The Discomfort Zone – Are We Recycling Selves in Shame?

2017-01-08-107nc_df_0-2I’ve been struggling for a good while now with certain trends in society. I’ve fought racism and sexism all my life — I started taking hits for doing this as early as fifth grade for the first, and my junior year in high school for the latter.  So, I’m not a novice, exactly to the field of change vs progress.

I think progress is the goal, rather than just any old change that comes along being labeled as progress.  And I’d really rather not watch those I think of as allies doing what is commonly referred to as “eating their own.”  So, I admit, a relatively recent phenomenon in feminism makes me squirm with discomfort: the seemingly harsh take of some feminists about trans-women.  The level of “cut them from our herd” behaviors makes me wince, to be honest.  I first noted it being written about in relation to some pagan conventions, when certain women’s spirituality groups banned trans-women because they weren’t “real” women, weren’t “born” women.(Just as a small linguistic aside?  Let me say the term “cis” for those “real”, “born” women makes me think of the word “cyst”.  Make of that what you will.)

One acquaintance tried to make the case for being anti-trans inclusion by asking me if Rachel Dolezal was black.  No, she isn’t black although she chooses to identify as black.   What does that objectively (if not objectionably) mean?  When I first read about the outing of Rachel as white, I spent a good deal of time trying to get inside her head.  Why would she do such a thing?  I began to speculate and review my own memories and experiences in search of explanation.

As I was graduating high school – with a grade point average artificially reduced because my Principal, who was pissed at me for getting a petition allowing girls to wear pants instead of skirts/dresses only, said in spite of my A-average, I had “too many unexcused absences” and reduced ALL my grades to mere B’s – I read “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  It broke my little all-but-entirely-white heart into little bitty guilt-stained pieces, let me tell you.  I have a grandmother I’d been told was Comanche — though whether she was a “half-breed” or a mere quarter was lost somewhere in shamed white pride in the family.  Oh, reading that book and then soon thereafter following the white cop/FBI confrontations that ended with Leonard Peltier in prison, sure made me wish I could claim another race than white!  This would have been complicated by my blue eyes and blond hair, right?  But that didn’t stop Rachel Dolezal, did it?

So, it made me wonder, if my late adolescent desire to be Indian instead of white (in spite of having only a few drops of Amerindian blood) was motivated by shame?  Was that the motivation, if only subconsciously, for Rachel Dolezal?  And yes, I know some several someones out there on the web will take umbrage and get insulted at the idea that shame could be such a motivation.  Tough.  Shame IS a motivation in society, otherwise slut-shaming and other such egregious behaviors would not exist.  I DID manage to not present myself as anything but what I am — a blend of Northern European with a drop of Amerindian to lend me lactose intolerance, yay? (And coincidentally, much later on being told by an Indian, that I was NOT Indian because I was not reservation-raised.  Gee, I feel so excluded by choices I did not get to make?  Maybe?  So, is a black woman not black if she didn’t grow up in Donald Trump’s hellish “inner city”?)

So, if one makes a leap from feeling such horror of actions done by one’s race can make you wish you were something else, could horror over what things have been done by one’s sex make you crave a different identity?  I have no idea if horror at male behavior could make some men actually say, “You know, I don’t want to be THAT guy – in fact I don’t want to be ANY guy!”  It seems doubtful to me.  Trans people I know say they just knew they were in the wrong body.  A few I have read about might have a point – certain people born with confusing combinations of sexual parts – who might once have been called hermaphrodites, might have had a snap decision made by a doctor or parent in their infancy.  I could easily see that causing them to want to be something other than that random “assignment.”

Feminists have been at lengths to rationally explain that there are two “sexes” determined by physical attributes at birth.  But what does that mean for people with indeterminate sexual bits, eh?  On the other hand, gender, they tell us, is societally imposed bits assigned to those bearing said physical attributes.  My school Principal, seeing bumps on my chest, assigned “wears skirts” to me as a gender attribute to match my physiology, for instance.  Perhaps my demand to wear pants violated some deeply held belief in a Biblical injunction against women wearing men’s clothing?  (Never mind, of course, that in Biblical days NOBODY wore pants!)

So, if I am understanding the trans objections of certain feminists, they are against the idea that trans people wear the clothing of their chosen gender as an outward sign of the sexual identity they wish to adopt?  Gender is an artificial and negatively affecting condition and thus to be wore down, ground out, and destroyed, you see?  So the trans idea of men wearing feminine attributes like skirts, bras, make-up only reinforces the subjugating force of gender and must be opposed?  Am I getting this right?  My mind does boggle at this, you see?

I get into these moral dilemmas when ideology seems to completely cut people, who are surely suffering, out of the equation in the service of an idea.  What are these suffering people left on the margins in the pursuit of a perfect ideology, if not some kind of snarling logicality induced collateral damage?  If one assigned this same rational to homosexuality, by saying, for example “Men being fucked like women reasserts gender roles, so by Logic, we canNOT have THAT happening!” it wouldn’t wash, would it?  Oh, wait, something very like that IS what homophobic religious jerks DO say, isn’t it?  We have seen how that played out, haven’t we?

Thus, my problems with being anti-trans because “feminism opposes gender.”  I care about the people it is happening to more than I care about an idea about reinforcement of “gender”.  And what has this to do with a photograph of pretty glassware at the top of this random mental ramble?  Well, those lovely “glasses”?  They were once soda bottles.  They were TRANSformed into pretty, bright, colorful glasses to drink beer, wine, martinis — or water — out of instead.  So, I expect that any day now, we should catch hell from the Mormons decrying the natural non-alcoholic use of that GLASS being TRANSformed into something promoting the use of demon rum, etc, etc, etc.  Recycled soda bottles should only be made into more soda bottles, damn it all!

We are chasing our semantic tails round and round and forgetting people.  This disturbs and troubles me.  There are plenty of oppressors out there, I’ve met them.  It is when I meet them looking like ME that I am most disturbed.  I cannot “see” a trans woman being an oppressor by “reinforcing gender roles” because she is wearing a dress and has her hair permed.  No, I cannot.  I will not.  And no, I can’t just sit on my fingers or keep my mouth shut.  I am deemed an idiot, occasionally.  The reason is, I keep saying things like this: What would the world look like IF everyone actually COULD choose who/what/how to be?  Is that not really a suggestion of what a post-racism, post-sexism world might look like?

And yes, thank you.  I’d rather be an idealistic idiot than a snarling logicality-induced bit of rhetorical rubble.  I’m pretty ashamed to be American in the wake of the November election, but I don’t think I can be anything else.  I’m also pretty ashamed to be a human, in light of human behavior.  So, I will stick with idealistic idiot until I find a wolf pack that will take me in in spite of my inadequate hairiness.

How Do We Become Who We Are

books-livrmI remember being pregnant with my first son. I remember stacks of books about being pregnant and producing children. I remember laughing and throwing one of those books, the title of which escapes me, into the trash can because it said something about newborn children being “blank slates” upon which their parents basically “wrote” their being.  Wow.  I somehow knew, just from the nature of the kicks to my breastbone, that the little presumed “chalkboard” in my belly was not going to go along with THAT program!

books-officeThis was before I’d even taken a philosophy course and before I’d even heard the word “existentialism.”  But I had the certain knowledge of what my own parents tried to “write” me into and knew I had rejected that completely.  How and why did I reject their doubtless sincere, if self-serving, efforts?  Because of BOOKS.  Because I read from an early age – I read at 4th grade level in grade one.  Because in a household full of horrific physical punishments, the worst punishment of all was not being allowed to check out library books for a whole year.

booksaltarBooks were where I escaped the cruel cloister of “family” life.  Books made me forget cold and hunger.  Books told me there were other ways to live, places to be.  Books made me sure I could do more with my life.  I’ve asked for books as presents more than any other object, I’ve given books away all my life.  The ones pictured in this post are small remnant of books owned and re-homed elsewhere, or occasionally sold, in my lifetime.  Books, to me, are WEALTH.  And no, those photos are not even all of the books of the family.  Not even half the books.

Reading is freedom seeking.  Reading is hope in ink.  So believe me when I say, I approve this message.  A plan to GET books into the hands of children who live in the unimaginable horror of a “book desert”?!  I am absolutely FOR that idea.  Even at our poorest, in my childhood, there was a set of encyclopedia and a dozen other books in our home, until we lost it all when I was around age 13.  Living in the wilds of frozen rural Idaho with no book in the house except the Book of Mormon, left by missionaries, was the most extreme deprivation I’d known.

Books are the building blocks of the mind.  And the roadmaps to better futures.  Books can be weapons against chaos.  Give your children books.  Give your adult friends books.  Read books yourself.  Challenge yourself!





Tone Setting?

img_0081I know, someone is going to accuse me of intolerance. I care not one whit.  I don’t even pretend to tolerate racism, misogyny, slavery, and other horrid societal things, do I?  And since the dominant paradigm faiths promote  all of those things practically as a default? Hey, that puts it all in the “never fucking mind” file in my mind.  Christianity, like most of the big three monotheistic faiths, being centered on a male deity, tends to treat women like crap.  Possibly worse than crap.  (Fertilizer is valued for crops and bomb making, after all.)  Since I’m a woman, I feel under no particular strain to aid in my own subjugation!  I actually feel like religion is used more to oppress everyone into “good” behavior that serves our corporate and governmental “masters” more than any purported god.

I like the pagan pantheons because they encompass both male and female divinity as an example.  Also?  None of that “all good, all knowing, all powerful” nonsense that makes the Jehovah figures either incompetent or assholes.  Don’t waste your time throwing C.S. Lewis or any other apologists at me; been there, done that and it was as unsatisfying as that crummy diet ice cream made with poly-what-the-hell-ever instead of cream!  Does that mean I pray to the figures on my altar — Kybele, Athena, Mary, and Crow Mother?  No.  It does not.  They are there to remind me of storied capabilities they were endowed with so as to activate those very human qualities in myself!  As I have often joked, I am a sort of poly-deist: “They” may indeed be out there and have set it all in motion, but they are not standing by a prayer/ritual switchboard to satisfy all “our wandering desires”.

I live, these days, mystical past apart,  basically as a “godless pagan”.  This does not mean precisely that I am an atheist — I am firmly agnostic due to my mystical past.  I have no clear idea whether or not gods and goddesses objectively exist; but I am pretty certain that this planet is OUR ball of wax to shape and destroy as WE will.  To me, tales of gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines are examples and precautionary tales.  Mind you, if Athena pops in (again) and head-smacks me?  I am willing to change my mind; but as a humanist?  For me, the biggest deterrent to the  common practice of religion is that it holds us back from saving ourselves as we wait, like children await the Easter bunny, some other Being to do it for us!

It is reassuring to me to know  that I am not alone as a pagan who isn’t rushing to propitiate divinities.  If gods and goddesses exist, my main perception is that they would most likely prefer for us to grow up and stop acting like little lost sheep(le).  The first book on my buy-t0-read list this year is Godless Paganism.  May it be so for you!


Gratitude 29 August – Wherein She Deplores a Well-Written Book

I like reading, and am generally grateful for books. I am grateful for the book I just finished, although reading it was like indulging in a film genre I deplore: horror. Trouble is? This was a non-fiction book.

Attachment-1So, while I am gratefully deploring “The Battle for God” by Karen Armstrong; I’m pretty sure she would ungratefully deplore my used graphic today.  Tough.  I think Ms. Armstrong, for all her meticulous research and very fair minded approach, has a couple blind spots.

Armstrong peaks my tolerance meter when she suggests that people under duress from fear and economic distress feel “left behind” by modernism — the general post-Enlightenment default mode of most of the Western World.  Her discussion of American fundamentalists in particular comes across to me as a prettily written gloss for “Yes, we are fucking idiots who like to boost our ego by being assholes to others; how DARE you college kids and atheist/feminist/faggot jerks tell us no; it’s a religious RIGHT, damn it!

All in all, I DO recommend the book.  It might be better read with a bottle of Scotch near at hand instead of the coffee I used to plough through it.  I absolutely enjoyed her careful historical analysis of the religious revolution in Iran — the whole nasty business that downed well-meaning Carter with hostages he could not retrieve.  However, it was NOT Carter who set that stage with letting the Shah be an autocratic asshole to his people, driving them to religion for refuge.  However, she also describes how a well-meaning revolution descended into a reign of terror devouring many Iranians; and yet somehow misses sounding alarm klaxons for what could happen if the legal “cuffs” every came off in America.

While she discusses how the less educated, poorly employed, tech-deficient Americans embrace Iron Age mythologies because they feel “left behind” by modern secular life?  I think she should have perused the book series “Left Behind” for where those mythological dreams would actually TAKE those pitiful fundamentalist sorts.  While she DOES discuss the American Christians who openly want theocracy, complete with slavery and forced birth?  She seems to believe the “Dominionists” are more dangerous than their Islamic brothers.  I wonder?

Like many modern apologists for Islam, and monotheism in general, she repeatedly stresses the nice things the Koran says instead of discussing with complete honesty what believers in the Koran did, including plenty of “conversion by the sword” by Mohammed himself.  She notably does not address the absolutely Iron Age mentality in the holy books of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — the way women are property (whether or not they veil for their own purposes, thank you very much), children can be slaughtered for disobedience or apostasy, and wonderfully non-modern things like slavery are AOK with God (and Jesus?).

She seems to want to defuse the religious fanatic bomb without actually acknowledging that religion IS a bomb.  She insists that humans need both “mythos” and “logos” and it is her opinion that problems happen only when mythos is treated AS logos.  One of my issues with this is that she seems to think monotheism is the only viable mythos out there; and second, as she said, any mythos being transformed to logos becomes an ideology.  And that, folks, let me tell you, IS the road to human hell paved with allegedly good intentions.  Ideologies make people into a means to an end — and as a good Kantian/Nietzschean Existentialist, that is a huge no-no.

For every chapter and verse she quotes on peace and love, there is more than one for “Kill the unbelievers!” in any of the three faiths she discusses; she can list all the external pressures in the world — but that is only the making of the gun, if you ask me.  The ammunition and the will to put finger to trigger comes from the “mythos” she tells us we cannot live without!

For a woman who once called herself an atheist, Karen Armstrong has returned, it seems to an idealized fold.  She thinks a religion-free era leads to emptiness and nihilism — whether she got this from Sartre’s “god shaped hole” or Nietzsche’s dead god, I don’t know.  I think with a bit of practice, we big-brained adaptable primates could find plenty of grist for that empty mental mill — IF we could stop fearing an afterlife punishment we are propagandized, beaten, and bamboozled into accepting.  I sympathize with her personal struggle and applaud her “praxis” approach to religion  — her description of it as “ethical alchemy” enchants me.  But as a priest once told me, shortly before I, myself, abandoned the Catholic Church, “Your ethics and logic applied to religion are not in line with the bulk of religious people; they will not rise to your level.”

Note, this book came out before 9-11, 2001.  I know she has written more on the topic of religion and terror.  I am not sure I want to read more, even with a bottle of Scotch at easy reach!  I walk (gratefully?) away with the uncomfortable sensation that Armstrong believes religion necessary, even IF it is an evil, and is trying to put lipstick on a pig.  She finds criticism of her take on Islam destructive, fearing it could lead to another Islam-directed Holocaust.  I share those fears, to be honest.

But if we could see ALL religions and hierarchies based on the holier than thou sorts ordering large groups of semi-stupid people into action as dangerous?  Well, then perhaps change would happen.  I think pointing out more loudly that, just as feelings are not facts, NOR is FAITH, might lead to more societal benefit than merely writing hall passes (in blood) for religious manias.


Catch-Up and Run-down

Ok, so now feeling over the whole venom reaction thing! Back to being grateful. Mind you, being more humanist than theistic, I am usually grateful to human action anyhow.

chalkedOn the 30th of July, I was grateful that my husband took up paintbrush to do a small household project. He used chalk paint to cover an ugly faux-finish on an otherwise charming piece of furniture that has held my bathroom sink since 2011!

So now it is a nice matte black, and I didn’t have to die of paint fumes.  Ever since my 2014 spring/summer of doom with the kitchen remodel and two solid months of refinishing furniture and painting rooms in the house, paint fumes of almost any sort make me feel quite ill.  That atop the already sickly from waspy stings would have been too freaking much!

On July 31st, I was grateful yet again, to the Minotaur for finishing the sink-dresser with a protective coat of poly-acrylic to stand up to bathroom dampness.  This finish was much smellier than the paint itself.

On August 1st?  I was grateful to finish reading the ugliest, nastiest, most-derivative trilogy of so-called “young adult” books I ever encountered. This was a trilogy of books about anthropomorphized rodents by Robin Jarvis: “The Dark Portal”,”The Crystal Prison”, and “The Final Resolution.” I got one of these (the middle one, of course) gifted to me and ordered the other two from the library.

First off, even if you are ‘humanizing’ your animal protagonists; some basic biology should be observed. Such as the following annoyed quibbles:
*bats do not have “snotty noses” unless they are very ill
*mice are so much smaller than rats that rats would kick their mousey butts
*an owl would kick ratt butt
*bats don’t “see in the dark” by magic, but by sound

But worse, the books were so very derivative — basically bits stolen from Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” books (very excellent!) and added to “Lord of the Rings”by Tolkien.
Sauron = ‘Jupiter” the cat
orks = rats
men = mice
bats = “Istari” and Numenoreans
squirrels = elves
“starglass” = Ring

The cover illustrations were rather charming. The interior ones were incredibly ugly — even the mouse protagonists were ungainly and bulbous nosed. I can’t see anyone over age ten “enjoying” these books at all. All the back cover praise, even from M. L’Engle? Made me wonder if they ever READ these horrid, grindingly awful little novels.  Characters were shallowly drawn, and word descriptions were often so ugly you simply wanted to quit reading.

Beware back cover praise when selecting books for young readers — read the book first to be SURE!

August 2?  I am grateful for some rain filling my new rain barrels!


Poetry Month – Sixteen: Reading, Ridicule, & Recipe

flying monkeyOh, did I leave sarcasm out of the title?  I know this is the blog where I intended not to swear or snark.  I’m not swearing.  But by all that is holy in history and writing, I will snark.  The photo?  It is the one I utilize when I really do want to fling monkey-poo from on high. So obviously it is prose first this day.  Otherwise, the succinct haiku would make no sense, sorry.

I’ve felt very low and weary and pained lately and I often escape into books.  I went to the library since money is short presently.  That was my first error — our library sucks rocks through bendy straws.  I checked out a book I had seen reviewed online as “luminous” — and hey, fungus and rotting manure can glow in the dark, right?

The title is “The Cenote” and I am pretty sure it is the result of a nice Utah-reared Mormon girl vacationing in Mexico (and without Richard Burton as a crazed drunken priest) and having too many forbidden margaritas.  Was that nasty and snide?  Tough cookies.  It is one of the worst novels I have ever read in my entire life. I’m not apologizing for the spoilers ahead, either.  Consider yourselves saved by my taking one for the team!

It revolves around an apparent pre-Columbian (or at least out of any notice of any possible conquistador sorts) village that sends the chief’s runtier son off to the islands to find a wife who can’t run away home.  The one he brings home has been been knocked up by a handsome trader who visited her island and her parents are in a hurry to unload her before her “shame” becomes obvious.  Don’t you just love to hate it when Christian values are mythologically imposed on otherwise happy indigenous populations?

The new hubby is sweet and sensitive and very unwarrior-ish, unlike his hunky-born-to-be-chief big brother.  The pregnant bride can’t even cook and doesn’t like meat, being a fish-eater (hey, is that code for Catholic?!) and she chops up “yams” though I’m pretty sure those are an African, not American staple at this point.  Even when he eventually finds out his cute baby daughter is not his flesh and blood, he charitably “forgives” his slutty-hot-island-girl wife (with her nappy hair, even!) and vows to love her.

But there are bigger things to worry about; in the dry season, the only source of water is the “cenote” — one of those deep holes in the midst of jungle.  Trouble is, with a poorly told myth of siren-like irresistable women of the ancient past as cause for the effect, the village men keep wandering away at night lured by the “voices”.  They drown in the cenote, and get their brains eaten by the “women” — apparently zombie mermaids of some kind.  But miraculously the hero-in-spite-of-runtiness son has figured how to “filter” the presumably poisoned water through sand and ashes.  (Wouldn’t that be more likely to produce lye than drinkable water?)  So they don’t die of thirst, they simply keep losing men.

Finally, a family tragedy sends the husband to jump into the cenote, and the island girl jumps in to save him — being swim qualified!  Hurrah!  Then the wildly in love couple decide to leave and go off to explore the world and each other (is this code for a mission of prematurely wed Mormons?!).  Never mind that the water source is still inhabited by brain sucking zombie females that the more obviously virile men of the tribe canNOT resist.  Alrighty then.  Aside from some shockingly Christianized thinking and guilt tripping and desperate tribal women painting their lips red in an attempt to foil sexy swimming zombies, the utter lack of historical research was stunning.  When I was twelve I knew enough history to find this book should fall under the genre called CRAP!

So, thus, reading and ridicule complete?  The haiku:

Too much tequila,

Too little hist‘ry research,

Man-eating mermaids!?

That only leaves the promised recipe, a bit of sarcasm all by itself.  Lynn Alley has a neat little cookbook called “The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker” out on cheap sale at B & N!    Since I am eating vegetarian about 5 times a week, I indulged my cookbook addiction; but because I am me, I can’t leave a recipe alone even the first time.  So I altered this one by changing the very American potatoes for SWEET POTATOES, just as the very bad novel’s heroine did!  My market had no poblano chiles, I got some Ancho chiles instead.

My changes are in italic font.

Rustic (Sweet) Potato and Poblano Ancho Gratin

2 large ancho chiles – I fire roasted them in the gas flame of my stove and stuck them in the fridge to cool overnight before scraping off the charred skins and slicing them for use.

1 T. garlic flavored olive oil

3 medium light colored sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced. (about 1 to 1 1/2 lbs)

smoked salt

1/2 lb shredded cheese (jack or cheddar)

1/2 c finely sliced sweet onion

3/4 c water

3 -4 cloves of comfited garlic (instead of fresh)

1 c heavy cream or half and half — or more if needed.

Layer the potatoes onto bottom of crock of slow cooker — after heating the olive oil in base.  Top first layer with 1/3 of the chile slices, 1/3 of the onion, and 1/3 of the cheese — repeat twice more — preferably while chanting something to scare away missionaries.  Turn that puppy up on high (recipe says low, but forget THAT) and pour the water down the side so the sweet heretical potatoes will start steaming tender!  Let it cook for up to two hours, depending on the virility of your crock pot!

Mix the salt into the cream, mash the soft garlic comfit cloves (or use roasted garlic) and mix that into the cream as well.  Pour this over the softened sweet potato-chile-onion mass and cook for another hour or two!

Enjoy while imagining shooting zombie mermaids in a cenote barrel, ok?