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.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

"Attention must be paid"

Drama nerds know this as what Linda Loman says about Willy toward the end of "Death of a Salesman."

The relevant part of the quotation is:

"I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person."

This quote is a double-edged sword for me.  Minor Quibbles:  First of all, on some level I'd rather all but my very favorite people paid less attention to me than more.  Also, I've known some old dogs who have fallen into their graves after spending their lifetimes giving joy.

Major Quibble: I want to have lived a life of significance, but I find paying attention to all sorts of things very difficult.  I'm not sure if it's more work for me or if I'm just not very good at it, and those things are not mutually exclusive.  Could I be addicted to distraction?  I spend most of my quiet moments having conversations with myself in my head.  Some of them are replaying past conversations, sometimes I'm preparing for a conversation in the future.  But whatever I'm doing, I'm not listening to the world around me.

"Good conversations" and "driving" are when I do my best attention-paying.  And even with those my attention can be suboptimal.

What is my attention so afraid of?  And if I can figure out that thing, will it lead me to the significance I want.

I guess those are my questions for today.


Saturday, February 06, 2016

"Please, tell me about your journey of self-discovery" said no one ever.

Every few months, I try to reread this article. The TLDR* of it is this: A happy marriage boils down to following up on your spouse's attempts to telling you things.

If TheCSO has read a news article on, say, a new major transportation project and pops in to tell me about it, the way to stay married is to get enthusiastic about what makes her enthusiastic rather than being an asshole and making a big show of not caring.

The article puts it more nicely.

But that's the bones.  When your spouse is trying to tell you something, they are making what the article, and the research underlying it, call a "bid for attention."  In happy marriages, people response positively to those.

I've been married for going on twelve years and I've listened with interest to descriptions of innumerable transportation projects.  One of the great secrets to married life is that if you married a smart and awesome person, many of their interests are likely to be smart and awesome as well.  If you listen when they talk, soon you're invested in those interests too.

Anyway, I work pretty hard at this wife thing.  I like to think that I respond fairly well to my friends' bids for attention too.

But recently, I've been thinking over my theology and my philosophy of life, to the degree that I have those things.  As I've tried to articulate what's important to me and how I can focus my life around those values, I've started to wonder, what if there are bids of attention from the world and the way I see it that I've been ignoring?  So I'm starting to make a practice of mindfully pursuing my yearnings, mostly the nerdier sorts, and look for what I might be trying to tell myself.  And I'm going to write about it, because truly I don't know what I'm thinking until I've written it out.

If this revived blog has a goal, it is that, to watch the world more carefully for invitations to think harder about things and to find meaning in new places, and to chronicle me wandering through the world more attentively and what I find when I do.

*Internet for  "Too Long; Didn't read" also known as an "executive summary."

Back again, for a limited engagement maybe

I'm in a theological study group at church and we've been talking about spiritual practices. I'm trying to find a new spiritual practice* myself.

 "You have such a way with words," one person suggested.  "Have you thought about journaling?" The conversation continued in this vein for a bit.

 Finally, I thought, "Well, I used to have a place where I did something sort of like that." So I'm going to give it another shot. Don't know if I'm going to stay with it, but I'm going to try.

 I'll post my first substantive post about that tonight.

 But first, an FAQ, because I love FAQs.

Q: Welcome Back! I've missed you!
A: Thanks, though you don't have to. You can always follow me on Twitter. I'm Chalicechick there too.   I tend to be pretty liberal about friending on Facebook, too.

Q: What's up?
A: Not a whole lot.  The big news is that TheCSO is undergoing gender transition.  We wrote an entire FAQ about that, and I've posted it below.  Other than that, I got out of law school, got a law job that pays the bills and I go to the same church and mostly have the same friends.  I have a Goddaughter now, you'll probably hear about her.   The dog died.  That was sad.

Q: So, what are you going to be writing about?
A: My personal life, hunt for a personal theology/philosophy of life and the same sort of cultural criticism stuff I liked to write before.  Funny stuff that happens to me.

Q: So what AREN'T you going to be writing much about?
A: My job, national politics (I lean Clinton, FWIW), UUA politics (I lean Miller, FWIW), won't go too far into transgender issues.   There are smarter people writing better things on that last topic especially.  I also don't write about my own church.  The minister shouldn't have to worry about critiques of her sermon showing up here on Sunday afternoons.  They won't.

Q: How will this ChaliceBlog be different?
A: I'm going to be heavier on comment moderation.  I have less patience than I used to, and less time.      I'm also probably not going to get into as many big arguments.  Again, less patience, less time.  If you want an interactive medium, try Twitter.  My plan at least is to use this as a bit more of a broadcast medium.   Also, both Nora Ephron and the UUA Washington Office are gone and have not been replaced with equivalent targets for snark.  I confess I've mellowed a bit in that department in general.

Q: How can I foil your plan to use this as a broadcast medium?
A: Write brilliant insightful comments I can't resist responding to.

Q: Are you going to stick around?
A:  In this format, I don't know.  But I'm extremely active on Facebook and moderately so on Twitter.

Q: How can I encourage you to stick around?
A: Write brilliant insightful comments I can't resist responding to.


who suspects these questions would not be asked frequently, indeed not much at all, but enjoys interviewing herself.

 *Which I define as a way to connect me to that which is greater than myself, one way or another.

Chalicechick and TheCSO's Gender FAQ

Posted to Facebook 07.19.2015.

 This is the same document with only minor edits, plus our names changed per the conventions of this blog.

 So, hi, we’ve got an announcement. 

TheCSO has made the decision to undergo gender transition. We’ve told a few people about this, but since we’re telling everyone en masse at this point, we thought an FAQ might come in handy:

The easy questions:

Q: So TheCSO is female now?
A:  TheCSO is in between, but on the female side.

Q. What pronoun does TheCSO prefer?
A: TheCSO likes “she” or “they.”  Chalicechick does not like “they” truth be told, as to her it sounds awkward and confusing.  So she talked around pronouns when TheCSO was concerned and considered TheCSO’s pronoun “TheCSO” as an interim step.  This wasn’t TheCSO’s favorite approach but the biggie is to avoid male pronouns.  Chalicechick is using “she” and female-gendered terms like “wife” now.

Q: I’ve called TheCSO “he” for years, what if I call TheCSO the wrong thing?
A: That’s cool.  We know this isn’t easy and TheCSO understands genuine mistakes are going to happen.  Chalicechick still slips up every now and again.

Q:Is TheCSO keeping the name “TheCSO”?
A: That’s the plan.

The complicated questions:

Q. How long has TheCSO wanted to do this?
A: A long time.  TheCSO came out to Chalicechick in college, years before we got married.  She has always known this was a possibility,  but TheCSO didn’t feel like fully transitioning to female and when we first got together and being “in between” was more or less unheard of outside of the gender activist community.  Chalicechick was concerned about the societal consequences of having to constantly explain that TheCSO had a gender that nobody else seemed to have.  Now that TheCSO’s career is in a good place, our marriage is totally safe and genderqueer and trans folks are becoming more and more common, the timing seemed right.  TheCSO’s tired of being uncomfortable.

Q: A lot of transsexuals get fired, are you worried about that?
A: For TheCSO’s employer to fire TheCSO for that reason would be a violation of both their company policy and the DC Human Rights Act, which covers TheCSO’s workplace in DC.  

Q: Are you guys going to stay married?
A: Yup.  We’re still in love.

Q. Will the state of Virginia still recognize your marriage?   Sure, gay marriage is legal there now, but Virginia is conservative and that could change again?
A:  This question was answered at length in previous versions of the FAQ, but is now irrelevant.  Thanks, Justice Kennedy!

Q: I feel like I’m really close to you guys, but you never talked about this with me before, and you’ve known for like SIXTEEN YEARS?  What gives?
A.  We get feeling that way and we’re sorry.  This stuff is not easy to explain and while we’re centered about the basics of it and committed to approaching it as a team, the details are a lot of stress.  Sometimes it’s a big comfort to just talk about other things.  If one or both of us has hung out with you and confided in you about other things or just done fun stuff with you, you’ve been more help than you know.  Thank you and we’re sorry if you feel we took too long to let you in.  Please don’t think that we didn’t tell you because we thought you would react badly, if we thought that we wouldn’t have been your friend in the first place.

The hard questions that make us a little cranky:

Q: Is Chalicechick a lesbian now?
A: She’s not much on labels.  She didn’t marry TheCSO’s gender, she married TheCSO.  That said, she did know about this all along, so… kinda? If you want to look at it that way? We don’t though.  We do consider ourselves a woman married to a woman though.

Q: Is TheCSO having surgery?
A: We know our friends would generally be too polite to ask this very personal question, but we also figured they might want to know.  No, TheCSO has no plans to have surgery of any type.  But TheCSO is on hormones and has been for over a year.   If you have other medical questions, feel free to ask in person, we’d rather not go into more detail on this forum.

Q: What if I think TheCSO’s still a guy and feel the need to say so?
A: Then it’s best if you save everyone some pain and unfriend us now.  We don’t have anything else to say to one another.  If you want to stay friends with us, don’t talk about that to us because we don’t consider her gender an issue for debate.

Summing up:

Q: So how can I help Chalicechick be more comfortable in this weird time?
A: She’s good.  It IS a weird time but her and TheCSO’s support system, (if you’re reading this you’re probably part of it) has been wonderful. We’re very privileged as couples dealing with these issues go.  Mostly, she’s grateful.

Q:  So how can I help TheCSO be more comfortable in this weird time?
A:  Use “she” or “they” or talk around pronouns, try not to use male gendered language.  Ask  questions.  TheCSO’s glad to help and would rather talk about it than leave people wondering.

Q: I’m glad you guys are good, but what if being your friend makes me want to reach out to other people dealing with gender issues?
A: That’s awesome of you.  We are in a position of enormous privilege and we know it.  But not everyone is as lucky as we are and there are some folks who could absolutely use your help.  We’d be really grateful, and you could do a lot of good, if you help out one of the following organizations:

• Rainbow Youth Alliance:
• Trans Housing Network:
• Whitman-Walker: