Friday, September 10, 2010

Negotiating Government Services

So this week included negotiating the government services for pregnancy assist. First, a trip to the Health Dept to get certified pregnant, and then a couple days later a trip the the Dept of Human Services to apply for TennCare/Medicaid. The two trips were very different.

The Health Dept is a local branch in the neighborhood. We didn't make an appointment, but just showed up. The whole encounter was highly stressful. The building was ugly and cold. There was no one to greet us, only a few signs in not obvious places directing us to a sign in sheet. There were two different waiting areas, and it was not clear which one was best. We ended up waiting and watching to see what was going on, and then choosing the smaller room with the chairs around the edge, since that seemed to be where people on the list we signed were being called from. Sitting in the chairs, it became obvious that there was one woman dealing with everyone on the list. Her cubicle was open to the waiting area, so there was no feeling of privacy. Everyone had to talk softly so that the entire waiting room didn't know their business. The woman was obviously stressed out and her back hurt, but she kept having to get up and walk to other parts of the building.

After 45 minutes, we were finally called up. Five minutes later, we've been initially entered into the system, stated our need for a proof of pregnancy, and then told to go sit in the other waiting room. That one woman that we waited so long to see just seems to greet and sort people. I felt relieved that we had signed the right paper and ended up in the right place after all. I had spent the whole 45 minutes feeling nervous that when we got called up, we would be told we did something wrong and have to go wait all over again somewhere else.

Another 15 minutes later, a nurse came and got us out of the second waiting room, just as cold, the chairs just as uncomfortable, and this one more cramped and with a high-pitched children's show on the tv. We are taken down a hallway, talked with, weighed, given a cup to pee in, iron is checked, etc. She gave us a bottle of prenatal vitamins and a package of name brand baby advertisements along with the slip of paper that certifies the pregnancy. On the way out, she told us to stop and make a WIC appointment, which took another 10 minutes since no one behind the windows she directed us to seemed to actually know how to do it. I think it took 4 different people to make the appointment for us.

In the end, it took an hour and half to pee in a cup and get officially declared pregnant, and the whole experience was nerve-wracking and left me stressed for the rest of the day.

In contrast, DHS is a cattle call. We had filled out our application online, and then been mailed an instruction sheet telling us to come within 20 days to their central office between 6:30 am and 9:00 am. Ungodly hours! I chose to stay up all night in order to make it in time, because waking up with minimal sleep is a very bad thing for me. We pulled in at 6:40. There were two lines in front of the doors, each about 50 people long. A security guard was briefing everyone about what would happen. I had to go back and put my apple and water bottle back in the car since it wasn't allowed. The doors opened at 6:45, people who had applied online went in first, the guard took my official paper with my name on it, and told us where to all sit. We were then briefed on what to expect: we can come and go outside, they will start calling names at 7:30, when they call our name we will get our appointment time, any questions?

I felt much more relaxed about the whole thing. There was a person who could answer questions. I knew when we might get called. I knew I was in the right place, and was given information about timetables and what to expect and where to go. We were called up a little after 8:00 and given an appointment time of 8:30. At 8:10 we were called to the appointment early and followed a completely disinterested man into a huge room of cubicles. I could not see the far walls, it was so huge, full of head-high cubicle dividers for as far as the eye could see. His cubicle was not too far into the labyrinth, and without any greeting or smile we were asked for specific documents while he tapped things into his computer.

After a few minutes he said we were not eligible for food stamps at this time. I told him we already knew that, that the online eligibility screening said it would be TennCare only. He said there were no TennCare slots open. Not even though we're pregnant? Oh, you're pregnant? Do you have proof of pregnancy? Yes, here. Five minutes later, that's been entered in, we're approved, it will be a letter in a week and the card in three weeks.

The whole thing took 2 hours, but it was so much easier. The seats were cushioned, the room was not too cold, there were no annoying tv shows, and there was a loudspeaker so we could hear who was being called. Also, I felt much less nervous about being in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, or being judged for being there. The man who helped us couldn't have cared less about us. He was completely deadpan. And while that lack of compassion might be disturbing, it was also reassuring, because he wasn't going to say anything personal. He turned us down for food stamps in the same deadpan way that he approved us for TennCare. And when we left, we got to the car just before it started raining and it only took another 2 hours for the residual stress to leave my body afterward.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Next Wave of Freefall?

So when the economic downturn hit, I said, "I'm not participating." I didn't want to be a part of that energy or a part of that self-fulfilling panic. And I had the savings to make it stick, honestly.

Well, now I am seeing with a little more distance. I have friends who were hit hard by the change of economic fortune winds. Friends who lost jobs or couldn't go anywhere in their companies, not even lateral transitions. Friends who did a little here and there, including working for parents who could still finagle payment, actively searching with their professional job skills and resumes, who spent months doing the best they could financially and wracking up debt while they tried to get their life back on a steady financial course. These were friends with impressive resumes, some with resumes of decades of impressive contract work, who struggled.

Now, it seems as if the friends who struggled the most got tossed a lifeline. Some are back to work. Others found the promotions or changes of scene that they really needed. I am very very happy for them. They went through a lot, and it was absolutely time or past time for something to happen for them.

Problem is, I am feeling like the next wave, and I am not alone. I am among those who were able to stave off problems. Well, now my cushion is depleted and my needs are increasing. I have been able to ride out the last couple of years, no big deal. Now, I need the economy to be functioning with opportunity and jobs. My mind is impressively trained, but my resume is all over the place. I have never had a professional position, nor am I sure that being "professional" would be the best venue for my skill set. In continuing to pursue lucrative self-employment (I decided today to call my employment status Ungainfully Self-Employed), I need potential new clients to have the cash in their budgets to pay me.

And in talking with others, I am not alone in having run out of safety net. I am not in freefall yet, but there seems to be an awful lot of yawning asphalt far beneath my balancing act. We shall see how it all comes out, but I have friends who have gone from paying down the principle on the mortgage to applying for food stamps, and friends who paid every bill on time every time who have declared bankruptcy. I have a fabulous support network and skills at manifesting, so I am affirming that everything will fall into place nicely. I am just getting quite nervous in the meantime.

Monday, September 6, 2010

And the Default Answer Is....

I know a lot of people, mostly but not entirely women, whose default answer is Yes. If anyone asks them to do something for them, be involved in an event, coordinate details, give them a ride, help them out with some cash, they say yes. Sometimes they have elaborate rituals of being able to say yes without putting themselves at risk, like my friend who will loan anyone $20 if they ask for money. He figures the $20 is small enough that it isn't a burden if he never sees it again, and then if the same person comes back and asks for money again, he can ask about the repayment of the $20 and they tend to leave him alone.

I have friends who really fret about not being able to say Yes. They want to say Yes, you can crash on my couch for as long as you need it, Yes, I can loan you your rent money this month, Yes, I would love to buy a ticket to this awesome event and go with you, but circumstances prevent them from being able to actually say the Yes. It makes life hard for a single mom family to have a person staying rent free and abusing the thermostat with no move out date. It is impossible to loan a month's rent to someone else when you don't know if you'll be able to make your next rent payment. And if you don't have the money to spend on an evening out, then you don't have the money to spend on an evening out. It's a boundary thing, it's a people-pleasing thing, and often it's a I-have-to-earn-your-love-because-I-am-not-enough-in-myself thing.

In contrast, my default answer tends to be No. Surprise me, and I will probably say No. If I am under stress, or the suggestion sounds hard, or I don't know where the money to lend would come from or whether you will be absolutely reliable at paying me back by our specified (and perhaps signed document certified) date, I will say No. I have actually learned to mitigate my No-saying by asking for time to consider, since a flat No can shut the door to great adventures. I will say, No, not right now, or No, maybe later, or No, but let me see how this works out and I'll get back to you. I figure it is much easier to change a No to a Yes (and makes the asking people happier) than changing a Yes to No when they have already begun to count on your involvement.

I first realized my No-saying tendencies when my friend would ask me to add another person to my weekly food distribution. My first answer was almost always No. I would then think about why I said No, whether it was because I didn't want to deliver to another person or I was at full capacity or I didn't want the hassle of finding out whether the new person would be reliable at picking up, and discuss it with my friend. Often, she troubleshot my objections by figuring out a way to get someone else to do the delivery or vowing to find someone else to take the food if the original intended recipient didn't show, and in the end my No became a Yes. But I did wonder at my propensity for saying No to situations that looked like a hassle.

I have been complimented on my boundary setting and maintenance, and I will say that knowing how to say No has a lot to do with that. I also want to add that there is what I think is a separate process of saying Yes to Yourself, which is a way of affirming the self and also, in my opinion, learning to say No to others when saying Yes would mean sacrificing yourself or working against your own best interests and realistic resource limits. I think sometimes saying Yes and saying Yes to Yourself can be mixed up, but that they are quite different.

The solution for bringing it all into balance seems to be asking for time to consider, interestingly enough. Whether the default answer is Yes or No, putting a delay on decision making until you have time to think it over a little bit and really weigh the feasibility seems to be the best way to maximize enriching experiences and minimize commitments that do nothing but drain resources and add stress.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I'm Not Cake Deprived, Thank You Anyway

I eat a gluten-free diet, and have for four or five years now. My story as I tell it over and over again to curious folks is that I had various symptoms for years and my friend and roommate with celiac's said she thought it could be a gluten allergy and I should try going gluten-free to see if it helped. So I did. Within 3 days I was going through withdrawals which scared me, but gluten breaks down into an opiate in the body and causes a chemical addiction. After one week, I had twice again as much energy and it was like a fog had been lifted from my brain. After that, it was easy not to go back.

And for those who think cutting gluten out might be a worthwhile experiment, you have to go 100%, not 99%. Not gluten-free except for spaghetti-Os or vegetarian faux-meat. The entirety of the allergen has to be out of your system in order to know if being gluten-free is helpful for your health.

All that said, I am amazed at the deprivation discourse that surrounds being gluten free. There are thousands, perhaps millions of foods that are naturally gluten free. All veggies, fruits, beans, peas, nuts, and grains other than wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats, are naturally gluten free, as are meats and animal products for the non-veggies and vegans (although, to be fair, some folks with celiac's are sensitive to meat from animals fed wheat). Problem is, the American diet is incredibly wheat-based. Bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, cakes, pies, etc. abound in the American diet. I tell people who are going to cook for me about my dietary restrictions, and wheat is often too ubiquitous for them to realize they have made food I can't eat. "Is there any wheat in that?" I ask. "No, no wheat." "Are those crackers on top?" "Oh, yeah, they are. Sorry."

So what is in the special gluten-free section of the grocery store? Gluten-free options for baked goods and other traditionally wheat-based foods. Mixes for cakes, cookies, and brownies. Frozen pizza crusts. Rice pasta. Gluten-free bread made from rice or tapioca or potato starch. I am given gifts of gluten-free cake mixes, flours, and baking cookbooks. Friends and family email me gluten-free recipes, usually for sweets like flourless chocolate cake (I think I have 5 different recipe links for that one). Not that I don't appreciate it, but I don't feel deprived.

I don't need to continue to eat baked goods. I don't need to eat imitation wheat products, just like I didn't feel the need to buy imitation meat products when I became a vegetarian. I don't need to pretend to continue eating the traditional American diet. Instead, I am a culinary traveler enjoying Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Indian, and other rice/corn/bean based cuisines from around the world.

I often meet people who react to my dietary needs as if they are tragic, as they widen their eyes and ask what CAN I eat? Whereas I find that a little bit of restriction has actually made my diet richer and more diverse. I also think I eat healthier now, because I am more conscious of what I am eating and because many of the quick access processed foods are no longer an option. Not a bad thing.

Oh, and I am really really good at eating the filling out of a pie.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Possible New Nest Dashed to Ground

Today I went to check out a possible place for us to live. It is a property near a river, just over the Cheatham County line, 65 acres with several cabins and various residents living in those cabins as well as great lodge retreat and rental space. A community crone used to have pagan events out there, and it survives in stories even though no one really seems to know what is going on there now.

Someone found them on FB for me, and from the limited info they had posted I found the not-fully-constructed website (no wonder it didn't google well!) and phone number. I have been trying to contact them for about three months. Email was ignored, phone message was ignored, and finally I made another attempt a few days ago, left a "I want to know more about you" voicemail and at last got a call back. I made an appointment for 1:00, googled the directions along with asking on the phone for advice for any rural quirks, and felt excited. If it didn't lead to a place to live, I hoped it would at least provide the lead that would take us where we need to go.

I drove 45 minutes out there, found the place where the private gravel road ended and parked, hoping I had guessed right since there were no actual address numbers made available to me. After being creatively sniffed by the thumping dogs and taken under wing by a resident, we found the woman I was supposed to meet with. She was uncomfortable with me in a drifty kind of way, unsure what to say, and the absolute lack of rapport or chemistry was remarkable. I asked my questions, she gave me answers in a vague sounding voice and gave me a short tour of the great lodge. In under 20 minutes, I was back in my truck. No, they don't have any cabins available or coming available. The one that would be most likely to turn over comes furnished and rents for about double what we can afford (though I only mentioned not needing furniture, omitting the money bit).

It was a bust. A wholesale bust. I even asked if she knew of any other rental properties around, and she said no. On my way back to the highway I detoured to see if I could find some local papers with local classifieds. I took note of a few names I could google and picked up a free paper out of a stand. The free paper turned out to be worse than useless, and the papers I googled are owned by Gannett who also does the Tennessean. Their websites have now made it impossible to find the classified ads that are ACTUALLY IN THE PAPER, and instead link to national websites full of ads and NOTHING REMOTELY USEFUL. Frustrating!

I had such hopes that a situation with so much potential would either work or lead to something that does. I went ready to impress with my ability to help with the retreat center business and be an asset on property, even as I deliberately let others set the tone enough to keep from coming across too strong or trying too hard. In short, I pulled out all my skills, dressed ambiguously enough to pass as more professional or relaxed depending on expectation, and went in expecting good things. And got bupkiss.

I took the more scenic route home and chose not to stop and do errands along the way. It is time for a new plan on how to find the New Nest.

Monday, August 30, 2010

And Now For Some Blind Panic

So, obviously, I took a week off from blogging. Sorry about that, but my head just does not seem attached. Early last week I took off for the woods of East TN to try to get my head back on, and it lessened the panic somewhat, but I am still in a place of deep inward focus with strong internal pressure to get everything external figured out NOW. And I've been watching a lot of Eureka, the tv show. It makes me laugh, so it helps.

Ever read Harry Potter? In the last book, they have to figure out something impossible and keep repeating to themselves, over and over, what they have to find. That's my head: a home, a job, a car, maybe another car, a midwife.... I haunt Craigslist, wrack my brain for doable steps to the monumental, and begrudge myself down time like naps and reading books. In other words, still panicking.

On the flip side, I am so very happy. My partner and I both are. We look at each other every so often, smile real big and say, "Babies!" Belly rubs are crucial. I don't claim that any of it actually makes sense.

In a general progress kind of way, last night I emailed a resume to a Craigslist employer who wants exactly what I have to offer. And tomorrow I have a meeting with a potential housing lead. We'll see if something comes out of those. I am affirming ease of transition and manifesting plenty of divine appointments, perfect timing, and clear opportunities. I have written my spells for housing, cashflow abundance, overall family abundance, and the pregnancy and birth. It is good.

I much prefer being able to make sense of things (this is Philosofishing, after all), and this not making anything make sense due to emotional turbulence of happy-induced blind panic is disconcerting. Very disconcerting. But I will continue to trust my navigational instruments through the storm and hope the horizon reappears to my sightline soon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


We're pregnant! I've been waiting weeks to say that. Turns out we had to wait until the 6-8 week mark before it was safe to tell people, but now we are at 8 weeks and we can spill the beans. We are both very very happy, but scared. A friend of mine once told me that it wasn't worth waiting until everything was figured out financially, logistically, etc. because there is never enough money or stability or anything else. I keep thinking of the movie Idiocracy, where the smart couple keeps saying no, not this year, not in this market, while the stupid people just keep popping out kids. We didn't want to wait forever, indeed waited longer than I really wanted to, so now it's on and we will just figure it out. Because we are smart, resourceful people with a lot of love and support from our family and friends. Dammit.

But I will say I keep obsessing over where we are going to live and on what. We have to move, so I have been compulsively checking the Craigslist listings to see if there is anything in the right size and neighborhood that we can afford. They seem to be very few and far between, but they exist. I also keep checking the vehicle listings since my truck will no longer be adequate.

I've also gone out applying for jobs waiting tables. Cash money is good. Gives me income a little more reliable than my healing work. Haven't had any luck yet, but I decided I would just go apply and not be attached to the results. We'll see what happens.

I am so excited. Babies! This week they have little flipper arms and start to wiggle for the first time. Hey, flippers beat arm buds! Next up, fingers!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Women's Pleasure is Radical but Big Penises Aren't

I'm not much of a tv person, and am far from participating in anything like fan culture, but there is this one show that I have begun to really enjoy. Hung. On HBO after True Blood (which I thought was disgusting and will never watch again). But I like Hung. It's about a guy who used to be a sports hero, but now he is washed up in his 30s, his wife left him, his house burned, he's living in a tent in his backyard and in danger of losing his job as a high school coach. The only thing going for him is that he is Hung. Add a disorganized hippie woman pimp who is surprisingly courageous in an awkward way and a bitch of a wanna-be pimp, and it's a good show.

I think what I like most about it is the fact that it shows women genuinely enjoying sex. There is usually a sex scene, and at least in the first season, they were pretty hot. The women just have orgasm after orgasm. I don't know that I have ever seen much (non-porn) media at all that focuses on a woman's straight up pleasure. No agenda, no judgment of manipulation or sluttiness, no bones about it other than the fact that she is CHOOSING to have sex and is REALLY REALLY enjoying it.

The correlating criticism here is the explicit story that large penis size is crucial to a woman's pleasure and therefore bigger penises=superior men/sex/pleasure for women. And the show is even clear about the fact that he doesn't start out as any kind of super-lover, he is just an average joe with an exceptionally large penis. And honestly, the whole bigger-is-better myth is just harmful. Far more important is appropriate size for the orifice. Just saying.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Lot of Crossings

There seems to be a lot of death going around. So far in my community, two teachers, two mothers, one uncle, and one father have died in the last 2 months or so. And those are just the human deaths. It adds up to a lot, especially for those who were close to more than one of these folks.

I will say that some I had met, some I had not met, and I was not close to any of them personally. I have sent love and energy and prayers as appropriate, and stayed out of the way where also appropriate. I really feel for my friends and community members as they deal with their grief, and am supportive of them as they process.

That said, I am not bothered by the dying. People die, and thank God'dess for it, otherwise we would be stuck with all the consequences of every choice in this lifetime. The fact that given a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone (especially me!) drops to zero is comforting. No matter how good it gets or how terrible, it will end. Most of those who have died were in ill health and suffering. They have moved on to the Summerlands, where they no longer need be in pain.

I also have the sense of tremendous things moving on a very broad earthly scale. Energetically, things are shifting, and it makes sense to me that there are many who will choose to cross over rather than try to shift as they are now. It is a cleansing, a changing, a shapeshifting, a melting down and recasting some of the cogs of reality. If it is not appropriate to slip the gears you have in this life, it makes sense to leave and come back better equipped.

Again, I have great compassion for those in my circle who are grieving the passing of their loved ones, even as I rejoice in the no-pain and open possibilities now available to those who have crossed.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vasopressin Junkies? (RetroPosted)

(Date adjusted to when this should have been written, though I was quite late with it.) 

I enjoy sex. As a topic and as an activity. To that end, I read various Everything About Sex books, from the basic biology on down to the sex magic. I stockpile the random facts that make for great party conversations, the kind that stop the chatter in the whole room as everyone leans in closer to try to figure out what I just said about a penis. I know the pH of cum. I know how to make a woman ejaculate and what that ejaculate is made of. I know most of the myriad parts of the complete clitoris. I know what an os is and why not to ram it. I know why zinc supplements are especially good for men. You know, random but useful facts.

A recent factoid acquisition has sparked a conversation between my partner and I. Turns out, there is a hormone called vasopressin that is released in men during physical, especially sexual, contact. It gives pleasure and promotes bonding. My partner and I have been making jokes about getting a vasopressin fix through cuddling, since we do a lot of that.

Upon further contemplation though, my partner came up with the theory that maybe men are often the physical boundary pushers in relationships with women because the men want their vasopressin fix. They get more of an instant biochemical reward for making physical contact. I said I was not so sure, that it seems to me that there is also a competitive territory-claiming side, as if points are given for certain types of contact, the more intimate and personal the better. I think I even compared it to capture the flag, honestly.

Together, we came up with the idea that yes, society/stereotypes says that men (all men) are playing capture the flag (or Oklahoma Land Rush), but that the enforced myth of stoicism and unflagging put-it-in-a-hole-somewhere virility was probably covering up the emotional need men have of making those intimate vasopressin-rewarded physical contacts. I feel pretty proud of us.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Brooding (RetroPosted)

(Date adjusted to when this should have been written, though I was quite late with it.)

I lost this week. I don't know quite where it went, but I have been on the equivalent of a juice fast for media. I have been playing mindless games on my computer instead of reading my now glutted blog subscriptions and webcomics. I haven't updated this or any of my other blogs. I've been hiding.

Or perhaps I have been processing something big, or maybe just brooding. A lot. Okay, whatever I have been doing, it has definitely included brooding. When I think about things, it all seems hard and complicated and panic-inducing. When I meditate and connect with the Divine, it all seems like it is toodling along just fine, I only need to hang on to the wooden slats on the sides of the little red wagon and enjoy the suburban scenery. But then I go back to mundane life and brooding.

Perhaps the brooding is reproduction-induced. The term (as I understand things) comes from chickens who want to hatch chicks. They get broody, as in moody and anti-social, and just want to sit around working on their eggs. Perhaps people get this way, too. It is hard to make a conscious choice to have kids. They are expensive and life transforming, rather like skydiving. Only more permanent. Perhaps brooding is only natural. Perhaps stopping life in order to brood is a necessary process of slipping cognitive gears in order to better adjust to an impending complete and utter paradigm shift.

Interesting note: Brooding is associated with female animals like broody hens and brood mares, but is coded masculine when referring to human activities. Its feminized human counterparts include fretting and worrying. Just thought I'd point that out.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Pugnacious Fallacy of the Merit-Based World

I would love it if the world were truly merit-based. Or even if the world were genuinely merit-based, but with random shit that happens in an equal distribution to everyone. Or the random shit could even possibly happen to the people at the bottom of the merit-based world, because the people at the bottom have chosen to be there. I wouldn't prefer that those at the bottom get more shit, but if it had to be that way, I'd accept it.

Unfortunately, the world is not merit-based. The people on top, with the money, the power, the privilege, are not there because they deserve to be there. The people on bottom, with the poverty, the violence, the disenfranchisement, are not there because they deserve to be, either. Our society and world does not start from an equal playing field. All people do not have the same opportunities nor the same starting resources.

In US society, we like to pretend otherwise. We like to pretend that it is possible to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We point to the statistical minority who overcame the odds and take them as anecdotal evidence that upward social mobility is as easy as working hard and being determined. Therefore, everyone at the bottom who stays at the bottom is just lazy. Is defective. Deserves their miserable lives. We even like to castigate the poor for asking for help. We like to tell them to go help themselves. We prattle on about "a hand-up, not a hand-out," as if we know what they really need. You're hungry? Well, here's a job that you can't go to because you have no childcare and cannot afford to pay someone to do it, look how lazy you are, it's your own fault you're hungry, and you're a bad parent for failing your kids. In fact, you're a failure of a human being because you had kids you can't afford. Oh, you couldn't afford/didn't have access to contraception information? Well then you shouldn't have had sex. You're a slut, too.

In addition to loving to blame those on the bottom for their troubles, we also like to defend those at the top. How dare you feel threatened by an unknown male of obvious physical prowess walking behind you, a lone woman walking at night? That's discriminatory against men! Nevermind that there is a significant history of sexual violence in our culture, much of it perpetrated by men against women, within a culture that actively excuses rape. What? You, a woman, have been sexually assaulted? You must have been asking for it. It must be your fault for not being aware enough of your surroundings, or for wearing provocative clothing, or for drinking alcohol/doing drugs at a party. You should have protected yourself better. Surely it isn't your attacker's fault that they attacked you. I know you got hurt and traumatized, but I doubt it was even an attack. It was probably just consensually rough.

And then there are those who feel threatened by discourse and programs designed to point out/correct differences in power and privilege. What? There's an affirmative action quota that says so many people of color have to be hired, even if they have worse qualifications/test scores that me, a white person? That's racist! Our society isn't racist against people of color anymore, we have a black president! We live in a post-racial world! Quit discriminating against white people! What, you say that the systemic institutional discrimination against people of color for the last several hundred years has left their communities ghettoized and impoverished with inadequate schools and little to no inherited resources, so that correcting for it through affirmative action programs constitutes a small and inadequate measure of justice, but it is something? Well, that's bullshit because we live in a merit-based society. They're poor and undereducated because they are lazy sluts who just want to live off hand-outs, paid for by my hard earned tax money!

Countering all of these arguments is exhausting. The premise, the merit-based society, is a myth, but it is a strongly held one. It shores up all kinds of fallacious arguments that keep injustice from being seen and justice from being done. The defensiveness of the privileged gets old. The pugnaciousness of willing ignorance and blindness is infuriating. And there are times when I just refuse to engage.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tiger By The Tail

According to the Chinese Zodiac, I have been told by sources and the internet, this is the year of the White Metal Tiger. Which means that really, we all have that tiger by the tail and are just holding on in the midst of quite the wild ride.

Yes, the wild ride continues. I make a plan. Circumstances that premised said plan fall apart. I make a new plan. Do some research as to the premises. Looks good. Or maybe not. And then something gives and we are on to another new plan. My White Metal Monkey (birth year) brain just keeps frantically planning, like a screaming monkey tossing bananas on tourist heads. I stop to panic in between plans, of course. Sit down with spreadsheets and/or pen and paper. Do research. All kinds of internet research.

My Free Will Astrology for this week says:
If I had to give a title to the next chapter of your story, it might be "Nothing That's Happening Will Make Much Sense Until It Has Finished Happening, Whereupon It Will Yield a Burst of Insight about the Big Picture of Your Destiny."
So I should just chill. Not panic, just keep swimming. The projects will work out, or they won't. I will get the job I want, or I won't. The logistics of my practice will get ironed out and I can start really investing in it, or not. We will figure out our housing changes (yes, we have to move). We will figure out our vehicle changes (yes, I need a kid-friendly vehicle and my truck is not it). It will be what I think I want, or not.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Preying on the American Dream

(side note, this is my 100th Blog Post. YAY!)

I have a friend who was very unhappy in her job. She felt discriminated against due to her age, race, and gender, felt like she was always at odds with her bosses, and had multiple run-ins with management. She applied for promotions and did not get them. She made improvements to her work system and instead of being appreciated as useful innovations, they were slapped down.

Then she learned about a miraculous new company that could make her dreams come true. It was based on a co-operative marketing model, so that there was no one to hold her back. No bosses, no management, no need to apply for promotions. With their system and their fail-proof product, the sky was the limit. She could be getting $10,000 checks every week. Her race, her gender, her age would no longer work against her because she would only be working for herself. If she just has the right attitude and drive, she can attain everything she has dreamed of but been unable to manifest until now.

She jumped in with both feet. She was giddy with excitement. She told us all about this marvelous can't-fail product, how it sells itself. She gave us samples, practiced sales pitches, tried to get us to come to meetings. After a few weeks, she realized that the real money was not in selling the product, it was in selling the opportunity to sell the product. She started trying to recruit us as sellers. Slowly, after a month or two, after she had quit her job in a flurry of assertiveness, her enthusiasm began to wane. It was not the dream she had thought it would be. The promises turned out to be rather empty.

I could hate them for their sales. Co-operative marketing is really a modified and repackaged pyramid scheme, and they have a bad reputation for a reason. They sell a dream, the American dream. The dream that says most of the world is unfair, but if you come to us and join our system, you will suddenly make as much as you are truly worth and have all the wealth you have dreamed of but never had the opportunity to earn. The dream that says these inequities of discrimination can be bypassed and you can have your economic justice just this easy. The dream that says everyone else is hurting, but there is a way for you to prosper, and then you can bring in your friends and family and they can prosper, too.

They always seem to hold up a local leader, someone much farther up the pyramid but presented with a fisheye lens so they seem to be much closer. This person makes an awesome amount of money, tens of thousands of dollars each week. They are now your hero. They are now your role model--you, too, can be like them, live in a house like theirs, have success like they have success.

What gets left out is the unlikelihood of being like them. You are too late, you are already too far down the ladder. And you are probably not going to be all that successful at selling your mother, your brother, and your two next door neighbors this dream. This kind of marketing is a great way to lose friends. This kind of marketing sacrifices your relationships for your chance at the brass ring, even as the company touts it as a relationship enhancer because you are going to help everyone get rich.

It makes me angry because it preys on people's dreams. It takes advantage of the anger, the frustration, and the longing for economic success that many of us feel in the workplace. And I am sad when someone else in my extended circle of contacts approaches me about another can't-miss-this opportunity. They always have fabulous personal reasons for why it is such a great endeavor, and my heart breaks. I wish them the best of luck, but I will not be joining.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Gearing Up for Change in August

About 27 months ago (2 years, 3 months), I left my job with the family non-profit to pursue other projects. I felt great about it. I was sad to leave the work I found so meaningful, but was also excited to have more time and energy to devote to concerns a little more core to my values. That, and being able to be openly out of the Broom Closet and not have to make the 77 mile round trip commute anymore felt like a huge relief.

Since then, I have done many things. I have co-directed/produced/performed in 3 plays about gender. I have written 3 novels and a mess of poetry (that is an official unit of poetry, for sure). I write this blog and have recently begun a couple others, I have organized various retreats and special events, I have done some community organizing and activism, I do my energy work, and the list goes on. I have had a lot of failures and almost as many fiascoes. I have learned a lot. It is good.

And now, I am officially BORED. I got there. I am amazed it took this long. I sit to read, and am bored by the book. I read my blogs and feel restless. I exercise and wish it had a point. There is only so much media I can consume. I create projects, like drums and wirework and Easy Buttons, etc., but I have to stop and let the glue dry, and at this point we have enough invested in drums that as soon as we finish the next round of prototypes, we need to be focused on selling before making more.

Feeling this restless and bored is a great sign, I think. It is a sign that my health has improved to the point that I have the physical energy to feel like I want to be doing more than I am, rather than feeling grateful that I can lay in bed for half the day because I am in pain. I find that I keep going over my to do lists in my head, trying to accomplish more on my various projects. And the thought of getting an active, part-time, cash-paying job excites me.

Every year, things move in August. Shift happens. I can already hear the whine of the engines as they rev up....

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kids Are a Very Expensive Emotional Luxury

There are no logical reasons to have children. If we were all Vulcans, we would not reproduce and therefore die out fairly quickly. (Actually, I wonder WHY Vulcans have kids.) Not only are there no logical reasons for having kids, they also come with quite the expensive price tag. The (fully consensual) decision to reproduce is entirely emotional.

Having children is a tremendously expensive emotional luxury (and/or obligation, depending on the level of reproductive consent). If fertility control were perfect and widespread, kids would be nothing but a luxury. But because reproduction also comes with a biological imperative and our fertility control is not perfect due to flaws in access, education, and the technologies themselves, the luxury and cost of children is not something accorded only to those who explicitly consent to reproduce. One could argue that there is an implicit reproductive consent that comes with (consensual) heterosexual coitus, but given the number of after-the-fact fertility control technologies and the number of people who use them, it is clear that many dispute the validity of that implicit consent by their very choices.

Given this murky context of implicit and explicit (or coercive) reproductive consent, it is really no surprise that the moralists have colonized this issue. The idea then becomes that there is a MORAL reason why consent can often become irrelevant to whether any given person reproduces. Various religious dogmas support and encourage the production of more Christian or Jewish soldiers to populate the world. Many of those same dogmas also condemn the single and/or teenage mother for her pregnancy, couching it as the price of her slut-itude (the attitude and lifestyle of being a slut, in case you were wondering). Children then become both the goal of the morally righteous and the price of the morally bankrupt.

Of course, these musings only really apply to modern developed society. Before widely effective fertility control methods became available, there was a much closer coupling of the consent/coercion of heterosexual coitus to the consent/coercion of reproduction. Also, in agricultural and early industrial revolution society, children were of economic benefit to their families. They could work on the farm or earn wages at child labor (albeit in often horrific working conditions). (There is quite the possibility that kids were also an asset in pre-agricultural society, but I don't know as much about it.)

I do not condone nor advocate a repeal of child labor laws by any means, but it is worth pointing out that our current economic system is set up so that a child is nothing but a drain on their parents' resources until they become working age and begin paying their own way. Not only does it cost resources for clothing, food, housing, etc., but there are other costs as well. There are the childcare costs, the time and labor of potty training, and the general incompatibility of the corporate workplace (with some notable exceptions) to the demands of parenthood.

Furthermore, women carry the majority of the burden for childbearing. Not only is there is biological cost of gestation and labor (and possibly lactation), but there is also the added economic cost of missed work, a glass ceiling effect due to being shunted onto the "mommy track," and the "second shift" burden of being expected to shoulder the majority of the caretaking and housekeeping regardless of other breadwinning accomplishments.

Perhaps it is this very lack of economic viability of reproduction that will be our salvation as a species on this planet. Perhaps as the global levels of education for women and overall access to reproductive planning services and technology increase, and more of the world moves to a "developed" economy, the luxury of kids will become less and less of a viable choice and worldwide fertility rates will continue to fall until we move into negative population growth. Perhaps lessening our ecological footprint via negative population growth will be what keeps humans from destroying our global habitat.

Or perhaps we just need to realize our gross sexism and institutional hostility toward parents and fix it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Failure to Thrive?

I want to be a part of a thriving pagan community in Nashville. And honestly, I think we are not thriving. Of my peers, we are drifting away. In the larger community, there seems to be condemnation instead of compassion. At community events, there are cold shoulders more than warm hearts.

Why? Why are we not thriving? Part of it is economic. We are poor, tend to be too independent minded to really thrive in hierarchical work environments, and are hamstrung by the fact that so many of the networking and opportunity contacts run through the Christian churches. We have our choice of 1. pretend to be Christian for the benefits, 2. stay in the broom closet and just don't talk about religion, or 3. be open and risk being punished and discriminated against (and it is a significant risk with a likely bad outcome).We therefore often choose to be invisible and therefore have trouble finding each other, and when we do find each other, we are not as able to support each other as much as we might like.

Part of it may have to do with the burnout of clergy. Many of our older clergy have stepped aside, burned out, chosen not to actively lead anymore. In my personal circles, some left without having fully trained their initiates to a level where they could step in as leaders.

Part of it is politics, I think. A little too much of an insular mindset, combined with the distrust of outsiders who might out you, and added to an opinionated conviction in the superiority of your own personal practice, can combine into a very fractured community.

Whatever the contributing factors, though, I want to begin generating new energy, meet fresh faces, and enrich the pagan community. To that end, I have an iron or two in the fire for beginning a pagan discussion group at the UU. Something to generate energy, and to draw in interested folks. Something to get the wheels going. It would feed a growing need within me, to see this community strengthened and thriving.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Once Again Around the Bardic Circle

Once upon a time I was a part of a Bardic Circle (referred to as Bardic), that met every week to share the bardic arts with one another. It could be something we created, or not. It could be any format or genre, including prose, poetry, song, music, visual arts, crafts, etc. Technically speaking the crafts and visual arts are not bardic arts, but whatever. We met for over two years, and then circumstances changed and we petered out and quit meeting. There has been a lot of debate and discussion about why it petered out, everyone has their pet theory, but the reality is, it did and we all moved on to other creative projects, many of them very close to our hearts.

Now another community member (who was not a part of Bardic), has reopened the discussion of reestablishing the circle (it goes in cycles). This is where it gets interesting. Pet theories have been trotted back out about what went "wrong" or why we quit, and there is an email thread of various conditions and needs of various potential participants.

Bardic worked because the energy for it worked. We had one person who was unfailingly passionate about it and so did the poking about scheduling and venue each week. We had a default venue at that person's house, although if someone else wanted to host they were always welcome to, and we did change venues around. We had an informal food convention whereby there was food, sometimes dinner, sometimes more snacky. And when it was bedtime, the host would holler, "Get Out Of My House!" But really, it worked because it fed something in us, and so we kept coming back week after week.

I don't know if that hunger is still there, or, assuming it was satiated, if it has been reborn. The community is changing and has changed. Bardic was a big part of my seeing my peers about twice a week--once at Bardic and once or twice on the weekend. Now I see people maybe once a month. Some people I see three or four times a year. We are drifting apart, and the passion that has bound us seems to be fading.

Maybe it could be resurrected. Maybe it should be. Or maybe it is time for something new, instead of a rehash of something old. Something to ponder, anyway.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Calling On the Compassionate Pagans

There is drama in the community. Well, that's not news, there is always drama. Get any kind of independent minded folk together and there will be conflicts. As a friend of mine said, ask any two of us a questions and you'll get five answers.

That said, there is a particular drama that makes me sad. A woman in the community got in over her head. Waaaay in over her head, with too many dependents, too many crises, not enough help. And it has led to some horrific consequences and accusations. It has become clear exactly how sensational the local press is, just by reading the articles they wrote and comparing them to the incomplete "rest of the story" as told to me by a friend. It is a hard and terrible situation. Bad choices were made, and crisis seems to have led to additional bad choices.

Thing is, she is a part of our community. There are people who know her, who are friends with her, who ask for her nurturing help. I admit I have never met her, she is a friend of an acquaintance and an acquaintance of a friend, but I did have a friend who knows her call me to process and tell me the story. (Some would call it gossip, but really, I believe it is important to keep communication open in order to keep community strong.) Apparently there are those whom she called friend who have judged her, written her nasty messages, and turned against her in her time of desperate need.

She dropped her basket. She did not ask for the help she needed, she got in over her head, she made bad choices. That said, why has the community reacted with judgment instead of compassion? And why did her friends ask her to help them if she was so obviously crossing the line into bad choices? What kind of friends and community members do we have that no one pulled her aside and firmly told her to ask for help, or offered help, or made sure that someone who could did help?

What kind of community do we have when we turn against each other in our most desperate hours instead of standing strong in love and compassion?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Music Radio is Political?

There is a billboard campaign in town for Jack FM that says, "Two reasons we don't take requests: Kenny G." This ad bugs the crap out of me. For several reasons. To begin with, Jack FM has a centralized play format, meaning that it is not local nor customized. They go with a rebel slogan (Playing What We Want) and make themselves out to be a maverick radio station when really they are the McDonalds of radio. So I already object to them due to their format and marketing.

But this particular ad especially gets my goat. It uses a superiority complex to justify the station's lack of personality. Basically, they are saying they know better than their listeners, or at least some of their listeners, and are capitalizing on their target audience wanting to join them in feeling superior and elite to other listeners (who prefer or enjoy Kenny G).

Basically, they are taking their standardized format that does not allow for djs or locally generated playlists because it all comes from some centralized and non-Nashville-specific source, and then using their ads to justify not catering to their listeners because some of the listeners might have taste they object to. They are spinning it into a "people are dumb and we know better than you do," and using that as a selling point.

There is a reason I never listen to that radio station. I have been told by friends that it has about one good song in three (which isn't enough for me), but I also prefer something more local, community-oriented, and (gasp!) locally owned. Which is why I mostly listen to Lightening 100 (Nashville's Independent Radio) with some 102.9 The Buzz (Everything that Rocks) thrown in for my hard rock fix.

This is yet another one of those things, I guess, where the simple choices of my day are political. I choose not to assault my sensibilities with input from sources that are not up to my standards both for entertainment (I want 80-90% songs I like on my radio stations, thank you), and for localism and community politics. I sincerely hope all these little things ad up in the end. That's all I'm saying.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sharp Sticks are Poke-y Things

I thought that once we got post-eclipse, things would settle out. Well, yes, they are getting there, but in a very, well, poke-y and not really comfortable way.

Monday this week was a hard day. We found out we are not yet pregnant, and then I opened a piece of mail that I thought was yet MORE junk mail from one of my banks, only to discover it was an account overdrawn notice. On an account I haven't used in three months. In a panic, I rush to the computer and discover that yes, someone had hacked my info and systematically emptied my account over 4 days, via atms in NY. I was just so pissed.

I called first thing in the morning, made a very early trip to the local branch, and the short of it is that I should have my money back in 10 days. So really, very little harm done. I've been meaning to close that account and move my back up money to a savings account at my main bank, but for various reasons that no longer apply, I had put it off. Well, I think I got a poke with a very sharp stick to go ahead and take care of business on it. Time to clean up my financial organization.

The same seems to be true of other things, too. I have known that I NEED to get my personal space clear and clean and organized, and yet for months I have let it coast. I will do a big chunk of what needs to get done, and then get stuck on a step, and it never gets finished. It is time to buckle down and just get it done. I just don't want to know what that sharp stick would be if I don't, and I can think of several carrots that would make it worth the endeavor.

It just seems to very clearly be time to get moving and go make things happen. The dross is eager to fall away from the seeds, all I need to do is give everything a good shake in the sieve. I can do that. Should be interesting.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Don't Try Too Hard

I got some great advice this week. I took my annual trip to my aunt's tomato farm in east Tennessee to pick up the tomatoes for my parents' church's fish fry. Mom came with me, it turned into a crazy long exhausting trip made worse by machiavellian road closings coming back into town, and I spent most of the next day just trying to recover, but the best part was the tomatoes (I always pull a 25 pound box for my household) and seeing my aunt.

So we are sitting in her office in her tomato packing house which used to be the old garage but has now been enlarged multiple times so that it is now four times bigger than the tiny cabin she and her husband raised their two boys in. (She has dreamed of a new house for about as long as I can remember.) She asks about married life and all that, and the conversation comes around to having kids. I say that yes, we are trying, and she raises an eyebrow and says, "Well, don't try too hard."

I must have looked a little confused (what, she doesn't think we should have kids?), because she added, "Trying too hard to get pregnant can be miserable." And the more I think about it, the more I think she is right. We just need to relax. We've been wearing ourselves out. Haven't gotten to miserable, but we are getting quite tired and our backs and abs are sore. Of all the people I know who have gotten pregnant, the vast majority of them either weren't trying or were actively trying NOT to. Seems to me, we just need to relax.

I have put a PERFECT TIMING spell on the whole procreation thing, it's been on there for years. Well, I'm going to trust in Perfect Timing to see us through. It can take a few months for uteruses to get themselves sorted out for pregnancy, and as we have discovered, fertilized eggs don't necessarily a pregnancy make. So, we will just relax. We will have fabulous relations, enjoy ourselves and the incandescent happiness of our love, and continue to affirm the fact that we will welcome any children we have with open arms, open minds, and big protective teeth.

All in the perfect time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Offensive Stereotypes in Toy Story 3

I already spoke a bit about what I liked and what I found to be a masterful guilt-trip in Toy Story 3. Here are some of the other things I find problematic:

The toys are basically slaves that glorify slavery. They can run away (at their great peril) or continue to serve at the whim of their owner (child) without the ability to ever express their needs, wants, or feelings. And yet, they are "Good Slaves" in that they are devoted to serving and all they really want is the chance to be loved as they are and played with. Their first loyalty is always to their owner, and though they notice most everything going on around them, they can comment only among themselves (except under rare and dangerous circumstances). Some owners are bad to them and dismember them, torture them, play with them inappropriately due to immaturity, and though the toys feel terror (and possibly pain), they are powerless to express themselves or change the situation.

The "Spanish Mode" Buzz Lightyear is a horrifically over-the-top stereotype. He becomes an ardent and devoted lover, dances the tango, speaks in a lower, more gravelly (sexy) voice, swivels his hips, and is so much his own cliche that a single rose appears from nowhere in order to be held in the teeth of his lady of choice.

Barbie and Ken: Though soppily emotional, Barbie is given some brains, which is nice. Her guile seems to come naturally, but her straight intelligence is seen only in a single moment when it comes across as comic. Barbie outwits Ken, which would be an encouraging turn of events if Ken weren't coded as so feminine (and possibly gay) that it upholds the social hierarchy whereby a feminine woman trumps a feminine man. At one point Ken is called a "pink-noser," he is very into clothes, and writes in a "girly" manner that is temporarily mistaken as Barbie's writing. I would have no problem with his alternative gender-presentation if it weren't also being held up to a certain amount of ridicule.

As for the rest of the gender dynamics, the co-alphas (or alpha and sub-alpha?) of the toys are both gendered masculine (Woody and Buzz), and the rest of the characters are either gendered masculine or neuter other than the sidekick cowgirl (I forget her name), and Mrs. Potato Head. Barbie is outside their group, but still responds to orders given by the alphas. Also, the alphas are the most strongly cis-gendered, while the rest of the toys are given more quirky/gender-transgressive (and enjoyable to me) personality traits, like the (masculine) T-Rex that is always afraid and worried.

And finally, I take issue with the fact that the big bad guy, the teddy bear, spoke in a southern accent, activating the set of southern stereotypes. Apparently if someone speaks with a southern accent, they are more friendly seeming to your face, more likely to betray you behind your back, more likely to say nasty things in a friendly tone of voice, and more likely to be power-mad or to have rigged the system with boss politics. I think they only left out ignorant, but they did include wrong-minded.

I know that stories work off a certain amount of stock material, but still. I have problems with the use of these stereotypes and find them offensive.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Your Stuff is Alive, So Feel Guilty: Toy Story 3

I went to see Toy Story 3 this week. Everyone had told me to go. It got something like a 99% approval rating on some site my partner checks to see if movies are worth seeing. And it was definitely cute. There were places I cheered, times I repeated lines in my partner's ear, and times when I felt close to inching forward on my seat. I am not someone who spends much effort trying to predict plotlines, but I found this one to be remarkably fresh in many ways, as were the previous two incarnations, truth be told.

That said, I take issue with some of the underlying Toy Mythos: toys are alive, they have vivid feelings including fear and insecurity, and it is up to their child to satisfy all their needs for love and affection by playing with them often and in an appropriate manner. However, toys are unable to express any of their needs and feelings to the child responsible for meeting them, and must sneak about in order to pursue any of their own ends.

I find this a formula guaranteed to engender worry and guilt in anyone who cares about their toys (like kids). Are your toys okay? Do they feel neglected? Are you ever allowed to get rid of old stuff without feeling like you are betraying your (possibly real) toys?

Toys are things. I have read that modern toys that come with their pre-determined story line are actually detrimental to kids and the development of their imagination and creativity. Toys are tools for learning, for thinking, and for imagining, all the things that are going on while a child is playing. As the child develops, new toys become the tools of the hour and it is appropriate to let go of the sorting by color and move on to the number and word puzzles when the time is right.

I think what I object to most is the popular acceptance of the idea that inanimate objects could be people, when as a society we are having a hard time recognizing the humanity in Muslims and Hispanic immigrants, among others. We treat them as the less-than-human "other", and yet how many of us will now hesitate to throw away broken old toys for fear of the terrible furnace that awaits them at the dump?

And now I am really getting het up, and so will have to do a second post about the racism, and other prejudice in the movie as well....

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Where's My Butter?

One thought that I come back to over and over again in my weaker moments involves how many experiments I have run in my life, especially in the last 2 years, and how very many of them failed. I declared 2008 the Year of the Failure. In 2009, I upgraded to the Year of the Fiasco. My frustration levels have had a tendency to run rather high.

But then I just read a bit from Rob Brezsney that included the phrase "turning up our curiosity full blast" [Facebook link] and was struck by the thought that maybe I should reframe my failures as indulgences of my curiosity. Isn't that what an experiment is? A curious thought, and then action to satisfy that curiosity? I often think of myself as "constantly churning" as a way to describe my restless urges to try new things and see if they can be successful. (There are powerful connections between "churning" and the "mouse that fell into a bucket of cream", btw.) Perhaps I should also see my "churning" action as a measure of the blast of my curiosity, that it is so close to "full blast" that I end up "churning."

It makes for a nice shift in language. Being curious has all kinds of positive connotations, excepting what happened to that poor cat, whereas failed experiments and the continuous monotonous motion of churning come off rather poorly.

The only problem with shifting to a curious-based frame from an experimental or churning frame is results. Satisfying curiosity doesn't tend to imply any kind of result other than a bit of knowledge gained, whereas experiments create tangible results and churning makes for either butter or very frothy oceans and/or hurricanes.

So then really the full blast curiosity is what I have been exercising, gaining bits of knowledge and experience as I go. I can't say that I have butter or a hurricane yet, though. Would like them, but I haven't managed to produce them yet. I guess I will just keep sticking my whiskered nose into interesting new places and see if I find the secret passage to the Underbed (unfamiliar with the mystical magical realm of Underbed? Ask your cat.) or at least the magical formula for seeding hurricanes lost under the couch.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Obama Eating Crackers

My friend has a line that she uses when she finds someone attractive. She says, "I wouldn't kick them out of bed for eating crackers." Humorous, no? She was recently watching some video on the internet that showed President Obama doing something and she was struck by how good looking he is. She said, "I wouldn't kick him out of bed for eating crackers." And her wife began guffawing.

This story was repeated at a Fourth of July Pie Party (bring your favorite pie, savory or sweet), and the room erupted into laughter. It took some folks longer than others to get the joke, but in the end, no one was in doubt about the joke. My friend smiled as she admitted her obtuseness about seeing the joke when talking about Obama. It was only when her wife started laughing that she realized it was a joke.

I find this interesting because it means that in our social group (myself included), which is vast majority (presumed) white, the topic of President Obama provides an instant racialization of any topic. "Eating crackers" always meant eating a specific crunchy food that left crumbs in the bed and never going down on a white person as long as the "default" person involved was the "default" race--white. But as soon as Obama comes up, the default settings go off and racial innuendos become active.

I wonder if this Instant Racialization effect is true (for my social group) of any person of color, or if it is specific to Obama. Thinking back over other people of color in our social group who come up in conversation, I have not noticed any overtly racialized tone become active in conjunction with them. Then again, I am white, and I wonder what the POCs themselves would say. I will say, though, that the POCs in our social group are a) likely to "pass" as white (though this is not true of all of them) and b) well known as individuals. Since we are such a diverse community in terms of religious practice, gross income, and sexual and gender orientations, knowing each other as individuals instead of labels is crucial to our ability to function as a community, so I will argue that once someone is introduced around, they become a person much more strongly than they are their labels in the group the mind.

Obama, on the other hand, is not known as an individual; he is a symbolic public figure. As such, he represents many things, including various race issues. Because he is more removed from our social group than a direct member, it makes more sense that he would be held up as a symbol rather than considered more transcendent of his "identities."

That said, I am still uncomfortable with the joke. I admit that in the moment, I was one of the first to get it and one of the first to laugh. It was only after the party that I began to wonder why it was so funny, and why a slightly humorous comment suddenly became a hilarious joke due to its inappropriate racial subtext.

Post-racial society, my ass.

***I would like to add that I love using the full name and title "President Obama" since I proudly helped (a little) to elect him, but there is also something iconic about just "Obama" that I am also drawn to. I apologize and own my inconsistency in this post, but I mean affection and respect, not disrespect, in my use of each of the forms.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Slapped Down by the Universe

Embarrassed over my "Durrrr" answer to my five-year plan for money making, I sat down this week and spent several hours processing everything I needed to process in order to get over the hurdle and actually commit and get started to growing my energy healing practice. I spent several nights working on a website (which is almost ready to go live), I wrote campy ads for coffee shop bulletin boards, I developed a marketing plan (for better or worse).

I have spent 6 months kind of dithering instead of seizing my opportunity here, but I finally decided to get going and really commit. And then, after the first week of my being willing to go forth and make it happen, I find out that my opportunity is going away (probably). Due to a ridiculous situation and injustice being done to my generous friend the massage therapist, I am guessing there is about an 80% chance of no longer being able to use the office that I have been using for one week a month for the last several months. The reasons why the situation is changing has nothing to do with me, but it definitely impacts me.

My first reaction was to feel slapped down by the Universe. It has now been over 2 years since I left my "real job" to pursue other projects, and I have pursued a lot of them. I have directed/produced three plays, written several novels, done some community organizing and activism, experimented with various crafts with the potential for profitable sales, worked on community building, sent out feelers about various pagan ambitions and how might they be accomplished, and embroiled myself in a few possible entrepreneurial endeavors. And all this in addition to spending most of 2009 in bed while my spine realigned itself.

And yet, despite a constant churning and ambitious drive, I feel like the Universe has not reflected back the YES I have been looking for. I have tried so many things, put energy in so many different directions, looking for the one that is Right, knowing that when things are Right, I take one step and God'dess takes the next two for me, but it has not happened. Everything has been harder than I would have thought.

In the end, I called Dad. My father is a very practical, logical man who leads a faith based life. When we were building the nonprofit together, we really explored the ins and outs of living on faith together, and though our faiths are different, the process is the same. He was able to listen as I laid out my frustration, and then talk me through the various factors until I got to some clarity.

I have a plan now. But I will say, it has been a rocky last few days. I thank God'dess for my support network and all the people who love me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I Already Knew I Had a Keeper

Ever since the wedding, I have been asked repeatedly if the ceremony changed anything. Usually, the person doing the asking is a married person who fully expects that I will say "yes, surprisingly, getting married has changed everything, even though I didn't think it would."

Well, it hasn't. Really, it hasn't changed anything other than the fact that I have an insane urge to giggle inanely when referring to my spouse as a spouse and not a significant other. But then again, I made my decision to keep my partner long before we got married, so the wedding was not that final moment of irrevocable commitment I think it must be for so many other folks.

I also wonder, though, whether the "it changes everything" experience doesn't also have something to do with a set of expectations that are suddenly triggered by married status. I read once that even though young women are under tremendous social and psychological pressure to be the "perfect girl", young wives are under even more pressure to be the "perfect wife," as evidenced by the fact that the relatively few women who resisted the dangers of "perfect girl" syndrome are still likely to fall prey to "perfect wife" syndrome. (I think this came from The Erotic Silence of the American Wife by Dalma Heyn, but I am not certain.)

There do seem to be some very strong social messages about what husbands and wives are and do. I know that my married sister is constantly categorizing my relationship with my partner in terms of gender roles and/or in comparison to our parents' marriage, a rubric that she also applies to her own marriage. She seems bothered that my relationship with my partner does not fall into her proscribed boxes very well, and that many of the gender roles seem to be reversed or scrambled between us.

I do not think that I have many expectations for gender roles or a different way of life labeled "married." Instead, we chose to become "married" as a prerequisite for having children, not as a lifestyle or attitude change (other than those that will come with kids). So for now, every time I am asked the excited question, "So, did marriage change anything?" I just reply, "No, I already knew I had a Keeper."

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Own Rubric of Success: Play With It!

I have continued to ponder the cause of my deep embarrassment over not having any kind of coherent 5 year plan for my energy healing, as I posted about here. I quickly deduced that I did not have a 5 year plan because I felt lukewarm about my practice. I had several layers of self-judgment over the whole thing, including laziness, inability to think of it with right and left brains, being a dreamer instead of a planner, and fear-of-failure induced self-sabotage.

Delving beneath all that, I found two things that were really holding me up: I didn't know what the standard of success was, and I am good at energy healing without being passionate or fulfilled by it.

I am good at a lot of things, but I am really only passionate and fulfilled by pagan spaces and lifestyles, hence the goal of living in pagan community in the woods and being involved with projects that promote interconnection, sustainability, co-creation, and sacred pleasure. However, I do not have a coherent plan for making an income off my pagan pursuits any time soon; it seems like stretching to just acquire the land I dream about. A stop-gap or contingency will have to be applied in the meantime.

Of my current income opportunities, I can either choose to work on growing the highly-flexible pursuits I currently have in the works, including my energy healing practice, or I can drop them and get a regular job like waiting tables or working for a nonprofit. Neither option is one that will fill me with passion and fulfillment. That decided, it makes sense to pursue the one that offers the most flexibility and best pay, which is the energy healing.

As for the standard of success, I get to determine that for myself. Having come up through a rigidly structured educational system that I happened to excel at, I have been so accustomed to having an external authority define the rubric of success that lack of one has undermined me without my realizing it. I have now sat down and written my own goals and plan to define success within my practice, and that simple act has lifted a heavy weight off my subconscious.

I have now decided to cease being lukewarm and instead to play with growing my practice. I am not a professional; never have been. I'm not sure it is in my personality to work at being serious and impressive. Instead, I will be a free spirit who writes campy ads posted on coffee shop bulletin boards and uses a blogger webpage because it is the best I know how to manage. Who knows, I may even decorate my xeroxed ads with crayon!

Friday, June 25, 2010

I Don't Know How to Be a Spiritual Professional

In a business meeting this week, my friend asked me to describe my vision of my energy healing practice. She is a successful massage therapist and asked some very pointed questions about what I am doing to grow my own clientele. My answers were vague at best. I share her office, using the space for 5 days at the beginning of the month while she is at Chinese medicine school.

She asked where I saw myself in 5 years, and I, the obsessive planner, realized that I am more of an obsessive dreamer than planner. I have been checking off the marriage, babies, homestead list, but as far as my practice, I am a bit lukewarm about it for a variety of reasons.

When I first began energy work, I saw it as my gift from God'dess to the world, and I was reluctant to profit from it. I started giving it away, and then doing it for donations and trade. After a few years, I began to feel like the scales were unbalanced and started feeling okay asking for more in exchange. I eventually got to a place where I am completely okay with making a decent amount of money in exchange for my work; I have other gifts as well, and if this one funds my ability to build with the others, that works for me.

When I do the work that I do, I go into a deep spiritual state, not quite a trance, maybe more of a fugue. I open my intuitive and visionary senses wide and all kinds of knowledge, insight, and imagery comes through. I am very good at what I do, but really, it is not me. It is God'dess (or the Divine, for my non-pagan clients) who works through me, I am but a sensor at the other end taking note of the flow of information. Because it is not me, it is hard to connect doing that work with something as left brained as selling, promoting, and making a living from that work.

When I think of myself in five years, I will probably be doing energy work in some form, and it makes logical sense to have a decently thriving practice. But I somehow have trouble seeing it as central to my passions. It is more like something I do on demand, almost instinctively, like breathing or talking with God'dess. It is too much a part of me to think of it as a product to be sold.

I am not sure how best to strike a balance with all of this. I think I will prescribe for myself an abundant and fulfilling clientele ritual and then some basic advertising and the set up of trades with other healers. I'll let it flow from there while I continue to ponder.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I Love the Smell of Gender Parity in the Morning

I just read this NY Times article, Now, Dad Feels as Stressed as Mom, by Tara Parker-Pope. It says that men are reporting more conflict over their work-family balance, specifically that they are moving more into a nurturing father role from a solely providing father role, and so are more active in childcare and homemaking. This is bumping up against the classic workforce dynamic that does not expect men to have childcare and family-life demands that affect their availability as workers, or as the article puts it, assumes that men will be "largely unaffected by children."

One of my favorite bits of info from the article says that men are less likely to take advantage of flexible schedules and family leave, and more likely to take care of their family obligations in "stealth" mode. It conjures images of men sneaking out of the office to a Mission Impossible theme song, slinking along the row of cars in the corporate parking garage to their own carseat-laden vehicle. If the boss calls while they are at the doctor's office with the little tyke, he pretends he is out to drinks with an important potential client. "Hem, hum, yeah, I, uh, need to get back to this. Don't want to blow this deal," he mutters and hangs up the phone before his kid starts the usual post-vaccination wail.

Amusing mental images aside, I am encouraged to see more recognition of the shifting gender roles and the upswing of acknowledgment that more and more men are tapping into their nurturing natures and taking on more responsibility around the house to become more equal partners. I am bothered by the tone of the article overall, though. It starts on a campy note with the title, and goes on to cite facts about men and imply accusations about their women partners who doubt they are really contributing as much as they think they are. It comes across to me as a bit self-congratulatory on the part of the men, and seems to perpetuate some war-of-the-sexes thinking.

Instead, I would have preferred if the article took a more philosophical view of the shift: Look, these things are changing. Gender roles are shifting. Here is evidence that some men are making some of the shifts into the home that will balance some of the shifts out of the home and into the workforce that women began 50 years ago. No one has figured this all out yet, but isn't it cool that some of the hard work of social parity between (among) the genders is cooking along?

So I will file it away into my "hopeful signs badly interpreted by mainstream press" folder and move on, encouraged.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reviewing Transition

I recently got an email restarting the Transition process and looking into Steering Committee type stuff in town, asking for all those still interested to reply. And I hesitated. I still have not replied.

I was excited about it several months ago, but I feel a little sour about it now. I wonder if perhaps our conflict of vision is what caused us all to walk away/take a break for these several months. I think I was one of the main conflict headers. I think that Transition is cool stuff, is necessary, is win-win, and I want to see it succeed. I wonder if my participation would hamstring it, because I would always be questioning some of the paradigm that seems to get a lot of people really fired up about it. I have seen a tendency for those excited about Transition to be folks who believe in the Peak Oil Apocalypse and the Enlightened Few versus the Ignorant Masses, and those are both Mytho-Realities that I actively question and choose not to live.

With my questioning, I do not want to sabotage the very fervor that would lead to Transition success. Or, as the voice of an old friend and activist whispers to me, perhaps they need my voice questioning those paradigms that keep them limited, so that Transition can be successful. My friend would tell me that my input is highly valuable and I would be an asset to the committee instead of a hindrance. I admit to having a little less confidence than that.

Relatedly, I find that my focus of what I want to work on is changing. My projects seem to be contracting into the personal: baby-making, alternate streams of income via drums, growing my healing practice, and acquiring land to raise our family on. On the one hand, I absolutely believe in the bigger picture and its relevance to all our lives. On the other hand, my kids and partner come first. I am conflicted about it a little, but then again, I can feel myself relaxing into my own advice to other friends who became parents before me: You are doing what you can right now, and that is enough. There is a reason most activists are the young and old. They have the time and energy to work on the bigger picture, while the parents are raising the next generation.

I'll have to keep pondering the Transition question. I think I will call a friend who is still involved and see what she thinks about my contributions and how they will play out in the politics of the thing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Holding Hope with an Open Hand

Well, we're not pregnant this go around, so we have collapsed the probability wave of Shrodinger Pregnancy 1.0. Can't say the redo is any great hardship (that much pleasure is great for stress relief!), though the story of conceiving right away was quite tidy and appealing. However, we have had a magical "Perfect Timing" on the whole kids thing for years now, and just because the story would have been tidy does not mean it was perfect timing. Ego makes way for spirit, and that is the way I prefer it, honestly.

I am a little surprised how quickly the disappointment wore off. Yes, it was keenly felt for a few hours, but come morning life just seemed to go on. I feel calmer now that I have a longer perspective on this. I also now understand the cultural norm of keeping pregnancy tries private until everyone is "sure" it took. It is just too difficult to have that many hopeful conversations and then have to give disappointing news. I have never been all that great at keeping my trap shut, though, so we will see exactly how private I manage to stay. I am blogging about it, after all.

It can also be fitting that we conceive after the fertility ritual of the flinging of birdseed at the feast, too. A symbol of community support for our family is highly appropriate. But this time I will hold my attachment to an immediate conception after birdseed flinging loosely, in an open hand, so that it will not be so hard to let go of it if that is divine will. There is, of course, also the issue of the astrological sign of our offspring, and I cannot know nor truly predict what that should be (even if I do amuse myself with calculating sun signs speculatively). Again, Perfect Timing is invoked, and I will trust my spellwork to be effective.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

There are Benefits to Lack of Copyright

Have a fabulous TED talk about the benefits of no copyrights in lieu of a post. This says more than I could on the subject and is fascinating!

Sadly, Blogger will not allow me to embed the damn thing, so have a link. I'm sure TED will appreciate the traffic anyway. *blows raspberry at blogger*

Johanna Blakely's TED talk: Lessons from Fashion's Free Culture

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Wedding Feast

Well, yesterday we had the Wedding Feast to make up for the festivities we had to cancel due to the flood. It turned out quite well. For the wedding, we had 107 people RSVP that they were coming, and it was overwhelming. We had projected in the 50-75 people range, and were only inviting close friends and family, so we were rather stunned to have over 100 people say they were coming. Aside from the "where are they going to park?" question, we just felt very loved to have so many people want to come.

Then the flood happened, and the reschedule, and I never knew how very many people travel through the middle of June. At first all we seemed to get was negative RSVPs, but then the positives started rolling in. My partner's parents really went all out to get as much of the extended family there as possible. It worked, since so many of them are quite local. My extended family is all over the south and out west, so none of them came. All told, we had about 60-70 folks there, in the heat, to picnic/potluck and wish us well.

My Dad had asked what the agenda for the whole thing was, and I told him I wasn't sure. But in the end, we ate, and then we passed around cups of flower nectar and did toasts and blessings where two of our friends sang songs they had written for us, another friend played a song on the ipod, and others said a few words. Then there was the "Pelt the Newlyweds" birdseed moment (it felt like a tiny hailstorm, and our skin was so damp from the heat that the seeds stuck to our skin in little chains of fertility along all the edges of our clothing), and then we cut into the cake my sister had made. This cake was a gluten-free mix, transformed into a lemon raspberry jam cake with raspberry whipped cream over the top and fresh strawberries and mango bits confetti-ed over the top. It was fabulous!

As a final wedding act, after everyone had left and it was just the two of us in our silks and pearls, we took our dried flower and ivy crowns that we had worn in the wedding down to the river. We kissed and then tossed them into the lazy green water. They landed next to each other, and it felt just right. Then we drove home, with the rest of cake carefully balanced between us, and took a long cold shower. It was heaven.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Obsessing over Shrodinger's Pregnancy

I have got to let go of my obsession with Schrodinger's Pregnancy (like Schrodinger's cat, we have placed egg and sperm in a closed womb. Given a non-menstrual--but not necessarily without bleeding--womb and lack of positive pregnancy pee test, the womb is simultaneously pregnant and not pregnant). I am driving myself nuts. Time will sort it all out. I'm just not a very patient person. 

So, instead of obsessing over early pregnancy research and encouraging my partner to engage in yet another round of muscle testing, I have been obsessing over drums. Making drums, finding the right materials for making drums, making last minute runs to evil national chain stores that I have sworn to not give money to in order to find out if they, unlike their fellow box-store competitors, have the right kind of fabric, only to discover that in the many years since I went in there, they have taken out their fabric section all together and the whole compromise of my ideals by setting foot across the air conditioned threshold was an utter waste of time.

Realizing how silly I am being, I have laughed at myself and taken my obsessive behavior to an appropriate arena: very silly computer games. I have a couple that I enjoy that involve matching three objects of the same color, and once the match is made, they disappear. They involve shiny things, tranced out music, explosions and shooting things, so this seems like a harmless way to take out my angst. Once the angst is worked out, I can't imagine I would keep playing, because they do get boring to a non-obsessing not-silly mind. 

The only challenge now is to get myself out of this loop before my dreams start involving matching three similar objects to make them disappear. It's odd when I'm having one of those back-in-high-school dreams, and I suddenly line up three desks and they go poof! with an appropriate chiming sound. Very odd indeed.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Drumming for Athena

We've been getting into drums lately, my partner and I. We are excited about playing them, dancing to them, and making them. My partner is such a wonderful perfectionist that drum-making might be just right.

As part of the new obsession with drums, for the last few weeks we have gone to the Parthenon at Centennial Park and drummed on the steps with a friend or two. For those who didn't know, yes, there is a full-scale accurate replica of the Parthenon in the middle of Nashville. It is made of a sandy colored concrete, but there is a nicely tarted up Athena inside and it is intact, which is much more than I can say for the original (which I have also been to in person. I like Nashville's better, honestly.). 

We have been going in the late afternoon and staying until almost full dark (or after). Between my partner and I we have 5 drums from tiny to medium large, good for hauling in and easy to switch sounds back and forth. Our friends bring instruments, too, so the sound is always changing. Sometimes one person will play three or four drums at once, all cradled in one lap.

This past week I found myself just wanting to absorb the sound of the drums. I lay down on the giant outer step and stared up the columns to the night sky, the pink glow of the city limning the scattered clouds. There is something wonderful, something that speaks to my pagan soul, about drumming on the steps of the temple. At one point we chose a spot on the water nearby and played to the ducks (I love ducks, they wiggle their tail feathers and it makes me laugh every time), but I didn't feel that same satisfying charge as I do when we are in full physical contact with the temple itself. 

I know, I know, the city or whomever would love to say that the Parthenon is just a gimmick, left over from the World Fair, but Athena has been consecrated (I have heard the story from multiple bragging pagans around many campfires, each claiming to have been the One to do it), and there is Power there. I have gone and sat at her feet, just to have a chat. It feels right, it is right, to live in a city with a Goddess Temple at its center, and I am gratified to play drums on the stones of the Temple.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Is Too Such a Thing as Little Bit Pregnant *blows raspberry*

Well, at this point we are waiting. We may or may not be pregnant, and it is too soon to confirm or deny via pregnancy tests. Muscle testing says yes, but emotional charge can make those results a bit murky. 

This is such a strange experience. I have heard that nonsense about how a woman can never be "a little bit pregnant" and I would like to say, here and now, for the record, that OF COURSE SHE CAN. Because if we are currently pregnant, then we are definitely a little bit pregnant. Once we are more pregnant, then there will be more consequences like outwardly visible physiological changes and a definite time line for the life changes we need to make, like moving into a house that can accommodate kids (our goal is to be moved and settled by 6 months along). But right now, we are such a tiny little bit pregnant (if indeed we are at all) that we cannot tell. 

Damn all this waiting anyway. Perhaps I should blame it on public education, but I never knew this much flex time was built in to this whole process. I thought a few days, maybe, but not 2+ weeks! And in doing some of the research about very early pregnancy (hoping against hope that I would find a tell tale surefire sign of knowing yes or no RIGHT NOW), I found out facts that I had never stumbled on before. 

I learned that it takes a whole 10-14 days for fertilized eggs to move down from the fallopian tubes where they got fertilized and implant themselves to the uterine lining. When this happens, a woman can have implantation bleeding. Which means that she could see blood about the time she is supposed to be having a period, think she is just having a weird one, and not even know she is pregnant until she skips another period in another month. Also, there is no testable amount of the pregnancy hormone that the pee tests test for until after implantation. So no hoping we are special and have extra hormones racing about that will give us an early positive. Grr. 
I think I am partially so impatient about all this because the "don't get pregnant/don't get a girl pregnant" messages were always so binary. "Have unprotected sex even once, and then voila! here comes baby!" Well, no. First, there were the 3 weeks we waited for ovulation, and well, that was a lot of baby-making sex with no baby to show for it. Then, we think we may have something on the line, but it's not like it thrashes about and tugs on the line as soon as it takes the bait. No. Two, three weeks go by. We think maybe we are, maybe we aren't. Everyone asks us as a first greeting, "So, do you think you are....?" and we have to answer, "too soon to confirm...." 

There needs to be a new safe sex message out there: one that says "You will be in pregnancy limbo for WEEKS and it will seriously affect your mental health." That would be a good one. And more accurate, honestly.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wicked Geisha

My extended social circle includes a friend who has been involved in a group called Wicked Geisha. I have no first hand knowledge of them, and do not want to comment on them and what they do specifically, but I find that the name alone sparks my own pondering.

Firstly, my friend is white and appears to be non-Japanese, as were the other participants I saw in a random sampling of photos. This raises my own concerns of cultural appropriation. I can say nothing definitive about how they specifically are or are not respectful and/or appropriating, but I feel I cannot go any further with this post without voicing that generalized concern. I sincerely hope they are appropriate and not appropriating, but I do not know one way or the other.

That said, the name Wicked Geisha intrigues me. I was reminded of this when reading this Sociological Images post about an example of how Asian women are marketed according to a stereotype of submissiveness. That post links this submissive stereotype with the idea of a geisha, described as "a Japanese woman trained in the art of serving and pleasing men."

So what, then is a "wicked geisha"? Is a geisha inherently wicked because of her sexual availability and prostitution, such that "wicked geisha" is a tautological, redundant term? Or perhaps a geisha who is extra good at being a geisha is extra deserving of the title of "wicked"? Or is a "wicked geisha" a geisha that twists or perverts the role of geisha? Is she perhaps not really serving and pleasing men, but doing something wicked to them instead? Is she an evil geisha, or an anti-geisha, like an anti-christ? Or perhaps she is really a he, or a lesbian, or engages in some other form of gender/sexual transgression. Could it be "wicked" in the northern US slang sense, as in, "wicked cool", meaning just extra awesome?

Since geishas are portrayed as transgressive within a Western cultural context in that they are a form of prostitute and that they go against feminist ideals since they are all about service to men, the descriptive "wicked" says that these particular geisha are extra transgressive. The question, though, is whether that transgression is a greater degree of their original offense, or a perversion of their original definition/role.Or could this use of language be about a different meaning altogether, like the slang usage of "wicked"?

Definitely an interesting question. Any thoughts? Any other interpretations of the phrase Wicked Geisha?