Saturday, December 28, 2013

To be continued

I really was going to write the next post the next day but the holidays intervened so I was going to do it while we were on vacation at a skiing spot. But we arrived today and (gasp) there is no wireless! So I'm laboriously typing this on my phone to let you know I'll finish it next year. *smirk* Promise. Have a great week. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Stub One and Stub Two

In Wikipedia, there are "stubs" -- half-written entries, partial articles that need more work. This post is two stubs that I wrote awhile ago--one of them a couple of years ago. I can't remember where I was going with either one of them now, but I think I'm going to use them for something new anyway, so they're just here for setup. More tomorrow. Or maybe next week.

The first one:
The definition of spirituality that works best for me is the idea of connecting with something beyond our own ego boundary, our own sense of ourselves. That's a pretty wide definition, because it includes just about any experience where you get outside yourself-- say, connecting with a larger group at a concert or rally, or with the natural world (on a hike or walking or jogging), or reading, or a variety of other situations besides just the standard religious definition. I don't understand exactly what happens, but I don't think you need to understand it intellectually in order to experience it.  So I've accepted my lack of understanding and pursued it (spirituality) anyway.  Pursued it because spiritual experiences deeply enrich my life.

There are lots of other definitions, of course. In traditional religions, the experience is defined in explicitly religious terms--you are filled with the Holy Spirit, or connecting with the great nothing, or whatever. But I've been trying to stay away from religious terminology. I do connect it with what-I-think-of-as-God, but since the way I define "God" is pretty broad and subject to change, that's not much of a theology.

Probably spirituality is like any other aspect of human personality--some people have a strong aptitude for it, others nearly none.  Just like some people have a great facility with words, while others are better at expressing themselves through paint or sculpture or dance--or cooking or woodwork or programming.  So the fact that there are people who adamantly assert that they don't believe in spirituality because they've never experienced it doesn't deter me from believing that I've experienced it myself.  And also like any other aspect of human personality, you can deepen and enrich and strengthen an aptitude by using it, doing it, practicing.

I could give an example of a spiritual experience I've had to make my point, and in fact, the original version of this post (which I wrote over a year ago), did just that. But I decided to take it out. Mainly because it was a setup for someone to argue with me and tell me exactly why that wasn't a spiritual experience, or why it actually fits their definition of a religious experience.
Spirituality has to be an individual thing, if you ask me.  No one can define it for you and tell you how it looks or how you should feel when you're having a spiritual experience.  So there's no point in me telling you about my own spiritual experiences because if it's something that interests you, you are probably already exploring what that means for yourself.
In the experience that I deleted, there was no mumbo jumbo, no meditative state, no transcendent moment.  Also, it involved working on a computer, something not normally considered to be a gateway to enlightenment.  But it seemed to me that I tapped into something larger, something beyond my ego boundaries, so if you ask me, it was a spiritual experience. And also, since it happened without my conscious control, it seems to me that trying really hard, putting in lots of concentrated, goal-oriented, ego-directed effort of will into developing spirituality is not necessarily the way it works.
Stub Two, which which was written months after that last one:
Here is a quick story from back in my New Age days. It's about going to hear a woman who channeled the archangel Michael. This was about 18 years ago, so I'm not guaranteeing the accuracy of any of the details of this story.  For example, I don't remember her name. For purposes of this story, we'll call her Ann.  
The archangel Michael is big stuff--in angel hierarchies, he is often the main guy, the highest ranking angel. This woman Ann lived in California or New Mexico or somewhere, but several of the heavy hitters in the New Age circles around here banded together and paid her airfare to come out and spend a few days.  She gave personal readings to people (I don't remember how much she charged but I remember it was way too much for me to pay just to satisfy my curiosity about what she would say), and she gave a free public talk one night.

So we loaded up a car with people who wanted to hear her (and Michael, I guess), and we drove about 45 minutes to somebody's huge gorgeous house and joined a group of about 45 or 50 people on folding chairs in the enormous living room.  Ann was a very normal looking woman, wearing very normal clothes, and she came out and sat in a chair at the front of the room.  She talked to us for a few minutes as Ann, and explained to us what would happen.  She would enter a trance-state, and Michael would take over and speak through her.  When that happened, her voice would deepen and she would have a Scottish accent (don't laugh, we will come back to that).

And that's exactly what happened.  She shut her eyes and was silent for a minute or so, then she opened her eyes and began to talk in a deeper voice with a Scottish accent, which was supposedly Michael speaking through her.  "Michael" talked for about 20 minutes. It was pretty generic, standard, New Age stuff, if you ask me. The universe is love, love is the basis of everything, we are beings of light and love, etc etc etc.  Then she took questions for a little while, and then she came out of her trance-state and took questions as Ann.  That's when things started getting interesting to me.
And guess what? I have no idea what I was going to say next. I wish I'd made some notes or something, because it sounds like it was going to be really interesting. I do remember what she told us: that she had recently begun realizing that the Scottish accent and deep voice were not part of the Archangel Michael's "presence" (the skeptic in me requires that I add, if he exists and if he was present at all). She was coming to realize that she (Ann) had needed the accent and the change in voice when she first started channeling so that she could overcome her own skepticism, but the longer she worked with the "angel energy" (as she called it), the more she realized they weren't necessary. In fact, she was no longer sure that she was channeling Michael. Maybe it was just her own inner wisdom, seeking a way to be legitimized and recognized.

OK, that's all for now. Have a great weekend. Take a deep breath and stay sane in the holiday rush. (I'm saying that for my own benefit, not yours.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Julie has done her best to cure me of deleting posts after they're up, or that last one would be gone. None of it was particularly earthshaking, but I just don't usually post about issues, and there's not really any reason for me to because I'm hardly an expert about any of it.

Whatever. I was unusually busy yesterday, so never had a chance to think about it much, and by now most of you have read it, so what the hell. No point in deleting.

It has "warmed up" here-- yesterday we made it all the way up to the mid-twenties.  Since that is about forty degrees warmer than our lows over the weekend, I assumed that it would feel warm and went running around yesterday afternoon without a jacket. But you know, 26 is still chilly and I had to scrounge around in the back of my car, luckily discovering a windbreaker that's been there since August.

We added a foot of snow Monday and Tuesday. The chickens are fine, but Sadie is going through withdrawal from not being able to fetch-- she can't find her tennis ball in the snow. It has surprised us both how far a tennis ball can tunnel from the place where it entered the snow. Sometimes I can't find it either.

Sooooo... that's all I can think of. Hope you are staying calm and carrying on in the midst of the holiday rush.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

more odds and ends from last month

Here are a few of the things that were left in my list of things to blog about last month during NaBloPoMo. None of them seems worth an entire post. A couple of them are paragraphs that got edited out of one post or another and then never got put back in.

1. On Edward Snowden: I've resigned myself to the fact that we have very little privacy anymore. Ten years ago, I would have been up in arms about government surveillance of our e-mails, but I can't bring myself to get all that upset about it anymore. Not because I think it's OK, but because that cow left the barn so long ago that I think we just have to accept it as fact: online privacy is a thing of the past. I do, however, think that if there is government surveillance going on, we should know about it.  In other words, I'm ceding my right to have entirely private e-mail (which doesn't worry me too much since I write pretty innocuous e-mails), but in exchange we deserve to know that the government is watching. So I find myself grateful to Snowden. Whether or not he deserves to go to jail is a different question that I have mixed feelings about, but for the most part, I'd say no.  Give him a couple of years of "community" service where he has to work for the feds for free or something.

2. You know, I firmly believe that women are never responsible for men's reactions to them. re-word that: no one is ever responsible for someone else's reaction to them. No matter what they're wearing, no matter how they act. I believe that absolutely. But here's the thing that seems to be getting left out of most of the conversations I've read. What's right, the way things should be, what your legal rights are should a case go to court--all of those are completely different than what's smart and practical. When the speed limit is 75 on the interstate, is it your right to drive that fast even if it's raining? Yes. Is it smart? No. Is it your right to use your cell phone while you're driving? Yes. (it still is around here, anyway) Is it smart? No. Is it your right to wear a bikini on a crowded subway? Yes. Is it smart? No.

3. Sometimes I get whiplash from the differences between my different worlds. I have my family, Evangelical Christians that I love and whose opinions I respect, even when I disagree. (and I know them well enough to know that they're not much like the caricature image most liberals have of conservative Christians). Then I have my more liberal friends here, but we're in the midst of the really conservative Northwest Montana crowd, from conservative Christian to the anti-government crowd, and there's several of those, too. Then there's my friends in academia down in UTown who are really liberal. And all sorts in between. Sometimes I read through my news feed on Facebook and it's ..... it's just mind-boggling the different .... I don't even know how to put it into words. It's like going to another planet from one status update to the next. Sometimes I love that, sometimes it makes me want to just unplug forever.

4. OK, so Miley Cyrus. I wasn't going to go there, but here we are. I don't know her, of course, and I have no idea what's going on in her mind, so this is more just general observations from someone who is a sometimes reluctant, sometimes enthusiastic consumer of the music industry. As LondonMabel said in one of her always astute blog posts, Cyrus is only another in a long line of childhood stars who have flamboyantly rejected their cute, sweet childhood personas by taking on a blatantly sexual persona. It makes sense--of course they don't want to be seen anymore as the adorable pig-tailed 12-year-old who exists only to express the moral-of-the-week. It's not really even surprising. The more interesting thing to me is the assumption made by her many fans that she is empowering herself by breaking out of the mold her early career created. She is still at the mercy of the music/entertainment industry. She's powerful right now because she's popular and she's making music that people buy, but what happens a couple of albums later when her sales nosedive? and what happens to the young women coming along behind her who are less famous but equally talented who want to perform without all the flamboyant sexuality? Has she raised the bar now so that type of performance becomes the expected, the norm for women in pop music? I guess it remains to be seen.

5. Two more short things about grad school, and then there is one longer post (maybe). The first one is just finishing the story. Somewhere during the second semester of grad school, I figured out that I wasn't going to be continuing on for my PhD, which I had secretly thought I would do up until then. Our state university doesn't offer a PhD in literature, but before I started their M.A. program, I had thought I might be able to make it happen anyway through a combination of online work and occasional travel. But if you've been reading along, it will be as abundantly clear to you as it was to me that I just don't have the right kind of (brain? attitude? mindset?) to pursue graduate work. So then the problem was to figure out how to complete the program. I wasn't about to quit, but I wasn't sure how to go on, either. I became very shrewd about figuring out how I was going to be able to actually finish. Fortunately I was able to fill out much of the rest of my coursework with classes that didn't require a huge commitment to a theoretical stance--a linguistics class, a class on young adult literature, an independent study on Ulysses as hypertext. And I found a thesis topic that was a) with a professor I liked (most importantly), and b) felt do-able. It wasn't a particularly groundbreaking topic, but it felt like something I could get done. As many people have told me over the years, there are only two kinds of graduate degrees: done and not done. So I just kept plugging away until mine was done. It wasn't pretty, and by the end, no one was suggesting that I go on for further study, but I finished. It still makes me smile every time I think about it.

6. And the second thing. I spent a lot of time last month talking about all the ways I disagreed with the whole theory thing, but there are many ways that I agree. In fact, there wasn't much of it that I disagreed with, I just didn't want to apply it to the study of literature. Sometimes when you read current literary criticism, it's less about the work of literature than it is about the theory, and that's just silly to me. But there were plenty of times that I read Marx or Althusser or third-wave feminists or eco-critics and  found myself nodding my head in agreement. (That's just much less interesting to write about!)

My reaction to the Marxist stuff is what surprised me the most, because when I saw it on the syllabus, I was dreading it. yuck. But it ended up being fascinating. I'll never be a marxist, because I don't know of any socialist or communist country that I would want to be a citizen of. In real life, it doesn't seem to work all that well. But the marxist critique of capitalism is brilliant. None of it was brand new to me (Evangelicals actually excel at critiquing our culture, although of course that has a different emphasis)(and minus all the weird ways they participate in it), but the power of the capitalist-materialist hegemony became so much more clear, so very obvious. In some ways, it's like waking up from a spell when you see how pervasive it is, how much the consumer mindset has taken over our lives. That's the part of my grad school theory studies that I value every day.  Good topic for Black Friday, yes? [I must have written this one on Black Friday]

A facebook friend of mine posted a transcription of a speech given by David Simon (creator of the TV show The Wire) that says some of these same things, but far more intelligently and thoughtfully, and fleshes out the implications in a thought-provoking way. It's definitely worth a read, but it is a bit long (also, it's kind of confusing in a couple of places, as transcriptions of speeches often are without inflections and body language to clear things up).

7. So my rainbow face. I had one purple-black eye and one red eye on Thursday, then two red eyes over the weekend, and now I'm to the bruised banana phase--sort of yellow and brown all over. It's quite attractive. At least I'm not as swollen anymore. I haven't taken any painkillers since yesterday. In the grand scheme of things, this was a pretty small deal, but it was a much bigger deal than I was expecting. I had no idea that it was going to hurt that much. At my checkup this morning, the perio told me that he rarely does this many teeth at once, so usually it's not so painful. He prescribed 12 tabs of vicodin, and I was planning on stockpiling them for migraines--it never occurred to me that I would need them all for my poor mouth. But today it is bearable with only advil, so progress is being made.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

odds and ends, because it's too cold to do anything else

Brrrr. Like most of the west and middle of the country, it is freezing around here. High of 7 today, with lows down to about -3 or -4--but that's way better than poor PellMel in Bozeman, who woke up to -20 this morning. Great day to sit in front of the fire with a book, and lucky me, because I had that surgery on Tuesday so I have an excuse to do it! I'm willing to put up with moderate pain for that, especially since I am high on vicodin. Wheeeee!

The chickens get the worst of it around our house, poor things. We shut the door into the henhouse so it keeps the heat from the heat lamp in, but it's still barely above freezing in there. I haven't been down to check on them yet today. The water inside the henhouse was frozen solid yesterday, so I tried a different arrangement today, we'll see how it works.

I think I told you at some point last month that I'd run across some interesting books that had restored my faith in reading. They are mainly non-fiction, which is surprising, because I'm not much of a non-fiction reader. I enjoy learning new things, but I almost always feel when I pick up a non-fiction book that I've learned most of what they have to say by the end of the first couple of chapters, and the rest is just droning on and on and on. But I've run into several that have captivated me recently. I'm hesitant to give recommendations because lord knows what interests me at any one moment may not interest anyone else, but here are two.

Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende. I picked this one up on a whim at Costco because the cover caught my eye. Lende lives in Haines, Alaska, where she writes the obituary column for the local paper. But it's such a small town that her obituaries are more like mini-portraits than the usual canned items. One day while riding her bike into town, she is run over by a truck (driven by a guy she knows). The skeleton of this book is the story of the accident and her recovery, but it is fleshed out by endless stories of the people in her life. I really enjoyed it, and it made me want to visit Alaska (but not live there! it's cold enough here!).

Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer. The subtitle is "Shedding Religion to find God (and the unlikely people who help you)." I was fascinated by this book. I've been reading it off and on for the past couple of months. Sometimes nodding my head in vigorous agreement, sometimes arguing with him, occasionally disappointed, but usually moved and inspired. He's a former pastor of one of those evangelical mega-churches whose career ended when he and his first wife divorced (well, that career ended, he moves on to several others). He still occasionally comes across with that slick smugness that so many evangelical pastors have, but mostly you can tell that he was broken wide open by the experience. If you enjoy thinking out-of-the-box about Christianity, I recommend this highly, even though I disagreed with him on a few points (for example, although he questions his former judgmental attitude toward gays, he never quite makes it to acceptance). I'll be thinking about it for awhile. But since some of his revelations (waitresses can have spiritual insights! gays can honestly seek after God!) are pretty obvious to those who aren't evangelical (or former evangelical, like me), it won't appeal to everyone.

I'm also reading The Kid Who Climbed Everest by Bear Grylls, recommended by MadMax. Since I read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, I wasn't sure why I would want to read another Everest book, but I'm really enjoying it. It's much more personal than Krakauer's version, so you get a better feel for what it is like to really be there doing such a crazy thing. Or at least, I think you get a better feel--since I've never been there or done any serious climbing, there's no way to really know.

That's enough for today. I will quit complaining about the cold and sign off. Darn it, I have to go sit and read a book. It's crucial for my recovery.

Monday, December 02, 2013

sword drill

Remember my trip to Texas at the beginning of November? The one where I had two days--two entire days--to spend in airports on either end of the trip? Well, one of the things I did for entertainment was download an iphone trivia game called QuizUp. It's not a perfect game, but if you're a trivia nut as I am, it's a pretty good time. In a matter of a couple of hours, I had leveled up several times each in Bible trivia, Harry Potter trivia, General trivia, Classic Logos, Literature trivia and its subcategory Novels. In fact, before my first flight even took off, I was #1 in Montana in Bible Trivia. Of course, I may be the only one playing, but let me tell you, my anal, OCD, trivia-lovin' heart just about burst. I'm considering having a t-shirt made.

It will tell you a great deal about growing up Evangelical that we loved Bible Trivia games. Loved them. We played them in Sunday School, Youth Group, and VBS. Youth leaders would pull them out while they were desperately trying to entertain us in children's church while the sermon went on and on and on upstairs in the sanctuary.

One game was called Sword Drill. Each of us sat there with our Bible (closed) in our lap. The leader would say DRAW SWORDS! and we would all hold our Bibles high in the air. (it might explain a bit to know that in Ephesians, the Bible is called the "sword of the spirit.") Then the leader would call out a Bible reference (Luke 2:9, Psalm 119:105, Romans 3:23, whatever), and we would frantically try to find the verse as quick as we could. When you had it, you stood up. The winner got to read the verse. And sometimes there were prizes.

Good times. I'm kind of a trivia nut by personality anyway. Trivial Pursuit is the only game I've played in my life that I had a decent chance of winning. (best ever TP question: Are there rings around Uranus?)

Anywhooo. There's an art to trivia. My favorite kind of trivia is --of course-- something that I know that most people don't know (what was James Joyce's wife's name? [Nora Barnacle, and here is your bonus trivia for the day: they lived together for more than 25 years before they married, quite scandalous at the time for a couple of former Irish Catholics] What famous author committed suicide by filling his/her pockets with rocks and walking into a river? [Virginia Woolf] In what year did Texas become a state? [1845] Who designed the Louvre pyramid? [I. M. Pei])

But there are plenty of trivia questions that I don't know that are still good questions--interesting questions, questions that make you think, or things you think should know. (what is our national flower? [the rose--I did not know this until tonight!] Name one of the two farm teams Michael Jordan played for during his brief baseball career [Birmingham Barons or Scottsdale Scorpions] Who first developed aspirin? [Felix Hoffmann] After long absences, which two sports will return to Olympic competition in 2016? [golf and rugby]). Even if I don't know the answer, those questions seem legit.

There are also bad trivia questions, and unfortunately, QuizUp has a fair number of those, too--like, who is 37th on the NBA's list of all time leading scorers? Who won the bronze medal in men's ping pong at the 1992 Olympics? Things that only prove how good you are at using Google. It's irritating when you're up against someone that you know is just looking everything up--because they get everything right, but not until just before the time runs out.

Unfortunately, my early success at QuizUp must have mostly been due to the ease of the early levels--I've had a bad run recently and it's not quite as much fun as it used to be. But it's still a heck of a lot more entertaining than any other phone game I've tried.

Here are some Bible trivia questions for you, ranging from easy-peasy to obscure (but I hope still interesting). I know there are at least four of us around here who were raised Evangelical, so this is for you. I will confess that I had to peek to come up with an eighth tribe in #10. I'll put the answers in the comments.

1. What animal speaks to Balaam?

2. What did the three wise men (magi) bring to honor the newborn Jesus?

3. How many horsemen of the apocalypse are there?

4. What was Zaccheus' profession?

5. What kind of wood was Noah's ark made of?

6. Which two of the four gospels do not have an account of Jesus's birth?

7. Who says "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God."? Who is this person speaking to?

8. Where does the Apostle Paul get his hair cut? (my all-time favorite bible trivia question)

9. Who was the first king of Israel?

10. Name eight of the twelve tribes of Israel, or alternatively, name eight of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

11. What is the longest chapter in the Bible?

12. Who read the handwriting on the wall?

And there you go. Have a trivial day.