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).