Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lust

Lust.

Things having to do with sex and its enjoyment are pretty much my favorite thing to talk and write about.

And wouldn't you know right now I've got some kind of writer's block about it? I have been looking forward to today's post on Lust for over a week. I worked so hard to manage my topics to save the most fun one for last, and here I am with nothing. I even considered spending the day in intense research (ahem), but no. Call it tryptophan let-down, if there can be such a thing. That or an overdose of pumpkin pie, I can't really tell.

Oh what the hell. Let's give it a shot.

A demon satiating his lust in a 13th century manuscript.

Lust is an human emotion characterized by a heightened state of sexual desire or arousal. It is generally used in relation to love, which denotes more of an emotional connection to the partner, whereas lust is generally considered to be largely, or even exclusively physical in nature.

Again, credit here goes to wikipedia. Bless them for the work they save me from having to do myself.

I find the wiki definition interesting. It credits lust with being an emotion, then says that it is "largely or even exclusively physical in nature." Well, which is it? Emotional? Or physical? Is lust emotional, or is it true, as Ann Landers once said, that infatuation (lust) was "one set of glands calling to another"?

Is lust emotion? Or pure physical response to stimulii? I think as humans, we like to forget that we are also mammals. We are still of the animal world. We are not completely removed from many of our animal instincts. If you have any doubt, step into any nightclub anywhere in the world any evening. Watch as the people inside posture and strut in their attempts to attract a mate, if not for life, certainly for the evening. Observe the social pecking order, notice who is in charge and who is not. Notice who seems to get to pick the most attractive mate and who comes next on the list. Notice the subtle challenges and defenses of "territories" within the surroundings. Notice who wins and who loses and notice how the two "alpha" people will usually leave with each other.

Try this in any kind of night club - gay, straight, lesbian, white, black, hispanic, country club or biker bar, any of them. And when you're done, tell me again how much higer evolved we are than the other species that roam the planet.

Lust is not an evil thing unto itself. It is a natural part of our biological makeup and it serves a purpose. It helps to facilitate the propagation of the species, it bring passion and pleasure to our intimacy, it brings excitement to our lovemaking.

When it becomes sinful in my mind is when we let lust blind us to the humanity of our partner or partners. When lust becomes a problem is when it eclipses the needs of those we are with. Not only is it no fun to be with a lover who thinks only of him- or herself, but I would argue that it is unhealthy for all parties involved. It taxes the soul of the person blinded by lust and it reduces the sexual partner to an object and not a human being. Objectification as part of sex play is one thing, but the true interal dehumanization of one's partner can never be a good thing.

I don't know. I really can't work up a head of steam today. I desperately want to write something passionate and clever and witty about and in defense of lust, but I just haven't got the sand. Not today. Perhaps another day.

Before I started writing this entry, I had logged some 28,400 words in this NaBloPoMo thing. I have tackeled some pretty heavy-duty topics and taken some fun pictures of my work and my little dog. I feel bad going out with this kind of pathetic whimper, but it's all I've got today. Let's see what I can come up with tomorrow.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Peace

Gari Melchers, Mural of Peace, 1896.
Peace may be defined positively or negatively. Considered positively peace may refer to healthy, healed or honest inter-personal relationships, safety or prosperity in matters of social or economic welfare or the acknowledgment of equality and fairness in political relationships. These different senses of the term are related to the word contentment. Negatively, peace sometimes means merely the absence of hostility - either at a social or political level (war). Peace is usually regarded as transient in human life; skeptics regard it as a merely ideal state that cannot be practically achieved. Thus, reflection on the nature of peace is also bound up with considerations of the causes for its absence or loss. Among these potential causes are: insecurity, social injustice, economic inequality.
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The above was lifted wholesale from wikipedia. Call this whatever kind of attribution or citation you need it to be.
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So I miscounted the days left in November back before that holiday with the turkey and now I have an extra day before the 30th with no planned topic. Not one to find an easy thing for the next-to-the-last-day, I will forgo detailed instructions for making Jell-0 or how to plant marigold seeds in a Dixie cup and tackle the formidable subject of peace. (h/t to E. over at phigmint)

Peace has different meanings in different contexts. Peace at the family dinner table is a different thing than peace in the middle east. Peace in one's soul is different from peace between unhappy factions.

Jimmy Carter works for peace, and when he did that as president, it cost him politically. Carter understood that for there to be peace internationally, there must be peace internally within nations. For there to be peace within a nation, there must be peace among the different groups who make up that nation. For there to be peace among those groups, they all must feel that they are both giving and receiving no more or less than they deserve, and neither are any of the other groups. So long as there is enormous economic disparity within a nation, there will be no peace within that nation. Congresswoman Maxine Waters said it best (paraphrasing here) "When there is justice, there will be peace. And not until there is justice, will there be peace."

There are some who see peace as being directly linked to a supreme being. That bumper sticker says "no Jesus? No peace. Know Jesus. know peace." Nice thought, but where does that leave the Muslims, Hindus, Pagans, Wiccans, Jews, and goodness-knows how many other non-christian faiths? I suppose you could change it to "know god, know peace," but that still smacks of "here's my opinion, it's better than yours." I don't like that.

Peace to me means a lot of things. At the personal level, it is a calm inside that is undisturbed by the conflicts of emotions, agendas, or stress. This does not mean that those things do not exist in a person who is at peace, merely that the person has learned how to rise above those distractions and has made a decision to be peaceful, even in the midst of life that is not always peaceful.

Next is peace within a family. Growing up as I did in a dysfunctional sort of place, my concept of what makes for a peaceful family is a bit suspect. But here is what I think it might look like: A peaceful family is one in which none fears for their personal safety, particularly at the hands of another family member. A peaceful family means that everyone has enough to eat, clothes to stay warm, and the support and kindness of others in the unit. The needs of each of the members is being met and nobody feels less than any of the other members. Peace is not without activity, but it is a security of sorts, and a sense of cohesion.

Peace within a community gets more complicated still. Karl Marx visualized a Utopian society with "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his need." That sounds really nice, but few in my experience are willing to give up their individualism to live in a communist society, even at the most local of levels. Socialism we seem to support, but communism still gives us all the creeps, and for legitimate reasons.

I think Marx may have had something in that oversimplified quote. In any society there are different levels of participation. There are different levels of skill and ability and education and training. A ditch digger cannot be expected to have the same financial and intellectual goals as a brain surgeon. So there is a sliding scale of sorts.

Some parts of the community have more resources than others, some parts have more power than others, and some parts seem to have more time than others. The key to maintaining peace in a complex community, I think, is to make sure that everyone feels that he or she is a vital and valued part of that community. If the brain surgeon treats the plumber badly when he comes to fix the surgeon's sink, it will upset the peace of the community. No matter how important and high-tech the surgeon's work might be, he still needs the specific skills of the plumber when his sink backs up in the kitchen. Same goes for the gardeners and the domestic staff. If the workers are not treated well and respected for the vital role they play in the community, they go home with resentments that fester. They might be mad at the surgeon, but won't say so for fear of losing their job and the security it brings.

This comes down to the people with the power being just and generous with it. And it comes from respecting each other within the community. If people feel respected, and if their basic needs are met, they are far less likely to go to war. Occasionally they will for theological or political reasons, but that is rare.

On an international level, the scenario is much the same. If people are fed, cared for, sheltered, employed in dignified work, respected and valued, they are basically peaceful. If one nation believes that another nation has some kind of unfair economic advantage, be it trade routes, resources, technology, or what have you, it is often much easier to convince the "disadvantaged" nation to pick a fight. Or if a powerful country (say the US) sees something it wants that another country has (say oil), and that other country wants to demand a higher price than the first country wants to pay, one can reasonably expect the first country to find a way to attack the second country and seize its resources. Not that the US would ever do such a thing, of course. Not us. Just the bad guys do that.

Peace is dependent upon security and economic justice, then. Tada! I have reached a conclusion! Finally, after all these miserably tough topics. Only it is a palindrome of a conclusion. It works the same frontwards as backwards:

There will be peace when there is justice. There will be justice when there is peace.

And perhaps more harshly accurate: Until there is peace, there will be no justice. Until there is justice, there will be no peace. Again, thanks to Ms. Waters.

That is huge. I wonder if the minds that run the nations of this world can grasp this idea. I think Barack Obama can. I think Gordon Browne might have a clue. Mad King George couldn't grasp his dick with his hands if given a flashlight and a map, never mind concepts so high as peace and justice. Kim Jong Ill might know and understand, but is using strife and injustice to keep tensions high and himself in charge. The rest of the world's leaders? I don't know. We'll have to see what happens after January 20, 2009.

I forget who it was, but I heard a guy speaking on a program broadcast on National Public Radio. He was talking about economic injustice, entrenched behaviors, and the caste system in India. Hundreds of thousands of people in India work every day carrying away human excrement from non-flushing toilets and latrines all over the nation. Lacking adequate indoor plumbing and waste water treatment facilities, many people in India still rely on untouchables to carry away their waste. The untouchables are doomed to a life of ostracism and filth because of the status of their birth and the work they are forced to perform. With proper plumbing, the guy argued, there would be no need for the caste of untouchables, who could then be educated and allowed to participate fully in Indian culture and society. With education, he said, comes dignity and opportunity. How many brilliant minds are born each year into this doomed group? How many potential Nobel scientists never learned to read because of the status of their birth? It is shameful to consider.

To find peace, at least on a large scale, we must work carefully toward the mutual goals of peace and justice. Like the yin and the yan, they revolve around each other. Peace and justice on a large scale will happen when there is peace and justice on a national level, and peace and justice on a national level will happen when there is peace and justice at the regional level, the community level, the family level and the individual level. And unlike that palindromic example above, peace at the personal level does not require that there is peace at the global level. Peace at the personal level can be a decision made by a person - you or me - to be at peace, to not take the bait when it is offered, to share and live peace every day. If each of us makes a small effort to be more peaceful within our selves, our families and our communities, imagine how quickly we might affect change at the regional, national and global levels.

Peace.

Friday, November 28, 2008

gratitude

November 28, 1984 was clear and cold. I woke up hungover and did not go to class. Again.

It was the Wednesday after Thanksgiving and I was a student at the University of Maine at Farmington. I was in my second year, on academic probation, and failing every class I was enrolled in at that time. I just couldn't seem to get out of my own way. I'd swear that tomorrow I would go to class, all of my classes even, but then I'd oversleep, wake up hungover again, and never get around to it. Once I missed the first one, well, that kind of made it silly to go to the second one, maybe I'd hit the ones after lunch, but by then I was already drinking again and going to class just didn't seem so important. I was 19 years old.

Friends had been commenting that semester about how much I was drinking. I mean friends I drank with. That seemed pretty odd. And high and fucking mighty, too. I found new friends. I kept running out of money, too. I had worked that past summer scooping ice cream in a beach town in Massachusetts and managed to save enough to come to school with a budgeted amount of spending money for each week, plus some for spring semester, plus I had a work study job. It paid shit and was boring, but I could go slightly fucked up and nobody seemed to mind, so long as I got my work done. But I kept running out of cash. My bank account was overdrawn, I couldn't seem to sell enough weed to break even there, so I had to keep shoveling money toward the local dealer. Alcohol seemed to make my money disappear, and I couldn't figure out how it was happening. I'd but a case of beer and a pint, plus some weed, oh, and sometimes some cheap speed tablets to crush up and snort through a straw, I'd find some people to party with, we'd make a midnight run to the 7-11 for pizza burritos and Hagen Daas ice cream, then it was morning, I felt like shit and I missed class again. I took out a loan, I think, maybe two. That helped for a while.

I developed a habit that semester of opening one last beer before bed. I'd take a couple sips and leave it on the nightstand. By morning it would be warm and flat, but I'd drink it anyway just so I could stand up and walk across the hall to the bathroom. Of course, after a beer for breakfast, classes did dip significantly on the priority list. Again.

I had a couple of friends who lived down the hall from me who were psychology majors or rehab majors or something like that. I drank with them sometimes. I liked them a lot. Kate was the heavier drinker - her roommate seemed to hold back and be aloof. I didn't trust her much. Kate was cool though. I think Bridget was the rehab major. She asked if she could interview me for a class, I said sure, what the hell. She asked if I could please not be drunk during the interview. I thought that was an odd request, but said ok. I wasn't drunk during the interview, but I did have my first two beers of the evening during it. I think she wrote that down. When she was done with her report, she asked if I wanted to see it. Sure, I said, why not? She had carefully omitted my name, but documented my situation pretty accurately. She concluded that I was so wrapped up in my alcoholism and drug addiction that I was headed for disaster if I did not do something significant soon.

"Well, I guess I am a statistic" was my response. I really didn't know what to say. I didn't think my behavior was so bad as to brand me an alcoholic, but I guess she had to do the right things to get a good grade on the paper. Whatever. Let's have a beer. Kate went to the store with me to buy. Kate was 21 and could buy alcohol.

Sometime that semester, someone put a flyer under my door from AA. Something about 20 questions to determine if I might be an alcoholic. But whoever had left it had circled a bunch of answers already, many of which I simply disagreed. I could stop any time. I just liked alcohol. I didn't think it was screwing up my life. Fucking people were like Jehovah's Witnesses for crying out loud, leaving pamphlets and shit. Too weird.

So Thanksgiving came and went, I came back from vacation determined to buckle down and pull myself out of the abyss that had become my academic standing, but I just couldn't seem to do it. Drunk again. Hungover again. Showing up to practicum reeking of alcohol and pot, resin and burns on my fingertips. A chronic post-nasal drip from whatever that crap was I snorted, and a suspicious burn on the inside of my nostril from torching a roach and holding it to my nose to inhale the smoke. Got too close and the now-heated surgical clamps that served as my roach clip, touched the tender flesh and burned a nice blister there before I could react and pull it away. I looked a wreck, I am sure. And smelled it as well.

Wednesday dawned like any other day. It was awful. I was hungover. The freedom I had so looked forward to in August had come around and bit me in the ass. I had no idea how to put the brakes on. Somehow, and for what reason it happened that day, Kate approached me about maybe doing something about my drinking. I agreed that it did seem to be out of hand and conceded that perhaps I might need some help dealing with it. She said she knew some people who knew how to do that, that I didn't have to sign anything, I didn't have to pay anything, I just had to come with her that night after supper. It would help if I didn't drink today, she said. It will make more sense that way. Just for today, that's not a big thing, right? You can do that, right? Sure, I said. I can do that.

I have no memory of the rest of that day. I don't know if I went to class or if I went to supper. Kate showed up at just before 7 p.m. and we walked together across the street from the dorm, her actually leading me by the hand, up the steps and into a little room with comfortable couches and chairs and smiling, happy-seeming people. Things were already underway and somebody was reading something. There was something from a book, and then somebody read the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Step one said: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable." I remember hearing that. I remember thinking that I wasn't sure if I was powerless over alcohol, that sounded kind of lame and weak, but I knew for certain that my life was unmanageable. I remember thinking that maybe if I did whatever it is that these people said I should do for six months or so, I might be able to get things straightened back out so I could get back to life and drink in a way that didn't wreck things so much.

They went around the room for introductions. When they got to me, I said "I'm Dawn and I'm an alcoholic." Do not be mistaken here. It was not an epiphany. It was not a moment of truth. I did not believe it for a moment. But it looked like if I wanted to stay with this crowd I had to say what they said, so I did. Lying was such an integral part of my world back then, I never flinched when I said I was an alcoholic. Hell, if they'd have asked me to say I was the queen of England, I'd have sworn it solemnly on a stack of whatever they were offering.

That night I went to bed sober for the first time in months. It was strange. The room did not spin as it usually did. I did not have to sleep with one hand on the wall and one foot out of bed on the floor to stop the bed from swirling. My room was not at the bottom of the world's longest drinking straw. The next day I woke up and didn't feel awful. It was strange, but there it was. I remembered what those people had said the night before, and I prayed to whatever god I imagined might listen to keep me away from a drink for that day.

It worked. I didn't drink that day. I don't know if I went to class or not. Perhaps. But I know that I got through the day without drinking. That night, I prayed again, thanking that god for keeping me sober that day. I got into bed and marveled at what I had done. The next day was Friday. That's a tough day for a drunk two days away from a drink, living in a college dorm.
What do we do? I asked Kate. I wanna go to a party. I want to get drunk. It's what we do. I don't remember the conversation, but we changed our clothes and went to a meeting. We drove all the way to Skowhegan for a meeting. I complained that it seemed an awfully long way to drive in November. If there was a kegger there, would you drive? Kate asked. Heh. If there was a kegger there, we'd have already drunk it dry, I said. Exactly. We drove on in the dark.

I went to a meeting that night, and for many nights after that. I still flunked all my classes except P.E. I was academically dismissed from college. Told to take a year off, get my shit together and then maybe I could reapply and see if I had settled down enough to be a student. I got an apartment with a friend, went to meetings, drank a lot of coffee, worked a bunch of part-time jobs and eventually moved back in with my aunt in Massachusetts. I couldn't manage money and work and life well enough yet to manage on my own.

Back in Mass., I went to a lot of meetings. I met a bunch of people and I began to get active. I made coffee for a couple of groups, I set up and took down the meetings, I became very familiar with folding chairs. I got a factory job that I hated but it paid off those loans I took out that last year of school. I got a series of really shitty cars and beat them to death. I dated (a generous term for my behavior in the 1980s) a series of men, but always stayed sober.

A year or more went by and I went back to school. I went to meetings, I stayed sober, I came out as a lesbian, became politically active, stopped going to meetings, left school and came back several times, finally getting a degree in general studies (general trivia). I have tons of credits in psychology, social and political sciences, and writing. I am overqualified for nearly every job that I am not under qualified for. Meh. Whatever. Somehow, I still did not drink.

Years went by. Girlfriends and careers came and went. A few years ago, I realized that I was not happy. I came back to meetings, at first just to make friends in a new town and to meet a queer community. But I was unhappy. I reached out and got a sponsor in AA. Bill is a great guy, despite being flighty as hell. He helped me do the steps as they are laid out in what we call the Big Book, simply a book called Alcoholics Anonymous. There are steps, 12 of them, and they are in order for a reason, Bill told me. We took each one as it was written, and I began to do some journaling. I set my alarm and got up early to write in my journal. I wrote before I had coffee, so my guard was down. Once I am awake, the walls of cleverness, sarcasm and self-depreciation take over and what you get is half bullshit on a good day. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I started over at the beginning, and I wrote about how I was powerless over alcohol and how my life was unmanageable. I wrote about step two and how I came to believe that there was a power greater than myself who could restore me to sanity. I wrote and wrote about step three, in which I turned my will and my life over to god as I understand him. And in step four, I took a serious look at myself and my actions. I took a fearless and searching moral inventory of my soul. In step five, I sat with Bill and we talked about my inventory, and I admitted to god, myself and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs. It was a kind of purging and cleansing unlike anything I had ever experienced in a confessional booth.

I learned that all that crap I did all those years ago might have been immoral, but it got me through. I learned survival skills that nobody should ever have to learn. I learned how to cheat and how to lie and how to steal and how to manipulate people through bullying and sucking up and sleeping with them if that's what needed doing. I learned to cover up my own pain with alcohol. I learned to sleep with people in order to feel attractive. I learned to be a doormat so that people would like me. I learned to use people to meet my own needs, and I learned how to get by with none of the healthy skills other people seemed to get in first grade. I must have been out that day and missed the handout. I always felt like an outsider looking in.

I did not justify my behavior because of my lack of skills, my addiction to alcohol and drugs, or my youth. I am accountable for all that shit I did. But I don't need to flog myself like a member of Opus Dei or wear a hair shirt for the rest of my days. What is important now is that I do what I can to make it right. That brought me to steps six and seven, where I first became willing to have god remove all these defects of character, and then humbly asked him to remove my shortcomings. Keep in mind that these defects of character are the exact things that I had been using as coping mechanisms for decades. Instead of manipulating people, I had to learn how to be honest, how to communicate and how to interact. It was excruciating to learn that stuff in my 40s. Yes, in my 40s. I felt like I was going through junior high at the same time I was having night sweats and mood swings. It was brutal. It still is. I still am learning that stuff.

After I did six and seven, I had to do something about making things right for those whom I had hurt through the years. Step eight says that we make a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. That was tough. There were a lot of people through the years that I had screwed over and whom I thought truly deserved a good screwin' over. In fact, they might still need some more abuse, now that I think about it. Too bad, my sponsor said. This was about my behavior and my part in whatever conflict was there, not theirs. Where was I an ass? Well, let's get ready to make apologies and do what we can to make it right. Step nine says that we make amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. So I set about finding the people I had wronged and doing what I could to make amends. Some were easy to find, others difficult. It is not a thing that can be done in a weekend. It is not a thing that can be done in a month. It is a thing that will take me as long as it takes. I imagine I will be running into people for the rest of my life to whom I need to make amends. And with any luck, I'll be able to do that.

Step ten has me continue to take a personal inventory and when I am wrong, admit it. I try to do that today. Sometimes it takes me a little while before I can get past my own anger (like the Lowe's guy) to suck it up and apologise. Sometimes I can do it right away. It is an ongoing process.

Step eleven says "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with god as we understood him, praying only for the knowledge of his will and the power to carry it out." I struggle with this one every day. I try to meditate, but I am not really good at it. I don't sit still well. I try though, and I do the St. Francis prayer often. It's not perfect, but it is progress.

Step 12 says grand and mighty things: "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs." It is a tall order. Not all alcoholics want to hear how great life can be after all this incredibly emotional and spiritual heavy lifting. So generally what I do is I talk to people who ask about it. I talk to people who seem willing to listen. I talk to people who want to know. Going out and recruiting members is for Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, not AA. As a lesbian, I have to be doubly careful to whom I try to carry the message. The last thing I want to do is scare some woman away who mistakes my concern for an inappropriate advance. It is a rare thing these days that I approach someone and say "hey, I know what it's like being where you are. Here's how I got to be where I am now." I figure the best thing I can do most days is try to live as an example of good effort at a life well-lived. I don't always hit the mark, but I give it an honest and heartfelt try.

24 years ago tonight, I sat shaking in my first meeting, 19 years old, overwhelmed by life and the shit that swirled around me, and pretty sure doom was coming. Tonight I am at my kitchen table, flanked by my aunt who loves me and my partner L who also loves me. We live in a little rented cottage and we have a big cat and a little dog. I am self-employed and we seem to do ok most days. Life is not all roses, not by a long shot, but I don't have to do what I used to do just to survive. I don't have to hustle and con and manipulate and lie to get my needs met today. I live life on life's terms, and I am at peace with my god and my soul, and for that, for all of what I have written and for all that I have today, I am grateful.

Blessed be.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Prudence

Prudence.

In a twist, I went to a real dictionary site for a definition today. Mirriam-Webster defines Prudence this way:

Main Entry: pru·dence           Listen to the pronunciation of prudence
Pronunciation:\ˈprü-dən(t)s\
Function: noun
Etymology:Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin prudentia, alteration of providentia — more at providence
Date:14th century
1 : the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason
2 : sagacity or shrewdness in the management of affairs
3 : skill and good judgment in the use of resources
4 : caution or circumspection as to danger or risk
I would be much happier discussing the Beatles' classic "Dear Prudence" than trying to get my brain and my keyboard around the concept of Prudence. I have no earthly idea how to "govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason."

No clue. I have an addictive personality. I have never had a handle on the concept of self discipline or moderation. Reason does not enter into the equation. Shrewd? Isn't that a little mouse-like rodent thing? The one with the pointy nose? No? Well, damn.

I know there are people out there who can be wise and temperate and moderate and rational and forward-thinking. Me? Well, let's just say I prefer other adjectives to describe myself. At least if you want to be accurate, anyway.

I have always held as my personal motto that anything worth doing is worth overdoing. That comes to all things that are usually not good for us - eating, drinking, sex, everything that stimulates that happy part in the central cortex.

RARELY have I thought ahead and considered what might result from my actions. Take this for an example: A couple weeks ago, I got a note from a friend who was looking for stories of gratitude for something she was working on. Sure, says I. I've got a great story or two about why I am grateful and some of the wonderful people in my life for whom I am grateful, so I wrote a little piece. It was published today in a story on the front page of the state's largest newspaper. My bit was not on page one, but on the jump inside.

Now the reason this woman is my friend is because were are former colleagues, competitors, actually. We spent many a dull (or exciting) evening sitting through town council meetings (those were dull) and board of selectmen meetings (usually more exciting). We were both REPORTERS. We wrote stuff and it got published. Me for one paper, she for another. We commiserated often about people who opened up to us, told us all kinds of things, and then were shocked, shocked! I say! to see their words in print.

And so this morning, there I was, full name and town in bold face, in the paper. Whoopsie. Oh well. Nothing I said there has not been said over and over in front of various other audiences. It just surprised me a little to see it. I had to read through real quick to make sure I hadn't gone overboard on the in-laws. (I hadn't.)

I spoke with my friend this morning and she told me that I was brave for being so honest and opening up like that. (I had said in the piece that I was a lesbian, that I did not speak with my family, that I left the church of my childhood and that my partner is Wiccan. I suppose that qualifies as opening up, particularly when it is done in the newspaper.)

See, this is one of those times when I opened my mouth and said my piece, not caring about who might listen, and who might be offended. I spoke my truth, from the heart, and with honesty. Yes, I do not have any contact with my family of origin, save one relative. No, my partner doesn't speak much to her family either. Yes, we are lesbians, yes I left the Catholic Church, yes I felt unwelcome and un-valued there, so I left, and yet, I have a really awesome aunt, who works for that same church, who loves me for me and ain't that grand? Well, it is all true, including the part about the aunt, who is indeed grand.

And the funniest part about this whole thing? I wrote to my friend who asked for stories, knowing she is a reporter, knowing that she was collecting stories from people to work into a larger story, knowing that it would be published, probably on Thanksgiving, and it never occurred to me that my story might be interesting enough to make it in the paper. I figured I might get some kind of anonymous reference along the lines of "estranged from her family" or something like that. I was completely unreasonable and completely naive in my thinking. ESPECIALLY for a former reporter. This is the stuff I used to do. How dumb was that? Oh well. I had a good laugh at my own expense and my aunt was thrilled that I had written such nice things about her in the paper.

So the best I have to offer is a perfect example of what prudence isn't. What I did with that little piece was not bravery in the baring of my soul to the world. It was dumb shit that turned out OK. Much of what I did as an activist was the same way. It was not bravery that motivated me to hold demonstrations in college or march on things - it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time and I never thought too awfully much about the consequences or the hazards. As often happens in my life, I suddenly find myself out at the end of a limb, surrounded by nothing but air and very far from the ground. Was it bravery that got me so far from the ground? Heavens, no. Focus on a goal, perhaps, if one wanted to be generous, but mostly it was not paying attention to the other stuff in the world.

As with most things in my life, sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don't.

What is prudence? I can give you the dictionary definition listed above. As for the practical application of the last of the seven virtues in this series, I haven't the foggiest idea. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Greed

Greed is funny stuff. Not funny ha-ha, funny weird.

It is difficult to argue that greed is good, particularly now with our national economy in teeny little pieces.

Greed is what caused banks to give out mortgages like Halloween candy and what caused people to take them. Greed is what caused banks and institutions to buy, swap and trade really complex financial products that eventually just became a house of cards that seems, in the past two or three months, to have come tumbling down around us.

Greed is what caused people to refinance, consolidate their debt and keep spending.

Greed is what caused companies to cut jobs and increase dividends. Greed is what shipped manufacturing jobs overseas - people there do not get health insurance. People there do not get coffee breaks or 8-hour days or weekends. People over there get $20 a week to stitch our sneakers and sweatpants.

But where is greed based? From whence doth it come?

I think greed is tied (again, I know) to insecurity. Somehow, some people want more than their neighbors. They want to have the biggest house, the shiniest car, the sexiest mistress. They want to have the most money.

Why do we want to be better than our peers? Well, that comes I think from some innate thing that makes us feel less than our peers. We are insecure.

Bullies are insecure, so they make themselves feel bigger by making other people feel smaller. Once it is no longer socially acceptable to beat up the kid with glasses and take his lunch money, the bullies find smoother, more suave ways to fleece people of their cash. They set up shady financial deals, schemes that only Nobel-winning economists can understand and they take our money that way instead. The greedy find a way to get their share and ours, too.

And why? What is it that drives us so? What is it that makes us insecure like this and what makes some people respond with bullying, or greed or whatever. It is almost a pathetic caricature, really, like Dickens' Scrooge cloistered away with his money, never happy unless he has more and more and more. Never happy unless he is wringing every last farthing's worth of light from the oil, heat from the coal, work from the help. I said earlier in this series of essays that I thought waste was bad and sinful, but I think so is avarice, or being miserly or stingy.

Having things just to have serves no purpose. I cannot see the good in that. Things are made to be used. Even art that hangs on a wall is meant to move and inspire people. It is not passive. To own things just to show off is wrong and wasteful. On the other side of that coin is hoarding of resources, which is equally sinful in my mind as wasting them.

If a man has a million dollars in the bank, his house is paid for, his life is comfortable and everything in his world is good, good for him. However, if his neighbors are hungry or in need and he refuses to use his wealth to help them, that is very bad indeed. I understand protecting one's investments and not spending the capital, but one should help where it is needed if you are able. It only makes sense. It is the right thing to do.

Greed gets in the way of good, I guess, and that is what bothers me the most. By its nature it is selfish and self-centered. Me first, to hell with the rest of the world.

I have been working these past few years to not do that stuff. I have been trying to put service first and self second. There are some things that I need to be very self-first about. My sobriety and recovery, for instance. But part of my recovery work is service to others and to my community. Greed cannot be a part of that and still allow me to grow.

NaBloPoMo is nearly over. There are three more days. I have one virtue left to explore, one sin, and one other topic I have reserved for Friday. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day. The pies are cooked, the turkey is waiting in cold storage and the dining room and living room both need to be cleaned before we put on the show at lunchtime. And I have to get up at the ass-crack of Thursday to wrestle with a cold, wet, naked turkey. Oh joy. Happy Thanksgiving everyone (all six of you). I will post probably late tomorrow, laden with triptophan or whatever that stuff is in turkey that makes us stupid. Should be a fun post.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Justice

According to those genius-types over at Wiki, Justice is:

Justice is the concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, fairness and equity. A conception of justice is one of the key features of society. Theories of justice vary greatly, but there is evidence that everyday views of justice can be reconciled with patterned moral preferences (Konow, 2003).[1].

Wiki then goes on to explain the origins of a variety of concepts of Justice, dating back to the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. About halfway through the reading, I decided that this was beginning to feel like a marathon of term papers and not a blog, which (at least in my experience) involves prose pulled straight from my posterior. It seemed, well, like homework. Huh. Can't have that. Distributorcap NY can do that research - he writes smart stuff all the time. Here, you get what I think, reality-based or otherwise.

Well, it turns out that there are lots of kinds of justice. Like the kind that says that justice means fairness and that everyone is treated the same. Then there is the one that says that justice is a natural law (think John Locke). Hobbes argued that justice was law that was imposed by an authority, and in an article called The Theory of Justice, John Rawls argued "you'll never find (bum bum ba bum) as long as you live, (bum bum bum) someone who loves you (bum!) like I dooooooo....." Oh wait, that's Lou Rawls. Damn. Thought this might be going somewhere fun. John Rawls said something about justice being a social contract that allowed for an impartial distribution of goods. See why I liked Lou better?

My favorite definition comes under the meritocratic version of justice and is attributed to Karl Marx: "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Wiki says: "According to contribution-based theories, goods should be distributed to match an individual's contribution to the overall social good."

Now that makes sense to me. To me, justice is about fairness. It is about people who work hard should get rewards and people who slack should freeze outside with the grasshopper while the ants are warm and fed.

Justice seems almost like it is about karma. And natural consequences for our actions. Be nice to people and people will be nice to you. Help others and others will help you. Be a raging shit to others, and they'll probably return the favor. We can only hope something awful is headed toward Crawford, Texas for the next eight years.

Ah, but that is retribution. Is retribution justice or is it revenge? Revenge does not seem like it is terribly just, merely punitive.

Justice, somehow seems like it should not be dealt out by a human hand. It ought to be handed down by nature or the market or fate or whatever god one cares to believe in. On the other hand, I grew up hearing "God's gonna get you for that!" Again, it sounds punitive, not to mention petty.

I guess justice would be for a bad person to understand just what kind of damage they have done sometime before they die (remember, I am not an adherent to the concept or belief in an afterlife. What you get here is what you get.) I would like to know that just once, Dubya will comprehend the grave errors he has made and the lives he has ruined. I would like to know that Alan Greenspan feels guilty, if only for a moment, before he dies.

Justice eludes me sometimes. I would have liked to see my own version of justice for Ronald Reagan, whom I hold personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of my peers from AIDS. My own version of justice would have been for him to linger for another 20 years, coherent for seconds each day, during which time he is nursed and cared for by gay male nurses. Who treat him well. And for those 30-second bursts of lucidity each day, he feels absolutely horrible. I have often said "Dig him up, I'll kick him! I'm not done with that bastard yet!" And it is true. I saw a T-shirt once in Washington, DC. It said "all I want is a cure and all my friends back." Yeah. Justice missed the boat there as far as I can tell.

Who knows, though. He may have had some kind of moment of enlightenment and remorse before he died. It gives me some small comfort to consider it.

But that is the kind of justice that is punitive, and probably not entirely just. I'd like to think that justice is like that of Solomon - wise but merciful.

But nowhere in the descriptions and articles that I read did I see anything about mercy. Is justice its own thing devoid of mercy? Somehow that does not seem right. Justice, I guess is a combination of the golden rule, the old testament and the new testament all rolled into one. Reward for effort, punishment for crimes, and leniency for humanity.

I am glad I am not in charge of meting out justice. I fear I would be too heavy-handed with the retribution part and not kind enough with the dispensation of mercy. I am glad also that whatever powers that do mete out justice thus far have seemed to spare me much of the retribution I have probably earned while doling out some extra credits in the mercy department. Perhaps that is what justice is after all? That those who feel remorse are shown mercy, and those who are unable to recognize their own errors and thus feel remorse, well, I don't know what happens to them.

I thought I knew where I was going with this one when I started and all I have managed to do is talk myself in circles and get lost. So much for research.

Perhaps my conclusion here should be that a definition of justice, much like the concept itself, is elusive.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hope

We're down to even numbers now of deadly sins and virtues. I shall discuss a virtue today, and another tomorrow so that I can end on a sin (Lust). I have a special surprise topic for one of the days between here and December, to make up the additional day.

Here's what wiki says about hope:

Hope
Hope is a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life. Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. [1] To hope is to wish for something with the expectation of the wish being fulfilled, a key condition in unrequited love. [2] Hopefulness is somewhat different from optimism in that hope is an emotional state, whereas optimism is a conclusion reached through a deliberate thought pattern that leads to a positive attitude.
When used in a religious context, hope carries a connotation of being aware of spiritual truth; see Hope (virtue). In Christian theology, hope is one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity), which are spiritual gifts of God. In contrast to the above, it is not a physical emotion but a spiritual grace. Hope is distinct from positive thinking, which refers to a therapeutic or systematic process used in psychology for reversing pessimism. The term false hope refers to a hope based entirely around a fantasy or an extremely unlikely outcome.

Have I mentioned that I absolutely love wikipedia?? No kidding. Based mostly in fact, but always with the risk that something there was pulled straight out of someone's ass. Sort of like my life. Based mostly in fact, but sometimes this stuff just comes straight out of my ass.

So, today we look at hope. We've heard a lot about hope lately. Lots and lots about hope. I find it interesting that while hope is a virtue, there does not appear to be a corresponding deadly sin. To me, the opposite of hope is fear, so I guess that doesn't really count as a sin. Or maybe doubt. Or lack of faith. I dunno. Worth pondering, I think.

So hope. Hope is what gets little children to say their prayers on Christmas Eve, both to thank god for baby Jesus, and to put in a final request of the guy in the red suit. Hope is what makes cancer patients keep on with the chemo and the radiation and everything else when the odds are longer than long.

Hope is what kept the Red Sox going for 86 years until that magical October in 2004.

I guess I like best the version of Hope that says that it is one of the three theological virtues and a gift from god. I like that idea a lot.

I'm not a big god-talker kind of person. I am nobody's authority on god or God or Jesus or Allah or Isis or the bible, the Koran or the book of kells. I am just a person going through life, seeking growth and serenity where I find them and where I am. I believe that the entity that so many organized religions call God is everywhere among and around us and that we need not travel to the ends of the earth to be with the divine. I believe that the divine lives within each of us and in the world around us.

So it makes perfect sense for hope to be a gift from the divine. Hope is present when I watch the sun come up in the morning. It streams through the kitchen window and warms my face and blinds my eyes and reminds me that there are more important things than typing on my computer. Like enjoying the new day. Like taking time to be glad for the opportunity it offers and for all that might happen wonderful before it is done.

Hope is wonderful stuff. It doesn't make any sense sometimes, but we still hang on to it. Some days it is all that I have that makes me get out of bed. I have hope that something good will happen. That something will break my way and things will turn around. Being broke all the time gets tiring. It seems like I can never do more than tread water. About the time I get a nice check from a job, my truck needs fixing or the furnace needs oil. There never seems to be any to sock away, only just enough to get by. But I have hope that we'll be OK, that we'll get through, that I'll get enough work to keep us sheltered and fed and warm for the winter. I have hope that I'll figure out this tile job thing tomorrow and that all of the little tiles will line up like they're supposed to and drain properly.

I have hope that my truck won't cost zillions of dollars to fix and I have hope that it will be ready tomorrow afternoon.

Saying it like this makes hope seem a lot like faith, but somehow they are different. I am not sure I have the words this evening to differentiate between the two, but they are different, at least in my mind's eye. I can have faith in something, and I can have hope. I guess faith is more like trust, and hope is more of a gamble, a longer shot, if you will.

I have faith in President elect Barack Obama's abilities, skills and talents. I hope he'll be able to accomplish what needs doing in America in the next few years. See the difference? One is more tangible than the other.

It is the best I can do for tonight. I am tired and tomorrow will be a long day. Good night all.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pride

Pride is a difficult concept for me.

Pride can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon how it is applied. I am proud to be of Irish heritage, I am proud to be a woman, I am proud to be a lesbian, I am proud to be a writer, and I am proud to be a tradeswoman.

I have marched in Gay Pride parades and Irish Pride (St. Pat's) parades and enjoyed them both. I have participated in conferences and panel discussions for women in the trades and I have volunteered and served on gay pride committees in two different states. In one state I had a great time, in the other I turned out to be very unpopular and got tossed off the committee in a most undignified fashion. The trades stuff has always been a positive thing for me.

Pride is considered to be one of the seen deadly sins, a thing that can result in a soul's eternal damnation. I guess I can see that. That committee experience was pretty awful.

Pride is arrogance and ego at work. Pride in its sinful form is an attitude that says "kiss my ring." I have little use for people who feel they are better than me, or better than others. But I know that I sometimes behave that way. I hold myself above others, and I really have no business doing that. I judge others and find them lacking, and fancy myself better than they. That is not right, nor is it healthy for my soul.

I like to think that I am better at this or that than others. I like to think I am smarter, funnier, more clever, and any other number of good things. More humble somehow never makes that list. Imagine.

This past week I had a really great experience. I ran into a friend last Saturday at a community supper. Turns out he had lots of experience putting in windows in houses. Imagine that. The windows for this big project I am working on had just been delivered and needed to be put in, but I had never worked with anything this large before and I needed help. I acknowledged that I was in over my head a bit on this project, and the guy agreed to help. I paid him more than I usually pay people, but he is a journeyman carpenter with lots of experience and knowledge that I needed. His ability and knowledge was worth every dollar.

Here are some pictures of what we did:

First, from the outside:


Then a couple of the inside:





And a detail of the shims and nails along the top of one of the fixed windows:



Am I proud of what we did? You betcha. The windows are plumb, square, level and weatherproofed. And I learned a ton. John was a patient teacher and a perfectionist in his craft, and I am extremely grateful. I learned how to do it the right way, not the meatball way that some contractors do when it is cold and they'd rather be inside doing something not so cold and nasty.

That kind of pride seems to be healthy to me. It is good to be pleased with a job well done. I cannot believe that is sinful, I just cannot. It would be sinful if I tried to take all the credit, for that would be dishonest. It would be sinful to claim that our work was/is better than any other team of contractors on the island, for that would be dishonest as well. We did honest work, we did good quality work, and I would be pleased to have it in my own home. We can be proud of that, and I think we are.

I don't have a problem with that kind of pride, for it is pride in honest effort. It is not false pride, it is not self-inflation at someone else's expense. And it began with me getting humble and asking for help. I did not do this job on my own brilliance and superhuman strength. I did this job by asking for help and then accepting it. I had to accept that I was not the expert, I was not the master craftswoman. I was the novice here, and there was no shame in admitting that. Nor was there shame in asking for help. That was humility, something I wrote about earlier this month. And it was healthy.

Humility is healthy, and sometimes, so is pride. It shows self-respect and self-worth. When it becomes perverted by power and ego, it becomes sinful. But this week, with this job, I am proud of what I have learned, what I have accomplished, and of how I went about it. And I'm really OK with that.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Envy

This is going to be fun. The "V" key on my computer is being finicky. Please bear with me.

Wikipedia has this to say about envy:

Envy (also called invidiousness) may be defined as an emotion that "occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it."[1] It can also derive from a sense of low self-esteem that results from an upward social comparison threatening a person's self image: another person has something that the envier considers to be important to have. If the other person is perceived to be similar to the envier, the aroused envy will be particularly intense, because it signals to the envier that it just as well could have been him or her who had the desired object.[2][3]

Bertrand Russell said envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness.[4] It is a universal and most unfortunate aspect of human nature because not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but also wishes to inflict misfortune on others. Although envy is generally seen as something negative, also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy and must be endured in order to achieve a more just social system.[5]

Hmm. I think envy could be considered to be one of the most potent causes of unhappiness, but I think it is rooted in something deeper - personal insecurity.

Envy is when I want something that someone else has - the bible calls it "coveting" while others would be more base and say "lusting after" something.

I think envy is not just wanting what someone else has, whether it be material possessions or talent or skill or opportunity or whatever. I think envy is when I compare how I feel on the inside to how others appear to me on their outsides.

Others have more money than me, that is true, but it comes at a price I am not sure I am willing to pay. I never have to doubt whether my friends are my friends because they like me or because I have something they want. I'm broke. If you're my friend, it's because you like me.

Others have more ability or talent than I do in some areas. To feel insecure about that is just silly. I cannot play a musical instrument, and I would like to, but others tell me that they wish they could build things or they could cook like I do. That is the nature of the world. As my aunt says, "We all have our gifts." It is true. I have gifts that some do not. Others have gifts that I do not have. Would it be cool to be able to play the piano or the guitar or the bassoon? Sure, but I've got plenty to do with the skills I have now. I don't have time to do half the stuff I'd like to do. I'd like to play golf and I'd like to hike and I'd like to write more and take more pictures and cook more and all kinds of things, but there are only 24 hours in a day and there is only so much of me to go around. I'd like to understand internal combustion engines, though. That would be wicked handy.

I get envious sometimes when I see others who seem to have an easier time of life than I do, but I must temper that envy. Yes, I know people who have a more "comfortable" lifestyle than I, but it carries a very high price. I know a family that has some money - real money, of the very old and inherited kind - and I can't think of a member anywhere in that mix who does not bear the scars of deep dysfunction. Some are still very ill and do damage to those around them. My family isn't the greatest, but our little unit is relatively healthy and happy, all things considered. I go to meetings, as do some members of my family. We try hard not to hurt each other, we do our very best to be honest and work hard and be real.

Envy I think is a polite package for the unpleasant concept of personal insecurity. I think jealousy is closely linked - closer than cousins, definitely siblings, perhaps even a fraternal twin. It all boils down to a fear of loss - losing face, losing worth, losing dignity, losing self-worth. Envy and jealousy are about insecurity, and the closer I am to a healthy spiritual state, the less that stuff hangs around.

Yeah, there are people who have more things than me, but I have knowledge and understanding that can only be achieved by living what I have lived. No money can buy what I know and what I feel. Blessed be.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Whoopsie! Forgot to sin!

It seems I have been falling behind on my discussion of the Seven Deadly Sins. I have written pieces about four of the Seven Virtues, but have only addressed two of the seven deadly sins, and neither was particularly exciting. I suppose I had to start somewhere, but talk about starting things out with a whimper. Bleah.

Well, at least gluttony and sloth are out of the way. That leaves Lust, Greed, Wrath, Envy, and Pride. Lust I have already decided to save for last. Gotta have desert after all this work, you know.

I guess there is some part of me that is amazed that I found it easier to write about virtues than sins. I guess I really am getting old. Or maybe just dull.

So I have to pick a sin for today. I think I shall address wrath. It is a delightful word that rolls off the tongue in an almost obscene way. Wrath. It sounds like a word Tim Curry would use to indicate something quite nasty indeed. Something that would hurt.

Mirriam-Webster online says this:

Wrath
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English wrǣththo, from wrāth wroth — more at wroth
Date: before 12th century

1 : strong vengeful anger or indignation
2 : retributory punishment for an offense or a crime : divine chastisement

Wiki just gave a definition of anger when I typed in "wrath" but I think they are really two different things. They are related, like cousins, or siblings even, but not really twins.

Wrath is what I unleash on some poor unsuspecting slob in the customer service office of any of a number of stores where I don't feel like I got good service. Wrath is not just anger, it is anger and punishment for some wrong, real or perceived. Like that poor schmoe at Lowe's when I found out that my windows were going to be delayed by a month. I lit into him in no uncertain terms. As we say here in New England, I laid him out to whaleshit. Poor guy. It wasn't his fault that my windows got delayed. But wrath is what he got a face full of.

Wrath is what I got when my father was mad at whatever he got mad at when I was a kid. Sometimes it was me, sometimes it was work, sometimes it was just life. But I got the anger that came out sideways and slapped hard. I got his wrath. In that instance I define wrath as the behavioral expression of anger and frustration that may or may not be related to the intended target.

Wrath is what happens when I am angry and I act out on that anger. I do not act out in a physical way, but I do act out verbally, and if my verbal confrontation is in person, I can be a very intimidating physical presence. I can turn red, I can swagger, I can lean in and shout. I can be quite intimidating if I so desire. If distance and time separate me from the object of my wrath, I am able to vent that anger and bile through the written word. I have a black belt in verbal nastiness and biting sarcasm put to page. But if you're reading this, you probably already know that.

Wrath is something I would do well to avoid, and I can see why it is considered to be a deadly sin. It is so utterly delicious to verbally flay someone. In the 1980s sitcom "Designing Women," Dixie Carter's Julia Sugarbaker had at least one scene per episode where she verbally handed someone, usually an uppity, arrogant, nasty, mean, bully, his or her kidneys on a plate. She was the queen of the verbal smack-down, and she always got the applause line from it.

We all like to see someone get their come-uppance, true. But who am I to judge that person X deserves to get it or that I am entitled to deliver it? That's a bit presumptuous, isn't it?

Of course on the other side of that coin is Audre Lourde, who said "your silence will not protect you." So do I sit silent while I am treated poorly? Well, no. I guess the thing to do would be to develop some manners and make my case politely and without so many fireworks.

I know there are people who like to see me get wound up and rip things (and people) apart. I suppose that is amusing, unless you're the one presently at the end of the buzz saw, then it's not so much fun at all.

I can work on wrath, I suppose. And by that I mean not working on it like getting better at it, sharpening my sword, if you will, but more like tempering my wrath to leave fewer people in pieces when I am finished expressing my displeasure. I cannot imagine it is easy or fun to be on the receiving end of one of my tirades. I shall try to work on that. Please remind me when I need it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sloth

I have to say that of the seven deadly sins, sloth sounds like about the least lethal.

Lust? Well, there's oodles of danger there. Pride? Depending on how proud you are and about what, that's setting yourself up for a fall. Envy? Well, everyone gets it now and again, but some people can really let it eat away at their guts. Gluttony is deadly, but it can certainly be argued that death could come by more miserable methods. Greed, well, Mom always said there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and besides, nobody wants to hang out with someone who won't share. Wrath? Well, that sounds a lot like fighting to begin with, so that just sounds dangerous.

But sloth? That's a stupid, sleepy mammal that hangs from trees. No, a sloth doesn't do much, but he hardly seems the likely candidate to represent something called a deadly sin. A prolonged nap, maybe, but a deadly sin? Nah.

Yet the wise people who made the list of such things thought sloth important and deadly enough to include it. Go figure. Probably those hard-working Protestant types who found work its own reward and who never had any fun at all.

To be fair, sloth is not a great thing. Laziness is not good for society in large doses, and there are few things more frustrating than someone who does not care to do anything worthwhile. I guess for me that is where the line is when a person crosses from resting and enjoying it, or even avoiding work because it happens to suck, and actual sloth: when the person refuses to care.

To me, the sinful kind of sloth is when people don't give a shit about the election, sit back and do nothing to learn anything and then don't vote. Letting the rest of the country do the heavy lifting of democracy while sitting back collecting the disability check every month. That's sloth.

Sloth is having an opportunity to gain something valuable in the way of training or education, but turning it down because it's boring or it might be hard work. Fine, then, die dumb. It's you're right. That's sloth to me.

Sloth to me is to have recommendations and referrals made on a person's behalf and then have that person not even apply for a job. That stuff makes me crazy.

It is the not caring, I think, that gets me. That is the difference between simple laziness and actual sloth: the not caring. Like the difference between ignorance and stupidity: Ignorance is not knowing a thing, stupidity is refusal to learn.

I suppose this makes me judgmental, and I guess I can get over that. I get very frustrated when others throw away opportunities that so many never have a shot at. I get frustrated to see people discard information without a thought because it might use up time that could be better spent watching NASCAR or deer hunting. Now don't get me wrong, I understand that NASCAR is America's most popular spectator sport. But honestly I have yet to see the allure of driving for hours around what to me looks like nothing more than a very large rotary without a speed limit. And deer hunting can be a real art. There is a lot of science and learning to be done to get good at it. The stuff I allude to here is the beer-drinking, card-playing variety of deer hunting. The kind that involves a camp and ever unpacking your rifle.

Tired and grumpy tonight. The cold and my sore back canceled work this morning, so tomorrow we have to get the windows in no matter how cold it is. Gonna snow here Saturday, I'm hearing. Gaaah. I am so not ready for that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Restraint/temperance

Back to the seven virtues today. I'll try a sin tomorrow. If I have the energy.

According to wikki, restraint is:

Restraint may refer to:

* Physical restraint, the practice of rendering people helpless or keeping them in captivity by means such as handcuffs, ropes, straps, etc.
o Medical restraint, a subset of general physical restraint used for medical purposes
* Restraint (2008 film), an Australian thriller directed by David Deenan
* Safety harness
* The use of any type of brake etc. to slow down or stop any moving machine or vehicle


Huh. Perhaps I will be addressing sin today after all. But seriously. To me, restraint means putting the brakes on or holding back from something as opposed to being tied up and restrained. That's bondage, and a very different post. Very different indeed. (For the record, I'm saving Lust for the last post in this series. I may set aside a whole day to write.)

Temperance is always a delightful word. It brings to mind that most intemperate advocate of temperance, Carrie Nation.

Carrie opposed alcohol so vehemently that she was known to attack saloons and bars with her hatchet. Somehow, temperance to me has always meant restraint, moderation, refraining from over-indulgence, that kind of thing.

So I can either discuss restraint/temperance a la Carrie Nation and handcuffs, or I can discuss what might be a more appropriate variation, something along the lines of patience and self-control.

As an alcoholic, even of the recovering variety, I don't have a lot of experience or expertise with that whole self-control thing. If I did, I probably would not have ended up at all those 12-step meetings. Anything worth doing is worth over-doing, I say. Yeah. So much for self-control.

But patience is something else, some how. I am more patient now than I was a few years ago, and much more patient than I was as a young woman. I got impatient today at work when the guy I was working with did not read my mind and respond immediately and in an appropriate fashion. The fact that I was not communicating clearly had nothing to do with the misunderstanding, I am sure. Ahem.

So we were putting in these windows. And it was cold. Like between 30 and 32 degrees Farenheit. And it was windy. Gusty, even. The wind chill had to be down into the teens, and both John and I were chilled. He had it worse than me, though. I was inside the new sun porch, which although unheated, is still sheltered from the wind. Poor John was perched outside on a New England staging rig - namely a plank laid between two stepladders. Yeah. Poor guy was frozen before we got started. The wind was howling, our noses were running, I was trying to grip the window from the inside with not much to grab and John was trying to hold it in the opening from the outside, but every gust of wind tried to flop the thing out into the yard on top of him. Remember that these windows are five feet tall, nearly four feet wide and they weigh a ton. I wrenched my back yesterday when we were carrying them from the driveway to the sun porch. So John's on the staging, battling with these windows and the wind. I'm inside fiddling with shims and levels and making sure the thing is centered in the rough opening. At one point, he bent down to pick up his level and the window started to tip out from the top. I yelled and he jumped and all was saved, but I was scared and angry all at once. "Pay attention!" I barked. Poor guy. Out there freezing his nuts off in a gale and I'm yelling for him to pay attention. "Patience, patience" he intoned with relative calm from the other side of the plate glass. "I've got it."

I had to take a few breaths. Yes, he had it. Yes, he has a lot more experience with this than I do. Yes, I asked him to take the lead and he was, even if I sometimes seem to want to take it back. Patience. It is almost like trust. Trust that the world does not have to operate on my schedule. Trust that things will come out OK without my supervision. Have patience and let things evolve in their own time.

The virtues are tricky things, requiring work and effort and practice. I suppose the sins require those things as well, but somehow it does not seem like quite so much work is required to master them.

I suppose the best way to learn patience is to get through lots of situations that teach patience, and frankly, that does not sound like a lot of fun. I pray that I may put aside my own wants and desires and expectations and allow things to happen naturally. That is the essence of patience as far as I can tell.

Tomorrow we try discussing one of the seven deadly sins. In the meantime, we practice restraint and temperance.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Still tired but making progress




Here are the first two windows on the project. It is really cold and the work is fussy and hard, but the results are worth it. I'll be glad when all eight are in (four of each kind) and I can turn on the space heater and not freeze any more. The clapboards and trim are going to be a treat, though. Brr.

Too tired to post more than this today. Still eligible for NaBloPoMo fame though. If I'm posting this tired and cold, I better win some kind of prize. Sheesh.

Monday, November 17, 2008

too tired

Nothing wears a body out like working outdoors on a cold November afternoon. On the bright side, the windows in the sunporch project begin the installation process tomorrow. On the downside, it is supposed to be bitter cold.

I worked at two jobs today, was filthy from head to foot by the time I had lunch at 10 a.m. and came home to make a nice pot of chili for Monday night football. Well fed, showered and with a warm puppy on my chest, I snoozed on the couch. Now I am headed to bed. This is my NaBloPoMo post for today. Anyone doesn't like it can write their own and leave me be. G'nite.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Coda


Daphne Crocker at her 60th birthday party last June

Daphne Crocker died this morning at around 8:30 a.m. after a long but dignified battle with pancreatic cancer. She was a remarkable soul.

Daphne lived with a disability of some sort - perhaps cerebral palsy - I cannot be sure what it was, but she paid it very little heed. Some things she could do like other people, some she could not, but there was no whining or complaining, just an acceptance that everyone has different levels of ability and moving on to the next thing.

I met Daphne a couple years ago at a peace demonstration in Ellsworth. It was cold and people were honking their support, but we managed to exchange a few pleasantries. We met again later for coffee or lunch, I cannot remember which, and we chatted. She was a remarkably smart woman with enormous patience and a forgiving nature. She loved the opera with a passion that baffled me. The music was what she enjoyed, she told me, not so much the singing. Daphne used hearing aids, so hearing the arias was difficult for her, but the soaring music in all of its dramatic complexity inspired her to near breathlessness. I confessed to her once that my enjoyment of Wagner's Flight of the Valkyries was due entirely to my childhood exposure to Warner Brothers' cartoons and the cross-dressing skit involving Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny. To this day, I can only hear Elmer Fudd's voice bleating "Killed the Waaaaaaabbbbittt! I killed the waaaaabbbbbiiiiiiiittt!" She seemed amused, if a little horrified at the blasphemy. I still like Wagner better than the others though. At least being screamed at in German does not hurt my ears as much as being screamed at in Italian.

Daphne was diagnosed with her cancer over a year ago, and when the chemotherapy made her feel so awful and radiation didn't seem to be an option, she made some very difficult and very educated decisions about how she planned to spend the rest of her days. She had to cut back on some things because her energy gradually faded, but she still kept an active social schedule at her home on Hancock Point and a steady stream of visitors came and went wishing her well.

In July, she attended two days' worth of events I coordinated for Maine Gay Net members and their friends. Daphne had been a member of gaynet nearly since its inception and like many members had e-mailed lots of people but had never met them in person. She was delighted to meet so many and had a marvelous time at the ice cream social and at the picnic. Here's a picture of her with Quinn the wonder dog. I think they look grand together.



Daphne's health really began to fade after Labor Day this year. She was very weak and found talking on the phone to be tiresome. Friends and caregivers read to her, but she stopped responding to e-mails eventually because they became too much. Last week, she made the decision to stop eating. It gave her no pleasure and only seemed to cause her nausea. She knew what she was doing and made her choice clearly and with purpose. She was ready to go, even if not all of us were ready to let her go.

We on gaynet got the news today and we have been responding in our usual variety of ways. I don't know for sure, but I think this is the first time we've had a death of a very active member on our list, and it is hitting each of us differently. Yesterday, L and I went to a memorial service for another member, Jim Higgins. Jim was active with gaynet, but not to the extent that Daphne depended upon the list to serve as part of her social support system. Still, it was a sad weekend. And a sad weekend for the world of music. Jim was a passionate musician and very active in a variety of bands and societies devoted to the performance and enjoyment of music.

A sad quiet has settled over this section of Maine. It will lift in a while, but for now, it is a mourning sound. Blessed be.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Frazzled.

OK, so I am presently working on three jobs. Well, actually I am sitting in my pajamas at the kitchen table, but you get what I mean. I have three jobs in progress right now.

I have the big sunporch job - very cool.
I have the world's smallest tiled shower stall - cramped, but still cool.
I have the landscaping-keep-the-hill-from-falling-down job - promises to be cool, but could be just cold and miserable.

So the windows came in on the big job, and I'm a little nervous about putting them in, but tonight I talked with a friend of mine who is a carpenter with much more experience than me and he has agreed to come help. His knowledge alone is worth all that I will pay him.

The tiled bathroom has to come first, though. I have it partway done and I need to get it finished so I can go do the windows without interruption. The landscaping job can wait. The kicker is I really want to have the tile and sunporch jobs done by the end of the month. After all, how much landscaping does a girl really want to do in Maine in December? Not a lot, I can assure you.

My issue is my own lack of organization when it comes to paperwork. That and my menopausal memory is at the whim and mercy of my hormones, which seem to be doing funky-ass things this week. Night sweats three nights out of five this week. Some the week before as well. I forget nouns. Easy nouns. Like sandwich. Or people I know. yeah. frustrating as hell. So I've got paperwork strewn from one end of the house to the other in no particular order, with sketches and phone numbers and ideas and grocery lists and all kinds of crap mixed in.

And the sad truth is that tomorrow, I have to organize it. We need to clean in advance of Thanksgiving anyway, so tomorrow we're going to bite the bullet and clean the kitchen and dining rooms. Maybe I'll take pictures, it depends on my mood. We've made a pact. We can have football on in the other room so we can listen, but our work will be out here. I have a sinking feeling that this is going to involve large trash barrels and lots and lots of file folders. Bleah.

No great topics tonight. Perhaps after cleaning tomorrow I will be inspired.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Love

I am at an awful point with this list of virtues and sins. The ones remaining look HUGE. Like something for a senior thesis paper, not a blog entry I can sit down and pull out of my ass after supper is over but before I go to bed. (Which is generally how these things work.) Sometimes I write between bites of Ben & Jerry's. Those are happy posts.

So today I was working on the smallest bathroom shower stall this side of a motor home and thinking about all of the pictures I'd like to post and how I can talk about how I nearly burned some very important bits when the molten solder dripped and splattered all over my lap and how this is going to be a really kick-ass shower stall so long as the person using it is in the sixth grade or else is anorexic. So anyway, I was thinking all of this today at work, then I got home and took my shower. I put on my flannel PJs, made supper and checked my e-mail. And then I held Quinn for a little while. She's a very small dog. Really, she's about the smallest pet I have ever had, except maybe my gerbil when I was a kid. But she's about the same color as the gerbil.

Quinn is a Miniature Pincher. She weighs between 8 and 9.5 pounds, depending on her opinion of the kibble dujour and how much chasing of the cat she has been doing. I can hold her with one hand tucked under her bottom. She leans against my chest and allows herself to droop down so her front paws and chin rest in the crook of my elbow.

So she was doing this droop and rest thing tonight while I was holding her, so I decided to droop and rest myself to see how I liked it. Now I know why she does it. I sat down on the couch, appropriately drooped and slouched so that I was nearly horizontal, with my head resting against the back of the couch, my butt nearly at the edge of the seat cushion, and a little dog curled contentedly on my chest/lap.

She was warm, I noted with some degree of pleasure. Warm and snoozy. I smiled. Quinn must have had a happy thought just then, too, because she took a deep breath and then made a big sigh and some very contented Wookie-sounding grunty noises that drifted off until I was sure she must have been out of air. She was, and would inhale again, but at a more normal pace for a sleeping dog.

She periodically made these kinds of declarations for the next half hour. She would lift her head, sniff my nose to see if it had suddenly become a cheeseburger while she was asleep and might now be good to eat, look around, take another deep breath and do the sigh/grunty/happy Wookie noises again.

Love is a strange thing. We humans love each other in this world, sometimes with fiery passion, sometimes with the deep warmth of many decades spent together. We talk about love all the time, and vast amounts of money are spent each year in search of love - over the internet, on the telephone, and through the buying and selling of bazillions of consumer products.

But nothing compares to the love of a puppy. Now technically, Quinn is not still a puppy. She will be two in March, so she's full grown, she's already had a litter of pups back when she was in the puppy mill, she's been fixed and she's seen plenty in this world to qualify her as an adult. But when she curls up on my chest and I can feel her breath on my face and sometimes I can even feel the beat of her heart, it is the truest, most pure kind of love I have ever known. Contentment, secure, and loved, she is happy to snooze on my body for as long as my back will allow the pose (in this case about a half hour). On a Sunday afternoon watching football, she can spend the better part of three consecutive games curled up on either L or me, snoozing contentedly.

Minpins are social dogs who are happiest when they are close by (on top of) their people. Some of what she exhibits I know is related to her breeding. But you know what? I don't care. When she curls up on me and tucks her nose in under my chin and gives a big sigh, the world can go jump off a cliff for all I care. My and my dog, we're not moving.

I do not know if I have ever loved someone the way Quinn seems to love us. Perhaps when I was a child. I loved my family members because the loved me and kept me safe and provided for me and played with me. I suppose Quinn loves us like that.

I can only imagine what parents feel when a baby falls asleep on them. I do not think I could bear such a thing. I would explode. I can hardly handle the puppy. I have heard reports from grandparents that the next generation is even better to hold. That might have something to do with the decreased amount of work related to said child with the advanced generational status, but never mind.

There is so much wrapped up in this kind of love - love and caring and protecting and needing and missing when we're gone and glad to see us home and I want to be with you all the time, and I want to be tucked inside your jacket so I can poke my front half all the way down the sleeve. It's an odd thing, puppy love, but I'll take it. It has a gentleness and an enthusiasm like no other. L and I love each other, and we are often gentle and enthusiastic, and we are often silly and we often snuggle and cuddle. We're both too big for crawling on laps and tucking into jacket sleeves, but there are times when we have both expressed the desire to be that close to one another. We are deeply in love, and it is wonderful. Quinn is another matter entirely. I think she might be very much like having a child around. When she wakes up and bounces around the bed, it can only be described as the Saturday morning experience of our friends with children. There is a lot of bouncing and giggling and demands for breakfast and can we go out and play. The joy is enormous.

I don't know how to describe love except to say that it makes my heart feel full. I am no expert on love or relationships or anything else. But when Quinn tucks her nose under my chin and sighs, I know what love is about.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Faith

Faith, by its very definition, is hard to pin down. It is the belief that something is predictable, even if there is not conclusive proof of that likelihood.

Faith is not believing that the sun will rise tomorrow. That's pretty much a scientific gimme.

Psychologists refer to it as object permanence when the brain knows that a thing exists even after it is out of sight. Babies don't develop it for a while, which is why peek-a-boo is such a popular game. Like a goldfish circling in a bowl, every time through is a new experience. To know that the sun is shining even in the nighttime is not faith, it is object permanence.

Faith is more often used to explain a belief in the existence of a supernatural being, or a deity. People have faith in God, some have faith in more than one. I grew up Catholic, so we had faith in God, but spoke often to the saints so as not to bother the boss with our more mundane problems. Big stuff, like births and deaths and scary accidents and sicknesses, those merited a direct appeal to God. Lost car keys? St. Anthony can handle that.

I wonder how much of what we call our faith is really nothing more than an adult's Christmas list. Please God, let me get this job. Please God, save my marriage. Please God, let me win the lottery.

We bargain with God, too, which makes me think we don't have a lot of faith if we have to try to bribe him with our promised good behavior. Please let me get this one thing and I promise I'll go to church every Sunday. Please God, let me live through this and I will devote my life to charitable acts. Please God, let me make it home alive and I promise I'll never drink again.

What use has God for these paltry offerings? Faith is not rewarded based on the barter system. Faith is rewarded by life, and sometimes the strength to get through it.

Faith is its own reward, sometimes. I have faith in a power greater than myself, although I no longer adhere to the old white guy with a beard persona issued to me in my Sunday School lesson books. For a crowd that fought so hard against pagans and witches and such, they sure pictured their version of the deity as looking a lot like Merlin from the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table stories. Just sayin'.

My version of my higher power is pretty personal and yet universal. I believe there is a power for good in the universe, and that it might be the universe itself. I believe in the power of this beautiful planet to heal itself of our insults and damages. I believe in the magnetic pull of the poles, of the ebb and flow of the tides and the changing of the seasons. I believe that rain falls down and it is good. Rain falling up would be problematic.

I believe that the more in tune I am with the heartbeat of the planet, the more at ease I am as I go through my day. I live where I see the ocean every day, and I treasure that. I hope to never live far from salt water again. The salt of the ocean is the same as the salt in my tears and in my blood. There is a balance, and when I do not try to fight it, when I do not try to bend the world to my will, but work with the natural flow of things, I can get much more accomplished.

Some say that God created this world for us, but I am more inclined to think that we were created for this world. We were created to learn and study and love and explore this great living orb. We were created to enjoy it but to preserve and care for it, too. Only I think we got that screwed up. We have become that rare creature that soils its own nest. We have work to do, I think.

I have faith in human kindness, in our creativity and our capacity for love and compassion. Some might say that is not a real faith, because I have seen those things exhibited before me with my own eyes. But I think faith comes when I believe that all people are capable of those things. That is not an easy jump. That is universalism at its core - to believe that there is inherent worth and dignity in ALL human beings. Even Hitler. Even Jeffrey Dahmer. Even Karl Rove. Somewhere inside, perhaps buried so deep that it cannot be found, somewhere there is something of value. There is a heart that beats and a childhood memory of happiness and joy. As adults we often spend a great deal of time making ourselves un-loveable, un-reachable, and very much alone. But I do believe that there is some good, and some God, in all of us.

I guess it goes back to what I was talking about earlier - how in tune we are with God's plan, with nature's plan, with the order of the universe that determines how we feel and how we are perceived by those around us.

I am tired now and need to sleep. That is part of the cycle that is life. We have a natural wake/sleep cycle as we have a natural eat/work cycle. The tides go in and out, the sun comes up and goes down, the world spins happily on its axis, secure in its perfection. May I awake tomorrow rested and ready for another day. May I work in harmony with the world instead of trying to run things. May I do God's will with my day as opposed to my own. Blessed be.