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.

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.

Monday, July 07, 2008

back in the world that moves

I haven't posted in several days due to preparation for/celebration of/recovery from the Fourth of July. Obviously, since you're reading this blog, you know this. I would like to write more often. My head is abuzz and I have several posts I would like to empty out of my tired brain, but I have been wasting time sitting on the floor of the laundry room petting kittens. So, in lieu of grand thoughts, here are some pictures of kittens. They're four weeks old and within the past couple of days transitioned into the phase where they attack their own shadows.

Regular posting may resume soon.