Archives for the month of: August, 2010


I have not forgotten my promise to talk about The Religious Case Against Belief! But tonight is my littlest sister’s 21st birthday party, and so I will get back to work on Monday, probably. Thank you, very much, for your patience.

Also: Woohoo! Flapper party!


My life is in the middle of a lot of transition right now. I’m used to the sort of physical/locational things by now. The change which takes up a lot of my thought, though, is that I am learning how to be feminine, and how to dress well and look good. I didn’t from childhood through around 20-22 because I was a tomboy “on principle”. What this actually meant, I am sorry to say, is that I looked around me and thought that a girl couldn’t manage to be both smart and pretty. I didn’t see anyone who was clearly both exceptionally intelligent and beautiful, and I definitely knew, being a bookworm, that I wanted to be in the smart camp. I thought a *lot* of stupid things when I was younger, like that all punk music was stupid and sounded the same (until I was 15), that justice meant one thing in all places and times.

So now I have figured out not only that I can do both, but also that my love for playing dress-up hasn’t actually faded at all. And I look good in pink. There was a time when I would have-did-refused to wear pink, again on some not-at-all-thought-out “principle”. I don’t really know how that worked, now. I think I meant that wearing pink would have allowed others to make certain assumptions regarding my abilities and such, but you know what? First of all and less importantly, my enormous breasts do that anyway. And second, I’m not in charge of other people’s assumptions. They’ll make them, or they won’t, and nothing I do can affect that, not really.

But even so, this whole thing is new and it fits strangely. Some of the seams rub, and it’s a bit loose here and there. So by way of making it more comfortable and to reassure myself that I haven’t been losing my mind/fooling myself, I will spend the next several posts discussing the book I am currently reading*. It’s called The Religious Case Against Belief and it is most excellent. I read it once before, a year or so ago, and this time I shall read it carefully and take notes. It’s the kind of book with the kind of information that needs to be spread around among the populace.

*That is, one of the books I’m reading. And if anyone wants me to also talk about The Hindus, An Alternative History or The Idiot, I’ll gladly do so.

I get my horoscope for fun, and this week it gave me a really good idea: to take some time to go over the past year and reflect on what I’ve learned, how I’ve changed, and what has improved.

I have learned that Seattle is the only city I’ve met that I think I could happily live in for the rest of my life, even though it is passive aggressive and unfriendly and hipstery as hell and a little defensively stuck up. I love it anyway. It feels like home when nowhere else does.

I have learned that getting over a shallow feeling of creepiness and accepting the comfort and inspiration of sitting and sketching Bruce Lee’s grave makes me feel calm and capable and happy. I have spent hours there and I would happily spend hours more.

I have learned that I can be pretty and girly and dressed well, and smart and geeky and tough, all at the same time. It’s a classic mistake, but I didn’t realize I was making it until I started to stop.

I learned that if a wolf goes into a den of coyote pups and begins killing them, I will feel sad but cheer on the wolf anyway.

I learned that I want summer vacations on the Oregon coast.

I am starting to learn how to be a friend again, and I definitely know how much I resent having to stay home because I don’t have money to go out/drive to civilization.

It’s been 12 years and I’ve lived in a few different areas and I’ve given it an honest shot more than once: I definitely sincerely dislike West Virginia for all kinds of reasons and want to never live here again. Actually, once I leave, I’d like to never come back, but I know that won’t happen. However, I will stick to my guns and never go to Clay County ever ever ever again, so help me God.

This year I finally began to grasp my own worth and ability. Recently, two of my favorite professors wrote me recommendation letters that made me cry–partly because they were so good, and partly because some of what they said surprised me. It shouldn’t have.

I learned that I will find the same problems in Buddhism as anywhere else, for real this time. I knew it intellectually, and now I know it emotionally.

I just learned/realized that I don’t know things until I know them emotionally.

I learned that the Avett Bros. make the best blogging soundtrack for me.

And finally, I finally learned how to write every day.

Last night I watched Bright Star, a newish movie directed by Jane Campion about John Keats by way of his fiancee and muse, Fanny Brawne. It was wonderful. The sense of the seasons, the acting, and my God, the costuming–for me it was pitch-perfect. Even the Husband watched it, when he hadn’t thought he was interested.

And it’s a good thing I did watch it. Otherwise, who knows how long it would have been before I realized that John Keats is my favorite English poet? And that he has been for years, except I didn’t know?

I think about the principles that guide my life. I try really hard to notice when I am acting from my own good thoughts, and when my culture is merely performing me. Batman, the single most determined and mindful superhero in existence, is my patron for many excellent reasons. The search for beauty and truth is one of these principles.

Just today at dinner, my mother-in-law mentioned that due to her school’s new diversity training, she and the other teachers were no longer allowed to have Christmas parties or bulletin boards or celebrate it in any other way–nor any other holidays, to be sure. I was speechless. It’s kind of funny, but it’s the perfect example of how West Virginia is exactly 20 years behind the rest of the nation. Husband says he was not only never taught about religions, he was occasionally lectured that only saved Christians would escape Hell.

But there’s a kind of evenness still between my education and his. He may have never learned about basic cultural ideas as far as religions, but I never learned the name of the man who wrote the line that inspired me as much or more than anything else I ever read:

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

I am entirely certain I never read “Ode on a Grecian Urn” before last night. I picked up the line from culture, as one picks up so many things. I was enchanted by the idea and have thought about it for years. At times I have agreed entirely and other times I have felt that while beautiful, it lacks some dimension of truth–it leaves something out. Currently I am able to wiggle philosophically into agreeing completely again.

Which brings me to this: having an American public school education as I do, and being as determined as I am to be well-educated and well-read, I have so much catching up to do! I finally read Moby-Dick a year or two ago, at least ten years after I should have. I have never read Don Quixote, Milton, Chaucer, all of Beowulf, enough Emerson or Whitman, Thoreau, Yeats, much Shelley, Byron, Joyce, the full Inferno (only an abridged high school version), the Aeneid, the Iliad…so, so many great works that I am quite certain would help me learn how to be a better human being.

Now, on the other hand, I have read some useful and excellent works that no English class ever heard of. Godbody by Theodore Sturgeon. The Callahan Books by Spider Robinson. Illusions and Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (OK, a few English classes may, please God, have heard of that one). The Graveyard Book–that one taught me what it means to grow up and to be alive.

So I don’t mean that I am illiterate, except by the Heinlein definition (that is, I cannot read French, Spanish, Greek and Hebrew, and my Latin is very poor). But I do mean this: of all my friends, everyone I’ve spoken to, I received the best education with the most excellent teachers. And there is still all this, that I never received.

Here, for contrast, I present a clip of Mr. Stephen Fry conversing with Mr. Craig Ferguson. I love and admire both of these men and would dearly love to be able to take part in this conversation. But note at the 4:13 mark: how many graduates of American public high schools could join in the quotation, as Craig did?

In my mind, authors can be technically skilled and excellent or bad, and those two categories have essentially nothing to do with each other. As Alberto Manguel said,

There may be no poem, however powerful, that can remove one ounce of pain or transform a single moment of injustice. But there may be no poem, however poorly written, that may not contain, for its secret and elected reader, a consolation, a call to arms, a glimmer of happiness, an epiphany. Something there is in the modest page that, mysteriously and unexpectedly, allows us, not wisdom, but the possibility of wisdom, caught between the experience of everyday life and the experience of literary reality.

Further, I feel that–let me put it this way. I have no personal use for the craft of art/film/media reviewing because that person’s taste is not mine. All they can tell me objectively is how successful the art was technically, and as I’ve said, that doesn’t matter so much to me. Authors, directors, actors, painters and musicians are all a matter so intensely personal that I think of finding good ones, ones that suit me, almost like Tetris. Like Rocky said, I’ve got gaps, and some artists fill those gaps and some don’t.

Neil Gaiman fills my gaps so completely and successfully that I never imagined another creator could ever reach the same level. I’ve followed him since discovering Sandman in high school. I own very nearly everything’s he’s written, and I adore all but one of those things. Seriously. In his entire career, the man has written just one story that I don’t love and marvel at, and I will gladly cop to the fact that I have a hard time reading “The Problem of Susan” because I grew up in Narnia and am not quite brave enough. It’s not him, it’s me–and, I’m certain I’ll get there eventually. I’m patient with good literature. And myself.

I started watching the new series of Doctor Who a few years ago, just after Tennant began. I can’t remember now why I started. I never watched the old Who when I was younger. I tried once, but I didn’t have any context for the wobbly sets, and it just looked crap, and I couldn’t get past that. So David Tennant was my first Doctor. I was watching and loving it, looking up everything else he’d been in–Taking Over the Asylum was breathtakingly good. He was so sweet in that that it hurt, and I loved it. It was all going swimmingly, like the first days of any romance…and then he appeared. It was there, right at the beginning of “The Girl in the Fireplace”, but of course I didn’t know what I’d seen until it was too late.

Steven Moffat.

My attentions turned, as completely as a girl in a cheesy vampire novel when she first sees the Boy. For the first time in my life, I wept at a TV show. And I wept hard. He crafted a story as perfect for me as anything Neil Gaiman ever wrote, and I was stunned. I had no idea it was possible. Believe me, I had the usual stable of favorite authors–Heinlein, Borges, Spider Robinson, others–but I thought Gaiman was the One. I thought that there was a one, for heaven’s sake! Like so many before me, I thought wrong.

Tonight I watched the final episode of Sherlock, Steven Moffat’s latest creation. I’ve not read all the Holmes stories yet, but I know how they end. Batman is of course my hero par excellence, and when I read Holmes’ explanation of how his mind was an attic and therefore he refused to fill it with junk, I could have outshone the sun with delight–he was Batman! (I do know it’s the other way round, except it isn’t because time is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, and this is my timestream we’re discussing.)

I called the ending of the show tonight, the moment Holmes entered the pool. And even with this handicap, I was still shocked and delighted-I’m talking huge emotional payoff here-when the end finally came. The fact that I could see the set-up, see where all the pieces lay, and still get caught by surprise–that is Moffat’s genius*. I am flabbergasted. I pray the Writer’s Prayer:

Please, sweet Ladies. Just ever give me one moment, one scene, a single line, that good, and it will all be worth it.

*Unless that was Mark Gatiss, in which case my threesome with Gaiman and Moffat will surely have to expand.

I’ve re-enabled comments on here on all posts in future, including this one. Here are the rules:

1. As the man said, “Don’t be a dick!”
Being a dick means, among other things/to me, being homophobic, being racist, or otherwise not allowing for the possibility that you might be wrong. Basically feel free to argue a point, but don’t use absolutes and don’t argue so in such a way as to undermine others.

3. Blogs are not really public forums; they are house parties. This is why people can be blocked or invited. So, this is my online home. Please respect it as such.

4. When I moved away from my best friend at the age of 5, my parents got us one of those split heart best friends necklaces to share. I kept my half until this year when I finally threw it away. If I got rid of that, do not imagine that I will hesitate to delete nasty, undermining, or otherwise inappropriate comments.

I sincerely doubt that anyone will violate any of these rules, but I’ve found that laying out clear boundaries avoids conflict in the first place. The best advice I’ve ever seen about posting comments you’re not sure about is to take an hour and then return. Then, imagine that the comment is to your favorite teacher. Do you still want to post it?

All from the ruling overturning Proposition 8. Find it. Read it.

“Plaintiffs challenge Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”

“That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant, ‘as fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.’ West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, 319 116 1 US 624, 638 (1943).”

“Never has the state inquired into procreative capacity or intent before issuing a marriage license; indeed, a marriage license is more than a license to have procreative sexual intercourse. ‘It would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse.’”

“When the Supreme Court invalidated race restrictions in Loving, the definition of the right to marry did not change. Instead, the Court recognized that race restrictions, despite their historical prevalence, stood in stark contrast to the concepts of liberty and choice inherent in the right to marry.”

“The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry. Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.”

I want to have a party, with cake and ice cream and champagne!

As of yesterday-but-it-was-meant-to-be-today, my husband and I have been married for seven years.

If I were to describe these years, it would all sound like the most saccharine, candy-coated, tooth-aching nonsense, and I am certain it is of no interest to any but he and me. Let if suffice to say (and isn’t it typical of me to be Spartan in speaking of my own emotions?) that I do not think we could be happier, and that I see no end in sight.

Also this weekend I met my new niece, who is only 11 weeks old. My first words to her were in French, and when I held her I sang songs to her, such as This Land is Your Land and (Her Name) Is A Punk Rocker. It was an excellent visit, and I’m so glad we got to see her before moving to Korea.