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.