was Ice Cube--the young Ice Cube, the way he looks in the movie Friday. There was a woman walking next to me who resembled both of the ladies in that movie who were not attractive as current or prospective girlfriends. She had the body and demeanor of the shallow, jealous one at the beginning, the face and bad fake hair of the one at the end, and a voice that didn't belong to either one of them. She was leading a young boy-child by the hand. I got the impression she was a caseworker of some kind who'd been sent to interview me, and I needed to make a good impression, or at least not antagonize her.

We were walking down an alleyway--an outdoor scene, but with indoor-quality light. The alley was paved in red brick cobblestones. One side was a wall, along which there was some kind of couch. The other side was bordered by a very tall chain-link fence. The section of the alley down which we walked was sort of the middle of the alley; off at either end of the chain-link fence I got the suggestion of other buildings. On the other side of the fence was something like a vacant lot, overgrown with scrubby weeds and volunteer trees which had pushed their way up through the rubble. And in the vacant lot there were baby elephants and fledgling or juvenile crows. Some of the crows were small and looked new-hatched. One was molting, playfully pulling sloughed down out of its chest feathers, which floated away like dandelion fluff. Another looked more mature than the rest, its feathers sleek and shiny; it stood shoulder-high to the baby elephants, and seemed somehow very solid.

The woman turned to me and started asking me pointed questions. As we spoke, she let go of the boy-child's hand, and he drifted over towards the far end of the fence, not to be seen again in the dream. Her questions concerned Pearl's upcoming missions trip to Africa, a dream event which we both knew about, and which was going to happen very soon. We said Africa, in conversation, but the mental picture I got was of one of those pocket universes from act one--one of the interesting, out-of-the-way ones. I said, "At first I was opposed to the idea, but as I've thought it through I've become reconciled to the trip." I began to list some reasons. "One, when she's in Africa, she can get her mind settled, because people she knows here won't be around to mess with it. Two, it's a great opportunity to travel and study in a foreign country, an opportunity that she's getting for free but that otherwise a person would have to pay a lot of money for. And three--"

As I'd been speaking, the woman had moved closer and closer to me. She'd put her hands on my shoulders and pushed me down onto the couch. And just as I was about to get to point three, she got on top of me, straddling me, and started to grind her crotch against mine. We were both wearing jeans, but I was baffled and highly offended, and even through the clothing the heat of her body was very disturbing. I took hold of her upper arms, shifted my body weight under her, and with as little force as possible--since I didn't want to hurt or seriously offend her--shoved her off of me onto the cobblestones and sat up. "What are you doing?" I demanded. "I don't want to do this!" She stood up with a look of irritation, and asked why I stopped answering her questions. I took a deep breath, found my train of thought, and prepared to start speaking. All of a sudden she was on top of me again, smiling and perfectly pleased about it, as though she'd convinced me after all. I shoved her off again, a little more vehemently, and shouted, "I told you already, I don't want this!"

Then without changing location or any sense of movement, the structure of the landscape shifted radically. The cobbles of the alley and the weed-strewn rubble of the parking lot combined into one surface, like a screen or a piece of paper. Myself, the woman and the couch were gone. The crows and elephants were still themselves, but they were also items on a list, with little radio buttons next to them like on a computerized multiple-choice test. Many of the elephants were sick, and had slumped forward, their foreheads resting on the ground. I rushed around briefly pushing them back up onto their feet, because if they were too sick to stand, their buttons on the list wouldn't work. I looked over the list again; it was a puzzle or test, and there was a definite time limit. I figured out how to solve the puzzle pretty quickly, and selected the right buttons and entered the right answers next to the list items. But in order to submit my answer and send it, somewhere in the list there was hidden a big red button, which would calculate and send what I had entered. If I wanted my answer to count I had to find it before the time limit expired.
I ran through all the puzzle parameters again and again, trying with increasing frustration to figure out where the big red button was.

Then I woke up.


Some preliminary notes, now that I've had the day to think on it.

Notes on act one.
Act ones tend to talk about the general theme or the background for the material presented in the dream as a whole.
The pocket-universes and their many fractal interconnections seem to represent how I view the world of ideas, and if you will, the invisible or spiritual side of reality. That images and social memes from computer games I love played a large part in the construction of this image tells a lot about my attitude. In other words, the way I approach invisible stuff, or towards imagination and creativity in general, is very similar to my attitude towards games. I like things that are long-drawn out, have lots of detail and plot, and can be played in many different ways. I like things that have lots of interconnectivity. And when I enter into a game map or a symbol set or a system of beliefs, I do so primarily with the attitude of an explorer rather than a conqueror, even when (like some of the universes in the dream) the scenario seems specifically designed for conquest. If, as often happens when I play Heroes, I have to start a thing all over from the beginning because I missed some small but crucial step, I will do so happily. (After a few token grumbles, of course, which are mostly for show and for the fun of hearing myself make noise.) If, as happened in the dream, I discover an apparent loophole or shortcut, I will investigate it thoroughly before attempting to take advantage of it.

More and more I've been coming to the belief that magic / spiritual stuff / the invisible stuff side of personality construction is all about relationships. As I become better at having real relationships with real people, I will become better at having (possibly) imaginary relationships with (mostly) invisible people. If I am a good friend, I will be a good invisible friend. So, for example, I'm now even more confident that joining my local in-person Dungeons & Dragons group is probably an excellent thing for my continued spiritual development. Be a better gamer, get a better handle on getting my internal mental house in order.

Notes on act two.
Act twos tend to be statements of a specific problem or conflict.

A vehicle, moving, tends to be a symbol of people acting towards a particular goal or purpose in life.
A building tends to represent a long-term personality structure.
One of my rules of thumb about dreams is "there is only one character in a dream." Namely, the dreamer.

Thus me on a bus conversing with an undifferentiated dream-person is me taking a good hard look at a purposeful, goal driven activity in my life. My guess is, the undifferentiated dream-person is coming from the perspective of things that I haven't thought through yet, while my own perspective obviously represents the things that I have thought through and of which I am aware.

Conscious-me talks about Scientology--a so-called "religion" which exploits people and which I find loathsome and laughable. Unconscious-me mentions some connection between this and Christianity. The thing prompting the discussion is a pretty building we see out the bus window. The building looks perfectly nice, but the things happening in it are perfectly stupid. Conscious me says building equals Scientology. Unconscious me says Scientology has something to do with Christianity.

I think what Lassie--er, I mean, unconscious me is trying to tell me here is that those things I dislike about Christianity have to do with the "building." That is, the psychological structures of belief and perception, the mental frameworks for action built by its practitioners. Some of the structures themselves are even quite nice, but the ways in which those structures are used are objectionable and don't do justice to the potential of the structure. The point here is that those aspects of the culture and psychological attitudes of Christianity I don't like are the ones which remind me of Scientology. And it is those things--according to dream-me's comment and silent aside--that I've been through backwards and forwards, if not perhaps as thoroughly as I'd like to think. And with which I'm profoundly bored.

Notes on act three.
Act threes tend to be either the conclusion of a process described in an earlier act, or a pointed suggestion for a further action that should be taken on a previously introduced subject.
Crows are a significant repeating symbol for me. Although this is only the second time they've appeared, making them a relatively new symbol, and unfortunately I didn't log the first one here.

All the location indicators tell me that this action scene is taking place in a part of my mind on which I haven't done a lot of work lately, but which is very important for my personal development. Alleyway = off the beaten path in terms of the channels of conscious thought. (But the cobbles and the "neighborhood feel" make a place where I'm at home and very comfortable.) Vacant lot means an area of my mind where I haven't developed a settled structure--actually quite a positive thing. I have very fond associations with vacant lots with weeds growing up through the rubble. And even though it was an out-of-the-way place it wasn't dirty or grimy at all, just poorly lit and not built up.

I have no idea why my brain chose Ice Cube for my avatar and his unpleasant suitors (suitoresses?) for the antagonist in this scene. Maybe it was just a good match for the emotional dynamics in this scene. Even though I haven't seen that movie in ages! I don't know what the child means. Maybe the lady represents the bad, antagonistic side of the Christian perspective, and the child represents the good, valuable side? That would make sense, especially since he went off in the direction of the vacant lot filled with lovely, lovely animals.

But that little action scene where the other character starts a conversation about one thing, then physically holds me down and tries to jump my bones, is exactly what it feels like to be proselytized. It's a mental image worth holding on to, for those times in life when it comes up. If I ever find myself trying to push my viewpoint onto someone who isn't receptive to it, I will endeavor to think of this dream scene and and control myself. And if I'm on the flip side, I will think of the odious lady with her fake hair and tight jeans and start giggling, instead of feeling dirty and cornered. And I will try to remember that there may be some other, valuable thing which is being momentarily eclipsed by the awkwardness of the situation.

As for the very last bit, where the scene changes into a puzzle--well, I'm puzzled. The puzzle itself bears some resemblance to a pre-employment Excel skills test I'd taken online earlier in the day at the behest of an employment agency. The thing about the "big red button" is probably drawn from my frustration with a fiddly bit of new Kingdom of Loathing game content in the Itznotyezitz Mine. (The mastery of said new content is fortunately not necessary to beat the game. Just part of one of those exasperting sidequests.) Something to do with an extremely complicated machine, calculating numbers in base 7, and decoding bizarre dwarven runes.

Is this how I feel about the personality area in which the scene took place? About the issues represented by the scene itself? Or maybe it was just my conscious worries about money and joblessness reasserting themselves as I swam back upwards into consciousness. Who knows.

Things on which everyone can agree

Thanks to Amber I have gotten some good sidebar links of conservatives who (unlike Bill Cooper, who Geds is deconstructing in a more systematic way) are not weird and extreme, I have noticed some things. Namely, that conservatives and liberals tend to pay attention to different news items. This is not surprising, since I imagine our respective providers of news--Fox News for the reds and, somewhat ironically, The Daily Show for the blues--tend to focus primarily on those items which support their chosen ethos.

However, there are some things on which we all seem to agree.
I wish here to make mention of one of those things. Other things will follow in later posts. (Stay on the lookout for post #2: Brainwashing children is bad.)

Thing#1: Rape is bad.

Here is a conservative blogger decrying a recent Playboy article which lists a top 10 conservative female pundits one might wish to "hate f***." Granted, under the right controlled circumstances, given a partner with whom one already has established limits, angry sex can in theory be fun. It offers a way to let aggressive emotions percolate out of the psyche in a constructive and enjoyable fashion. And for those of us who maintain an extremely rigid boundary between fantasy and reality (said rigidity being necessary because the line between fantasy and reality is frequently tested) the concept of "hate f***" is not entirely repulsive. Because it is understood to exist only on the fantasy side of that line. In which realm, as in the world of cartoons, all participants are willing, and elements of illusory non-consensuality are said imaginary participants' way of working through their emotional issues.

In short, while such a list might well adorn the personal blog of an individual who presumes a certain level of fantasy-making sophistication in his or her audience, it should MOST CERTAINLY NOT be an article in Playboy magazine. Which is read by impressionable young men, middle-aged men who may not be accustomed to using their critical thinking skills, and curious teenage girls who pilfer pornographic magazines from their neighbors in hopes of seeing someone else's awesome boobies. (Guess which category I have had occasion to fall into.) None of whom should be given the idea that rape is cool. Rape is reprehensible. We can all agree on that.

Here on the other hand is a story about a lesbian who was gang raped shortly after the passage of California's Prop 8. Granted, this act of violence is atypical, the act of extremists who take an ideological position to a weird place way beyond its logical conclusion. However, despite the fact that rape as a "punishment" for homosexuality is both extreme and not sanctioned by any defense-of-hetero-marriage type group, anti-gay hate crime is still pretty friggin common. Your average person who thinks homosexuality is a sin would probably say, "look, if you can't be attracted to the opposite sex, the best thing to do is join a church, pray to God for healing, and be celibate and we will give you lots of love and support!" Yet it is very easy for a person to drift from the idea that homosexual acts are sinful to the idea that people with homosexual desires are inherently wicked and somehow less than human. If a person has in themselves large amounts of bitterness and unchecked aggression, even if they don't otherwise have an animus against gays, gays can become a target of convenience because they represent something "everyone" "knows" is "evil."

So how does a religious group police itself so as to weed out those who take indictment of a sexual orientation as a license to commit violent acts against those who are so oriented? How does an ideological group weed out those of its members who are perfectly willing to dehumanize their conservative opponents to the point where encouragement of rape seems hilarious rather than appalling? Is it as easy (and difficult) as holding ourselves and our siblings-in-metaphorical-arms to a higher standard of discourse?

Miercoles con los Amigos Invisibles vol. 17: Balance

Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight. Equilibrium is pragmatic. You have to get everything into proportion. You compensate, rebalance yourself so that you maintain your angle to your world. When the world shifts, you shift.
~ Tom Stoppard

I just had a lovely and interesting conversation with Amber which touched, among other things, on the subject of balance.

When I changed my blog skin, the lists and links on the right-hand side of the page did not carry over to the new version. So I had to start reconstituting my links from scratch. Naturally, I started with the blogs and sites on my own "follow" list--the things I read regularly. Since this time I was able to figure out how to make it a blog list rather than a mere link list, it now shows the titles of the most recent post on each site. (Though, perhaps due to my poor skills in technomancy, I still haven't figured out how to put up a cool "donate through PayPal" link like the one PersonalFailure has. Ah well. Maybe I'll just create a PayPal store which offers poetry by commission, and circumvent the whole problem.) This caused Amber to notice, and be disturbed by, a thing I had only thought about as a vague worry in the back of my mind: Almost all of my links are liberal, anti-conservative, ex-Christian, or otherwise blue sort of places. Yet in conversation and in real life I strive for a more balanced, "I don't trust anybody" approach, and this seemed to her like a worrisome contradiction. Possibly disingenuous, even.

My own views are more like the t-shirt which reads "fiscally republican, socially democrat, sexually liberal." I like the idea of a flat tax, a percentage of income for all persons, and of laws which permit relatively law-abiding citizens such as myself to own firearms. (Did you know it is illegal to own a handgun in the city of Chicago, but not illegal to own a rifle--for which there are no practice ranges within like 100 miles?) I like the idea of gay marriage being legal, of evolution being standard curriculum in schools, and of marijuana being legal, at least for medical purposes such as the treatment of chemotherapy-related nausea. (Seriously. Nothing else worked for my sweetums at the time. Even the doctors agreed that as long as they didn't officially know about it, it was a great idea.) In fact when it comes to relationships between consenting adults, I like Dad's idea of the relationship contract. Regular hetero marriages, in addition to being legal contracts, could have the sanction of the appropriate religious bodies. However, any other relationship which does not violate other laws could be delineated in a contract and signed by the appropriate parties. Which would include of course gay marriages, but also temporary partnerships, poly groups, Gorean "slave" contracts, open marriages--pretty much every kind and flavor of human relationship. Provided the persons involved are all adults and sign in the presence of an attorney and/or judge, who would hopefully be able to vouch that said adults did not do so under any overt coercion.

But of course there isn't a political platform which perfectly matches my views: we live in a democracy. Not a synchromocracy, in which the whims and opinions of the populace are charted in real time and fluctuate like the weather. Unfortunately one is expected to choose either the red team or the blue team, harp on the flaws of one's opponents, and sheepishly apologize for the foolishness of one's allies. This seems ridiculous to me. I view myself as rising out of a conservative background, even though for the last decade I've been either a nonparticipant or a silent, not entirely comfortable participant. So I take some comfort in reading many blogs with a liberal bias, because they make me feel that maybe I'm not crazy. At least by comparison.

Yet having primarily liberal-leaning blogs in my sidebar does create an inaccurate impression, and is definitely counter to the spirit of what I'm trying to do here. I want my blog to be a place where everyone genuinely feels welcomed and validated, regardless of their views. I want the distinction between thoughtful and asinine to be far, far more important than the distinction between conservative and liberal. With the caveat that everyone should get a chance to be asinine from time to time, so long as they don't become dependent on the habit.

I'm thinking that my sidebar categories will be something like "Good Guys", "Overzealous Partisans", "The Unabashedly Rude", and "Relations and Personal Friends". Y'all know what categories you yourselves will fall into if you are regular readers.

I would like to invite everyone who reads me, though, to give me some links to get me started. Reasonable conservatives and crazy whackjob liberals especially, since given my linklist I will have a slightly easier time finding the converse. (Although You Are Dumb, for example, clearly falls into the Unabashedly Rude category on the liberal side. So perhaps it won't be so hard for me to find crazy whackjob liberals...) My point is, if there's any viewpoint which you think should be represented yet I have failed to adequately acknowledge, please, find an eloquent proponent of same and I will linklist them.

Because here on the internet we are a collective of disembodied voices, bereft of the social cues and visual signals which would normally ameliorate the acid touches of our opinions on one another's brains. My own blog postings of late have been deliberately void of politics and the doings of religious organizations, for the very good reasons that those things are relatively small parts of the average life, and any discussion of them tends to get people's dander up. I am not avoiding the subject because I have no opinions. I am avoiding the subject because, in general, I don't consider my own opinions authoritative enough to be worth starting a fight about, and besides, I have so many other things to talk about which I find interesting and fun.

So please, post me some links, or send them to me if you have my email! Expand my horizons, and thereby help me to expand the horizons of my other alleged readers!

Musical Monday vol. 11: ALA conference = good times

My internet just came back online today, after having been briefly cut off due to some foolish business about "payment" and a "seriously overdue balance" or some such thing. Pah. Yesterday I took care of that little issue, although it will mean delaying some other, equally important things, but right now I am in far too good a mood to be upset about that.

You see, over the weekend and through tomorrow, I have had a temp job that takes me to the American Library Association's yearly conference at McCormick place. When I first arrived on Saturday, I had no idea what the nature of the assignment would be; I'd assumed it would involve sitting in a booth and attempting to convince librarians to "use this product or service rather than some other, equally useful product or service".

Instead, I get to hand out the free ALA Conference newspaper, which is called "Cognotes." This paper has been the vehicle of ALA news at these conferences for years, so between the fact that the papers are familiar to attendees and the fact that they are free, I have the distinct good fortune to be handing out pieces of literature to people who actually want them and are happy to receive them.

In part because of this, it's a pretty fun job, and has provided me with great amusement. On Saturday, for instance, there was a large robot roaming my designated hallway advertising something or other. I assume, by the quality of its banter, that it was being directed and voiced by remote control, because when I walked up to it and made as if to hand it a newspaper, it got the joke, and rolled around for awhile calling "Paper, paper! Get your paper here!", with me following close on its treads waving a copy of said paper in the air. On Sunday I saw a couple of guys dressed as the Blues Brothers; they were apparently performing that afternoon. Today's newspaper even featured of photo of the winners of the ALA Book Cart Drill Team championship, the Oak Park Library Vikings. If I remember to bring home a copy of yesterday's paper later, I will scan it in and post it, so you can share my joy in having a clear mental picture of Viking librarians riding book carts.

However, the principal cause of my joy in this temp gig has been because I realized Saturday afternoon that there was no reason for me not to sing. So long as I sing as a means of letting people know that I would give them free Cognotes if they wish to have one, I have carte blanche to be a complete ham, and walk around in public showing off my meloodious pipes and my ability to improvise new lyrics to familiar melodies. I can stand at the top of the escalator and serenade people in a mellow fashion. I can walk up and down the hall singing at the top of my lungs. I can stroll past the crowd standing in line waiting for the exhibition hall in the morning and sing to them. As I remarked to one of the security guards, with whom I've had some very pleasant chats, "There are many things I love in this world. Coffee, chocolate, kittens, surprises...but one thing every member of my family dearly loves, is a captive audience."

Here are some of my favorite selections:

To the tune of "Midnight Special":
Come and get your Cognotes
Issue Three today
Get your new free Cognotes
The newspaper of the ALA

To the tune of "You Ain't Nothin' But A Hound Dog":
If you haven't got a Cognotes
You got to let me know
If you'd like to have a Cognotes
Come on and let it show
Cognotes will tell you all you need to know

If you don't have a Cognotes
I can help you out
If you would like a Cognotes
Just give me a shout
I'm here to give you free Cognotes
Of that there is no doubt

To the tune of the "Ode to Joy":
Cognotes is a free newspaper
Published by the ALA
If you don't yet have a Cognotes
I'm here to give them away

To the tune of the chorus of "Greensleeves":
Cognotes lets you know what's happening at the ALA conference
Cognotes will keep you informed about all events of consequence

Other tunes included Bridge Over Troubled Waters, the "I hate Flanders" song from the Simpsons, the Simpsons theme, Freebird, D'yer Mak'er, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, The PiƱa Colada Song, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, What a Wonderful World, the theme from Flipper, and Friends In Low Places. Oh, and Cabaret, but that was mostly for people standing in line at the entrance to the exhibition hall or at Starucks:
What good is standing
Alone in a line
With nothing at all to read?
Come get a free Cognotes, my friends
It might be what you need

At Dave's suggestion, I also did "Bring it on down to Cognotes-ville", a la Justin Timberlake's dancing advertisement sketches on Saturday Night Live.

Late this morning, I found a couple of ladies holding up signs announcing the ALA Members' Meeting. Of course I couldn't let them just stand there and hold up their signs all by themselves--especially since they were right next to my favorite escalator. So I stood next to them and mixed it up a bit by making up combination Cognotes/meeting jingles.

Afterwards, shortly before it was time to leave for the day, one of the sign-holding ladies came up to me, thanked me for helping them out, and told me I was a Twitter celebrity at the conference. Apparently a singing newspaper girl was enough of a novelty that people felt they needed to Tweet about it. Given that this is the first time my life has connected with the existence of Twitter in any way, I am delighted.

All in all, it's been a pretty good few days. I have an interview at another temp agency tomorrow afternoon, and after an interview last Thursday and a drug test Sunday, I anticipate being employed as a cashier at Dominick's by the end of the month. My financial situation is still pretty desperate, but nonetheless, things are looking up in Fiatville.

good bones (the chicken song)


First new content in awhile, awhile, oh yes. I don't think the tune to which I originally wrote it will be the permanent one, since that tune is sort of sad and repetitive. And this song, when I look at it, really ought to be a bright and slightly comic song. It is a meditation on the circle of life, specifically the eating and being eaten parts of it. Inspired by my love of using the bones from a cut of meat to make broth for a soup in which the same cut of meat is pincipally featured. Tonight I made stir-fy out of some chicken thighs, but after microwaving the bones & gristle so that they would not rot in the garbage can, I threw the bones away. Thinking it a shame, since as I am fond of saying, I hate to waste good bones.

This song uses a lovely poetic form called the pantoum, in which lines repeat in an alternating pattern. I enjoy pantoums, and find myself writing them over and over, because the form presents a challenge which never seems to fade. I think of it as the creative sublimation of my internal sadomasochistic tendencies. ;) More restriction, within a carefully defined context, makes for greater stimulation.

Here is the song. Slash poem. Whatever.

cook my chicken quickly
wasted some good bones
still feelin' weak and sickly
in no shape to throw stones

wasted some good bones
ground to make me bread
in no shape to throw stones
but I've got to be fed

ground to make me bread
life reaches for the sun
but I've got to be fed
so I take life from someone

life reaches for the sun
I peck, peck, peck the ground
so I take life from someone
too small to make a sound

I peck, peck, peck the ground
still feelin' weak and sickly
too small to make a sound
cook my chicken quickly

new skin

This blog has a new skin. Yay!

Tuesdays With Abhorrent Fiends vol. 51: acting lessons

Greetings y'all.

Despite beautiful local fireworks and a trip to Wisconsin to see my newest cousin, Independence Day passed without a post from me. (Although I was able to enjoy KoL's Dependence Day.) But that is okay, because Geds has posted a wonderful and captivating series about the American Civil war called Four Days in July. If you don't feel like scrolling to the bottom, you can start at the first post in the series, here.

I am working on American Idol posts, but have been lethargic and playing tons of Heroes of Might and Magic IV instead of writing stuff. I will post those eventually, in case they will be interesting.

Our local mental health place has experienced massive budget cutbacks--cutbacks with consequences. To wit, they are no longer able to give psychiatric care for free to people without insurance. Namely us. So after meeting some nice intake counselors, generating pages and pages of notes for our files, meeting psychiatrists, and getting on some meds that actually help us, we are now right back where we started.

My last appointment with the psychiatrist happened to fall on the same day the staff got the news of their budget cuts. I had wondered why she handed me enough meds to last me the next six weeks when my next appointment was only in three weeks, but it makes sense now. Nice of her. And since me and Dave are on the same meds, when we start to run low we can pool our resources for maximum duration.

I took the news pretty calmly; meds and counseling are very helpful but not life-threatening if I have to go without. Some of the clinic's other patients are not in the same boat, though. The counselor who brought me up to speed on the budget cutbacks said there'd been one very angry man who stood around in the lobby shouting after he got the news. I imagined a situation he might have been in; homeless, jobless, with a serious set of crossed brain wires. Suddenly told there would be no more help for him. Hell, I'd've been shouting too.

The previous week Dave and I had gone to the nearest Department of Human Services office to apply for welfare. Right off the bat, hearing that I am getting money from unemployment and am not disabled, the lady there told me I would only qualify for food stamps, not cash assistance or medical assistance. Dave might qualify for all three, since he has no income.

But to even apply for food stamps I need written proof of all my expenses, including rent. Which is kind of a problem, since the lease was between Dad and the landlord, and I just kind of kept on paying the rent after Dad died. So I have no written proof of anything from him; I had to call and ask him. Difficult, because even medicated, talking to hearing from, or otherwise dealing with our landlord throws me into a fearful state of mind. He seems like a nice and reasonable guy and has only once mentioned the possibility of us having to move out, despite the fact that I'm now a month and half behind on the rent and have been for some time. However, he'd be within his rights to kick us to the curb whenever he gets fed up, and I know it. I am acutely and fearfully conscious of this fact whenever I see his name on our caller ID. So far, though, I've either been lucky, have subconsciously guessed his schedule, or have developed some minor super power which allows me to only call him at times when I can get his voicemail. Hopefully he will send us a document we can use without getting too irritated.

There are some more hoops we can jump through to try to get state aid, though. The counselor who explained it to me gave me a letter which basically states "This person is in need of psychiatric care", and helped me find a local DHS office nearby which might be more sympathetic. She kind of walked me through some strategies for how to present myself and my case which might help.

First of all, me and Dave shouldn't come as a couple next time--that gives an impression of stability, which while it may be true in an emotional sense, does not translate for us into financial stability. Second, I need to talk about my problems and why I need mental health care in a way that makes me sound like a patient. I tried out some phrasings on her, and she said my natural way of speaking sounds way too much like therapist lingo and would sound coached. So she tried re-stating my issues in more normal-sounding words: "you know, I've been really depressed ever since my father committed suicide, and it's been so hard to find a job." And despite the seriousness of the subject I burst out laughing. She started laughing too. How funny it is, she said, that I'm coaching you on how not to sound coached. I said it was all about image, just like with homeless guys begging for change. I could be a genuine vet with two legs missing, but unless I have a loud voice and a jingling cup with change in it, people aren't gonna give me their money.

So much of everything is about image, is about acting the part so that people will put you into the role you wish to play. Write a resume, write a cover letter, so that you appear to be a consummate professional, eager to work your tail off and capable enough to tackle any task. Apply for public aid, and present yourself as a poor helpless person whose only hope for survival lies in a government program.

Every person has many facets, and though I am a capable (and after months of inactivity, most eager!) employee, I also hover on the brink of eviction, wondering which utility will be cut off first. So yes, all of these things are true. But what matters in any given endeavor is how true they appear to be.