Sunday, April 04, 2010
Okay folks, anyone interested come on over to the new digs.
Doing It Wrong
I won't be taking this one down or transferring the files - Missing in Iraq will stay just where it is and maybe I'll post here now and then on things that are related to Kirk or Iraq or missing people or any of those many things that have been so important over the last six years or so.
But it's definitely time for something new!
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
See, the thing is that for the past... I don't know, month or two or more I have been feeling a little, well, cramped around here. The title of the blog, the reason I began it - it's not that I felt like I had outgrown it necessarily, just that there wasn't as much scope as I would like.
It's been a pretty damn full year all things considered, with rather a lot of quite major things going on, most of them good, but some of them didn't really have a place here, and more and more it felt as though this little corner of things wasn't quite fitting neatly with everything else.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, someone I work with - two someones really, although I didn't know one of them beyond a smile in the hall - was killed. It was brutal and senseless as all violent deaths inevitably are (although we always have to comment on that fact, to point out that it was a brutal, senseless death) and it shook the place I work right down to the very core. I'm still not sure what will happen there. Most of us didn't find out until two days after the murder, until there was already a headline (without any names) and a camera crew at the door. We spent the day treating each other as though we were all made of terribly fragile spun glass, as though the wrong word at the wrong moment would shatter someone. We smiled at each other and repeatedly asked, "how are you?" only to get a meaningless answer in return.
I have no idea what I said in response, I don't think I really addressed the question but instead turned, as you do, to talk about the person who was gone - the gentle person, the kind person, the hopelessly impractical person, the person who for me was the quintessential academic. What I didn't do, because it was not the time and it was certainly not the place, was talk about how it affected me.
I didn't want to talk about it because it was selfish and because, for all their genuine care and concern, no one there would quite understand, not completely. The paper, when I finally chased one down, had done what papers always do and, being banned from discussing names and details of the victims, it concentrated instead on what was known of the crime and it described, in clear, careful detail, exactly what the police had found. This brilliant, gentle man and his girlfriend had been shot and the journalist calmly described exactly how they were found and it was that, that description that turned me inside out.
I think it's the gun I have trouble with. It sneaks up on me sometimes - in a movie or a television show someone will shoot a gun and, I don't really know why, that moment (rather than the hundreds of others) will hit a nerve and shake me. This did - right down to the core. Shook me hard enough that I spent that day shuffling around the halls at work with my shoulders hunched, the way I had walked in the first few days after Kirk went missing. It shook me enough that for two nights I struggled to sleep and it shook me enough that I realized how much large a part of my life this still is.
So I went away for a week. I kicked through last autumn's leaves, papery, thin, and pale but still satisfying to crunch through. I watched snow come down through dark trees and sugar coat green grass. I walked for miles and drove for many more miles and saw lakes and rivers and deteriorating old houses.
What I didn't do was come even a tiny bit close to making any decisions.
Here's what I know:
This blog, this weird prose chimera, will stay. I don't intend to take it down.
I do like to write, and I love all of you fantastic people who have found your way here.
But something, maybe, probably, possibly, could be, will change.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
More later, but just to prove life goes on in the pest house.
Children 1 and 3 are out back with a couple of friends having built a fire in the fire pit. One of the friends apparently was assigned a paper on piracy for some class or other and is, for reasons unknown, reading it aloud.
Which is why Child 3 just bolted through the house to retrieve its Christmas gift from Child 1 - a pirate bandanna with floppy Goofy ears attached (complete with earrings).
The fact that I was able to recognize this was standard Child 3 behavior and not a flu-induced feverish dream is, I hope, evidence that I am indeed recovering.
Monday, February 08, 2010
Child 1: [a bit muffled due to meat balls] See, I don't like that team because last time in that run up game they were being mean and I didn't like how they were playing.
Knowledgeable Adult: You mean, the way they were tackling?
Child 1: Yeah! They kept hitting them. Really hard. I don't like that.
Child 1: I just wish football were NICER.
Child 1: Hey! He pushed him! Did you see that! He was! It was! He PUSHED him!!
KA: Yeeeessss... you see they do that in football
Child 1: I know! I just... I think... I mean, that player, he's probably going, "dude! Why did you have to do that! I mean, I am not made of metal" ... [feelingly] "I have a heart."
K.A. inhales his meatball and spends next five minutes attempting to remove it. Child 1 thoughtfully chews its sweet pepper and ponders the unfortunate message given to impressionable youth by American Football.
Later it, along with its sibling, experiments with dipping broccoli in sweetened whipped cream. Conclusions were definitive but discouraging.
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
1. I once bit my sister. While we were in the library. Why? Because you can't scream in the library. Which I totally knew, and so when she went first through the pushy swingy bar thing when obviously she knew I wanted to go first (because my sister was evil) (and a mind reader) I focused all my rage in my sharp little white teeth and chomped my sister right in the back. And, because it was a library and you can't scream in the library my sister totally sucked it up and she did not scream, and what's more for some reason she also didn't quietly let my mum know what had happened and so I totally got away with it. Which, by the way, means you get a bonus trivial fact which is that my sister has an iron will and should never, ever be trifled with.
A few months later I bit her again but I wasn't nearly so cunning and this time did it outside in full view of a complete set of cousins who promptly tattled. I don't remember what was done to me but it probably was less than what I richly deserved.
2. I once slept through a bomb and then lied about having woken up because I missed the bomb! Missing the bomb became a sort of focal point for everything wrong in my young life for quite a while. My mum refused to buy me that nasty ice lolly thing with the red jelly in the middle that was the most amazingly fabulous thing EVER (Because? You could bite the ice lolly and the jelly oozed out and it was JUST LIKE BLOOD!) AND!! I missed the bomb. My sister told me to go pick gooseberries for her from our gooseberry bush (even though she hated gooseberries) and then told me we weren't supposed to go back there as there were wasps and if I didn't do exactly as told she would tell on me and I would probably be beheaded right there and then AND!! I missed the bomb. In fact, to be truly honest, I regret to this day sleeping like a lizard in torpor through the late-night bombing of our neighborhood waterworks.
3. When very very small I was read a story in which the young child was told, randomly, not to put beans up her nose and she promptly did so. I'm pretty sure the story went on to have suffering and tears and things before the offending bean was finally coaxed out - I'm afraid I don't remember. What I do remember is immediately going outside and shoving a small pebble up my nostril. Naturally I couldn't tell anyone what I had done so I suffered agonies instead, sure that I would go through the rest of my (probably shortened) life with a pebble up my nose. For the life of me I can't recall how I finally got that thing out but I assure you my nostrils are, right this moment, pebble free.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
2. Noun style is bad, usually. Sometimes it's good, but only when it's well done. Verb style is good, except when it isn't. Bad, good and well done are totally subjective and you shouldn't use them (except when you should). Semi-colons however are always awesome and indicative of great intelligence; they should be used frequently.
3. Many English profs cannot spell worth beans. In addition, many English teachers are hypocrites, a fact they will happily admit.
4. If a particular prof squints sideways at you and asks a horrifically difficult question and you find yourself squirming and desperately trying to think of something that is a)succinct b) cogent and c) witty but can't even figure out what the heck the questions actually means, cop to this fact and said prof will cheerfully say, 'Yes! Damned if I know either!!' Granted, you'll have to go have a lie down for the rest of the afternoon but at least you're still alive.
5. I can go an entire post without once mentioning THAT APPLE THING!!
Friday, January 22, 2010
A U.S. contractor producing gun sights for the military has been engraving bible verse references on them. Really.
Now, the follow up story is that this company has voluntarily decided to stop doing this which, in my opinion, at least upgrades the execs from 'underpants on the head loony tunes' to 'capable of comprehending the concept of organizational meltdown,' so, well done execs.
However, doesn't it sort of beg the question of how this whole idea became a reality in the first place? Was there some top level think-tank meeting where they were tossing over ideas?
Think 1: Dang. Our gun sights lack economic diversity. It's tough out there guys, and, yes there's war and mayhem the world around but what if peace breaks out? What then? I mean we have to be prepared for a downturn just like everyone else.
Think 2: Oooh! I hadn't thought of that! I mean sure it's never happened in the history of ever, EVER, that the world has totally been at peace and no one has been contemplating offense or defense and not one nation has felt the need to beef up their military, BUT! You know, there's Google now, and Twitter, and while those particular bits of tech are currently aiding tremendously in global misunderstanding and lack of communication you JUST NEVER KNOW. We need something on our product that says we do peace as well as war!
So... what - let's engrave Bible verse references on gun sights? Brilliant! It not only gives credence and support to those who argue that Western armies are in the Middle East as Christian crusaders, also, as the Church of England said in a statement to the Guardian: "People of all faiths and none are being killed and injured in these conflicts, on all sides, and any suggestion that this is being done in the name of the Bible would be deeply worrying to many Christians."
On the other hand, they've managed to offend not one or two creeds, but pretty much every last belief system possible, which is some darn impressive stupidity.
Well done chaps.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
1. No one should ever produce a design text book because students (meaning me) will inevitably spend all their time being snotty about the examples (as in - 'this example sucks!') rather than oh, say, learning anything.
2. Text books still say the obvious as though it were mind-shatteringly new.
3. 'Glottal Stop' is an amusing phrase and makes me want to work it into today's conversations.
4. If it's sort of late at night and you're re-reading your chapter on 'What is Language?' you will derail everything entirely if you arbitrarily decide to consider 'vowel' a euphamism. On that note, Linguistics is a dirty, dirty subject and if Pat Robertson is done looking for Satan under the rubble in Haiti he might want to check out the filth in my History of English text book.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Which immediately brings images of white socks and pig-tails and metal lunch boxes (mine always had rows of banana stickers on the inside of the lid because nothing is quite so valuable and important to save in a neat row as the Dole sticker off a banana).
I had been so excited when I registered. I was going to do this just for me, make a plan and look ahead after a long and rather awful time of can't-go-anywhere. I set up my work schedule to fit neatly (and slightly insanely) around my classes and I checked the bookstore web page regularly just to see if the required books were posted yet (New! Books!).
And then, meh.
Not angst or worry or anything, just meh. I bought some of my books (and read them) but then sort of waffled on the others. I forgot to download my schedule to see where my damn classes even were. I didn't check my email properly and so missed the email where my online class was canceled (DUDE! How can there not be enough people interested in Information Architecture?? I ask you?) and so had to register for another at the very last minute, meaning my work schedule had to be shuffled again (and as my boss had her door closed I couldn't get in to run it past her for an okay. That was fun).
And yesterday, when I finally worked out where my classrooms were going to be and was about to walk out the door I realized I didn't even have a notebook.
How did that happen? I mean, school supplies have always been the best, the absolute best thing about back-to-school - even after I was too old for the most sacred and desirable of all school supplies, the ginormous pack of crayons. Fresh, crisp, unspoiled notebooks; neatly organized binders with dividers all beautifully labeled (not that I took notes in them in high school mind, but damn my binders were a thing of beauty); new pens, chosen after careful testing for just the right feel on the page; rainbows of highlighters; newly sharpened pencils smelling of powdered graphite and wood shavings: I loved them all. And here I was shuffling through my drawer for a pen that actually worked and tearing the first three pages off a slightly-used writing pad three minutes before I had to be in the classroom.
I'd lost it - I'd lost the school mojo and I didn't know why. I told myself it was because I was taking on something that would keep me in this arid city I hate for another year and a half. I refused to consider it was possibly because I haven't done this school thing in a long time and who knows if I can pick it up again.
But I tracked down that first class and sat in the plastic desk-cum-chair (with the weird jointed back that gives juuuust enough when you lean on it that you have a brief moment of panic the whole thing is going to topple over) and I put my notebook on my desk and clicked my pen.
This was the class I registered for at the last minute, the filler class to tick off a requirement rather than a class I was specifically interested in. I know the professor - I work in this darn department so I'd better know him - but I hadn't seen him 'on,' doing his professor thing. Nice enough man, but let's face it, the subject was a bit of a snooze. He looked out over our ten or so faces, gripped his three ring binder stuffed with yellowed paper, and began to talk - passionate, almost singing, about the wonders of prose, about prosody and tropes, about how this class, his class, was going to change our goddamn lives. He handed out a sheet of written samples and let us read through them before he picked out a few and read them out, tasting the words lovingly, teasing out hidden treasures in the shortest of phrases, pointing out that nothing, nothing at all is more powerful, more worthy of study, more human than language. And I believed him. Sitting in that dingy, scruffy, ugly little classroom I remembered how it feels to really study, really burrow into something that truly matters to you. I found my mojo.
Today I think I'll buy a pack of crayons.
Friday, January 15, 2010
I make these non-resolution things with every intention of not doing them, or kind of doing them, or saying I was but then not or saying I wasn't but really meaning to all along AND having one or two up my sleeve that I was totally going to do but wasn't going to tell anyone about so I could be secretly virtuous and stuff.
Only it never works that way, does it?
So here is my short, in order of occurrence, list of excuses as to why I haven't posted more regularly:
1) There were too many things to post about. No, really! Child 2 came home for the holidays and left again and Child 1 is back now and we built a counter top because that's what EVERYONE does for Christmas and... I was drowning in content I tell you, drowning.
2) Only I couldn't be arsed to actually type any of it up in any way that was a) amusing or b) even remotely interesting. And then
3) when I actually had a post all mentally written (it was a deeply moving post. About my new cordless drill.... ooooooh.... cooooordless driiiiiiiiilllll) the world decided to crack open and absolutely nothing seemed important any more, certainly not blog posts.
So, I will be better (I sort of promise) and post and comment
And in the mean time why don't we all go over to Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders. It's just a drop, I know, but when the world is so very broken and everything has drained away they do need all the drops they can get.
Monday, January 11, 2010
1) The experiment is ON ITSELF
2) It does not involve any explosives at all. None
3) Nor does it involve fire, projectiles, spinning things or combustion engines
4) Except incidentally
What happened was last week some time Child 3 looked up with innocent blue eyes and began to muse about modern life (you know, as you do) and electronics in general and specifically its own reliance on these electronic devices. I provided my usual high level of parental support and interest (non-committal grunting and, every third paragraph, a short comment demonstrating ongoing awareness of the general gist of the conversation) and somehow, by the end of the evening, It had decided it was going to try going for a week without any electronics at all. That meant no cell phone, land phone, computer, iPod, television, video game, keyboard or electric guitar.
We did iron out a few things, such as giving Its friends and family a bit of warning so It wouldn't suddenly disappear off the electric grid, and deciding NOT to impose Its experiment upon others. It also decided that the one exception to the electronics rule would be five minutes or so at the end of each day when it would records Its thoughts on the experience. Then Child 3 laid down the iPod, backed away from the keyboard and logged off the computer.
I have to admit that while I was entirely supportive of Child 3, and intrigued by the idea (and Its plan of documenting the whole thing), I was also comfortably sure that it wasn't going to cause ME any difficulties.
However, when you have one member of the family who can't sit down for the evening brain rot of choice you suddenly realize just how often the television is actually on, and how frequently 'doing something together' is really just 'watching Buffy/The Good Life/ Top Gear etc.' While Child 3 has been learning a lot about time and distraction and focus and other things I have, unintentionally, been seeing a great deal about family choices and my own habits. Although Child 3 has been charming about the whole thing, and has never once complained if someone wanted to watch a movie meaning Child 3 often went back to its own room to play acoustic guitar or read alone, it was a stark reminder that just being in the same room isn't being together if everyone is gape-mouthed before the television.
Granted, as a family we do have the irritating habit of talking through shows which means there is a constant conversation happening which is fun and healthy, but when one person suddenly cannot be there for that conversation it rather points out just how much time is spent on that one kind of activity (or... okay, INactivity). So a few days ago we all sat down together to play a game (and I LOATHE games as a rule, but hey, it was with my favorite people so some things are worth the struggle) and yesterday we all went snow-shoeing (FANTASTIC) and took down the Christmas tree (which had been up until Child 1 returned to have a bit of Christmas with us) and rearranged the living-room WITHOUT a television/movie background. And it didn't hurt, not even a little bit.
Mind you, Child 3 is now talking about trying the experiment for a full 4 weeks.
I'm pretty sure a month in Its room won't kill It...
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
1) I'm not in shape. I'm not OUT of shape, I'm just not in shape either. I've not been as good as I was about regular exercise (for various reasons) and it makes me unhappy. So
- Get back to doing something at least 5 days a week. Which also needs to include
- weight training which I haaaaaate and loathe and also includes
- remembering that I'm not out of shape just because I'm still getting out of breath - the fact that I've speeded up considerably AND am going farther might just have something to do with it so
- in order to keep better track of that I am going to be posting a little daily note to self on Twitter about just what I've done (apologies to Twitter followers, but on the other hand see below) and finally
- take advantage of the darn cool weather and get to the mountains every possible weekend
- Stop being so darn lazy about side dishes and don't count a main course as a full meal. To clarify
- Crackers or pistachio nuts do not qualify as side dishes
- Vegetables do. Fresh ones which means
- a bit of actual meal planning is in order to keep the house stocked with said fresh veggies [aside, darn Trader Joe's and their limited selection of veg! However, their herbed salad mix is v nice indeed] and remember
- Costco, while useful for many things, is not really the place for veg.
- Clarify just what online communities and tools I can and will use and then use them which also means I need to
- Respond better to comments, emails etc and
- Actually sort out Twitter and figure out why it's not working with my phone
- Go through those two boxes (plus two smaller boxes) of files and
- come to terms with the idea that it isn't actually necessary or helpful to keep pay stubs from when Kirk was working for Siebel systems seven years ago. Also
- Off load the Children's stuff on the two Children who are now old enough to have filing systems of their own and make THEM figure out just which grade school report cards are precious and valuable. Then
- Set up two boxes, dated, for older papers which can eventually be shredded and put a reminder on your darn phone so that the shredding gets done and things are properly gone through every year. All of which will
- Justify that very nifty and great fun label doo-hickey thing you just bought (and did make a start with last night - whee! But the temptation to misuse was already there...)
And then some minor stuff like going snow-shoeing (got snow shoes! For Christmas! And there's snow! In some of the mountains! Am a bit excited), getting this Master of Arts thing organized properly, looking into a couple of non-MA related classes possibly and so on.
And to make a start on Issue 1, sub-list item 4, on Monday, 20 minutes on the bike trainer, 20 minutes weights; Tuesday, 20 minutes on the bike trainer - 3 sets plus cool down. Next update on Twitter.
Phew. Lucky I didn't make any resolutions this year, I wouldn't have the time!
Monday, January 04, 2010
That was a year, that was (points, big ones, to anyone [outside of immediate family] who gets the reference
It was though, wasn't it? I mean, here, in this house, it started a bit slow, then picked up rather much and then there was a sort of Whoosh, BANG!! at the end. In fact, I'm still sort of recovering from all the whooshing and banging and I'm not quite sure where the dust will settle.
I find it just a bit amusing that I got a Very Important Letter - so important that it meant signing for and going in to the Post Office for (what with not being home for the signing) and this Very Important Letter (which said, sort of, "Things Might Just Happen. So... LOOK OUT!!") came to my home address. While, a good bit later, this rather ginormous check? From the government? All official and that?? It came to the wrong address, through the post, and with the wrong name (only a little. I mean, it's a long name and easy to get wrong, and the leaving off of one letter is rather understandable, but... still). In fact, if you were nefarious in intention and of evil mind then you could totally have lurked around The House I haven't Lived In For Two Years and scored BIG TIME.
But who am I to talk, as the ginormous check then lurked in the house for quite a while and then took up residence in... oh dear, this is embarrassing, my BACKPACK just sort of lingering and waiting to do something other than be a small bit of paper.
The trouble is I've had to hurry a bit of stuff into effect - grown up stuff that I didn't actually have, like grown-up investment plans and things like that, what with living in the moment etc. ect. I had a bit of a strange moment when I realized that the silly backpack on my back as I scootered valiantly down to work was, strictly speaking, worth more than my house. And all the tatty furniture in it. I'll tell you, that takes you back a bit.
However, I've rallied, and researched and, I dunno, burnt a few hapless chickens or something, and come to a sort-of-kind-of financial plan that makes at least moderate sense.
I've also sent a polite letter asking a certain gvt. department just what they're playing at what with knowing where I live for Very Important Letters (of legal but not street value) but NOT knowing where I live for Rather Large Checks.
Who sends SCARY LARGE CHECKS through the post??
The government does, that's who.
Anyway. It made for a rather interesting end of year and a particularly interesting start of a new one.
I mean, it was a new year. And a new decade (oh GOD don't start with the decade arguments, eh? It sounds good and that works for me). And there was a full moon - a blue moon at that. And, against all the odds something actually truly went the way it was supposed to and I can get an MA (if I want it) and buy a house (if I find one I like) and... here's a phrase I hate... have a new beginning.
And I think, I really do think...
... I'm ready.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I'll do a summation later but to catch up on the most recent, just a few days after we knew that a BeSurgeried person was going to stick around for a while to give a bit of grief to doctors and generally make life a whole lot more fun, my parents called me up to announce that they would like to drop by with a Christmas present.
I pointed out, not unreasonably, that we were going to see them on Christmas Eve and, it seemed, a gift exchange at that point was fairly likely. My father hinted mysteriously that he thought it would be good to give this Christmas gift a bit early.
Now, keep in mind that in my family this could mean anything - absolutely anything. "We thought this singing, stuffed aardvark that we find particularly amusing would be just the early Christmas gift you need." (note: I am totally and utterly guilty of this myself. I spent a very happy afternoon putting together a belly-dancing costume kit for my poor sister which involved a VERY large red bra and plastic googly eyes among other things. It's a sickness but I'm not looking for a cure) Anyway, I know when to take a hint so I agreed that meeting for an early gift exchange was a good idea.
Which is why they showed up on my doorstep with a little gift bag a couple of weeks ago. We chatted, as you do, about this and that, and I dangled that little gift bag from my hand, intending (as I'm sure my parents realized) to just stuff it under the tree and open it on Christmas day. Which is why my mother, firmly, said, "I think we'd REALLY LIKE TO SEE YOU OPEN YOUR PRESENT NOW." And, recognizing that particular timbre, I obediently opened the bag.
To find an envelope.
A very slim envelope.
With just one thing in it - a check, from the US Labor Dept.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
1. Scrub Watch: give one point for scrubs of any solid color other than basic hospital green or blue. Give two points for a pattern, three to five for anything with penguins, ninjas or Betty Boop (actual points given to be determined by players). First person to spot a point-giving scrub claims the point. Scrubs of green or blue, take one point from each player.
2. Pregnant or Not? Point given for each passing pregnant woman. Points are removed for each person going by who LOOKS pregnant but actually isn't (note: after ten minutes of play it was realized that a cap had to be made. Highly suggest only removing points for individuals seven months on or more. Even so, lost all points after fifteen minutes when a particularly large - and large - family came by).
3. Flora: Points given for floral arrangements - players can determine whether to give more or fewer points depending on the tackiness of said arrangement. If a plastic arrangement goes by the player closest to the arrangement loses all points (rather like the cow game on car trips - you know, you get to count all the cows on your side of the car but if you pass a cemetery all your cows die and you have to start again).
I won't admit to having invented and played (hey, it was a long wait, got desperate) Mad Scientist where you divide the human body up into constituent parts (hair, head, neck, bosom, hips, bum, legs, arms) and collect the most 'interesting' part that goes by in an effort to construct the best patchwork person...
Monday, December 14, 2009
In fact I had a nice post all written about how nice it was to sit down at Thanksgiving with this small circle of people I care for and just talk and laugh and eat together. And it was, very, very nice.
But then there was this call one morning, a 6-in-the-morning call which is just late enough to be probably a work thing: someone calling in sick or someone with a question. Only it wasn't. It was a doctor from the emergency room using words like 'ruptured' and 'peritonitis' and 'surgery' and he was talking about one of those people, one of that small, dear circle of people.
So there was a year or so one day of sitting in a waiting room making up Games to Play While Waiting for Surgery to be Over (three - tell you later). Then there were a few decades in ICU watching numbers - green for pulse, next to the quadruple spike of the heart beat; blue for oxygenation with a swoopy sine wave; white for blood pressure, once every hour which nicely divided the decades up into eras.
And time did this strange, elastic thing where it stretched madly out into years and years and years but at the same time snapped past in an instant. Wednesday blurred into the previous Monday which seemed to be trying hard to be Friday and Tuesday disappeared entirely.
But after the first night, the night where there was talk of living wills and things, and after the first days or so, the numbers began, slowly, to change and finally one afternoon instead of the whoosh of the circulation boots and the bleep of the monitor there was a lively and cheery 'hullo!' from the bed. It became possible, just, to breathe again.
All of this happened of course during this rushing time (made worse by FINALLY the launch of this enormous, huge, ridiculous project that has been pending forever and ever ), this busiest of busy times when expectations are higher and resources are lower than any other time of year. And with absolute clarity the whole season has resolved itself beautifully into one simple thing: this year people I love are safe, and most of them are home and nothing, absolutely nothing else matters.
Friday, November 20, 2009
1) Taking the GRE ... DONE! Last Saturday.
2) apply for a masters program ... DONE! Sorta. I'm off-cycle with admissions so I'm going non-degree this Spring and being all official in Fall
3) Registered for Spring classes and gotten everything I wanted to get
4) Met with the faculty member I'd like to chair my committee and gotten enthusiastic approval AND learned my area of focus is what 1/2 his sabbatical proposal was about which is just all kinds of cool.
5) Met with the associate chair of graduate studies and generally been welcomed and patted on the head and told I'm a bit mad with my timeline but best of luck and all that
6) Met with my boss and broken the news that I'll have to drop some of my hours what with my rather insane plan for the Spring. Fortunately my boss is either a saint or a close approximation thereof and said any number of marvelous supportive things and also pointed out that my lead-in explanation had given her the momentary fear that I was going to out-and-out quit (we lost one full-time person last week and will likely not be allowed to hire a replacement until... well... ever possibly) so just dropping a few hours each week was comparatively easy.
All of which means I'm just a little bit committed to this now! Now, to make things just a leetle more interesting, in the past few weeks I have also:
1) slogged through my more than pathetic effort for NaNoWriMo which was originally going to be a genuine novel and then had to turn into a rambling, sort of stream-of-thought memoir sort of thing that is completely self-indulgent and honestly not terribly interesting or well written. I just didn't have time to do the novel and ended up, two days before the deadline to begin, deciding to have another stab at the memoir, knowing it wasn't going to be organized or focused or even planned in any way. However, I had promised myself I would do it and I'm doing it and I have 51,268 words dumped in there. Some of it is reworked blog posts, most of it is just rambling memoir stuff. I'm not sure how they'll count it (what with the blog posts) and I still have a bit in process for this last week but it's at least there. Kind of. A little.
2) been finalizing the major project I've been working on forever which is, ready or not, to be launched with fanfare in three weeks.
So actually starting grad school should be nice and relaxing really, in comparison... won't it?
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Someone sent me a link recently to a post on the Passive Aggressive Notes website. You can read the post itself here, but here's the text of the posted note:
Hi – you don’t know me but I’ve noticed that you go into #360’s apt late @ night & I sometimes see you coming out in the morning. & it’s obvious that you sleep over ther [sic] b/c your car is parked @ King Henry all night. I know that it’s really none of my business, but
Imy roomates [sic] & I think that it’s innappropriate [sic] to be staying @ a boy’s house all night. I feel like I should talk to someone about this problem, perhaps King Henry, but I think that you could, & should, fix this problem on your own w/out my intervention.
Thanks for your timeHave a great day =)
The post has gotten over 350 comments, ranging originally from the "Sounds like Utah," type which produced the "stop hating on Mormons" response to later an explanation on what would have produced the note and a defense of the practice (getting involved in other people's private business that is - not leaving anonymous notes on cars). The commenter was well spoken, articulate and friendly and, I think, left a generally positive impression of herself although not of the policy involved or, frankly, of the organization that drafted that policy. I think she should be commended for keeping the discussion light and polite - and I would point out that many of the non-Mormon commenters were not able to do the same.
Her explanation basically went like this:
1) King Henry is a BYU approved apartment complex and in order to be a BYU student one must live in an approved complex AND sign the BYU honor code. (I can't link you to the code itself as its showing an error message, but you can read about the code on the Wikipedia page here.) Anyone who lives at the complex must have signed the code and should therefore abide by it.
2) She had not only a moral obligation to report any activity by her roommates that violated the code, her own school standing (and her housing) were at risk if she did not do so.
In other words, students at BYU (and by extension apparently in BYU approved housing whether students or not? I'm not clear on this one) must abide by the honor code and other students or residents are required, on pain of punishment, even expulsion, to monitor others behaviors and report any infractions to the authorities.
Keep in mind that the LDS article of faith #2 states "we believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for adam's transgressions" which, if you want to take it very literally means only that Mormons do not believe in Original Sin but, if you want to look at the broader meaning should imply that Mormons believe that each person will be responsible only for their own misdeeds - in other words, that each person is ultimately responsible for their own soul. No punishment should be meted out to the innocent based on the actions of the guilty.
In practice, all Mormons are told repeatedly that they have an enormous responsibility for others. Leaders talk of how you will feel when you die and are met in heaven on the one hand with tears of joy from those whom you have saved and on the other tears of sorrow from those you did not reach. It is partly this belief that drives the strong missionary program in Mormonism; it is this same belief that explains the way Mormon leaders and, at least culturally if not doctrinally, all Mormons feel not only justified, but obliged to pry intimately into other's lives. There is, I want to be clear, a very positive side to this - Mormons believe in service and want to know when someone is in need. They also feel that they MUST save someone's soul, particularly an apostate (or inactive member), and therefore they must, for example, know where that person lives even if the person has not been to church in years and no longer considers themselves a member. There is a special mission calling where members spend hours trying to trace what in their eyes are "lost sheep." Bishops not only can but must yearly ask intimate questions of all Mormons, including young adults (starting at 12 I believe) about their moral standing, their sexual habits and practices, their diets, their scripture study and other things.
All of this, maybe, explains why Mormons feel they can, even have to be passionately involved in the fight against gay marriage. It is after all just an expression of that responsibility for others.
What I would remind them of however is this:
The people whose lives you are so eager to interfere with did not ever sign your honor code. They are not, the vast majority of them, affiliated with your church and therefore they have no responsibility to abide by a set of regulations that you have chosen to live by. You therefore have no right, even if you feel you have the responsibility, to deny them recognition of their family. Your spiritual onus really, as I understand it, is to share the gospel and to live by its standards and abide by any covenants you have willingly and knowingly made.
I do not feel that political activism against the rights of others not of your sect is sharing the gospel and, personally, I do think that it is opposed to some of those lovely, simple ideas that are at the bedrock of your religion:
"Nothing you do makes much of a difference if you do not have charity. You can speak with tongues, have the gift of prophecy, understand all mysteries, and possess all knowledge; even if you have the faith to move mountains, without charity it won't profit you at all....
"Without charity—or the pure love of Christ—whatever else we accomplish matters little. With it, all else becomes vibrant and alive." (Joseph B. Wirthlin: The Great Commandment, Ensign, Nov 2007, 28–31).
The pure love of Christ - the one who said, "judge not that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1) and, even more importantly, "a new command I give you, love one another." (John 13:34)
You teach that families are forever and are justifiably proud of the commitment to the family found in your doctrine. No one, no matter what the fear-mongers say in their illogical and unsupported rhetoric, is threatening your family. All they want is to form one of their own.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
I'm finding it a bit difficult now and then, as it turns out six years of steady pessimism does tend to be habit forming, but it's also rather exhilarating in a mild way, particularly as when I stop staring firmly and unrelentingly at the delightful image of The Horror That Just Might Be there is actually a not-quite-so-horrible potential out there. So, here's what I'm doing to carpe the diem:
1) Taking the GRE so that
2) I can apply for a masters program and
3) Expand my skill set (and have a rather good time as well as I do like school) and
4) Graduate at the same time as Child 3 (yipes. Which will take some doing but is just manageable) and
5) Move to a climate not quite so enervating and possibly
6) Try something new as a job for a change.
Of course that means getting the GRE, the please-be-on-my-committee letters, the please-let-me-in-your-program letter (please? Even if it's the wrong time of year?), the please-give-me-a-recommend-thanks letters AND the writing samples done in... oh less than a week. Or so. Which is a doddle when you look at the fact that I am hoping to get my MA in a year and a half rather than the more usual two years...
I can't wait!
Monday, November 09, 2009
Yes. There is a great deal I feel about the election in Maine. In fact, it's a bit split - rather like the vote. On the whole I'm going to take it as a good thing that the election was so close. Of coures, I can do that because it's not my family on the line - I can say that it's positive that an election like this was, technically speaking, within the expected error margin for a poll on a divisive issue. It isn't as though my children were being told their family wasn't a family.
There has been a bit of news though. A few weeks ago there was a message on the phone machine, a message from the lawyer who has been struggling for a year or more now to get the US Labor Department to act on the claim I filed five years ago. It wasn't a long message, it just said that there was a... chance I think is how it was put... that there would be a ruling and then they said something about needing a mailing address for checks. I actually had to listen to the message three times. Then I made my family listen to it for me because surely they weren't saying there was any sort of hope at all. Then I panicked.
I mean, as long as it was just pending there was always the chance something would happen, right? Then I could detach enough to provide paperwork, and then more paperwork, I could (as odd as it sounds) wait indefinitely just so long as everything remained... possible.
So naturally I didn't tell anyone. Child 3 knew - couldn't help but know as it actually found the message, but outside of the household no one, no one was told. After all, it had been five years - five and a half really, so who knew how long it could be now. No point in getting everyone's hopes up; best just to hope for the worst, as always.
Which meant that a week and a half ago when I came home to an, "oh, ever-so-sorry but we did TRY to deliver this registered letter and won't it be convenient for you to pick it up during normal work hours tomorrow instead?" message. Cue another rather significant dose of panic because, honestly, does anything good arrive with a green piece of card and a requirement for signature? But you can't just leave registered letters uncollected at the post office - I'm pretty sure uncollected registered letters make baby Jesus cry - so, of course, I went to pick it up.
It was a fat stapled wodge of paper, much of it in legalese. Actually it wasn't the worst legalese I've ever seen since it was, eventually, decipherable. It did take a reading or two to figure it out though. Claim it said, and filed, and something about... ordered. There was definitely an order involved and I do believe it possibly mentioned... paying.
Which sort of prompted three days of, "No. No not really, I mean, really they, no. They wouldn't. No. Really." Because we're articulate in our expression of happiness around here.
Within 12 hours I had worked out at least three reasonable ways it wouldn't work properly and it was all yet another extention of the might-be's-not-really's we've been living with for the last six years. It took another 36 hours (and an encouraging and very kind email from my lawyer) to decide that, tentatively, it just might maybe possibly be (you know, given a particularly optimistic an unlikely definition of possible).
But you know the really funny bit? It turns out that while there's an order it's nearly impossible to know what that really means. The labor department types could decide to actually act on it, or they could put things off for 30 days - or maybe 45, or they could, apparently, require another long and drawn out action of some sort that, frankly, I don't yet understand because I'm trying very hard not to imagine that they would request it. So, yes, we have a ruling! And yes, it will all be resolved. Soon. Or, maybe a little less soon, or possibly much less soon than that. It could happen tomorrow or maybe it will just keep on stretching out impossibly long, extending again and again and again this whole mess, keeping us in a sort of intolerable, infinite limbo.
It's lucky I've had so much experience at this.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Lord Almighty leads this Church, and he will never suffer you to be led astray if you are “found doing your duty. You may go home and sleep as sweetly as a babe in its mother’s arms, as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray....” ( Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 9:289)The message that the Lord will never allow the prophet to lead the people astray is repeated again and again. So, seemingly, all faithful Mormons should ignore any concerns they might have and simply follow the teachings of the prophet.
“...learn to do as you are told. ...if you are told by your leader to do a thing, do it, none of your business whether it is right or wrong.” (Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, 6:32)
“If you do things according to counsel and they are wrong, the consequences will fall on the heads of those who counseled you, so don’t be troubled.” (William Clayton’s Journal, p. 334)
“God made Aaron to be the mouthpiece for the children of Israel, and He will make me to be god to you in His stead, and the Elders to be mouth for me; and if you don’t like it, you must lump it.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 363/History of the Church, 6:319-20)
“I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 13:95)
“Recently, at the Church-wide fireside meeting held for the women of the Church, Young Women President Elaine Cannon made the following statement: “When the Prophet speaks,....the debate is over.” (Ensign, November 1978, p. 108). I was impressed by that simple statement, which carries such deep spiritual meaning for all of us. Wherever I go, my message to the people is: follow the prophet"
Except that the church also teaches that 'man shall be punished for his own sins,' which means that they will be held responsible for their actions, and the excuse of simply following the prophet becomes less tenable. Perhaps it would be wise to take a closer look at the claim of prophetic infallibility. Is it really true that a prophet has never misled the Mormon people? And even if, as in the Adam-God theory taught by Brigham Young (declared in General Conference in 1852 and published as doctrine in the Journal of Discourses - remember it is Brigham Young who declared that everything he preached as a sermon and released to the members was Scripture; this theory is now disavowed by the church) some teachings are later declared to be non-doctrinal by the authorities, have any of these early 'inspired' teachings caused the loss of either spiritual or civil rights, or have they caused distress or harm to anyone?
Joseph Smith, while originally upholding slavery and slave laws in the interest of public order, later declared himself an abolitionist* and, in fact, bestowed the priesthood on a black member. For non-members - Mormons teach that an essential part of the restoration of the true gospel (the foundation of the LDS church) was the return of the priesthood to the earth. There are two orders of priesthood, the Aaronic which is the lower level and is usually held by boys aged 12 - 18 (although adult convert men will also hold the Aaronic priesthood first). The Aaronic grants "the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins." When proven worthy, and if you're old enough (although the early church didn't have hard and fast rules about age and very young men were often given the higher priesthood), you are ordained into the Melchizedek priesthood which, among other things, gives the recipient the power to give blessings of healing, comfort and counsel to others and to preside over the family. The priesthood is a fundamental part of Mormon beliefs, and many ordinances are dependent upon holding it.
After Joseph Smith was killed the policy of the church changed and righteous black members were not only excluded from the priesthood, they had their temple ordinances revoked because of their 'negro blood.' Keep in mind that in the Mormon idea of heaven, temple ordinances are essential in order to achieve the highest degree of glory. The justification for the revocation of ordinances was that black skin was the outward sign of a curse of God - in the case of blacks, the curse of Cain. This idea is found throughout Mormon scripture with the Lamanites (native Americans) having dark skin as a result of a curse, and scripture in the Pearl of Great Price reading, "For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people." (Moses 7:8).
At Joseph Smith's death, after a certain amount of jostling for position, Brigham Young was declared the next appointed prophet and a fundamental change in church policy began. On February 13, 1849 Brigham Young responded to the question, "What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro?" by saying, "the Lord has cursed Cain's seed with blackness and prohibited them the priesthood." Black members could no longer bless their children if they were ill, or act as priesthood leaders in their own families. Non-Mormons will not realize how significant, how seminal this is but members will recognize just what this ban was doing to faithful black Mormons.
What makes the policy even more pernicious is the teachings that became common in the church to justify the position. Remember that, according to Article of Faith #2 "we believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgressions," so why were blacks being banned from the priesthood for a sin that was not theirs? The answer was, according to then Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, "according to the doctrine of the church, the negro because of some condition of unfaithfulness in the spirit — or pre-existence, was not valiant and hence was not denied the mortal probation, but was denied the blessing of the priesthood." Smith made it clear that this was his own opinion, but the concept was popularly taught throughout the church until well into the 1970's. I remember asking about the ban and being given this response.
In 1942 an official statement was released that said:
The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: "Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to."The same statement goes on to say that the conditions people are born into are predicated by their pre-mortal behavior - again, a teaching I personally received (we commonly prayed giving thanks that we had been born as Americans for example, and were subtly encouraged to feel superior to other nations because we had been so valiant as to be born into the 'greatest' nation).
The ban went beyond priesthood however, it also kept black members from the highest ordinances of the temple - temple endowments and temple marriages, effectively barring black members from the highest degree of glory. These ordinances could, of course, be performed after the member had died and the ban had been lifted, but during their own lifetime these members could not enter the most sacred areas of the temple.
Why does that matter? The temple, Mormons believe, is the place on earth where no evil can enter. It is the place where a member can truly feel the spirit of the Lord, receive personal revelation unsullied by outside influences, and have the deepest spiritual experiences. Mormons attend the temple regularly after having gone through on their own behalf to receive their own endowments, performing work for the dead but also garnering "the blessings of the temple" which most faithful members will regularly testify to. Black members, however, were not allowed these blessings.
Further, the teachings, both official and unofficial, and the policies of the church provided an atmosphere of fear and bias. It justified many members in racial beliefs and actions and built a barrier, one formed of not only misunderstanding but of an institutionally created bias, between white members and blacks. In the late 1960's an alleged prophecy by John Taylor began to spread among Mormons, a prophecy that the U.S. Constitution was going to hang by a thread (a common theme in early Mormon prophecies) and the streets would run with blood. Blacks would invade the temples and rape and murder the members. The belief in this "prophecy" was so strong that all bishops were instructed to read a statement that debunked it. However, it was church policy and culture that made the radical and ridiculous belief possible.
So how long was the ban meant to last?
"You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind …. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race—that they should be the ‘servant of servants’; and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree." [prophecy that slavery will not end until blacks somehow are no longer 'cursed' with a dark skin]
"When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity. He deprived his brother of the privilege of pursuing his journey through life, and of extending his kingdom by multiplying upon the earth; and because he did this, he is the last to share the joys of the kingdom of God".
"How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed"
So church policy was to bar black members from some of the most essential rights and blessings of the church and to implicitly (and at times explicitly) encourage their white members to view them as 'less valiant' and inferior. This policy was, according to more than one prophet, to last until everyone else on earth, every other human being both living and dead, had been taught the gospel and given the opportunity to accept baptism and the other ordinances.
Until, of course, 1978 when President Spencer W. Kimball announced a revelation that black could now enjoy full membership in the church (note - they'd tried to get the ban lifted in 1969 but were blocked by then apostle Harold B. Lee).
So, church policy can indeed be reversed and the beliefs of prophets, publicly stated, aren't always actual true revelation from God. In fact, many statements of past Prophets, statements that they themselves clearly and sincerely believed to be of God, are now said by church officials to be times when those prophets were "speaking as men." The problem is, apparently the prophets themselves can't tell the difference, and in the mean time the members of the church believe and act on those statements.
Many faithful Mormons, particularly between the 1950's and the revelation of 1978, chose to disbelieve the teachings that blacks were somehow different and inferior. They chose to treat all people with compassion and empathy. They chose to follow the second commandment of Christ to, "love your neighbor as yourself." While the church chose to remain silent on Civil Rights and, according to the NAACP, made "no effort to conteract the widespread discriminatory practices in education, in housing, in employment, and other areas of life," there were members actively promoting equality, marching for civil rights and demonstrating and protesting.
I would hope that Mormons today would view those members, the members who were willing to look beyond the cultural conditioning and institutional bias of the church, as true followers of Christ. I would hope that they would imagine that some day, a revelation could be made that found that homosexuality has a biological foundation and that gay members do not choose their sexual orientation but are created with it by a loving God, a revelation that all those who are faithful and wish to form loving, permanent, eternal families are to be granted that privilege and that previous biased actions and statements were merely well-meaning leaders "speaking as men." I would hope that they could think now about how they would want to have acted, whether they would, knowing that, have preferred to extend rights to their brothers and sisters that they themselves hold dear, knowing that the exercise of those rights in no way changes or diminishes their own families and relationships.
I would hope that they would act with love.
*In fact anti-slavery statements by church leaders in Missouri were among the things that caused friction between Mormons and gentiles (the Mormon word for non-members). In 1833 W.W. Phelps published the statement, "in connection with the wonderful events of this age, much is doing towards abolishing slavery, and colonizing the blacks, in Africa," causing outrage in the community and forcing Phelps to publicly recant his statement. After this, Joseph Smith and others published statements outlining a far more racist (and thus acceptable) stance, outlining the Curse of Cain theory and providing the foundation for the later actions of the church.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
1833 or 1841, those early polygamous marriages established Mormons as a minority community, a community that would be shunned, reviled, harassed and even threatened because of their family structure and sexual practices.* Rumors ran wild in the surrounding community, stories about how depraved the Mormons were, how they would break up families and destroy lives. Joseph Smith, aware of how polygamy was viewed not only by non members but by many of his own flock, practiced in secret (the formal announcement of what was known as the 'everlasting covenant' [see Doctrine & Covenants section 132] was not made until 1852) which meant that the women he and a small number of high church officials had married were unable to be recognized as family members, unable even to talk about the difficulties they faced. The thought of what those women, faithful women, went through in the years before they could be acknowledged is heartbreaking.
Still, there were many who stayed true (not all, but hey, it's a blog post and contrary to all evidence I don't want to write a novel!). It was a choice they had after all, a choice to accept this commandment. When an angel with a flaming sword told Joseph Smith that he had to marry multiple women to establish the principle of celestial marriage those women could have refused. But, caught between what society felt they should do and what they knew to be right, they chose polygamy.
Polygamy is more than a footnote in Mormon history. Joseph Smith spent considerable time and energy countering the rumors but Mormons, many of whom didn't know that polygamy was, in fact, being practiced by a few elders, continued to suffer from the fear-filled reactions of the surrounding community. Joseph Smith himself was arrested after he ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, a newspaper that was going to publish information on the practice of polygamy (again, long story, historically accurate, available from acceptable Mormon sources). Following his arrest he ended up in a small jail, a house really, in Carthage, Illinois. A mob stormed the jail and Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed - a martyr to the church, a martyr arguably to polygamy. Brigham Young was anointed the next prophet and president of the church and, under his leadership, polygamous marriages were continued and the practice was expanded. There were threats, discussions and multiple laws passed on the national level all to try to abolish the practice of polygamy - again, a practice that was not only accepted by the Mormons but was the law of God, the true nature of family, the celestial and holy order of things. Eventually, after unbelievable (and unconstitutional) pressure the church announced that they were abandoning the active practice of polygamy.
It's only the active, for now practice that's abandoned. Mormons still believe in the doctrine of polygamy in the next life. Dalin H. Oaks (for one) is sealed to his first wife and to his living wife and will, in the celestial kingdom, be with both women for all eternity. Bruce R. McConkie , in a non-scriptural book wrote: “the holy practice will commence again after the Second Coming and the ushering in of the millennium.” Doctrine & Covenants 132 remains scripture, meaning that doctrinally the Mormon church still puts themselves in a minority group, a group that has an unusual definition of family, a group that believes, at least on some level, in a marriage that is not one man and one woman.
If anyone could have empathy for the situation gay Americans find themselves I would think it would be the Mormons.
*Note: while modern Mormons often argue that Joseph Smith's many marriages were spiritual in nature the earlier church actually fought bitterly to prove that his plural wives were his physical as well as spiritual partners. Testimony was gathered by the church to counter claims by the splinter Reform LDS church founded by Emma Smith, Joseph's original wife, who contended that he had never practiced polygamy and any partnerships he formed were not consummated. There are numerous journal entries and testimonies that document that Joseph was indeed a fully practicing polygamist, testimonies that support his own contention that polygamy was a sacred doctrine introduced to 'build up the kingdom' - in other words to produce children.
Me and how many others? But it's important, because in some ways the fact that the church got involved in an election in California over the civil rights of a minority, the rights to pledge a commitment to each other, to publicly pronounce that they were a family hits a pretty tender nerve.
Some of you might not have been following this whole drama (maybe? How far was this covered in Europe?) so a bit of back story.
California, the state that has San Francisco in it - you know, THAT San Francisco - had seen a bit of judicial history happen when the supreme court ruled that same-sex couples should not be descriminated against but should be allowed the same civic standing as heterosexual couples. That ruling happened in May, 2008. In June, 2008 a request for a re-hearing was denied. Apparently the legal types, the ones who really study constitutional law, had decided that constitutionally there's nothing to bar same-sex couples from marrying.
So a measure was put on the ballot for November, 2008 to change the constitution of California - to actually re-write the bit of the law that says who gets to do what to whom and what just ain't right, thanks. What they wanted to write into law was a bit that said, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." And all hell broke loose.
It wasn't just the Mormons. I want to make it clear that the Mormons were not the only people who rallied the troops and fund-raised and made advertisements and spread information (please note my restraint. I did not put a 'dis' in front there). In fact, the Mormons found themselves in company with a bunch of people who had, historically, spent a lot of their energy being contra-Mormon. But I was Mormon. As I have been reminded many, many times, Mormonism is part of my heritage, and so the Mormon involvement in this particular bit of political history, hit pretty close to home.
The first presidency actually issued a letter which urged people to, "do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time." Keep in mind that the prophet (the first presidency consists of the prophet and his two councilors) speaks for God - I mean really, truly, he has a direct, one-on-one, seriously hearing the Voice, link to God - so, to Mormons, God was telling everyone to get involved in this political battle. In fact, about 45% of all the non-California contributions to the pro-Prop 8 group, ProtectMarriage.com came from Utah. According to Wikipedia (don't say it, I know all about using Wikipedia as a source) about 80 to 90% of the door-to-door volunteers in the fight to pass Prop 8 were Mormon. The church itself disclosed, after a bit of palaver, that it had donated nearly $190,000. There are some reports that put contribution by Mormons in general at over $7.5 million. I can't verify the figures. Honestly, I hope they're wrong. I really, really hope that $7.5 million was not donated to STOP other people from having civil rights.
The church, way back in the 90's some time, issued what is called The Family: A Proclamation to the World. The very first paragraph states, "We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children."
A man and A woman.
As in one.
One man. One woman.
Anyone want to say it?
Yes, this is the church founded by a man who married at least 30 women. Those women include several teenagers, including Fanny Alger(16) and Helen Mar Kimball (14). Of those women, 11 were already married (according to my quick and possibly dodgy research).
There were a lot of scare tactics used in this campaign, ugly, nasty scare tactics. Mormons, it was said, would have to open their temples to the unworthy and be forced to perform gay marriages. Please, if you were concerned about this or any of the other fear-based claims made, check out this rebuttal here. (pdf)
I'm not gay. I have never faced the particular prejudices that my gay friends have faced. I have never, as one friend did, had to see a beloved partner of 12 years go into hospital with a possibly life-threatening condition and hope desperately that her family would allow me to be at her side before surgery. So I've been asked why I feel strongly about this, why the narrow, judgmental, poisonous behavior of the church has stirred me so much. After all, I'm not gay.
But I am human.
Monday, October 19, 2009
I was raised Mormon: well, nearly, and practically totally raised Mormon. My mother comes from a genuine, old-school polygamist ancestor while my father was the son of an Episcopalian priest. By the time they met and married my mother was, as she puts it, a heathen and my father, according to her, was practically a beatnik with a pipe and a weakness for black t-shirts (I didn't know what a beatnik was for years but that didn't stop me telling the story). For the first six years of my life we were not a religious household.
Until, that is, a nice set of Mormon missionaries knocked on our door in England and were met with my father who rubbed his hands together and said, 'right! Now, about the Journal of Discourses...' which as a lot of Mormons could tell you is practically announcing yourself as a Joseph Smith hating, Salt Lake City bashing ANTI [the Journal of Discourses is 22 volumes of writings - mostly sermons - from early Mormon history including stuff from Brigham Young. Many of these sermons are now a bit... distant from what is taught in the Mormon church, including the Adam-God theory (Brigham Young taught that Adam was God), a whole lot of polygamist rhetoric and some pretty egregious racial statements among other things]. According to family lore, as far as I remember it, the missionaries recruited a particularly bright young woman to deal with my irritating father and, somewhere along the line, she gave him the traditional Mormon challenge:
"10:3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down unto the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
10:4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
10:5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."
My father accepted this challenge, to his own surprise he felt he received a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, within a few months, he was baptized.
My mother, as far as I can remember, was furious. She even gave him a dire warning that those darn Mormons would make him a bishop. (Mormons have, mostly, a lay ministry and a bishop is like a parish priest) She was quite right, they did, and kept him there for seven years. It took her another year or so to come around but she became, and is to this day, a deeply faithful and very happy Mormon.
Not so much.
The trouble is, and it's something that non-Mormons don't really understand, Mormons teach that their church is absolutely true, the last and final truth that had been withheld from the earth for generations until it was restored, in perfect form, by Joseph Smith. There is a lot of reference to 'the fullness of the gospel' and in every meeting, at every gathering, you will hear the reiterated testimony of the members that 1) the church is true, 2) Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and 3) the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I was taught that there are bits of truth to be found in other religions, but no other church has everything - that all of it is True. It's not quite complete yet, mind you, there was a section of the Golden Plates (the ones that Joseph Smith translated to create the Book of Mormon) that was sealed off until 'the last days,' but what is known, what is here now is undeniably, and most importantly FOR EVERYONE, true.
We learned about it in Primary - the children's meeting - about how the true and everlasting gospel was restored to this earth in latter days and, here's the kicker, how everyone, every last person is promised a personal witness of the truthfulness of these things - the one prayer that will be answered no matter what is Moroni's promise.
We sang about it, we talked about it, we knew the correct answers to all the questions. How does the spirit speak to you? The Still Small Voice, the Warm Feeling. What does Heavenly Father want us to do? Pray and be good... but always, always we knew that we, little grubby souls that we were, would receive an answer to prayer.
Yes... see, that's the kicker. Moroni's promise has a small out to it - you have to pray 'with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ.' So, let's say you're a small child who does indeed pray diligently - or as diligently as you can with a seven-year-old attention span - and... nothing happens. No still small voice, no warm feeling, nothing. But, as you've been told over and over again by people who love you and trust you, there WILL be an answer - IF you are faithful and good enough.
Because, you see, God can't talk to you if you're bad. And we all know that the church is true, and we all know that the promise of individual answer to prayer is a sincere one which means...
And the funny thing is, I never did get an answer - not once. I tried, oh my WORD how I tried. I fasted, I prayed, I read my scriptures, I agonized over every sin, real or imagined. I repented with tears and self-loathing. I attended meetings and paid my tithing and sang hymns. And God still didn't talk to me.
Which made it clear, so far as I could tell, that I was a pretty horrendously flawed person. I mean, how bad do you have to be for God not to talk to you? It worked for everyone else - every month we had fast and testimony meeting and seven or eight people would cry and cry as they talked about the way God had spoken to them 'in the stillness of their hearts.' But not me. I was caught in an unbreakable problem: The Church is True; God has promised to tell you of its truth (as told in the Church's own scriptures); all those who pray with a sincere heart and real intent will know this truth; I did not receive this answer; See Item 1. The church had to be true, which meant God had to fulfill his promise which meant I must be Unworthy. I figured that out at the ripe old age of seven and sat, mutely miserable through my baptism interview (aged 8) waiting for the bishop to tell me I was Unworthy (he didn't. I was baptized and all my sins washed away. Which gave me great comfort until three hours later when I realized I was being Prideful and Puffed up over being spiritually washed and therefore perfect - which was likely a sin and... dang.)
By the time I married Kirk I was an anorexic and suffered from a crippling perfectionism. I also was deeply and thoroughly convinced of my own unworthiness, and, frankly, miserable whenever I thought of God, church, religion etc (which I did All The Time).
It took another five years, five years of struggle and emerging self-knowledge, five years of discussion and work and misery before, with a gasp, I decided that I would just stop. Stop going to church - just for a little while, just long enough to catch my breath and figure things out. I had had bouts of inactivity before - never more than a few weeks at a time and always, always with crippling guilt accompanying them - but this was deliberate and thoughtful and, to a certain extent, desperate - and to my great surprise I found happiness. I mean real, genuine, soul-saving happiness! Without religion I was suddenly peaceful and content and calm: I could believe in myself as a reasonable, moral person who was flawed, yes, but always trying to do the right thing. All those things I had heard about coming from faithfulness in the church - calmness, happiness, certainty, personal growth etc etc etc, all of those I was finding once I left.
Now mind you, I still believed the church must be true for everyone else because that was what I was taught. I had no idea why it didn't work for me, no idea why I was better outside of it, I just knew what I knew with, to use a Mormon phrase, a sure and certain knowledge: Mormonism was wrong for me. It's taken me quite some time to realize that I'm not the only person in this situation!
Now, why on earth would I have censored this?
Well, first (and non-Mormons will not get this) because The Church is True, and true for everyone, it is impossible for most Mormons to understand or accept that the Church isn't right for someone. Really, fundamentally, that opposes what they know to be true. So lapsed Mormons, or post-Mormons, or ex-Mormons or recovering Mormons or whatever you want to call us are judged, even by the most loving, wonderful people, judged to be wrong. They are lazy, they have been offended, they 'want to sin,' they have been deluded by Satan (or their own false pride in their intellect). These are the only reasons that people could possibly leave - no matter what they themselves say. I know this, I've heard it over and over again from people I love dearly. I don't want to hear it again from strangers who stumble over this - and I promise you I will whether in emails or comments.
Second, once you call yourself a post-Mormon (or whatever) you are immediately placed in the 'them' category - that's as in 'us against them.' Post-Mormons are believed to be anti-Mormons, whether that's said outright or not, and everything I say is going to be judged as being anti. I will never be seen as being unbiased, and there are dear people, loving people, delightful people who will stop reading (have possibly already stopped reading) because by reading this, by knowing me, they would be 'supporting, affiliating with, or agreeing with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' (re-worded from one of the questions asked in order to ascertain temple worthiness in a member).
Thirdly many Mormons feel that an ex-member writing about their disbelief or their experience leaving the church is an attack on the church - on their own beliefs and this offends or hurts people - people I love.
But there have been some things happening recently, things said, things done, that I feel pretty strongly about, and I think it's important to talk about them, and in order to do that I have to let you know who I am.
Raised Mormon, now post-Mormon.
Friday, October 16, 2009
But then what do I do when the thing I genuinely want to write is something I feel passionately about? Something where I honestly want to express my own beliefs? Something where I feel a wrong is being done and people should stand up and say so? And what do I do if writing that will possibly hurt or offend people I deeply care for?
But then, someone pointed out that dissent is just dissent, and that it can be done with compassion and care. They said that allowing those you love to know how you feel is in itself an act of love.
And, while I know that I will inevitably be judged for the opinions I express or the things I say, I also trust that the people who really know me and love me will listen even if they disagree.
So I've decided to write.
Monday, October 05, 2009
Normally we hike in the local mountains as they are quite near and reasonably good fun. However the city is always visible, the trails are dusty and (often) far too hot, and there are a large number of people who find the area equally convenient. I don't actually mind the people as they tend to be hiking-running-biking-dogwalking types who are superior in general but still, it's difficult to feel one is getting away from it all when you have to meet and greet 20 people before you even get to the park entrance. Well, and to be honest there are these Uber Marathon types who have the irritating habit of passing me riiiiight at the very tippy top of the mountain when I'm doing my very best huff-and-puff and going snail's pace: passing me AT A RUN.
Anyway, the point is that after a full summer mewed up in the house due to Excessive Desert Heat, and then a week in even more heat in Texas I announced loudly that the nearby mountains would simply not do at all and we were going to head North by golly.
Which, annoyingly, means a quite long drive, but only some of it is through the boring, dry dusty desert and the rest quickly turns into spectacular red rock formations and a nice canyon floor filled with cottonwood trees and rushes and various other lovely things. Which is good enough reason to go north but what we were trying to do actually is catch this one elusive moment when the high mountains are transformed, just for a week or so, by the aspens.
Aspens are quite possibly the most beautiful trees in the world. I always forget how amazing they are because they're also high-altitude trees and you only get to see them if you really make an effort. They're gorgeous at any time of the year because of their slim white trunks but autumn is, quite simply magical. Triggered by light or temperature or something the leaves all at once turn a brilliant yellow gold while underneath the scrub oak goes from green to scarlet. But the best bit is that aspen leaves are attached with a pinched stem, so the very slightest breath of wind sets them shaking and the entire tree literally sparkles. Then a few leaves let go and you're standing there in a shower of gold.
We weren't sure we would catch it. The cottonwoods in the lower valley were just starting to turn and usually they're a few weeks behind the aspens. A few miles in and we started to see some white trunks, but the leaves were already dead and dull. It looked like we'd missed it. Still. It was a lovely day - crisp and cool with just a little cloud that would soon burn off. We drove further up and further in, nearly to the Valles Grande (an enormous extinct volcano caldera) and found a bone-rattling dirt road that had obviously not been graded since the last rain storm - or the one before that. We had to go at a careful crawl, picking the least holey of the pot holes and playing slalom with the larger boulders, which is why we could stop so quickly for the flock of wild turkeys who ran out in front of us, ruffled and ridiculous looking. Farther on we found kinglets and junkoes, hawking for insects and chirping at each other in a contented way. We were finally defeated by an exceptionally deep trench and deserted the car to hike further in.
Which is where we found them - the aspens, still golden. And scrub oak, and a beautiful, pale ghostly vine. And behind them all the huge ponderosas making a dark green canvas just so the aspens could shine even brighter. We kept walking further and further in, chasing down an half-remembered, elusive trail head (which we never found) and stopping every hundred yards or so to admire the next vignette. Naturally we went too far and naturally we kept meaning to turn around but naturally there was always another bend that needed to be gone around. So we were a little knackered for the steep climb back to the car, but it was a good tired.
On the way back we stopped again at a better known trail and hiked in a little way to find an overlook - maybe 1,000 feet above the canyon floor - steep and terrifying but utterly breathtaking. We saw a hawk start just above the tree-line and climb to hundreds of feet over our heads, riding the thermal for a mile or so in just a matter of minutes. We found a waterfall and chucked a few rocks in the pool simply because that's what you have to do when faced with water. We buried our noses in ponderosas to smell the vanilla of the sap. We tossed nuts out for the family of Stellar Jays who squabbled happily over the pieces and then deserted us for the chance at Cheetoes from the picnic down the way.
We had, it's fair to say, a golden day.
Friday, October 02, 2009
Child 3 became, rather abruptly, an only child this year. It was apprehensive about this fact in the months leading up to Its siblings's departures since It is, despite provocations of various kinds (mutual I should point out), rather fond of Its family. However It has discovered that there is a certain amount of space around the house now, along with less competition for the Play Station or the computer. Also, the very day Child 1 left Child 3 happily moved into the now vacant bedroom. It has, I think it's safe to say, adjusted.
Fortunately It's also a rather nice sort of being to have around. It's generally good natured, is willing to pick up after Itself when someone mentions that there is an ankle-deep strata of discarded socks and notebooks, and It has an excellent sense of humor. It also has the good sense to like all the right shows and things so we have been able to institute such important things as M*A*S*H Monday (which comes with a bit of a chant) or Top Gear night (no chant, but then it doesn't really need one).
It seems to have discovered somewhere the part of the brain that should have been standard issue at birth, the one that keeps track of homework assignments (or, you know, thinks to write them down), notes important meetings or events and anticipates that if one wants a copy of The Scarlet Letter in time to do the required reading one would do well to warn one's parent ahead of time. Rather startlingly, this year it has not only set its alarm but begun to get up to it which, after three years of ten minute frantic bleeping from the alarm clock with no visible movement in response by Child 1, is simply staggering.
In other words, it seems to be celebrating its final year as a not-yet-adult by growing up - handsomely.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
There was also a large section on the Very Exciting DVD which would be available for purchase! It was hours and hours long and had footage of every last important moment, really, with up-close bits of all the recruits's agonized little faces. Just imagine!
Still, I do quite like the Child and so we did make a hotel reservation (non-returnable. I'm just living life on the edge baby) and inform Child 3's school that it would be missing a few days. Then we drove through enormous amounts of Texas (note to self: never, never ever again, never no matter what ever, NEVER go through El Paso) and arrived tired and only slightly cranky on Wednesday night.
Thursday we opted to skip the Family and Friend Briefing because A) it was at 0-early in the morning (and would then leave us sitting on bleachers for 2 hours) and B) given the choice between sitting for an hour or so and being bored or counting on Child 2 to know approximately what we were and weren't supposed to do I totally decided Child 2 would be on top of things. So we had a nice leisurely morning and managed, with only three u-turns, to arrive at the right place in more than enough time.
In fact, we thought for a moment that we had inadvertently arrived in time for the briefing because there was a man cheerfully haranguing a large crowd of people. There was also a huge line right in the middle of the concrete pad but I have learned not to line up for something without first knowing what it is and we instead decided to find a place on the bleachers, preferably of the Easy Exit variety. It quickly became clear that the man was giving a detailed and enthusiastic pitch for the Very Exciting DVD, a pitch which went on for another 30 minutes, and the people in line were waiting in the sun for the chance to wave-and-smile for their particular recruit. Yup, along with muddy children with concrete guns and glimpses of your own child running around the base there would be about 2 hours of total strangers doing a two minute 'Hi BABY!!' humiliation message for their kid. We decided, with only a few pangs, not to purchase the DVD. However, the line of people provided at least moderate entertainment while we waited for the actual event to kick off.
This began with the traditional Introduction of the Worthies which started off with Colonel In Charge, And Wife Rhonda. For some reason that struck us as incredibly funny and for the rest of the morning we kept inserting 'and Wife Rhonda' into every announcement and giggling. We could see blocks of blue sort of arranging themselves down the street and were all getting a bit antsy what with the sun being rather warm and the bleachers rather hard so it was rather a relief when they finally set up the Drum and Bugle types (recruits - wasn't clear if they will Drum and Bugle for the rest of their careers or if they just happened to be Drumming and Bugling aficionados who volunteered out of a deep and abiding love of Sousa) and began marching in the kids. I was maintaining a dignified pose, natch, while trying to see if it was possible to tell the difference between one blue-clad person and another (answer - no. With luck gender is at least guessable, particularly as they clump the genders together and Never the Twain Mix) and had to be elbowed in order to appreciate the fantastic move the recruits were doing. They would get their little block of people into approximately the right place and then the In Charge Scary Person (they were) would bark something and the entire group would do this fantastic penguin shuffle until everything was beautifully lined up. We got to see it about eight times and it never lost its charm - 30 or so blue people all waddling rapidly in formation. Fantastic.
After all that the ceremony took about two minutes flat as each recruit was handed a Basic Training coin, were led in a Group Shout and finally announced to be released. Our bleachers swayed disconcertingly as the Rather Large Family members all stampeded forward and we all sort of cautiously approached the recruits. And there was Child 2! In blue! With a coin (that she nearly dropped during the Group Shout but saved due to clever use of Parade Rest hands)!
She wasn't allowed off base that day and had a curfew so we spent the rest of the day sort of wandering around the mini mall (being a) allowed to admire the Place Where Child 2 Shopped; b) shown the Off Limits Area; c) told that the most valuable, wonderful items in the whole wide world ever are small packs of toilet paper and disposable toothbrushes - the green ones taste best apparently). We fed the Child (ice cream) hugged it and deposited it back in its designated return area before heading back to the hotel.
Day 1 was just warm up for Day 2 though. Day 2 found us in a totally different set of bleachers (unfortunately in full sun), 2 hours before the start of the Official Graduation. We did get to see the TI's (Training Instructors? I think?) practice the parade part of the whole thing which was entertaining as apparently there wasn't a lot of communication at first so they solemnly marched past, the important types at the front peeled off and marched beautifully to one side and the rest sort of continued on, disappearing into the distance until a runner was sent to retrieve them and make them quick march back (with some choice shouting) for another go around. There was also a loud and probably normally unbearable man behind us who told a very funny story about how, when the minister at his daughter's wedding did the 'if there be any here present who knows any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined in marriage, I require him now to make it known or ever after hold his peace' bit this guy stepped forward, opened his mouth and paused a second, then snapped a photo. He said his daughter's face was a treat. I figure he was lucky to have survived the experience.
At any rate, we sat, baking and gasping in the now extremely hot sun and, at least me, wondering WHY ON EARTH they couldn't have just done something quick and simple yesterday and let us have the rest of the weekend to frolic (only I understand the military is a bit down on frolicking in general) when they finally paraded the recruits in and stood them all on the grass in their neat little rows. At which point we were all asked to rise while the base chaplain gave an invocation.
'Oh Lord,' he started, 'you formed us out of this DIRT.' there was a snigger. It wasn't me.
'The DIRT these recruits have crawled through...'
'... as their TI's SQUEEZED THE WEAKNESS OUT OF 'EM!' there were several more sniggers. I held it together.
'For their perfume was the SWEAT of HARD WORK'
'the FUNK! Of gunpowder and steel!'
At which point I lost it completely and had to be supported.
It was the best darn invocation I ever heard ever, in my whole life. And I know Child 2 will never forget it.
I'll make sure of it.