Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Chalicechick goes Internet Shitgibbon: An open letter to a writer at the UU World

(If you're a non-Unitarian friend of mine reading this because you like me, cool. Thanks!  But this might get boring quick.  The backstory here is that our usually on-point denominational magazine had an article about trans issues written by a cis woman with trans relations.  The author seemed to think her story was the important part and said some really offensive things.  My trans friends are trying to be super nice about it, I don't have to be.)

The article I'm talking about

A person whom I like and respect and who can out themselves if they so chose is preparing a response to the UU World article and specifically said that they don't want to be an internet shitgibbon toward the author.  As a trans person who works in UUism professionally, they are smart to be so careful.

I'm a ciswoman with trans family, putting myself in exactly the writer's position.  Further, UU congregations don't pay any of my bills.

So I'm going to return to the Chaliceblog's roots of saying what I damn well please.

So, UU World writer, let's detail the ways you fucked up.

1. The article was all about you. 
Ok, so you've got some transfolks in your family.  You took a while to come around to some of the concepts that are central to "transfolks are human and have a right to self-determination and your opinion about that self-determination isn't as mission critical as you might think."

Cool, cool.

Ok, more like "Suboptimal, suboptimal," but I get it, I've been there.

Thing is, I did not treat my own personal fuckups as:
1. A greater issue for UUism
2. Universal among cis people
3. Trans folks' responsibility to deal with
4. A good subject for a lengthy and self-pitying article* in the denominational magazine.


You're a big fish in what has to be a very small pond at your publication.  You TOTALLY could have said "Hey, maybe a trans person should be writing this."  Your decision not to do so is baffling to me, particularly since well-known trans folks in the denomination advised you to do exactly that.  Sometimes the best way to be an ally is to hand over the mic.  This would have been a good opportunity to do that.  You chose not to--why?  Is the story of your personal struggles really the one you thought our denomination needed to hear?

2. You have some boundary issues
First off, please stop thinking so much about your family members' genitals.  If we learned nothing else from Margaret Mead, we should know that doing so is creepy and weird.  Volunteering information about your own genitals is not something members of polite society do, this goes double for asking other people about theirs, and like quintuple if they're kin.

Can you accept that there's stuff that's none of your business?

Even more central: there's stuff that's none of the rest of the world's business. 

You can't change the name of your kid, admit they are your kid, and pretend you've given them any privacy.   Calvin Trillin once said that he stopped writing about his kids because adolescence is hard enough.  I don't know your trans relations, but I'd bet cash money their lives are hard enough.  Knock it off.

3. Get the fuck over the pronoun thing
If you have trouble doing so with people you love, but have no trouble saying "Someone left their phone behind, I hope they come back for it!" then address that with a therapist, not the reading UU public.

4. When trans folks talk, LISTEN
I'm writing this specifically aimed at the issues of a cis woman writing about trans relations.  Your article has MANY MORE PROBLEMS THAN THAT from a trans perspective.  Per Alex Kapitan's facebook post on the subject, you ignored the first time and several additional times you were informed of those issues.  But you're going to get a lot of mail and there's going to be a lot of writing about how just tossing gender slurs into your article and how saying someone "identifies" as what they are is shitty.  Please read those things, think about them, apply them to the way you treat other people and then...don't write about what you learn like basic human decency is an achievement for which you deserve a prize.


*If you read the Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd's kickass book "After the Good News" and have confession and atonement on the brain, you might play Rabbi Kushner and imagine there was some of that going on here.  It sounded like that to me.  But I'm not an expert. 

Monday, April 03, 2017

A lazy viewer’s guide to the UUA Candidates’ Forum with superfluous commentary because me.


Lots of opinions within.  If you disagree, um, put it on the internet.  That’s pretty much what the internet is for.   If you think I missed something, you’re probably right, point it out.  That’s one of the reasons I provided time stamps.  I haven’t endorsed anybody, but literally each candidate has been endorsed by someone I love and respect in UUism, so this is me writing what I see. 

For the love of Mike, share this if you care about UUA inside baseball.  If you don’t, writing it was a huge waste of time, admittedly time when I was in a hotel room on a business trip anyway:

 27:22 Candidates actually start talking.  Starts with the Rev. Pupke.

39:30 Chalicechick first realizes that the Rev. Frederick Gray looks a lot like Velma from Scooby Doo.  This is NOT a criticism.  But she spends the rest of her argument talking about anti-racism and the conservative climate in America.  Whether this should legit be the first priority or is playing to the crowd with topical issue, or both, is something I still haven’t figured out.

43:50: Candidates first start answering questions.  First question is a request for “Pastoral Advice” in the wake of President Morales’ resignation.  I like this question in that all three are pastors and presumably all actually WROTE pastoral letters to their own congregations.  So this gives a chance to show of pastoral style, something I thought was lacking in the Rev. Morales.  The response after is the Rev. Miller, giving what sounds more like institutional priorities than pastoral advice.  It’s not a bad answer.

47:10 The Rev. Frederick Gray gives what sounds like solid pastoral advice to this layperson.

 49:28 The Rev. Pupke says that she’s not going to give pastoral advice, then gives pastoral advice.  What she has to say is good and on some level inspiring, but that part was weird.

51:48 The Rev. Frederick Gray’s answer begins to a question about the role of both the UUA and the congregations in the role for Black Lives.   She says good things, but makes no significant distinction between the work of the association and work of the congregations. 

54:00  The Rev. Pupke’s answer begins with a shoutout to polity and she keeps that theme throughout

56:20 The Rev. Miller brings up a specific example of the Black Lives Matter movement’s working with her own congregation and mostly focuses on the congregational level.

 58:46 Three part question: 
1.    How are you dismantling your own white supremacy?
2.    How will you help the UUA dismantle ITS own white supremacy?
3.    How will you help congregations and congregants to dismantle white supremacy?

59:02 The Rev. Pupke’s answer begins with a weird lesbian joke, then reads “the Richmond Pledge” which sounds good, I guess.  But, that was her answer to the whole question.  Lesbian joke and Richmond pledge.  So, yeah.

1:00:48  The Rev. Miller credibly hits all three parts of the question.  Nicely done.

1:04:00  The Rev. Frederick Gray talks about dismantling her white privilege by getting arrested in Arizona and the police harassment that followed.  Not sure I entirely get that, but her sincerity is clear.  Answered some on the UUA part.

1:06:08  Question about the idea of adding an eighth UU principle around anti-racism.  If you’ve talked UUism with me at any length, you know that any candidate who was like “Let’s throw out the seven principles all together” would have gotten my vote.   Also, part of the question was “where does this rank among goals you’d like to achieve as president?” which in part makes no sense since the wording of the Seven Principles is a GA decision and doesn’t really fall into a president’s power except in the most indirect way.  But all three candidates ignored the “ranking it as a goal” part anyway so I guess they get that. 

1:06:48 The Rev. Miller supports it, but is focused on the process of changing the seven principles rather than exactly what a rewritten set of principles would look like.

1:08:42 The Rev. Frederick Gray supports the inclusion, but then starts in on her leadership vision for reasons I don’t get, then kinda circles back around to the principle in a vague way.

1:11:14 The Rev. Pupke wants the eighth principle a lot and promises it, more or less.  Then she implies that the seven principles are a “highly revered document” (sigh) and gives a shoutout to The Rev. McDonald Ladd (yay!) in the same 30 seconds.  So I will call that a draw.

1:13 or so: the candidates have a weird little Chip-and-Dale-style “after you, no, after YOU” exchange about who gets to be the first one to answer the next question.

1:14:17  Question about if there’s a budget shortfall a couple of years from now, what will their top three priorities be

1:14:26 The Rev. Frederick Gray:
1.    Justice and Anti-Racism
2.    Transitions and ministerial settlement
3.    Standing on the side of love
But also, raising money to FIX the budget shortfall.  No, wait, that’s her first priority.  Which actually seems like the best answer to me.

1:17:03 The Rev. Pupke points out we’re IN a budget shortfall now, and pushes for congregations to be Fair Share.
1.    Training to me an ARAOMC* organization.  Then she talks about her logo, it was weird.
2.    Begin a more articulate messaging of who we are and what we do
Then she says those are her three priorities.  Maybe the fair share thing was supposed to be one.  Dunno. 

1:19:15  The Rev Miller begins with what sounds like a shoutout to having done a Hillary-Clinton-style “listening tour,” which I, for one, find endearing. Her priorities:
1.    Fundraising on both the UUA and congregational levels, since congregations often cut funding of the UUA because they are having to choose between cutting staff and cutting the contribution.  Good point
2.    Supporting ministry in the field.
3.    Empowering the congregations to be involved in “holistic social justice” which is way less hippie than the phrase suggests.

1:22 Question is, essentially, “how much of the UUA president job is a CEO and how much is being a prophetic voice?  Also, how are you going to lead the senior staff?” 

1:22:18  The Rev. Pupke has lead lots of stuff, but credits those beneath her with growth and success.  She wants to “liberate’” the UUA.  I have no idea what this means.  She wants to build trust and get lots of buy-in.  I think this all means she’s Team CEO on that question.

1:24:40  The Rev Miller:  There are four main aspects:
1.    The prophetic voice within the faith
2.    The voice to the world
3.    The CEO
4.    Fundraising. 
And she hits her experience with the last two.  The Rev. Miller is good at bullet points and breaking things down.  If ministry ever doesn’t work out for her, she’d do well in law school.  Anyway, she didn’t directly say CEO either, but her answer strongly implied it.

1:27:06 The Rev. Frederic Gray combines the Rev. Miller’s first two categories but otherwise accepts them.  Then she was like “the UUA doesn’t need a better manager,” with which I tend to disagree, but said some good things about leadership.  She talked about setting a collaborative culture.  She’s not as strongly team CEO and seems to have taken the question as primarily being about the CEO style

1:30:00 Question is like “I’m curious as to if you’ve given thought to evangelical-style growth” and then goes into church planting. 

1:30:12ish  The Rev. Alison Miller is highly pro-planting.

1:33:10 The Rev. Frederick Gray is less of a church planting fan and wants to shore up the congregations we’ve got and focus on mission.    

1:36 The Rev. Pupke gave the “have you given any thought to this obvious thing” aspect the snarky tone it deserved.  High five, Rev. Pupke.  Her suggestion is that we show up for social justice and grow through our commitment to our values.

·    * Anti-racism, Anti-oppression, and Multiculturalism” No judgment, I had to look it up too.  Explain your acronyms, people.


Monday, September 12, 2016

You can tell I really think I'm fucked when I start looking at hair colors - a stream-of-conciousness post

There are two stages to my terror when faced with a large personal/professional obligation:

1. Research
2. Primping

The first one of these is actually a pretty good reaction.  When I am taking a matter seriously, I look it up. 

Until very recently, I was constantly getting in trouble with my friends who were passionate about a subject.  They'd say 

"CC," (Truth be told only one set of very old friends calls me CC, but blog conventions must be honored) "This is an incredibly big deal!  A is true!" and I'd say "huh."  Then I'd go home, often worried, and I'd look it up and the next day I'd send them an email like.

"Hey, guess what.  A is mostly true.  But B is also sometimes true.  So the situation is not quite so bad as you'd feared."

It turns out, it took me 37 years and change to understand, people who are passionate about things hate this.  They want to focus on the black and white of the situation, and to be looking at an awful situation in its face.  They want the situation to be as bad as they feel it is.  

Some years ago, I lost a person who was extremely important to me over this.  (No, not theCSO.  TheCSO does this herself.  Ours is a marriage in which being technically correct is the best kind of correct and we're both happy that way.)  Anyway, this person who was very important to me got into an argument over a really silly topic and when I emailed some more information, this person who was very important to me decided not to be friends anymore because she was tired of fighting with me.  

I wasn't FIGHTING, I thought at the time, I was HELPING.  

I still never got my person back.  

Sometimes in my dreams she calls me up and we work it out.  Waking up is kind of a bummer. 

Last year, I made another friend who was passionate about things.   At one point, we talked it out and now when she says A is true, I am present for her in her truth because while I may have boring hair, I'm not stupid. 

But back to the hair coloring. 

This person I lost some years ago was something of a mother figure, and parenting is on my mind for reasons that I trust will become obvious though I haven't exactly figured out what I'm writing next because that's how this whole stream-of-consciousness thing works. 

After the research phase, and I have had the research phase, ask me anything about guardianship law, comes the primping phase, in which I decide that if I am a mess inside, surely looking good outside will hide that.  Even as I type, I'm aware that this is as stupid as it sounds.  I kid you not, the night before my first law school class, I dropped like fifty bucks on those Isreali sea salt beauty products that they sell at the mall.  

I wore entirely new clothes for both days of the bar and afterwards was tempted to burn them so I'd wear them for no lesser event. I didn't.  I'm too cheap to do that and I wear unnatural fibers so the smell would have been awful. 

So, yeah, when three days before my Aunt's guardianship hearing, I start checking groupon for a good deal on a cut, maybe some highlights to frame my face, that's a really bad sign. 

Probate court in the District of Columbia is a very strange thing.   My favorite thing about it, and I do have a favorite thing, is that they have the wills of various historical figures framed and up on the walls.  I am totally not making this up.  You can go to the DC probate court and see a page from Dolly Madison's will. 

On Thursday, barring the unforeseen, I'm going to probate court to accept legal responsibility for my Aunt. 

If you're my facebook friend, you've followed some of this.  If you've been reading TheChaliceBlog for a really long time, you know her as TheChaliceRelative.  Either way, she's my aunt, and she's 86* and she's not really my aunt anymore because she no longer knows some of the things my aunt knows.

She tells me I should lose weight because she's my aunt.  That doesn't hurt my feelings because she's not anymore so I kinda don't give a fuck what she thinks of my physique.  She has Schrodinger's personality and on Thursday it becomes my job to be responsible for her. 

She's in a home that does a flawed but reasonable job taking care of her.  They would like guardianship but I'm probably going to get it.  I consider myself the world's okayest caregiver.

Last time she was in the hospital, I had to meet with the social worker when she was released. 

"I'm what she's got," I said. 

"What about your parents?" the social worker said. 

"My dad's an unmedicated schizophrenic who has had a lot of strokes.  My mom is occupied with him,"

"Does your aunt have any other brothers or sisters?"

"They're dead."

"What about you, do you have siblings?"

"My brothers are not in a position to care for other people."  I paused.  "I'm what she's got."

It went on like that. 

I'm what she's got now, and I'm not sure that the probable result of Thursday will change much of that.  Mostly, it will be me doing more paperwork.  I was explaining this to her last Friday and she said that it was bizarre to imagine me with that job because I was so terrible at arithmetic.  She said that because she's my aunt, it didn't hurt because she's not.    

Right now I'm thinking about Pema Chodron, with whom I'm obsessed right now, writing: 

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest." 

As the hospital social worker painstakingly drew out of me above, I don't have much of a nest as far as blood relations go. (My self-constructed nest of friends is awesome, though.) 

Still, there's something to note in getting thrown out of the two twigs stuck together that is the nest represented by an aunt who is partly not. I don't feel alive and fully human and completely awake. 

I feel like getting my hair cut and colored in hopes that maybe when I look in the mirror, I will see a different person, ideally one more equipped to deal with the situation. 

So, anyway, I'm thinking tomorrow I will call up a few hair salons. I don't have the cash to keep up baylage and I'm fairly certain ombre is on the way out, so maybe I'll just get gloss. I don't really want to change the color. Just monkey with it a little. Give it some shape. 

My hair never has shape. 

I'd like to look like me, for court, but also not me. 


* Non-stream of consciousness footnote: My Dad was a late-in-life accident. I was a sort of mid-life accident. Aside from making my very existence improbable, this also means that the generations in my family are kinda fucked up, which is how I have an aunt almost fifty years older than I am.

Monday, August 01, 2016

A 100-year-old political sermon

I gave a concise (for me) version of an old-school (because 2006 is old-school) Chaliceblog rant over the weekend about political issues from the pulpit. 

In my defense, I was asked.  

I summarized my, admittedly very conservative, opinion as: If you are tempted to preach about an issue (probably ok), a person (not a good idea) or a bill (really not a good idea), ask yourself "if I am risking my tax-exempt status to preach this, is it worth it?" And proceed accordingly.

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know this isn't a new set of standards.  

Anyway, thinking over this rule of mine yesterday, there is a political figure whom I'd very much like to hear a sermon about:

Susan B. Anthony. 

I don't necessarily want to hear that sermon before election day, because I don't want to raise the spectre of Hillary Clinton's fondness for the suffragettes.  I don't want to hear about Susan B. Anthony as a metaphor for Hillary. 

I want to hear about Anthony herself, her flaws and the proper way to look at her and the way she and the suffragettes achieved the just result using some terrible methods. 

Susan B. Anthony, beloved famous Unitarian, was not, in fact, as racist as some of her contemporaries.  But she said some pretty terrible things.  One thing she wrote to her BFF Elizabeth Cady Stanton* in 1884 sums up my issue with her nicely:

"“I have but one question, that of equality between the sexes—that of the races has no place on our platform."

Let that one sink in for a moment.  

This is, by far actually, not the worst thing a suffragette ever said.   Her fellow suffragettes were even more blatant about tossing around the idea that giving women the vote was an awesome way to maintain white supremacy.   Their willingness to throw people of color under the bus has made it very clear that they were really, truly, fighting for rights of women primarily like themselves. 

That said, I am an educated, upper-middle class woman like them I sure do appreciate that right to vote I've got.  Women haven't actually had it all that long.  My grandmother was born before women had the right to vote, though we'd admittedly attained it by the time she was old enough to actually vote.  

I realize, as the tumblr kids say, "All your faves are problematic," and I can't even say that Susan B. Anthony was one of my faves.  But two things bother me:

1.  I draw a distinction, reasonable or not, between "your rights/needs are on my agenda, they just aren't on the top" and "I will actively demonize you to make my position seem more reasonable."  Anthony did some of both, though she tended toward the first, that quote at the top of the page notwithstanding.  Lots of suffragettes picked option B and I haven't seen any indication that Anthony told them to cut it out.  

2. These women seem to have at best ignored the reality of the pre-voting-act black voting experience, and at worst straight up lied about it.  To hear Carrie Chapman Catt (founder of the League of Women Voters) talk, black folks were voting all over the place and white women needed to have the vote lest black men end up entirely in charge.  "“White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage,”  she said, in what I can only guess was a comforting tone?  cite 

History has a lot of casualties.  I know this.  A lot of buildings I'm fond of, from the Great Pyramids to the White House, were build by slaves and I don't really know how to value the buildings without devaluing the slaves.  Maybe they would have been built without it, just as I'm sure I would have the vote BY NOW even if the suffragettes hadn't resorted to such terrible tactics.  

But my grandmother deserved that vote too.  

I like to tie things up in a package.  "History is just like that" would be one way to do so, but I'm not there yet.

Still trying to figure this one out. 


Ps.  Lots more here   

*Who had "it sure is degrading that white women can't vote when all these lesser people totes can" as a favorite topic. Most memorably:  

"“…but now, as the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see “Sambo” walk into the kingdom first. . . .

“Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung who do not know the difference between a Monarchy and a Republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence . . . making laws for Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott, or Fanny Kemble.”


Cady Stanton was, thank goodness, an Episcopalian.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Safe spaces, or lack thereof

I'm still very much a humanist, but I'm a pretty open minded one who believes in metaphor, so part of my spiritual journey is listening to people whose beliefs differ radically from my own.  I was listening to a well-informed pagan talk about his faith this evening.  He said a lot of things that I'm still chewing over*, but what I think struck me the most was at the very beginning of what he had to say.  

He talked about ritual having to be in a safe space. 

'There is no safe space,' that voice in the back of my head, one that seems neither still nor small, insisted. 

I knew what he meant, intellectually at least.  But my instinctive response doesn't seem entirely inaccurate either.  

A lot of what white people have been figuring out over the last ten years or so is that the places that seem the most safe to us are still dangerous to people of color.  I can't speak to that, I can say that having my spouse "out" as a transgendered person has brought home how safety out on society exists on a bunch of levels.  Legal protections can't prevent the actions of people willing to break the law, or even the petty-but-not-illegal humiliations that a depressing number of people are capable of. 

bell hooks even observed "“The practice of love offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.” 

There is no safety, not really. 

In a pagan circle we can, a few dozen people in a room, declare a safe space, but don't we on some level know it to be otherwise.  

Pagans aren't the only ones who demand safe places for our religious practices, of course.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame's Esmerelda demanded sanctuary in the cathedral and they gave it to her.  In a metaphoric sense, we might go to a congregation looking for a place in the world that lets us be with ourselves without the distractions of modern life bugging us, at least for the hour between 11:00am and noon.  (Sanctuary from the modern world is something I have never known myself to want.  But I know other people do.)

Ultimately Esmerelda left the cathedral.  Noon comes, and even the most quiet-loving congregant has to go back out in the world.  The safe physical spaces are always temporary.  

So what about a safe space?  

The best I can do for a safe space is to have one in your own head, and maybe in times of ritual or other deep spiritual connection entertain the idea of letting someone else in.  That in itself is a tall order. But maybe there's something to be said for noticing the times, rare in my case, where one does feel truly safe, drinking that in and keeping it.  

I can't say I have a better idea. 


(Image of a sign in the library basement of Georgetown Law that reads "Area of Refuge is Within")

*I love the idea of a sort of ritual that lets you safely practice a situation that gives you difficulty in regular life, forcing you to respond to it a different way, for example.  I am something of an introspection nerd and have a long list of such situations I could work on.  

I don't think "introspection nerd" and "obsessive narcissist" are the same thing, though one could probably make a good argument that the are. 

Monday, July 04, 2016

Totall UU inside baseball: A layperson has questions and opinions on ableism

I've had a couple of discussions about the ableism, and ableist language, issue where I've been varying degrees of welcome due to my being a layperson who isn't actually in this conversation.  I've actually talked about this a lot with a lot of ministers, though, and if an outside view is helpful, here you go. (If it's not, I assume you didn't click on the post.) 

Obviously, these questions come from a point of view, because pending more facts, I think I've come to one:

- When I was a kid in the 1980's and "retard' was the playground insult of choice, even MY PARENTS (not known for political correctness, my dad doesn't believe in recycling) told me that nice people don't compare their friends to the mentally retarded.  It's just something decent people don't say.  The explanation, as I recall it, was something like: "The mentally retarded are often good people and they have difficult lives and the last thing they need is to be somebody's symbol or somebody's insult." 

So...  If my parents are a reasonably conservative cultural barometer, we've been hip to the idea that casually talking about the MENTALLY disabled as lesser isn't cool since like 1985.  Why is talking about the PHYSICALLY disabled so different?

- Someone I talked about this with it hip to how comparing the spiritually unenlightened to the blind or the deaf is not OK, but is quite strident on the point of wanting use language implying, or spelling out, the superiority of those who can walk.  What's the difference there?

-Working on accessibility issues within our congregations is absolutely a higher priority.  But to me the argument of "we should be working on installing ramps rather than working on using different language" makes the opposite of sense.  If we're cleaning up our language, we're spending a lot of time thinking about how to be good to folks who have trouble walking.  In general, my impression is that meetings in non-accessible spaces don't happen because a meeting planner is like "MUAHAHAHA I will EXCLUDE the DISABLED." But because they don't think about it.  I have no idea why getting people to think about their language WOULDN'T get them thinking about the larger issues. 

 Is the concern that a minister will spend so much time thinking about improving their metaphors that they won't have TIME to ask for ramps, or what?  

- Y'all do realize that the newbie minister at the center of this* isn't calling for the end of all metaphor, or even the end of all body metaphor?  She wrote on her public facebook page "Able bodies are some of the bodies, and as such, must be included in our liturgy. At the same time, they are not the only bodies. (More is possible.) In addition, the really important question is whether metaphors set up able bodies to be the best and disabled bodies to be the worst. (Our bodies are awesome.)"

- As I wrote here a lot in my blogging days, I think slippery slope arguments are inherently kind of dumb and the refuge of people who want to paint dramatic fictional situations to hide their lack of facts.  But my objection has, shockingly, not lead the world to stop using them.  The slippery slope argument du jour seems to be "If we get rid of ableist metaphor, pretty soon we will have to get rid of ALL metaphor"  

Oddly, I heard this same argument one time when I posted something on facebook about how writers really need to knock it off with the "comparing the skin tone of people of color to food and beverages" thing.  I had writer friends respond with horror at the idea of, I don't know, not being able to get across to their readers that a black woman is beautiful if they can't talk about her "cafe au lait skin" in exactly those cliched terms.**

But I can't believe that we didn't have those arguments back when the subject was "the superiority of white over dark" and "the superiority of the masculine and the feminine."  And metaphors about light and darkness and maleness and femaleness AREN'T entirely gone.  We're just more mindful about how we use them.  We do better.

Why are people so objecting to doing better here?


*FWIW, newbie lawyers do not start big arguments within bar associations.  So good on UUism for being a different sort of environment.  And I  really think the newbie minister's courage is to be commended.  

** My skin is pale and freckled, not unlike a Shepard's pie with paprika sprinkled on top.  

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Tell me where is virtue bred...?

In general, I intend this to be for journaling about that which is greater than myself.  That said, my thoughts have been pretty much in this realm for the past couple of weeks.  I've been helping a friend build his wife a porch on the weekends (I love manual labor in a privileged thank-goodness-I-don't-have-to-do-this-everyday way. Helping people move is my favorite, but building projects are a close second) and I've just started reading Patricia Highsmith's Carol.

I'd have more to write about here if I were reading more theology, even popular theology, but I'm afraid lesbian crime novels are more my speed these days.  I'm still halfway through The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of Soul in Corporate America. 

Having read a lot of stoic writers, but very aware at how bad at Stoicism I am, I try to keep up reading on that too.  But I keep getting caught up in questions of how to maintain virtue. I'm not making excuses, I hope, when I note that a lot of the good qualities that make up a virtuous character are a lot easier to get when you're more secure in life and have had a reasonable childhood.  I do feel like I have to work really hard at things like having an OK relationship with anger and accepting life's hardships in a way that someone who has been kicked around by life less might not. 

One of the things I don't like about the way that human minds are put together is that problems tend to compound each other.  For example, if your   Adverse Childhood Experiences score is high enough, you're at a greater risk for, among other things, a bunch of mental illnesses. I look at all the ideals of human excellence I'm shooting for, and it seems like a high score on a test like that one makes qualities I want to work for all the more difficult to attain. 

Not that there's anyplace to file a complaint...  

Monday, February 29, 2016

Sometimes I think I'd be a better person if Randal would yell at me every day

:   (suddenly outraged)
  Fuck you. Fuck you, pal. Listen to
  you trying to pass the buck again.
  I'm the source of all your misery.
  Who closed the store to play hockey?
  Who closed the store to attend a
  wake? Who tried to win back an ex-
  girlfriend without even discussing
  how he felt with his present one?
  You wanna blame somebody, blame
   (beat, as DANTE)
  "I'm not even supposed to be here
   (whips stuff at DANTE)
  You sound like an asshole. Whose
  choice was it to be here today?
  Nobody twisted your arm. You're
  here today of your own violation,
  my friend. But you'd like to
  believe that the weight of the
  world rests on your shoulders-that
  the store would crumble if Dante
  wasn't here. Well, I got news for
  you, jerk: This store would survive
  without you. Without me either. All
  you do is overcompensate for having
  what's basically a monkey's job:
  You push fucking buttons. Any moron
  can waltz in here and do our jobs,
  but you're obsessed with making it
  seem so much more fucking important,
  so much more epic than it really is.
  You work in a convenience store,
  Dante. And badly, I might add. And
  I work in a shitty video store.
  Badly, as well.
  You know, that guy Jay's got it
  right-he has no delusions about
  what he does. Us? We like to make
  ourselves seem so much better than
  the people that come in here, just
  looking to pick up a paper or-God
  forbid-cigarettes. We look down on
  them, as it we're so advanced.
  Well, if we're so fucking advanced,
  then what are we doing working here?


Possible actual spiritual reflection to follow, later today.  I'm halfway through David Whyte's The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of Soul in Corporate America, which is basically his book-length response to Can Poetry Matter?   Of all the book-length responses to that essay I've read, it may be my favorite, though.


Friday, February 26, 2016

Sometimes, the douchebags are correct

I've had a lot of things on my mind recently, not the least of which is the upshot I got from reading Harry Markopolos' No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller about his attempts to get the Securities and Exchange Commission to go after Bernie Madoff.  For some reason, he had huge problems getting the SEC to take him seriously.

The thing is, I can tell what the problem was from reading the man's own words: the dude was a huge douchebag.  In his book, he talks about how he wanted to give his fiancee silicone breast implants for an engagement present, he tells endless annoying jokes and he makes it extremely clear that he is the smartest man in any given room.   I would not hang out with this guy for anything.

At the same time, there are plenty of people who think low things about me, and I'm right sometimes.  I'm not sure how I feel about the degree to which the way in which we present ourselves impacts how our message is received, or if it is received at all.  Part of me wants us all to be a bit more open minded, part of me wants those of us with truths to say to figure out how to present ourselves so our words will be heard. Maybe if we reach toward each other, we will touch a bit more often.

 I grant you that this isn't the most earthshaking insight, but it's what I've got today.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A symbol of my spiritual journey

The assignment was "draw a container and what goes in the container." We were later told that the container is practice and the contents are spiritual calling.

Interpretations welcome.

Impermanent beauty and the preservation of things.

I read the Goldfinch a couple of years ago. Its major theme is that preservation of beauty is, if not as important as creation of beauty, at least a worthy passion in itself.   That's pretty self-evident, on some level, but I easily get lost in the details when I try to think too hard about some aspects of it.

For example, when the characters in the book seek to "preserve" the stolen painting, the first thing they do is protect it from the elements in every possible way.  This makes sense.  But, to put it mildly, not everything can or should be preserved in the way that a painting can be preserved. 

A flower, for example, can be preserved in glass, or photographed, but really the best thing we can do is grow another flower.  I've made a good friend who is a baker, and truly an artist with bread.  Nothing teaches you about the impermanence of perfection like that.  Her bread, on the night it's baked is the most amazing stuff ever.  A few days later, still very good.  A few days like that, bird food.  So, goodness, eat it while you can.

I talk a good game about being able to let things go, and to be better able to let beauty and other good things go, accepting their impermanence, is something I'm really working on philosophically at the moment, but I think everyone's a preserver on some level.  We think "this thing is awesome and I don't want it to change and try to fight for the status quo."  I'm trying not to be this person, but I'm human and I tend to cling to things and people in a way I feel like a smarter, more self-sufficient, person wouldn't. 

Indeed, on some level I think keeping things at arm's length is the best way to truly enjoy their beauty.  One of the ironies of The Goldfinch was that the main character kept his painting so carefully locked away, for many years he didn't look at it himself. 

who is aware that her posts here wander around to whatever I'm thinking about at the time I sit down to write.  At the same time, I figure that as long as I'm keeping the focus loosely on "that which is greater than myself" I'm doing something of spiritual value.

Also just saw Deadpool last night.  It kicked ass. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Smart and selfish bears.

I spent last weekend at a convention so I was completely out of nature's path.  Ian can't stand going to a con and never leaving the hotel, but I like the bubble of being surrounded only by one's fellow attendees.  At one point, I looked up and could see the snow coming down onto the hotel's glass roof but I was out of the cold for days.  

There are a lot of people who have great reverence for nature.  I'm fairly certain nature will kill me if it can.  So I relish being out of its grip.  The sheer glee I get from being able to avoid nature is irrational, probably, but it's there.

Air conditioning is an ecological nightmare, but it's also among my favorite things.  Like, one time @RevGlenrose asked us to list our favorite things alphabetically and "central A/C" was my choice for "C."   Though I don't have a medical need for air conditioning, sigh, you now have that in writing, I know that "summer comes to New Orleans, a bunch of people die from the heat" used to be a thing and now is at least a far less common thing.

There was an episode of Yogi Bear, and I'm almost certain I'm not making this up, where Yogi Bear caused some catastrophe and Ranger Smith, exasperated, asked why Yogi couldn't be just a regular bear and hang out in the woods out of trouble.  No, instead Yogi had to be a smart and selfish bear and involve himself in wacky hijinks, causing the catastrophe that I'm almost cure occurred in the episode of Yogi Bear I kind of remember.  Anyway, by the end of the episode, Yogi had gotten the park, himself, and Ranger Smith out of trouble.  Us inventive bears are resourceful that way.

Obviously, I'm going for a metaphor here.  It is humanity's nature to be smart and selfish bears and I like that about us, even if I do wonder what it will mean for the world.  Will we the inventive bears always be able to save ourselves?  I'm inclined to say yes, but maybe I'm just rationalizing that air conditioning habit.

Today I had to wait until the ice was melting to get on the road to work, once again at nature's mercy.  She wins in the long run, I suppose, no matter how smart a bear you are.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fear as the Root of Evil: An Explanation.

So, I started rereading The Gift of Fear.  I'm only a couple of chapters back into it and I'd forgotten most of it.   I think for a lot of it I'm going to need to have a sort of division in my head between de Becker's concepts of "fear" and "intuition" and my own.

Because, as I wrote the other day, I'm not entirely sure that fear isn't the root of evil*.  One of the reasons I am such a great fan of reason and using logic to talk myself down is that I have quite the overactive amygdala.  At heart, I am very much the "Oh shit, the boss is looking at me funny, I'm going to get fired" person.  I've been working on these instincts for literally my entire adult life and am pretty good at talking myself down out of a tree.  But the instincts are still there and the slow parade of all the reasons I don't suck comes in handy more often than I enjoy talking about.

In The Beekeeper's Apprentice there's this kickass scene where Sherlock is telling his teenage apprentice (I KNOW**) that on some level, every crime is self defense.  He later goes on to explain to her in no uncertain terms why self-defense on most levels is not something one is justified in killing over, because duh, but I think his point is interesting and deserves more thought than the pleasant little novel it is in has time to give it.

Several years ago, I decided that "victims" were the single scariest group ever.  Just about everyone who had ever done anything awful considered themself a victim and thus fully justified in whatever awfulness they committed.  (Obligatory Godwin's law example: the Germans' victimization by the Treaty of Versailles.)  I've been through unpleasantness here and there but I've vowed to not ever consider myself a victim of anything, because rationalization is already my superpower and I don't need the extra help to justify my own actions.

I am a better person, when I don't let fear win, when I experience the gratitude at the goodness and abundance of what is around me (though I also try to remain in the Stoic habit of periodically imagining my life without that goodness so my appreciation remains nice and sharp, along with my awareness that a life without luxuries would be less awesome but still a life, and that's a lot.)

Anyway, this theory is evolving, and I'm curious what other folks think of it.  If the word "Evil" doesn't do it for you, "awfulness" is fine with me.  The underlying point "if it sucks, fear probably causes it on some deep level," remains.

What to do about that is another question.


*Yes, I was raised Presbyterian, I know that you can kick 1 Timothy 6:10 at me and tell me that love of money is the root of all evil.  I tend to think really all of your basic greed sins (Money, sex, food are your classics) come from fear that you won't have enough, of either the thing itself or the love comfort and safety it symbolizes for one.

Counterpoint: if one googles "fear is the root of evil" one gets a few ernest people and a bunch of prosperity gospel types who say that fear is the root of evil so go ahead and love money.  Jerks.

** I remain astounded that the plot "Sherlock Holmes has moved to Sussex to keep bees, but he's bored.  One day, he meets a precocious fourteen-year-old girl who is as smart as he is and take her on as an apprentice and they solve mysteries together" could possibly have produced one good book, to say nothing of the first six or so in the series though it gets uneven after that.

I was telling someone I used to date about this series and he, ungallantly, I thought, asked "How long does it take Sherlock to hit that?" and I had to confess two books, though in that time he does wait for her to grow up.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Turns out you CAN go home again.

I see things like this and I'm all "thank goodness I don't blog anymore." and then I'm like "Shit, I started blogging again."

who, on reader request, added the subscription gadget to the upper right corner so that you can put your email in there and get every post by email.  I will tweet them too.  Goodness we've come a long way since the heady days of 2010.  Warning: If you subscribe, you might get three versions of a post because I am a terrible proofreader and I always see something to fix.

Ps. Have started rereading The Gift of Fear.  Cheyenne is right, de Becker uses "intuition" in a very specific way.  I'm not sure I agree with him, but that's another post.  Not tonight's post, though.

Smart friends ask me good questions.

In the comments on my last post, my friend Lisa asked me "I'm curious to know why you see yourself as a maker of bad decisions. A decision could be a good one, given all available data, even if the outcome isn't what you'd hoped for."

That's a good question.  In truth, I very much like the person I am and the decisions I've made have made me the person I am, so I'm not sure I regret them.

At the same time, I linked to a "Bad Decision Dinosaur" comic where the dinosaur is cheering on Napoleon's Invasion of Russia.  People know that Napoleon ended up invading Russia in the winter and that's how it ends up in snarky comics, but Napoleon started with Smolensk in August.  The Russian army just kept retreating, and kept burning villages as it retreated to starve the French.   The French had never seen this tactic before and were like "What the hell, Tsar Alexander?"

Arguably Napoleon's problem wasn't invading Russia in August, it was getting himself deeper and deeper and not knowing when to quit.  Maybe that's where I meant to say my problem was.

I had dinner with my friend Cheyenne, who had read yesterday's post and felt like I wasn't really understanding de Becker's point about Intuition.  As fear is, I think, going to be a theological point for me, (Katy the Wise and I have discussed whether it is the root of evil), I feel like I should reread de Becker's book.  It's available on Kindle Unlimited, so now it's on my list.


Monday, February 08, 2016

Bad decision dinosaur roars again.

I identify with this dinosaur. 

“intuition is always right in at least two important ways;
It is always in response to something.
it always has your best interest at heart” 
― Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

I've been thinking about this quotation today, to say that I've been "meditating on it" is to give myself entirely too much credit.   Now de Becker is a really smart dude, his book is brilliant, but I feel like he also is giving me too much credit. My intuition, at least, responds to a very loose definition of "something" and I'm pretty sure there are times when my still small voice wants carrot cake, which is not to say it really has my best interests at heart.

I see myself as a maker of bad decisions.  Now, mind you, I've made a couple of excellent major life decisions.  TheCSO is the best example.   In general, I surround myself with wonderful people.  But when it comes to pretty much everything else, I kinda suck.  "When should I go to law school?"  "Is this a good time to buy a house?"  "Do I want a PhD in Political Science?"*  And then there's the whole "let's graduate from college in 2000 and try to get a journalism job" thing.

Life has a lot of chaos to it, and I'm not convinced that my intuition isn't always just telling me what I think I want to hear.   Am I really following clues to a mystery that is me?  Or am I hearing hoofbeats and unable to think of anything but zebras, then disappointing myself when ordinary horses go by?

One time I had a dream where I spent hours in a forest, trying to figure out a solution to a puzzle carved into a tree.  Eventually, I woke up.  There was no solution, because it was just a fucking dream.  This is the other side of seeking life's bids for attention, and my skepticism of the concept kicking in. Sometimes a memento mori is just a dead bird on the sidewalk.

At the very least, one of the things I'm looking for in this reflection project is to figure out how I make the decisions I make, in hopes that I can do better.  At this point the "what if I fuck up?" factor that I work into major life decisions is quite high and that's not a comfortable place to be.

Discernment.  Easy to spell, difficult to do.  de Becker's book goes into how to do some of it around fear, though he's a greater believer in intuition than I am.  Perhaps his intuition about scary situations has proved correct because he's an expert on fear.  I find the idea that "intuition" is just the rapid application of experience comforting, even though I'm not sure I believe it.

My intuition tells me this: "If something's comforting, it's often not true."


*No, I do not.  I pursued one and dropped out before I even had a master's degree.  "Chalicechick the terrible grad student" is a whole different set of stories.