Tag Archive | life

Water for the temple plants

Raindrops and ripples

A Zen master asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.

The student brought the water, and after cooling the bath, threw the remaining water over the ground.

“Think,” said the master to the student. “You could have watered the temple plants with those few drops you have thrown away.”

The young student understood Zen in that exact moment. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means drop of water, and lived to become a wise Zen master himself.

The lesson most learn from the story of the A Drop of Water is that as we struggle with the big problems and seek answers to big questions, that we sometimes forget the importance of small, ordinary moments. I often write on this blog about problems that many people face, or wrestle with questions of how to be a better story teller, or talk about great moments in history or my favorite genre. It is easy to get lost in worrying about some of the injustices in the world or dangers looming over one segment or another of the population. For me it is just as easy to get lost in my routines and personal goals. I have to get to work and finish certain things, and want to make progress on my writing, while putting my thoughts about all of those big things and many of the small things into blog posts.

I’m pretty good at hauling buckets around, but still not great with the drops.

I knew someone who seemed excellent with both the buckets and the drops. Last week she passed away. It wasn’t a surprise, she had been dealing with an illness for some time. But it was still a shock.

Ann was the mother of my good friend Kehf. I met her at Kehf’s wedding (or was it a rehearsal before?). You don’t get to know a person well under those circumstances. Mostly you come away with an impression. It was a few years later that I got to know her as someone other than that nice woman whose eyes sparkled when she smiled.

When I started an earlier version of this blog, she would occasionally comment. We might exchange a couple emails with follow up discussions. And then I started getting comments from people I didn’t know, often with someone saying something along the line of “I’m so glad Ann shared this link.” And the people who commented came from many different parts of the world, and many different backgrounds. I came to realize that Ann seemed to know everyone. Well, not literally everyone—more accurate to say she had friends everywhere.

I started to get a numerical inkling of the vastness of her network of friends when I moved this blog to WordPress. The previous hosts hadn’t given me very good statistics, but with WordPress every time I log in I see a bar graph of the hits on my blog for today and the previous 29 days. Most of the time my blog putters along with a fairly stable number of hits per day. there’s a little variation: days that I don’t publish anything new are lower than new post days, for instance. But every now and then, I will log in and see the bar for either that day or the previous day literally ten times as tall as the usual. And almost every time, it turned out to be because Ann shared that particular post.

I understand why it works. Any time Ann sent me a link (unless I recognized it as a story or blog or whatever that I had just recently looked at) I clicked on it to see what it was, and then had to send her a comment. Because she never sent me something that wasn’t interesting. Not just interesting in a general sense, but usually targeting to some of my particular interests. In the last several days as I’ve read several tributes to her, I notice how many people talk about the news and links and information she shared, with the same observation that it was always interesting or useful to the person receiving it.

She was really good at remembering what was important to every person she knew.

Relationships were her super power.

Ann was an episcopal priest. During her lifetime her church went from refusing to contemplate the ordination of women, to allowing women to be priests, then bishops, and eventually presiding bishop. It was a tough fight, but Ann didn’t back away from fights. She later brought that same cheerful determination as an ally of the queer communities in our fights. There were several times when I wrote about my frustration and fears about our fight for equality, when Ann would send me a message with words of encouragement gleaned from the fight for the ordination of women—it was worth the fight, even if it didn’t seem victory wasn’t getting closer.

I once wrote a post trying to explain my feelings about religion and spirituality, and why my particular journey had taken me away from the religion in which I’d been raised to my own variant of Taoism. I compared spirituality to water: how some people love the ocean, while others prefer rivers and streams, and others are more happy with well-maintained pools. I compared traditional churches (of any religion) to community swimming pools. They are there for those who want them, and they can be wonderful. While I’m more of a run out into the rain kind of guy.

After reading the post, Ann sent me an email: “Just call me your local community pool lifeguard!” Yes, mostly she was saying she understood what I was saying, and that her calling to be a priest was just as viable a spiritual position as my more freewheeling approach. But she was also being a bit modest. Because Ann didn’t limit herself to just ministering to the congregations of the churches she worked in. That way she had of collecting friends near and far, of remembering what was important to each of us, of sending us articles we’d find interesting, and commenting (sometimes debating) things we posted, that was another form of ministry.

And this queer ex-Christian/recovering Baptist felt extremely lucky to be at least occasionally on the receiving end of her vocation.

Rise in Glory, Ann.

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One year later, way more than a few April showers

Two cats sit on a log under a propped up umbrella, surrounded by water and rain. “Noah called, he picks us up in 10 minutes.”

(click to embiggen)

I meant to write a blog post for the weekend about the fact that it has been exactly a year at the new place. But I was still sick and run down. My weekend wound up being all about sleeping, doing minimal errands, napping, a little housework, more napping, sleeping, and repeat. But I realized it’s okay that I didn’t make that post, because technically it has not been a year of us living here, yet. A year and a few days ago we signed our first lease here, and we started hauling things from the old place to the new, but it was a few weeks before we were ready for the big moving truck to do the bulk of the move. So early next month will be the anniversary of the first time we spent the night in the new place.

I was trying to remember when I moved the flower pots from the old place, because last week maintaining my collection of pots and planter included a task I didn’t have to do last spring: flood control. To be fair, this is an unusually wet April. The local National Weather Service office observed that if the rains had stopped completely on last Saturday, it would already be the fourth wettest April on record in Seattle. And it kept raining Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and a bit on Wednesday. Spring is usually quite damp around here, so I strongly suspect that even though the long range forecast is all dry, that we’ll get a bit more before the month is through.

I noticed the weekend before last that not only were all of the little catch basins under the pots full to the brim, but that several of the flower pots and planters had at least an inch of standing water around the flowers. I can’t just dump the water off. The thing I call our veranda is a 38-foot long deck at the back of the apartment, and on that side of the building we’re three stories up. There’s a neighbor with a nearly identical deck directly below us, and then the walkway for the basement apartments below that. And the lease actually has a clause about not dripping or pouring water off the decks, right?

Which is why all of my pots that have drain holes sit on a small saucer like thing, and each of those is inside a larger plastic catch basin.

I took a bucket outside, carefully lifted each pot and set it aside, poured the water from the saucer in the bucket, pouring off water from the planter itself if it had standing water, and then poured the water from the second basin into the bucket—trying my best not to spill any. I got through a third of them of them before the bucket was full and I had to carrying it away and pour it out and repeat. The bigger planters where my grandma’s irises and a few other things are planted were a bit more difficult.

I moved the pots and planters that don’t have drains away from the rail, and against the wall, so they wouldn’t keep getting rained on. Clearly until we get to the dryer part of the year, I can’t leave those out from under the roof.

That’s one way our veranda is different than those one floor down. Our deck serves as their roof, and it is as wide as their deck, so even planters put right up against the rail on those decks get a little shelter from the rain. Whereas the roof of the decks on our floor is the eave of the building, and while the deck is five feet wide, the eave only extends four feet out. I thought of this as a feature last year. The planters got plenty of water when it rained and lots of sun when it didn’t.

By the time the heaviest rain was coming down in November, most of the flowers had died back, and I just didn’t worry about the pots getting super saturated. I regretted that a bit when I discovered that the cute otter planter froze and crack in a whole bunch of places. It hadn’t done that during several winters at the old place, but at the old place it was draining into the flower bed. Similarly, the hanging pot I had last year got too heavy when it’s soil was constantly soaked all winter and the plastic hanging parts broke.

They’re all learning experiences.

I now know I need to move some of the planters under the roof during certain times of the year. I’m seriously considering replacing the small pots that don’t have drain holes. The problem is they’re both purple—which makes me want to keep them despite being a bit more work. On the other hand, I have no intention of getting rid of the larger planters. I haven’t seen many that size with drains and matching catch basins. Those few I have seen have very tiny catch basins that I suspect would wind up dripping on the downstairs neighbors during the times of year when I have to do the watering.

Living in a chemical world, plus dream sequences

Cat with head deep in coffee mug “iz not addicted to caffeine, i juz need it to function”

(click to embiggen)

Every time I have my annual wellness exam, my doctor gets a little carried away on the prescription renewals so that when I show up at the pharmacy to pick up the meds I expect, there is often extra things like the codeine cough syrup he’s prescribed when I last had bronchitis, or the inhaler he prescribed one time when I got bronchitis and it didn’t respond to the first antibiotic, or the corticosteroid nasal spray he keeps recommending for my allergies or when I get a sinus infection. So I wind up telling them I don’t actually need several of them, but I have kept one unopened bottle of the nasal spray, just in case. I don’t like using it because when I have done so in the past I got very vivid and disturbing dreams for several days after. And by disturbing I don’t mean that they are bloody or horrific (usually) it’s just that they are so vivid that it takes many minutes after waking up in a panic before I can convince myself they aren’t real.

So the other night, when I conked out after dinner unexpectedly, I woke up to find the apartment full of smoke and my Mom was standing at the door, calling to me to come help her open it because and we needed to get out and where is Michael? And I jumped up from the recliner, stumbled over a filebox on the floor trying to get to my mom and the door and just as I’m opening my mouth to yell for Michael the smoke had vanished. Also, Mom (who hasn’t visited us in over 20 years because travel is difficult for her for various health reasons) had vanished. There was no smoke. There was no fire. There had been no Mom.

And the dream was so vivid that I went to the bathroom and dug out the box with the unopened bottle of the nasal spray just to confirm that I hadn’t opened it and used it when the sinus headache had been real bad the night before. I didn’t remember using it, but the dream really felt like one of those, so I thought maybe in the middle of the night, when I was half asleep and had been tossing and turning because of the headache I had given in and added the spray to the mix of allergy pills and over the counter cold medications I’d already taken.

And that was only the first day of the fever.

I haven’t used the spray, but I keep having the weird dreams. The next morning my alarm watch went off a few hours after my husband left for work (he leaves much earlier than I even want to wake up). I often wake up briefly while he is getting ready for work. I may mumble, “I love you” or “Good morning” to him as I stumble to the bathroom and then back to bed. Sometimes I just try to wake up enough to say something to him and don’t succeed. Also I often wake up briefly once or twice before my alarm goes off, note that I still have more time to sleep, and roll over. But back to the alarm: The alarm was ringing and Michael is calling from the next room that I should turn off the alarm and asking if I’m going to try to go into the office or call in sick. And I get up and stumble out to the room where my Apple watch is on its charger to turn it off and I ask Michael, “What are you doing here? Did you get to work, decide you were too sick, and come back home?”

And Michael didn’t answer. But now that I’d spoken aloud, that was enough to completely wake me up, and I’m standing in front of the watch in its charger. Its face is lit up showing me that there are still two minutes until the alarm will actually go off.

There have also been two dreams where I was somewhere in the city trying to remember where I had parked the car because I either needed to pick up Michael somewhere or I was trying to get away from someone who was trying to hurt us. And both of those ended with me awake, standing in front of the phone charger, trying to find the app on the phone that will help me find the car. One of the mornings I wasn’t actually holding my phone, I was holding the TV remote (which is normally on the shelf above the phone charger), but I swear a few seconds before it had been my phone. And yes, it was as if I watched it morph from phone to remote as I finished waking up.

The fact that when I’m having a nightmare I will get up, walk around, talk (sometimes yell), and so forth is one of the reasons that normally I don’t watch scary movies, by the way.

So I still haven’t actually used the spray. I’m of two minds: since I seem to already be having the side effect I least like, maybe I should go ahead. On the other hand, the spray might just make the weird dreams even worse.

And this gets me to two reasons why I shy away from writing dream sequences in my fiction. When I have tried to write them like the dreams I remember, the reaction from readers (at least the ones I hear from) is that the dream was more confusing than enlightening. When I tried to write them to have a bit more narrative flow, readers say they went on too long. Having had these reactions, I am not enthused when someone suggests that a dream sequence would better explain a particular mystical thing happening in one of my stories.

Besides trying to get work done while juggling regular meds, symptoms of this cold thing, extra meds, it’s been a bit of a struggle to remember to keep hydrates and get enough caffeine in me so that I don’t wind up with a caffeine-deprivation headache on top of everything else. You would think that coffee, of all things, would be something I didn’t have to remind myself to drink, but you would be wrong.

I hope I’m well sooner rather than later.

I don’t mean to be a jerk, part 2

“What if I told you that saying 'no offense' doesn't make you any less of an asshole?”

(click to embiggen)

Anyone who has hung out in certain progressive circles, particularly around young LGBTQ people in the process of coming out/figuring out who they are, has heard noble speeches about how we must respect how people self-identify, because questioning those declarations is being judgmental. Questioning those declarations is dismissive. Questioning those declarations trivializes their experiences and existence. Questioning those declarations denigrates their personhood. Questioning those declarations denies their agency, effectively treating them as children or non-persons who need adult supervision and guardianship.

And I agree. If someone refuses to call a transgender person by that person’s preferred pronoun, that someone is a first-order jerk. As one friend once responded to one such idiot who kept harping about a transgender woman of our acquaintance, “You’re right. Gender isn’t a matter of opinion. Her gender is not a matter of your opinion.”

However, there is a difference between matters of identity and matters of behavior. Being a “nice person” is not an identity on the level of gender or sexual orientation. It is a product of how you behave toward others, not who you are.

Therefore I want to state now, for the record, that I am not a nice guy. I try to be nice. I try to listen. I like helping people. I like doing nice things for people. I strive to be kind and understanding. Often I succeed. But I also fail. And I fail more often than I should. I know this. I’m not saying that as some sort of humble brag or a warning. It’s just an observation of a phenomenon that is true of most people. We’re trying.

Being nice seems to come more easily for some than for others. I know that one of the reasons it comes less easily for me is that one of my role models growing up was a very abusive man. When I mentioned in a recent post that I realized in my twenties that I was carrying around a lot of toxic waste from those years of abuse, I wasn’t referring so much to angry and resentment but more to that role model effect. Humans are hardwired to imitate–there are specific structures in the brain for imitating what we observe–and this trait is more active when we’re young. So even though I didn’t like the way Dad treated me (or other people), his way of reacting to things, his behaviors, even many of his figures of speech got encoded in me.

There have been times in my life when I have been shocked to hear essentially Dad’s voice coming out of my mouth. I have literally said to some friends when that happens, “I’m sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

That’s not an excuse. Each time it happened, I spent some time figuring out what triggered that reaction, then thinking about what I would have rather said, and finally practicing in front of a mirror saying the other things. It isn’t about acting or putting up a facade. It’s about being mindful. When you have a bad habit, the best way to get rid of it is to replace it with something else that fulfills the impulse underlying the bad habit.

All of this is to say that if I interact with someone who is behaving in an obnoxious, combative, abrasive, mean-spirited manner, it is not unreasonable for me to point out that they’re acting like an asshole.

Some people will say that using such coarse language is too rude. It depends on the circumstances. Rudenss is defined by the social context. That means once one person begins acting detestably, it becomes acceptable to respond with blunter language. So depending on the circumstances, I might say, “That’s uncalled for,” or “I don’t know why you’re being so angry,” or “Hey, no reason to be a jerk about it,” or “I really can’t deal with asshole behavior today.”

Someone calling out your behavior for what it is isn’t an ad hominem attack, it is a signal that you have stepped over a line.

Insisting that the label of jerk or asshole is somehow worse than the behavior that earned it isn’t a valid argument. Insisting that you’re actually a nice person if we only got to know you isn’t a valid argument. Angrily insisting that someone doesn’t know you well enough to identify you that way isn’t a valid argument.

For example, remember a couple years ago when group of white people crashed a child’s party at a black family’s home, waved guns in the faces of the adults and kids and shouted various racist slurs (all caught on video)? When they were all arrested, tried, and sentenced for crimes such as reckless endangerment and racially-motivated intimidation, they cried. They sobbed and wailed and insisted that they “weren’t racist” and “not the sort of people who would do that!”

Except they had done it. They had done it and then bragged about it afterward. It doesn’t matter how many times they had gone to church, nor donated to charity, nor been nice to puppies. It doesn’t change the fact that they pointed guns in the faces of small black children and screamed the n-word.

So, if you act like a bigot, it’s perfectly acceptable for other people to call you a bigot. Act like a jerk? Accurate to call you a jerk. Behave like an asshole? Perfectly legitimate to call you an asshole.

And I’m saying this as someone who has deserved to be called an asshole more than once. I’ve tried to get better. Getting better meant recognizing that even if at the moment I didn’t think the word was called for, I had pushed the other person into a situation where they felt they had to say it. And if I didn’t want people to react that way to me, I need to change.

If, when I’m reflecting on why someone called me something like that, I decide that it wasn’t called for at all, the change I make might be to spend as little time as possible around that person. But that’s a topic for another day.

Offended offenders — the joke is on who, exactly?

“When art becomes merely shock value, our sense of humanity is slowly degraded.” — Roger Scruton

“When art becomes merely shock value, our sense of humanity is slowly degraded.” — Roger Scruton

We hear it all the time: “How dare you call me racist! I don’t hate anyone! I was just making an observation.” And there’s: “It is so rude of you to call me a homophobe! I’m just advocating for my beliefs {that queer people don’t deserve legal rights/to exist openly in public spaces if at all}. You’re the real haters!” Let’s not forget: “Can’t you take a joke? You’re trying to silence me!”

People behave like jerks, make threatening remarks, harass people, advocate for policies and propositions that will cause actual harm to others, and then get angry if other people take offense. They try to hide behind the idea of free speech—they’re just expressing themselves, and everyone has a right to do that, right? But the defense is built on one or more false equivalencies. The most basic is equating disagreement with censorship. If you say that all Freedonians are criminals, and I point out that isn’t true, and show the statistics to prove it, you haven’t been silenced. If other people decide the don’t want to listen to your rants about the evils of the Freedonians anymore, they stop inviting you to their social events and if you show up uninvited they ask you to leave, that also isn’t silencing you. The right to express an opinion doesn’t obligate other people to listen. Then there’s the false equivalence that accurately describing some of their statements as bigoted is just as bad as the bigotry we’re decrying. And so on.

But the defense that really annoys me is the, “But I’m only joking!”

I have several responses to that. The first is: every bully and abuser who ever lived has tried to claim that they were only joking, or they were just playing around. They didn’t meant to cause those bruises or broken bones or to break that laptop or whatever. It’s a lie. Maybe the bully and the bully’s audience were laughing, but real harm is being done.

The second response is: the fact that you think a particular topic is suitable for joking demonstrates the ignobility of your intentions. They only way that one can think the sexual assault is a joking matter is if they either don’t think the sexual assault is a bad thing, or if they think the victims of sexual assault are worth less than other people. There are topics that go beyond the pale, understanding that requires moral fiber and empathy. Not knowing that tells us you possess neither.

The third response is that doing something like “ironically” pretending to believe neo-Nazi ideology is indistinguishable from actually doing it. In other words, if you’re pretending to be an asshole, it doesn’t sound or feel any different to your targets than when a “real” asshole behaves that way. It also has a very scary normalizing effect. The more people feel it is acceptable to express racial bias, for instance, the more likely some of them are to act on the racial bias.

And my fourth response is that jokes are supposed to be funny. Calling entire classes of people inferior, saying they are a waste of space and so on isn’t funny. The objection that is usually raised around this point is that they are just trying to make people think, and they have to shock people out of their complacency to do that. I’ll agree that good political humor pokes at us to get us to think outside the box, but these guys aren’t quite getting it.

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” “Electricity is really just organized lightning.” “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” “At a formal dinner party, the person nearest death should always be seated closest to the bathroom.” “'I am' is reportedly the shortest sentence in English. Could it be that 'I Do' is the longest sentence?”

Several classic George Carlin one liners. (Click to embiggen)

Let’s look for a moment at the work of a comedian who was often characterized as offensive. The Late George Carlin said things that shocked some people’s sensibilities. Go listen (many recordings abound) to his notorious “Seven words you can’t say on TV or the radio” routine and tell me that wouldn’t give people in the Religious Right conniptions. And sure, you can pull out individual lines from his routines and make him sound almost like some of this current generation of jerks with their racist or homophobic or misogynist rants on their Youtube channel. But that’s taking him out of context. Look over the classic Carlin corpus (excluding the last few years where he seemed to turn into a prophet of doom and things got a little weird) and you’ll find the most prevalent underlying theme is summed up in one of his best one-liners:

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?”

While the line works great on its own, it was actually the introduction to a longer bit, where he went on to make humorous observations about foolish and dangerous and weird things that people do while driving. It ranged around for a bit, and the audience laughed. You could certainly characterize the routine as making fun of bad drivers. And that doesn’t seem all that different from someone else having a comedy routine where they make fun of women, or immigrants, or queer people, right? But that’s not what the routine does. Every version of it I ever heard him perform varied a bit, but all stuck to one underlying theme. And it’s in that line I quote. That line isn’t just a joke, it’s a thesis statement.

Read it again: “Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” Explicitly it says that we classify and judge people in categories like stupid and maniac by extremely subjective criteria. But implicitly it is also saying that sometimes all of us are idiots, and sometimes all of us are maniacs. Because implicitly everyone that we observe is an idiot for driving too slow, knows they we are maniacs. And every person that we can see is a maniac for driving too fast, can observe that we’re driving slow and therefore we are idiots.

Yes, the point of his routines is that some people do very foolish things and isn’t it ridiculous that such people exist? But by the time he has covered the subject, there is a point where he says something that hits close to home. We, the listeners, see ourselves in some part of that routine. In that way, his routines adhere to the classic definition of political humor: to hold a mirror up to society.

That is humor with a purpose. That is how you jostle people out of their complacency. You hold up a mirror, so that we look into it and see our own foibles and flaws. But what these other guys are doing? They aren’t working with mirrors. No, they are putting targets on other people, aiming their fans at those targets, and encouraging the fans to pull their triggers.

That is why the rest of us don’t listen to their rants. We disinvite them from our events. We tell them that their behavior is not welcome at our conventions or on our forums and so forth. That isn’t censorship, that is making a choice of who we will associate with. It’s deciding that we don’t need jerks and abusers in our lives.

Self-loathing self deceivers—they are never just hurting themselves

“Conversion therapy is harmful to both the individuals who are subjected to it, and society more broadly, as it perpetuates the erroneous belief that homosexuality is a disorder which requires a cure.”

(Click to embiggen)

I know this story broke a couple of weeks ago. If I was still doing the really long weekly round up of links, it would have been included that week, and I might have typed a sentence or two of strongly worded commentary. But it didn’t make it into the top five stories for Friday Five. And besides, if I’m going to comment on the whole Josh Weed situation, I ought to make it a full-fledged post.

Let’s begin with the headline: This Gay Mormon Man Who Got Famous For Marrying A Straight Woman Is Getting Divorced. Quick sum-up, back in 2012 Josh Weed and his wife went public about the fact that he was gay, but that as devout Mormons they were choosing to be married. He claimed to be happy and fulfilled in this loving marriage with a woman, and by the way, he mentioned he was a therapist who was always happy to take on new patients.

He was quick to deny that he was pushing so-called ex-gay or conversion therapy. He was simply “helping those with sexual identity issues, unwanted sexual attractions and behaviors.” In interviews he insisted again and again that this wasn’t conversion therapy because he knew that no one could stop being homosexual. No, he was just helping people (“particularly young people”) struggling with this problem by “meeting them where they are and helping them find a solution that meets their needs.”

And specifically, he was holding himself up as an example of a gay man who could enter into a heterosexual marriage, never act on his same-sex attractions, while living a happy, fulfilled life that was congruent with his church’s belief that being gay was an abomination. Except, of course, he didn’t mention that abomination part.

To claim this wasn’t conversion therapy was to draw a distinction without a difference, at best. To do it while advertising one’s therapy services moves it squarely into the lying category.

“The couple is now apologizing to the LGBT community for how the “publicity of our supposedly successful marriage” has been “used to bully others.””

As part of the process of the downfall of the explicitly ex-gay conversion business (and it was always a business), there were a number of court cases (often parents of children sent off to this quack therapy now suing over the wrongful deaths of their children) where the practicioners were forced to admit under oath that at least 99.9 percent of the time no one was ever cured of being gay. Their previous claims about cure percentages was to count anyone who was able for a period of time to resist their feelings and put on a good front pretending to be happy while the refrained from acting on those feelings as a “cure.”

In other words, all the people doing it knew that it never worked.

Part of Josh’s and his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s apology now is to claim they are deeply saddened and ashamed that their story was used to bully other people. They write a supposedly heartfelt account of a person in his twenties coming home for Thanksgiving not long after the Weeds’ story first came about and being physically assaulted by his father because, “If Josh Weed can stop being gay, so can you!” And many many other horrible tales.

Here’s one of my problems taking this apology as sincere. This assault? Happened back in 2012. The young man who endured it wrote to them about in shortly after it happened. And he wasn’t the only queer person from a conservatively religious family who during the time the Weeds were in the headlines previously experienced something like this, went to Josh Weed’s website, and posted a comment years ago.

If Josh Weed was sincerely sorry about people supposedly misconstruing his allegedly not-homophobic story, he would have began issuing apologies and clarifications when the comments first turned up on the website. What he did instead, was to continue to insist in interview after interview in various publications throughout the years since that 1) he wasn’t providing conversion therapy himself, and 2) he didn’t think that him choosing to live in an opposite sex relationship implied that other people ought to do it.

That’s not my only problem with this. As part of their announcement and apology, they recount the epiphany that Josh had that his sexual orientation isn’t a “biological aberration” after all. Back in 2012 and in all those subsequent interviews, he constantly insisted that he didn’t think there was inherently anything wrong with being gay, he was just offering help to those who didn’t want to act on their desires. But now we clearly know that he and his wife (because while talking about the epiphany he also talks about all the conversations he had with his wife about it) believed all along that being queer was a biological aberration.

So in his apology he is tacitly admitting he was lying for all those years.

Listen, I used to be a self-loathing closet case. I spent most of my teens and twenties scared to death that people would find proof that I was the faggot that many of them called me all the time. I prayed and cried and pleaded with god during those teen years to make it go away. The Southern Baptist churches I was raised in are no more welcoming to queers than the Morman churches Weed grew up in. I understand how he got in that situation. I understand how the fear of being rejected by your family, your church, and everyone you know drives a closeted queer person to terrible rationalizations. I understand that when you’re in that situation, you are lying to yourself and trying to convince yourself to believe the lie even more than you are lying and selling the lie to everyone else.

And, yeah, I’m happy for him now that he’s finally realized that forcing himself to pretend to be happy and fulfilled in a marriage to someone with whom he wasn’t in love—a marriage in which his sexual and emotional needs weren’t being met—was actually harmful. And I’m happy that, unlike a lot of other ex-gays out there who came to their senses he’s actually gone public about it. And sure, it’s nice that he’s apologized for some of what he did.

But it isn’t enough. The current apology is just a variant on the old “if someone was offended” non-apology. He’s apologized that other people used his story to hurt queer family and friends, as if it’s just a completely unexpected side effect that he has only recently learned about. We know that he was contacted by a lot of the victims years ago. He knew. He knew and yet he used the impression people had that if he could pretend to be heterosexual than anyone can to advertise his own counseling services. And in those therapy sessions he told many patients all the things that he says now he’s realized weren’t true.

When people like Josh Weed tell their story of choosing not to act on their sexual orientation—when they actively seek out interviews and coverage in the religious press for their story—that lie he’s telling himself is weaponized by other people. It is used as an excuse by those people to bully their own queer children or any other queer people in their families and communities. It is used in far too many cases to bully those queer people to death. It is used as an excuse to throw queer and gender nonconforming children out on the street.

I’ve written before about my personal experience of having family members use the stories of people like Josh Weed as the justification to reject me, threaten me, and say I and my husband aren’t welcome. I don’t know a single queer person who hasn’t had someone browbeat them with stories like Josh Weed and other ex-gays.

I’m going to keep insisting that Josh was an ex-gay. It doesn’t matter that he rejected that label. The hair-splitting he was doing to justify the rejection was ludicrous. And I’m not going to accept this apology because it is incomplete. He wasn’t just deluding himself for those years, he was literally selling that lie to other people. And until he admits that he was doing that; until he admits that the weaponizing of his story wasn’t happening without his knowledge; until he admits that his denials about the nature of his counseling was wrong; until he admits his silence until very recently in the face of that weaponization was also wrong; he doesn’t have an ethical right to ask for forgiveness.

Words and Images: untreatable case of I don’t give a sh*t

I keep finding myself writing either cranky and dark stuff, or fluffy weird holiday stuff. And then not wanting to post it. Meanwhile, the interesting images I swipe from various parts of the internet pile up. So here are a few of the more thought-provoking ones:

Carrie Fischer on stage speaking: “I'm what psychology journals refer to as batshit crazy. It's a delicate mix of bipolar disorder, which I'm able to control through serious medication, and a completely untreatable case of I don't give a shit. Unfortunately, for a woman, the side effects of this condition include: reduced employment, phone calls from terrified PR flack, and tremendous difficulty getting myself down to a weight that's acceptable to some 35-year-old studio executive whose deepest fantasy and worst nightmare somehow both involve me in a gold bikini.”

“I’m what psychology journals refer to as batshit crazy. It’s a delicate mix of bipolar disorder, which I’m able to control through serious medication, and a completely untreatable case of I don’t give a shit. Unfortunately, for a woman, the side effects of this condition include: reduced employment, phone calls from terrified PR flack, and tremendous difficulty getting myself down to a weight that’s acceptable to some 35-year-old studio executive whose deepest fantasy and worst nightmare somehow both involve me in a gold bikini.”

This next one was being shared several places but without the attribution of whose book is shown. Fortunately, feeding an entire sentence into Google got me the name of the author and the book in question.

“The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.  “We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves.”  ― Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose

“The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.
“We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves.”
― Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose

Click to embiggen, but I'm going to re-write it below...

Click to embiggen, but I’m going to re-write it below…

This one should more accurately say: “A banker and two working class people—one white, and one not—are sitting at a table with 20 cookies. The banker takes 19 cookies and warns the white worker: ‘Watch out, that other guy (who I bet isn’t even a real american) is going to take your cookie away.’” Because there is a long history of the rich pitting people against each other along color lines. The recent use of variants on immigrants are dog-whistles for the racism.

“News: Rich people paying rich people to tell middleclass people to blame poor people.”

“News: Rich people paying rich people to tell middleclass people to blame poor people.”

“Christians be like 'God bless this pork you told us not to eat on this most holy pagan holiday that you told us not to celebrate.'”

“Christians be like ‘God bless this pork you told us not to eat on this most holy pagan holiday that you told us not to celebrate.’”

And finally:

“I find your lack of cheer disturbing.”

“I find your lack of cheer disturbing.”

What’s on your list?

“My Xmas list is short this year: 1. $1,000,000 in cash 2. The souls of all who have displeased me 3. A kitten”

“My Xmas list is short this year:
1. $1,000,000 in cash
2. The souls of all who have displeased me
3. A kitten”

While I agree with the sentiment behind the meme here, this actually isn’t my list. I wouldn’t turn down a million bucks, obviously. And well, certain souls do deserve some sort of torment. I love kittens and puppies and other baby animals, but the sad truth I learned many years ago is that my allergies are much less horrible if I’m not sharing living space with cats. I loved the various cats who owned me (Fiona and Woody), and those I grew up with, but I love breathing, too. Similarly cut Christmas trees aren’t good for the old bronchial tubes and sinus passages.

What’s actually on my list are lots of things that aren’t going to happen, such as Congressional Republicans finding moral spines and impeaching the traitors in the Oval Office, real peace coming to several parts of the world that haven’t known it in many years, homophobic relatives seeing the light, and so forth.

“When you stop believing in Santa you get underwear.”

“When you stop believing in Santa you get underwear.”

Otherwise, when I try to come up with lists, it’s fairly mundane things such as books I want to read, movies I would like to own, nice warm fuzzy socks, or some nice new Andrew Christian underwear. Things that it would be nice to have, but not that I necessarily need. I mean, yeah, socks wear out—particularly for someone like me who has to wear warm socks for medical reasons during cold parts of the year, and thus runs around the house in socks all the time. So, when I put fuzzy socks on my wish lists every year, I really appreciate the folks who get them for me.

I find myself, instead, thinking about things that I’m thankful for and things that I wish I could give to others. Yes, I gave people presents, and the gifts seem to be appreciated. But while I can go to a store and buy someone some chocolate, or that electronic thing they put on their list, or a nice sketchbook, and so on, I can’t give people the job with benefits that they really need, or a non-dysfunctional family, or just health. So I can offer my love and support.

So, this is my list, things I wish for everyone who reads this:

  1. Warmth
  2. People in your life who love you
  3. Beauty
  4. Someone who appreciates you
  5. Peace

Bless us, every one.

Little packages of joy, love, and light

“I still believe in Santa Claus. he may not be the one that puts presents under the tree, but his spirit works through us each time we give freely without expectation and each time we spread joy, love, and light.”—Meadow Linn

“I still believe in Santa Claus. he may not be the one that puts presents under the tree, but his spirit works through us each time we give freely without expectation and each time we spread joy, love, and light.”—Meadow Linn

I’m once again in that weird state of feeling as if the holiday is over, but Christmas is still days away. That’s because my writers’ group and associated friends have been doing a holiday party together on the third Saturday of December for well more than 20 years. I’ve been writing an original Christmas Ghost Story to read at said party for at least 22 of those years. We get together, laugh and talk and catch up. Several of us have stories to read or songs to perform or the like. We exchange presents. We laugh and talk some more. There is always a bit too much food. But it is all fun and wonderful.

In short, it feels like my real Christmas.

When we were still all publishing a sci fi zine together, we would publicize the date and location of the party to the subscribers and contributors. And that meant we often got a lot of people who weren’t part of the regular monthly writers’ meeting crowd showing up. Which was great, but I also used to go to pains to de-emphasize the gift exchange part of the evening. I didn’t want people not to show up because they thought they were obligated to bring presents for strangers. That also means that I got in the habit of picking up and wrapping a bunch of extra presents–just in case. Because I didn’t want anyone who showed up not to get a brightly colored package to open.

I got the last of the present wrapped only a couple of hours before we were expecting people to arrive.

I got the last of the present wrapped only a couple of hours before we were expecting people to arrive.

To pull that off, one of the things I’ve been doing for years is keeping an eye out for things to give people for Christmas all year long. So at any time after say mid-January, there is a box hiding back in the bedroom with various things in it as I slowly accumulate presents. So, for instance, if I read a book that I really, really loved earlier in the year, I’ll buy a second copy (or several) to put in the box to give to people at Christmas. I don’t always have a specific person in mind when I do, but I know that enough of my friends enjoy some of the same kinds of books as I do that there will probably be someone I can give it to.

Because of moving the year, and what a big hole it blew in our schedule for months (not to mention eating my brain), I didn’t have as many things as usual already sitting in the box by the time November rolled around. So I spent a bit more time scrambling for presents this year than I have usually done. Still, I had something for everyone, and a collection of extras. And we all had a lot of fun unwrapping things and discussing what we got or where we found that thing, et cetera.

This I got something that made me tear up a bit. It takes a bit if explaining. My friend, Keith, comes from a whole family of artists. His parents ran a commercial art company for many years, and one of their product lines were the Alaska Snowbabies Christmas ornaments, designed by his mother. I own a bunch of their ornaments, mostly from the Snowbabies line, though there are a few others. Keith, as you might expect, has a much larger collection of such ornaments, since he worked for years in the company as both a business manager and a mold designer (among other things). Keith’s parents retired and closed down the business a number of years ago, and Keith’s father has since passed away, so there haven’t been any new products for some years.

Anyway, Keith and his wife do two trees in their house most years, and he posted pictures of this year’s trees earlier in the month, and I noticed that several of the Snowbabies visible in his pictures had red Santa hats, rather than the usual white parkas, and I commented on how cute they were and that I was a little jealous.

So shortly after arriving, Keith handed me a small package and said, “And that’s from my mom.” It was very pretty paper, and it said “To Gene and Michael from Suzanne” and I thought it was odd for her to send us a present, but I wasn’t quite smart enough to put together the dots until later, when we were opening gifts and I got to hers, felt the package, and suddenly realized what it was. She’d seen my comment on line and decided I needed to have one of the later ornaments.

Isn’t it adorable?

So it’s now hanging on my tree. As she said afterward, it’s where he belongs.

Not often you get a gift straight from the artist, right?

A mobile slice of life

Partially opened sardine tin.

Sometimes being on a crowded bus feels like being one of these fish.

I have been using the King County Metro bus system as my primary way of getting to work for about 29 years, so I have lots of bus stories. Most are not as exciting as the one I repeated when discussion a Nazi-punching incident in downtown recently, which is probably a good thing. Most bus rides are uneventful, or the events are minor things like the bus being more crowded than usual, or overhearing weird conversations, or observing interesting fashion choices.

The frequency of certain incidents have changed significantly since we moved to Shoreline and I’m taking a different route and riding longer. For instance, Fare Enforcement encounters. For a little context, some Metro routes are Rapid Ride lines. My old commute was on Rapid Ride D, while my new one is Rapid Ride E. What makes a route of Rapid Ride is that first the buses are designed more like commuter train cars: multiple doors and low floors so you don’t have to climb up stairs to get into the bus (this also makes boarding people in wheelchairs a lot faster since there isn’t a lift). Many bus stops have a pay station at the curb, so you can tap your card there before the bus arrives, and board using any door–instead of everyone having to enter through one door and either pay as they enter or show the driving a transfer.

This means the Rapid Ride buses operate on something of an honor system. But it isn’t entirely an honor system. Teams of Fare Enforcement officers randomly board buses, announce themselves, and then while the bus proceeds to the next stop, they walk up and down checking everyone’s proof of payment. Those of us with a pass, for instance, hold up our card and they touch a reader to it, which pulls information from the RF chip in the card. If someone doesn’t have a pass or transfer, they will be asked for their ID, information is recorded. They may receive a warning, or a ticket. Usually the officers only pull people off the bus if the person argues or otherwise doesn’t cooperate, or if they need to write up the multiple tickets. Whether they find anyone in violation or not, the get off at the next stop after they’re checked everyone, and wait for another bus on the line to board.

During the years I rode the D-line, I tended to see Fare Enforcement only once a month or so. And only about a third of the time did they have to write anyone up or take them off the bus. My second day riding the E-line, Fare Enforcement boarded the bus and wound up taking three people off. I thought that was unsual. I soon learned it was not. I see Fare Enforcement at least once a week. And I have never seen them not find at least one person who hasn’t paid or doesn’t have proof of payment.

By chance, most of the neighborhoods the D-Line goes through are median-rent or higher-than-average rent districts. While much of it’s route is on a major arterial, a big part of that arterial is through residential areas. The E-Line runs down State Highway 99, also known as Aurora Avenue. It’s a major thoroughfare that usually has commercial and retail. The neighborhoods range from well-to-do, to average, to what some people like to call affordable housing. This also means the crowd on the E-Line is both more colorful and diverse than the D-Line was.

Last week, between taking Friday off and working from home another day, I rode the bus only six times. I saw Fare Enforcement on four of those trips. On three of the trips they pulled two or more people off the bus besides issuing warnings to a couple.

The fourth time was the trip home Thursday. They were already on the bus when I got on. Typically the bus is pretty full by then, but that one was very empty. And all three officers were gathered around one guy, writing him up. He was complaining about how many of these tickets he’s gotten, and one of the officers was trying to get him to confirm that the address on his ID was where he received mail, because more legal papers would be coming. That means that he’s gotten so many tickets for not paying his fare, that they’re going to send a summons to appear in court.

The enforcement guys got off the bus at the next stop. And as soon as they left, the guy pulled a bottle of vodka out of the giant backpack he had in the seat next to him and started swigging. At that some stop, about three dozen people got on our bus, so it was suddenly as crowded as usual. At the next stop the guy with the vodka bottle was still grumbling, and waited until the bus driver had closed the doors and started to pull out to start shouting, “Wait! Wait! This is my stop!” So the driver stopped, and a bunch of people packed into the aisle had to squeeze and move in order to let the angry drinking man and his giant pack off the bus.

There are a lot of reasons someone can’t afford $2.50 bus fare—especially twice a day, five or more days a week, and so on. There are reduced fare passes available, but applying for them takes time, effort, the wherewithal to get documents together to prove you qualify, and so on. And I know lots of people who on paper make too much money to qualify for such programs, but they and their family are living hand-to-mouth. My point is that there are lots of circumstances where skipping paying the fare seems like a reasonable risk. But I still find my mind boggled a little bit.

On the other hand, many times I’ve seen people who keep an eye out the window, and when they see Fare Enforcement standing at the stop we’re pulling up to, they jump out of their seats to exit as the officers get on. I’ve never seen an officer pay any attention to people leaving. I’ve even seen guys not notice until the officers actually step on, and they jump up and say rather loudly, “Oh! It’s my stop!” and rush off. So clearly some habitual non-payers have figured out this is a way to avoid getting a ticket.

When my husband was explaining this a couple months ago online, someone expressed shock that the officers didn’t stop people that were exiting. That misses the entire point of the Rapid Ride. If they prevented people from leaving until they checked them for payment, that would hold the bus up. The way the officers do it, the bus’s route isn’t interrupted.

I’ve rambled on this a bit longer than I meant to, but to circle back to my point about reasons people have not to pay: I have assumed all along that the reason the E-Line is a more fertile ground for catching violators are economic ones. But I have also noticed that people who are dressed in a manner that would lead you to conclude they are well-off are just as likely to turn out to be the person who hasn’t paid. So, it’s another example that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

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