Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cat inna box


She doesn't seem to realize that she doesn't fit.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A dose of Christmas cheer

I ought to be studying for my final on Monday, but I thought I'd write a little bit about the atheist sign that was stolen from the Capitol building in Olympia this week. The Seattle Times has been covering the story, important point of which have been missed by all the blog analyses I've read. First, the atheist group that put up the sign was not the first to cause a commotion about Christmas displays at the Capitol. The past couple of years have seen several similar disagreements in WA, involving Christmas trees, menorahs, nativity scenes and all the permits required to put these things on public property. The state government tried to limit decorations on public property to "winter themed" decorations like evergreen trees, wreaths and fake snow (this is western Washington, we don't get real snow that often!), but there was a lawsuit, and now the state allows any viewpoint at all to put up a display in a designated area.

The governor's statement, "The U.S. Supreme Court has been consistent and clear that, under the Constitution's First Amendment, once government admits one religious display or viewpoint onto public property, it may not discriminate against the content of other displays, including the viewpoints of nonbelievers" seems pretty reasonable to me. Really, the state had no other legal option.

This year, there were two original requests for permits: for a nativity, and for the atheist sign. The atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation also recently put up a billboard in Olympia, and had reason to believe that their sign at the Christmas display would be tolerated. Even the guy who sued for the right to put up a Nativity scene, who also sponsored the Nativity this year, Ron Wesselius, said "I think they're being a little divisive there in their saying. But they have freedom of speech and equal access."

This bears out my experiences in this area: most people in Washington are tolerant of atheism. I've seen quoted that 25% of the state doesn't identify with a religion, and although I don't know if that's true or not, it doesn't sound that far fetched to me. So the FFRF wasn't actually being that radical, and I believe them when they say they didn't expect anyone to vandalize their sign (especially considering it was on the third floor of the Capitol building, where they have guards and cameras and locked doors at night).

However, the sign was stolen, and now the entire country has an opinion on the matter. Even more amusing,

The Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Redmond's Antioch Bible Church put up his own sign at the Capitol on Friday that says, in part: "There is one God. ... Atheism is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

There are requests for other displays as well. Someone applied to put up a "Festivus" pole in honor of the invented holiday featured in the 1990s sitcom "Seinfeld." Another person wants to create a religious-themed "balloon display."

And a demonstration against the atheists' sign is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday on the Capitol steps.
I guess once the sign was stolen and accusations began flying, a little bit of circus was inevitable. What surprises me is that there are people I've always considered liberal and progressive who think that we atheists should shut up, and specifically in this case that we should allow a public, government sponsored space, one set aside for expressions of all kind, to be dominated by symbols of religion. I find myself quite taken aback that someone at Shakesville would be less tolerant of atheism than Mr. Wesselius and his Nativity scene. I guess its no different, really, than an atheist saying feminism or disability rights are silly, pointless movements- and I have heard that, although not often at a blog I choose to read regularly. I just wish we could all be true to our progressive principles even when they apply in unexpected situations, and even when a little imagination and the effort to see things from someone else's point of view are required.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

And I need more grace than I thought

Sometimes the wheels of my mind turn exceedingly slowly. I'm sitting here listening to The Congos- Heart of the Congos and Tan Dun's Water Passion after Saint Matthew and thinking about Geds' post, This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours. Do I agree that "by allowing and even celebrating the gates around Christian culture we have diminished ourselves"?

Knowledge of the history of the Christian religion is certainly essential to any attempt at genuine understanding of the world as it is today. I couldn't truly understand The Congos if I didn't understand both the religious and political influences on their music, and the Water Passion would probably be unlistenable if I didn't appreciate the story behind it- I try to be open-minded, but opera is really not my thing. A great deal of art in the modern world draws on a history rich in Christian themes; perhaps all art does these days. Even bands like Modest Mouse, as cynical and atheistic as they come, play songs like Bukowski, songs that would be meaningless in a world without Christ.

So while I agree with Geds that evangelical culture has drawn a wall around itself, the non-evangelical world doesn't seem to be affected. These gates are one-way, I guess.

There are Christians who ignore the gates, too. I recently read The Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne, a young evangelical who lives in a commune in Philadelphia. My brother aspires to living in a similar house in Seattle; he and my sister, who recently applied for Mission Year, take the failure of Christian pop culture very seriously. There is a small but genuine evangelical youth movement that is tending toward hippie issues like pacifism, poverty, racism and social justice instead of focusing on banning gay marriage, and there is a part of me that thinks this is great. Religion doesn't have to be about othering people who believe differently and condemning harmless behavior. It could be a force for goodness in the world, even if the motivation is love for a God who doesn't exist.

I'm not convinced, though, that a civilized Christianity is more true to the core beliefs of the historical church. The Christians I know are convinced that their religion is all about beauty and truth, love and sweetness and light, but the core truths of Christianity don't lead to happiness. The idea that morality comes from a central authority, the idea that people are innately evil, the idea that blood is the only adequate payment for sin, and so many other doctrines have caused so much misery in the past two thousand years. Christianity divides the world into sinners and saved, and if heaven and hell are all that matters, any cruelty in the name of saving souls is justifiable. The history of Christianity bears this out. A truly moral religion would be forced to apologize not only for the Crusades, the subjugation of women, the justifications for slavery, and the genocide of the natives in the Americas, but also for the doctrine that led to these horrible events.

A truly moral Christianity would require repudiation of much of what is Christian. Of course I would prefer people to choose what is right over what their religion tells them, and as an atheist I believe that they can, but unfortunately I don't think it likely that most believers would be willing to make that choice. I think that many Christians, if forced to choose between what is right and historical church doctrine, would choose doctrine. They might do so apologetically; I've heard it before, "well of course I believe that women should be respected and treated well, but 1 Timothy 2: 11-15 says 'A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety' so I'm sorry but women can't lead men, that's just what the Bible says so it must be right."

To me the epitome of a mainstream music worthy Christian band is mewithoutYou. They're really good musically, and their lyrics aren't even that pretentious. I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear them on the local alternative rock radio station, and their band members are even cool and indie and run their tour bus on vegetable oil. The thing is, though, they're still a Christian band. Their sweet indie music is full of the effacement of self in favor of loving God that amounts to living suicide. The problem is not how Christian doctrine is being sold; they're doing that very well. The problem is the doctrine itself.

Maybe what Christianity really needs is a break from the past, a willingness to forget how things are supposed to be according to church tradition. The benefit of remembering the past is supposed to be that you learn from it and don't repeat mistakes in the future, but when it comes to religion, you're not always allowed to learn and change. When doctrine forbids deliberate change, maybe it's better to just forget.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rain, rain, go away



I love autumn in western Washington so very very much, what with the pretty colors and the crisp days and the sunshine in cool blue skies. Its just fabulous. [/sarcasm]

These floods aren't anywhere near where I live, don't worry, and anyway they happen every year and don't usually cause too much damage.


The cat, unlike the weather, is pretty adorable, even when she's going insane with boredom because the rain keeps her inside and she's forced to rely on pouncing on people's feet for entertainment. You can't really tell from the picture, but this is her wiggling her butt in preparation for a pounce.

I have a sort of bleg: I have been feeling quite under the weather lately, so I've decided to do something out of the ordinary to make my life more interesting. I do this every so often; sometimes I just read a book about something I know nothing about, but previous attempts at excitement have led me to learn to knit and take a pottery class. This time, I am endeavoring to educate myself about rap music. I have very eclectic musical tastes, and mostly listen to indie rock bands with cult followings (think Modest Mouse, Joanna Newsome, Belle and Sebastian), but I think I would like rap too. The problem is, the most accessible rap, on radio stations and the like, has about as much appeal to me as, well, the kind of rock you find on radio stations. I know there's neat stuff out there, though, and I've decided to go out and find it. I've ordered quite a few CDs from the library, but if you have any ideas for artists to check out, I'd love to hear them. I'm looking for anything in the hip-hop or rap categories that you might call thoughtful, philosophical, political, or odd.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

update

Man, yesterday was torturous. The internet at our house dropped out at about 2pm and didn't come back until 11pm, so I missed the entire election. On top of that, I had an exam this morning, so I had to study at home instead of going out somewhere. I can watch everything today I guess, but it won't be the same...

I'm starting to think I've found the point where I've taken on not quite too many activities. What with taking a class every day and trying to get to the necessary appointments in Seattle so I can continue my education, I've had very little time for anything else, including blogging. I hate to think that I'll have to take a hiatus until things settle down, but then it's not like I have time to think of things to write.

The desire for an easy life is almost overpowering sometimes.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I can't believe the news today

My life has been abnormally busy lately, and my writing energies have been focused elsewhere, but I hope to soon return to blogging on a more regular basis. For now, here is a picture of the pumpkin I carved today, inspired by PZ Myers and his obsession with squid. Also, a link to the place my writing energy has ended up: Crow Woman House, a blog about the end of the world. I'm having fun writing melodramatic fiction.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

washed the dirt off our intentions

Some days I think the only thing keeping me from selling my soul for half an hour of physical comfort- rested, warm, free of pain- is that the devil isn't interested in buying. I start to wish I could remember what it's like to not be in pain, and I get to feeling sorry for myself, and tell myself stories about how brave and determined I am just because I make an effort to stay alive.

Days like this, I don't get a lot of writing, or thinking, done. Obviously. But I have been reading books by Terry Pratchett (Hogfather most recently) and its possible that someday I may be out of this funk.

Yesterday I got a postcard from Elizabeth, which brightened my day. I also had an appointment with VA Voc Rehab in Seattle to see if they'll agree that being able to work ten hours a week as a tutor or something is a goal worth paying my college tuition to achieve, and they didn't say no outright. Which is sort of good, although it means I have to go in for another appointment next week after gathering information on certifications and employment prospects, which, quite frankly, sounds exhausting enough that I almost want to cry. Driving into Seattle for any reason is a horrible horrible task. But hey, its still a good thing, and maybe I'll take the bus.

I just wish I wasn't so tired.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

WA for Obama

I just got back from a volunteer training meeting run by the local WA for Obama office. There were a ridiculous number of people there- the room could have held 40 comfortably, and there were at least 100 people packed in there, spilling out the door onto the sidewalk. It was crazy, but in a good way. I volunteered to phone bank and/or canvas for a few hours every Wednesday evening from now until the election, and I'm thinking I may volunteer on election day also. Although, I guess Washington is changing from polls to mail-in ballots, so everyone has the option to do either and the guy at the training said estimates are that 75% of people will vote by mail. So maybe election day doesn't matter that much.

One thing that I'm hoping to get involved with is get out the vote efforts at college campuses, my own campus in particular. College students are more liberal and aware of current events than most people, but have trouble getting to the polls when they need to, so I would be excited to help with that. Especially since I get the impression that GOTV events on campus might involve sitting behind a table, not walking around neighborhoods, so anything that means less pain for me would be nice.

I'm also considering writing a letter or email or something that I could send out to people to let them know some of the issues that I think are really in Obama's favor, like his suggestion to sponsor a federal study to investigate the problems people with disabilities have finishing school and finding jobs and possible solutions, his proposals to support new combat vets coming home with brain injuries and PTSD, and his suggestion to start a federal program like the Peace Corp that employs young people in jobs that improve their community in exchange for college scholarships. Maybe it would be a bit snobby, but so many people I know just don't know the details of the issues that this election will decide. A lot of this stuff is very detailed and most people don't have the time to find out what their candidates really propose... but maybe I would come off as an elitist know-it-all. I dunno.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

My sister's cat, Annie, having valiantly fought and subdued this gardening glove, carried its corpse to the back door as a gift to her favorite humans.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

class notes

I am genuinely amazed that someone employed in teaching science is as bad at science as my geology teacher. Interesting science-y tidbits I have caught her mangling in class this week:

Silicon is a metal, which is why we use it for electronics.

This isn't true, silicon is not a metal. It is one of the most common elements on earth, and is found in a multitude of minerals and mineraloids, including sand and glass. Silicate elements are used in many applications, from computing to soap to non-stick cookware.

Electrons don't have any mass because they move at the speed of light.

This also isn't true. Electrons are subatomic particles with a mass of 1/1836 of a proton; they are very light, obviously, but they do have mass and are matter, not energy. Additionally, the speed at which electrons travel can approach the speed of light in a vacuum but never reach it. Electrons are considered to be fundamental particles with no substructure, and have an electric charge that is negative and equally strong as the positive charge in protons, which is key for electromagnetism. Many other exciting facts about electrons can be found at wikipedia.org!

It's amazing how useful the Internet is. What did people with shitty teachers do before it was possible to Google things that sound wrong?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Like a vagabond with a fishing pole

Last week was the first week of class, and I'm wiped out. I'm taking one (1) class, a freshman geology course that has me in class a grand total of 7 hours a week and is an easy A, and I'm completely wiped out. I feel like I have the flu.

Its almost hard to believe that I'm seriously considering several years of this. Who voluntarily puts themselves through this much pain? I must be crazy.

My teacher is also crazy, and one of the worst things about the class is that she stands in the front spouting insane, impossible shit and I can't rebut and save the minds of the rest of the class from debilitating ignorance.

I know I have a tendency to exaggerate drama, but I'm really not kidding here. An example:

She is convinced that global warming isn't caused by human influence. Now, a lot of people believe this because they have a vested interest in doing whatever the fuck they want to the environment and their beliefs follow their interests, and she used to work for an oil company, so maybe that's all there is to it. However, the alternate explanation for global warming is so off the wall that her acceptance of it makes me wonder why she's a science teacher.

The cause of global warming, she says, is solar wind. Not directly, though- nothing as simple as solar winds heating the atmosphere and causing climate change. No, you see, solar winds have been less strong in the last 30-50 years than they were before that, which is a problem because solar winds exert pressure on the Earth's atmosphere, so when the solar winds are less strong, less pressure on the Earth's atmosphere means the atmosphere expands. When the atmosphere expands, the lowered air pressure allows the tectonic plates (and I guess the whole Earth) to expand, widening the space between plates and allowing magma to push up from the core into the plate boundaries under the oceans at the poles, causing an increase in undersea volcanoes which heat up the ocean water. The heated ocean water causes the sea ice to melt and affects the weather.

At least its a novel and exciting theory, right? Even if it does rely on a complete misunderstanding of gravity.

I guess in one sense, its encouraging that someone like this can get a job as a science teacher. It means I have a chance of finding employment, which is a thought that is at least partially appealing. I really hate doing things that make me feel this ill, but I also hate living in the room behind my parents' house. Enduring pain and fatigue and idiocy like this are all part of the plan to get me a crappy studio apartment of my very own.

My dedication to this plan gets more and more tenuous the more I think about it, so I've been not thinking about it. I've been knitting, and I read Kit Whitfield's Benighted yesterday, it's really quite good. I also started up a short story set in the Left Behind universe. Slacktivist finished LB Fridays, or at least finished the analysis of the first book, and I figure if there's any time to write a foefic for Right Behind, now is it. Although the story is looking a bit long and not showing any signs of ending, so it might be too long to post on Right Behind. We'll see.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A wicked wind will blow

There are spiders everywhere, and its cold and gloomy. I hate the weather in this state.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

cross your fingers, hold your toes

I complain a lot about my family and how they're a bunch of wacky religious fundamentalists, but really they're great people to hang out with. Yesterday I went out with my two little sisters and my mother and my sisters' friend to the Puyallup Fair, which is the biggest fair in Washington state and is apparently an annual outing for my family. Its a sign of how far away from them I've been the last several years that I didn't even know that my mother takes my siblings to the fair every year. Anyway, we went, and now I'm totally exhausted from walking around for five hours and eating too much cotton candy. I got some neat pictures.

There were cows

and goats

and more goats

and cuddly piglets


and gnomes

and I got a cane that folds out into a chair, about which I am very excited, and which is the reason I am able to function today and am not stuck in bed writhing about in pain.



This is my sister modeling the cane. She has homeschooled her entire life, is pro-life and goes to church a couple times a week. She is brilliant: she's 17, and will be getting her AA degree from the local community college in two quarters. Once she does that, she wants to go on a Mission Year, because she believes in service. As you can see, she has dreadlocks and a snappy attitude. What you can't see is that she plays the piano and the harp, paints and tutors a kid in math three times a week, reads science fiction and listens to obscure folk music while she bakes cookies just because she wants to. She really is one of my favorite people.

I forget, sometimes, that the people with whom I find myself disagreeing, on issues as important as the definition of truth, are real people. They are complex, with motivations I may not currently understand but would probably find sympathetic. They create beautiful things and mean well for the world and love and are loved. They may be ordinary, or be extraordinarily talented and brilliant and wrong about some things but not about everything.

Its easier to oppose caricatures, or at least, its easier to be angry with an enemy that is mad, unreasonable, greedy and evil. In a country as big as the US, it gets much easier to keep these caricatures close to our hearts, because with so many people around there is always a way to find the people who think like you do and shut out those who disagree. This is a false way of seeing the world, though. No one is actually a caricature, and in the long run holding on to an untruthful vision of the enemy contributes as much to the divisions between people as the actual differences of opinion do. I know my own enlightenment in this respect isn't going to change the state of society- I wonder if anything can change things, when a society is this big- but I try to remember it anyway.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Devil in Dover

I just finished reading The Devil in Dover, by Lauri Lebo, which I know I saw mentioned somewhere on a blog that I read recently, but now I can't for the life of me remember where I saw it. Its a great book, not just for the fascinating portrait of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial but also for Lebo's reflections on the nature of faith and truth.

I have been thinking about truth, and Truth, myself lately. The school year started a few days ago, so I have overheard my religious mother reading aloud to the kids she homeschools about how everything they think ought to be guided by a religious perspective. Slactivist's post on "biblical worldview" brought up all kinds of memories of my own religious indoctrination, both ancient and as recent as this morning.

For a certain kind of religious fundamentalist, mostly the kind that uses the same keywords Slacktivist notices, nothing is more important than Truth. See for example Focus on the Family's "The Truth Project," a small group study which advertises with the question "Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?" and which aims to tutor average Christians in fundamentalist apologetics, transforming them into bigoted footsoldiers ready to fight for FotF's pet causes. The thing is, Truth and truth are not the same thing. FotF et al only advocate "truth" when they're able to change the definition of the word to something no regular person would call true.

From FotF's thetruthproject.org:

The Truth Project begins by defining truth as “that which conforms to reality.” But it’s much deeper than that. It’s about one’s personal worldview, which we define as “the set of individual truth claims which I embrace so deeply that I believe they reflect what is really real – and therefore they drive what I think, how I act, and what I feel.”

Many people today – unfortunately, most people – don’t seem to think that there is any universal standard of absolute truth. But we believe differently. The purpose of The Truth Project is to develop a biblical worldview: “A formal worldview based ultimately upon that nature, character, and being of God as it is expressed in His infallible Word [the Bible] and His creation. It becomes the foundation for a life system that governs every area of existence.

For us, the “truth” is God’s truth, as set forth supremely and most definitively in the Bible – and we regard this truth to be absolute in the sense that it cannot be compromised and is not open to purely subjective interpretation. Ultimately, we cannot dissect the truth; we can only proclaim it.


Truth in their hands has nothing to do with observation of reality, and everything to do with parroting
a line received from religious elders. If their religious doctrine explicitly and provably contradicts real events, well, reality has to bend. Truth, after all, is the infallible Word of God Himself and is not open to interpretation by reality or any other damn thing.

Lebo came up against people with this way of thinking during the Dover trial. The devout Christians who tried to adopt a school policy teaching intelligent design alongside evolution lied repeatedly under oath, but seemed not to even be aware that they were lying. I have no trouble believing that they didn't recognize what they were doing as lying. If "trying to advance the kingdom of God" and "telling the truth" are synonymous, then as long as a person is convinced that what they're doing is right, what they say is true. The videotape proving that their statements are not true has nothing to do with anything; only God's will is relevant.

Truth- real truth, facts and proof and, you know, reality- is important to civil society. I may be one of the godless heathens the Truth Project accuses of "reject[ing] the value of rational thought, deny[ing] the existence of moral and spiritual absolutes, and affirm[ing] the right and power of the individual to invent his or her own reality," but I know that human interaction is predicated on a certain amount of trust. Yes, people lie and manipulate all the time, but when they deny the reality they're interacting in, communication is impossible. Efforts to indoctrinate people in denying reality, redefining truth as blind adherence to dogma, are efforts to destroy the fabric of interaction that makes society possible.

I know I don't know how to communicate with people who are sunk deep into this fundamentalism
, and it troubles me. I have been driven all the way back to my roots these past couple of months and I find, like Lebo, that my home is full of lies, and the only way to cope with this pernicious worldview is to just not talk about it at all. Its very isolating.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Freedom Isn't Free!

At the RNC last week Mike Huckabee made a speech about how great veterans (and therefore John McCain) are (/is). He told a story about a teacher who taught her students that their education had been earned by veterans who fought for the country. Here's the YouTube video. Its a standard sort of story to tell about veterans, and I must admit, there's a part of me that appreciates this sort of unthinking hero worship, both purely for the social approval and also because I suspect that, the more widespread this sort of emotional reaction to the concept of fighting for one's country is, the more likely I am to wrench a disability stipend large enough to live off out of the VA. However, as selfish as I feel about the topic, there is something very wrong about framing military service this way.

First of all, its just not accurate to say that all the good things in our lives, our freedoms and privileges and so on, are due to the heroic efforts of American soldiers. Most countries in the world have schools with desks in them. When I was fourteen, I went with a group of teenagers to Kenya for the summer to build an addition to a school building way out in the bush, and even there, in a place where some families had to walk hours each way to bring drinking water back to their homes and plenty of families had to choose one of several children to send to school because they couldn't afford the $1-2 for uniforms and books for every child, once the kids got into school they had desks.

Even when you look at things less easy to identify than school desks, things like freedom and prosperity and other abstract nouns, its hard to imagine an alternate history that would have resulted in a nation that was completely unrecognizable. If, for example, the colonies had lost the Revolutionary War, there would never have been a United States, or a US Army, but there would still be people living here where we are now, and are Canada and Australia so alien and oppressed? Or maybe if we had never entered World War II- Europe would be a somewhat different place, and so would Southeast Asia, but does anyone seriously think that the North American continent would have been invaded with any success? Or if we had declined to fight the Cold War, does anyone really think that people in Kansas would be speaking Russian now, let alone learning Russian without the benefit of a school desk? There are a multitude of factors that contribute to a nation's identity. Military action is only one, and probably not even the most important when considered against things like basic geography. Attributing everything great about America to our military is just incorrect, and that irritates me.

However, there is a result of this attitude that is even worse than being factually wrong. When people believe that our comfortable American lives are directly due only to the action of our military, it is too easy to slip into thinking that any action our military takes benefits our comfortable American lives. Saying it like that makes it seem like a ridiculous belief, but people hold onto it. For some, it is even an essential part of patriotism. Freedom isn't free, you know, so if we're spending trillions of dollars and unmeasurable human agony in a foreign country, we must be paying for freedom. The military takes action to protect us from threats to our way of life, so if the military is taking action there must be a threat to our way of life. Fight them over there because the fight is all that stands between us and Iraqi tanks rolling down the streets of Wichita and Seattle and Houston.

Of course this is logically ridiculous. The only direct relationship between the occupation of Iraq and school desks in Tennessee is the lack of funding for school desks due to the cost of body armor. John McCain served honorably at great personal cost, but the war in Vietnam, like the war in Iraq, was not in any sense necessary to the survival of the United States and had nothing to do with the opportunity to attend middle school in homey, small town America. Anyone with a grasp of the most basic details of history should be able to see that. This particular brand of fuzzy thinking is so prevalent, though, that Huckabee gave his silly speech and got all kinds of applause for it.

Liberals, at least of this generation, tend to feel just as obliged to engage in this silly soldier worship as conservatives. This last Sunday afternoon I attended a meeting at the local library of a group of anti-war activists, and when they found out I was a veteran they all made a point of thanking me for my service. I really wouldn't prefer to be spat on and called a baby killer, but there must be a middle way. Deifying soldiers is barely a step away from mythologizing war, which is a direct cause of violent atrocities orders of magnitude worse than being insulted by some random jerk, and until these attitudes change I can't help but think that an anti-war group isn't going to be successful at all.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

a tiny prayer to father time

I was going to write a bit of a rant about the framing of Gov Palin's decision not to abort her youngest son, who has Down's Syndrome, but this post at Shakesville pretty much says it better than I was going to.

Instead of my fascinating thoughts on politics, then, here are some pictures of my latest project, Lion Brand's #1100. The yarn is so thick that it only took me a few days to knit it, even though my first version ended up too big and I redid the front and back pieces. The sweater is still pretty bulky, but its oh so warm, and it suits me.




Now that that sweater is done, I'm starting on another one, for my little brother. My grandmother used to knit quite a bit, and when she died my mother inherited a half-finished sweater, which has been sitting in the closet for at least fifteen years. My mother never did anything with it, because there isn't enough yarn to finish the original sweater, but I have a new pattern (Durrow) and I'm excited to start working on it. The cables on this pattern are much more difficult than anything I've done before and the yarn is antique and if I keep this up I may one day produce a sweater that's actually stylish.


I am becoming quite the knitting geek. I have an account on Ravelry (my username there is Tayi also) and the last few books I got from the library are books on tape so I can listen to them and knit at the same time. I wonder if this is some flaw inherent in my personality, that I am apparently unable to do anything part-time, even knitting.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

well everything is eclipsed


So Elizabeth challenged her readers to do two things over the holiday weekend: go outside and have some fun, and give someone something. I'm still working on the second part (I need to go to a yarn store, but that means getting gas and driving and finding my way around an unfamiliar part of town and I just haven't done it yet), but yesterday I went up the mountains with my dad and my little brother to pick out a truck full of rocks with flat surfaces so my dad can pave a walkway in his back yard. As you can imagine, I wasn't much help with picking up the rocks and carrying them to the truck, but I spotted some good ones, carried a few little ones, and stood around taking pictures.

The pictures are really the exciting part. We drove several miles up an old logging road to a spot where a rock slide came down almost to the road. There are quite a few slides on top of these mountains; whether they're from clear-cut logging or occur naturally I'm not sure, but they're all over the place, even in spots where the old clear-cuts have grown in over twenty-five years or so. The rocks here are mostly granite, with some kind of shale in spots, and there is at least one gravel quarry across the mountain from where we were.

Anyway, the view from the rock slide was really great. There were no trees in the way, so we could see down into the valley for miles. It was freezing, and for a while we were inside a cloud, but these pictures are worth it.

When we got home, we went over to a neighbor's yard and picked plums off their plum tree, and today we're canning and drying peaches and plums. So maybe, if helping with a project counts as a gift, I've got that covered too.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

In my head there's a greyhound station

I went to a party on Wednesday night, a going-away party for an old friend of mine who is moving a few states away. It was an odd experience. I didn't know most of the people there, just my little brother's band, who played for about half an hour, and a few people from my old youth group.

Church used to be the source of community in my life, and for the rest of my family it still is. I never liked it that life worked that way. The constant watchfulness and self-editing to ensure that no unacceptable ideas are even implied by what I say stresses me out even now, and it was much worse when I was struggling to find what I believed without causing a major shitstorm that would have cut off my carefully planned avenue of escape from this town. As beseiged as I felt, and as different from the church norm as I was, I never made many friends at church, but there was a group of people who tolerated me, and several of these people were at this party.

It was surreal, seeing these people again. I was afraid that it might give me flashbacks to the way my life was when I was a kid, but instead it just reinforced how much I've changed, and how impossible it would be to try to fit into that world again. I can't keep my mouth shut like I used to do. I can be civil and refrain from giving my opinions on the church when the conversation is about something else, but I can't listen to treacly comments about how valuable small group prayer sessions are without making snide comments. Well, technically I'm able to just shut up. But the knowledge that somewhere listening might be another kid like me keeps me from staying silent. I managed to escape this particular party with only one outburst at someone who told me I was going to hell, but there's no way I could do that on a regular basis.

Which has led me to ask myself where exactly I think I'm going to find a community. I'm not good at making friends at the best of times, being sick and tired all the time certainly doesn't help, and I don't really know where to start. I've got a book group and a knitting group that I go to once a month each, but they both tend toward late middle aged women who are almost as socially conservative as the members of my parents' church. I've enrolled for one class at the local community college, and will probably go on to finish my BA at the University of Washington, if I can scrape up the money, energy, and sheer physical courage for it, so I guess I could join some kind of club or something at school.

Its just... I'm really bad at connecting with people. I always have been. Even online, where people pour their hearts out to random strangers all the time, there are people who I find fascinating, but I'm never quite sure if we're friends or not. Maybe I'm just too picky, or too weird, or too awkward. I wish there were classes on how to meet people you like and become friends with them. People like me could really benefit.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Made with glue and a glove and some pliers



My last few posts have been rather grim, so here are some pictures of my new walking stick. It is entirely homemade, from a piece of wood salvaged from the forest floor on a hiking trail near here (which is not completely ecologically sound, I know, but hey, its a good cause). My brother helped me cut the ragged ends off it, then I stripped the bark off and sanded it, and my dad varnished it and scrounged around for a bit of rubber to stick to the bottom so it doesn't slide on smooth floors.

I'm really quite pleased with the result, which doesn't quite come through in these photos. I'm not very good at close-up shots, but the color here at least is accurate. And you can't see it, but there are neat looking insect burrow trails on the surface of the bottom half. So far I've gotten compliments on it from four or five random strangers, all at the VA, oddly enough. Or maybe its not so odd that vets would be walking stick connoisseurs; the US doesn't take such good care of vets that we're entitled to crazy things like houses, John McCain notwithstanding, but most vets here can at least get a cane!

To offset my bitterness about John McCain and his ridiculous wealth- and I really am trying not to rant about him so much, I feel like I have spent too much time being angry with his ignorant entitled attitude- here's a gratuitously beautiful picture. Its been raining loads, but my neighbor has these gorgeous lilies that seem to get brighter the darker the sky gets.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Writing Prompt #3

Write a letter of advice to a child thinking about running away from home.

Forget the letter- I'm not one to ask if you ought to run away from home. I'd say yes. What you really want is someone to talk you down, tell you not to be silly, tell you to be wise and forgiving and patient. I'd tell you to split as soon as you have a plan to keep you safe and warm at night.

The year that I was in fifth grade was a bad year for me. I was ten or eleven, I guess, I don't remember. I only know that it was my fifth grade year because that was the year I stayed home. Previously I had attended a small private school full of kids who didn't like me, possibly because I was a snotty little aspie know-it-all, and for whatever reason my parents though it would be better for me to study at home.

I don't fit in at my parents' house. They're good people, and they do love me, but I don't fit, and it was worse then than it is now. Everything I was supposed to be to fit into their world- submissive, peaceful, respectful- was the opposite of what I am, and at that age, I didn't know how to deal with all that weight of tradition telling me that who I was wasn't Right. I felt confined, and crushed, and I retreated into stories about other times and places. The books weren't enough, though, and I went for long walks and bicycle rides, trying to think of someplace else I could reasonably expect to be. Sometimes I would sneak out at night at and jog around the neighborhood by moonlight, just to get away, to be part of a world where there was no one else, none of these expectations that, I now know, are perfectly crazy.

There are a set of old train cars on a track near the road in the town next to the one where I grew up. They're relics of a time when the train was the main connection our valley had to the rest of civilization, but now we have I-90 and the trains sit by the side of the road, windows boarded up with slimy plywood, rusting. Here's a picture someone else took of them:


Every time I passed these trains, I would wonder how difficult it would be to break into one, and if they would keep the rain out, and if anyone would notice if there was a ten year old child living in one. I had several hundred dollars I had saved, and I thought about what I would pack when I left and how to keep people from knowing where I had gone.

In the end, I didn't go, not to the trains anyway. I decided that I wasn't willing to drop out of school in order to get away -I knew this would only land me in an even more crushing situation in the long run- so once I started high school I researched my options and decided to homeschool again. This time, I was in charge of the classes I took, something I got away with because I elected to take as many classes as I could fit into my day. I finished high school five months after I turned sixteen, and moved out of my parents' house and into a dorm room at university.

There were a number of consequences of this decision that weren't what I wanted when I made it, and sometimes I wonder what my life would be like now if I had gone instead to a public school and goofed off and smoked pot and convinced myself that it didn't matter that I didn't fit. Sometimes I get to feeling sorry for myself, but every time I pass those trains I remember what it was like when I was ten and I felt like running was the only way I could survive intact, and I know that as much as it doesn't seem that way sometimes, I made the right decision. I am as intact as can be expected, because I knew when to run.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It all seemed perfect

I don't have much breakup music on my computer. I have a hard time believing this: 8.6 GB of music and not one breakup song? But it seems to be true.

When I dropped out of college I was convinced that I had reached a nadir of personal failure. I- the perfectionist academic overachiever- was crushed. I curled up on the cold tile of the bathroom floor and cried myself into a headache, sure that I could never hate myself more than I did at that moment, sure that the 'me' I wanted to be was forever dead.

Life continually amazes me, the way the most solid of things crumble through my fingers. It seems absurd that I could look back over the past six years of my life and see only mistakes, ill luck, foolishness and disaster. I mean, really- who is this bad at life?

Me, I guess.

So I'm breaking up. We are breaking up, technically, except I don't even know what state he's in at the moment, and there's no pressing reason to call him, so the 'we' at this point is purely theoretical. Here I am: 23 years old, broken, sick and as much a failure at marriage as everything else.

I guess I like melodrama more than is strictly dignified; its odd how I'm so tired of the whole situation that the thought of changing my name again- signing paperwork, waiting in line at the DMV, spending hours on hold with the VA and Social Security- is more distressing than anything else. A little melodrama would be refreshing. If there were only small breakable objects I could hurl at the wall, obscenities to scream so loudly the neighbors could hear, sickening amounts of alcohol to drink and then vomit in the humid garden next to the rhododendrons.

I wish I could believe in the rage, the drama, the anger at him and the world, but it seems too thin next to the cold stone of reality. See, angry as I am, this is my fault. I am the one who flinches in pain at the lightest touch, I'm the one who wasn't brave enough, or wise enough, or patient enough, or honest enough.

And I start to wonder if that's just the way things are going to be. Maybe life is never easy. Maybe, as cynical, tired and pain-ridden as I am, I should just stop expecting things to be different. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; and why am I surprised?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fingerless Gloves with Easy Cable



Just to prove I'm a big dork, here's a pattern for fingerless gloves with a cable on the back that I wrote up yesterday. Its a pretty simple pattern, but its the first one I've written all by myself. The more I knit, the more I realize how valuable knitting has become to me as a coping mechanism. To be able to create something beautiful that I can hold in my hand and then give away to someone who actually wants to have it is a good thing for my soul.

Materials
Fingering or worsted weight yarn, I'm not sure how much exactly but not much. I made these from an unused remaining skein that my mother had left over in her closet, so I'm not sure even what kind of yarn it is, probably some kind of wool blend that was thin-ish.
size 9 US needles

Sizing
These fit me, and my hands are 7 1/4 in around the palm. Add stitches in multiples of four to make them bigger, I guess.

Right Hand
Cast on 32 sts
Knit in k2, p2 rib for two inches or preferred length of cuff.
Next row: p3, k2, p6, k2, p to end
Row 2: k3, p2, k6, p2, k to end
Row 3: p3, k2, p6, k2, p to end
Row 4: k3, p2, sl next three sts on cable needle and hold at back, k3, then k3 from cable needle, p2, k to end
Row 5 an 7: as rows 1 and 3
Rows 6 and 8: as row 2

Repeat rows 1-8 three times, binding off on last row 8
Sew seam, leaving space for thumb and sewing bridge between first and second fingers.

The left hand is just a mirror image of the right hand, so the cable ends up on the back of the hand.
Cast on 32 sts
Knit 2 inches of k2, p2 rib
Next row: p19, k2, p6, k2, p3
Row 2: k19, p2, k6, p2, k3
Row 3: p19, k2, p6, k2, p3
Row 4: k19, p2, sl next 3 sts on cable needle and hold at back, k3, then k3 from cable needle, p2, k3
Rows 5 and 7: as rows 1 and 3
Rows 6 and 8: as row 2

Repeat rows 1-8 three times, binding off on last row 8
Sew seam, leaving space for thumb and sewing bridge between first and second fingers.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

to see in all directions at the same time

I know I talk about this a lot, but seriously, as a veteran in this country, you just can't win.

I've mentioned before how I'm not eligible for the GI Bill because I had the lack of foresight to get hurt too soon into my enlistment, and I'm not eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation's help with education expenses because I'm too injured to be a productive member of society worth investing in, and now, today, I learned that I am also not eligible for a waiver for residency requirements in the state I grew up in. I was away for too long after I enlisted, and they only take pity on veterans of the Korean War, not any conflict more recent.

Korean War vets are all what, 70 years old or so now? Totally the people who habitually enroll at a community college.

And now the news is full of how smart McCain is to say that the US needs to threaten and/or attack Russia because the president of Georgia is a moron and started a war. OK, maybe that's not the best analysis of the situation (ObWi has much better). But still. The longer I identify as a veteran, the more I think that this disconnect between the realities of military experience and the ideals that run our foreign policy is the sickness that will bring down the American empire. That anyone who refuses to admit our military's limitations isn't laughed off the national stage- that this is instead seen as proof that he is a foreign policy heavyweight- astounds me.

Sometimes I wonder if it might not be better for our country to experience disaster and defeat. Not that I want tragedy, not the human cost of it. But we have been so successful in recent history (Iraq notwithstanding) that too large a number of our political philosophers no longer have any basis in reality, and that is incredibly dangerous, not only for us, but for the rest of the world.

And this urge to pretend that our military is always strong and gleaming and made up of invincible cartoon commandos, really sucks for veterans. I am so so sick of this constant battle for benefits.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Seas would rise when I gave the word

I was watching the first DVD from Biology: The Science of Life this morning, struggling to pay attention enough to understand and remember what was going on, when I happened upon what I think is a key insight into why people think liberals in general, and I in particular, are arrogant jerks. I am on a quest- to put it a wee bit melodramatically- to continually improve myself, because I'm not satisfied with my current state. I put effort into educating myself because I think that I am uneducated. From my point of view, this mostly manifests as continual disappointment when I fail to reach my own high standards, but I think from the outside the most noticeable thing is the high standards, and my apparent belief that I can reach them, which seems hubristic.

Of course, it doesn't help when every so often my effort to learn things pays off, and I end up busting out in the middle of a conversation with random facts that no one else knows. For example, I went to a book group on Tuesday at the local library that discussed Straight Man, by Richard Russo, which I had not read. But apparently the book repeatedly brings up Occam's Razor. There was a nice, friendly, nonthreatening conversation about what, exactly, Occam's Razor was- no one really knew for sure but they were tossing around the phrase "simplest solutions are always right"- and I piped up with "actually, it doesn't mean that simplest solutions are always right, just that out of a given set of solutions to a problem, the simplest solution is more likely to be correct-simpler explanations should be preferred." Which, of course, stopped the conversation completely even though I tried to soften it with some trash about how its a computer programming maxim and so of course a lot of people don't know it.

I tend not to associate my knowledge of correct facts with being correct myself; it is the fact, something independent of me, which is correct, and my knowledge of it is more or less an accident. Other people don't see things that way, though, I'm afraid.

Anyway, I don't really see what I can do about this state of things, other than keep my mouth shut I suppose. The chances of me becoming a different kind of person are very low. My next self-improvement project will focus on writing, I think. I have the impression that my writing from the period after I got hurt is much worse than the writing from before I got hurt. I used to write poetry and shit, and although it was pretty emo, it was also pretty good on a technical level. Since I feel like I could do better than I do currently, I am getting a book of writing prompts (thank God-or rather, thank our government which has not yet been taken over by libertarians- for libraries) and I intend to write mini-essays from writing prompts every day for a month.

Or until I get bored, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I could learn to swim


This picture is kind of dark, but its the best one I have of my recently finished laptop sized over the shoulder bag. I've been doing a lot of knitting, finishing up some small projects and such, but this is my real accomplishment from the past couple weeks. I'm quite proud of this bag since it seems so useful. It even has a side pocket for a waterbottle, although it doesn't show well in this photo.

I also made five cat toys, one for each kitten, but I didn't take pictures of them before and now I can't because the kittens have all been given to new homes. Its heartbreaking. I honestly believe that the past month or so would have been hard for me to get through without these kittens cheering up my life. Even when every other aspect of life sucks, kittens make everything better.

While I knit, I like to watch TV, but since I hate commercials and I'm picky about the shows I like I usually get shows from the library, or occasionally I watch illegal copies online. However, since I've been living with my parents, its a bit awkward to watch TV shows that make them uncomfortable with sex and violence and such- and they're such nice people that most TV shows do. The solution is to watch documentaries. In the past couple weeks, I've watched documentaries on deep sea volcanoes, autism, the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and two BBC videos from the Walking With Dinosaurs series, Walking with Monsters, which is a kind of prequel, and Allosaurus.

Documentaries are interesting, but since they're produced for a general audience, you don't usually get the kind of details that are really fascinating. Allosaurus was neat, because it got into the forensic work behind the knowledge scientists have about dinosaurs, but I would love to get a similar DVD collection that really aimed to teach methods and detailed facts. I've ordered a lecture series from the library on biology, The Science of Life, from the Teaching Company, and I have high hopes.

My father pointed out to me the other day that since I was previously enrolled at the University of Washington, I could re-enroll with minimal effort and start taking classes again, one at a time maybe. The idea of going back to school intrigues me. I'm still resisting settling down in my parents' house for any long period of time, but if I did, I could go to school. Its an attractive idea.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Coyote Story

So I'm writing a story that might someday far in the future be a novel, and in this story there is a need for a story explaining a drought to a small child. I wrote this Coyote story without much reference to actual Coyote stories beyond a quick search on the Internet, and I'm not totally sure I like it. I may keep it or not; opinions on the matter are welcome.

---

This is the story of Coyote and the Daughter of the Sky, as told by Old Man Gaagyeh to the Old Storyteller Woman, who told it to my mother, who told it to me when I was small like you are. A long time ago, Coyote was walking about in the House of the Gods. As you know, Coyote can wear the skin of any animal, and on that day he was wearing the skin of a handsome young man. So he wandered around the Gods’ House, very bored and looking for trouble, until he came into the garden, which was like a lakeshore after it rains, covered in bright orange flowers and the noisy frogs that wake up when the rain comes. In this garden was a young woman who was very beautiful, with long black hair and delicate gentle fingers and deep black eyes, and in her eyes were every one of the stars, for she was the Sky‘s Daughter. And as soon as he saw her, Coyote fell in love.

In fact he fell in love so much that he forgot everything he knew about the Sky and her daughter, and instead of being humble, he went up to the woman and said to her with a foolish swagger, “Oh beautiful, I know you have been waiting for me to take you away from your mother’s house to be my wife. Come along!”

Now the Sky‘s Daughter saw that he was a handsome young man, but he was so arrogant that she didn‘t like him at all, and besides she was busy naming all the new stars he mother had placed in the night, so she laughed at him and told him to go away. Coyote was used to getting what he wanted by honest ways or by trickery, and he didn’t realize his foolishness but went away to think of a trick to get this young woman to be his wife whether she liked him or not.

First, he came to her in the skin of a brightly colored frog, thinking that she would be pleased at his beauty. But she had many frogs in her garden, and she turned him away.

Then he came to her as a cactus flower to put in her hair, but she had so many flowers already that she didn’t even notice him.

Then he came to her as a kitten, to curl up in her lap and please her with his purrs, but she already had a cat who sat on her lap, and she sent him away because everyone knows two cats won’t live in the same house.

Now Coyote was very angry, and he decided that if the Sky’s Daughter wouldn’t go with him voluntarily, he would steal her away. So here is what he did: he went down to the Big North Lake and he drank and drank and drank until he was so full of water he could barely stand up. And then he puffed himself up bigger and bigger and bigger until- poof!- he was a cloud. Then he floated up to the House of the Gods, and he settled around the top of the house and the garden just like a real cloud might.

Coyote waited all night and all day and all night again for the Sky’s Daughter to come out to her garden, until he was almost ready to give up. But on the third day she came out into her garden even though it was damp and cloudy, and when he saw her, Coyote swooped down on her, wrapped his arms around her tightly and quickly flew far, far away.

When the Sky heard that a cloud had stolen her daughter, she was furious. She called all her cousins: the Sun and the Moon, the North Wind and the East Wind, Thunder, the Big North Lake who is the Sky‘s lover, and even the tiny Desert Wren who flies to and fro. And the whole family went out and searched for the Sky’s Daughter. Every time they came across a cloud, they captured it and locked it away, but Coyote was very clever, and hid himself and the Sky’s Daughter under the ground where the Sky couldn’t see them, and the Sky’s Daughter became his wife.

So Coyote was foolish and got himself a wife who didn’t like him, and later she poisoned him and ran away- but that is another story. This is why the Sky and all her cousins still catch the clouds whenever they see them and lock them away so the rain cannot fall.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Warm rain on drooping roses; pattering showers


That soak the woods; not the harsh rain that sweeps
Behind the thunder, but a trickling peace,
Gently and slowly washing life away.


Its raining, and I am in pain. My brain is a bit switched off, so here are some photos of my father's garden.




Friday, July 25, 2008

What I Know, Part 2

What a beautiful face
I have found in this place
That is circling all round the sun
What a beautiful dream
That could flash on the screen
In a blink of an eye and be gone from me...

And one day we will die
And our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see...

Can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all


Everyone tells stories about themselves and why they exist. Some of these are true: “I am a mother and these are my children.” Some of these aren’t: “I’m going to strike it rich next time I play the lottery, and then I’ll be happy.” Some people insist on a story of the world that places them at the center of all of everything that has ever been: “God made the Earth for the sole purpose of harboring the human race, all of human history has converged on this generation, which is the Last Days, and I am among God’s spiritual elite!”

These stories are where people find this nebulous thing we call “meaning,” which is why some people will insist that it is impossible to have meaning without religion, i.e. their preferred story. However, people derive meaning from their own personal stories about their place among the people closest to them even if they have no religious narrative, and even among the religious there are often stories that are more significant, for example parenthood. Some people care quite a bit about whether or not their stories are true; others believe what they do because it fills a certain place in their lives. I am one of the former: taught from an early age that the Truth (that is, my parents’ religion) was to be the central point of my life, I find that I cannot believe something if I have no reason to think it is true. At the same time, although my relationships are important to me, I have never considered my role in life to be primarily relational, so while it is true that I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, I need a different story to find meaning.

This, then, is the story I tell myself.

The universe is a place much bigger than I am, but I am a part of it. The elements that make up my body existed before my brain organized into a machine capable of thought, and they will exist after I am dead. I used to feel like I needed to Make a Difference in order for life to be worth living. And I still do, to a certain extent; I wish I could be famous and important and significant to other people as much as anyone. But even if I were to die tomorrow without any great achievements to my name, my life wouldn't be worthless, because I am part of the world, and its a beautiful world. And the atoms of my body, which used to be part of stars and dinosaurs and trees, will move on to be parts of other things.

There is no Fate driving events; my existence is contingent on more factors than I can count, none of which had to turn out the way they did. My birth was a zillion-to-one chance, and my existence here today, as myself, is a great stroke of luck. This doesn’t mean that I should settle for mere subsistence as my highest goal, but that I temper my pessimism and grimness with an acknowledgement that it is a joy to be alive. No matter what horrible things are done on earth the stars are still beautiful, and no matter what pain and ugly death I might have to look forward to, the world is still a breathtakingly beautiful place and I am lucky to be a part of this incredibly improbable symphony of life.

I am not a scientist, so I cannot personally prove that this story is true. But this story is falsifiable; I don’t take it on faith, I tell it because it is consistent with all of my knowledge of the world. In my limited experience with life, I have found that the most important thing I can do to make my life better is to face the world exactly as it is. No comforting stories, no inflated sense of self, no groundless hopes OR groundless fears. This is what’s real, and it is enough.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What I Know, Part 1


Elizabeth asked her readers a while ago to share what they know about the world. I’ve been turning this idea over in my head, asking myself if what I know about the world is true and worth sharing. I’m not afraid to argue politics or religion, but writing responses to other people’s ideas is much easier than forming my own ideas out of thin air. I am vain; I worry that what I‘m writing here isn‘t any good. Nevertheless, here I go.

When I turned 18, I went out and got a tattoo that I had been planning for a long while, that I had drawn myself. The tattoo was a picture of a dragon, something like the sketch at the top of the post, and the primary inspiration for it was the book The Hero and the Crown. The relevant part of the story goes like this: Aerin kills dragons, which are small, mean vermin. It is nasty work, not fit for a lady like Aerin, but she does it so that she has something that she is the best at, to earn a place in her father‘s house. She is the only one who kills dragons, so when the dragon Maur comes down out of the mountains, big as the sky and capable of swallowing a man whole, she is the only one there is. So she goes out, though she thinks she cannot win, because she must. And she kills him, but he burns her in the process, leaving her grievously injured so that she and everyone else think she will die.

The story gets less grim as it goes on, but the grim part was the most formative for me. Sometimes, see, when you ride out all proud with your head held high, the dragon kills you. Sometimes the hero dies. Even when you succeed, sometimes success and failure look a lot alike. Life is brutal and ugly and exhilarating and beautiful in equal measure, and you can’t separate these qualities from each other. All you can do is face life with courage and endure the pain for the sake of the beauty.

I took this knowledge in two ways. First, looking to the future: I got this tattoo to remind myself not to shrink from something because it looked difficult or unpleasant or impossible. If success and failure look alike, then the thing that looks like it will be your greatest defeat may turn into your greatest victory. It is impossible to tell the future, so you ought always to advance in all things with your head up, eyes forward, taking your fear in your hands and refusing to be mastered by it.

Second, looking back to my past, my dragon tattoo was a reminder that although the world around me might not notice, I have faced and overcome things that could have killed me. See, I used to self-harm. I had a chunky red pocket knife I used to slice my arms and legs open, I had a set of candles I would light and use to heat up little bits of metal or wood to burn little circles into my skin. I remember one night in particular. I was twelve, and I stayed up past midnight so I could use the bathroom while my family was asleep, because I had to clean up blood I had dripped all over my bedroom floor and find some way to close the gaping hole I had put in my shoulder. I still have the scar: its about an inch long and a quarter inch wide, although I‘m sure it would have healed thinner if I had gotten stitches. Getting into all the reasons why I used self-injuring as a coping mechanism is complicated; I could write a book on it without making my motivations clear, I think, but the point is that it was something I used to help myself cope with various pressures on my sense of self.

I don’t remember when I started self-harming, but I remember when I stopped. I came to a point where I realized that although self-harm may be a coping mechanism, its not a very good one. I wasn’t happy with the situation, so I just… stopped. Cold turkey. The short-term consequence was a dramatic downward spiral into, as the shrinks say, suicidal ideation, and then a much slower trip back up as I deliberately learned other ways to cope with the pressures I couldn’t change, and learned to change the things I had power over. It was messy and amateurish, sometimes silly, sometimes pathetic, and perhaps not as wholly successful as I wanted, but here I am. And the dragon is dead.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

pull the tricks out of our sleeves

For various boring personal reasons, I'm looking into creative ways to live under a roof with an income of about $750/month. So far I've come up with:

  • Working as a nanny for a family with one or two quiet school age kids in exchange for room and board. This plan hinges on the kids being extremely easy to take care of and no one needing me to clean or cook anything on a regular basis, but I think if there was a family out there who understood chronic pain... so basically its a very long shot.
  • Living in the projects. Specifically these projects. The major drawback to this plan is the huge waiting list for spaces. That, and the fact that making my way through government paperwork gives me a blinding headache just thinking about it.
  • Buy some cheap rural land and live in my car while slowly building a tiny house like this one from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. Making this affordable might be impossible, and living in my car would be uncomfortable, but this is the solution I like best in the long term. My dad has done a lot of renovations on his house, and I know he and my brothers would help me were I to try to build a house like this, so building it might not actually be that hard. Just the money would be the issue, really, and the VA does cheap-ish home loans... but this one is a bit far-fetched.
  • Living with my parents while I fight the VA for the full benefits to which I am entitled. This is what my parents want me to do, but I have to say, I'm not enthusiastic.
My other real option is to forget about the roof over my head, take off in my car and live in a Walmart parking lot somewhere. It would be an interesting life experience, I'm sure, but I think it would freak out my parents a little bit, and I'm actually afraid that if I do the homeless thing I'll get too separated from normalcy and I might have some trouble getting back to normal if the situation ever improved. Also, being homeless is quite dangerous for women, or so I hear.

If anyone has any ideas to add to the list, feel free to share.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

painting in a cave

My family has fundamentalist tendencies, although they've gotten better in the years since I moved out. My parents are very active in their Assembly of God church; my dad is a deacon, my mum teaches Sunday School and they're usually at church more than once a week. They also used to be pretty right-wing, although they're not so much anymore. When I was sixteen, my parents regularly gave money to, and got junk mail from, crazy rightwing organizations like Concerned Women for America and whatever organization Pat Robertson runs, but these days, although they still get some of that stuff along with pleas for money from the local Republicans, they also get junk mail from Planned Parenthood, and I think most of their charity money goes to overseas missions work that focuses on relief stuff like building up communities heavily impacted by AIDS. And my dad told me the other day that he is definitely thinking about voting for Barack Obama because, although he doesn't feel Obama's position on abortion is moral, on almost every other issue he thinks Obama is better. So basically my parents are extraordinary evidence that fundamentalists can also be good people.

Anyway, the point of this is that I have a younger sister, J., who is in high school (she may have two or possibly three years left, I kind of forget), and she's homeschooled. Contrary to stereotype, although she is very bright, J. has little interest in academics and would rather be hanging out with her friends or practicing dance- she's taken ballet for maybe six years- than studying. My mother is a brilliant woman and a great teacher, but she isn't fond of battles of will, so she has suggested that next school year I ought to tutor J. in at least writing. The writing I produce isn't particularly impressive, but I remember high school English as being ridiculously easy, so even if my brain is a bit unreliable these days, its not a crazy idea. I do know good writing when I see it, and I have a decent grasp of things like grammar and spelling, so I'm thinking about taking her up on it.

Before I commit to what is essentially teaching a high school level English course, I feel like I ought to have some idea of what I would be doing, so I'm developing ideas about how to teach J. what she needs to know, which is primarily essay writing and probably some basics of writing a research paper. She really loves ballet- she's actually at a month-long ballet camp right now- and so I'm thinking I could do something with a list of blogs that write on dance. I don't really read dance blogs, but I know they're out there, and if Wheelchair Dancer is any indication, there is a lot of cultural analysis available in the field of dance. I think I could probably teach J. a basic five paragraph essay format and then get her to explore the way people actually write essays. A quick search around shows that there are also a host of controversial-ish dance topics to make her write persuasive essays on, like this for example.

Maybe I'll even make her start her own blog, and have her post her essays there. It would allow me to easily review her work from anywhere in the world, which may be useful if I end up someplace warm for the winter. I wouldn't be surprised if being involved with an online community of dancers, or whatever topic she likes, was a good motivator for writing, too.

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Obligatory kitten picture!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

everything and nothing at the same time

Ok, so when I said regular posting might resume soon, maybe I meant a rather cosmic value of soon. My life is in a bit of a weird place at the moment, and my parents' living room isn't the best place for revealing my most dearly held beliefs OR for cursing at politics, which is about 95% of my blog, really. That and pictures of flowers or kittens. If this state of affairs continues I may need to acquire a laptop computer instead of this huge desktop. However, my parents are going out of town for a week and I may soon have the opportunity to blog like I'm a real adult with my own place to live.

In the meantime, I thought I would point out a couple things I've been reading. There are stories that are just a joy to read because of the way they're told, and there are ideas that make you feel like before you heard them you never really understood the world, and today I've got a couple examples of such excellence.

First, The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer, which I discovered via comments at Slacktivist, although I now no longer remember who linked it. Anyway, its a fascinating look at what makes people tick. The entire thing is online, and free, and it's quite worth the read, especially if you ever have to interact with other humans.

Also sort of via Slacktivist, I've been reading Accidental Historian, the author of which comments at Slacktivist as Geds. This blog is yet another example of a writer who is orders of magnitude better at storytelling than I have ever been; its almost enough to make me despair of ever reaching the quality of writing to which I aspire. Although, honestly, it would take more than despair to make me shut up, so I guess I won't quit writing anytime soon.

Last but not least, there is Yarn Harlot. I kind of feel like I ought to have discovered this blog a long time ago. I guess I'm slow, and perhaps a bit in denial of the fact that I'm turning into a crafter exactly like my mum. I'm also afraid that if I start reading yarn blogs I'll end up with so many ideas for projects that I'll have my free time from now until I turn 80 scheduled out before I can stop the flow of ideas. Creating things with my hands is a great feeling, but I feel better when I have only one project at a time.

Speaking of which, my current project is nearing completion. I'm making a laptop sized messenger-type bag with a couple pockets. This photo of it is pretty current; it looks humongous because it is at the moment. The plan is to felt it, which will make it much smaller.