thetatiana: (Default)
The Toilet Paper
A Satirical Allegorical LDS Feminist One-Act Play by Sister Anonymous

Scene: A classroom in an LDS chapel, day. BISHOP PATRIARCHY is cleaning the chalkboard. He is dressed in a bleach-stained BYU t-shirt and a pair of jeans.

Enter SISTER FEMINIST.

SISTER FEMINIST
Hi, Bishop Patriarchy!

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Oh, hey there, Sister Feminist. Thanks for coming out to help clean the chapel.

SISTER FEMINIST
Oh, no problem. Hey, I was just in the women’s restroom, and I noticed that we’re out of toilet paper. Do you know where I could find some more?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY has returned to cleaning the chalkboard.

SISTER FEMINIST
Bishop?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
What? Oh, sorry, I thought you were talking to somebody else. I just tuned out at “women.” What did you say?

SISTER FEMINIST
I said we’re out of toilet paper in the restroom.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Oh, no, we’re not. I was just in the restroom, and I checked. There’s plenty.

SISTER FEMINIST
You were just in the women’s restroom?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Of course not. Why would I go into the women’s restroom?

SISTER FEMINIST
Oh, I see where we’re getting mixed up. I was talking about the women’s. We’re out of TP.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
I don’t think that can be right. We usually keep extra rolls on the lid of the toilet tank. If you check there, I’m sure you’ll find some.

SISTER FEMINIST
I already checked. We’re completely out.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
They may have fallen on the floor.

SISTER FEMINIST
I checked on the floor, too. I checked the whole bathroom.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
I’m sure there’s got to be a few extra rolls in there. My wife’s never told me anything about running out of toilet paper.

SISTER FEMINIST
Well, your wife usually uses the family restroom, since she’s got the two little ones to wrangle.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Good point. But my daughter Jennifer never said anything about any problem, either.

SISTER FEMINIST
You have a daughter named Jennifer? I’ve never met her.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Yep! She’s a sophomore at the Y.

SISTER FEMINIST
THen she probably attends a BYU student ward, and uses their bathroom. I’m talking about our bathroom, in this building. I only noticed because I needed to use it, so I came to find a roll or two to restock while I was in there. Where do we keep the extra rolls?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
In the utility closet.

SISTER FEMINIST
Great! Thanks!

Exit SISTER FEMINIST. BISHOP PATRIARCHY returns to cleaning the chalkboard.

Enter SISTER FEMINIST.

SISTER FEMINIST
Hey, Bishop, do you have the key to the closet? It’s locked.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Yes, I’ve got it right here in my pocket.

SISTER FEMINIST
Great! Can I borrow it really quick?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
I’m afraid not. The keys are my responsibility as the bishop. It’s one of the responsibilities of my calling to take care of them.

SISTER FEMINIST
Oh, I see. Well, maybe you should make a copy of the closet key and give it to Sister Collins. She’s the Relief Society President, after all, and she uses that bathroom. That way we could keep the bathroom stocked without having to bug you every time something ran out.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Already done!

SISTER FEMINIST
Really?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Yep! Sister Collins has a key to the closet.

SISTER FEMINIST
But I just passed her in the hallway, and she said she couldn’t open it, so I had to ask you.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Yes, that sounds right. She has the key to the handle lock, but I have the key to the deadbolt.

SISTER FEMINIST
Oh, I get it. So both of you have to be there to open the closet? I guess that’s a good way to make sure no supplies are wasted.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Oh, no. I’ve got a copy of the handle key, too.

SISTER FEMINIST
So why give Sister Collins a key she can’t use?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
It’s part of the responsibility of her calling.

SISTER FEMINIST
Huh? Well . . . never mind. Can you come unlock the closet for me so I can get some toilet paper?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
I don’t think you need to worry about that.

SISTER FEMINIST
What?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
There’s a custodian who looks after all of the buildings in our stake. If the toilet paper has run low, he’ll take care of it.

SISTER FEMINIST
Well . . . can I get his number?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to give out his personal number.

SISTER FEMINIST
But if I don’t call him, how will he know that we need him to come restock the bathrooms?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Well, you know, employees of the church approach their jobs just like callings. They’re entitled to the guidance of the Holy Ghost to help them know how to best fulfill their responsibilities.

SISTER FEMINIST
So . . . the Holy Ghost is going to tell him that we’re out of toilet paper?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
The Lord loves us, Sister Feminist, and he’s ready to help with even our smallest concerns and needs.

SISTER FEMINIST
But wouldn’t it be more effective . . . or at least faster . . . for me to call the custodian, instead of waiting for him to receive revelation on our bathroom?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
The Lord will take care of it. Have faith.

SISTER FEMINIST
But, Bishop, I need to pee! Today!

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Sister Feminist, I know it’s Saturday, but please remember that you’re in the house of the Lord. This isn’t really the place to be discussing bodily functions, even normal, natural ones.

SISTER FEMINIST
I don’t want to be discussing it! I want to be doing it! [Sighs.] Well, hey, I have an idea. If it’s really so much trouble to keep the restroom stocked, I’ll just get on the ward Facebook page this afternoon and ask the Relief Society sisters to each bring a roll or two from home. That should keep us supplied for a while.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
I really don’t think that’s appropriate.

SISTER FEMINIST
Why the heck not?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
This is the Lord’s church. It’s organized according to His design. There are proper channels that need to be used. Organizing your own little group to try to “fix” things that you think are wrong with the church isn’t exactly what I’d call “sustaining your priesthood leaders.”

SISTER FEMINIST
Why would I want to support priesthood leaders who can’t take four seconds to let me have a roll of toilet paper? You know what? Forget it. I’ll just take a roll out of the men’s restroom.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
You can’t do that!

SISTER FEMINIST
Why not?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
It’s the men’s restroom.

SISTER FEMINIST
It’s Saturday. It’s not like there’s anyone in there. I’ll knock before I go in, just in case.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Sister Feminist, I understand you have some . . . well . . . “liberal” ideas, and I admit that you sometimes bring up important points, but that’s just a little bit extreme for me. I know I seem old-fashioned, but I like having separate restrooms for men and women. This whole free-for-all unisex bathroom idea just doesn’t fly with me.

SISTER FEMINIST
I have no problem with separate bathrooms! I’m normally a big fan! But right now the men’s is the only one with any toilet paper!

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
I’m afraid that’s just not true. Men and women are equal in our church.

SISTER FEMINIST
Saying that doesn’t provide me with toilet paper! [Mutters.] Although writing it down might . . .

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
What was that?

SISTER FEMINIST
Nothing.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Well, I’m glad we had this conversation. How’s it going with your task of vacuuming the cultural hall? Would you like some help?

SISTER FEMINIST
You can find someone else to do it, because I’m going home to use my own bathroom.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
You’re . . . you’re leaving the church?

SISTER FEMINIST
What choice do I have?

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
You always have a choice, Sister. Always. And right now, I think you’re choosing to be offended when no offense was meant.

SISTER FEMINIST
I’m not offended! I’m mad. I’m mad because I need to use the bathroom, and for that I need toilet paper, and you’re the only person I’m allowed to ask for help and you’re not even acknowledging my problem! If I can’t get toilet paper here, I’m going to have to look elsewhere.

Exit SISTER FEMINIST.

BISHOP PATRIARCHY
Remember that God loves you! You’re valued! Come back any time! Aside. I don’t understand why so many sisters keep leaving the church. Maybe we need to start assigning some talks on humility.

Exit.
thetatiana: (Default)


This came up in a recent Facebook discussion in the Feminist Mormon Housewives group. Some people felt that using the word “know” about our belief in God was always (or nearly always) inappropriate. I posted to go on record that I do know, that my belief is at the same level as things about which we customarily say “I know,” such as I know my son’s birthday, I know Puerto Rico exists, I know the Earth is a spheroid, not flat like a pancake, etc. Several people were curious how I could know God exists, and asked me to explain. So here’s my explanation. I warn you, it’s long. Here’s your chance to get out now and quit reading.

Maybe before I launch into this, I should give a synopsis for the tl;dr people. After all, your time is also precious. So here it is. My spiritual experiences, though subjective, have been at least as repeatable, reliable and unmistakably real to me as other perceptions I’ve had in this mass hallucination we all call “waking reality.” A lifelong study of science and metaphysics leads me to have perhaps a different view of this brain-construct that we label as “waking reality” than nonscientists may have, as well as a healthy respect for the vastness of human ignorance. This is not an attempt to persuade anyone else of the existence of God. Obviously, other people will be convinced, (if they are,) by their own subjective experiences and not by mine. But I think what I’ve seen constitutes an important area of inquiry that perhaps is worth an extension of science to explore. After all, subjective experiences make up a large part of our reality. As great as science is, surely we can benefit from studying the enormous amount of personal data that we each receive, even those observations that are explicitly excluded from the excellent system of gaining knowledge that we know of as “the scientific method”.

So let’s unpack how this came about. The first thing you have to know about me to make my explanation make sense is that I’m a huge nerd. Since I was about 2 or 3 years old, I’ve been trying to figure out how everything in the universe works. I read science for laymen books from earliest childhood. I experimented with physics all the time. For example, by jumping on my parents’ bed while holding my stuffed dog Poochypoo, releasing him at the top of the jump, and watching our relative location on the way down, I learned that all things fall at the same rate regardless of their weight. That was something that shocked most of my Freshman Physics class at Engineering school. They were 18 when they learned that, and I was about 4. So picture someone truly nerdy like this.

I learned about inertia from watching how balls roll in wagons when the wagons start and stop. I learned about electricity from batteries and light bulbs and circuits with switches, and little DC motors (not to mention a good many zaps to my hands) when I was still a young kid. I had tons of science kits and experiments. I used to sit in the tub by the hour and make waves and watch the shadows on the floor of the tub to see how waves behave and interfere. I read Scientific American from cover to cover every month starting around age 16. I looked up any words I didn’t know, and puzzled over anything I didn’t understand until I could easily read the articles on any science subject. I studied Electrical Engineering, Modern Physics, Astronomy, Cosmology, Computers, and everything like that I could find out. My degree is in EE. My life’s work has been designing, programming, and implementing control systems on industrial automation. My whole life has been dedicated to a deep understanding of science and the universe.

I was raised Catholic but never believed it. From high school to about age 36 I was a philosophical materialist, a scientist, an atheist, and my worldview was entirely dictated by science. I never expected any change from that position. I read hundreds of books about science (I read for fun and I’m a readaholic.) I loved learning about stuff like quantum physics and pondering the different interpretations of quantum electrodynamics, and trying to wrap my head around them. (The Copenhagen interpretation, which most scientists today follow, leaves a lot to be desired, as you may know. The alternates all also have bizarre features which are unsatisfying. Don’t misunderstand: the theory is proven to 15 decimal places. Just nobody knows how to interpret what is actually happening on the quantum level.) So that’s something to know about science that most nonscientists don’t realize. The things we know best about reality are just bizarre on the smallest, most basic levels. They are certainly, definitely, totally real. They just are super weird and difficult to believe or wrap your head around. The things we “know” on a macro level, our own level of perception, are quite often illusions.

For instance, Newtonian physics is very intuitive. There’s fixed space in 3 dimensions and time that marches on the same all over. Though this view represents a huge revolution from what people believed before that, from Aristotle and so on, it seems to suit humans very well. We can make sense of it, and we can believe in it. Trouble is, the universe just doesn’t match up to it very well. It kind of does in the main parts, but there are observations that don’t fit. The moons of Jupiter seem to gain and lose time in their revolution around their huge planet. But the time changes don’t rely on anything happening on Jupiter itself, but rather on how close or far away the Earth is to Jupiter at the time of observation. Light has a velocity, it seems, and the really weird part of it is that regardless of our relative motion, light always is observed to go at the same speed. That just plain doesn’t fit in classical Newtonian physics. Electromagnetic waves, as Maxwell found, don’t behave in classical ways. Light acts like particles, thought Newton, but then a very simple thing like partial reflection off the surface of glass, can’t be made sense of with particles. So that’s okay, we can decide it’s waves and not particles, but then when you turn the light down very dim, a photomultiplier just sees one particle at a time, or else none. Not a steadily decreasing wave energy dimming. Whenever you look, there’s either a whole photon there or there’s not. It’s never a matter of anything waving. So we had to decide we don’t really know what to call it, just we know it acts thusly (according to the equations). Whatever is happening on the low level defies our intuition, our sense of how to make sense of the world, which comes from stuff that happens at our level and our speed, not on a micro level or near the speed of light.

And, in addition to what we know about the universe (and we honestly know it to 15 decimal places), about physics, we also *know* there is a lot we don’t know. 95% of everything there is, for instance, is dark matter and dark energy which we have no idea what they are, what they’re composed of, or how they can exist, why they exist, etc. This is from astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology. We know there was a big bang about 13.77 billion years ago, but there’s a whole lot we have left to learn about why the universe is how it is. We don’t know what could have set the big bang in motion. And it’s perhaps not even a scientific question to ask how it came about, what happened before that, and could we make it happen again somehow, to make new universes, say, or for whatever reason.

String theory, which is the best candidate we have right now for a potential theory of everything, can't make predictions that can be tested, because the math is too hard for anyone to do yet. So in that sense it's not a scientific theory. When you look deeply into where new theories come from, when you ask scientists and study the history of science, there's a type of beauty or elegance that they sniff out on the various pathways that tell them they are on the right track. Follow the elegant, the simple, the pure, they say, and you will find miracles. They use those exact words. Read Roger Penrose's Road to Reality, for example.

When you ask what are the Laws of Physics like on their deepest level, Feynman answers you that they are just equations. Just pure mathematics. He gives an example of a "mechanical" theory of gravitation, positing that there are little invisible globs of stuff raining in every direction, and where they encounter masses, some of the globs are captured or stopped, causing two nearby masses to partially block the rain in each other's direction, which would tend to push them closer together. He gives that example so you understand what a mechanical theory would look like. The theory doesn't actually work, for a number of reasons. But it would explain gravity in a way that made sense to us in terms of small gears or cogs or doohickeys that generated the observed behavior. The *real* theory of gravity that we use, which is Einstein's general relativity (right now, though everyone expects some eventual quantum theory of gravity to replace it), doesn't have any such mechanical underpinnings. It's simply equations. So the book "The Character of Physical Law" is where you will learn that for reasons we don't understand, physics is just a bunch of numbers, of math functions, of equations. That's the deepest understanding we have of the universe.

The famous equation e=mc^2, which everyone knows, says that mass is energy, and energy is mass. But do we really understand the implications of that? It means that all the solid, tangible, table-thumping reality of our everyday existence is simply knots in the energy fields. Picture fields as numbers in space. Energy is quite intangible, being simply numbers assigned to various situations in many different forms that as they change through physical, chemical, nuclear, or other processes, they change to other situations in a way that the number (mass+energy) is conserved. So when you slam your fist into a wall in rage, that crunch you're feeling is a whole lot of electromagnetic fields and forces, transmitted through more electrochemical impulses up your nerves and to your brain. Solid reality is like that. It's quite abstract when you begin to look into it.

Our models of suns, of what is happening inside stars, right now don’t explain how a supernova can happen, something we regularly observe across the whole universe. There’s something going on that we don’t understand. In fact, stuff we don’t understand is absolutely everywhere you look in science. The science and technology of artificial intelligence is a great example, and has a lot to say about what it means to “know” something. Consciousness turns out to be much harder for computers to get than we expected. There’s a big philosophical discussion about “qualia” which means units of experiences, and under what circumstances they’re present. Scientific explanations of sensations, consciousness, why it’s like something to be me and not like anything to be a rock, all have this one hand-waving step where they say “poof, then consciousness appears.” I’m not sure how they’re able to convince themeselves they’re being scientific, since in no case does consciousness actually follow from the systems they describe. Nobody can yet put together the elements posited to cause consciousness in any way other than the traditional one that takes nine months using unskilled labor (i.e. in a mother's womb). We know so little, we don’t even know what it means to say we know something.

My son has psychosis, and his brain takes the exact same inputs I have and builds with them this extremely fantastical (from my point of view) worldview in which everything is about him, he’s a superhero, or Christ, or the Antichrist, or Satan, (it changes), and a world power that governments all over (including the aliens among us) must monitor and reckon with. From observing him and trying to help him live a good life, I’ve come to see that what his brain is doing is what brains do; they make up some sensible narrative to connect their observations. That narrative is somewhat different for all of us. And for those whose narrative is different enough, they count as psychotic. But human brains run a wide gamut that we still consider normal: politically conservative or liberal, racist or not racist, religious or not, scientific or artistic, INTJ or ESFP, steady-staters vs. big bang proponents, Aristotelians vs. Newtonians, young earthers and creationists vs. Darwinians, etc. If you go too far outside those normal bounds, while you’re dreaming, say, or if you have a brain infection or other brain illness, why then you’re considered psychotic. (Read Steven Peck’s paper describing how it felt to be psychotic, when he caught a brain infection during some field work once, and how it felt to come out of it again.)

Another thing to realize is that waking reality is really quite fragile. I mentioned dreams, and for some reason we all have to lie down and go into a temporary coma, with bizarre hallucinations, for several hours each day as a regular part of our circadian rhythms. But also anyone who does *not* dream for a few days running, if they’re sleep deprived, also slides into a brain state that we call psychotic. So dreaming is absolutely essential for us to maintain a normal waking state, and yet we don’t understand what’s actually going on that causes that. We have vague speculations, but not any real understanding, such that we could manipulate the process at will, or make sleep unnecessary, or point our finger at the exact mechanism on a molecular level. We don’t even know that waking reality is true reality. We don’t know what it’s like to be a dolphin or an elephant. We can only guess. We don’t truly understand scientifically what we mean when we say “I”, much less “I know”.

So the more you know about science, the more you realize the vastness of our ignorance compared to the few things we do know so far. But science is wonderful. It’s a very sure way to find out things, and be fairly sure of those things. But when you study science itself, metascience or metaphysics, you realize that science is only a method of approaching and learning about the world that we learned how to use a few hundred years ago. It’s an incredibly fruitful method, but it’s not existence itself. To do science you follow a certain process step by step.

1. Ask a question.
2. Guess the answer.
3. Make predictions based on your guess.
4. Figure out an experiment that will test those predictions.
5. Do the experiment.
6. If it turns out the predictions were not borne out by the experiment, you guessed wrong so go back to step 2 and guess something different.
7. If it turns out the predictions were right, your answer isn’t yet falsified, and if it stands up to all the future experiments thought of and carried out, can provisionally be thought of as true.
8. After a lot of people try for a long time to disprove your answer by experiment, if it still holds up we start calling it a fact. This is what we mean when we say we know things.
9. There’s always the chance, and in fact it happens all the time, that things that we once thought were true facts turn out to be slightly or rather or even completely wrong, and are replaced by things we think of as truer truths.
*Oh, also, we need to say that only shared, objective, repeatable data are accepted or considered. This gives us problems when studying things like meteorites, that can’t be produced on demand.
**We also need to say that any hypotheses that aren’t testable are outside science. If no experiment can be designed that will show something is true, then whether it’s true or not is simply not a scientific question. It could be true but science just doesn’t illuminate it. “Did time exist before the big bang” might be such a question.

It’s a really great system, but it’s not all of existence. Sometimes we are so into science, though, that we begin to ignore things that aren’t science and feel like that’s all there is, that anything outside science isn’t really real. But a few minute’s thought can make obvious how much of life there is that isn’t included in or subject to science. For instance, the method itself doesn't explain how to come up with new guesses, because that falls outside the realm of science. We can use rules of thumb like "guess the equation" or "play around with the system involved, do every weird test you can think of, and maybe some idea will pop into your mind" (which is my personal favorite when my machines aren't working right). But there is no algorithm for generating good guesses. If there were, we could just implement it on a computer somewhere and let it come up with the whole of science for us. But it doesn't work that way. There's some divine spark of genius that happens to people sometimes when they work very hard on figuring things out. Sometimes they dream of snakes swallowing their tails (in the case of the structure of the benzene ring.) Other times they take a step onto a bus, and then freeze as the whole idea floods their mind. Sometimes they walk across a bridge. However it happens, the "aha" moment occurs, and the a new idea comes into the human library of knowledge from .... elsewhere, wherever, brains or quantum fluctuations in the void or who knows where? That step is still mysterious magic.

So back to my life, at some point in my 30s I began being unsatisfied with my model of reality. It doesn’t tell one how to live (because those questions are also simply not a part of science), and I felt I was living badly. I had my same morality I have today, but I was so disappointed that I didn’t seem to be making progress toward living it more truly, authentically, and in a way that brought happiness to me or those around me. Instead I seemed to myself to be weak and ill-made. All my noble resolutions for projects of great import would fizzle out again and again in laziness or indecision. My joy had somehow dribbled through my grasp, or turned to ashes in my hands. My heroes were people like Gandhi, MLK Jr., The Dalai Lama, people who had made a great impact on the world for good. But I couldn’t even seem to help my own self to live a moderately decent life, much less positively impact the world. For all my gift of intelligence, understanding, education that I’d been given, I felt I hadn’t made good use of my time. I actually seemed to make people around me depressed and unhappy, to wear them down. Old friends seemed indifferent. I felt like this sonnet:

Alas, ‘tis true, I have gone here and there
And made myself a motley to the view,
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offenses of affections new.

I was weary, disheartened, disillusioned. Everything good seemed to turn to ashes in my hands. I felt I brought only sadness and hurt to the people I loved most. A damning observation, that. How can you run away from yourself? Start over fresh, okay maybe, but I’m still me. I’ll still hurt the new people I’ll surely come to love, and once again make them feel terrible. I was simply ill-made, under a permanent cloud. The universe was still awesome, but the experience of being me was steadily deteriorating. I began to wish fervently to die. Misery nights, as I called them, began to happen with greater frequency, when I couldn’t sleep, was in mental anguish all night, and wished for surcease. I fought battles against that feeling. I drank from all the reasons that held me alive. I would trick myself in different ways to keep on facing one more day, one more hour, take one more breath and let it out.

So around age 36, it began to strike me that the religious people around me, whom I had always liked and even admired, knew something about how to live that I didn’t know. All my life I’d felt they just didn’t understand science as I did, that they weren’t hard-nosed, practical, and skeptical like me. I felt at home and in my element in the company of Feynman, Dawkins, Schermer, Asimov, Sagan. But I never had solved the problem of how someone as sharp as Newton, say, could believe. It must have been the times, or something. After all, I couldn’t understand how anyone could have believed Aristotelian physics either, though somehow they did. Nowadays we just know better. But what of all the other believers today who were vastly more intelligent than me? I always had argued vociferously against the existence of God. My mom pointed out once that there are people way smarter than either of us who both believe and don’t believe. So however belief for or against comes to be for each of us, it’s certainly not about intelligence. Mom was a religion major. Dad studied math and engineering. Intellectually I was more like my dad, but did love the literature that Mom favored, too: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Thornton Wilder, Faulkner, Kazantzakis, etc. We are a bunch of readaholics in my family.

This is turning out to be so long that I’m tempted to apologize, but I guess since C. S. Lewis wrote a whole book (Surprised by Joy) about how he came to be a believer, I’m okay using a mere few thousand words.

So, one key insight was toward the religious people in my life and in history who were making so much better use of their lives than I was, who seemed to know how to live. I came to see that just maybe, possibly, they knew something I didn’t. Maybe there was something to what they said, and where they said it came from. I had once believed they were just happy accidents, people who were well made and naturally kind and so on. But they all seemed to point to prayer and meditation as being big influences. I began tentatively to pray, and lots of people were praying for me too. I started being willing to suspend disbelief to just explore their reality a bit. Sort of a scientific experiment.

I got stuck on the doctrinal points, though. How could it be right for me to let someone completely good take punishment in my stead? That was a real stumbling block. I’d rather suffer for millennia than let some innocent dear soul (whom I personified in my mind as being like my kitten Drive By who had been hit by a car as a feral cat, and whom I had rescued) suffer because of me. C.S. Lewis helped me there by showing me (I read all his apologia around this time) that one doesn’t have to think of it like that. There are always alternate ways of seeing things. Maybe Christ just paid a debt out of his bounty that I couldn’t afford for myself. Maybe only some things about religious thinking are true and helpful and others not. Maybe some things help some people and other things others. Maybe I should take what helped me and seemed to open a path for me, and leave aside for now what blocked my path of progress. Maybe religious belief is different in some ways from scientific belief. But what you lose in having less agreement over, you make up in other ways. But since when have scientists been in perfect agreement either? Surely there are many different ways of knowing.

About this time I had also read a book from the Hari Krishna people called “The Science of Self Realization”, at first just for a joke but then realizing the writer (Sri Prabhupada) was intelligent, learned, and wise. Some things he said (like I am not my body) resonated and rang true, but others (like the fact that the stars don’t shine by their own light) were just wrong, as far as I could tell. I began to entertain ideas of more complexity in my understanding of knowledge.

One misery night when I was at an absolute low point, ready to just give up on life for good, seeking that oblivion that I knew death was, I happened to cry out for help from any god or God who might exist. I felt foolish and overly dramatic. I was infinitely disgusted with myself. But I needed help. I knew I could not go on living on my own behalf. I was used up. I gave up. It was about 4 am and I needed to go to work the next day, but it was simply impossible for me to stand, to shower, dress, and go on. I couldn’t do it. I’d come to an impenetrable barrier. I acknowledged that I sucked, that I didn’t know anything about how to live, and that I was done. I wanted to die. I failed at living. I cried out with all the energy of my soul for someone or something in the universe to answer, to care, to connect with, to save my life, if there was anything worth living for.

And suddenly I was overwhelmingly calm. Where I had been distraught, I was now sleepy. Where there had been me alone in the universe, I was now supported, uplifted, and held safe. I slept.

This came from outside of me, I know. I’d done every trick you could imagine for years to fool myself into going on and living. I’d been stretching my mind and heart for ages to try to figure out how to be alive. I had nothing left. And suddenly I was given this enormous bounty of sleepiness and peace. It was definitely not anything I‘d been able to do myself. But it allowed me to rest, to continue with life, to go back to work again. I gave my life to God with a bitter laugh, thinking what a miserable disgusting gift it was. They gave it back to me solemnly, as a precious gem, clothed in glory. I was not worthless after all.

So I experimented on the word. I planted the seed in my heart and I watered it. It grew. It began to taste wonderful to me. The more I prayed, received, and acted on what I received, the better life got. It’s like night and day, the difference between then and now, before and after. Now I love life, every single moment except when I forget. Now I feel the presence of God (both Father and Mother) helping me, caring about me, watching me. I see them everywhere now, how the universe is conspiring to make me happy. A little breeze touches my face, and it’s a caress. The awesome beauty of the sky is there, and it moves my heart. “For you, for you, we made all of this for you. We want for you a joy unlimited.” All this while God was waiting for me to call, hanging around the phone, missing me, aching for me, and finally, finally, I did call. Then they were right there, helping me. Then and every day since then that I don’t forget to ask, forget to think about them, remember them, and see the universe through their eyes. I’m alive because there is Someone there. I know it as well as I know anything at all. I know that as clearly as I know my hellish life has turned heavenly. I’ll never doubt again because I remember, clear as anything, what life was like before, without them.

Of course you’re going to think “that’s not applicable to me, she must just have needed it so badly that it’s all wishful thinking on her part.” And that’s how subjective experiences work. They matter, they’re real, but only to one single soul at a time. If you cry out, I hope you’ll be helped, but I’m not sure you will be. I don’t understand, really, why I never perceived God’s existence before, and now I do. I liken it to those magic eye posters. There are actually quite a few people who can’t see the pictures in them, and honestly think everyone else is just lying and pretending to see, or imagining they see. They don’t *really* see. It’s kind of like that. I had to believe it was possible before I could do the honest work of trying to learn how. But once you do really see the picture, it’s not just a theory anymore about offsets and angles of vision. You know. That’s kind of how it is with God for me.

People tell me they’ve tried for their whole lives to pray and heard nothing. Maybe it’s like that one guy who took swimming at Auburn when it was required to graduate. He took it a dozen times and never could pass. They finally made an exception for him, I heard. Maybe some people are God-blind the way there are people born eye-blind or deaf. That would be very sad and unfair. Or maybe it’s just that I didn’t really truly want to know God existed before. Because they could tell I didn’t, they were kind and stayed out of my mind. They stayed away. Maybe it’s a muscle that you have to exercise, like being willing to do bench presses for weeks or months before ever starting to notice the results. Maybe it’s something you have to be lucky to catch at the right time, like riding a bike. I tried to learn to ride the unicycle for many hours in my 20s, and failed. Finally after the hundredth time I fell and hurt myself, I thought “this isn’t worth it” and gave up. Yet my neighbors learned as kids and all could do it easily. Maybe the reason it’s contingent and fragile like that is because it’s real. It maybe doesn’t act like we think it ought to because there are all kinds of considerations of the actual reality of how it is implemented that make it confusing. Maybe sometimes the best way to see what God’s saying to you is to look at a luminescent stone in a hat. Real things are weird like that. Made up things, those are the ones that act exactly as you expected. Made up aliens look just like humans except with big eyes and gray skin, right? Real aliens are going to look like something more different from us than a sea urchin (who after all, is a relative).

So there’s a lot I don’t know. But what I do know is that God is really there. My life now is heaven, despite still having daily sorrows and cares. My life before was surely hell, an infinite anguish drawn in breath by breath for what seemed like eons. I’m able to access a peace that defies reason, a love and joy, whenever I really want it. I do get out of practice sometimes, begin to slip, but then I notice and begin again regularly to feed and water the little sapling in my chest, and it continues to grow. My knowledge of God is as sure as anything else I know.

The details, whether there’s one male god or many gods of both sexes, whether this or that ritual or ordinance is necessary, I don’t bother about so much. I love the restored gospel because it reached me and taught me these precious truths, when nothing else before or since has helped me so much. The partnership with a living God is the main thing. For those who‘ve never felt that, I totally understand why you can’t believe the gospel. I wish I could transmit my sure knowledge to those who doubt, but I can’t. It doesn’t work that way.

But maybe my testimony can inspire someone else to try again, or open someone’s heart to the spirit in some mysterious way. I tell this with great humility, knowing that all these things are fragile and contingent, not knowing why I’ve been so blessed and favored to have no doubts ever again. I say this knowing that I’m exposing myself to ridicule and put-downs by saying it, but not wanting to risk not reaching someone I might possibly reach. If there’s someone whose life can be transformed as mine was, how can I deny them any chance to find that? It’s too beautiful and too important to worry about fear of being scoffed at. It is indeed the water of eternal life to me. And I invite everyone to drink of it and be nourished.
thetatiana: (Default)
May 2013 Tornado

I've read a lot of science stuff about tornadoes, but never any explanation that even came close to making sense. One thing they guess is that the fierce updrafts and downdrafts during thunderstorms, when they are close together, might cause spinning horizontal tubes that somehow get downturned to touch the earth. That seems a very specious idea, because what would cause the downturn? Why would the tube tend to be shaped like a cone or vortex? And why would all that angular momentum horizontally get shifted to vertical angular momentum in the absence of an overwhelming force? It seems they are grasping at straws to come up with a reasonable weather-related air-related explanation. So we need to apply some clear thinking to the problem.

First of all, it's clear that tornadoes must be the result of a sink of some kind. When we try to simulate tornadoes for a kid's classroom, we connect two soda bottles, one half filled, and swirl the fluid around while it drains from top to bottom. The behavior of tornadoes is exactly like that of the whorl of water and air sucked down to a draining sink. It acts exactly right, even down to the roped out S-shaped tail that happens near the end. So what is actually going on in the sky during a tornado? What is being drained into what?

I've lived in the Southeastern US all my life, and so I've had multiple opportunities to observe in the close vicinity of tornadoes and tornado conditions. Obviously, they happen during thunderstorms, usually in the Spring and Fall. One thing I and many other people have observed is that often the sky turns greenish when tornadoes are about, something I would guess is due to the green line of ionized Oxygen, also known as the airglow. So that suggests that the air may get somewhat ionized when the conditions are right for tornadoes.

Another thing I've observed quite frequently in close proximity to tornadoes and that's a kind of continuous flickering lightning all over the clouds from which tornadoes drop, cloud-to-cloud lightning. Neither the green sky nor the continuous lightning are present 100% of the time, but they are frequently enough associated with tornadoes that they can serve as a clue.

A third observation is that tornadoes often come during a respite from the rain on the trailing edge of the heaviest torrential downpours.

So what is it that's draining down the funnel of a tornado? It's obviously not air. There's nothing sucking air out of the sky and underground during a twister. The most obvious thing I can think of is electric charge. Has that idea been tested? I need to research this better to find what the latest observations are. But electromagnetic forces are enormous, and so they would seem to have what it takes to develop the power output of a big tornado.

Perhaps the torrential rain gathers either negative or positive charge out of the air and releases it into the ground, then a tornado forms in the swirl of air caught up in the rush of the charge returning to neutralize conditions.

I would love to read the signal from a big ground loop, similar to the vehicle loop detectors we use in the roads to control our traffic signals, but much larger, which could tell us what kinds of charge flows happen before, during, and after tornadoes pass. It's tough taking data in such extreme conditions, of course. Most of your test equipment is going to be destroyed by high winds and flying 2x4s, and being a storm-chaser is quite a dangerous trade. Not one for me. You'll find me cowering in the center of the ground floor of whatever sturdy building is available. I've seen the destruction firsthand too many times, whole houses splintered to matchsticks.

But a better understanding of how tornadoes form and develop could help us figure out a way to prevent or ameliorate the kind of disasters we tend to see every Spring and Fall across the middle of the US. That would certainly be something worth doing.

My reading on atmospheric phenomena is 10 or 20 years out of date. So the next step is to read up on the latest. I'll update this entry according to what I find.

Additions: One observation so far that seems to fit is this. "More often than not, overall cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning activity decreases as a tornado reaches the surface and returns to the baseline level when the tornado lifts." I got this from Wikipedia, so I'm going to follow up on the sources it cites. More coming.
thetatiana: (Default)
http://www.thersa.org/events/video/vision-videos/free-beer-the-truth-about-dishonesty

I think this is a fascinating subject for research. I just watched this presentation, and it got me thinking about honesty.

I'd like to approach this subject from the point of view that I want to be honest. I accept and recognize that Ariely is right that our human propensity is to cheat a little bit in small ways and still think of ourselves as honest. But I truly want to become completely and transparently honest in every way. I think it's just a really good idea to do that. I want not to fool myself. I want to feel that solid confidence in myself that I can count on me to do what's right. And I'd like for those who know me to realize and be able to have faith that I'll always do that. So how can I set myself up to be as honest and I possibly can be? How do I change my own internal reward structure to keep me as aligned with truth, honor, justice, etc? How do I consistently train myself always to choose what's right?

I've always thought that empathy is a large part of it. I try to encourage my mirror neurons, or whatever structures there are in my brain that let me think of how others feel, what it's like to be them, to let my happiness mirror that of others upon whom I have any sort of impact. But Ariely doesn't seem to consider that factor in his research at all. I wonder why not?

What I get from this talk is that I need to:

1. Constantly remind myself of my moral standards. (e.g. the Ten Commandments exercise he mentioned.)

2. Think of my in-group as being the honest ones. Identify with those who are honest. See it as defining who we are. See it as what we good people do. Think of anyone who cheats even a little as being outside my in-group. (This could be a source of self-righteousness, and shunning, actually. I probably need to examine this item more, and decide if it's the right approach after all. What do you think?)

3. Confess, assess, repent, come clean, get a new start as often as possible, even of any tiny hints of dishonesty or temptations to cheat just a little bit. Begin again every day, every week, even every few hours. Realize that as a human, I'm vulnerable to this like everyone. That I can mess up. That I need to make reparations and set things right when I do.

4. Be very careful of conflicts of interests. Notice when our self-interest leads us to shift our views in various directions. Recuse ourselves when we need to do that.

I wonder if these procedures would work not just for honesty but also for kindness, tact, humility, listening, or other qualities we might want to develop in ourselves? These are very interesting ideas. Can anyone think of more ways that I missed?
thetatiana: (Default)
I was looking at the wikipedia article on the rorschach test today and before reading the common responses, and based on the thumbnail pics in the article, I decided on my interpretation of each.




Card 1 I decided was two elephants climbing either side of a tall water fountain together to get a drink, since it's obvious that if one climbs alone, the fountain will likely fall and be damaged. Good example of cooperative pachydermic behavior.



Card 2 looks to me like two buddhist monks meditating knee to knee with hands together.



Card 3 is just obviously two DJs dancing while spinning records, with red music squirting out around them.



Card 4 is clearly a giant trying to pull a sword out of the ground. The perspective is looking up from almost between his feet.



Card 5 is for me clearly a chimeric being with the legs of an ostritch, bat wings, and a bunny head.



Card 6 is a priest saying mass, facing the congregation, with the altar and a crucifix on the wall behind him.



I see in card 7 the two bunnies arguing vociferously about which path they should take, of the blog post title.



In card 8 I see an MRI image of a cross section of someone's insides. Lungs and the backbone are clearly visible.



Card 9 was the hardest for me, but it finally resolved into two seahorses wearing pants shaped like maps of France, with large disco-type platform shoes on.



Card 10 I see as a roadside fruit stand in Paris, with lots of produce and flowers arranged in a pleasing display.

When I looked at the common interpretations, I was surprised to see almost no overlap between my interpretations and those of other people. It made me laugh. What do you see in the cards?

By the way, I think science has thoroughly discredited any findings psychologists may think they have made about the test.
thetatiana: (Default)
Just now I heard my neighbor come home and heard the banging of his garbage cans as he moved them from the curb after garbage pick-up day. Maybe it's because I bought the home that my Mom and Dad owned from the time I was 14, or maybe it's because the quality of the sunshine at the end of summer always invokes a sort of physiological nostalgia in me, but that sound instantly transported me back in time and made me feel it was my Dad coming home from work. Apparently, he would get the cans in on garbage day afternoons, too, or so my body just said.

What is this feeling in my lower abdomen that is such a mixture of pain and joy? Of longing, a deep homesickness, and simultaneously of completeness, of security, of love? Is it because as a child I knew safety, that I was accepted and I belonged in this one place, in my family in our home? I don't know, but I hope my son has the opportunity to feel that some day.
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I wonder about people who say "this sucks" about books (or movies, or music, for that matter) that decades or centuries of readers/viewers/listeners have adored and marveled at. Do they really think they're right and all those others are wrong?

I mean, I completely dislike Mozart, and think everything he wrote was utter rot. I have a great difficulty in understanding how it is that some people like him. I'm even tempted to think all his proponents are simply aping others because they wanna seem like one of the cool kids. I want to think that but I know it's not true. I do know multiple people whose musical taste I trust who really truly honestly think Mozart is great. And after all, he's one of the canon of good composers, right? Probably in the top five of all time by most people's reckoning.

So whatever is going on when I listen to Mozart is at least partly my fault and my loss. I know that. I mean, it's happened to me in the past quite a few times that some artist to whom I once felt indifference or even active dislike suddenly clicks for me and I love, love, love, him/her/them.

When Dad started playing Maurice Ravel on piano, those odd dissonant notes struck me as ugly and unpleasant. I used to kid him about liking Ravel because he was *romantic* (said with that peculiar wavery tone that denotes kid-taunting). Dad was very sensitive about his machoness, so I knew that would really sting. But no, he was also supremely confident in his musical taste. If he liked it, it was good. (c.f. Count Basie, "If it sounds good, it is good.") And I'm the same. So he blithely continued playing that weird and unpleasant Ravel until the day came that I found that oh my gosh I loved it. I couldn't get enough. The odd out-of-tune notes were suddenly just exactly right, had just the amazing piquancy and grace that satisfied me deep in my gut.

I started requesting it all the time, and Dad, who never did honor requests, mostly quit playing it, hah. So I ate my words. Never taunt others about their taste, boys and girls, for you never know when someone you hate, someone you always thought was an utter lightweight and unworthy of your time, might turn out to grab you by the ears or eyeballs and take you for a long, passionate ride.

This had happened to me about different bands during my life, too. Led Zeppelin used to drive me nuts, it was played so much, ugh. Then I happened to see a documentary The Song Remains the Same on MTV and I started really listening to Jimmy Page play guitar and suddenly instead of gritting my teeth and bearing it when my brother played them, I actually began to love them. Same thing happened with Jimi Hendrix. When I started seriously trying to play guitar myself is when I first noticed the utter ease with which his fingers tossed off those beautiful, exquisite riffs from his iconic Stratocaster.

This also happened with different composers: Stravinsky, Bach, I can't think who else. It turned out, actually, that most anything I liked at first listen wouldn't last very long. It was like too much icing and not enough cake, or else too many potatoes and not enough meat, which is the phrase Dad (who was an extremely good musician) used to describe Wagner (to whom both of us feel indifference). The stuff it took me a while to get was actually much better and I liked it far longer, in almost every case.

Okay so now that I've gotten to my main point, I fear I've already damned myself already by contradicting it. But my question is this. Why, when some people find they dislike someone, like Tolkien or Shakespeare, whom gazillions of other people have loved for decades or centuries, who has the greatest reputation long term for doing excellent delicious work, do they state it as though the artist is simply bad, period? Why can they not see how ignorant that makes them sound?

And then they have the temerity to try and back it up with arguments: his prose is stilted (no, his people are speaking as befits epic heroes), his jokes utterly suck (okay, that's true -- but beside the point). They act like the fault is not in them but in the work itself. I mean, sure, they're entitled to their opinions, but there should be at least some inkling that their opinions represent their ignorance more than the true worth of the work in question, shouldn't there? How is it people can feel perfectly confident saying something like, "Oh that Shakespeare sucks. He's just a bunch of cliches!"? I never can get that. Please reply.
thetatiana: (Default)
Every explanation I've read of this in biology books is circular and wrong.

Biologists have not realized that female sexual taste is a trait that's heritable and selectable as much as any other. So it is shaped by natural selection, too. What are the implications of this?

Females will tend to choose males who enhance their offspring's chances of living and breeding successfully.

So far so good? Excellent. So why, then, do pea hens, for instance, tend to choose those males with the garish though gorgeous, but totally unweildy tails? Does this mean their children will be fitter? Not the sons, really. They'll inherit those gargantuan unwieldy tails. But the daughters? You betcha! They get the fitness of a father who is so fit he can even carry around this extra baggage, this conspicuous consumption, this beautiful but ungainly appendage that has a metabolic cost, attracts predators, is too heavy and too long to make perching safe in the lower branches, etc.

So what does this tell us? That among species with male sexual selection traits, it must be more advantageous to secure high fitness for your daughters, even at the cost of lower fitness of your sons.

Don't tell me the sons have high fitness because of sexual selection; that's circular reasoning. Sexual selection has to persist in the face of the fact that female preferences are heritable. If your mom likes the big sexy dumb type of guy, it's more likely you will as well. If she goes for the swift but less flashy, intelligent type, that also has more chance of carrying over to you. And in the end, if she chooses guys who decrease her chances of having successful offspring, she'll get weeded out in the evolutionary lottery.

So this tells us some fascinating things. At least some of the time, for some of the species, daughters are much more important than sons in the fitness equation.

Moms among the Irish Elk, Pea Hens, Big Horn Sheep, Moose, Deer, and, well, actually quite a few mammal species, you should value your daughters more! Maybe even human moms should, too.
thetatiana: (Default)
What is this thing, called the Restored Gospel, which has helped me so much and transformed my life for the better?

I just felt the urge to describe the teachings that have had the most impact on my life. Things I never understood or accepted before I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the LDS or the Mormons.

1. The most important thing of all is that everyone is a child of living Heavenly Parents, who love us immensely and want to partner with each of us to help us develop and grow to fill our huge divine potential. That partnership has helped me overcome so many problems and wrong ways of thinking and responding to the world, that it's hard to describe them all. All my life I had a hard time feeling I had any worth. Now I know that I have unlimited worth and value, limited only by my own choices and views. I can make a huge positive difference in the world, even in the course of human history, if I consistently choose what's best. Eternal progression means that as we grow we develop our powers, empathy, kindness, strength and determination, willingness to give, intellect, knowledge, and understanding with no limits. Mortal life is just the start of this process. It's not even the start because there was more before mortal life, too. What we are is divine beings. This is literally true. We're all equal, what we do matters, and we're all amazing.

a. Some of the changes that made in my outlook this last decade since I've joined the church is I no longer feel it's okay to do things that damage me. I quit smoking, of course, and realized I deserve not to be treated badly, emotionally or physically abused. I learned to avoid relationships in which I'm treated badly, because they damage me.

b. I learned that I don't need to limit my aims to something achievable by myself. I know that when I engage in God's work, I'm lending my hands to work that's gone on for many thousands or millions of years before me, and will go on into the foreseeable future. I know that when my own hands falter, there will be others there to keep going. If we don't end racial prejudice in this generation, we'll do it in the next, perhaps. Seeing the changes in society toward more rights for women, more equality, heartens me. I don't have to limit myself to human time scales. It may take 200 years, but what is 200 years in the measure of eternity? What better can we be doing than struggling to make things better for everyone? My aims now are to feed all the hungry, clothe all the naked, heal the sick, end violence, teach the ignorant, and to learn to love everyone, even those (especially those) who aren't very loveable, and give everyone the scope (or help them find the scope) to express their creativity and greatness to the world around them. Also, my work is to express my own creativity and greatness, to let my light shine. I learned never to set my sights too low.

2. The purpose of life is joy. Not trivial passing pleasure, but real, wholesome, lasting joy. The kind you get when watching your child take steps for the first time, when snuggling into bed after a long hard day doing fulfilling work or serious play. The kind that comes from loving communities who appreciate each other's contributions. From channeling negative emotions and impulses into worthy causes, into bringing about positive change. The kind that comes when you know you made your best effort in meaningful pursuits.

3. The highest joy is to love and serve our fellow beings. We're meant to serve each other. To bear one another's burdens so that they may be made light. To lift up hands that are hanging down. To share one another's joys and sorrows both. Service is our great calling. We're called upon to share our bounty with those less fortunate.

4. True knowledge is to be cultivated, no matter its source. We should learn as much as we can about every subject there is. Read the best books. Teach each other. Learn our whole lives long. Get all the education we possibly can. Learn from others, and learn by teaching. The teacher usually learns more than the students, so by us always teaching each other, we learn the most ourselves. Science is good. Religion is good. All religions have some truth. The glory of God is intelligence.

5. We learn line upon line, and precept upon precept. It's not meet to run before we can walk. We must be humble and teachable. And no matter how much we already know, we can always learn more. Everyone has something to teach us. We should listen for those lessons, pray to understand and accept them, and take full advantage of the partnership with the terrifically advanced beings who are our Heavenly Parents. We should pray for enlightenment, listen for the answers, and put those answers into practice in our lives without delay. That's how eternal progress works.

6. When we make mistakes, that's one of the best times to learn. Mistakes are always forgivable. That's how we grow. When we realize we've made a mistake, rather than beat ourselves up and hate ourselves for our weaknesses, we should stop, repent, ask for help from above, analyze the situation and figure out what we would do now, with our new knowledge and understanding. Figure out how to fix the problem. Write ourselves a new script and rehearse it. Everyone is imperfect, everyone has shortcomings and weaknesses. We engage positively with our own weaknesses when we recognize our wrongs, repent, give reparations to put things as right as we can put them, incorporate the lesson into our life plan, and go on to do better in the future. God wants us to lay upon the altar a broken heart and a contrite spirit. We must be as little children, meek and teachable. Then when we're doing right by our best understanding, we need not fear the judgment of others. We need not tremble before the powerful. We can be straightforward, honest, open, and confident.

7. We're in charge of our own development. We can learn and grow as quickly or as slowly as we choose. We can change in any direction we choose, if we consistently practice over time. We get to become whomever we truly want to be. This principle is called agency. Agency is one of the fundamental principles of existence. Agency should not be abrogated unless absolutely necessary, for instance, to protect a child from danger while he learns.

8. Negative influences or actions should be left behind so they don't encumber us. For instance, smoking costs a lot of money, and results only in harm to ourselves (which is harm to those we love and those who love us). The money could be used for better purposes. Smoking is a waste of resources. Our additional health and longevity from not smoking can be used to increase the love and service we give others. Another example is alcohol. It's expensive and destructive. Dozens of my family members have met early graves from drinking too much. The only positive benefit it has is the sort of "wooo, party!" type fun, which isn't really wholesome true fun, most of the time. People do destructive things, like drive and get in wrecks when under the influence. It causes injuries, deaths, health issues, addiction, depression, relationship issues, family issues, job issues, and so on. The whole community benefits when they all decide just to give up alcohol, and to teach their children not to drink. The money is better spent on more positive things like education, feeding the hungry, or a million other things. Alcohol is best left alone. Illegal drugs or recreational drugs all this is true of, and even more so. Gambling, ditto. Sum all this up by saying conspiring people (tobacco executives, drug dealers) are always willing to take your money and deal you harm in return. Don't help them!

9. Before the Restored Gospel was in my life, it seems like I spent about 45% of my energy negating the effects of another 45%, leaving only about 10% for forward progress. Now much more of my energy is aligned toward the positive. Probably now only about 10% of my energy goes the wrong way, negating another 10% and leaving 80% net for positive motion. It's my job to realign that last 10% so that 100% of my efforts will go toward heading me in the direction I want to go. I'm still working on this. Check back. =)

10. Our dead are still alive in the spirit world, able to make choices, and able to progress. When we go to join them it will be a joyous occasion, not sad. All losses will be restored and sorrows end. Everything we didn't get enough of here in our mortal life, we'll have ample opportunity to make up for in the next. I've received strong spiritual confirmation of these things. Any time the gospel seems to be telling us something grievous (such as that I'll have no eternal family since none of my mortal family has accepted the Restored Gospel, or that I can't get to the highest level of post-mortal life since I've never married) then that comes from our misunderstanding and it's not correct. The gospel is unmitigated good news. We get to pick. We judge ourselves. We are given to enjoy the highest level of happiness we can stand. =)

11. Reiterating again because it's so important. We are loved. We are greatly loved. We are dearly, enormously, overwhelmingly loved. Each of us is perfect in who we are. We are learning and growing in how we act, how we treat one another, but we're all exactly who we should be in our deepest selves. We may have a long long way to go until we're perfect, but who we are is good and right, it's who we should be; divine children of divine Parents, eternal beings, Gods in embryo.

12. Provident living: Spend less than you make. Save. Gradually build up stores of food, water, and everything you need to live for a month, then 3 months, then a year. Add a few food storage items to your grocery cart on every trip. Be prepared for emergencies. Have a 72 hour kit in a backpack, containing necessities for 3 days. Rotate out your food storage regularly and learn to prepare these foods in tasty ways. Buy in bulk when items are on sale. Store items that have a long shelf life and don't need refrigeration such as dried beans, rice, flour, wheat, powdered milk, cooking oil, etc. Make everything from scratch that you can. Grow a vegetable garden. Can the produce you can't use in season. Eat meat sparingly. Tithe 10% of your increase to help build up the kingdom, either to church or to other worthy causes. Be self-reliant, to the extent you can. Be willing to help others, and to ask help when needed, but do your very best to be prepared, to be wise, to have what you and your family needs. Keep some money in cash in case the banks fail or for any reason you're unable to get money from the bank. Learn how to make things yourself, to the extent you can. Learn how to sew clothes, to knit sweaters, to make quilts, make furniture, repair cars, etc. Learn all you can to be self-reliant and independent.

13. Pray often. Counsel with the Lord in all your doings. Pray to be given peace, to learn wisdom, to give worship, to lay your heart at His feet. Pray for all your righteous wishes. Pray for everyone. Our love is infinitely valuable to our Heavenly Parents. When we pray often, we show Them our love and they shower blessings upon us in return.

14. Families matter. No other success in life will compensate for failure in the home. Our homes should be sacred spaces. All the world is filled with love when there's love at home.

So many great teachings that have brought me so many blessings! I love the Restored Gospel!
thetatiana: (Default)
I wrote this up this morning and just wanted to share it with people, so I sent it as a guest post to fMh. I don't know if they'll be interested in posting it or not, as it's nothing particularly earth-shattering or new. So I'll post it here just in case it never sees the light of day over there. I made a little autobiographical blurb for the beginning and everything.

Tatiana Boshenka converted to the church in 2001 and is a frequent commenter around the bloggernacle. Her interests range from astronomy, evolutionary biology, and quantum physics to public health and epidemiology, poverty elimination, and averting human extinction. She adopted a teenage son several years ago, and resides with him and their nine cats in Birmingham, Alabama. She's been accused of being a starry-eyed optimist, and since retiring from her career in engineering design and project management for the nuclear, water and waste-water, steel, and paper industries, she has way too much time on her hands to read and think.

I was working this morning around the house, and thinking about the issues we discuss on the bloggernacle all the time, as I often do. Suddenly, I recalled and felt overwhelmed with how much I simply love my church, and love the Restored Gospel! Sometimes I think I focus so much on what needs to change that I forget how great it all is to begin with, why I joined a decade ago, and how much my life has changed since then for the better. So the idea came to me of writing up an overall report card for the church from time to time, to keep my perspective balanced. I took this morning and came up with my evaluation of the church right now in first quarter 2012. Please tell me in the comments what ways you agree or disagree with my assessment, which things I've forgotten to include, and what grade you yourself would give right now to the church overall.

The Restored Gospel: A++

o Eternal Progression and eventual Godhood: A++

o Teaching us Service to each other (perfection of the Saints): A++

o Intelligence being the Glory of God: A++

o Spirit being Refined Matter (philosophical materialism, and how much sense that makes): A++

o The Word of Wisdom (says this Irish girl whose family is littered with dead alcoholics, and a few living ones): A++

o The Goodness and Wholesomeness of Embodiment and Bodies: A (They lose a few points for excessive modesty rhetoric to girls and for teaching sexuality and masturbation to kids as being toxic, causing difficulties once people are married from suddenly changing ideas to married sex being all exalted and stuff.

o Teaching us Honesty, Industry, Thrift, Self-Reliance, Educational Achievement, Responsibility, Love, Kindness, Generosity, Empathy, Tenderness, Innocence, Strong Loving Families, Courage, Convictions, Standing for Something, Working to Build the Kingdom of God, Zion, Good-heartedness, Peacefulness, lack of Contention, Letting Go of Negative Influences, etc.: A++

o Providing a community of people who are struggling to learn all these good things and manifest them in their treatment of each other. B+ (Our communities are far from perfect but wow have you seen the rest of world lately? We’re doing our best at this and continuing to improve as we go. We’re certainly not perfect but we do try to keep our ideals in mind and continually aim for them. The extent to which many, many Latter-day Saints are manifestly wonderfully good people is the number one reason I began investigating the church years ago. I’ve long since quit being surprised when I see new evidence that LDS people are very good, so good, heartbreakingly good. (Thank you for that, brothers and sisters. When I think about this I get tears in my eyes.))

Provident Living: A++ (I've totally changed from a 'grasshopper' to an 'ant'. Well, not totally as in absolutely completely, but I definitely have changed a whole lot.)

Disaster Preparedness: A++ (Love this!)

Disaster Relief, Mormon Helping Hands, LDS Humanitarian Foundation: A++ (So dear to my heart!)

Lay Clergy: A++

Education, Intellectualism (and combating anti-intellectualism). A- (A few points off for Joseph F. Smith's denial of evolution.)

Independent thinking: B (On the one hand we have the school of teaching correct principles and letting us govern ourselves, but on the other hand there's that whole idea that when the prophet has spoken, the thinking is done. Average those two competing paradigms for my grade on this.)

Pinching tithing Pennies: A (they lose the ++ for the mall development in downtown SLC, though that will probably end up being a good investment anyway, so what the heck: A++). Oh but they’re not open with how tithing is spent so on second thought, make that a B).

Church welfare including farms, canneries, cheap staples, and encouraging self-sufficiency: A++, though it must be noted that I’ve so far not yet had the personal experience of using those things. What I do know tells me it’s awesome.

Missionary Outreach, proclaiming the gospel: A++ (I think we do an excellent job of this, and of updating our methods as technology changes and we learn what's effective.)

Callings and the development of speaking skills, management competency, fostering service to our fellow humans, and learning by teaching each other. A (this could be improved if we did more teaching of how to teach, speak, manage, and especially if opportunities now available only to men were extended to women as well).

Which brings us to, Patriarchy, Gender Roles, and Structural Violence Against Women. Oooo, I have a feeling our church GPA is about to drop.

o Mother in Heaven: B (It’s fantastic that we learn of her, but sad that we learn so little.)

o Eve’s Decision on the Garden as a positive thing: B (Again, way better than most Christian churches, but does she have to sit so silently and meekly in our version of the story?)

o Developing Talents in YW and RS: C- (There’s some good things happening, of course, but nothing like it should be, and nothing near as much as for the YM and EQ.) (By the way, this is not an evaluation of the teachers in YW and RS who are mostly doing a splendid job, but of the program itself, manuals, top leadership, etc. Also the lack of self-determination, and the neglect of the whole world including developing countries, which desperately needs women to help with education, infrastructure, microfinance, health care, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the naked, and all the stuff our charter says we're supposed to be doing. We have serious, important work we need to focus on much more than having ward princess pageants or whatever.)

o Modesty Rhetoric: D (The Taliban get an F, Saudi Arabia a D-, so I’m afraid it’s almost as bad as it could be.)

o Civil Rights for LGBT individuals, acceptance and love of LGBT family members and community members: D (Again, almost as bad as it could be.)

I don't know how to weigh everything and come up with an overall GPA. But you know what? I feel like the LDS Church is doing a pretty good job, is really wonderful, overall. Yes there are some grievous flaws but there are also many reasons I absolutely have to keep working with it, putting my faith in it, and giving it my full support. Sometimes I focus too much on what we need to improve, but I think sometimes I need to stop and remember how much we get right, and how very much I love my church community. Big hugs for all my Mormon Peeps! Thanks and grateful tears for all you do! Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished. Now there’s a whole big world out there that needs us. So I hope I'll always be able to step back, renew my enthusiasm, put my heart into it, and keep working my tail off!
thetatiana: (Default)
The thought came to me this morning between sleeping and waking of writing an academic paper about worth of people. Basically, I would start out showing that society valued people differently based on a lot of factors:
  • Wealth
    • Markers include clothes, shoes, fineness of dress, cars, large homes, many servants.

  • Fame
    • Operates sometimes as a marker for great artistic talent, beauty, wealth, humor, or intelligence but may be independent of any of the above, as in people famous for being famous.

  • Power
  • Maleness, gender
  • Beauty
    • Straightness, smoothness of hair
    • Racial, whiteness, pallor of skin and hair
    • Thinness, lack of obesity or emaciation
    • Beauty valued differently in males and females with beauty
      contributing far more to the worth of females than males.

  • Health, lack of disease markers
    • Smoothness of skin, healthy skin tone, tanness.
    • Energy level, animation.

  • Sexual purity
  • Heteronormism
  • Intelligence
  • Artistic talent
    • Storytelling
    • Sense of humor, ability to make people laugh
    • Skill at drawing, painting, sculpting
    • Musical ability
    • Artisan skills

  • Age
    • Newborn to early adolescence age bonus is high – after young adulthood age bonus slowly declines to old age. Other cultures value age differently with old age being a marker for wisdom.

  • Amiability: kindness vs. defensiveness, happiness vs. sadness, neediness vs. providence, industriousness vs. fatigue or laziness.
  • Confidence, feeling of self-worth, willingness to speak up for oneself, irrepressibility, spunkiness, willingness to fight.
  • High fecundity.
  • Scarcity. When certain qualities are abundant in a society, they become less valued. Example: musical talent, artists and artisans.
  • Species with humans held in high esteem, mammals less so, reptiles even less, insects less still, etc. A whole other argument, but human idea of the “ladder of life” persists despite the more objective structure of evolution’s “bush of success”.



This model shows us for example that a young, male, beautiful, white, powerful, wealthy, famous person is generally perceived, (despite some disagreement), as having higher worth than, for instance, an old disabled woman living in poverty.
  • This is what society perceives in general. Show examples, quotes, etc. to make this point.
  • Possession of one or two characteristics in high values can negate effects of others, e.g. Kurt Cobain, Albert Einstein.
  • Talk about opposite views such as Paul Gutierrez, Paul Farmer, Christ, other religious figures, who teach directly in opposition to this, that all human beings have inestimable but very high worth intrinsically despite current state or condition.
  • Examine independence of all these qualities from one another. Give examples of people with one or more qualities eclipsing others.
  • Examine cases of drastic change of conditions.
  • Examine how different societies define worth in radically different ways such that a low-worth individual in one society’s ranking system might become a very-high-worth individual in another.
  • Examine idea that intrinsic worth is always factually high despite presence or absence of these qualities.
    • Potential for society to change and expand or differentiate, particularly in the future.
    • Perceived value of individuals often changes upon further knowledge. Stravinsky sucks until one is sufficiently acquainted with his music to realize he utterly rules. Ditto Bach, etc.
    • Limitation of time and attention limits our ability to perceive full worth of others.
    • Idea arose of God whose infinitude of attention and knowledge gives him the ability to perceive people’s true inestimably high worth.

  • To what extent is it practical for society’s or individual human’s limited attention to acknowledge or reward people’s real worth as opposed to their perceived societal worth?
  • To the extent that society and individual humans have expanding knowledge and attention?
  • Human rights movements, Civil rights movement, Feminism, Occupy movement, American Ideals of the value of individuals, show how society as it increases in knowledge and attention similarly expands the circle of people considered to have high worth.
  • The internet has changed social dynamics and power structures in ways that empower the individual and vastly increase the amount of knowledge as well as expanding the potential cloud of ideas to which we can pay attention. Self-publishing, blogs, social networking, etc. have broken open the historically narrow channels though which information is filtered for general consumption. The gates have been thrown down. The fourth estate is now the first.
thetatiana: (Default)

My son was playing music this morning that was so good it made me sing along. So I began to wonder what made this music so good. I was trying to analyze where the goodness resided. Was it in the melody? The singer's voice? The chord changes? Sometimes chord changes just feel so right, so satisfying, that I'm tempted to decide that changes are where the beauty of music comes from. The words contributed, too, I'm sure. The real truth is that we don't understand at all what it is that's so good about music, why we love it so, and why it moves us so much. We don't know what it is that makes music good, so that we could use that principle to construct all the most beautiful, delicious, best music ever, without end. Lots of people try hard to make good music every day and come up with dreck, with awful music, dull, repetitive, uninspired natterings. The beauty of music is a deep mystery, as deep as that of human existence. Why is music good? Because it is. We have no better explanation of it than that. So how is it we think we understand anything about life, if we can't even answer such a simple and important question about our daily lives? We know nothing!

Then that got me thinking about our picture of reality, our best view of what is, what constitutes the something (rather than nothing) that we experience as existence, as the universe, as this stuff here. And that picture of waking reality is entirely contingent on the fact that every so often, every 20 hours or so, each of us must go into a coma and hallucinate for some 6 or 8 hours, that if we're deprived of the ability to do that, our reality breaks down entirely and we become psychotic. Not after years or months but after just a few days. So our view of normal waking reality is utterly dependent on this entirely mysterious process of sleep, of dreaming, in which we lie still, but for some twitching, plus breathing and other autonomic functions necessary to maintain life in our bodies. We lie still and lose consciousness, and we hallucinate things that make no sense.

Our dreams are sometimes rich and detailed, with long narrative arcs, complete with foreshadowings, with symbolism and all the depth of a great novel. But much of the time they're just bizarre and seemingly meaningless. A lot of the time they mirror the frustrations and struggles we experience in waking life, but other times they just have us struggling and frightened over weird and nonsensical things we never come across during the day. I used to have a recurring dream in which I jumped from a very high diving board and missed the little postage stamp pool of water at the bottom and smacked into the concrete. I would think "so this is what it's like to be dead, odd", then wake up. Occasionally dreams are full of enjoyment and peace. There was that one in which I was making bacon, eggs, ham, toast for everyone on a grill at our cottage on the beach. The air had that quality of lightness it has when the summer sun is reflected off the white sands of the Gulf of Mexico. So lovely. But on the whole dreams seem rather random and disconnected, and really not much to do with anything.

Once when my son had an odd reaction to Ambien, he sleepwalked and sleeptalked all night while I sat up with him to be sure he didn't do himself any harm. He shared the contents of his dreams with me then, and they rapidly shifted from a huge party at our house, to the pirate ship ramming into ours and the pirates boarding us, to the circus arena we were in during the middle of the performance, to the beautiful rainbow which he asked me if I could see. I answered sadly no, I'm in the dream but I'm not experiencing the dream. So he leaned his head close to mine as though by so doing he would let me see through his eyes. It was marvelous and sweet, and I'm sure I would have appreciated it more had I not been so very tired and sleepy myself. But I was surprised that no connected narrative came though at all. Only a series of scenes, flashes almost, one after the other after the next, hour after hour all night long. Not at all what my dreams feel like when I remember them.

And this whole odd process is absolutely fundamental and essential for our brains to work during our waking lives. Without dreams, there is no waking, and no reality as we know it. So how real can such a reality be? How, if it's so delicate, so contingent on such a weird inexplicable process, can our waking reality be an accurate representation of *the* reality, of ultimate reality, if such a thing really exists at all?

For all we know, for all of science and orthodoxy, all of academics and prognostication, we still have absolutely no clue about such ordinary daily things as music, dreams, and waking reality. We don't know much of anything. We're left to goggle in amazement and wonder. Praise creation unfinished! Amen.
thetatiana: (Default)

Lately a feeling has been growing on me, partly from watching the Mormon Stories interview with Carol Lynn Pearson, that we all are amazing, that we all have enormous talents that we never develop. We're all singers, just like when we were kids. We're all writers and storytellers, artists, builders, makers, chefs, athletes, musicians. We all have talents at empathy, healing, listening, noticing. We have boundless curiosity. We're all scientists and inventors. We're horse whisperers, cat and dog whisperers and parseltongues. We're ecologists, naturalists, paleontologists, oceanographers. We all have the capacity to be explorers, or tender lovers, or powerful protectors of the weak, mentors, parents, epicures. And right now most of us aren't able to develop those capacities due to time and money constraints, and limitations on the access to knowledge. I wonder what society is going to be like when all of us have the ability to develop our full potential. And not just those of us in the rich world, either, but all those billion or so people who now lack the essentials for life. When all those bright beautiful kids grow up with good sound food, clothing, shelter, medical care, clean water, and an excellent 21st century education, what won't we be able to achieve as a species? What marvels are in store for us that are now scarcely imaginable?

I like to believe we're all prophets in our way, that we channel the divine and give it embodiment in the mortal world. Sometimes I feel the immanence in me of that which is holy, sacred, exalted, powerful, pure, and true. I feel I could embody different gods moment by moment. Once when I was on a music high at our yearly summer festival downtown, I stepped in between two guys who were just starting to fight. I put my hand on the shoulder of the one who was shaking with rage, and said to him softly, "Listen to me." He looked at me with wild, crazy eyes and I said "it's okay, it's gonna be okay." Incomprehension took over his face, then he relaxed and he laughed, and it was okay. I passed merrily along to my car to go home, feeling amazing, feeling exalted, like Athena had used me to grab this latter-day Achilles by the beard and say to him "Listen to me".

When I read Paul Farmer's book Pathologies of Power, similarly I felt this vast feeling rise in me as of a protective wrath for all the children who are even now growing up in poverty, a feeling too big for a human heart, a feeling that the weight of a million million millstones is dragging us down because of what we've allowed to happen to those little ones. That there's a force about to be set free in this world, maybe from the billions of women who are slowly becoming empowered, or maybe in the hearts of all parents, or maybe just in a few wild-eyed dreamers. I don't know where it's going to make its entrance, but this vast power is going to reshape the world, it's going to see that we protect and care for the little ones, that we no longer remain oblivious to their plight, that we don't pass by on the other side of the road from them anymore.

Sekhmet, the goddess of protective wrath, is immanent. Christ is immanent. We are all conduits of this power. We are all gods.

thetatiana: (Default)
I never thought I would say this. I'm the ultimate in slackerdom and a devoted lover of play time. I think Volkswagon's Fun principle is the most important philosophical addition to the pursuit of engineering in centuries. Richard Feynman got all upset and nervy during his first couple of years of professordom because he felt like he wasn't worth his pay, he wasn't contributing enough, and then cured himself with a recommitment to the principle of having fun doing physics. He saw someone toss a plate during a food fight in the cafeteria, and began wondering about the wobble pattern of the plate and how it related to the spin frequency of the Cornell logo. This work led directly to his breakthrough in Quantum Electrodynamics and his Nobel Prize. He's so right, too! Everything truly inspired and clever I ever did came out of playing around, doing stuff for fun.

I only ever can make myself read books that I just want to read, have an urge to read. I mean, I read a lot of books that other people might consider tough or highbrow or technical, but I honestly only read them for fun. Actually I take that back. Occasionally I've read a book or two for the purpose of battling my insomnia that I've had since age 12. But those I either end up liking a whole lot, hence subverting their purpose as soporifics, (like The Scarlett Letter and the American Heritage Dictionary) or else I remember zero later of what I read (The National Electrical Code --- incidentally the very best soporific even known to mankind) and so might be said never to have read it at all. So fun is a required factor in my reading.

I love to read, and so I get an education that way for free, just as playtime. Books are definitely always something I'm doing when I'm supposed to be doing something more productive. I highly recommend that approach to reading and literacy in general. Find books you love. Don't keep trying to force yourself to read books you don't love. Believe me, there are so many good books out there that you can always find books you love. No matter who you are or what your interests, there are books you will love. If you don't think so, keep looking.

I heard someone who is a professional say they never read for fun anymore, because they have too much reading for their profession that they must accomplish. I personally think that's a tragedy. Reading for your profession should be completely independent of just plain reading, reading what you like to read, reading just for curiosity's sake or purely for fun. Like, no matter how much free time you give yourself in your work-life balance, some of that free time should be spent reading.

I realized in the 80s that TV is for me a really low-quality use of time. So I just stopped watching tv altogether in favor of reading books. When I've read a good book, I don't look back on that time and feel it to have been a waste. If the book was good enough to hold my interest, it was good, period. It was worth the time. Oh, I suppose I do let some books go and choose better ones instead. Like even after enjoying the mysteries of Elmore Leonard for a good while, I let them go because they left a bad taste in my brain. I mean, I think one of his (I think it was Killshot) I thought was a very good book by any standards. But overall his stuff is yummy but not nutritious to my tummy, so to speak. It's junk food. There are too many really good books that I have left to read that I haven't read so I renounce the junk food and look for something meatier and more sustaining now.

I've yet to parse the internet entirely, or settle on what is a waste of my time and what isn't. I go back and forth with this. Sometimes I'm trapped for hours reading a site I don't really find worth it. In that case I just don't go back. And other times something seemingly mindless like playing Freecell or solving Sudoku puzzles pleases me in ways that I don't quite understand. It's something about gaining mastery of a task that feels like solid food, even if the task I'm gaining mastery of isn't really one that matters very much or contributes to anything positive in ways I can easily trace. I have a Freecell addiction that I still don't know if it's healthy or good. Somehow it does feel worthwhile, but I'd be hard pressed to say how. Probably all those tens of thousands of games, those hours I've spent, could have been spent better.

As I age and my health grows ever more precarious, I have higher standards of use of my time. Sleep is always quality use of time, I think! Maybe I've been influenced in my view by all the cats I've had in my family. Naps are one of our favorite quality-time activities. Napping together is like one of the great joys of life, I think. When ever I've either babysat or had a current boyfriend, I've found napping with other humans even more pleasing and fun. I feel like I'm on solid ground that sleep is always a fantastic use of time. Despite Housman's admonition "Clay lies still but blood's a rover, breath's a ware that will not keep. Up, lad, when the journey's over there'll be time enough for sleep." I think he's missing a lot. He was young and probably overly-energetic when he wrote this.

I've reveled in slackery, in fun all my life. I bear my testimony that 2 Ne 2:25 "men are that they might have joy" is the truth! The purpose of life is joy, yes, totally!

But since I've been on a leave of absence for health related reasons, I've come to miss work. Seriously, badly, deeply, I truly miss working with all my heart. Isn't that strange? Over and over I have dreams that I'm working furiously to get some machine installed and running. I'm at a jobsite somewhere and we're working out all the issues and difficulties of construction, installation, and commissioning of some new equipment, structure, system, or machine. I wake up and think somebody ought to pay me for that effort I put in all night! I lie there and long for the fun, the purpose, the joy and thrills of working again at my chosen profession. I sure hope I get healthy enough to go back and do that again before I die! It was so much fun! Building things is very cool. Just like when I was a kid and built cities from blocks, I love to build. I guess that's my creative urge at work.

I like designing and making stuff like cabinetry, too, or quilts, or sweaters. Maybe I'll have to content myself with projects like that, now. Or with building a great team to have fun working at the new business. Or maybe just with building a healthy cat-family in my home. I don't know. But isn't it odd that not working is much less fun than working? Who'd a thunk a slacker and hedonist like me would ever say that?
thetatiana: (Default)
I'm participating in the WAVE blog carnival to answer this question. It may be too late, since it looks like it was posted back in January, but I want to show my support, however belated. So I'll post here the answer I gave on By Common Consent when Aaron B asked us that same question.

I don’t remember when I became a feminist. I just always have been one ever since I remember. The games other girls in my neighborhood played were limited to “house” and “dolls”, both of which bored me. So I played with guys instead, including my best friend Wesley, with whom I ran, climbed, and built things outside. Staying inside was boring for me, and I remember looking out with longing on stormy days and wondering how I could possible stand it until I was allowed out again.

From the time I was very young, people would constantly say to me “girls don’t do that”, “girls can’t do that”, etc. I found that they were always mistaken. I just went ahead and did what seemed right to me, and never had a problem. My dad, his dad, and *his* dad were all engineering types, designing and building things. In an open house recently given of a house my great-grandfather designed and built, I could totally see my family’s style of engineering there, which passed down through the generations. It was odd and awesome to see something so familiar it looked like I or my father had built it, but made by someone I knew almost nothing about. From the earliest age I just loved machines, structures, and building. On my mother’s side all her siblings and progenitors were scientists, engineers, and inventors. Sometimes I think I’m the Kwisatz Haderach of engineering, brought here by a long-term breeding project, who arrived one generation too soon and the wrong gender. =)

Anyway, I remember the unfairness of things from long ago. I loved my older brother’s scouting manuals and stuff. They did such fun and important stuff like learning to make fires, tying knots, boating, etc. so I joined the Brownies and it was so freaking boring. We sang a lot and did crafty stuff. Absolutely nothing fun for me at all. So I quit after one year and did not fly up.

I remember that I quickly learned to avoid whatever was specifically made for girls, as it would be sure to be glittery, cheap, boring, and of poor workmanship. I actually still loathe pink as a clothing color today. When I was in 3rd grade I asked why girls had to wear dresses to school, and was told the shapes of our little girl bottoms would be distracting to the boys if they were visible. In 3rd grade! How repulsive!

On the playground in a dress at recess, you can’t climb on the monkey bars because someone might see up your dress. You can’t play any game that requires you to be on hands and knees, because a dress quickly gets caught under your knees and flips you over. You can’t hang upside down from a tree branch because your dress falls over your head and blocks your vision. Dresses are ridiculous. I knew that, and I knew I had to wear them, and I hated it.

In books and stories, the interesting roles, the protagonists, were almost always boys or men. In the few that weren’t, figuring out how to comply with the draconian requirement always to be ladylike was a major part of the difficulty. That and voraciously searching for husbands who always seemed to turn out to be rich, too, among their other charms. Way to teach girls to sell themselves to the highest bidder! How is that not prostitution? I’m not seeing how, in principal, it is different, though obviously your life is better if you have only one john rather than many.

And it was the same way all the time. In about 1995 when someone commented how few women were online at the time, a colleague said “oh there are a few there chasing the guys”. Excuse me? Another colleague said to me directly “you don’t have to be an engineer to get a man!” Huh?

In 1982 I was called the “Lady Programmer”, which is different, I suppose, from being a programmer. Over the next decade in IT it became very equal, with plenty of females. I think the last decade or so has been a time of reversal, when fewer girls went into technical fields. My friend who studied computer game design in grad school said there were zero women in his program at USC. Nary a one.

I feel like ranting a huge rant, given the obtusity of some of the people who act like girls are just like that or something. No, we aren’t! We’re forced to be that way, and some of us refuse to be forced.

Another one was the guy at a then new job who goggled speechless at the sight of me using a tape measure. Uhhh… engineer? scores of start ups? long time designer? I so thought we were past that by then! That was around 2001.

Another one was when my hydraulic supplier responded to me pointing out a glaring error in his schematic by telling me that it was right, that I just didn’t understand, and telling me to go ask my male boss to explain it to me. I explained multiple times the exact problem but wasn’t heard. Finally my boss called them and said “she knows what she’s talking about, listen to her, we won’t buy it until it meets her approval.” That finally did it. I’m kind of grateful to that horrible hydraulics supply company for they forced me to learn all about hydraulics so I could evaluate their machines and fix them. =)

That’s not even mentioning all the times people assume at first I’m not the person they want, because I’m female. I remember saying cheerfully to one customer “well, I’m him!” when he asked to speak to our electrical guy. (Yes, it should have been “I’m he” but I can’t get away with using good grammar on top of my gender failings.)

Being a girl has come in handy in some ways too. I often get first pick of the good electricians and millwrights for my job-sites because they find it a novelty to work with a female engineer. I can shame the slowpoke union guys by getting more done myself with my own tools during their 15 minute break than they’ve accomplished all morning. Most guys really hate for a girl to show them up in guy things. Also, I remember one time when I won my point by blithely climbing up a junk tower to show the plant engineer the problem which was not due to my machine but rather to an unexpected proturbance inside the tower. I suggested he climb up and look for himself, and he was reluctant due to wanting to stay clean, or lack of fitness, or possibly fear of heights, but he took my word for it.

I know sometimes I would feel as though I had to prove my masculinity in these start-up situations at plants with all new guys who didn’t know me. Then I made a conscious decision not to do that anymore, because it’s annoying to me when guys do it so I decided to stop too. But I’ve always been very hands-on, getting dirty and taking a part in the actual work. Most engineers prefer to leave that to the workmen, but I never felt I could, because I needed to know from direct experience how to do every single step of the process, because the workers would ask me, and I wanted to really know how. So I got dirtier than most of the guy engineers on my sites. And I learned a lot too.

See, ideally you need to be a welder to design a good weldment. You need to be a millwright to make good mechanical designs. You need to be an electrician to design good electrical panels and systems. And you should always take the point of view of the operator to design good control systems. Those people who use it every day are the ones who can tell you the most about your machines, and how to improve them. I always made friends with the operators, and never acted like I was a superior person because my job requires a degree and their doesn’t. This friendliness was interpreted by some people as flirting or hitting on people, just because I’m female. My colleagues at the office who were like brothers to me were always teasing me about how many friends and admirers I would collect on job-sites. Dude, I’m doing my job! It’s not about that. But of course, they think everything is about that if a female is involved.

So in addition to my skill at engineering design, wiring, inspection, project management, installation, and start-up, in order to do my job I also had to have a fairly thick skin, and be able to ignore all the well-wishing people who tried to steer me toward something cute and decorative and away from the meat and potatoes business of my companies. Also away from the stuff that’s interesting, challenging, and fun, and toward the things that are dull menial work, which people seem to think women like and are best suited to.

What I hope is that my career trajectory converted a lot of people to the idea that girls *can*. Though I was the only female in the paper industry who did what I did, I hope that I can be followed now by girls who only need the good engineering skills, and aren’t required to have that super thick skin and stalwart determination to do the part of the job that’s fun. That’s my hope.

When I found out this church was instrumental in defeating the ERA, my earliest political longing, I almost quit. But things have changed, and are changing still, and the restored gospel is still the truth and still very good news. God keeps telling me the place I belong is here. And maybe there’s a reason he wants someone like me in his church. It may be 100% for my good, which I know it’s good for me to make the attempt, even if ultimately I fail. But it just also might be a little bit for the church’s good too. So that’s my Mormon Feminist Manifesto. I’m a girl and I’m here to tell everyone that girls CAN.
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I love the feeling of turning over a new leaf, starting a new phase, beginning again. One thing I miss about school is how it was all done every 9 weeks or so (we were on the quarter system at Auburn when I went). You went through finals and it was a huge push but afterward you got to take a break and then start fresh on something altogether new. That was wonderful!

My dad used to get a whole new job about once a decade. Mostly he worked for the same place, but he would start up an entirely new division or something, begin a whole new area. One time he bought a small business and worked at it for most of a decade, then sold it and went back to work for his old bosses doing something brand new. I think that propensity runs in the family.

I love to change jobs, myself. I've been a programmer, a computer consultant, an electrical engineer, and a project manager. I've always said I wanted my next career to be rock star or visionary. To tell the truth, though, I thought when I went to work as an engineer for nuclear plants, I thought that would be my last career, would take me through to retirement age. Unfortunately, illness got in the way and I was unable to work at that job after three years. I've had diabetes since my 30s, but gradually accumulated more troubles since then. First Barrett's esophagus, the predromal phase to the cancer that killed my dad. Then Plantar Faciitis, which made it painful to be on my feet and take even a few steps. Then this crippling fatigue that grew and grew on me until it overtook me. Along with that came Lupus and Immune deficiency. Also high blood pressure and difficulty losing weight. My cholesterol is way too high as well. Lately I've added Thyroid problems, and now kidneys. I haven't been able to keep my diabetes in good control for a while, which is apparently why the kidneys are starting to go. Either that or the high blood pressure. I take 30 different medicines and supplements each day. So I got more and more unable to last a whole day at work, and even to get up and bathe and dress and make it there on many days.

First I went on FMLA, (family medical leave act), which let me take days off without pay. I did that for about six months, then had to go on long term disability. I'm currently in a two year leave of absence from my job. At the end of the two year period, I go on COBRA for another 18 months, then lose my insurance. My disability insurance company keeps making the bar higher, and adds more and more difficulty to the process of being re-certified to receive my disability benefits. I do feel better after my two year rest, but I'm not really well enough to take another full time job. I'm also doubtful my previous employer would hire me back, and I'm not sure I blame them. Why take a risk on someone who is sick when someone younger and healthier is applying for the same job?

I've recently started a new diet that's helped me get my blood sugar down, and has given me a burst of energy so far. I'm really happy about it. I hope I can lose weight and roll back the clock to give myself a few more years of decent health. It's got me very optimistic again.

So at this stage in my life, I'm starting something new once again. With hope and trepidation I'm starting a business. It's something I do every day anyway, taking care of cats. It's something I love to do. I've always loved animals and especially cats. Here's the site I've made for it with my rudimentary web development skills. http://felinehs.com I'll be learning as I go. Wish me luck!
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A Left-Handed Commencement Address
(Mills College, 1983)

Notice: this talk is not under copyright, and may be quoted or reprinted as a whole without obtaining permission, though I would appreciate being notified of reprintings.

— UKL

I want to thank the Mills College Class of '83 for offering me a rare chance: to speak aloud in public in the language of women.

I know there are men graduating, and I don't mean to exclude them, far from it. There is a Greek tragedy where the Greek says to the foreigner, “If you don't understand Greek, please signify by nodding.” Anyhow, commencements are usually operated under the unspoken agreement that everybody graduating is either male or ought to be. That’s why we are all wearing these twelfth-century dresses that look so great on men and make women look either like a mushroom or a pregnant stork. Intellectual tradition is male. Public speaking is done in the public tongue, the national or tribal language; and the language of our tribe is the men's language. Of course women learn it. We're not dumb. If you can tell Margaret Thatcher from Ronald Reagan, or Indira Gandhi from General Somoza, by anything they say, tell me how. This is a man’s world, so it talks a man’s language. The words are all words of power. You’ve come a long way, baby, but no way is long enough. You can’t even get there by selling yourself out: because there is theirs, not yours.

Maybe we’ve had enough words of power and talk about the battle of life. Maybe we need some words of weakness. Instead of saying now that I hope you will all go forth from this ivory tower of college into the Real World and forge a triumphant career or at least help your husband to and keep our country strong and be a success in everything - instead of talking about power, what if I talked like a woman right here in public? It won’t sound right. It’s going to sound terrible. What if I said what I hope for you is first, if — only if — you want kids, I hope you have them. Not hordes of them. A couple, enough. I hope they’re beautiful. I hope you and they have enough to eat, and a place to be warm and clean in, and friends, and work you like doing. Well, is that what you went to college for? Is that all? What about success?

Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.

Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself — as I know you already have — in dark places, alone, and afraid.

What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign.

Well, we’re already foreigners. Women as women are largely excluded from, alien to, the self-declared male norms of this society, where human beings are called Man, the only respectable god is male, the only direction is up. So that’s their country; let’s explore our own. I’m not talking about sex; that’s a whole other universe, where every man and woman is on their own. I’m talking about society, the so-called man’s world of institutionalized competition, aggression, violence, authority, and power. If we want to live as women, some separatism is forced upon us: Mills College is a wise embodiment of that separatism. The war-games world wasn’t made by us or for us; we can’t even breathe the air there without masks. And if you put the mask on you’ll have a hard time getting it off. So how about going on doing things our own way, as to some extent you did here at Mills? Not for men and the male power hierarchy — that’s their game. Not against men, either — that’s still playing by their rules. But with any men who are with us: that’s our game. Why should a free woman with a college education either fight Machoman or serve him? Why should she live her life on his terms?

Machoman is afraid of our terms, which are not all rational, positive, competitive, etc. And so he has taught us to despise and deny them. In our society, women have lived, and have been despised for living, the whole side of life that includes and takes responsibility for helplessness, weakness, and illness, for the irrational and the irreparable, for all that is obscure, passive, uncontrolled, animal, unclean — the valley of the shadow, the deep, the depths of life. All that the Warrior denies and refuses is left to us and the men who share it with us and therefore, like us, can’t play doctor, only nurse, can’t be warriors, only civilians, can’t be chiefs, only indians. Well so that is our country. The night side of our country. If there is a day side to it, high sierras, prairies of bright grass, we only know pioneers’ tales about it, we haven’t got there yet. We’re never going to get there by imitating Machoman. We are only going to get there by going our own way, by living there, by living through the night in our own country.

So what I hope for you is that you live there not as prisoners, ashamed of being women, consenting captives of a psychopathic social system, but as natives. That you will be at home there, keep house there, be your own mistress, with a room of your own. That you will do your work there, whatever you’re good at, art or science or tech or running a company or sweeping under the beds, and when they tell you that it’s second-class work because a woman is doing it, I hope you tell them to go to hell and while they’re going to give you equal pay for equal time. I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated. I hope you are never victims, but I hope you have no power over other people. And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing — instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.

— UKL
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This story, really a novella, is the one I use to introduce people to Dostoyevsky. If you like White Nights you will like Fyodor Mikailovich, I think, and if you don't you won't. In it we're introduced to a charming intelligent young man who lives on the edges of St. Petersburg life, a shy dreamer who spends almost all his time alone. The life of his observations and imagination is very full, however. He daydreams in 3d with vivid colors passionate intricate tales that engross him completely, to the point that an actual friend knocking on his door to say hello flusters him totally, leaving him nonplussed for the entire short awkward visit. Dostoyevsky, in his brilliant way makes me care deeply about our hero, and feel a total sense of identification with him.

One day, our protagonist meets an actual real-life girl, one whose temperment and situation in life are something like his. They become great friends immediately, something that has never happened to him before. The story takes off at this point, piling up so much light and darkness that I'm gasping for breath all the way through until the magnificent ending.

It's extraordinary the way Dostoyevsky can make all of us feel so much identification with his characters. I feel each time I read this story that he's plumbed the secret depths of my soul that not even I had any idea of. He slices me apart and puts me back together so that I'm somebody totally new after he's done. I feel as though he's writing about me and only me, through a century and a half of time travel and a thorough reading of my subconscious mind, and I do feel exposed by it.

My son's aunt who studied Russian literature in Russia says Dostoyevsky is evil, because he cuts us open and has a poke round our deepest selves with such complete and utter honesty. It's true he does see the whole of humanity, from our basest depravity to our highest divinity. But for me his truth is purifying, like a sacred flame, like the caress of a being who's both angel and demon at the same time. I do think Dostoyevsky is the greatest novelist of all in the whole history of western civilization.
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A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I decided to reread all of Ursula K. Le Guin's books recently, since she's my very favorite living author, and because much of her work I read only once long ago. I'm feeling a great need lately for her books, for the way of the Tao, going with the flow, of doing by not doing, of subtle strength, the powers of the old earth. I realized recently that along with Tolkien, Le Guin is for me a writer of power, of deep understanding, a writer of scriptures.

This is the first book in the Earthsea Cycle, which was a trilogy when first I read it in the 1970s, but now includes six books. They are some of the best books ever written, I think; full of wisdom, of listening, of stillness, and of being.

I recently watched the old 1980s PBS movie of The Lathe of Heaven, of which UKL approved in some interview I read. Though I've read the book many times, I was particularly struck this time by Dr. Heber, what a well-meaning guy he is, and how royally he screws everything up that he touches. I felt that shock of recognition then, that I am just like him; me, a founding member of the group LAPWGI, (pronounced "lapwiggy"), that stands for "Lame Awkward People With Good Intentions".

Lately I'm trying to dedicate my life to ending poverty, to saving the world, to averting human extinction, and also to raising one young man, my adopted son. My son has many troubles, which I once naively thought would be quickly healed by plenty of love, medical care, a healthy environment, and good parenting. As we humans are wont to do, I bit off a great deal more than I bargained for.

I love being a parent, but it's certainly by far the most difficult thing I've ever done. I do have complete faith that despite his Lyme Neuroborreliosis, his struggles against Schizophrenia and Paranoia, his C-PTSD from repeated trauma in childhood, his deep depression and difficulties with self-care, and most recently, his agoraphobia, despite all these things my son will be healed, will grow in wisdom and understanding and go on to live a happy and fulfilling life. I know that is true. I know our lives have meaning, that our struggles are worthwhile.

My son is a wonderful human being, complex, creative, funny, kind, marvelous. Also sometimes angry, frustrated at the world and his difficulties, occasionally arrogant or abusive, definitely stubborn, often envious of others, and almost always self-defeating. He's sweet and funny, and he tries very hard. He pushes himself, often in contradictory directions. He's scary sometimes: maddened, suicidal, impulsive and out of control. He's a whirlwind of inappropriateness, of 2 AM outbursts of loud maniacal laughter, and also of gentleness and an innate goodness that shines out from deep within. His life is the human condition writ large. I think I experience the joys and challenges of any parent, and like other parents I try my best to be a good example and guide. I try to be always calm, loving and patient. I try to establish good boundaries and be firm and gentle in maintaining them. I try, and very often I fall short.

See, Dr. Heber is me. I'm an engineer, a Son of Martha, and I love machines and systems. They speak to me, telling me their secrets and desires. They want to be strong and true, to run well, to be a joy to work with. They want to serve, to last lifetimes. They show me how to design them, how to tweak them for optimum function. They mostly do what they're meant to do. They make sense. They follow laws of physics. My nuclear plants, my paper mills, water filtration systems, power transmission lines, roads and bridges, farms and factories, grocery stores and shipping lines and sewage treatment plants. They're beautiful things. They bring great joy to our lives and tremendous benefits. They feed us, enable us to keep ourselves clean, give us warmth and light, and carry off our wastes. They give us the power to move about in safety and peace. They greatly enrich our lives. I love them. Our technological society is like a mother to all of us. It is my joy and my life's work.

But a son is so much more complex than any human-designed machine. A son has moral agency, makes choices, goes his own way, is not me. He's a miracle, an enigma, a nascent god, a human person who can't be ruled by force, can only be persuaded, taught, guided, tickled, loved toward the direction he should go. But what direction is that? How do I know where to lead when I'm not even sure of my own way?

I guess we learn by trying our best and failing terribly, then studying it out, understanding our errors, and trying once again, and ever again. Every direction is possibly false. A hand too-heavy or too-light, a work spoken too softly or too harsh, these butterfly flaps can magnify into lasting good or harm in our offspring's lives. We live in a non-linear universe. Everything we do has consequences. Doing nothing also has consequences, terrible or great.

How can we deal with so much uncertainty? How do we go with the world? Not by forcing, I'm finding. Not by redesigning the universe in our image. I have to learn better how to listen, to learn, to understand my own limitations. I have to learn the light touch.

That's what Ursula, what Earthsea, talks about. Ged is quick and brave. He has enormous powers of intellect and of magery. He learns through terrible mistakes how to use them, and how not to use them.

These books bring me deep into the midst of this world that I don't at all understand. They're like an empty boat, full of potentialities. The enormous power of UKL's writing is in the things she says without saying, in the empty spaces between the words. How do I review her writing when I only have words to do it in? I'm not sure.

I don't mean to sound all mystical or vague. These things she speaks of are plain and everyday. But these stories are exactly what I need right now to learn how to release an intolerable burden, to set down the weight of the universe, and do by not doing.





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She's a very cute cat, doesn't weigh much, purrs comfortingly, and has that black silky soft fur that reminds me of some Asian girls' hair that I would love to have hair like. But she's lying half on my chest and half on my neck, chin on my face, and it's a little uncomfortable. I could use a couple of pillows to hold my head up. Of course, in this position I have a good opportunity to kiss her tummy, which I take advantage of. Kiss, kiss, kiss. Purr, purr, purr.

Her name is Sekhmet, though we sometimes call her Momo because she reminds us of the character by that name in the anime series. She's nearly five months old. I got her when she was about two weeks old, part of a rescue mom-and-litter I adopted this spring. Mama Julie and seven littermates, plus Grace, equals nine cats who live here now. They keep things interesting.

It's endlessly entertaining to watch them spar. They're far more interesting than any tv program; running, jumping, pouncing, playing, tumbling one over another. Every so often someone crosses the line from play into more serious contention and starts calling out "Meow, meow, meow, Mom he's hurting me make him stop!" And I respond "Joshu, when he cries, you let him up." Usually it's Joshu who is the perpetrator, since he's the biggest and strongest and most intrepid and dominant. Joshu when he was only a few weeks old used to scamper up to my feet every time I entered the room, wanting to be cuddled and pet. He was the first one out of the big box they lived in when they were tiny.

Sometimes the offender is Ghost, though, who's second-in-command, and whose full name is Sand Lion Ghost Olorion. Ghost is dominant but chill. Rarely is it anyone else, though Masa (short for Thomasina) can be quite fierce when roused. She's the one you least want after your foot-lump when the covers aren't clawproof. She'll flat amputate toes if you aren't careful.

"When they cry, you let them up" is one of the things I repeat endlessly to the little ones. Others are "Kitties aren't allowed on the table (/counter/keyboard)" and "Be sweet to the babies, Mama, be sweet." Julie was an excellent mom until she decided to wean them. After that she started beating them up fairly often and making the kind of cliche ferocious cat noises that might be heard on a cheesy jungle show or an ad for cars. She does this mainly if they try to suckle on her, but also occasionally if she just happens to be feeling grumpy. She's a sweet cat to humans, but really needs to be in a one-pet household. She doesn't get along well with other cats. She's always very gentle and loving to humans, but attacked immediately and fiercely my two other cats at every opportunity. Felicity was 18 and is gone now. She got beat up 2 or 3 times before I separated them forever. Grace is timid and only got beat up once. Finally I realized Mama Julie has to stay sequestered from the others, and now she lives in my bedroom. I'd love to find her an excellent loving single-pet home.

I have some Prozac for her that I may try, if I can gather my courage enough to tackle administering it to her daily for long enough to see if it helps. It might be pretty tough until she gets the hang of things. She's crazy about Whiskas Free Range Chicken treats, though, so that helps. I give them all a treat or two after anyone has to have medicine. Bribery usually works pretty well, as soon as the cat realizes "let's get this medicine business over quickly so we can move on to the treats." Anyway, I heard about someone whose very unpredictable and vicious (to humans) cat had his whole personality changed forever by a few months of Prozac. It may be worth it, since she could come out and enjoy the freedom of our home if only she weren't so aggressive. Living in one room isn't really ideal, even when you have everything you need in the way of food, water, litterboxes, and plenty of company. The kittens come in and out between my room and the rest of the house.

My black furry chin muffler has moved to my lap now, which makes it a lot easier to type. I must say she's doing her job quite well. Her job of course -- the job of all cats -- is radiating contentment in the home. They have such a powerful sense of how lovely it is to be indoors, in climate controlled luxury, curled up on a soft spot, a sunny spot, or just a warm spot, relaxing and enjoying the awesomeness of being alive. Cats patently enjoy life, and the feeling is rather infectious. They so much more than pay their way by this talent. Life truly is deeply enjoyable, just being, drawing breath, tasting oxygen. Perceiving. It's so amazing and fantastic, and yet we humans tend to forget. How weird that we can forget for hours and days at a time, sometimes, just how magnificent and glorious it is to be a living sentient being every moment of our lives.

Cats rarely forget this. So they kindly remind us in such a way that we can feel it too. All that, in exchange for a few vet visits a year and some daily fresh water and kibble. What a bargain! The affection isn't part of the deal, that's just for free, because cats like humans and vice versa. From the cat point of view, humans are their symbiotic servant species. God, the cat God, obviously made humans so that they should serve cats. I mean, their hands are just the right height to turn doorknobs! That's a dead giveaway. Since rendering loving service to others is what makes humans feel most happy and fulfilled in life, too, it's completely win-win.

Now Sekhmet is licking herself in my lap, and she takes the time to lick my leg a bit as well. I don't know if she feels it could use cleaning or just happens to like my flavor. I feel the superpowers soaking in and taking effect. Cat licks convey superpowers, of course, and the smaller and more timid the cat, the stronger the powers granted. Following a stray impulse, I lick God's hand mentally in my prayers, and thank him for giving Sekhmet and the others into my keeping.

Then I thank him for my son who's the light of my life. I ask him to protect and heal him. And I remember once again how grand, how exalted, it is to be alive.
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