Thursday, December 28, 2006

nano redux

At the end of the novel-writing month in November, everyone who participated got an e-mail telling us to put it aside for a few weeks and then read it again and see if we thought it was worth more time and effort. So I haven't touched it since Nov. 29th. I pulled it out again this afternoon and read through about half of it. It was pretty dang disappointing.

I was so happy with the experience of doing it-- how charged/energized it made me feel -- that I had decided in (the absence of actually reading it) that it must be pretty good. But it's not. And it's not necessarily because it's badly written, although there are certainly a lot of parts that need work. It's more a fault of the way it's set up. The story is told through the journal entries of a 13 yr old girl named Sarah. And unfortunately, a very significant part of the plot has to do with when she is silent and when she isn't. So unless you're paying attention to the dates and noticing when she's silent, which I never do when I read a novel like this, it just doesn't work. I tried adding in journal entries from her friends during the spaces where she is silent, but that only partially solves the problem-- they convey the passage of time, but they're boring compared to Sarah's struggle to come to terms with her mother's death. What the heck can happen to them that will balance out the death of a parent? Nothing that I can think of without getting into absurd soap opera kind of stuff.

So I'm feeling bummed. But not entirely. It was still eye-opening for me to figure out that I can do this, and that even though it made me crazy at times, I liked doing it. And those are some pretty good things to know. I think I am going to work on it some more because it really isn't even finished, I just ran out of time at the end. But I don't think it is worth a major effort at rewriting and revising. ..................... darn it.

Monday, December 25, 2006

All done-- well except Christmas dinner with some friends tonight, but I only have to bring dessert, which is already done, so that's easy. We had a great Christmas this year, nothing too exciting but everyone is happy and it was a lot of fun. And we were only up until about 11 last night, a change from the years when we were up till 1 a.m. fixing all the Santa stuff.

The weather was spectacular yesterday, which is so unusual that everybody in town was outside just standing in the sun. We've had several weeks of "inversions" this year, which means it is sunny and gorgeous up on top of the mountains and foggy, gray and frozen down here where we actually live. (You can check this out sometime on Big Mountain webcams, not today, but sometimes from the summit cam you can see bright sunshine and a floor of clouds stretching out forever-- you'll note that we live UNDER those clouds....)

But anyway, yesterday it was gorgeous so we went out to the woods and cross-country skiied for a couple of hours. It was fabulous and even wore out our irritatingly energetic dog. I had to go grocery shopping, but other than that haven't been to a store since Thursday, which is a good thing because I hear it was wild.

We always have our neighbors over for Christmas breakfast around 11. I think I must have overdone the vodka in the bloody mary's (oops) because I'm ready for a nap.

Aunt BeaN

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas music

One of the best things about Christmas is the music. There are certain songs that just make me smile. For example-- the California Guitar Trio rendition of "Jingle Bells" and "Happy Christmas (War is Over)." And I love the Three Tenors and the Polar Express soundtrack. I have several compilations that have music from the 40s that are great, and of course there's Canadian Brass. But I think my favorite is Harry Connick Jr's first Christmas album,"When My Heart Finds Christmas." It has my all-time favorite Christmas song. I think of it as "Moms Everywhere Christmas Eve Song" because the words, with full gospel choir accompaniment, are something to the effect of "...and I pray on Christmas, he'll get me through another day..." It is so awesome, I listen to it several times a day when things get a little hectic, because it makes me dance around like a nut. I tried to figure out how to include a clip, but apparently you can't do that unless you go through the flash programming thing. They have it on amazon, though, even though the clip fades out right as he gets to my favorite line.

But Christmas this year, though stressful, is so much better than last year that I'm grateful for that alone. Last year at this time I was on a prophylactic migraine med that made me crazy (almost literally). I am grateful beyond belief that I'm not taking it anymore. Christmas this year has been a joy, just because it's the season, of course; but also by comparison. Sometimes it's the little things that make you happy.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night--

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I'm still plugging away at "The Life You Save May be Your Own." The part I'm reading now (about Flannery O'Connor) is much more interesting. Since it's two days before Christmas I (of course) have a ton of stuff to do today but I just read this last night and wanted to post it here. O'Connor wrote this in a letter to a student:

"I don't think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else, and for me this is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of our times. It's hard to believe always, but more so in the world we live in now. There are some of us who have to pay for our faith every step of the way and who have to work out dramatically what it would be like without it and if being without it would be ultimately possible or not."

Nice to find a kindred spirit (even if she's been dead quite awhile).

It's snowing here, it looks more like a picture postcard out my window every minute. Just hear those sleigh bells jing-a-ling, ring-ting-ting-a-ling, too....

Aunty BeaN

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas always reminds me why I love Christianity, even though I'm not a very orthodox Christian anymore. It's been stretched out of shape by fundamentalists and literalists and big-money evangelists, but if you can get a fresh perspective on it every once in awhile, there's still so much there-- and Christmas is the best example, in my opinion. The story of God, the big guy with the infinite cosmic power, deciding to make his grand appearance on earth in the form of a baby (a BABY!!) is such a wonderfully bizarre concept that you just can't help but appreciate it. I'm not even talking about taking the story literally, it's the concept I love, even if you just read it as a myth.

In an age where we are being told on a daily basis that the answer to the world's problems is more military might, bigger armies, more guns, and so on, here is solution of the Christmas story: a tiny, helpless, vulnerable baby, born to an unwed mother from a poor, politically oppressed people. We've heard the story so many times that it's hard to remember how strange that is, how utterly confounding.

I can already hear somebody saying: but miraculous birth stories are a common historical occurence for that time period, and yes I do know that. but as the introductory story of the Christian scriptures, it makes for a thought-provoking start-- even if, maybe especially if, you don't take it literally. Even as a child, it was the most meaningful part of christianity to me, far more so than the crucifixion and resurrection.

...the world in solemn stillness lay / to hear the angels sing....

Aunt BeaN

Thursday, December 07, 2006

OK, so back to the topic at hand. A couple of months ago I downloaded a recording of Julia Sweeney on a radio program called This American Life. She was talking about her experiences with her own and her brother's cancer. I really enjoyed it, and made a fool out of myself cracking up while driving around alone in my car. So I decided I would download more of her stuff. So I found interviews with her on both Fresh Air and To The Best of Our Knowledge (all three of those are great public radio programs, check them out sometime). She was talking about her new one-woman show called "Letting Go of God" in which she describes her experience in first of all coming back to the Catholic church as an adult after something of an epiphany, and secondly her subsequent decision to leave the church because she just couldn't buy it. She now considers herself an atheist. She is, as always, very entertaining and very interesting and she brings up a lot of excellent points to think about. Both interviews are very good.

Recently I've been having yet another of my ongoing periods of questioning everything. I've had a few moments where I've stood at the brink of atheism and looked over the edge and thought about taking the plunge. I think there are people out there who are raised in a religious environment, as I was, who take this plunge easily-- they decide they can't do religion the way they were raised, walk out the door and never look back. But for me, it would be huge. It would be an entirely new way of looking at the world. Even though I left the religion of my youth some twenty years ago, I've never ceased to believe that there is something beyond our conscious selves that we can connect with. I'm not sure what it is (God, Nothing, collective subconscious, who knows). To believe that there is absolutely nothing beyond that which can be perceived with our five senses, would be an extremely different way of looking at things.

But on the other hand, I'm also fascinated by some of the implications. When she initially returned to the church, she did so because she had had a spiritual experience. In a really low moment in the middle of the night following a divorce and illness, she had a profound experience of the presence of what she thought was God-- a sense of light and warmth and connection with all of everything, and a definite sense that there was something/someone there that she had connected with. So she went back to the church she had been raised in (Catholic), and it was her experience of closely investigating Catholicism that led her to leave the church and seek explanations elsewhere. Where she eventually found answers that made sense to her was in science, which led her to become an atheist. So of course Terry Gross asked her, so now that you're an atheist, what do you make of that experience, that spiritual epiphany? And her response was that she now thinks of it as the random firing of neurons in the right front parietal lobe of her brain (or something like that, I may not have gotten the terms right).

Now I've heard this argument before and I don't get it. How does the fact that we now know which neurons fire during moments of profound spiritual experience prove that we're not having the spiritual experience??? That makes no sense. The fact that we know which neurons fire when we smell garlic doesn't mean the garlic isn't there. I'm not arguing with her decision to become an atheist, I'm arguing with her explanation of what happened when she had that moment. Every time I listen to an atheist talk about their beliefs, I get the same impression. They want to believe they're being totally rational and logical, but they have no explanation for spiritual experiences beyond the obvious: neurons firing. And I've had a number of what I consider to be spiritual experiences. So for me to ignore those and say, "Oh, it was just neurons firing," would be as irrational as it would be for someone who has never had a spiritual experience to take a leap of faith just because someone else says so. This isn't saying what I want to say, I may have to try it again later.

The interview from "To The Best of Our Knowledge" also had a couple of interviews with other people in the same program. And with both of the atheists interviewed, the inconsistency seemed the same. The part of their argument which is very valid isn't with spirituality, it's with religion, and with people who use religion as an excuse to not think. And I think that this is an excellent point and one which all of us who are believers should take very seriously. But it doesn't prove that spirituality doesn't exist. It doesn't even prove that God doesn't exist (which one of them acknowledges). I think there must be some middle ground somewhere, where you don't allow your faith to let you take shortcuts into muzzy-headed reasoning, but you also allow for the fact that there is an element of human experience that is spiritual. So that we work on figuring out what that means instead of just saying, "oh, it's random neurons firing."

So in short (ha! I gues this hasn't been short). OK, so in summary. These interviews are fascinating, I highly recommend listening to them. They made me think a lot. But in the end, they weren't particularly convincing to me in deciding the questions that I'm dealing with right now. I may still end up deciding that there is nothing out there. But neither of these atheists convinced me that their way of thinking is that much more reasonable than the way believers think.

I'm starting to think in circles here so I will stop. I'm sure there will be more on this topic because I've barely scratched the surface.

Oh, joy, you're thinking.

the goose is getting fat....

Aunt BeaN

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Intellectual Frontier

There are a lot of wonderful things about the place where I live, foremost among them being world-class scenery. Sometimes the view of the mountains to the east of here is enough for me to drive off the road. I've lived here for almost fifteen years now and it still captivates me.

What is severely lacking is intellectual stimulation. There are plenty of smart people and artist-types around, but still you have to go looking if you want to have a conversation about something other than skiing or hunting. That's an exaggeration, of course, but there's an element of truth, too.

If you have the kind of brain, as I do, that requires a certain amount of fodder to keep its continual chomping satisfied, you have to go out and find your own. Hence, the reading projects. And more recently, It is the most incredible, amazing treasure trove. I initially joined to get auidobooks that I would download to an iPod and then that would (supposedly) motivate me to get some exercise. The exercise part has only been somewhat successful, but in the meantime, I've turned into an junkie. It is unbelievable what you can find there.

I've discovered that I don't really like audiobooks, because I can't skim over the parts that are boring, and the narrator often reads far more slowly than I do. BUT, there are radio broadcasts on any topic you can imagine-- interviews, book reviews, radio journalism, you name it. Thousands of them. So I get to have the illusion that I am listening to cutting edge stuff, stuff that makes me think and question and figure things out, even though I live out in the middle of nowhere. It's fabulous. The reason why I say it's an illusion, though, is because often the interviews I'm listening to are two or three years old. So it's new stuff to me, but if you actually lived somewhere where people are intellectually involved, this would be old news.

But hey, it makes me happy.

So, just to prove that I do sometimes listen to my readers, I'm going to stop right there and not keep going on to a discussion of the interview I was just listening to ('scuse the dangling preposition). I do periodically try to keep my posts short but it just doesn't seem to work.

More later. Plus my son is about to get home from school with his buddy Keith and they will need something to eat.

Aunt BeaN

Monday, December 04, 2006

The three of you who read the original Aunt BeaN's blog will remember that I occasionally make up reading projects for myself. This time I'm reading a book called The Life You Save May Be Your Own, which is about Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, all 20th century Catholic writers who corresponded and considered themselves colleagues. Then the idea was to read a book(s) by each of them-- I have The Long LOneliness (Day), Seven Storey Mountain (Merton), The Moviegoer (Percy) and The Violent Bear it Away (O'Connor).

I was going to read The Life You Save first, but I'm having a hard time slogging through it. It's not exactly boring; let's just say it's interesting in a dull kind of way. Since the time that I usually pick it up is right before bed, I rarely get more than two pages done before I'm falling asleep. (That's not always the case with me-- for a good book, I'll read past midnight, no matter how tired I am.) And since it's quite a long book, that means I'm barely a quarter of the way through it, even though I've been working on it for a couple of months now. So now I'm just trying to get through the preliminary stuff-- their early lives, etc-- to get to the point where they started writing and then I think I will break off and read the other books. I've read a fair amount of Percy and O'Connor before, so I'm especially looking forward to those.

will keep you posted.

oh, I just crack myself up sometimes.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

I sit at a computer at work for probably at least 5 hours Mon-Fri. Then I spent the last month obsessively working on that dang novel. And managed to totally throw out my neck and shoulders, mainly by typing so much. I see a chiropractor who practices the sacral-occipital method, which is a way of helping your body adjust itself rather than just getting "cracked" (which I've also benefited from at times, but this is different). She spent my whole 30-minute appt this past week trying to undo the damage I'd done to my neck. So I was going to stay off the computer this week (except work, of course). It didn't go so well. First my daughter had an emergency regarding a project due on Friday--- and since I had been the one to tell her to do it the way she was doing it, I sort of had to come to the rescue. Which involved finding some shareware software, downloading it, installing, getting it to work, helping her figure out what she needed to do, etc-- that was Wed and Thurs night. Then yesterday we decided we needed to finish the online part of our Christmas shopping, so that was another two hours. So I shouldn't even be sitting here, and I don't really have anything to say even.

Well, I can report one thing. I tried to make hot spiced cider using a combination of apple juice and cranberry juice (leftover from Thanksgiving). Not a good idea. Now you know. Just use the apple juice.

Back in a few--

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

MADE IT TO 30,000 -- YAY ME!!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

There are five days left in the NaNoWriMo and I just passed 20,000 words. Making it unlikely in the extreme that I will get to 50,000 by the end of the month. Early in the month, I wasn't worried about being behind, because I knew I had a bunch of time coming up at the end of the month. But you know, life intervened-- I could list all the little things that happened, but the specifics don't really matter. Yes, I could have stayed up until 1 a.m. making up for time that got lost, but I didn't. I have been plugging away at it, though, and for that I am very proud of myself. Not that many years ago, I would have just quit. But I've been writing 500-1,000 words a day with not all that many exceptions. I took four days off when we had out-of-town company, a couple of days off when I had to re-think my whole plot, a day off when my son was home sick. But other than that, I've worked on it every day.

The main thing I've learned is to just keep typing. The hardest part there is to ignore that little voice that is saying, "This is a pile of crap, what's the point?" "This is boring. No one will ever want to read it. Why are you wasting your time?" "No one talks like this [dialog being written]. This is stupid. Just stop embarrassing yourself and give it up."

Because... and here is the best thing I've learned.... as long as I can ignore that inner critic, this has been really fun. Thinking up ideas and turning them into words is something that is endlessly entertaining to me, even if it does turn out stuff that is boring to everyone else. (with the obvious parallel being this blog). And I've learned a few tricks about how I work that have helped, too-- things that I sort of knew before but hadn't ever put into practice. Like: I usually start with the endpoint, and then do the bulk of the writing to figure out how that endpoint happened. Example: I was plugging along with Sarah's school year. I had this really good idea for something that would happen in April, but I didn't feel like I should write it until I got there. But I was totally running out of steam, so I finally decided to jump ahead and write the April scene. That scene poured out like it was inspired and as I typed it, a half-dozen other ideas for things that needed to happen along the way appeared spontaneously. Then I remembered that I'd had this experience before the last time I tried writing fiction-- I would start with a certain scene that came very vividly to mind, thinking it was the beginning. But as it turned out, the rest of the story ended up being about how the characters got there. Which is different than what I've read about other writers doing, but if it works for me I guess it doesn't matter.

So anyway. Yesterday when it finally sank in that there was no way I was going to hit 50,000 words, I was kind of depressed about it. But today, I'm just glad I did this. It was fun. I hope I can do it again next year. And I hope I'll hit 30,000 anyway-- there's still five days to go!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I'm pretty sure I was not meant to be a novelist. It is like pulling teeth to keep on writing this thing. Every word is like pushing a boulder uphill. And I'm not even that far along, I just passed 10,000 words this afternoon! I keep waiting to get my second wind where the words pour out the way they did for the first 5,000 or so, but it hasn't happened yet. I'm not giving up yet, though. I just want to see how much I can get done, even if it's not 50K. It will have been worth doing even if I never get past 20K, I've really learned a lot.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

So here's the thing. My nano was supposed to be told from the point of view of a 13 year old girl who's mother has just died. How I came up with that is another story but I'll save it for another time. Originally the whole thing was going to be told through her journal entries. The problems with that, when 50,000 words are required, are quickly evident. 1) 13 year old girls don't write 1,000 word journal entries. Mine are coming in at anywhere from 50 to 400 words, and it takes a whole dang lot of those to add up to 50,000. 2) She quits writing in her journal for about six weeks after her mom dies, and after that, her entries are even shorter and sparser-- two in the month she starts writing again, and then 3-4 per month for several months after that. So it is almost impossible to get a lot of words. But the story arc, at least the way it exists in my head at the moment, takes place in the space of about a year-- so in other words, I'm about six months into it right now with 8,000 words, and it's going to be nearly impossible to get more than about 15,000 done the way I have it in my head-- even if I pad pad pad and add a bunch of scenes with a traditional 3rd person narrator.

THere is a perfect solution: she is part of a group of four really close friends. So instead of the story being one girl's version of a year in her life, it could be told by four different voices, each of whom has her own things going on. Four x 12,000 words or so and there you are. Some of it I've already figured out: one girl's dad is an alcoholic, one's parents are hyper-religious. But it's a huge mental shift. Until I figured out this word count thing, I had only planned on Sarah's story. And I've gotten pretty attached to her. part of the problem is that I just don't want to tell the other girls' stories.

But on the other hand, it would also solve some major problems-- like this way the reader would get to find out what was happening with Sarah in the weeks when she wasn't writing at all or not much. example: there is no description of the memorial service, because I figure Sarah would have been too numb and miserable to write about that. But I could easily have one or all three of her friends describe it.

OK, not that anybody wanted to know all this but it's what I've been thinking about all day today. If I'm going to stay in the nano "competition" I really don't have any choice-- and it will probably be good for me just as an exercise. But it's going to take a few days to regroup, I think.

it feels like wrestling with peanut butter.
Aunt BeaN

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

So here it is a week later and I've only written about another 1,200 words in my NaNo. I do have a good excuse-- my mom was here visiting for four days. And I have some free time coming up, so I hope I will be able to make it up. But I'm seeing the value in having told a few people that I'm doing this: I think if I had kept it a secret, I'd just bag it at this point. I have just under 9,000 words written and my plot has pretty much petered out. (I could permit this post to be printed almost perfectly with p words but I imagine it would get boring.) The ideas I've come up with so far for subplots and backstories and descriptions don't interest me very much. but I think that is part of the point-- or at least, the point that I needed to get out of this: sometimes it is more important to get it done than to get it perfect. Now doesn't that sound like something that should go on a poster somewhere?

So since my eyelids are starting to shut of their own accord, I'm going to bed now but I'm hoping some sort of huge inspiration will hit me overnight and I'll be ready to go tomorrow when the school where I work has an "early out" (the kids go home early, which means I get to, too). It would be great to be at 12,000 before the weekend. That's my goal. but as you can probably guess, I'm pretty good at rationalizing.

Aunt BeaN
(typing is my life)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

So the same day I started this new blog, I went hunting through the support section to find out how to include a link. I know a little HTML, but I just wasn't sure how you do it in this context. But while poking around the support pages, I discovered NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. Turns out some guy named Chris out in the Bay Area has declared November to be National Novel Writing Month, and the challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. It's been going on for 5 or 6 years now-- the first year with a handful of participants, this year with more than 70,000.

I don't exactly believe in fate, but the fact that I discovered this on October 29 seemed a little too pointed to pass on. So I went to Borders and got the NaNoWriMo book (No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty, which you can also find at Amazon). I'm always in favor of reading a book about something when it allows you to put off actually doing that something. And eight days into the month of November, I have written almost 7,000 words-- behind schedule (you're supposed to average 1,667 words a day), but I'm OK with that. The reason I'm telling all of you is because I'm likely to be writing about this quite a bit.

It's an interesting process. The point is not to be perfect, not to do any polishing or editing, just to pound out 50,000 words. I've written short stories before, and I've wanted to write a novel, but I've never actually gotten past the planning stage (well, besides one really crappy first draft I wrote about 15 years ago). But I can tell you after only eight days that I can already see the point of doing it this way.

Since the goal is to produce an insane amount of words in a mere 30 days, a lot of wiffly-waffly dithering around just gets slashed. You don't have time to worry about perfection. For example. If I weren't doing this NaNo thing, I would have decided yesterday that I needed to start over with a new plot. But there's no way I could start from scratch on the 8th day and get done. So I pushed through, and what do you know-- after plodding through another 100 words or so , I got an idea that put me back in business with the same old plot.

The problem with my plot is a) it's depressing and b) I don't think I"m going to get 50,000 words out of it. But when I was whining about this to my spouse last night, he pointed out that I can't possibly know that until I get to the end of it. Which is undeniably true. So I'm slogging away at it. It's kind of fun in a way. Like standing at the top of a ski run that's a little beyond your skill level, you have to just point your skis down and GO. At a certain point, you let go and get down the hill-- it may not have been pretty, but you're at the bottom.

The observant among you will note that I figured out how to include a link, too. Feeling just a BIT proud of myself this evening. But my shoulders are sore from all the typing. :-)

Auntie BeaN

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

after four days with no internet access, I was starting to feel a little cut off from the world. Spent quite a bit of time on the phone with my ISP's tech support, only to discover that it was our phone company's fault. They had changed something on our account without letting us know. Shortly after that we were back online again. Didn't have much to say anyway, so I s'pose it doesn't really matter.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Third time's the charm, right?

My first blog was up for two and a half years, but I only told a very few people about it. After awhile I started to feel like Harriet the Spy sneaking around with my secret notebook (although for the record, it never named names or discussed literal events in my life). Also I was getting bored with it. So for better or worse, I deleted it.

Blog Two came about because after a few months of no blog, I realized that I missed it. But #2 only lasted about six weeks-- for one thing, it was frighteningly boring; for another, I got a little panicked by the recent spate of very public hangings of people who were haunted by things they'd said in the digital realm years earlier. Not that I'd said anything all that wild, but at that particular moment, I thought it wasn't worth the risk.

So here is #3-- I'm definitely older this time around and maybe slightly wiser and we'll see how it goes. I'm going to cheat a little and re-post some things from Blog One so there will at least be something here. I deleted Blog Two without saving it so it is gone without a trace. The main difference I'm planning on here in Blog #3 is that I'm going to send an e-mail out to a few of the friends I think might be interested and actually LET THEM KNOW it's here. What a concept, eh?

And although I haven't sent the e-mail yet, just for the record: the nickname Aunt BeaN came about accidentally. When I created the first blog, the nickname I wanted was already taken. I spent about twenty minutes trying various combinations of things that contained my initials or plays on my initials and was astonished to find out how many people have or use the initials BN. Aunt BeaN sort of spontaneously appeared at some point and it wasn't being used, so I snagged it. I thought about dropping it for this blog, but I've kinda gotten attached to it, so there you have it.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

From June 2005:

Here is a bad idea: go on a road trip with three fifteen-year-old girls and stay in a hotel room that has only one sink. And the sink is in the bathroom. So once one of the four of you goes in the bathroom, no one can use the sink until that person comes out. Not that I'm complaining. I'm being a very good sport about this, really I am.

Just kidding. It really is kind of fun. They have so much fun (as I've mentioned before, they giggle a LOT). I haven't quite figured out how to act, though. On the way down, they were listening to music. Well, WE were listening to music, but I mean, they were in charge of picking it out and controlling the volume, etc. A lot of it, to start out with, was "their" music, music that I don't necessarily dislike, but I don't really listen to it, either. I was sort of halfway listening to their conversations (which involve 3 or 4 different topics going on at the same time, in all directions, all at high volume, then all of them suddenly come to a dead stop when a new song comes on so that they can gush, "OH! I LOVE THIS SONG!" Then they listen reverently in silence for about 30 seconds before the chattering starts up again) at the same time I'm trying to figure out if maybe the word the Dalai Lama translates as "attachment" would be better translated as "addiction" and if so, what is the difference between a healthy emotional attachment to someone/something and being addicted to them/it? Who says women over 40 can't multitask?

But then they put in Queen's Greatest Hits, which is one my favorite albums (I still call them albums, can't teach an old dog some new tricks, I guess). It hasn't been six weeks since I did an extremely similar drive by myself (on my way to hear Mr. Rushdie) singing along at top volume to this exact same album. But I know it will more or less ruin their fun if their 43-year-old chaperone is seen to be singing along and enjoying the same music they are. So I sort of pretended like I wasn't paying attention. My spouse wouldn't have, he would have joined right in. But for some reason I always feel like someone needs to be the adult. And I know it's not as much fun for them to crank their music to the skies if the adults in the area actually wish they'd turn it up a little bit louder. HA. So I acted like I wasn't really listening and sang along with Freddie in my head. I love Freddie. The world is a better place because of Freddie.

We got only the first quarter of the drive under our belts tonight, still six hours to go tomorrow. I'm sitting in the hotel lobby typing this on the free computer where anybody in the world could come up and read over my shoulder, which is a strange feeling indeed. I guess I should go get in line to brush my teeth.

Feeling very mature tonight.
Aunty Bean
(get on your bikes and ride)
I'm a little bit Asperger's-ish. (Asperger's is at the high functioning end of the autism spectrum.)  I'm pretty sure if I were a preschooler now, I'd be identified as "on the spectrum."  I've been thinking about this for awhile. For one thing, I know my credit card numbers. :-) But it's not just that.  It started out with noticing ways that I am like my friend's son who is autistic. I don't like to be social. I'd rather be by myself most of the time. The thoughts going on in my brain are a lot more interesting than about 75% of the outside world. (I know what you're thinking, and just hush.) I find it exhausting to deal with other people. There are so many cues to keep track of, so much information coming in about their feelings and how they want you to respond. It's overwhelming. I'd so much rather read a good book, and the older I get, the more strongly I feel about that. I'm not sure if it's because I know more and now pick up on more cues, or if I'm just turning into an old witch. Could be a little of both.

Anyway, here are my exhibits A and B to prove my point. A: social scripting. I was reading a few weeks ago about the way to teach children with asperger's how to deal with social situations, and the way you do it is by teaching them "scripts." Which more or less means, you help the child learn to identify certain cues and what the appropriate responses are. The asperger's child is never going to spontaneously respond correctly in a social situation, but he/she can be taught what the "rules" are and they can actually become fairly adept at social skills as long as they know the script, they know what to expect and why and what's happening. It occurred to me that this is exactly why I'm comfortable socializing with people at work-- which I have to do quite a bit. It wears me out, but it doesn't freak me out, and I think the reason is because there is a definite script. I know my role, I know the other people's role, and I can pretty easily and comfortably manage the ways I need to respond. But if you put me in an unscripted social situation-- say a party where you stand around and make small talk-- I am pathetically, painfully shy. And I am ludicrously, flagrantly prone to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even at age 43, I still go hide in the bathroom at parties, sometimes for 15 or 20 minutes.

Exhibit B. Sensory integration. Another problem that Asperger's/autistic kids have is managing all the sensory input that bombards us all the time. At any given moment of the day, you feel: your clothes rubbing against your skin, the seam in your socks, the weight of your jewelry, the temperature of the surrounding air, the sounds of a clock ticking, the furnace running, the microwave going, the refrigerator humming, the radio's on, someone's talking to you. If you don't have sensory integration issues, you can ignore everything in that list and pick out the voice of the person talking to you. If you do have sensory integration issues, it all comes at you with the same value, so to speak-- you can't tell which things are unimportant and can be ignored and which things need your attention. So you tend to shut everything out, because you're so overwhelmed. I remember picking up my friend's son from school one time on a windy day. He stepped outside the door and the feel of the wind on his face stopped him cold. He couldn't screen it out. He just stood there outside the door with his eyes shut feeling the wind, hearing it, feeling the change in temperature, the change in the level of light (or at least that's what I guess he was feeling, he obviously couldn't articulate this).

I can relate to that. I'm not so severe. But I still have to cut the tags out of my clothes if they're stiff. When hiking, I sometimes will have to stop two or three times in the first hour before I get my socks arranged right in my boots, the seams drive me crazy. I can't sleep with my rings on, they rub on my fingers. I can't sleep with mascara on, my eyes don't quite close all the way.  If I go outside and it's cold or hot, I can't get busy with what I'm doing and forget about the temperature. I just stand there and feel overwhelmed that it's too hot. If I come home from running errands and my husband has the TV on, the stereo on, and he's playing his guitar, it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. I can't talk on the phone with someone if the line is static-y, I can't screen out the static, it makes me frantic to get off the phone because that static is in my head.

So when I started reading about sensory integration, I had this moment of AHA! That is ME!  All of which brings me to my Wacky Theory of the Week. I was reading in Time magazine (or was it Discover?) about the enormous increase in the number of autistic kids in the state of California, which defies any type of statistical analysis they've been able to think of to explain it away. So I'm wondering, in the spirit of the old Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov SF stories about how the human race might evolve next, if autism is actually a sort of hyper-hyper sensitivity, a sensitivity that extends to the molecular level. A new skill that we are evolving and have no idea how to use or even identify. Just think if you had that much input. If pheromones floating around in the air felt like stones banging your head. If a two degree temperature change felt like a 40 degree change. You'd be nuts. And that's how some of these kids seem. It's just a thought, but it's an interesting one, isn't it?? See, I told you there was interesting stuff running around in my brain.

Aunty Bean
From mid-Dec 2004:
Here is the curious thing about being the mom of a 14-year-old girl: The kind of mothering she wants, I'm not willing to give: to be indulged and pampered and treated like she was still 6 years old. And the kind of mothering I'm willing to give, she doesn't want: the eternally vigilant guardian-- be careful, it's a scary world out there, be safe, don't get hurt, don't do anything stupid.

so I guess we just keep slogging through it. It's not that bad, really; not compared to what I've heard from many of my friends. But it's not particularly fun, either.

Aunt BeaN, who is also Mom
Originally posted in Oct 04:

I just took a quiz on that is supposed to tell you what religion you are. (aha! I should have known the answer was right here on the Internet all along!). So the results are that I'm a 100% match with neo-paganism, about a 94% match with unitarian universalism (don't know what that is), and a 92% match with Liberal Quakers. The next highest one was "Reform Judaism" but it was down in the low-80's.

Fascinating, as Spock would say.

I spent a couple of years investigating neo-paganism awhile back, it isn't too surprising to me that I match up so closely there because I did like it quite a bit. I liked the cyclical rhythm of keeping track of the phases of the moon and the solstices and all that-- it felt much more "grounded" to me than most religious ideas, if you'll pardon the pun. But the reason I didn't pursue it more was because I discovered over time that the people who follow that belief system aren't any different than any others, and at that point in my search, I reasoned that if you found the "right" belief system, it should make you into a better person.

Now that I've grown into my cynicism a little more, this strikes me as interesting. Human beings are just human beings everywhere. It doesn't matter what belief system you choose. (my inner cynic says, anyway) If everyone in every belief system is petty, mean-spirited, and grasping (at times), then doesn't that say something about religion? Is it worth anything at all, if it doesn't make you into a generous, kind, loving person?

You see the underlying assumption here, which is that people can become "better" by finding the right belief system, and that finding those "better" people would then mean that I had found The Real, True Religion. And a further assumption: if you found the right belief system, it would be possible to change yourself to match its better ideas.

I don't think I believe that anymore. In all times and places, every stripe and color of religious belief, there are people who strive to be loving and kind, and there are people who are using their beliefs for some other agenda, be it power or ..., well, power is the only one I can think of, though it takes on many different outward appearances. It seems relevant here to loosely quote St. Paul (I'm not looking this up, so it may be very loose) who says in one of the epistles "This is true religion: to give to the poor and visit the widows and orphans in their distress." which says nothing at all about dogma. or politics. or Jesus. Your basic atheist could have that kind of religion, yet how few of us do, no matter which faith we profess.

(editor's note, Oct 2006: believe it or not, this went on for another four paragraphs that I have now deleted. geeze, what the heck was I thinking???)

bah. time for bed.
love and kisses,
Aunt BeaN
another one from August 2004 (excerpted and edited):

"Reading Lolita in Tehran" turns out to be less about the books Dr. Nafisi teaches than it is about the Iranian revolution and living in a totalitarian regime. It strikes me as so ironic how similar fundamentalists are in every time and place-- this blind insistence that the world must conform to the doctrines of the group, and the self-righteous ability to believe one's own judgment to be infallible, because it is backed up by one's interpretation of ... something. The Bible, the Koran, something. The Iranian Islamic fundamentalists are only too happy to pick apart the evil of American Christians, and (although she doesn't cover this in her book) the reverse is also true. The American religious right are quite sure that they know all there is to know about the Muslim faith, and that is: it is Wrong.

I was raised as a conservative Christian. Not technically a fundamentalist, but to an outsider, it would amount to the same thing. I consider some of my early training in the Christian faith to have been very much like brainwashing-- you are very carefully trained that you can't trust your own judgment, a slightly sneering, condescending tone of voice is used if you dare to presume that your own experience might merit some consideration as opposed to received "Truth." at the same time that your own ability to think and question is subtly undermined, you are trained in the beauty of the belief system of the group. How logical it is, how much it makes sense, how happy everyone around you is when you go along with it, how much it distresses everyone when you disagree or make waves.

So when I go back into that type of environment, it fascinates me to see how I respond. it's not that I want to go back to that way of believing, it's not that I start to believe it again, it's not even that I get sucked in, it's just that I can still hear that little voice I was so well-trained to hear-- "are you sure you can trust yourself? are you so arrogant that you think you know more than anybody else? Isn't it better to go along with the wisdom of what you were taught? They know so much more than we do. It couldn't have survived all these centuries without being true. It must be true."

I'm not going back. I don't believe the little voice. But I can hear it. And that is scary to me, not just for myself, but for the implications of how deeply imbedded it is in my psyche-- it has been nearly twenty years since I made my break with Evangelicalism-- and what that means about how hard it is to break free from that kind of thinking. Not just for former conservative christians but for fundamentalists everywhere.


Well, enough soapboxing for tonight. My brain is fuzzed (I've been interrupted three times by my son and his friend who is spending the night for Frosted Flakes, orange juice, and popcorn, and it is damn difficult to solve the world's problems when you are dealing with a sleepover) and maybe this doesn't even make sense.

Aunt BeaN
originally posted in August '04.

Here is my "life with teenagers" moment for this weekend: We're sitting at dinner last night with some friends who have teenage boys who are avid soccer players. One of the boys comments, "Cody's dad bought him an eighty dollar pair of Beckham's."

I am feeling proud of myself that I know who "Beckham" is. He's married to that former Spice Girl, you know.

"Wow," I say, naively. "Eighty dollars for a pair of shoes! I will never get used to that."

He looks at me blankly. "Oh, no, they're gloves."

My jaw drops. "Eighty dollars for a pair of gloves?"

The two boys are a bit defensive. "Well, they're goalie gloves," one says, and the other nods enthusiastically, as if this explains everything. I say, "Oh," as if I understand, but inside I'm still thinking dumbfoundedly, "Eighty dollars for a pair of gloves????"

It continually strikes me how different a world they are growing up in than we did. It's not that they're spoiled, or that they're wealthy. If you adjusted for inflation, I bet the families of the Texas oilmen and financiers I grew up with in the 70's were wealthier than these families. It's just that there's so much more stuff you can get, specialized stuff that you don't really need, but once you try it and see how well it works, you decide you really do need it. And it's marketed so incredibly well. I just feel so old.That's happening to me a lot these days, as you may have noticed.

Aunt B.
(who has never paid more than $60 for a pair of shoes for herself, but has paid $75 for basketball shoes for her daughter)
From July 04. You know, I really thought I would only post a half dozen of my old blog entries, but here I am at 8 and we're only up to the middle of 2004. I really have left out dozens of them, promise. It could be much worse.

So here is my domestic goddess (NOT) post. I don't like to cook. I like good food, and I don't mind cooking, but I don't enjoy it. I don't do it for fun and relaxation. And if you can point out to me a shortcut that tastes good, I'm happy to use it. I don't see the point in making bechamel sauce from scratch for lasagna, lasagna can taste really good with ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese, for that matter). Come to think of it, I'm just fine with Stouffer's. I'm just not a natural cook.

But I do understand that somebody has to fix the food when a bunch of people get together, and I'm happy to help out when I know what is needed. So if we're invited to a dinner and I'm supposed to bring a salad, I bring a salad. It won't be fancy, but it gets eaten. This worked fine for the first 40 years of my life. But recently things have started to change. I've had the feeling when I show up with my dish that I didn't do it quite right. Or that I haven't measured up somehow. I wasn't really sure what it was, and I'm not good enough at social interactions to figure it out. I just knew I wasn't doing it right.

A couple of weeks ago, right after we got back from vacation, some friends of mine put on a going away party for another family that was moving. Since we had just returned from being gone for two weeks, they just told us to bring some wine, which we did. These three women who were putting on the party absolutely outdid themselves. We arrived at the park (it was a barbecue at a public park) and they had baskets and bags and boxes of food. The three of them kept pulling out more stuff. "Well, I thought we might need this." "Oh, I found this new recipe." It was very friendly one-upmanship. And suddenly I GOT it. They LOVE doing this. They love putting together a totally over-the-top party, with way too much food and all these nice little touches that really are fun and great but aren't necessary. If I had been in charge, I would have tried to figure out the simplest way we could have fed 30 people with the least amount of work-- because I don't WANT to spend two days planning and cooking and shopping. but they DO. They love it. They were having a ball.

And it was a great party. There was WAY too much food, and everybody got to take some of it home and didn't have to cook dinner the next night. So it was great. But I felt, as I often do, that I am from another planet. The weird alien down the street that just never gets things quite right, you know? I'd so much rather be reading or learning something new or -- heck even cleaning out a closet than spend two days planning a party. But my party would have been totally lame compared to the one we got to go to.

So???? What to do? I love these people, and they seem willing to put up with me even if I only show up with my relish tray. But it becomes a problem over time. Trust me. I'm just figuring this out, but I think it is the key to why I haven't been getting along too well with one particular friend who is an unbelievable cook. I just haven't been aware of all the undercurrents of what was going on. She'd tell me to bring a salad and I'd bring a salad. I didn't realize that also meant I should just whip up a little appetizer and here's a bottle of wine I thought we might try and look, I found these really cute napkins on sale.... and show up with a whole armload of stuff.

And yet watching these friends of mine (and they really are friends, they are great ladies and I'm SO glad I get invited to their parties) I realized that somehow now that we're in our 40's, the stakes have been raised and nobody wants to get a phone call at 5:00, "Hey, why don't you come over for dinner and we'll order pizza?"-- which worked just fine when we were in our 20's in grad school.

Oh, I really miss that.

But if I did all that cooking, how could I find the time to write these scintillating posts?? you see my dilemma. HA. It's not really a dilemma because I don't LIKE to cook so I'm not gonna do it. The dilemma is whether or not I can continue to hang out with all my more sophisticated friends, I guess. Still thinking about this one.

Aunt BeaN
From July 2004:

Usually when I see a movie (I know I'm supposed to say "film" but that bugs me, so there.) I walk out of it thinking of what I would have done differently-- lines I would have written differently, scenes I would have cut or added, secondary storylines that didn't make sense, etc. The only time ever I've walked out of a movie and thought, "I wouldn't change a thing," was "American Beauty," which justly won so many awards a few years back. It was perfect-- perfectly written, perfectly filmed, perfectly acted. But I hated it. I hated watching it. It was like watching a nightmare. I've never seen it again, and although I sometimes think about re-viewing it out of curiosity, I've just never had the stamina to do it.

That rather long, somewhat pretentious lead-in was all to say: that is exactly how I feel about reading Lolita. As a work of art, it is gorgeous. Beautiful. (Well, OK, minus the boring part in the middle of Part Two.) You could pick it apart endlessly and still find more layers of connections and symmetries and humanity. But it is horrible to read. It's the story of a childhood destroyed. The ornate, overwrought writing style which drives you crazy at various different points in the novel turns out to be exactly the right vehicle for conveying this guy's persona. The last few chapters are brilliant, when you know he knows, but he also knows he couldn't have done it any differently, in fact, he still would do the same thing over again if he had the chance. THere's no sign at all that Nabokov was a child molester, how did he get so thoroughly into this guy's mind? How did he so perfectly recreate it? I'm awestruck, but I'll never read it again.

So now I'm halfway through the section of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" where she discusses Nabokov. It is fascinating. More later, or maybe not. This is probably horrendously boring to read. Off to la familia in an alternate state (of mind).

Aunt BeaN
from May 2004:

We went on a junior high orchestra field trip last week. Lucky us, you're thinking. But you know, it was actually pretty cool. First of all, there was the destination: Yo-Yo Ma was playing with one of the "local" symphony orchestras (where I live, "local" is anywhere you can drive to in a day). And that, you must admit, is pretty cool.

Secondly, there were the kids. I was expecting awkward, immature, over-dramatized barely-teens. And... well, OK, there was some of all of that. But there was also sweet. And funny. And courageous. And well-behaved. They sat through a two and a half hour rehearsal without talking. Let me say that again in case you missed it: WITHOUT TALKING. These are not sophisticated kids from a urban arts magnet school. These are kids from a small town in the middle of nowhere (though you can't tell them that). I would be surprised if any of them outside a couple of the cello players had ever heard of Yo-Yo Ma before this opportunity came up.

Mr. Ma was far more of a show-boater than I was expecting. I've heard several of his recordings, but never seen him in person. I was expecting an intense, serious musician. And while he is clearly very serious about his music, he was friendly, casual, and outgoing to the point of almost overdoing it. His first piece, a Saint-Saens concerto for cello and orchestra, was full of lots of what I'm sure passes for pyrotechnics in the cello world-- lots of very colorful music with notes going by very fast. Extremely fast. But he played it all while smiling, winking, looking around, almost as if someone else were playing the cello and he was just there to glad-hand the locals. It was a little eerie. And amazing to watch.

The piece, I'm told by those who know more about these things, is sort of looked down on by serious musicians-- sort of like Scherezade-- all flash and dash and easily accessible gorgeousness, great fun to play and listen to ('scuse the dangling preposition), but not very complex. OK by me. And he played it with a "Look, Ma, no hands!" combination of nonchalance and daredevilry. (pun sort-of intended) It was fascinating.

And then there was the drive home. It was loud and kept getting louder. The bus was equipped with a VCR and the kids that didn't want to watch the movie kept talking louder and the kids that did want to watch the movie kept turning it up. Ack. After an hour or so I put down my book to watch the mountains. We were driving west across the plains, and the Rockies seem almost to leap up out of the ground at a certain point. The kids barely even noticed. I guess if you grow up around here, mountains out the window are hardly cause for taking a break in non-stop junior high gossip. They may not know much about classical music, but snow capped peaks out the window, they've got down.

But me, I'm a transplanted southerner and the sight of the Rocky Mountain front looming up in front of a car windshield (or bus, as the case may be) still leaves me mesmerized, even after living here for a decade. I watched till it was too dark (and we were too close) to see anything anymore. I wonder if I'll ever get tired of it.
This was posted after midnight on April 19, 2005. It is weird, but I think it's my favorite one.

To blog or not to blog, that is the question. If a blog is written on the internet, but nobody reads it, does it really exist? when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to decide whether or not it is important to continue trying even when trying has become trying, what decision will you make? Will you press on, or will you fold up your hand and go home, throw in the towel, or trowel, or the spade with which you are digging the garden? and if you go ahead and plant that garden, it could someday, a very long time from now, bear some fruit. Well, OK, it would probably be vegetables. some vegetables that you can't even imagine right now.

But on the other hand, the whole thing could also just get plowed under when they build the new mega mall next to your house. Where have all the flowers gone? Where oh where has my little dog gone? it might be in the same place as the flowers. They took all the trees and put 'em in a tree museum.

OK, well, this is not an environmentalist blog, even though I do recycle. (that was a joke). It is supposed to be a blog about my personal life, or "journey," as they so eumphemistically call it in new age circles, but the problem with that is that my life is just so damn boring. I'm bored to death, and you'd be bored to death if you read about it. So maybe the thing I should do is just make stuff up. Riff on words. Create an alter personality that has a real life and gets to do exciting things and doesn't have to wait until ten years from now to live a little. Can I last that long? Does it matter? Is there a partridge in the pear tree?

You see my dilemma. I simply cannot go on with this charade. If there is no partridge, then what is the point after all. I mean, maybe there's some dumb owl up there or something, and then I just refuse to go on with it anymore. "...and an owl in a pear tree..." . You see? It just isn't right. Fifteen miles on the erie canal. Give us the halfling, she-elf.Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

Yours, truly,
Aunt BeaN
Here is another excerpt from a March 04 post-- and for the record, my oldest child is now 16 and I still wouldn't try to give advice about teenagers...

Here is my rant for today, and it is: parents who let their children get away with being rude, disrespectful and obnoxious. I won't touch the whole teenager thing since my oldest just got there and I don't have much experience. BUT sometimes I watch parents with their young children, 3 year olds even, and the kids talk back to them, contradict them, speak in a rude and obnoxious tone of voice (not to mention LOUD), and the parents DON'T DO ANYTHING. This astounds me. And then they wonder why their children are rude and disrespectful.

Here's the deal: children do not come out of the womb with manners. They have to be TAUGHT. You have to remind them over and over and over again to say "please" at the end of a request, and "thank you" after the request has been met. You have to say, "Don't talk to me in that tone of voice" and "Would you ask that more politely?" They don't know that it's unacceptable to be rude and obnoxious unless you TELL them. And telling them once isn't going to do it. You have to keep after them every day. You have to NOT give them what they want if they ask in a demanding, complaining, or whining tone of voice. "Ask me again politely." "How about saying please at the end of that question?" or just, "What's the magic word?" That's the hardest part for me, to remember not to respond to them when they're being rude, other than to tell them they're being rude. It's so easy to get absorbed in what you're doing and just do what they want to get rid of them. But manners are important. Being polite and respectful of other people is important. You have to make the effort.

So there.
Aunt BeaN
an excerpt from a post in March 04:

Yesterday I was reading the introduction to a very famous book on spirituality. I've heard the guy speak on tape before, and I learned a lot, so I don't want to be too negative. BUT. It was almost funny. He was talking about how he reached enlightenment at the age of 29, then was so blissed out that he spent the better part of the next TWO YEARS sitting on a park bench just being overjoyed.

Now, there's probably a pretty good percentage of people who read that and are envious. Then there's those who are so invested in work and struggle that they're horrified. And then there's the percentage of us who are MOMS, who are just thinking to ourselves, and who the hell is picking up his kids from soccer? .......

more later. I have to stop thinking and get my son out of the bath tub. :-)
Aunt BeaN
ever pragmatic
This was originally posted in February 2004:

Here's the deal about those of us who are hypersensitive: it's not about whether we see the glass as half-full or half-empty. Who cares what you call it? it's the same thing. What induces insanity among us sensitive types is when someone tries to tell us a glass is full when it's not. You want to watch me pull my hair out by the roots? Hand me a glass that's 98% full and tell me it's full. I can't let go of that damn 2% that's not full. I just can't do it.

Most people, I think, have their full-empty threshhold somewhere around 60%. If the glass is 60% full, hey, it's pretty good and they're happy. Then there's people like my husband, who are so determined to look on the bright side that if the glass is 25% full, then by-god that's the way they like it and don't you try to tell them there's a problem. And then there's me, who probably would be able to obsess about the .05% in a glass that was 99.95% full.

Now here's my advice if you know someone like me: for god's sake, acknowledge that they have a point. They'll never be able to let it go until you say, "You know, you're right, that glass is not full." Usually that's all it takes, and then they can relax and everything will be OK. And here's my advice to the people that are like me: try to relax. Try to realize that nothing in life is 100%, and those poor blokes that can't see the bits that aren't quite right are just doing the best they can with their inferior sensibilities. (just kidding. mostly.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

From April, 2006:

I haven't made much progress on Madame Bovary this week because I found a book called The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong that has had me glued to it like a suspense novel. Ms. Armstrong is, of course, the author of The History of God and a number of other books that I've heard of but never read. I listened to an interview with her a couple of weeks ago and was intrigued by some of the things she said. I love nothing better than a good spiritual autobiography-- as long is it's not entirely tiresome, as some are, and this blog may be-- so when I found out she had written one, I ordered it immediately.

There are a number of similarities between her search and mine, but also some differences. She left a convent in her mid-twenties after 7 years of being a nun, I left conservative Christianity at about the same age after having been raised in it. She had a disastrous experience at graduate school, as I did (although she did finish her thesis, I never did finish mine). She tried a number of jobs before finding the "right" thing-- which I still haven't found, but since she's older than me, this gives me a lot of hope. She has a neurological condition which has overshadowed her adult life and led to lots of time trying different medications to get relief: hers is epilepsy, mine is frequent migraines. So I feel like I've found a kindred spirit, maybe even more than I did when I read that Natalie Goldberg book last fall.

There are lots of things I could write about but maybe I will start with her/my experience in leaving a conservative, all-consuming tradition. We both had good intentions, a passion to find God, to devote ourselves to "his" service, to be utterly and completely dedicated to God. We both found ourselves in a tradition that had a very specific and well-defined set of behaviors and actions that defined how you "should" do this, though hers was much more externally controlling than mine. And we both failed, rather miserably, to achieve our goals by doing the things we were "supposed" to do. I tried so hard. She tried so hard. We both gave it our all, but were unable to find God in the way that it was assumed that one should.

Ms. Armstrong found upon leaving the convent that she got two different reactions from the people she knew: dismay, disappointment, and condemnation from those still inside the tradition, and an insensitive assumption that one was Overjoyed to be Out from all the rest. The people inside the tradition didn't see that finally the act of leaving was the only one she could take, it was just no longer possible to go on. She was, and I was, killing herself by trying to continue. On the other hand, the people outside completely missed that she/I left with a deep, abiding sense of having failed at the very thing that was most important to her/me.

I'm having trouble putting this into words. The deep insight that came to me while I was reading this is that I have never really resolved exactly the same issue. I still carry a deep sense of failure because I've never fully validated for myself that leaving fundamentalism was an act of integrity. I left because the type of Christianity I was being told to do was actually pushing me further away from God. But that is mixed in with that fact that I "couldn't" do religion the way I was being told to do it-- and all Americans know that there is no such thing as "can't," right? so it must have been a failure within myself that caused this-- I still feel that at a very basic level. It works for so many people, why couldn't I do it? And in my case, those people are my family, my tribe, the people I would have done anything to please (at least at a younger age) .

I imagine it would be the same as someone who went into the military with every intention of dedicating themselves to the welfare of their country, a true and real sense of patriotism. but then they found once they were in the service that their temperament was utterly unsuited to military life. Just because of the way our culture is, it would seem like such a huge, monumental failure to admit that and leave. You would be called a quitter, a loser, a failure-- and unpatriotic, to boot. But it might be the only way to stay sane.

I'm not good at validating who I am when that is not who I want to be, when what I want to be is what everyone else wants me to be. I wanted to find God and be a good little girl at the same time. Ms. Armstrong wanted to find God and be the best nun ever. Neither of us was able to do it, but the fact that we failed at that particular path has in the long run become the beginning of a true path.

well, that is a rambling, incoherent way of trying to explain something that has been eating away at me for years, but that I might finally be able to let heal.

Back to Emma next week.
We were tent campers for years. Of course, that was mostly before we had kids. And then we had one kid. Tent camping is not too hard when you have no kids, or even one once she gets a little older. And it helps that our older child is a really good sport.

About five years ago, with several long road trips on the horizon, we upgraded to a pickup camper. It was a great little camper, but the operative word here is little. There was no bathroom, and only one bed (the one over the cab of the pickup) was permanent. The other two beds, the ones our kids slept in, had to be folded down or out at bedtime. But first you had to clear out all the stuff that you had packed in front of the upper bed, and you had to make sure you wouldn't need the table anymore, because the table made into the lower bed. And once the beds were set up, you could barely move around until the next day when you put them away again. I used to tell people it was like one of those little tile puzzles with the 25 pieces that you move around to try and make a design. You couldn't do anything in that camper without moving everything around first.

We logged a lot of miles in that camper, though, and had some great times. And since it wasn't much bigger than the pickup, it would go anywhere the pickup would go, which made it pretty convenient for the area where we live. And it was hard-sided, which is a good thing for keeping bears out and heat in.

But eventually we decided it was time to upgrade, and this year we traded in our little pickup camper for a trailer. We had been looking for awhile, and had decided that 20' was our limit. But then we found a 23' one that was only a year old that was selling for way less than we had planned to spend, and we decided to take the plunge. The day we saw it, it was on a lot with about 40 other RVs, every single one of which was larger-- some by 6 or 8 feet. It doesn't have any slide-outs. So it seemed small, even puny, by comparison. But we got it home and put it in our driveway and it is HUGE. I mean, you get it hooked up to the pickup and it's like driving the Titanic. I'm not sure we're ready for this. We still have the tent camper mindset where you look down your nose at people in their big RVs with the cable antennas and the satellite dish out the back. We still would never even dream of bringing a generator. If the battery goes dead, we'll just do without power till we're at a power source again, thank you very much.

So we pull into our first campground on our first camping trip with the new trailer this past weekend. It wasn't a developed campground, just a state park with picnic tables and fire rings at each site, and a pit potty for general use off to one side. We backed, with some difficulty, into a space that was probably not meant for vehicles of our size, although we did fit. And our next door neighbors were a young couple, probably in their mid-20s, tent camping, and looking at us as snottily as you please. I felt bad. I wanted to tell them that it hasn't been that long since we were driving our little high-mpg car with the tent and stove stowed in the hatchback and camping wherever we could find a spot. But they wouldn't believe us, they think--as we did at that age-- that they would never stoop to having a bathroom IN their camper. I want to tell them to wait until their first trip in the rain with a baby that is still in diapers. But they will find out on their own. And maybe they will decided they still prefer to tent camp, who knows.

But the next morning when we rolled out of bed, we were able to take hot showers in our tiny but serviceable shower, and then sit at the table drinking coffee while the kids were still asleep in their bunks. It was pretty plush, maybe worth the compromises. It still seems weird. We may end up getting a small pop-up or something for road trips because this thing sends my husband's already abysmal mileage down another 3-4 mpg. But for the kind of camping trip where you're going to drive somewhere and park by a lake for a week, it is perfect, like camping at a Ritz Carlton. It felt like someone should show up for turndown service.

I'm spoiled rotten.Other highlights of the trip included: Graycliff Prairie Dog Town and the Headwaters of the Missouri River state park, both of which were great. Red Lodge, our eventual turnaround spot, was beautiful. All in all, a great inaugural voyage for the new camper.

Aunt BeaN
(a three-hour tour)(well, OK, it was four days)
A dream (a fictional one, of course, aren't all blog entries fiction?). There is a large park, gorgeous weather, preternaturally green grass and trees, flowers blooming everywhere. People abound, playing frisbee, sitting on the grass, listening to music, working. There are people working, and clearly they like working, because they keep doing it and doing it and feeling very successful about it. There are also people wandering aimlessly, some arm-in-arm with friends, talking and laughing, some really aimless, just wandering. After awhile, you notice something strange about this park. It is bounded on one side by a cliff. THere is no railing, no warning sign, no boundary of any sort-- the bright green grass just suddenly ends and there is air beyond. No one seems worried, though. People play catch right up to the edge, there are even those who are sitting on the edge with their feet dangling over. Occasionally one of the loonies, the ones who are really wandering aimlessly, will make a run for it and dive over, disappearing without a sound. No one seems to notice. You move toward the edge, cautiously at first, but when no one seems at all concerned, you move closer and closer. You see it is quite a long way down. Fascinated, you are pulled toward the edge. It is a long way down. A distance that stops the heart. So far down that you can't quite make out what is at the bottom, there is just a dim blueness below. You pull back from the edge, head reeling, heart pounding at how close you came to pitching head first into oblivion. but still no one notices, no one cares. You wander away, but you can't get your mind off it, that edge is always there. so you creep back, trying not to think about it, trying to remind yourself that the vertigo is all in your head, the ground is steady under your feet, and you sit down and scoot forward until your feet hang over the side. It is stunning, the drop beneath you, but it is real. It is there. There is no explaining it away. And then you wake up.
From May 05:
Concerning agnosticism. For years now I've considered myself more or less an agnostic. I didn't really know that much about the term, I just thought it meant "don't know" based on the way the word is constructed (a- as a prefix usually means "not"; "gnosis" comes (I think) from the greek word for knowledge). I do very much believe that there are limits to how much it is possible for me to know about many things-- what will happen after I die, what exactly happens when I pray, what exactly I'm connecting with when I feel like I'm connecting to what I think of as "God." To phrase it a little differently: I believe in a number of things that I've experienced and continue to experience but I don't claim to know what they are. I thought that was at least within the parameters of what it meant to be an agnostic.

But just in the last week, the word has cropped up twice in books I'm reading-- "Life of Pi" and "In Search of Grace"-- and in both cases, the word agnostic is used to mean something fairly different. In common use, it seems to mean that since we can't know, there's no point in believing in anything. Skepticism, doubt, prove it to me. In "Life of Pi," the narrator says that he can easily imagine that an atheist, at the moment of her death, would see God and have an epiphany-- "Oh, I get it now!" whereas an agnostic would still waffle around wanting more proof and better data.

I looked up the definition of "agnostic" on Bartleby (I do love the internet) and I think the way I define the word fits in with the first definition listed there ("One who believes it is impossible to know whether or not there is a God") but maybe not with the elaborations: skeptical, doubtful, noncommital. And then there is a fairly interesting word history. The word "agnostic" was coined by Thomas Huxley in 1870 to describe himself and his fellow intellectuals. He wanted a term to describe someone who didn't deny that God and heaven might exist, but didn't feel the need to believe in them in order to explain the world around them. So that would be pretty different from what I'm talking about.

So what term can I use to describe myself? Someone who believes, but doesn't know what they believe in? I have experienced connection with something, something that reliably comes to my aide in certain types of situations, something that can be trusted to spur me on toward health and wholeness when I (my ego-self) allow it to, but I have no idea what that something is. God, Higher Power, something within my own subconscious, something within the collective consciousness of the human race, who knows? and it is hardly infallible, since it is always interpreted through my own too-fallible awareness/perception. But there it is. I just have to come up with a catch-y label for it and I'm all set.
Originally posted April, 2005

You know, every once in awhile you just screw up. You do something you shouldn't have done, you stick your nose where it didn't belong, you bite off more than you can chew, whatever. You try to rationalize it, you try to make it someone else's fault, you try to convince yourself that anybody would have done the same thing in similar circumstances, but the bottom line is: you screwed up.

It occurs to me that perhaps the main difference between Presbyterianism (which is what I publicly do for my religious practice 2-3 Sunday mornings a month) and Buddhism (which is what I'm investigating and finding to be quite interesting and relevant) is how you define this screwing up. Presbyterians call it "sin" and they encourage a weekly time of confession and internal house-cleaning, followed by a reminder from the pastor that the whole point of Jesus' death and resurrection was so that our sins could be forgiven. If we honestly repent, we can let go of past mistakes and feel clean. Or healed, or at least that we have been given a fresh start. It is taken as a given that the believer aspires to avoid sin, that the fresh start will be used to try and do better, be better.

I know for most of my non-Christian friends, this is THE major sticking point about Christianity, and particularly the weekly emphasis placed on it by Presbyterians. It seems so medieval, so prudish, so negative to talk about sin. In their minds, talking about sin automatically conjures up images of hellfire and damnation. But I'm not opposed to the idea of sin, and I'm pretty sure the vast majority of the Presbyterians I know think about hell about as often as they think about Bhutan, which is to say: almost never. In some ways, I find the idea of sin and confession to be almost comforting. Maybe because I was raised with these ideas everywhere around me, I don't have any problem identifying times when I've screwed up, or "fallen short," which I'm told is the official definition of sin. It makes me feel bad (later) when I'm short-tempered with my kids or I say something nasty about someone behind their back, or I act in a way that doesn't match up with my internal sense of who I want to be. The mental act of "confessing," which in my practice amounts to identifying these moments and regretting them, can be cleansing and helpful. And the idea of aspiring to be a better person is imo one of the hallmarks of the religious life.

But the Buddhist idea, which I'm not entirely sure I'm qualfied to present (but here goes anyway), is quite different and equally compelling. In at least two of the books I've read recently, the act of trying to change yourself, to improve yourself, is described as an act of violence against the self. In fact, Tara Brach's book which I'm currently reading is titled "Radical Acceptance," meaning that only by embracing and befriending all aspects of our selves, even the negative ones, can we learn to be free of the shame and confusion that comes from trying to be something we aren't. Or trying to pretend that we are something that either others or ourselves wish we could be. Pema Chodron, over and over in all four (five?) of the books of hers I've read, talks about befriending our messiness, our neuroses, our "juicy bits" as she calls them at one point. So rather than trying to change yourself into a better person, you accept that this messy, mixed bag is who you are and you learn how to embrace and be-friend all that you can find out about yourself.

I think the idea behind this is that as you accept and learn to feel compassion for all of yourself, your heart expands, you are able to let go of some of the crabbed, cramped, mean-heartedness that defines us all at our worst. It seems to me -- as always-- that there's a gray area in there. The two ways of thinking aren't necessarily antithetical. Both of them provide something different for me, and in some ways they neatly dovetail. I do think when you are raised (or just surrounded?) by the idea of sin all the time, it's easy to either over-emphasize it -- so that every little failing becomes SIN -- or to project it out on others -- what they do is "sinful" by definition because they aren't one of us. (I've done both of those, sometimes at the same time. Funny phenomenon, that.)

And the Buddhist philosophy of self-acceptance, of softening one's critical stance toward one's self and others, is a potent antidote to that hyper-judgmental mindset. And I know from experience that the Buddhist approach does work, even though at the time I wouldn't have called it that. A lot of what I read in these Buddhist books sounds very similar to things I've heard from therapists for years, making me feel like I have a track record (so to speak) with it, even though I'm fairly new to the study of Buddhism. That's one of the things that about Buddhism that is so compelling to me-- it makes sense, in a way that much of the stuff I read from the Christian world does not. I read stuff that my family recommends to me and sometimes it's like the person that wrote it lives on another planet. There is some more complex Christian thinking out there, but you sure have to look hard to find it. But I digress.

I'm starting to think in circles here, I'm too tired to finish right now. More later. Or maybe this is enough on this topic.

still thinking about this.
Lovey dovey
Aunty BeaN

Why this is not a political blog

Originally posted November 2004:

I'm listening to my son and his two best friends play. It strikes me as fascinating that even though they are no where near a computer, the language of computer games structures their play. "How 'bout if you can die three times before you're really dead? How 'bout if you advance to the next level if you make it up the stairs without dying?"

Their cavalier attitude toward death reminds me of some politicians. I've studiously avoided political commentary in this blog, because it seems to me that Americans have allowed themselves to be thoroughly polarized in their political opinions by forces that are funded by multi-billion dollar enterprises-- if you stay away from the hot-button issues that fund radio talk shows, PAC donations, and extremist fundraising, most Americans are probably within about 20% of each other on nearly all issues. We all agree that political oppression is an awful thing. We all agree that terrorism is horrifying. Nobody really knows what to do about it, nobody really knows what will work to end political oppression or the conditions that give rise to terrorism. But in an effort to polarize their voters and galvanize their donors, each side has taken up a religious tone claiming that they and they alone have the solution, the moral absolute, the ultimate answer that will solve the problem. And in a way, you can understand: who is going to give money to an organization that says they think they might know the answer?

Unfortunately, this process has made the two differing views into polar opposites (we must show military might, terrorists will only pay attention to an overt display of power vs. we must work to change economic conditions/educate people so that they are ready for the democratic process, etc so that they have no reason to become terrorists in the first place). But is there any reason to be so sure? And more interesting to me: are the positions really mutually exclusive?

It seems to me that the truth is that no one knows what will really work, and unfortunately the inevitable side effect of this strident, absolutist vote-mongering is that intelligent discussion is impossible, virtually guaranteeing that if there were a workable middle ground, it won't be found.

Having said that, though, I'm still going to comment on the double talk before us. The current administration has no problem, no matter what the circumstances, condemning a woman who would end the existence of her unborn child. But they also have no problem bombing an Iraqi city where innocent children will be (and have been) killed. They have all sorts of high-sounding moral absolutes that they deliver to explain this contradiction (it's called "spin"), and apparently a lot of people believe them. But the paradox remains, no matter how fast they talk. If they would acknowledge the moral ambiguity here, it might make their position bearable. But that they continue to claim the moral high ground in the face of it is almost unspeakably offensive to me.

And there you have it. Me up on my self-righteous soapbox denouncing them up on their self-righteous soapbox. In a nutshell, that's why I don't write these posts much.

I said my peace (pun intended, of course).

Monday, August 21, 2006

Part IV, from Jan 2005

(I left out parts 2 & 3 because they didn't seem particularly relevant and they made this way too long. This was originally written in Jan 2005.)

The Boring Posts, Part IV. In Which Aunt BeaN Attempts to Make Sense of Various Things Which Are Too Big for a BeaN of Very Little Brain.

So the purported subject of this particular post is supposed to be what I believe now. And why I still go to church, and believe me, I'm not sure I have the answer to that one sometimes myself. I've been putting this off for ages because it's hard to figure out how to say some things, and also because it sounds so pompous and self-important to announce What I Believe, as if you are sure everyone wants to know. So I just want to say in advance that if this sounds pretentious, at least I know I sound pretentious and I feel bad about it. OK?

So what I'm after now is some type of testing my ideas about God and the universe and life against the truth of my experience and the experiences of those around me. Geeze, that doesn't sound nearly complicated enough to express what I'm trying to say. When I was an evangelical, if someone said, "Women can't hold positions of authority because this verse right here says so," I would just nod my head, even though I'd had plenty of experience with smart, capable women who were great leaders. Why didn't I protest? Why didn't I say, "That's not true, because look at example a, b, c...." (the answer, of course, is because I had been trained to agree, but let's not get off on that topic right now).

I want a belief system that is big enough and complex enough to hold everything, all of my experience, not one that jumps and runs for the cover of simplistic platitudes at the first sign of discomfort. Not one that tells me things that are obviously not true and expects me to toe the line. Here is Pema Chodron: "we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is." and to paraphrase an earlier paragraph of hers, the point isn't to avoid pain or to find ease and comfort, the point is to seek out what is true.

I just started figuring some of this out in the last couple of months. Partly as a result of keeping this blog. I've typed a lot about what I don't believe, the things that turned me off about other belief systems, but it occurred to me that I haven't really figured out what I do believe, and that I've even been avoiding that topic. Sure, it's partly because I don't really know, it's a work in progress. But that's the easy way out. Then I started reading good books again, all this great classic literature. And it occurred to me that part of the reason why I loved being an English major is because really great literature helps you get at that mystery-- what is the truth of human experience? It's not possible to express it in a series of theological statements (abortion is wrong, homosexuality is wrong, George W. is right, whatever-- or even the reverse of those statements), but in a big huge sprawling novel like Bleak House or Lonesome Dove or a smaller more intimate one like Pride and Prejudice or The Great Gatsby, you can create a work of art that comes close to catching a glimpse of what is real. What resonates for everyone on the planet: the pulse in your throat, the cacophany of traffic, two toddlers fighting over a toy, rain on the window, the sound of the wind in the trees, the silence between one breath and the next. Those things are real. Pie in the sky, shining-eyed fanaticism is all about believing what someone else tells us is true, or maybe what we're afraid not to believe. Touching down to the center, opening your arms wide and taking it all in, is about finding holiness in reality, about being blind to nothing.

The thing I haven't figured out yet (among a zillion other things) and that I may never figure out is how God figures into all this. Does She exist? (OK, that has even become a cliche, but it's still worth saying, imo.) Does it matter? That one I'm still thinking about and will be, I'm sure for a long time yet.

So why do I still go to a Christian church? It's all well and good to say that you don't need religion because you have your own spiritual practice. And that probably works for a lot of people. But for me, I find that if I don't have a regular reminder, spirituality falls off my radar. I don't think about it, I don't practice it. It's too easy to ignore in the press of all the other things that are going on. It turns out that religion is a pretty good support system for spirituality, as long as you don't start taking the religion more seriously than the spirituality.

Then there's why I choose a specifically Christian church, in a traditional denomination. A large part of it has to do with cultural issues. Take Native American spirituality, which so many whites have co-opted as their own. It becomes a kind of cultural snobbery, in many ways. We're going to swoop in, take your ideas, and make them into something "better" by whitening them. Can Native American spirituality truly exist outside of a subsistence culture where the believers must live in harmony with their surroundings or die, must know intimately the rhythms and details of every animal, every plant, every stone? If you're a descendent of Native Americans of course it can be adapted and should be to the way you live now. but if you're Joe Smith from Cleveland, is it possible to take on Native American beliefs without being a cultural vampire? And again, of course, the answer must be yes, because there are plenty of people who find their spiritual path in a belief system outside their own culture. But I just can't quite get there myself.

Christianity is my path, though it galls me to say it sometimes. It has been poisoned, almost beyond retrieving, by fundamentalists (which would include me at an earlier age). But if you read the Bible, actually read it as the huge, bloody, rowdy, complicated, contradictory, amazing book that it is, there is still plenty of room to move. So that is one reason why I still go to church.

Another reason I still go to church has to do with the unhealthiness of so many of the groups I was in while I was in my searching days. I would say that almost without exception, the groups functioned as 'cults of personality'-- with a very strong, gifted person at the center, who wanted to be recognized not just as someone with good leadership skills who was willing to use those in the service of the group, but as a dictator almost-- wanted to control who was in the inner circle, pitted people against each other to get their way, discouraged alternative points of view, etc. In some cases it was entirely benign, but sometimes it was a little scary. For all the faults of traditional denominations (and there are many), at least there is a power structure beyond the local church. The pastor of our church doesn't see himself as having phenomenal amounts of power because he doesn't -- he reports to presbytery, which in turn is part of a larger group, which is part of a national group. If something were to go wrong in our congregation, there would be a way of reporting it and taking action to correct it. It's not a perfect system, I kind of can't believe I'm defending institutional religion here, but on the other hand, it also works, in a limping, stumbling, occasionally loping, kind of way.

And then there's church itself. For one thing, you get to sing. Singing is highly underrated in our culture. Singing clears you out, it cleans you. Even if you're not very good at it. And if you go to a church with a decent preacher, you get some new ideas to think about, even if it's just one or two small ones. You get to hear some of the great wisdom literature on the planet read to you in the Bible readings. You are reminded, during the prayer time when the pastor is running down through the prayer requests, how small your little troubles really are. Or if you do have big troubles, you're reminded that there are people out there who would like to try to help. And last but maybe most important of all, after 13 years of admittedly imperfect attendance, there are many people I love at our church. More often than not, that one thing is what motivates me to get there on Sunday morning.

It's a pretty good place, in a lot of ways. It does drive me crazy sometimes. It's half full of people who've never questioned a thing in their lives, and who don't want to, and (in fact) will refuse to if pressed. But on balance, it works for me. Not that we're the worlds best attenders-- we probably average two Sundays a month. But when I go, I'm almost always glad I did.

And after that long-winded, far-too-wordy response, I think I am done.

Aunt BeaN

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Part I- from November 2004

This is a combination of two posts, you'll probably be able to tell where I pasted them together, written in 2004 and early 2005, and edited in early January 2008.  Both this post and the next one seem a bit gush-y and naive, even just four years later, but there aren't any major changes so I'm leaving them here.

My father is an ordained Southern Baptist minister, although he never had a church. He was a seminary professor, a college religion professor, and the director of an Evangelical retreat center and youth camp for many years, as well as a few other things along the way. He was from the Midwest, the son of a GARB (more conservative, fundamentalist Baptist) minister. My mom was raised in the South in a well-to-do home. She is as sweet and lovely a person as you can imagine, but she has her occasional rebellious streak (which I love), and one of her most amazing rebellious acts was to marry this Yankee with few prospects for success in the way her parents defined it.

My father is a theologian, by training and temperament. He loves to think about God and the nature of the universe and the beauty of the Christian scriptures. We had amazing conversations around the dinner table. For his time and his upbringing, he was quite progressive in his thinking. He was far less concerned about the externals of his fundamentalist upbringing, concentrating instead on the love and mercy of God, and how that can be expressed in our lives. I didn't always agree with him, but he was/is a powerful, charismatic speaker and it is hard to disagree with him. If I disagreed, I didn't say it. And if I said it, I caved in quickly, even if I still didn't agree. All in all, I was pretty happy with my faith, and I was sure it was Right. The Truth.

The turning point for me was when I went off for my freshman year of college at a conservative Christian school. It was far more conservative than the way I had been raised, but I was convinced it was going to be wonderful-- all those Christians together in one place? it would be like one big love-fest all the time, wouldn't it? Well, of course, that turned out not to be the case. There were cliques and popular people and snobs, just like at any other school. They just said they were Christian. I don't want to be too hard on that school, because I met some wonderful people there and had a great time. But I became increasingly uncomfortable with the larger picture, what was happening outside my group of friends.

So after two years, I transferred to a secular school on the West coast. I was in nirvana. I loved it there. Oddly, my new friends, none of whom were Christian, were so much more honest. There was no striving to be achieve the outward look of a "good" Christian. They were just good people, learning and growing and questioning like I was-- well, of course, they weren't asking the same questions I was, since none of them came from a similar background, but their attitude toward the search was similar. I was so much happier, and I felt at home. That was the first stage.

At the end of my junior year, I had a tiny experience that had large consequences. There was a housing lottery to see where we would live the next year. I don't remember exactly the mechanics of how it worked, but I remember what my prayer was: I prayed and prayed not for any particular outcome, but that I would get some sort of housing in the lottery so I wouldn't have to worry about housing over the summer. I prayed about it a lot, and I was confident that God would grant my request, as "he" had so many others.

But it didn't happen. My friends and I that had gone into the lottery together didn't get a spot, and were left without knowing where we would live the next year (which wasn't uncommon, I don't want to make this sound like it was a big tragedy, it just meant we would have to find our own housing the next fall).

But that little thing totally threw me off. It was like someone sticking a rod in the spokes of my bicycle. I had been trundling along just fine with a set of beliefs I had outgrown without realizing it, and suddenly there I was with a broken bike. What happened? The bible says, explicitly, that if you ask in faith, your prayers will be answered. I had asked with the same faith that I had had for many other prayer requests, but this one wasn't answered. Now, I know the standard evangelical responses to this dilemma, you don't need to reply and tell them to me. I could tell myself all the things I had heard all my life about why God doesn't answer prayer. And it seemed silly to be so upset about a prayer request that was so small. I wasn't the only person in this boat, there were hundreds of us who didn't know where we would be living in the Fall. But suddenly the logical inconsistencies of my faith were right there staring me in the face. When my prayers were answered, I took it as proof that God loved me and cared about every detail of my life and had a plan for me. When my prayers weren't answered, it didn't prove the opposite. I was supposed to just shrug and say, "I guess it wasn't meant to be." I decided at the very least that I had to stop believing that answers to prayer were proof of God's existence, because when "he" didn't answer, I didn't therefore believe that it proved God's nonexistence. It just didn't make sense. That was the second stage. But I wasn't nearly ready to break away. It was just another nail in the coffin.

But where I finally just couldn't come to terms with it anymore was over trying to convert people. I just could never believe the whole evangelizing thing. Sure, talk about your faith and how it works in your life. But this whole organized drive to convert people -- I just could never buy it, even when I was younger, and I was ashamed and embarrassed to be part of a group that would do it. They have ways of dressing it up so it doesn't sound anything like that, but that's what it is: manipulation, pure and simple. They can rationalize any tactic because after all, they're saving your soul from eternal damnation, right?

But it didn't take me three months out there in the real world to realize that a lot of people who weren't conservative Christians had spent way more time thinking about Christianity than I had and were perfectly capable of coming to their own conclusions without any help from me. Many of the non-Christians I met were far better people than I was, in terms of taking responsibility for themselves and their world, and relating openly and honestly with others. I just couldn't believe that kind of evangelism was what Jesus wanted, if he wanted it at all. It was such a huge lack of respect for other people and their beliefs and experiences-- to assume that I had the answer and that they were desperately in need of it (they just didn't know that, you see) was more than I could tolerate. So, with all these things and a bunch of others, by the time I was 25, my spouse and I left the Bible church we had been attending and I no longer considered myself an Evangelical.

So .. there were a number of intervening years here where I was sorting things out... but the next thing I tried was more liberal Christianity, which I loved at first (and it's where I've ended up, although there were some intervening things, as you'll see) (not sure why I had to give away my ending there, but this isn't exactly a mystery novel). It was absolutely amazing to me at first to find out that there were Christians who read the Bible as a book of wisdom and inspiration, but didn't seem to believe that it had to be taken as literally true in every single syllable. If you don't know much about conservative Christians, that might seem odd, but that is the single most important defining characteristic of being a conservative Christian: you believe the Bible is literally, word-for-word, capital-T True. It is the "inerrant" word of God: without error. Yes, it was written by human beings, but they were "inspired" by God to write what He wanted them to write (masculine pronoun used on purpose, since this crowd almost always sees God as male).

I had been raised with phrase after phrase of Scripture thrown at me constantly to reinforce every belief that I questioned or disliked. For example, it is easy-cheesy to "prove" that Jesus wanted us to go out and hit people over the head with Americanized Christianity if you want to: for starters, Jesus says right before he returns to heaven, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations," in the Gospel of Matthew. This is known, in conservative circles, as "The Great Commission." And then you can prove that women can't be pastors: St Paul says "I would not have a woman be over a man," and that's not even touching all the stuff about wives submitting to their husbands in the Letter to the Ephesians. These verses can be interpreted in lots of different ways, starting with setting them in their historical context, but when you're eight, nobody tells you that, they just say these phrases over and over until they ring in your head and the interpretation you've been handed is the only one that you can imagine.

So anyway, back to the Episcopalians (because that's where I went after I left the Bible church I had been attending). It was exactly the same Bible and exactly the same set of characters and basic outline of beliefs that I'd grown up with, but so different it literally astonished me. There was a woman pastor; I found myself moved to tears the first time I saw her in the pulpit and heard her preach. I still have difficulty putting into words how much it meant to me.

But then we moved, and the Episcopal church in our new location was not a good situation. So more searching ensued. to be continued.

I've eaten half a jar of dill pickles while I've been sitting here, how weird is that.

yours in a vinegar-y state,
Aunt BeaN