Thursday, August 31, 2006

On getting through the dark night

An entry for the UU blog carnival

It's a nasty truth of the Chaliceblog that I do a better job writing about some things when I don't actually know about them. Unfortunately, I'm well acquainted with dark nights that seem to last forever. Those nights when out of the corner of your eye, you see something frightening and inhuman peering at you around the door frame from the hall and your breath is already short when you realize it's a laundry basket.

I had one about two weeks ago that brought to mind a line from Robertson Davies' Tempest-Tost (my last copy of which I've given away, so I'm going to have to paraphrase for now) where Davies tells us that Hector hadn't slept all night and while when most people say that, they mean they slept six hours rather than their usual eight, in Hector's case it was literal truth. Davies wrote it better, of course.

I was very worried about something that night, something that was a reasonable worry but did not come to fruition. I talked to friends earlier in the evening, I even gave prayer a shot.

And then?

I waited.

Now, I realize that this does not seem a brilliant solution. Perhaps it would seem a little better if I gave you the mantra I waited with, something Katy-the-Wise told be several years ago during a similar dark night. (Everyone should have a friend who doesn't go to sleep until after midnight and doesn't care if you call lateish.) I was curled up on my couch in South Carolina, relating my latest woe in a sniffly voice and she said, softly and calmly:

"Things will get better, then they'll get worse again. That's life"

I have quoted that to so many people, I can't even tell you. I have repeated it to myself and said it back at Katy-the-Wise. I've never taped it to the refrigerator, but I've considered it.

Given free rein my mind will start with a worry like "I'm really having trouble getting my groove on this 'personal statement' thing. They want honest and non-boring, but the essays in the books of successful essays all sound alike. I'm not sure I can beat my biography into 'the rosy path, beset with a few standard obstacles, that led me to law school' form." and my mind will chew on this and end up with "...and that's how I will end up a beggar woman dancing in front of WalMart for change."

Then, I say, "Things will get better, then they'll get worse again. That's life."

Those eleven words have an immense power for me. They are sometimes the only bridle that gives me any control of my runaway stagecoach of a mind. Now, often the stagecoach is still running away, but having reins I can pull helps a lot.

And the little dose of venom, the "then they'll get worse again" is crucial to the believability of the phrase. Not lying to myself is a central part of this because I'm accustomed to discovering that what people tell me about spiritual things isn't true. My life so far has shown me that if I get jumped my street punks on a walk with Jesus, he's going to watch sadly as they take my wallet and later he'll urge me to forgive them. A girl needs to know some spiritual self-defense in this world because I have yet to meet the deity who will actually make things not suck.

It's one of the things I like about UUism that we're so down with reality much of the time. We get that when God answers our prayers, the answer is often "no." I am a shades of gray person, full of uncertainty and doubt, and for UUs, this uncertainty and doubt is just part of doing business.

So on those long nights, I curl up in bed, I pop on a movie that I'm only going to half watch.

And I wait.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Admit it: It's sort of hilarious when bad things happen to Thomas Kinkade

Thomas Kinkade, creator of much "art" that would look most at home on the walls of a room at the Motel 6, is SO busted.

Apparently he was pressuring people into opening galleries of his work, then screwing them over. And now the FBI is involved.

Joan Didion snarks on Kinkade nicely in her book Where I was from in which she writes:

""A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire."


Take that, kitsch boy...

Maybe it's just me, but...

When someone you dislike says something really selfish, clearly not understanding at all that they've said anything unusual, are you a little bit happy?

I basically feel bad disliking people, but sometimes when someone selfish reminds me how self-centered they are, it makes me feel better about the situation.

I've phrased this awkwardly, but I'm sure you get my point.

Probably the worst was the twentysomething daughter of an old boss of mine. A guy liked the daughter, whom we'll call "Nora" for short. The guy asked Nora out. Nora turned him down. Two days later, the day before Nora's birthday, the guy killed himself.

Were I Nora, I would recognize intellectually that it wasn't my fault (after all, dating someone that unstable would not have ended happily even if I had liked the guy,) but I would still blame myself terribly.

Not Nora. Nora's mother told us that Nora refused to allow discussion of the guy at her birthday party, which was at a bar and the night after the suicide. Nora was considering un-inviting all of the guy's friends for fear they would cast a pall over her good time. Nora felt discussion of the death of her suitor would ruin Nora's birthday. The mother completely and totally approved of this policy.

I felt brave that day, so I said "Gee, if it were me, I think I'd have all the guy's friends over, get some scotch, build a fire in my Franklin Stove in my basement and sit up all night and talk."

Nora's mother frowned. "But that would be like a wake."

"Uh huh," I said.

Nora's mother changed the subject.

Anyway, the selfish thing I encountered today wasn't nearly that bad, but it did make me happy that I'd disliked the person who said it all along.

And I never had much use for Nora, either.


Ps: Just got a bitchin' new cell phone. I'm having a few technical problems starting out, but I suspect this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Unheathily obsessed with justice

It's funny how the decisions with the most memorable results are the ones we don't remember making.

A few years ago, I was walking through Fair Oaks mall in Northern Virginia with my mother. I remember it as a slow day at the mall without a lot of people around. Otherwise, it was an ordinary day. You could hear the muffled echoes of lots of people like my mother and me, casually chatting as we shopped. The air smelled like pretzels.

I perceived the man first by hearing the echo of his footsteps behind me. I registered that someone very large was running very fast. I turned to look and he raced by. He wore brown pants, a flannel shirt and a stocking cap. He could have been any other guy in the mall if he hadn't been running.

He had just passed me when the words "Stop! Thief!" echoed from behind him.

I don't recall the logical process that led up to the decision I made at that point. I don't actually recall making a decision at all.

Rationally, I know that I dropped my purse at my mother's feet and took off after the guy, but I really don't at all remember the part where I decided that was a good idea. I can recall a few seconds later, running past stores and doing my best to keep up, feeling a crazy sort of determination to catch the guy. There were more cries of "Stop! Thief!" and I turned to see mall security about forty yards behind me.

I kept running. The guy only looked back once, his face registering a certain degree of shock that a justice-obsessed fat girl was chasing him, and not doing a terrible job keeping up, I might add. He ran faster. I ran faster. He took a left at Popeye's Chicken and I followed, cutting through the restaurant to gain a little bit of time on him. I'm not a runner, but I was a Fairfax County teenager once and I know how the local malls are put together.

Mall security was faster than either of us, but I suddenly couldn't hear them behind me. I turned my head for a moment, They hadn't made the turn and were running in the wrong direction.

I paused for a moment, turning to yell, "He's going THIS way!" The security guys turned and started running toward me. I started chasing the guy again. By then, he was almost to the parking lot. I followed him out the doors, then stopped, panting desperately as he took off across the parking lot. Seconds later, I was pointing to him and watching the security guys chase him down and catch him.

My lungs hurting, I turned to go back inside the mall, A crowd had gathered and was appraising my panting and sweaty self.

"Did they get em?" Someone asked.

"They got 'im." I said lamely, suddenly very self-conscious. My mother was asking me if we shouldn't check in at the jewelry store and see if they wanted to give me a reward, but I just wanted to go home. At that point, I was planning to become a reporter when I got out of school, and looking at all sides of a story was natural. I started to wonder about the thief I had just chased down. He could be a decent person. What if he was stealing to support his family?

I eventually came to the conclusion that Jean Valjean didn't steal a diamond ring from a jewelry store in the suburbs. But that and my boyfriend's admonitions that the thief could have had a gun and I shouldn't have been so quick to play Wonder Woman contributed to a couple of nights of troubled sleep over the incident.

I don't know when fairness became such an important virtue to me. It's probably the natural outgrowth of having been the older sister of rambunctious twins who seemed to get away with everything or maybe it comes from looking around at the world and seeing so many little injustices playing out around me.

My whole career, I've been trying to work for fairness one way or another, be it as a reporter for a small town paper or a fundraiser for Members of Congress. Law school would give me the tools to work for fairness in a more direct way and I am excited to apply my analytical skills to problems that really effect people's lives.

I've grown up a lot since that day in the mall, and my years after college have taught me that running underground newspapers, protesting injustices and chasing after thieves in the mall aren't the only way to work for a better world. The longer I've been out of school, the more I've come to recognize that being able to make real change involves playing the game and making small changes within complex systems. I consider myself fortunate that with my writing skills, research ability and logical mind, it's a game I'm well-suited to play.

Monday, August 28, 2006

How being anti-Walmart is hurting the Democrats

A Washington Post columnist explores an issue I've been talking about for years here.

Basically, my issue has long been that people love to unfairly single out Wal-Mart because they wouldn't shop there anyway and that Wal-Mart is, on the whole, good for the poor and that the politicians bitching about Wal-Mart are doing it because poor people mostly don't vote and upper middle class people mostly do. I do still believe that Wal-Mart should be punished when it breaks the law, though I don't believe in writing new laws that apply only to Wal-Mart.

FWIW, I'm still having this argument here, though my latest response hasn't gone through moderation yet.


And the smell of funnell cake wafts in from the West...

Must be the Third UU blog carnival hosted by Ministrare!



Sunday, August 27, 2006

Power Dynamics Question

At a youth event, adults and youth are standing in a circle. The adults are bunched toward one end.

An adult and frequent taker of UUA workshops said, rather grandly "I don't want all the power to be at one side of the circle," and moved to the other side of the circle.

CC, who is a pragmatist when her feet hurt, turned to the youth next to her and said "I reject the notion that I'm more powerful than you," and stayed where she was. Youth seemed amused.

Hearing this, the first adult said "Well, the youth are more powerful, I meant I didn't want all of them on one side," which was a nice save, but I wasn't buying it. We all heard what she said and the meaning was clear.

CC, whose feet still hurt, turned back to the youth and said "I reject the notion that you're more powerful than me, I'm still not moving." Youth seemed again amused.

And we went on with our activity.

My question is, while being basically aware of power imbalances certainly makes us more able to work on them, is pointing them out incessantly really helpful?

As you can imagine by what I wrote, my guess is "no." But I'm willing to be talked another way on the issue.


Cutest Damn Baby on the Blogosphere

Photos taken by TheCSO

Her Honor.

CC and Her Honor.

"She must be hungry!" Honorary-Sister-in-Law Tina observed.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

CC gets a new housemate

Victoria was born about 1:00 yesterday afternoon weighing in at 7.4 pounds.

She is a very serious baby who looks like a judge. CC has nicknamed the baby "Her Honor" for which CC has not yet been harmed, or even spoken to sharply. Mother and baby are doing well, father is the happiest man on the planet.

CC got to hold the baby for an hour or so yesterday evening and found herelf thinking "I would bail you out of jail. Multiple times."

According to a brief web search, she shares her birthday with Dorothy Parker, Norman Schwarzkopf, Carl Yastrzemski, Tori Amos and the chick who played Pussy Galore.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

This is gross but fascinating

Yellow Jackets are building giant nests in Alabama. Like, as pictured, the entire interior of an old truck.

Read all about it.

Afraid of yellow jackets, but suspecting the nests are beautiful.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I'm realizing everything I believe politically breaks down at Typhoid Mary

Your morbid friend has been reading a good book on Typhoid Mary. If you're not familiar with what happened to her, she infected 22 people in various households killing one, was quarantined by the state for two years, promised never to cook again, was released, started cooking again, infected twenty five more people killing two, then was quarantined for the rest of her life.

Her whole life, she denied that she had the disease.

I'm realizing that I haven't a clue what, had I been there, I would have advocated doing about this highly contagious woman. She seems like Dostoyevsky's proverbial baby getting tortured at the edge of the universe so everyone else can be OK.

Locking her up on an island for the rest of her life doesn't seem like a solution that I should be OK with, but I can't think of anything else that seems like a reasonable solution either.



Sunday, August 20, 2006

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is the most brilliant thing I've read in a long time.

And I'm a Chuck Palahniuk fan.

I cannot tell you the number of insights into my own childhood I've had in the last two days reading this book. They are the "Ouch! But at least I understand it better now" sorts of insights.

Of course, this means now I have to own everything Alison Bechdel has ever written/drawn. So now my amazon wishlist has like half a dozen lesbian-themed comic books on it.

I can't imagine what I will see next time Amazon tells me what my interests are.

Anyway, buy it. Read it.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

More Snakes

This was the funniest Snakes on a Plane parody that I could find on YouTube.

An explanation of "Snakes on a Plane" for non-geeks

Since Kim asked:

Basically, there's this horror/disaster movie called "snakes on a plane" starring Samuel L. Jackson. It is supposed to be somewhat campy and is a huge joke on the internet. I went to see it because I thought it would be funny, but actually it freaked me out. It's not for the squeamish. The snakes tend to bite people in really uncomfortable places.

For people who like disaster movies or you more grossout kinds of horror movies, that's great. For me, who was expecting something a little less gross and a little funnier, it wasn't so great.

Without spoiling anything, I can say that the plane, which is a regular commercial flight, is transporting an FBI witness against a mobster from Hawaii to LA. The mobster arranges to have 500 poisonous snakes put on the plane in a time-release crate that lets them out when they are over the ocean.

Here's the wikipedia article if you'd like more information, though that has spoilers, so read carefully if you want to avoid them.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Garrison Keillor: The Rant Continues

PB mentioned in the comments of my last Garrison Keillor post that GK had written a nice essay on Unitarian Women saying we were the hottest in the world*. Trying to keep an open mind, but mostly hoping that the logic was more interesting than "they'll do the freaky stuff the Lutheran girls won't," I googled around for it, but couldn't find it.

I did, however, find this, another blog complaining about Keillor. My issues with Keillor are primarily that he is litigious and not funny.
The other blog cites concerns that he has little respect for atheists, which isn't unusual among people with Keillor's sort of outlook and doesn't bother me much. The blog, however, quotes Keillor as follows on the issue of gay marriage:

I favor marriage between people whose body parts are not similar. I’m sorry, but same-sex marriage seems timid, an attempt to save on wardrobe and accessories. Marrying somebody from your team. Still, it’s probably good for them to have to fight for the right to marry. My parents eloped against strong opposition from both families and they were in love for the rest of their lives and held hands and were tender on into their 80s. Of course they always had fresh strawberries.

Yeah, that's it, Garrison. Gay marriage is all about the wardrobe and accessories. Men and women are different "teams."

Oh, and searching for articles by Keillor on sexiness also brought me to this gem from Salon.

Women get broody sometimes and want to sit in front of a fire with a glass of merlot and discuss The Relationship, which is never a good idea. You know this. If you were captured by Unitarian terrorists and sat on by a fat lady and told that you absolutely must discuss your relationship, you should say no, no, no.

Awhile ago, Linguist Friend told me about something his ex-wife had once said, and I recall responding that it was a measure of her rhetorical skill that she could say something so brief that was irritating on so many levels. She may have competition in Keillor.

Again, as I wrote in the comments on my last GK post there's something about his very-scripted-sounding style of humor that makes me imagine him delivering one of his treasured bon mots that he'd stayed up late the night before planning, then leaning back, grinning slightly and nodding his head as he waits for my appreciative chuckle.

Which isn't coming.

I do want to see the essay where he actually mentions Unitarians without being rude about us, but I don't think hearing that he thinks we're sexy can save my opinion of him.


*Personally, I'm partial to the explanation offered by British Novelist Jilly Cooper for why upper-middle class intellectual types have the most fun in bed--because when they are curious about something, they read up on it and learn a lot about it and because they tend to be tall and can reach the dirty books the librarians put on high shelves.

Actually, watching frightened people trapped on an airplane full of deadly snakes isn't that funny. It's really sort of horrifying and gross.

But the non-gen-Xers among my readership could have told me that.

Just saw the midnight premiere of Snakes on a Plane.

TheCSO has many thoughtful things to say about it and has been encouraged to write about them here.

But I'm going to bed.

Well, maybe I'll watch some TV first.

I hear it's Shark Week.


Ps. If you haven't read Joel's 9-11 Conspiracy post you should. It's good.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"Squee!" doesn't even begin to cover it.

"What," I know nobody's asking, "is the ultimate CC movie? If she could put a star, director and script together?"

No, it's not Snakes on a Plane, though theCSO and I have tickets to a midnight show tonight.

The ultimate CC movie just might be:
Sweeny Todd directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp



Comments on the Air America thread.

(Since the original post was getting pretty far down, I thought I'd make a new post.)

I am delighted that Air America is not claiming to be news. That should cut down on the “I didn’t hear it on Air America so it must not be news” problem significantly.

FWIW, I don’t particularly mind “rant” programs existing, though I don’t listen to them myself and don’t completely understand why other people would. (John Stewart’s objections to them as mentioned on his somewhat infamous “Crossfire” appearance pretty much parallel mine.) My big concern is trying to keep news as mainstream as possible.

Someone stuck up a quote:

"In general, the press now sees its role as covering an issue like world hunger and commenting on it editorially, rather than being a participant in trying to alleviate it."
-- Katharine Graham, Personal History

I own that book, I've read it, I liked it. I’ve been a Katherine Graham fan since I was in Junior High School

But I think Katherine Graham is wrong there.

I don't recall that the press EVER did much to solve world hunger with slanted reporting.

However, William Randolph Hearst's newspapers did much to start the Spanish-American War with slanted reporting.

The way to be a good, active, press is to report more facts, not just the ones you like. (After all, who knows what might have happened if Howard Dean's people had listen to what the non-Dean-voters NPR interviewed had to say and retooled their campaign accordingly.)

If the facts when fairly presented show that an action should be taken, people will come to that conclusion themselves. That's Democracy and why an informed press is a crucial peice of who we are. If you think the people are too dumb to look at the hard facts and conclude that something must be done, write an editorial and spell it out there.

Don't write slanted news on purpose and try to take out any slant that gets in there accidentally. It's just that simple.


Two quick reminders that Garrison Keillor sucks.

I've never liked the man and the peice that Clyde posted didn't help.

Yes, the UUA does sometimes claim some people as UUs who weren't really. Even religious liberals are not immune to overzealous PR.* We shouldn't do that. No argument there.

But as an excuse to make fun of UUs for decades, that's pretty thin.

If he can make fun of UUs forever solely for that reason, surely I can dislike him forever because of the time he found out somebody was making "Prarie Ho Companion" t-shirts and sued the t-shirt maker. (This is particularly annoying given that parody is quite clearly fair use, so the lawsuit was likely designed to scare and/or bankrupt the people making the shirts rather than actually have justice done. My understanding is that the law is totally against Keillor. The only way that would not be the case would be if people didn't understand that "Prairie Ho Companion" was not a product of Garrison Keillor's media empire, a point that was made clear on the page where the shirts were sold.)

More of my commentary on that here.


*Though not as overzealous as an old friend's grandmother who was convinced that John-the-Baptist was a southern Baptist like herself. If you think I'm making that up, you've never met a South Carolina grandmother.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

All the little devils must be wearin' ice skates

Because I actually sort of feel for Tom Cruise.

The man is a waste of carbon, no doubt. But judging by this, he can't even help a stranded motorist on the highway without getting made fun of, and pretty mercilessly so.

I guess I shouldn't feel bad for a guy who is essentially recruiting people into a cult, but IMHO the article sucks for the utter nastiness of its tone.

There's snark and then there's just plain bitchiness.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"I try to be tolerant, but..."

Is a dangerous phrase, I know.

That said, I don't know what to do with traditions that I want to respect, but that treat women in ways I can't abide. (Actually, to me it feels like all traditions once treated women in ways I can't abide, some traditions are getting over it better than others. My culture is doing a better job of it than most.)

I am at a loss as to how to deal with it. I know an Arab guy whom I rarely see, luckily, who has a lot of ideas about women that I don't agree with. Whenever he lets loose with one of his little comments, I worry that to challenge him on it is sort of racist given his culture. But I can't help but think less of him. Maybe the assumption that his view comes from his background is itself racist.

My smart friend Pam was raised Baptist. When she came home from Sunday school and lectured her father that drinking alcohol was a sin, he would say “Believe everything but that.”

That’s what I want to say. “All cultures are equal, except when you get to the part about treating women as another species. Believe everything but that.”

Yet picking and choosing the cultural views that don’t clash too badly with my own doesn’t seem like a big improvement tolerance-wise.

This all comes to mind because of this article reminded me of one of his rants, although ironically it is by a Rabbi.

This is a serious reservation I have about teaching that all cultures are equally good. I want to believe that, but I look at how, for example, the Rabbi I've just linked to seems to think that mothers should hide breastfeeding from fathers as not to de-eroticize womens' breasts, and I know that in a lot of cultures these statements are perfectly reasonable.

It gave me pause to type "my culture is better at it than most" in the first paragraph, though I guess I tend to believe that other cultures do a better job on some things than my own culture does. But, perhaps for cultural reasons, those things are never things that are as important to me as some of the things like women's rights that I believe my own culture does a better job with. I don't want to believe that my culture's beliefs are superior to any other.

But what about when I do?

who is pretty sure she's missing something, but isn't sure what that thing is.

Why I'm not sorry that Air America sucks and few people listen to it.

So yesterday, I’m talking to a friend and I mention the Fox news journalists who were kidnapped in Gaza. My friend said something sarcastic like “What a tragedy.”

My response was something like “They could die.”

And my friend said something like “What a loss to the world," again in a sarcastic tone.

I said. “Well, yes, when a reporter is killed for just doing his or her job it IS a loss to the world.”

“But you know they are scumbags…”

The conversation went on in this vein for some time. It took several minutes for my friend to finally admit that a Fox news reporter being killed by terrorists would actually be a bad thing.

This is why I really don’t like news with a built-in slant. It turns us in to jerks.

Studies are inconclusive over whether the mainstream media has a liberal bias. There is a lot of data that points in several different directions on that one. Studies are quite conclusive that members of opposing factions, say Palestinians and Isrealis, can read the same newspaper article and both find it slanted against their own side. I wish people in general had a better understanding of the separation of the editorial section from the news section, though I wish that separation were as complete in every paper as it is at the good ones.

I've had to explain "The New York Times mostly has different people writing their editorials and their news stories and those kidns of stories are written with different intentions. A liberal editorial page does not equate equally liberal reporting of hard news. These are ideals, but the good papers really do seem to live up to them much of the time" to conservatives several times.

I really worry when people start talking about starting up a liberal news network. Having news shows of every political slant seems like such a direct assault on our critical thinking skills. I already know some conservatives who take a “if it wasn’t reported on MY news, it didn’t happen” attitude. It’s pleasant to be able to write these people off as idiots., though I am far from quick to write conservatives of as idiots unless they say something like that.

It would really piss me off to start hearing that from my own side.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Does "Unitarian Universalism"describe us anymore?

My readership constantly surprises me. When I write something, I frequently find that my commenters challenge my assumptions, and rightly so. I privately think of this as me "getting hit with the clue baton."

Yet again, I find that some of y'all were thinking a step beyond where I was. In my thread asking people if they considered themselves "Unitarian," "Universalist," both or neither, Clyde's response:

Unitarian Universalist is the chosen name of the faith community that I identify with, I would think we could have found a different name...

and CK's response:

Unitarian Universalist, but since I'm a humanist agnostic, I don't really consider those categories relevant for me personally.

Both sort of surprised me, to be honest. As I wrote, I'd been focused on redefining the terms to something I could agree with.

But it's true that a lot of the commentors don't seem to identify with either term.

I know this has come up before various places. But I'm asking it here mostly because the responses seem to beg the question.

Is "Unitarian Universalism" just a name for us now? If the individual words don't have any meaning for us anymore, should we change the name to something more descriptive or perhaps easier? (e.g. I've heard "Church of the Free" proposed by someone I respect a lot.)

who doesn't want to personally, but she identifies with those two terms more easily than a lot of people here.

This isn't my thing, but if it's yours you could do a lot of good.

Bitch PhD is selling t-shirts that say "Plan B prevents abortion-ask me how!"

As i've mentioned before even I didn't understand how plan B wasn't abortion until very recently.

Would a wider understanding of this make it easier for the FDA to approve over-the-counter Plan B? Maybe. Will those shirts wrapped around lots of people with good explanations promote such an understanding? Can't deny it.

But I'm still a little too shy to wear one.

But some of you probably aren't.


Ps. The best explanation I've found on why plan B isn't abortion is here.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Books and their Covers

Probably my first clue that something was amiss was when my mother-in-law asked with enthusiasm what I was reading. My mother-in-law reads chick-lit and a lot of other things, but not mysteries. When I told her the book was a murder mystery, she smiled politely and changed the subject. As Margaret Maron's really excellent mystery series about Judge Deborah Knott is set in North Carolina and my mother-in-law is a North Carolinian, I've reccomended these mysteries to my mother in law before, but mysteries aren't her thing.

The question made me take a good look at the book jacket, pictured here. With its white writing on an aqua background, graphic of bells (the mystery is about a murder that happens shortly before the judge's wedding,) the novel really could be a romance of some type.

CC reading a romance? Please. I read "The Thorn Birds" and "The Bridges of Madison County" when I was in high school or so. Since then, nada.

I was on the subway with theCSO and his folks, but no one was really talking, so I'd pulled out my book. A few minutes later, I noticed that I was a bit more turned away from everyone else than usual and held the book a little lower.

I guess I'm a snob. And an irrational snob at that, because when I see someone reading a romance novel on the subway, I don't make any negative judgments about them. (That said, when I see someone reading one of my favorite books, I often think "what a discerning person!" and talk to them.)

Who mentioned this to theCSO, who said "I wondered why you were reading a romance novel, but I figured hey, whatever."

Friday, August 11, 2006

Poll Question for my UU readers

Do you consider yourself a "Unitarian," a "Universalist," both or neither?

Feel free to split hairs and clarify which definition you agree with and which you don't.

I was all set to provide the shorter O.E.D.'s definitions, but I didn't think they were actually very good. The definition for "Unitarian" begins "A belief that God is not a trinity but one person" and the definition for "Universalist" begins "an adherent to the doctrine that redemption is available to all people."

Well, I know I don't see God as a person, and I doubt many other people do either. And lots of Christians believe that redemption is available to all people, Universalists believe specifically that all people will be saved.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church does a better job, but has an enclyopedia-article length discussion of each.

Thus, I'll keep it simple. I believe that God is unipersonal and I don't believe in the bodily ressurection of Christ, so I'm a Unitarian. I haven't completely settled on what I mean by "saved," but I don't think life is a test that some will pass and others will fail. People can be awful, IMHO, but not inherently evil. So for the purposes of discussion, I'm a Universalist, too.



Thursday, August 10, 2006

How NOT to write a goddamn get-well card

There's something sort of bizarre about going to the hospital knowing that at least one person you know will be there. When Charlie and Tina weren't picking up their phones, we went ahead and headed to the hospital, figuring that if they weren't in maternity (where they've been several nights running, though no baby yet) we'd go say "Hi" to TheChaliceRelative's best friend.

Nancy was out of intensive care and in a room one level of care lower. She had tubes coming out of her arms and legs, but seemed remarkably alert all things considered. She'd had a tracheotomy and could barely talk. When we got into the room, she croaked "talk to me."

So I did. With a few interjections from the CSO, I launched into a long monologue about my family, my job, my law plans, my future housemates, GA and all I could think of to say. It was so good to see her listen and react. She nodded vigorously when I told her about GA hippies, which made me wonder if Presbyterians have them, too.

After awhile, she asked me to read her mail to her, which brings me to the point of this post.

People just don't know what to write in a "get well" note. Now Nancy's friends are actual old ladies, many of them southern, so I don't think my standards are too high.

The real problem is that people don't plan before they write, so they end up writing whatever is on their minds, and left to thier own devices minds tend to become insensitive. Fully half of the notes said something appalling, sometimes as a first sentence, usually about halfway through when the writer was starting to run out of things to say.

Nancy's notes included the following sentiments:

-"You must be in such awful pain. I hope the doctors are giving you enough medication. I can't imagine the pain..."

-"Sorry to hear about your HORRIFIC accident!"

and the always popular:

"It's amazing you LIVED"

(Y'all should have seen Nancy's eyes widen when I read that last one. Models can smile with just their eyes. Nancy can snark with just her eyes. It was cool.)

The whole situation reminded me of the time one of my camp counselors was bitten by a snake. My bunkmate Monique made a huge card that read "Sorry a snake bit you." Even as a ten-year-old, I knew that was hilarious.

After about an hour, Nancy whispered "this has been perfect" and theCSO and I left.

But sympathy cards were still on our minds. As a decompression exercise, we stopped in a diner and ate scrambled eggs while we composed:


10. "Dude, next time, YOU should probably be the designated driver."
9. "If you die before you get this, nevermind..."
8. "You'll make a cute zombie"
7. "Can I have your Thomas Kincaide prints?"
6. "Safer than driving, they said? Yeah right..."
5. "You should go to China. Organs are cheap there."
4. "I told them you wouldn't want any antidote that wasn't vegan"
3. When you said "Hold my beer and watch this!," I should have just gone ahead and called 911 right then.
2. "There's still time to repent."
1. "Ironically, the deer was unharmed."

In the morning, I don't doubt that this list won't be funny to me. But it was an incredible relief to write at eleven o'clock at night a block or two down from the hospital.

who should explain that "Hold my beer and watch this!" is the funniest phrase in the English language to anyone who went to college down south.

Another point in the Principles discussion

Steve Caldwell made a really interesting point about the seven principles and the word "God" in the comments on my last post:

While it's true that the most current version of the UU Principles adopted in 1985 and revised in 1995 don't mention God, we do mention God in the "sources" portion of the UUA Principles and Purposes.

I would suggest that anyone who suggests that we voted to make our Principles totally non-theist should re-examine this claim in light of the "sources" portion of our Principles.

When one views the Principles in their full context (with the sources of our living tradition), it's factually inaccurate to say that our Principles are totally non-theist.

I had a long night and am not 100 percent functional yet, but that makes sense to me, and indeed, makes me wonder why I didn't think of it myself.


I don't like the expression "I'll be damned!"

It has always bugged me.

When a UU says it, I've started to say "You're a bad Universalist."

Now people say it around me less.

That's good.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Response to PB's "Vague Buddhists" post

I suggest you read Peacebang's post first.

First of, all I don’t think her ideas are crazy or stupid, so no one should assume that I will. In general, looking for negativity makes us find more of it.

This is a really thought-provoking post. As someone who has been studying formal logic, I can’t agree with

1. Most religions mention God in a creed except for Buddhism
2. UUism doesn’t mention God in something that isn’t a creed anyway.
3. UUism must be like some form of Buddhism.
4. Strong Buddhists have set beliefs.
5. UUs don’t have set beliefs
6. UUs must be like weak Buddhists.

So I don’t see her conclusion as following from her premises. (I realize I’ve oversimplified what she was already terming as an oversimplification. But you get my point.)

I’m not really the “spiritual” type. I tend to shun meditation and really anything overly ritualistic. OK, I don’t exactly shun it, but I don’t tend to get much out of it and I don’t look for it. I did read some texts on “Mindfulness” that included some Buddhism last year, but they didn’t resonate with me the way historical Humanism does. Give me Emerson any day.

I’m not reading as much Humanism I should, but as PB noted that’s going to be true of just about anybody who doesn’t do religion professionally. I gaurantee you my mom hasn't read any Christianity books in decades and my record is better than that.

I think I do better on the faith life and ethical commitments, though. I often think about the old joke about the guy trapped in a flood who refuses a raft, a boat and a helicopter, pronouncing that God will save him. When he eventually drowns, he meets up with God in Heaven and upbraids God for not saving him. God says “I sent a raft, a boat and a helicopter. What did you expect me to do?”

For me, whether God exists or not and in whatever form, Humanism is about facing the reality that I am the helicopter. Ethical commitments are of tremendous importance to you if they’re all you have and humanity’s need to take care of one another becomes very obvious.

The only religious ed I’m involved with is YRUU. For them, my Humanism comes out in doing my best to give the YRUU folks tools to live an unambiguous life in an ambiguous world. My particular calling at least right now seems to be to teach respect for Republicans, Christians and the groups generally less fashionable among liberals and UUs. But my YRUU kids are generally in good shape. At least, I never smell pot on them, which is more than I can say for my GRE students.

. I like to point out to the YRUUers that one can do worse than to take the simplest premises of science and apply them philosophically. Matter is neither created nor destroyed, chaotic behavior appears to be random but is ultimately internally deterministic, All things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed together. If I’ve gotten across a message or two about not living your life by other people’s standards, but not selling yourself short either, so much the better.

But viewing things scientifically also teaches that we shouldn’t run around excluding theories just because they aren’t what we’ve believed before. (Non-String-Theorists will tell you that I’m being idealistic, but this is a religion conversation.) After all, infinite examples won’t prove us right, but one good example can prove us wrong. So I think that there is great value in having Pagans, Christians and other people who are researching similar data around, even if their methodologies differ from my own.

So anyway, that’s where Humanism takes me. If that’s not exactly a historically Humanist direction, OK, but I don’t think it is a Vague Buddhist one either.


When I first met theCSO, I thought he was too young and too skinny for me

Hafidha has a really excellent post up about all the ways in which her significant other doesn't match what she was looking for.

TheCSO was closer to what I was looking for, though again too young for me and too skinny. I had always dated people who were older than me because when you're in your teens and early twenties, nobody your age has really been anywhere or done anything or even read all that much.

Before me, he always assumed that the woman he ended up with would be into all of the same Geek stuff he was. I can hold up my end of a Dungeons and Dragons game, thank you very much, but when he goes off to anime conventions, he goes off alone. (Much like I went to GA alone, though I hung out with LinguistFriend there a lot.)

I think that our differing interests is one of the cooler things about our relationship, actually. I've grown to be interested in some of the things he likes, and he has done the same with some of my interests, but we maintain separate intellectual lives and learning stuff from one another is a constant source of mutual joy.

Seven years after we met, six and a half years after I was irritated with my long distance boyfriend and asked theCSO to spend the night, I still feel like theCSO and I could be stuck on a desert island for many years without running out of stuff to talk about.

A few years ago, I was good friends with a Baptist minister. One time, I was having dinner with his family when his wife asked about theCSO. In telling her about TheCSO, I mentioned that he was really good at making computers talk to one another. (He's a systems engineer.) She laughed, and said with mild disdain,

"He sounds like a NERD!"

Before this, I had known intellectually that different people look for different things in a mate, but what she said really hit it home for me. She wrote off theCSO just that quickly.

I wouldn't have dated her husband either.

But both men are great guys.

I guess it all comes down to who you fit with.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Things I'm trying to figure out these days.

1. How high a standard to set for other people's behavior, particularly in regards to me. I don't want to be a whiny bitch who demands that other people take care of her. I fear being a high-maintenence person like the plague. But I am cognizant that sometimes people treat me badly and I just put up with it because I honestly have no clue how else to respond. I really, fundamentally, do not expect people to change. I can suggest ways they could improve their behavior, and sometimes do with gusto, but I pretty much accept people in my life as they are and assume they won't change. When they become more trouble than they're worth, I quietly let them go.

And I get that when I let a few people's bad behavior put me in a depressed mood, I become hard to be around for everyone. (If you get depressed and don't understand that you are rather difficult to be around when you are in that state, I highly recommend the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season two and the beginning of season three. I love Buffy and those episodes are for me damn near unwatchable as I find her sadness over losing Angel brings the entire cast down. I didn't completely get how powerful one sad person could be until I saw them.)

2. I had a crisis-based childhood. Everything, budgeting, time management, parental attention was always focused around who was the biggest mess, who needed it the most. At the time, I basically dropped out of the competition and let my brothers compete for who could be the biggest screwup. That cost me some things that I am discovering now that I could have used, but I'm a lot better off than they are, to put it mildly.

But now I find I am repeating some of the same patterns. Not to the degree my parents did, but I do have a tendency to let things slide until they force me to deal with them. I want to stop. I have some plans for fixing my own life and making things run more smoothly, yet crises are still popping up and part of me still goes "Oooh! Aaah! A crisis! Wahoo! I know what to do now!"

Sometimes I think I'm really good at improving things that suck, but I have no idea how to get things past "OK" into "good" or even "Wonderful."

Anyway, that's me, being all introspective. Comments welcome.


The small miracles of birth, part 1.

I don’t really get along with my co-workers too terribly well. It’s nothing on them and I don’t particularly blame myself either. Some of them are partier types, most of them are young mommies, and there’s a little bit of overlap. I really don’t have a clue where the good bars in Fairfax County are or what to do when Junior bites the kids at daycare. They don’t read much and it’s not what I read when they do.

They seem to accept that I know things. Occasionally somebody asks me a general knowledge question, most memorably “What do Jews believe?” But that doesn’t make them want to hang around with me. I mostly study LSAT while I eat lunch alone. They’re career legal secretaries. I’m just stopping in for a year before I go to law school. I get the sense that they feel I’m not worth anthropomorphizing.

We work together peaceably enough. I’ve always had co-worker friends before that I could go out for a drink with and I miss that, but the situation is pretty tolerable.

Today, I was surprised when someone noticed that I look tired.

I explained that I’d gotten a call at 2am and gone dashing out to Fairfax Hospital. Honorary-Sister-In-Law-Tina was in labor.

All the sudden, half the girls in the office were looking at me. “How far along was she?” Someone said.

“Dialated three centimeters.”

Somone else nodded “the first three centimeters are the hardest. “

“Yeah, she was in a lot of pain,” I said.

“Did they induce?”

“No,” I said. “The Doctor wasn’t comfortable doing that at this point. Her husband and I took turns walking with her up and down the halls trying to get the baby to come, but it didn’t work. I finally came home at five thirty to get some rest and they sent her home at seven.”

There was a collective nod. “I wouldn’t have let the doctors get away with that. I would have just refused to leave.” Someone said.

The conversation went on in this vain for another ten minutes or so until we all went back to work.

But for a few minutes, Chalicechick felt like one of the girls.

Yes, I've seen the big Nora Ephron article in Salon

So you can stop emailing me. Thank you to the Chalicesseurs who recalled that Nora Ephron is the hated enemy of the Chaliceblog and let me know. (Item: Google "Nora Ephron sucks." Guess who comes in first?)

For those of you who have something better to do than read this article, I'll summarize.

Nora Ephron has made a bunch of crappy movies. But she doesn't think they suck.

Nora Ephron writes relentlessly and unapologetically about her ex-husbands, which, I'm sorry, is tacky as hell.

She doesn't read negative reviews of her movies because she doesn't want her feelings to be hurt. (Unlike the feelings of her ex-husbands, Nora Ephron's feelings matter.)

And she as a crappy column on the Huffington Post. I snark about one of her columns here.

And then the writer of the article pointed out the "realism" in movies like "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Bewitched."

That's when I stopped reading.


Ps. My previous Anti-Ephron rant can be found here.

Pps. Other people on the Chaliceblog enemies list include:

Anne Lamott
Anne Rice

and an honorable mention to David Sedaris

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The ever-elusive home

Peacebang writes about the concept of "Home." The idea of Home has always been a complicated issue for me. My husband and I bought the house I grew up in, but it still doesn't completely feel like home. The Washington DC suburbs feel like home, but the house in general never has. We're working on it. I had for many years wanted a bedroom with deep blue walls and white trim, a white bed and white curtains. All we need now is the curtains.

I remember reading in the Anne of Green Gables series as a kid that a house needed a birth, a death and a marriage to really become a home. This house has had its marriage and honorary-sister-in-law-Tina is going to give it a baby pretty soon. Death has happened near this house, but not, thank goodness, to any human who has lived here since my family bought it a couple of decades ago.

The paralells between births, deaths and marriages making a house a home and those being the very things we announce in joys and concerns, are pleasing of course.

One of the weird aspects of growing up in a somewhat unhappy situation is that one really doesn't have any concept of what a happy family looks like and one makes assumptions that might not be correct. I saw the movie "StepMom" when I was in college and when Susan Sarandon and her daughter were running around the house lipsynching to MoTown and dancing, I whispered to my friend Chuck, "my family never did that sort of thing."

He whispered back "No families do that sort of thing except in the movies."

In retrospect, duh. But I wasn't totally clear on that at the time.

So anyway, it is indeed possible that my standards for "Home" are a bit too high.

In truth, I sleep best and the world feels most natural when I am with the people I care about. In that sense, home is wherever theCSO is.

(Which means right now, home is an anime convention in Baltimore.)

At the end of her post, PB asks: If the Earth was imperiled in some way that required immediate evacuation to another planet, would you get on the ship to go? Or would you choose to perish with the Earth?

As convinced as I am that I will never find a home that matched my idealistic vision of one, I would be the first one on that ship. Can't hurt to keep looking.


Friday, August 04, 2006

The second UU Blog Carnival is here!

Welcome to the second UU Blog Carnival. I was really excited to see the number of people who wrote about the language we use when we talk about spirituality. I had envisioned this somewhat differently than it turned out. I expected that people would pick a word that either worked for them personally or didn’t and talk about their relationship with that word. What I got was a great many posts that looked at the relationship of language and theology on a much deeper level.

This was really great, y'all. I'm really moved at the number of people who rose to the challenge. (That said, a great many people DID rise to the challenge. Enough that it is possible I might have missed someone. Technorati hadn't heard of our tag, either. If I did miss you, please tell me and I will add you as soon as I can, which could be within hours if I'm having a slow day at work. Ditto for broken links or if you feel I didn't describe your post well. I did read all the posts, but I read them somewhat quickly.)

One of my examples to set people thinking was the idea that someone who'd had an unhappy childhood might be weird about the frequently used phrase "God the Father." SC Universalist starts us off with an interesting riff on a Universalist' conception of God, Great Parent!

I've had a hard time convincing Linguist Friend that blog posts aren't supposed to have references. Then Peregrinato comes along and writes a beautiful post, with, of course, references. His post nicely weaves the ideas of God first as a concept and then as a being with whom Peregrinato has a personal relationship. Naming God is really beautiful, thoughtful stuff.

The first sentence of The Blue Chalice's post on this subject made my jaw drop.
I have religious words that move me, but when I translate them to another language they no longer do.
Enrique tells the story of his spiritual development and talks about the words that move him and his desire to share the good news of Unitarian Universalism in Spanish. I hadn't been reading the Blue Chalice often, but the sincerity of Enrique's post really spoke to me. I will be reading his blog in the future. Can Unitarian Universalism be translated?

Sean Parker Dennison describes himself as a "sometimes poet," a phrase that made me smile with affection. His post about the power of language to express our judgment takes a different direction from a lot of the other posts. Language of Love and Reverence points out that language can build walls between people as easily as it can take them down.

I've known Joel Monka since beliefnet and he and I think alike on a lot of issues. So it's no real surprise that he took the approach I had initially envisioned and wrote about a single word and its personal meaning for him. Joel's word was "Thanks" and his post is My favorite word of reverence.

The Happy Feminist's post On being created in God's image has an evangelical commenter praising the concept of inherent worth and dignity in her comments. 'Nuff said.

Pamela Wood Browne shares my background as a liberal Christian and is now a mystic. I'm a humanist, but we both tend to talk about spirituality in terms like "faith-in-something-greater-than-myself." Her essay God Talk has a very poetic style unlike a lot of the writing you will see on the UU blogosphere. Good stuff.

If you haven't been reading Clyde Grubbs' blog recently, you are missing out. All summer, he has been writing really wonderful things (not that he wasn't good before, but I really feel like he's bringing his A game to blogging recently and I am delighted to be able to read in awe some of the things he's writing) and his post The language of reverence isn't just words is no exception. Thanks to LT for mentioning in the comments what the rap on the table meant. CC the word-focussed hadn't a clue.

At Stephanie's Blog Surviving the Workday, she writes about talking about God in feminine language and makes the interesting point that she prefers not to talk at all as she worships. Religious Language Among Us says good things about using feminine terminology for God. And it has a really cool illustration of God fighting a sea serpent. Cool, huh?

Jess worships through music and talks in her post Singing Language about the difference between "simple" hymns and "simplistic" ones. I'm going to have "Dona Nobis Pacem" in my head for a long time now.

Mama G at MomtotheLeft talks about how feminine language for God really doesn’t work for her, making the point that those who use it seem to be trying too hard to make a point. God the Mother? questions the wisdom of getting hung up on terminology.

Indrax writes God is a Metasyntactic Variable about how the word "God" is a short word that stands for a concept that lets us get around the concept of God to talk about greater abstractions. God as "X" in the Algebra that is life. I'm going to have to chew on that one awhile.

Miss Kitty's take on the subject really delighted me. I really like her writing style. She has a pleasing voice and ends this post in a way that had me looking at the screen in silence and thinking for a moment. She talked about being "religiously bilingual" and being pluralistic in our understanding and our capabilities. Speaking the Language of the Living Tradition is a lively and thoughtful post.

As a matter of housekeeping, I think the UU blog carnival needs a host for September and I really hope someone volunteers. Hosting is really fun, I promise. It's a lot like Writing Blog Reviews except you're not really supposed to say snarky things to the people who contribute. Still, it's a good time. Email CK if you're interested, or comment here and I'll pass the word along.

who has that squinty-eyed look common to carnies. But it could just be because she's tired.

Added: Returning's post God . . . Lord . . . Eternal . . . Spirit . . . Hey You . . . It's a thoughtful post that got great comments.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Weirdest Google Ad ever

CC finally writes that post about Meadville's fundraising breakfast she's been kicking around for a month.

UU Enforcer has an entertaining summary of the collapse of the Starr King/Meadville Lombard merger.

FWIW, Meadville pissed me off mightily at GA. I went to their fundraising breakfast and they showed a documentary with these people who had lost their son in 9-11 and the incredibly smug minister who helped them through it yet seems to talk mostly about himself. (If he's a good guy who got a bad edit, I can believe that.) In addition, there was lengthy bit about how another guy wanted to be there, but his wife had cancer. That part included a brief history of their life together and a cataloging of her surgeries. The cancer speech combined with the 9-11 video set up a tone that was far and away the most blatant attempt I've ever seen to get people's emotions up so they would be primed to give away money. And there were a couple of old people who had suffered some personal tragedy who also talked, but I've forgotten what their issue was.

I NEVER saw one of my Congressional fundraising clients put on an event so inherently cynical, and I saw a lot of cynicism.

Naturally, no where in the event did they really talk about Meadville, where they were going as an institution and what they offered that other schools didn't. The focus was not at all "Let's show them that we're a good investment," it was more "let's get them upset and vulnerable at eight a.m. and then lay a guilt trip."

Lee Barker doesn't come off well in the UU Enforcer's peice, but he was the most tolerable part of the breakfast presentation and the only one who seemed to get that his audience was composed of reasonable people who were thoughful about where they gave their money.

That said, if he and Rebecca Parker literally can't stand to be in the same room, wew need to pick more mature people to run our seminaries.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No, seriously, the UU Blog Carnival is getting close

Just a quick reminder that the UU blog carnival is just days away. If you want to participate, write a post on the topic by Thursday night and shoot me an email giving me a link.

I will link to every post on the topic and we can all read each others' stuff and see how different people responded to the same idea.

Ok, here's the topic:

Religion words that move us, religion words that don't.

This is inspired, of course, by the recent discussion about "Lord" that sprung up in response to Peacebang's post about how wonderfully evocative she finds "Lord." But in the last month of so, we've also seen the Presbyterian church taking steps toward gender-neutral language.

Astrologer Rob Brezny reports that his drinking toast begins "To the Divine Trickster formerly known as God."

We're all talking about God and spirituality and using new words to do it.

Was the first time you heard God spoken of in female language a revelation for you? Are you rediscovering the power in the religious words of your childhood faith?

Or does your own difficult childhood make "God the father" a problematic phrase for you?

(I'm sure my Christian background has colored my examples. But you get the idea. People from non-Christian backgrounds doubly encouraged to participate here.)

Let's talk about the language we use when we talk about faith.

I know it's not and yucky out there and August is a sucky month to try to do anything, but pour yourself a glass of lemonade, sit down at the keyboard and tell us which religion words move you or turn you off.

I, for one, am really interested to hear what folks come up with.


"Ordinary Time" is a really good blog.

Mary-who-Dances once did a really good sermon on the concept of Ordinary Time.

To those not hip to the Christian calendar, ordinary time is the time when Christians aren't preparing for any particular season. Technically, the phrase comes from "Ordinal time" because in your higher-church churches those weeks are numbered.

I kind of like intrepreting the phrase as "regular time" myself.

Anyway, my fondness for the phrase led me to click on a link to a blog called Ordinary Time and I was quite impressed. The Christianity itself isn't pariticularly my thing, but I do appreciate the quality and thoguhtfulness of the writing.

Y'all should check it out.