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The Narcissists I’m Not Labeling

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Department Of Why You Don’t Want Me To Fill Out Your Survey

Dear, ____ (name of artistic group whose events I patronize),

I know that you-who-sent-moiself-this-survey – or the consultants which convinced you to do so, to justify their services – hope that having me fill out your survey will help you to  “gain insights into the kind of audience” you are attracting, or wish to attract.    [1]

 

 

However, I am slightly annoyed/somewhat mystified by the myriad of (what I consider to be) none-of-your-business/how-does-this-matter? questions.  Checking “prefer not to disclose” was not satisfying, to moiself…then, my annoyance morphed into delight, when I came upon this question in your survey:

Please select any of the following sexual identities/orientations that describe you.

Aromantic
Asexual
Bisexual
Fluid
Gay
Heterosexual or straight
Lesbian
Pansexual
Queer
Questioning or unsure
Prefer not to disclose
Other:

At first glance I thought the first option was “Aromatic.”  Which I decided to disclose to you, under “other.”  I also thought about checking “pansexual” (I have this thing for cast iron skillets)…but…nah.

Anyway, thanks for the entertainment.

 

Are those your grill ridges, or are you just happy to see me?

 

*   *   *

Department Of These Labels Violate My Boundaries

Sometimes moiself  wonders if social media has amplified the tendency we all have toward practicing amateur psychiatry.  We scoff at our social media friend who barks, “Don’t poison your body – do your own research!” and sends us a link to a 15 minute video hosted by a dubiously-credentialed Guy In A Lab Coat®  who spouts conspiracy theories contradicting 15 years of medical research on RNA vaccines.  Then we turn around and employ (and misuse) psychological concepts and diagnoses, such as boundaries and narcissist.

In psychology jargon, boundaries are rules and guidelines we set for *ourselves,* to help us set realistic limits on activities and relationships.  We choose and set these boundaries; thus, it is we who are in charge of enforcing them.  Yet, those   [2]   I hear (or read about) who use the term boundaries emphasize the actions of *other* people – extended family; coworkers; friends and neighbors – whom they accused of ignoring or violating their boundaries.  They forget the crucial point of boundaries (or perhaps never understood it in the first place): boundaries are rules that *they* set for *themselves,* not for others.

 

 

” Yet even as ‘boundaries‘ have taken off, the concept has become misunderstood, joining gaslit and narcissist in the pantheon of misused psychology jargon. When you want someone to do something, throwing in the word boundary can lend the request a patina of therapeutic legitimacy.

When imposed on us, boundaries can feel upsetting. Because many people view happy relationships as problem-free, a request to behave differently can feel like a rejection. Some people—out of trauma or other wounds—interpret a ‘no’ from a loved one as the end of a relationship. But boundaries are supposed to help preserve relationships, not destroy them. ‘People typically believe that boundaries are to control people, and in actuality, they are safeguards for yourself and for peace and comfort in your relationships,’ says the therapist and Drama Free author Nedra Glover Tawwab.”

(  “The Most Misunderstood Concept in Psychology: What are boundaries?”
By Olga Khazan” The Atlantic 8/23 , my emphases )

That article got me to thinking about more misuse/misunderstandings of the other two psychology terms the article mentions – terms that but get diluted with mis- and over-use.

Narcissist.  How many times have y’all heard that term, used as a pejorative and also as an analysis of a difficult spouse/coworker/person/family member, despite the fact that the person being labeled a narcissist has not received a Narcissistic Personality Disorder diagnosis from a mental health professional, nor has ever even visited a counselor?  [3]

” ‘One of the internet’s favorite diagnoses is that someone is a narcissist—which has become shorthand for anyone who appears self-centered or entitled. The term is ‘thrown around so carelessly,’ says Jacquelyn Tenaglia, a licensed mental health counselor based in Boston. ‘I see narcissism being especially misapplied when it’s used to label someone who exhibits qualities that someone might not like.’

While it might feel good to call your frenemy who only talks about herself a narcissist, mental-health experts suggest refraining. Narcissistic personality disorder is a clinical diagnosis….”

( “Gaslighting, Narcissist, and More Psychology Terms You’re Misusing,”
health/psychology, Time.com, )

 

 

And gaslit – I’m hearing that term more and more, to describe the allegedly nefarious actions and/or motivations of someone we don’t trust and/or just don’t like…but, are we really using it correctly?

The term is derived from the 1944 movie,   [4]   GaslightGaslight tells the story of a late 19th century woman who is whirlwind-romanced into marriage, by a man who wants to gain access to her wealthy aunt’s estate, in which, he’s discovered, many valuable jewels are hidden.  The husband tries to convince his wife that their house’s gas lights, which flicker and fade (but only when she is in a room, alone) are not in fact actually dimming, and that she is imagining the sounds she hears coming from the attic. The husband himself is the one behind both the noises and the dimming lights, in a strategy to drive his wife mad and have her institutionalized.

 

 

Someone can treat you poorly, even lie to you, without “gaslighting” you.

“Although in most cases the word serves to expose implicit power dynamics and level the playing field, it can also be used to do the exact opposite. That’s thanks to a process called ‘semantic bleaching,’ where a word’s true meaning gets diluted through imprecise and bad-faith usage…. woke—a word that originally meant ‘socially and politically aware,’ but now can be used to mean ‘sensitive’ and ‘irrational about social and political issues’ because of semantic bleaching by right-leaning media.”

( “Are you using gaslight correctly? ”  The Atlantic, 4-11-22 )

Moiself  highly recommends these articles I’ve cited (and hope I’m not violating any of your boundaries with this suggestion).

*   *   *

Department Of And One More Thing We’re Overusing/Doing Wrong:

Can we please stop referring to people as toxic?

“One of my most important rules as a therapist: Ignore all adjectives. When one of my clients says someone in their life is selfish, or cold, or hot-tempered, it doesn’t tell me much about the problem. Adjectives aren’t facts.

That’s especially true of ‘toxic,’ an adjective that’s become increasingly popular in and outside of my office (it was even the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2018). It’s also easily overused — a way of reframing a difficult relationship as one not worth having.

So, when I have a therapy client who uses ‘toxic’ to describe someone, I don’t ask them to clarify, or to reconsider the word. Instead, I focus on the facts of the challenging situation they’re telling me about….

When you feel anxious around another person, your brain will begin to take emotional shortcuts that usually involve fighting, fleeing, or complaining to others. You quickly label the person as ‘toxic,’ declare their toxicity as the cause of your anxiety, and assume that escaping them will fix your distress…

When one of my clients starts getting into adjective-heavy territory, I redirect them with questions like, ‘What did they do?’…and ‘Where and when did this happen?’ and  ‘How did you respond?’  Notice that none of these questions have the word ‘why.’ This is because ‘why’ usually requires you to guess a person’s motivation, or label them as a certain kind of person….”

(“Why Therapists Avoid Using the Word ‘Toxic’ –
Labeling others can stunt your own growth,”
Forge.medium.com ; my emphases )

 

Hey, I enjoy petty name calling as much as the next guy.  But do I really think the person who annoys me – or even the who has treated me poorly  [5]   for years – has venom running through his veins, and that touching him would set off an anaphylactic or neurological reaction?  Or is it that he does ____, and ____, and ____, and thus I believe it is ultimately unhealthy for me to be around him?

Delineate, please.  Be specific; calling someone toxic tells me nothing, except that you don’t like them.

“Toxins are poisonous substances produced within living cells or organisms and can include various classes of small molecules or proteins that cause disease on contact. The severity and type of diseases caused by toxins can range from minor effects to deadly effects. The organisms which are capable of producing toxins include bacteria, fungi, algae, and plants. Some of the major types of toxins include, but are not limited to, environmental, marine, and microbial toxins. Microbial toxins may include those produced by the microorganisms bacteria (i.e. bacterial toxins) and fungi (i.e. mycotoxins).”
( 14.4A; Toxins, Biology Libre Texts )

 

Is your boss doing any of this?  He may be a brazenly manipulative asshat, but he’s probably not toxic.

 

*   *   *

*   *   *

Department Of Affirmations Gone Astray

Moiself  received yet another solicitation to purchase “anti-aging” products.  The misogyny and (ultimate) futility of the concept behind the term “anti-aging” I have railed articulately commented about, many times, in this space.

 

“Viral on TikTok” and “proven by science” – such a deal!

 

This time I had a minor epiphany as to the appropriateness of the term.  Anti-aging: it is, indeed, anti– aging…which therefore makes it anti-life.  Because if you’re not aging, you’re not alive.  The only people who do not (who cannot) age are dead.

Feeling rather smug, I briefly meditated upon another embrace-the reality-maxim:

Today I am as old as I have ever been,
and, as young as I will ever be.

That didn’t go so well.

 

 

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week    [6]

“I realized early on that it is detailed scientific knowledge which makes certain religious beliefs untenable. A knowledge of the true age of the earth and of the fossil record makes it impossible for any balanced intellect to believe in the literal truth of every part of the Bible in the way that fundamentalists do. And if some of the Bible is manifestly wrong, why should any of the rest of it be accepted automatically? . . .
What could be more foolish than to base one’s entire view of life on ideas that, however plausible at the time, now appear to be quite erroneous?  And what would be more important than to find our true place in the universe by removing one by one these unfortunate vestiges of earlier beliefs?”

 ( my emphases, Francis Crick,   [7]   from his memoir,
What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery )

 

 

*   *   *

May you always identify as the Best-Smelling Orientation;
May you remove unfortunate vestiges of earlier erroneous beliefs;
May you enforce boundaries with the narcissistic gaslighters, real or imagined, in your life;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] I know this because it says so on the survey’s intro.

[2] These folks are not mental-health care professionals.

[3] Oh, but that would be typical of a narcissist, right?

[4] Adapted from the 1938 play of the same name.

[5] Maybe, even gaslit me!

[6] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org

[7]   British physicist and biologist Crick, along with James Watson, Rosalind Franklin, and Maurice Wilkins, helped decipher the structure and replication scheme of DNA, for which he (and others) won the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine.

The Childhood Memoir I’m Not Publishing

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But if moiself  did publish such a book, it would have a chapter titled, “The Girls of Summer.”  Said chapter would be devoted to describing the elaborate role-playing [1]    games my grade school friends and moiself  played, in my backyard and/or garage, during summers, on the three-point-five days a week when we were *not* at the beach.  

The games we played on a regular basis included

* Dracula
(we were – surprise! – vampires, although no one ever played the titular Count.   [2] );

* Haunted House
(we transformed my family’s garage – in which my parents did not park their cars because doing so would have taken away a vital part of our play space – into a haunted castle, wherein we would haunt [read: terrorize] our younger siblings, aka “The Little Kids ®,” who were so desperate to play with us Big Kids ® that they’d do anything we’d say);

* Leopards
(we were a family of leopards, living harsh lives on the African plains and forests)

* Amazonian Women
( explanation forthcoming)

.

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Hitherto Unexplained Connection
Between Barbies And Nuns

First, the Amazonian Women game explained, or at least outlined.

My childhood home’s backyard was a vegetation paradise, particularly during summer.  Our fruit-producing trees and shrubs included a lemon tree, a peach tree, a plum tree, a pomegranate bush, several banana trees,   [3]   and five apricot trees.  A huge, great-for-climbing pine tree of some sort (the sort that produced so much sap my mother kept a jar of Crisco, soley dedicated to sap removel, by the kitchen sink) was behind the garage.  The pine tree provided a good access point to the garage roof, which we kids were technically forbidden to climb onto, due to our (read: *my* ) tendency to play WWII paratrooper and jump off of the roof holding an umbrella.   [4]   Summer night bonus: If you climbed far enough up in the pine tree you could see the halo at Anaheim’s Angel Stadium light up when an Anaheim Angel hit a home run.   The view was definitely worth the sappy hands, arms, elbows, knees….

 

 

The perimeter of our yard’s back and side fences was lined with a variety of shrubbery.  Cascades of bougainvillea flowed up and down and around the backyard fence, and the vines’ vibrant magenta-colored flowers provided the perfect tropical aura for our Amazonian game:  we would drape a garden hose at the top of one of the vines and adjust the hose’s sprayer to the finest mist setting, which provided the proper, lounging-by-the-waterfall atmosphere, and also kept us cool.  You could work up quite a sweat in the summer as an Amazonian warrior, canoeing from island to island, hunting and fishing and gathering tropical fruits, fighting off dangerous wild animals, and planning excursions to either visit or plunder neighboring islands.

Our brothers and other neighborhood boys were welcomed for the tag games    [5]  my girl friends and siblings and I played on balmy summer evenings, but with the exception of having one boy join the Dracula or Haunted house game on a few occasions, the other games were all-female.  There were no literal male occupants of our Amazonian island; there were a never-specified number of men that we’d taken from neighboring islands and whom we kept in captivity.  My friends and I knew enough about mammalian reproduction to know that our species could survive as a single gender, so we kept these imaginary male captives for “breeding purposes” – the ultimate meaning of which was lost on us, but somehow, we knew we had to acknowledge that aspect of our culture.

 

 

My notes for my SoCal girlhood memoir have gathered dust; moiself  hadn’t thought of the Amazonian game in ages, until Monday, when friend CC and I saw the Barbie movie.  During our après-cinema lunch when we were discussing the movie,   [6]  I told CC about the Amazonian game, and how it fit into my theory of why so many girls  (especially those whose girlhoods were 40+ years ago) – girls who would either then or later identify as feminists – liked playing with Barbies, and also sometimes pretended to be nuns.

Hold on to y’alls wimples: it’s the long-awaited for, Barbies-Nuns Connection. ®

 

 

Like all the girls I knew when I was in grade school, my sisters and I were given, and played with, Barbie dolls.  I never received, nor wanted, a Ken doll.   [7]   I did have a few male dolls: I asked for, and received for Christmas one year, a G.I. Joe doll and a Johnny West cowboy doll (which came with a palomino steed, and a plastic vest and chaps and spurs wardrobe for Johnny!).  But as I discovered, a boy’s G.I. Joe was not to be called a doll, but an “action figure.”  You’d best not refer to any of a boy’s male play figurines as what they were – dolls –  lest the boy’s little dingus shrivel up and snap off at the mere suggestion that he played with a kind of toy commonly associated with girls.

Like many most of same girls with whom I played let’s-pretend we’re _____  games, we also played the We Are Nuns games.  This was not a The Sound of Music fantasy thing,    [8]  and with one exception these friends were *not* from Catholic families.  But there was a similar appeal to the world of Barbies, Amazonian island women, and nuns.

It’s not a complicated connection, not in the least.  The appeal was that those worlds (Barbies; Amazons; nuns) were composed solely of females.  Thus, girls got to do *everything.*  This was not the case when we played games with the neighborhood boys.

One of a bajillion examples:  One summer day I agreed to play “The Smith’s Home” (or some other family name) with my younger sister and our next-door neighbor boy.  Next Door Neighbor Boy and I were The Smith Family.  We were a recently married couple, with a dog and a cat and two hamsters and no children.  After we’d discussed the game parameters, NDNB announced that he was leaving our house (a fort we’d built in my backyard) to “go to work.”  I wanted to head out as well, but NDNB boy-splained to me that things didn’t work that way: as the wife, I had to stay home.  When he insisted on taking the family pet, a German Shepard (played by my sister), to work with him, I in turn explained to him that things didn’t work that way.  Husbands do not take the family pets with them to work – name one husband in the neighborhood who does that?!  And that was the end of The Smith Family game.

Now then: NDNB was a nice boy, of whom I was genuinely fond re his gentle disposition and kind heart.  But he, like the other neighborhood boys and the brothers (whether older or younger) of my friends, always tried to take over during the few times we let them join our games.  If the girls were starting a game of Blackbeard’s Buccaneers you didn’t want the boys to join in because they’d insist on being all of the pirates and you had to be…something else.

 

Who you callin’ a scullery maid?

 

As young females, we grew up seeing a world where males were in charge, of just about everything.  In television and movies men were the primary (if not the only) protagonists, with the women there as domestic/romantic supporting players.  I was no fan of Catholicism and steadily (if secretly) came to despise almost everything about any religious doctrine (including my own family’s moderate Lutheranism); still, nuns held a peculiar attraction for many girls such as moiself .   [9]

A convent, while admittedly mimicking the patriarchal structure of a hierarchical society, was an all-female world.  Nuns did everything in their society; being a nun was one of the few options for women wherein they could leave their parents’ (read: their fathers’) homes without having to go to another man’s home; i.e., marry and have children.  Women could have a “calling” – an occupation, a life’s work – that did not involve (and in fact precluded) tending to the needs of a husband and children.  Nuns (seemed as if they) had a life outside The Home. ©

 

 

Sure, nuns were “cloistered,” but at least a nunnery was a cloister of choice.  Girls grew up seeing few-or-no female counterparts to the much-envied, free-livin’, swingin’ bachelor: whether by choice or circumstance, females who remained single were portrayed as objects of pity.  “Spinsters” and “old maids” were the only terms for women who remained single and childfree.

Similarly, when you played with Barbie dolls, you could be the good egg, the louse, the protagonist and the hero and the side player and everything in between.  Our Barbies ran the house, earned the paychecks, planted and harvested the crops, designed fantastical machines, drove the stagecoaches between the OK Corall and Santa Fe, flew to the moon in shoebox rocket ships – whatever you wanted them to do, with no Ken to tell you that you couldn’t, or yeah, maybe just this once but you gotta ride…

 

“Sidesaddle my PVC ass, Ken.”

 

*   *   *

Department Of Wait Wait Wait Wait Wait A Minute…

“The battle over legacy and donor admissions to college — the practice of giving special treatment to family of alumni and contributors — is about to heat up in California as critics take aim at what they see as a long-standing barrier for less privileged students to access elite institutions.

State Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) plans to renew efforts to deny state financial aid to any college or university that gives an admissions advantage to such applicants, who research has shown are overwhelmingly white and affluent.”
( “Battle over legacy and donor admissions preferences to heat up;
USC, Stanford could take hit.” LA Times 7-31 )

What the….

Moiself  is, of course, *highly* in favor of such a bill, even as I’m stunned (naive? ) by California’s need for it.  Since when did state financial aid go to private universities?

*   *   *

Department Of  And In A Related Story…

A long time in a galaxy far far away:   In the summer after son K’s junior year of high school, he began the first of several rounds of visiting colleges he was interested in applying to. Moiself  accompanied him on the first three campus visits, which were in California.   [11]   It was late June when K and I flew down to Sacramento, rented a car, then in the next three days toured UC Davis, Stanford, and UC Santa Cruz.

My Oregonian born and bred son, who was known to complain when the temperature rose above 72°, seemed to have had an weather-influenced relationship with the colleges we visited on that trip: the closer we got to the coast, the more he liked the school, inversely conflating the temperature of the area with what his academic experience would be.

When we deplaned in Sacramento the heat blast hit K in the face, and I remember thinking, “Yep, this is familiar…”  I am a UCD alum.  A couple of summers I stayed in Davis to work expanded hours at the student job I had during the school year.  I assured K that if he went to UCD he would probably not be staying during the summer, and that Davis had winters an Oregonian would appreciate. Nevertheless, looking back, I think all he “saw” of UCD was the heat.

 

 

Neither MH nor I were the kind of parents who lobbied (nor even encouraged) our offspring to consider attending our respective alma maters. But in the fall of K’s junior year, one winter weekend afternoon when he and I were hiking in a local nature preserve, K mentioned his interest in studying entomology.  I told him there were not many colleges which offered an entomology major, and of those that did…things may have changed, but when I was at UC Davis it had the top-rated entomology program in the nation (when we returned home I did an internet search and confirmed that that was still the case).

I forget the reasons K had an interest in Stanford (his aunt, my younger sister, was a Stanford alum, but I don’t know if that was the influence);  he was curious about UC Santa Cruz for its connection to the Human Genome Project.  So: we planned our trip, signed up for the campus tours of and presentations by the respective colleges, and moved from east to west, starting with UC Davis, then Stanford, then UC Santa Cruz.

As moiself  mentioned, I don’t think K saw much of Davis but the heat.  UC Santa Cruz – he liked many things about it, although he agreed with my observation, as we did a bus tour around UCSC’s verdant campus, which is situated in the forested hills of the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay, that it might be like going to college in summer camp.

 

 

As for Stanford, our visit there provided the most indelible, visiting-a-campus story.

We both enjoyed the Stanford campus tour, which was led by an enthusiastic student who was personable and articulate and knowledgeable and proud of his campus.  K was quite keen about Stanford after that tour.  Next on the agenda was a sit-down presentation for prospective students and their parents, given by Stanford’s Director of Admissions.  In 20 minutes K went from, “Wow, I really like this place; it’s definitely going to be on my application list,” to, “I wouldn’t go to this snobby, elitist, self-aggrandizing institution if *they* paid *me* to do it.”

One of many statements the Dude of Admissions made which K found off-putting was a dyad of contradictory statements, which he kept repeating:

” *Any* person can get into Stanford! “
(After saying this, he would give examples of students from lower income, and/or nonwhite and/or non-big city backgrounds who were Stanford alums)

” Stanford, as one of the top rate universities in the United States,
is very selective, and has one of the, if not THE, lowest acceptance rates
of any college in the world! “

 

 

Several times during his presentation Admissions Dude said that he wanted parents or students to ask questions at any time, about any Stanford-related subject.  After AD’s third repeating of his anyone-can-be-here/almost-no-one-gets-in couplet, a student raised his hand and asked how he might increase his odds of getting accepted to Stanford.  AD answered with what he obviously meant to be a humorous story:  “First of all, don’t do this….”  He proceeded to tell how a high school senior had marched into AD‘s office, unannounced, hours before the admissions deadline.  The student dismissively flung an admissions packet onto AD‘s desk and said, “Take care of it.”

I looked around the room, noting that both parents and students were snickering with “Oh, can you believe that arrogant wiseass?!” amusement.  Moiself  raised my hand, and when AD called upon me I asked him, “Was that student a legacy?”

Admissions Dude turned an impressive shade of white.   [12]   In a Very Serious Voice he stammered, “I can’t give any names; I can’t – uh, we can’t reveal any personal information about an applicant…”

To which I perkily replied, “I didn’t ask for his name; I asked if he was a legacy.”

Admissions Dude was quite flustered that I’d brought up an apparently taboo subject – as if no one present in the room had ever heard of legacy admission preferences before the big-mouth Oregon lady brought it up.  He squirmed with discernable discomfort – I thought he was in danger of pissing his Trussardi trousers.  The more the AD tried to act “plussed” the more nonplussed he became.  As he strove to change the subject, several parents seated in front of K and I turned around and flashed me knowing, sympathetic, and/or incredulous looks.

K ended up applying to six of the seven schools he visited that summer. He was accepted at all six, and chose to attend the University of Puget Sound.  He did not apply to Stanford.

 

Stanford LegacyGuide (The Koppleman Group)

 

*   *   *

Department of Employee Of The Month 

 

 

It’s that time again, to bestow that prestigious award upon moiself .  Again. The need for which I wrote about here.   [13] 

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week    [14]

“If 50 million people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”
( Anatole France 1844 – 1924, Parisian poet, journalist, writer )

 

 

*   *   *

May you have fond memories of your own childhood summer games;
May you be mindful of what popular foolish thing you believe;
May you enjoy your own reign as Employee of the Month;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] No, not today’s RPG.  It meant something different back then.

[2] For us, Dracula was synonymous with vampires.

[3] Probably akin to the Blue Java varietal, which we never let come to full ripeness before we’d pick (and ruin) them.

[4] Which did nothing to slow my descent.

[5] “Green Monster” was the favorite.

[6] As were three women sitting next to us at the sushi train bar counter…from what I could hear of their conversation.

[7] One of my friends was given a Ken doll by her parents, and she brought him to a few Barbie play sessions, but he stayed mostly on the sidelines.

[8] We were never, ever, singing nuns.

[9] One that was romanticized, of course, but what other options did we see?

[11] MH did the next three visits with K, to colleges in Washington, British Columbia, and Minnesota.  And K and I later made an overnight trip up to Tacoma to visit the University of Puget Sound, which is where he decided to go (as did his sister, Belle, three years later, and for similar reasons: they both had the experience, upon touring the campus, of “Oh, this is my place.”)

[12] Made even more impressive by the fact that he was not white.

[13] Several years ago, MH received a particularly glowing performance review from his workplace. As happy as I was for him when he shared the news, it left me with a certain melancholy I couldn’t quite peg.  Until I did.

One of the many “things” about being a writer (or any occupation working freelance at/from home) is that although you avoid the petty bureaucratic policies, bungling bosses, mean girls’ and boys’ cliques, office politics and other irritations inherent in going to a workplace, you also lack the camaraderie and other social perks that come with being surrounded by your fellow homo sapiens.  No one praises me for fixing the paper jam in the copy machine, or thanks me for staying late and helping the new guy with a special project, or otherwise says, Good on you, sister. Once I realized the source of the left-out feelings, I came up with a small way to lighten them.

[14] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org

The Regrets I’m Not Regretting

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Department Of Oh. My. Gaaaaawwwwwwwd.

This American Life podcast:  The Retrievals.  Words fail moiself  but will have to do, as I’m not much of an artist and don’t know how to render a primal scream.

If you are a fan of the Serial podcasts, or just human being interested in an astounding, compelling and – warning – gruesome story. This intro, from the podcast website (my emphases):

At a Yale fertility clinic, dozens of women began their I.V.F. cycles full of expectation and hope. Then a surgical procedure caused them excruciating pain. In the hours that followed, some of the women called the clinic to report their pain — but most of the staff members who fielded the patients’ reports did not know the real reason for the pain, which was that a nurse at the clinic was stealing fentanyl and replacing it with saline. What happened at that clinic? What are the stories we tell about women’s pain and what happens when we minimize or dismiss it?

Do y’all know what the procedure for IVF “retrieval” involves?  Most women and no men have *not* undergone it; for all of us who fit into that category, imagine a series of long and sharp needles inserted into your most private and sensitive body areas —  like your vagina if you’re a woman, and your urethra (yep, up your penis), if you’re a man —  and then through the side abdominal wall tissue and probing into another part of the body, without anesthesia.

 

 

Perhaps equal to (or arguably worse) than what happened to these women is what all woman face: of having their reality – from social and workplace and harassment, patronization and lowered expectations, to gut-wrenching, making-you-pass-out, physical pain ­– minimized and/or dismissed.

Acts one through three are available.  Act 3 adds another fascinating layer to the drama:  the forthright deliberations of the judge –  who is essentially thinking aloud – at the nurse’s sentencing hearing, and what is and what isn’t considered as “relevant” to the hearing.

*   *   *

Department Of Yet Another Tragedy That Didn’t Have To Happen

 

 

Excerpts from a press release from the Tillamook County Sheriff’s office (the article was also posted on Facebook in the North County News group):

“On Friday, July 7, 2023, at about 7:23 pm, Tillamook 911 dispatched….  [1]  to a reported water rescue at the mouth of Nestucca Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

A 12-foot boat had been crabbing in the area with one 40-year-old male adult, one 17-year-old male and one 15-year-old male on board. The boat capsized and all occupants were thrown into the water. The older male and 17-year-old were able to make it to shore, but the 15-year-boy disappeared in the water….

…the missing boy has not been recovered and is presumed deceased….

… The missing 15-year-old boy was not wearing a life jacket when the boat capsized, and he was thrown in the water.”

 

 

This is the not infrequent scenario, on Oregon’s coastal waters, rivers, and lakes: a boat of some kind – whether a commercial fishing boat or a pleasure craft – capsizes, and its occupants are thrown into the water and some of them drown.  [2]   And all too often – and by all too often I mean, every effin’ time it happens it’s too often –  those who died were not wearing Personal Flotation Devices, aka PFDs, aka life preserver jackets.  Thus the request, at the end of the Facebook post, from the deputy investigating the accident:

“…please be kind with your comments below,   [3]  this could just as easily have been people you love.”

Moiself  felt no need to comment. Certainly, that 15-year-old boy’s father is beating himself up over that decision – and yes, it was a decision, whether passive or active – to not insist that all occupants of the boat wear a PFD.

MH read the article to me over breakfast; we looked at each other, our eyes wide with WTF?!?!? sorrow and disbelief. When we go kayaking, or go out on our friend’s crabbing boat, or do any other water/boating activity, we don’t even step on the dock without wearing our PFDs.

 

 

I can’t remember the exact context of this decades-old anecdote moiself  is about to share, but I’ll always remember the particular conversational exchange. MH’s parents were out for a summer visit with us on the Oregon coast.  Some Person®  who was with us, listening to us plan a kayaking adventure, made a startling (to moiself  ) admission:

Some Person:
“I *never* wear a life jacket when I’m in a boat.”

MH’s father:
“Really?  Why?”

Some Person:
“Because I can swim.”

MH’s Father:
“Even when you’re unconscious?”

 

 

As the Tillamook County Deputy investigating the boy’s drowning noted, accidents happen “in the blink of an eye.”  People just don’t anticipate – well, that’s the reason accidents are called accidents, right? You weren’t planning for the boat to capsize or hit a swell or a rock or whatever happened which caused you to go overboard; you don’t think about the fact that, at a certain rate of speed (a rate which is much lower than most people estimate), when you fall from a moving object and hit the water it’s like hitting concrete. Or, the boat capsizes at a much slower pace, or you leaned too far over the gunwales – whatever you did to end up in the water, and you’re conscious and an excellent swimmer and the water is calm…but the water is *cold,* much much colder than you realized, and hypothermia sets in, and all of a sudden you can’t move your limbs to even do a dog paddle to keep your head above water….

Several weeks ago moiself  spoke with a family member of one of the crew members of a crab fishing boat which capsized.   [4]     She told me that even the so-called professionals, the crab and salmon fishers, generally don’t wear PFDs.  We both agreed that that was insane, but, “It’s their culture,” she said.  And then a big wave upends the boat and the crew scrambles to put on their survival suits….and another aspect of their culture survives: attending the funerals of drowned comrades.

 

 

And so, there will be another such story, and another, and another request for “thoughts and prayers“ and to “go easy“ on the survivors in the comments section…and another sad opportunity for a Coast Guard or sheriff’s department representative to remind people of the obvious:

“These types of incidents happen in the blink of an eye. It is important to be wearing life jackets, or have them readily available immediately,” said Deputy Greiner. “Oregon law requires children 12 and under to be wearing a properly fitted USCG approved PFD while on a boat that is underway. All non-swimmers, regardless of age, should be wearing PFD’s when on the water.

Even in the summer, our bays and rivers have dangerous currents present during tidal events and recreating on the water near the mouth of a bay or a river where it meets the ocean is particularly dangerous. When you need a life jacket, it’s often too late to put one on.

Tragedies like this are often avoidable by simply wearing a PFD. You should also avoid crabbing, fishing, paddling or swimming on an outgoing tide anywhere near the mouth of a bay or river. Your survival in a boating accident greatly increase if you are wearing a PFD, no matter what your age. No family should have to go through something like this.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Thought® Of The Week

Dateline: Monday, circa 11:30 am; driving to Hillsboro from the coast, listening to a No Stupid Questions podcast,  What is the Worst Kind of Regret?  Early on in the podcast, this question was posed, “What do you most regret:  the things you’ve done, or not done?”  When I first heard the question moiself  thought that I couldn’t answer it, at least not right away.  That question is the kind which requires some serious self-reflection.  The podcast hosts approached the issue from a variety of angles and possibilities while I ruminated on the kindness aspect.  Do I most regret times when I, intentionally or not, had been unkind to someone, or do I most regret not intervening when I witnessed someone being treated unkindly?

Later in the podcast one of the hosts was talking about the fear of rejection – from personal relationships to business ventures – which keeps people from saying or doing or pursuing ____ (fill in the blank with just about anything).  The host quoted from Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime” a book which moiself  has read and which I highly recommend…even as I cannot recall this quote from it, which I now think is one of the more tantalizing assertions I’ve read in some time  (my emphases):

“I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in my life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say.  We spend so much time afraid of failure, afraid of rejection, but regret is the thing we should fear the most.  Because failure is an answer; rejection is an answer.  Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to.”

 

 

*   *   *

*   *   *

Department Of The Philosophy You Didn’t Know (Or Care) That I Have

Someone asked me once about how I wanted “…to be remembered, as a writer.”   Which felt rather odd, to moiself,  seeing as how I don’t know or even care.   [5]   

It seems I have a kindred spirit in the devilishly delightful Tim Minchin, the Australian composer/singer/actor/comedian/writer.  The chorus of his song Talked Too Much, Stayed Too Long  I’ve adopted as my own anthem in such matters:

♫  Don’t wanna be in your club if you take me as a member

I’m not even slightly interested in whether I’m remembered

I say ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Get me a tombstone if you feel you must

Saying, “Here lies the clown who wrote some songs

He talked too much and stayed too long.”  ♫

 

 

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week    [6]

 

*   *   *

May you talk too much and stay too long;
May you pay attention to both kinds of regrets;
May you always wear a PFD whenever you’re in a boat;    [7]

…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Five different rescue groups, including the Coast Guard.

[2] Time for another footnote?  No; not yet.

[3] The temptation to spout “Why the hell were they not wearing life jackets ?!?!?!” is understandable, if cruel…and too late.

[4] A relative of hers was killed in the accident.

[5] …which is why I likely won’t be remembered, as I’ve done a good job of keeping out of the limelight, much to the dismay of editors who chastised me re my lack of interest in self-promotion. 

[6] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org

[7] Or safe at home, on the couch, just thinking about getting in a boat….

The Incomplete List Of Summer Entertainment I’m Not Recommending

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Department Of Not That You Asked…

But if you did, perchance, query moiself  thusly – “Robyn, what’s a song with an inspiringly aspirational and quirky chorus to sing along to?” I’d recommend Ingrid Michaelson’s You and I:

♫  Oh, let’s get rich
And buy our parents homes in the South of France
Let’s get rich
And give everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance
Let’s get rich
And build a house on a mountain, making everybody look like ants
From way up there
You and I, you and I  ♫

 

But let’s not give everybody sweaters like this.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Not That You Asked, The Sequel

It also didn’t occur to you to ask me for a what-to-watch-on-a-streaming-service recommendation.  But since you were so pleased with my sing-along recommendation, now you’re on to, “And what’s your recommendation for a good stand up comedy performance to give me the summer giggles?”  To which I enthusiastically reply:

Wanda Sykes‘ latest standup special, “I’m An Entertainer.”

 

 

Worth the price of admission   [1]  alone are Syke’s bits where she incorporates her gift for physical comedy/pantomime along with her sharp observational wit.  There are too many such sketches to list here, but they include what really goes on in women’s restrooms, fantasizing about men’s men-o-pause afflictions, and where the frightened senators and representatives should have hidden on January 6 for maximum protection (suggestion: underneath Mitch McConnell‘s chin). Other Syke’s stories/observations range from the political to the personal and often a combination of the two, as in explaining white supremacy and privilege to her white family (her wife and two kids).

As for the latter, Sykes employs her ongoing, subtly hilarious (to moiself , at least) imitation of her French wife, which includes an ever-present “air cigarette.”   And as for the voice she assumes when pretending to speak as her wife…well…as Sykes herself might put it, Sykes cannot do a French accent to save her black ass.

Sidenote: Sykes has admitted  [2]    that her wife has un petit problème  with the way Sykes portrays her on stage.  She knows it’s for comic effect and mining the stereotype, but she (Sykes’ wife), in fact, does *not* smoke cigarettes.

About the black ass comment: you’ll hear a lot of strong, “adult” language in Syke’s routines.   If you’re not a fan of such…colloquialisms…moiself  hopes you can listen to what she is saying, instead of how she is saying it.    [3]  

 

French, oui; Wanda’s wife, non.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Not That You Asked, The Sequel To The Sequel

Ah, summer, the season of sun and fun and light entertainment.  And since you’ve been over the proverbial moon with my previous two recommendations, now you’re begging me for something a little more brain-stretching, such as:  “How’s about one of those sciency-type podcasts you listen to?”  Well, moiself  aims to please.

 

 

Ahem.

Get your ears and brains to the Hidden Brain podcast.  A recent episode, which I highly recommend, is titled, The Best Years of Your Life:

” Aging isn’t just a biological process. Our outlooks and emotions also change as we age, often in ways that boost our well-being. Psychologist Laura Carstensen unpacks the science behind this surprising finding, and shares what all of us can learn from older people.”

Early in the episode Carstensen tells the story of what led to her spending time with older people in care facilities, which caused her to realize her commonality with them and which also provided her with an aha moment:

“…the insight I had about aging…is that aging is a *biological* process, but it is driven and shaped by the *social* world.”

Moiself  has written, previously and more extensively, about the social prejudice against aging which is, as I see it, the most universal and illogical of prejudices.  Gender; economic class; nationality; ethnic background; worldview and/or religion – we will all be Old People® someday (unless we die when we’re younger. or, RIGHT NOW).  But this particular podcast episode isn’t so much about the prejudices re aging –  although of course, they are mentioned, as, for example, in the episode’s intro:

“Movies, tv shows, and the fashion industry, still worship at the altar of youth.  People around the word spend billions of dollars on potions, injections, and surgical interventions, to keep the signs of age at bay.  Clickbait ads on many websites show you what the stars of yesteryears look like today.  The message couldn’t be clearer:  Aging is a terrible thing; growing old is a horror show. “

 

( AARP image )

 

Like podcast guest Carstensen, the much-younger version of moiself  rarely considered the ramifications of aging.  Unlike the younger version of moiself , the younger Carstensen was in a horrific car crash at age 21.  In the months following the accident, when she was in hospital and rehab wards with very elderly women, Carstensen started to realize what she and they had in common and began to think about her future, as in, thinking about getting older. Later on, when Carstensen completed her education and began to do research, what she learned surprised her –  and others in her field –  when comprehensive studies began to contradict the myths of aging.

Eventually Carstensen became part of investigative teams involved in the largest study ever done on the psychopathology of aging.  Subsequent studies reaffirmed the surprising results – surprising as in, given the prejudices we’ve all been sold on what happends to aging minds.  The data overwhelmingly and repeatedly flew in the face of prejudice, intuition, and cultural beliefs, and showed that which came to be referred to as “the paradox of aging.”  Which is that, absent debilitating illness:

The older years are the happiest and most stable and psychopathology free for most people.    [4]

 

Carstensen:
“Increasingly, older people had less negative emotions – less fear; less anger; less disgust, and just as much happiness and joy and calm…. older people were happier in their day to day lives than younger people were….

The paradox really was that aging entails a lot of bad things: cognitively, people often do change, or feel their memory isn’t as good…not to mention the physical changes with age – most of us experience more aches and pains. And then we’re in the societal context: people aren’t taking us as seriously as they used to; there’s an invisibility people talk about, when they get old, that people walk almost right through them, and they just aren’t noticed…and so with all of that happening with aging…how can it be that older people, emotionally, are doing well?….”

Podcast host Shankar Vidantam:
“Social status; physical health…if all those things  (decline)…you would predict that the people would then have worse psychological health, and yet (the studies showed) that psychological well-being seemed to be improving.”

That’s enough of a preview – listen for y’alls selves, if the subject interests you.  Really, it’s great news for everyone…well, almost everyone.

This fact –  that as people age they become happier with their day to day lives than younger people – is not going to sell many anti-aging medications or procedures.  Unless, of course, the fear of living mongers geniuses in advertising reverse their strategy.  Instead of concentrating their efforts to convince ever-younger groups – people in their 30s and even 20s – that they need anti-aging procedures, they can start marketing *maturing* procedures:

“Everyone knows that the senior years are the best years of your life.  Don’t let the visible limitations of your youth determine how you and others see yourself.  Want to look years happier than you actually are?  Let us add a few laugh and smile lines to your sullen, immature, angst-ridden visage…”

 

 

*   *   *

Department of Employee Of The Month

 

 

It’s that time again, to bestow that prestigious award upon moiself.   Again. The need for which I wrote about here.   [5] 

 

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week    [6]

“…. (Ricky Gervais) explained how he became an atheist, recounting an afternoon at home when he was about 8. His mother was ironing and he was drawing Jesus on the cross as part of his bible studies homework.  His brother, Bob, 11 years older than Ricky, asked him why he believed in God, a question which mortified their mother. Gervais remembered thinking,

‘Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a god and my faith was strong, it didn’t matter what people thought. Oh … hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour I was an atheist.’ “

(from FFRF’s Freethinker of the Day, Richy Gervais  )

 

 

 

*   *   *

May your peers (or your own self) recognize you as Employee of the Month;
May you be entertained by the art of Wanda Sykes and Ingrid Michaelson;
May we all aspire to “give everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance;”
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Which is free, if you’re a Netflix subscriber.  Still…worth it.

[2] In previous standup specials or interviews, I can’t remember which.

[3] A practice we should all aspire to in our dealings with anyone, oui ?

[4] The surprising results only helped to affirm the results – as in, more scientists wanted to check the studies and do their own, because what the data showed refuted the “common wisdom.”  Which was, the guest noted, “the best thing for a scientist,” because having others check your work and do their own work is the best way to confirm data.

[5] Several years ago, MH received a particularly glowing performance review from his workplace. As happy as I was for him when he shared the news, it left me with a certain melancholy I couldn’t quite peg.  Until I did.

One of the many “things” about being a writer (or any occupation working freelance at/from home) is that although you avoid the petty bureaucratic policies, bungling bosses, mean girls’ and boys’ cliques, office politics and other irritations inherent in going to a workplace, you also lack the camaraderie and other social perks that come with being surrounded by your fellow homo sapiens.  No one praises me for fixing the paper jam in the copy machine, or thanks me for staying late and helping the new guy with a special project, or otherwise says, Good on you, sister. Once I realized the source of the left-out feelings, I came up with a small way to lighten them.

[6] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org

The Ethics Class I’m Not Teaching

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Department Of The Best One Sentence Movie Review I’ve Read In Some Time

That would be from friend CC, in a text on Tuesday, furthering the conversation we had in the movie theater parking lot on Monday, after having seen Past Lives.  Which, BTW, is the next movie *you* are going to see, (if moiself  can influence you to do so) and then talk about with friends and family.

Here’s the movie’s summary/blurb, from people who are paid to do such things:   [1]

“Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, are wrest apart after Nora’s family emigrates from South Korea. Decades later, they are reunited for one fateful week as they confront destiny, love and the choices that make a life.”

It’s the kind of movie…I want MH and my offspring to see it, although in a nod to ageism, a part of me thinks that, even at ages 30 and 27 respectively, my son and daughter aren’t old enough (as in, have not had the life experiences) to truly get it.  Also, in another nod to ageism, it’s a summer release movie without the “summerisms”: there aren’t any superheroes or explosions….

 

 

…and it is a gentler-paced movie, even as it time jumps through 24 years….  But damn, there is so much going on.

CC wondered if MH and I had talked about the movie – she and her husband had a conversation “…about love and life’s twists and turns,” when she returned that afternoon after having seen the movie.  No, we didn’t…even though I wanted to.  But I held back, giving MH only a brief description when he asked me how the movie was.  I was still ruminating on it moiself,  and wanted him to see it so I wouldn’t have to explain the unexplainable.  Such as, how you may love someone in some way, and maybe the way they love will not be enough…and will you be “the person who leaves” in someone’s life, and/or “the person who stays,” in another someone’s life…and the concepts of destiny and fate – in yun, from Korean/Buddhist influences – which can also be seen as coincidence, and all of which might have much more influence in our lives than we think…as per this bit of dialogue (from one of the Korean born protagonists to her American husband) from the movie:

“There’s a word in Korean: 인연 [in yun] ⁠— it means “providence” or “fate.”  If two strangers walk by each other in the street, and their clothes accidentally brush, that means there have been eight thousand layers of 인연 between them.”

Yet again, moiself  digresses.  CC’s one sentence review which I thought nailed the essence of the film, and its influence:

“I was pondering that all couples should see this film to give them better words to say to each other and know how normal all of this is, immigration or not, to question how a person loves and to accept how a person loves.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Ethics Teaching Of The Week

Humanists generally follow The Platinum Rule, not The Golden Rule.  There is an important distinction between the two directives, in both the statement and implications.  Class, do you think you can spot the difference?

First, we have the more familiar, “The Golden Rule.”  There are various phrasings of TGR – an ethical principle found across religions and world views – which all amount to,

Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

TGR  is phrased in either “positive” (to do something) or “negative” (to refrain from doing something) formulas.  In Christianity this principle is found in Matthew 7:12: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. . . .”

The “negative” form of this principle, “Do not do to others what you would not like done to yourselves,” is found in 2nd-century documents of the early Christian church ( Didachē and the Apology of Aristides), in second century Jewish works ( Tob. 4:15), in the writings of the classic Jewish scholars, including Hillel and Philo of Alexandria  “…and in the Analects of Confucius (6th and 5th centuries BC). It also appears in one form or another in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates, and Seneca.”    [2]

 

 

Examples of TGR across world religions:

Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire
not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.
( Bahá’í Faith;  Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings)

Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
( Buddhism; The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18 )

One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct….loving-kindness. Do not
do to others what you do not want done to yourself.
( Confucianism; Confucius, Analects 15.23 )

This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.
( Hinduism; Mahabharata 5:1517)

Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others
what you wish for yourself.
( Islam: the Prophet Muhammad, Hadith )

One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.
( Jainism; Mahavira, Sutrakritanga 1.11.33 )

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the
rest is commentary. Go and learn it.
( Judaism; Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a )

Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself.
( Zoroastrianism; Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29)

(excerpts from The Golden Rule Across the World’s religions )

The Golden Rule variations are well-intended; however and ultimately, they miss a key point of Human Reality:

* People are different. *

 

 

Okay; sure; you know that.  But do you really get what *that* means?

Not all people like or want the same things.  This reality is both simple and profound, because it means that while at first glance it sounds fine or even admirable to treat everyone like yourself, it is in fact inappropriate to do so, given people’s different backgrounds, experiences, mental and physical abilities, and expectations.

The Golden Rule lets you get away with, and even promotes, self-centric thinking (“Others think the way I do.”).  And self-centric thinking    [3]   lets you off the hook from doing the work, which can range from pesky to grueling, of trying to understand someone else’s point of view.

So, what’s an honestly-seeking-to-do-the-right-thing ® kinda person to do?  Follow the principles of Humanists, Freethinkers, Brights, Skeptics, and other supernatural-free world views.  As in, practice The Platinum Rule:

Treat others the way *they* want to be treated.

Meditate on this, for a moment.

 

“Girls and Boys, can you spot the difference?  I think you can.”

 

The subtle yet powerful difference is that The Platinum Rule calls for a more thoughtful consideration of the *others* who will be on the receiving end of your treatment of them.

As in, don’t presume that *your* likes and preferences – or dislikes and aversions – are  universal.

Here’s an example a child could understand:  There’s nothing Jilly likes better than having her feet tickled. Not only that, Jilly’s best friend, Millie, also enjoys having her feet tickled – she and Jilly agree, it’s the best fun, ever!  But for Jilly’s brother, Billy, having his feet tickled is tantamount to torture.  Should Jilly and Millie tickle Billy’s feet?

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Public Service: Things To Ponder® Moment Of The Week

Brought to you by the following excerpt from my recent letter to moiself’s offspring.  [4]

…. Yesterday morning I went walking in the Neahkahnie Beach area, and wondered if I would catch a glimpse of the coyotes that have been spotted crossing the roads there, and out on the beach.

 

 

The coyotes (at least two adults, possibly a pair raising pups nearby) are going after unleashed dogs on the beach:  one tries to lure the dogs to follow them by assuming play postures, then running into the shrubbery (where coyote #2 would spring out and attack – wildlife biologists note that this is a hunting adaptation of coyotes living near human-populated areas).  One coyote has even chased several dogs, as reported by the dogs’ owners who came to their pets’ rescue, then posted on a local FB group to warn others.

Some people responded to these reports and warnings (which have included pictures of the coyotes) with, “My dog responds to voice control,” or “The coyotes just want to play.”  Some people are morons.

And I can call them “morons,” although I can’t (even though I wouldn’t) call them “retards,” which I find mildly bemusing.

 

Y’all might want to rephrase that.

 

Get ahold of your nightsticks, y’all self-appointed word police:  I understand (and agree with) the prohibition of the term retard, as it became a shorthand pejorative for people formerly known as “mentally retarded.” But the term mentally retarded is not a pejorative in and of itself, and was once considered to be a valid descriptor for adults classified on (an outdated) psychiatric scale of severe intellectual disability.  The scale was:

* Moron  (adult with an estimated mental age between 7 and 10  and an IQ of 51–70)

* Imbecile (” ” ” ” mental age of three to seven years and an IQ of 25–50)

* Idiot ( ” ” ” ” less than three years; IQ below 25)

Now then:  I can and do sometimes use those words (moron; imbecile; idiot) to disparage someone and/or their behaviors…although, when I do so the image of an actual person with an intellectual disability *never* comes to my mind.

I can think or say that people who let their dogs go off leash on the beach – after having been warned about coyotes going after unleashed dogs – are morons, or that their behavior is idiotic and/or their reasoning imbecilic.  I’ve used the words (moron; idiot; imbecile) sporadically over the course of my life (most frequently during the #45 administration), with no corrections from a Well-Meaning Guardian Of The Hurt Feelings Of Others ®  (“It’s not nice to make fun of morons.”).  And I can’t help but wonder why that is.   [5]

 

Don’t be such an imbecile; you know why.

 

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week    [6]

 

 

Stay tuned for more Tim Minchin.    [7]

*   *   *

May you avoid self-centricism masquerading as ethical principles;
May you follow The Platinum Rule;
May you see the movie “Private Lives” and discuss it with friends and family;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] In this case the movie studio PR staff, I’d guess.

[2] Brittanica.com/goldenrule

[3] A cognitive bias known to social psychologists as “the false consensus effect.”

[4] I send daughter Belle and son K weekly letters, every Friday.  Letters as in snail, not e-, mail.

[5] Isn’t it time for another footnote?  Just wondering.

[6] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org

[7] In July 14’s blog.

The Loogie I’m Not Hawking

2 Comments

Is this your favorite of moiself’s  blog titles…or, perhaps not?

*   *   *

Department Of What Is It With The XY Chromosome And Spitting

Dateline: in my car; one day last week; returning from an errand in another city; stopped at a stoplight, behind one other vehicle.  The driver of that vehicle opened his car’s door, leaned down and spat onto the road.

Fast forward: last Saturday, 7:30 AM-ish.  Moiself  was at the coast, going for walk on pedestrian path which parallels a road heading toward Neahkahnie State Park. A man riding a skateboard was going in the opposite direction; i.e., approaching me.  As passed me he nodded in acknowledgment.  His skateboard seemed to be going by rather fast, IMO, so as we passed each other I turned back to see if I could tell if he was atop one of those motorized boards. At that point he was about 20 feet behind me; I turned around just in time to see him spit huge gobs of…a white something    [1]…onto the road.

 

 

Now.  Ahem.  The two individuals cited here are not to meant represent all of male kind.  They *are* emblematic of something moiself  has noticed over the years: more than women (almost to the point of gender exclusivity),  men are the ones who spit in public, and onto public surfaces.   [2]   From delicate white salivary droppings to gigantamous loogie hawkings, men expectorate in public with impunity. I never see women do this.  What’s the deal?

I know for a fact that women also produce saliva, and get seasonal allergies, common colds, and other virus which cause post-nasal drip and thus instigate the accumulation of snot and saliva in the mouth and throat.  But I never, ever, see women expel that goo (pardon my usage of complex medical terminology) in public.   [3]

Are men just somehow, physiologically, more prone to producing copious amounts of body fluids which congregate in their oral cavities?   

Or could it be as simple as, once again, nurture triumphs over nature?  As in, women are raised to, both literally and metaphorically…uh…swallow everything.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Perhaps This Is Why Some Of My Neighbors Cross To The Other Side Of The Street When They See Me Out For My Morning Walk

Dateline:  last Thursday, 7:30 am-ish. I am returning from a morning walk, rounding the corner, after having text-wished MH (and our cat, Nova) a pleasant drive to the coast.  [4]

As I rounded the corner of a street two blocks from our house, I saw MH’s distinctive midlife crisis car convertible approaching the intersection about 20 feet in front of moiself.   I waved; he pulled over to the curb; I walked up to his car; gave him a kiss; we briefly chatted.

As this was happening a woman I know by sight was returning from her morning walk with her dog.  She passed by MH’s car just as he pulled away from the curb and I resumed walking.  She gave me a knowing yet questioning look; her mouth opened slightly – for a moment I thought she was going to say, “Your husband?” It’s a good thing she didn’t, because I realized I would have blurted out, “No, but when I see a cute guy in an orange sports car, I think, why not take the opportunity?”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of, On The Other Hand, *This* Podcast Was Excellent

The other hand refers to…

No, not that hand.  I’ll start again.

The other hand refers to my blog of last week (May 12), in which I nit-picked about insightfully analyzed a (usually) favorite podcast of mine, whose guest on that particular episode I found so self-justifying and cluelessly annoying that I had to stop listening.

The next day, I was rescued by another usual favorite podcast, PIMA’s (People I Mostly Admire) episode 104: The Joy of Math, with PIMA host Steve Levitt’s guest, Sarah Hart.

British Geometry Professor Hart is on a quest (as is Levitt) to reform math education.  In their conversation she shared her interest in mathematics by explaining, for example, how patterns are everywhere, and how mathematical concepts and be found in the arts and literature as well as in the natural world.

 

 

Something moiself  found the most compelling about their dialogue was when they got to the reformation of the way math has been taught for so/too long (my emphases).

LEVITT:
“I had the mathematician, Steven Strogatz on the show, and he expressed frustration with the way we teach math to high school students…we tend to teach them all sorts of techniques for solving very specific problems that they will never ever be asked to solve anywhere but on a math exam. And the consequence is that almost everyone gets discouraged and in the end they conclude that they’re not a math person.
So…his idea is that we should move towards math appreciation courses like art appreciation — courses with the goal to show kids the wonder and the power of math applied to interesting, real-world problems with less emphasis on rote memorization.
And wow, did that conversation strike a nerve. I’ve never gotten such a flood of emails from listeners, hundreds of emails that are still coming in on a daily basis. And the only negative responses are from professional mathematicians…”

HART:
“I couldn’t love the idea any more. We do not need everybody to come out of school being able to do arcane stuff with trigonometry; they’re never going to need it. It’s going to put them off.”

 

 

HART:
“I’m good at maths and I enjoyed doing mathematical calculations, but even for me there were things that were not super interesting. And we don’t even motivate like why we’re doing it. Did you ever have a lesson in school where they said, ‘Why are we doing trigonometry?’ ”

 

 

Yes! Yes! Yes! Or should I write, No! No! No!, if Hart was implying that no one ever either poses or answers that question in a math class.  I DID – I asked, many times.  And I never got an answer.

 

 

I was a straight A student in all subjects, and in math from fractions and times tables through school Algebra 1 and Geometry.  Unfortunately (this will be explained soon) with regard to math, in high school I was placed in what is now referred to as a Gifted and Talented program, but which in California schools at that time was called the MGM – “Mentally Gifted Minors” – program.

 

Uh, that’s *minOrs.*

 

Mentally Gifted Minors ® that we were, we MGMers had a lot of fun mocking the acronym, our favorite pejorative being that MGM stood for Mother’s Greatest Mistake. Turned out the joke was on me, as taking my school’s MGM math courses was (one of) MGM – my greatest mistakes.

Before there was an MGM program, top students could take AA classes, which students were placed into by testing and/or teacher referral.    [5]  AA classes were offered in maths and social sciences, and continued to be offered at my high school after the MGM program was instituted.  My younger sister, who had an almost instinctive interest in and aptitude for math, remembered my experience, and chose her classes accordingly.  Although she took MGM classes in history and literature, she refused to participate in the MGM program for math, and instead took our school’s AA math classes.  [6]

Once again, I digress.

 

There was only one teacher for my high school’s MGM math courses (Algebra 1; geometry; Algebra 2; trigonometry; advanced math [aka pre-calculus]).  It was a mismatch from the start, between the MGM math teacher and moiself, in terms of personality, academic presentation, and just about everything else.  I was totally capable of being taught by teachers whose styles bothered and/or annoyed me or whom I even actively disliked – I managed to learn from such teachers in classes both preceding and following the classes taught by That Certain MGM Math Teacher (TCMGMMT).  However, despite the straight-A student thing, math – or in hindsight, the way math was *taught* – had always bored me.

By the time I was in second year algebra and then trigonometry, doing the assignments and/or studying the material for the sake of doing so was not cutting it for me. I wanted to know *why.* As in,

Why are we doing this – why does *anyone* do this?  (And don’t just
repeat the “because: triangles” thing.)
What will we use it for, and when will we be required to do so?

When I asked questions in class, I was told not to disrupt class (and TCMGMMT often turned questions asked – by other students, not only moiself – around in a way to make fun of the student who’d asked the question.  After observing this tactic of hers, I stopped asking questions).

One day I took time out of my busy high school academic and social calendar and scheduled an after-school appointment to meet with TCMGMMT, to raise my concerns. At that meeting (during which her discomfort was palpable), TCMGMMT actually told me that “it doesn’t matter *why* you are doing _____ (sine, tangent, and cosine functions, et al.). ”  She advised me to essentially shut up and do the rote memorization and, “two years from now ,when you are in your college calculus class, this (trigonometry equations) will make sense.”

 

 

I effin’ kid you not.

Nope; sorry; wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.  If I can’t make it interesting to me in the here and now it won’t interest me in some mythical, two-years-from-now class that I won’t be taking because I don’t need another thing frosting my ass with tediousness.   I took TCMGMMT shutting me down as a convoluted way of admitting, “Yeah, this has nothing to do with your life (or that of most students), but this is the way we have always done it, so shut up and dance.”

 

 

Yet another digression:

About that “mythical class” I didn’t think I’d be taking:  I actually took a calculus class in college, despite not being required to do so.  In the spring quarter of my freshman year I took part one of a three quarter Calculus series – the B series, which was required for students majoring in certain sciences and engineering.  [7]   Although I hadn’t yet declared a major, I was one of those idealistic idiots scholars, who held that:

* Every student should take advantage of the richness and diversity of subjects offered at college!
* All students should strive to be well-rounded intellectually!

 

 

No, really. Stop laughing, you narrow-minded camel.

I sincerely believed    [8]   that, for example, physics majors should take a poetry class and literature majors should take a physics class.  Many of my fellow students found it odd that, although I became a pre-law major    [9]   I also took classes in geology, physics, astronomy, wildlife fisheries and biology, and forestry.   [10]

Moiself  received an A in that calculus class.  A dormmate, who somehow found out that fact, took it upon himself to mansplain lecture me as to why getting a top grade in my calculus class was “selfish” of me.  With a totally straight and serious face he informed me that, since the class was graded on the curve, I was taking an A away from some “premed student who actually needs it,”    [11]  and since calculus wasn’t required *for* me, that A  grade was “totally wasted” *on* me.   [12]

Perhaps he was right, if only in a wee, mathematically insignificant way.  Although I adored and respected the class’s professor I didn’t find the subject matter interesting  (how I managed to get an A despite my FALLING ASLEEP DURING THE FINAL EXAM, I have no idea).  And today, in 2023, if you held a calculus equation before my eyes and a gun to my head (and I really hope you are never tempted to do either of those things) and demanded, “Do this calculation or I’ll pull the trigger!”  …well, one of us is going to prison.

I can, however, recall the lyrics to the theme song from Gilligan’s Island.

 

 

 

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week    [13]

“Bowling might fulfill all the social needs that religious worship and ritual do, without being delusional, divisive, and repressive, occasionally ridiculous and all too often violent.
So, go bowling next week instead of attending church, temple, or mosque,
and have a good time.”
( William A. Zingrone, The Arrogance of Religious Thought )

 

 

*   *   *

May you pardon me for this week’s blog title;
May you find a reason (if you don’t already have one) to go bowling;
May you, in your ideal life, be able to solve a differential equation AND sing about unsuspecting future castaways going on “♫ a three hour cruise…♫ ”;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] It looked like he was a gull, crapping through its mouth.

[2] On the road, on public transportation vehicle floors – i.ee., not into their handkerchiefs.  Which no one seems to carry anymore but I remember when the Old Folks ® did.

[3] I am trying oh-so-hard to come up with *one* example to contradict my memory…I realize this is anecdotal, not scientific.

[4] In response to receiving his text that he was departing soon; I joined him the next day.

[5] and/or past performances/GPS in the subject…I’m not really sure how it was determined.

[6] In which she excelled, and she received a mathematics scholarship for college.

[7] The A series Calculus was required for mathematics and physics majors.

[8] And still do, mostly.

[9] I graduated with a B.A. in Criminal Justice.

[10] My biggest academic regret is not taking a tractor driving class.  UC Davis offered such a class, for one credit (like what you’d get for taking a PE class), but I could never make it fit between my academic and work schedule.

[11] Can you guess what his major was?

[12] Totally wasted was the description moiself  found applicable to that student’s demeanor and mindset, on most weekends in the dorms (he ended up transferring to a college with a less rigorous academic environment).

[13] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org

The Vocals I’m Not Frying

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Department Of, Like, Just Give It A Fancy Name, And It’ll Be, Like, Less Annoying

It’s been a noteworthy past few weeks for my podcast listening obsession hobby, with several different podcasts focusing on a subject of particular interest to moiself : language and usage.    [1]    Clear + Vivid podcast is on a roll re that topic.  Yet another thought-provoking episode:  English evolves, like it or not.

Podcast guest Valerie Fridland, researcher and author of Like Literally Dude: Arguing for the good in bad English, says that those likes and so’s and you knows, ahs, ums and other language tics that annoy us so much are inescapable, and actually linguistically useful.  In this excerpted exchange, Fridland and C+V host Alan Alda discuss what many people decry as one of their most annoying language peeves, the use of the word, “like.”

 

 

Valerie Fridland:
One way that we’re using like in a new way is as an approximating  adverbial.   [2]  And I think when you think about it that way it makes it sound so much more intellectual that it will convert people into like likers…

Alan Alda (laughing):
It’s so intellectual I can’t understand it….

VF:
I’m gonna break it down for you; I just want you to know that it’s doing something important.

AA:
…you got me halfway there, with the fancy name.

VF:
So when you are talking about something that you’re estimating…you need to indicate to your listeners somehow  that what you’re saying – you’re not trying to be exact; you’re not trying to lie to them if you’re wrong about the number you’re giving them, but you’re just estimating.  Usually in standard English we use  “about” as what we call an approximating adverbial.  Which would mean, I would say something like, “He’s about five years old’ or ‘it’s about twenty pounds.’ That’s an approximating adverbial – the ‘about’….

‘Like’ has simply become a new approximating adverbial: “He’s like ten pounds;” or, ‘It’s like a hundred years old.’ So ‘like’ has become a one-to-one substitution for something that’s already well-accepted and serves a purpose.   It’s just not as well accepted, but it still serves that same purpose.

 

 

They chat about other linguistic topics, including vocal fry.

AA:
Your mission, if you should accept it, is to show me why that (accepting vocal fry) is a good thing.

VF:
I want to clarify something:  none of these are better necessarily than things we used to do, they’re just different. That that’s basically the evolution of language…. Things don’t necessarily change because they’re better, they change because there is a cognitive desire or an articulatory desire from our evolutionary standpoint to move that direction and a social trigger to make it happen.

 

 

And although I understand Fridland’s defense of language evolution, why do certain evolutions – vocal fry, as a prime example – have to be so effin’ annoying?  In moiself’s opinion, it’s like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard.  Speaking of which….

*   *   *

Department Of Good And Bad Anticipations

Good anticipation:  a family wedding later this month.

Bad anticipation: the probable harangue/entreaties for those attending to participate in extended family photos.  Not a big deal for many folk, and perhaps even anticipated by those in the selfie-obsessed/must-document-every-moment-of-ME crowd.  However, such entreaties are the equivalents of fingernails on a chalkboard for those of us who are fotografizophobic. ®

And no, we’re not just camera shy.

 

 

It’s not the lack of “fear” which bothers moiself  about (some) photographers, it’s their lack of boundaries.  Exemplified by the person – whom I had just met and who thus falls into the virtual stranger ® category – who, long ago in a galaxy far far away, actually told me, when they’d asked me to be in a picture they were taking and I politely declined, that they were “offended” by me not wanting them to take my picture.

The subject came up after a trip many years MH and daughter Belle and I made, to visit son K in college.  I’ll let moiself  explain as per a previous blog several years ago:

Saturday night, after dropping off K at his dorm, Belle, MH & I had dinner at Pomodoro, in Tacoma’s Procter district.   Not long after we were seated Belle removed her sketch pad and pencils from her purse. She and MH were seated across from me, and Belle looked in my direction as she began to sketch. I turned around to see if perhaps a cute waiter or bus boy was lurking behind me.  Nope.  This put me into a rather mild existential panic.  I tried my best not to sound like a bad Robert DeNiro imitation as I asked, “Are you sketching *me*?”

 

 

“Yes,” Belle replied.  “Hold still.”

I didn’t hold still.  None of us held still.  We were doing restaurant-things: eating, drinking, lifting napkins to our mouths, answering questions from our server, as well as allegedly conversing with one another.  Belle said nothing more, but from her heavy sighs and eyebrow gymnastics it was apparent that she was disappointed with my lack of stillness, and other attributes that render me unfit for sketching.

I do not translate well to photos.  I am not a still life, and loathe having my picture taken in any form and for any cause. The reasons for this are not particularly complicated or interesting; they are known to those supposedly closest to me, and in a kind and just world (calling Mr. Rogers!) would be respected, even if not “understood.”  This is rarely the case.

From the POV of a fotografizophobic   [3]  when people gaze at you intently and allegedly dispassionately, judging the contours (read: inadequacies) of your bone structure and other facial features, hearing them say, “Hold still so I can sketch you/take your picture” is the emotional equivalent of hearing, “Hold still so that I may throw acid in your face.”

Unsolicited, adult-to-adult advice: when any sentient being declines to have their picture taken by you, respect their wishes and move on.  Do not whine and wheedle; do not attempt any form of emotional blackmail  ( “The family reunion shot will be ruined if you’re not in it, and who knows if Uncle Anus will live long enough to attend the next one!” ).  Unless I am renewing my driver’s license and you are the DMV camera dude, or you are the hospital’s medical photographer sent to document my Mayo Clinic-worthy, bulbous axillary tumor, back off.  It’s that simple.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of New Things To Think About

Moiself   had a pull-over-to-the-curb moment  [4]  last week, the kind that made me all tingly inside.

 

 

Relax, Countess, it’s not that kind of tingly.

It’s the even better kind, prompted by the realization of This  is something I’ve rarely – if ever – thought about before.

This was thanks to a recent Clear + Vivid podcast:  Susan Goldin-Meadow: Thinking with your hands.  From the podcast teaser:

Decades spent studying the way we use our hands when we talk has convinced Susan Goldin-Meadow that not only do gestures help our listeners understand us; gestures help us understand ourselves. They help us think, and as children, even to learn.

Susan Goldin-Meadow is a Professor in of Psychology, Comparative Human Development, and Education at the University of Chicago.  Her specialties and areas of research include exploring the impact of environmental and biological variation on language development – such as homesign, the unique, gestural languages created by children who lack language input (e.g. deaf children born to hearing parents who do not sign).  She is also fascinated by how our own gestures help us think and learn and communicate above and beyond the spoken word.

 

There’s a chart for everything.

 

We’ve all made the jokes about other people – or in moiself’s  case, I’ve both made the jokes and have had them applied to moiself – about people who “talk with their hands.”   [5]   As in, those who tend to gesture when talking, especially when telling stories or speaking with resolution and passion.  I tend to do this, and those who have pointed this out to me usually follow their observation with one of two attributions:

“It’s due to your Irish blood!”
(Yep; 50% on both sides of the family)

“You *must* be Italian!”
(Scusa; not a drop).

But I’ve never considered what place gestures and gesticulating plays in language (nor extensively thought about the fact that gesturing as a form of communication likely preceded both oral and written language), or that studying this fascinating topic is even an academic thing.

*   *   *

Department of Employee Of The Month

 

 

It’s that time again, to bestow that prestigious award upon…moiself.  Again. The need for which I wrote about here.  [6]

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week    [7]

“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what?”
 ( Stephen Fry, British English actor, broadcaster, comedian, director and writer. )

 

 

*   *   *

May you have happy reasons for pull-over-to-the-curb moments;
May you keep your fingernails away from chalkboards;
May you refrain from vocal frying “like” within earshot of moiself;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] (as moiself   wrote about last week).

[2] Approximating adverbials are “…used to show that something is almost, but not completely, accurate or correct: ‘The trip takes approximately seven hours. The two buildings were approximately equal in size. The flight takes approximately three hours.’ ”  Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.

[3] Fotografizophobia is the fear of having your picture taken.

[4] Well, except for the fact that I was not driving.

[5] but *not* referring to people who actually communicate with their hands; i.e., deaf and hearing impaired people who use ASL.

[6] Several years ago, MH received a particularly glowing performance review from his workplace. As happy as I was for him when he shared the news, it left me with a certain melancholy I couldn’t quite peg.  Until I did.  One of the many “things” about being a writer (or any occupation working freelance at/from home) is that although you avoid the petty bureaucratic policies, bungling bosses, mean girls’ and boys’ cliques, office politics and other irritations inherent in going to a workplace, you also lack the camaraderie and other social perks that come with being surrounded by your fellow homo sapiens.  No one praises me for fixing the paper jam in the copy machine, or thanks me for staying late and helping the new guy with a special project, or otherwise says, Good on you, sister. Once I realized the source of the left-out feelings, I came up with a small way to lighten them.

[7] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org

The Upbringing I’m Not Regretting

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Department Of In Praise Of Religion

Yeah, I know – from moiself ?

 

It’s not what it sounds like, ma’am.

Confession: this post isn’t really about praising religion.  As we approach the weekend of the most holy Christian festival (in which, as with most Christian holidays, the ancient rites and myths of paganism and other spiritualities were incorporated into the Christian myths) moiself  thought it would be appropriate to write a wee bit about how I am, in some ways, grateful for the religious upbringing I had.

 

 

* I am grateful to have been raised in a moderate Christian family, whose parents were members of a moderate Christian church. And by my moderate I mean they were a members of a mainstream denomination (Lutheran), and not fanatical, tongue-speaking Holy Rollers.  My church experiences allowed me an education into the dominant religious thinking of our country, of that time. Translation: I saw how the sausage was made, so to speak, which is why I became a vegan religion-free.

 

 

As soon as I was able to formulate such ideas to moi’s younger self,  I was able to understand religious traditions (all of ‘em, not just my family’s own) for what they were: failed hypotheses originating from primitive/pre-scientific peoples who were trying to understand/explain their world.  Although I had that understanding as far back as I can remember, like most atheists-skeptics-freethinkers in this culture, I did not “come out” until much, much later, when it was safe (well, safer) to do so: as in, when there was a critical mass of Freethinkers and their allies to provide a buffering from the, “You can only be good with (a) god/nonbelievers are going to hell, etc.” attitudes which religions are highly effective at promoting.

 

 

* Not only did my religious upbringing provide me with a good cultural education, I appreciate that it allowed me to experience and observe how nice, well-intentioned, and otherwise seemingly reasonable people can accept the unreasonable-ness of religion for a variety of reasons.  I learned that people can note the logical flaws, improprieties and downright batshit crazy inanities of beliefs and practices of *other* religions, while *not* applying the same analytical skills to what they have been taught (i.e., they critique Judaism and Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, et al on the respective scriptures, principles, teachings and merits of those religions, but accept the claims of Christianity on “faith.”).

* My religious upbringing allowed me to see firsthand the danger of the complacency of accustomization, which the adult moiself  eventually formulated into this truism: 

The ridiculous is no longer ridiculous when it is the familiar.

Favorite example:  Decades ago I heard two (white, Christian) women talking about a new (to them) religious festival, which they’d read about in a newspaper article about local Hindus  [1]   celebrating the Hindu Festival of Holi.  Among other activities, Holi celebrations involve adherents dancing in the streets and throwing colored dye and/or powdered paints on each other.  One of the women offered a weak defense of the color-flinging (“Well…maybe…it’s kinda like dying Easter eggs?”),  but both agreed that Holi  seemed…ahem…rather silly, not to mention primitive and nonsensical for a religious rite.

 

 

Their comments indicated that they were totally oblivious of how downright bizarre and even grotesque their own Christian ritual of symbolic (or in the case of the Catholic flavor of Christianity, literal   [2] ) cannibalism, celebrated in the Christian rite of communion, can seem to people of other religious faiths.

 

 

 

* My religious upbringing was an educational experience I tried, in part, to impart to my own children…which is why MH and I joined a Christian church (the most liberal denomination we could find – the United Church of Christ, aka The UCC).  We remained active members for years, until MH and I were honest with ourselves about not being able “…to do this anymore.”   [3]   This coincided with our children (son K and daughter Belle) being old enough and comfortable enough – despite liking both their church friends and many of the church’s social activities – to send the same honesty *our* way:

“Why do we go to church when I don’t – and it’s obvious that *you* don’t – believe any of that stuff (i.e., Christian theology)?”

Footnote which deserves more than a footnote:  [4]   Looking back, K and Belle were both open about their views long before MH and I were.  It seemed to me that their school peers talked about religion – read: regurgitated what they were taught in their parents’ churches – much more frequently than I could remember my peers doing when I was in grade school.   [5]    And while my offspring never initiated such conversations (they weren’t “afraid” of the subject; they simply had little-to-no interest in it) they would answer honestly any questions posed to them.  Perhaps because he was older,   [6]  K was subjected to this more than his sister, and was subjected to denigrating comments from certain classmates who were obviously being raised by very conservative religious, creationist-leaning parents.

 

If only the Jesus kids listened….

 

Although I was both happy with (and relieved by) my children’s inclination toward freethought, I wanted to be sure they understood that they must not be like their peers who criticized them –  I wanted K and Belle to own their own viewpoints, and not just hold the same opinions as MH and I did, without considering the issues for themselves.  When, for example, K shared a story about an outrageous and/or inane or just plain ignorant religious statement a kid had made, I would defend the kid (“He probably heard that at home/in church”), then question K further, trying to get him (and Belle) to practice the art of understanding a different POV:

“Why do you think someone would ____ (say/believe/think that)?

Can you think of any reasons why someone might ____ (say/believe/think that)?”

I did this consistently, until one day, K replied, with an insight (and sigh of resignation) beyond his years:

“The thing is, Mom, you know that *their* families are not doing the same.”  [7]

When classmates made anti-science/pro-religion comments, K would respond with his own opinions….which led to him receiving the “godless atheist” label.  I was proud of the way he handled himself, even as my heart cringed to see him mistreated by ignorant and mean-spirited Jesus bullies.  What was worse, IMO, were the friends who didn’t join in the abuse but who also didn’t stand up for him (some of whom, I eventually surmised, felt the same way as K but didn’t want to become targets themselves, and thus stayed silent).  

 

Belle had less school drama re her (lack of) religious beliefs.  And there were two major incidents which made me realize that she was fully capable of standing up for herself in that regard.   The first involved the last year Belle went to summer camp.

Both of our kids attended several seasons of the UCC’s summer church camp. Camp Adams is located in the temperate rainforest of Molalla (Oregon), with lots of fields and trails and creeks and a swimming hole – an ideal camp locale.  For the younger ages, Camp Adams was more camp than church.  For the older kids, starting around grade 5, the counselors and camp staff introduced more “churchy” things, including basic Christian theology (as seen through a liberal UCC lens).  This gradual morphing from all-camp-fun  to camp-fun-plus-Jesus-is-the-reason-we’re-here  is a typical progression, as I remember from my own years of church summer camps.   [8]

So: For several years in a row Belle had enjoyed going to summer camp – she even claimed to LOVE the camp’s food.  But Camp Adam’s mashed potatoes weren’t enough, the last year she went to camp.

 

 

A preview of coming attractions for that last-year-of-camp: when MH filled out Belle’s camp registration form, after the requests for standard information about family, emergency contacts, medical concerns, food allergies, etc. there was an open-ended question asking parents to list anything they thought “ …the camp counselors and staff should know about your child.”  MH wrote, “Belle will probably have little interest in the churchy or theological (religious) aspects of camp.  And that is fine.”

Both MH and I drove Belle to camp; I picked her up at the end of the camp week.  When I asked her how this year’s camp was she described a couple of amusing pranks the campers and counselors played on one another, then said that the rest of it was not the same fun as it used to be, and she wasn’t going back next year.   When I asked her to elaborate, she told me the following story:

Unlike in previous years, the camp had fireside “churchy” services every evening, which Belle found irritatingly pointless.  One day near the end of the camp week, the camp’s chaplain asked to meet with Belle privately.  He told her she wasn’t in trouble; rather, he was concerned for her: the camp’s counselors had noticed Belle sitting through those services making little attempt to disguise her disinterest.   [9]  The chaplain flipped through the pages of a bible on his desk, reading aloud several scripture passages he’d marked, passages which told of the Christian god’s love for his people and the importance of loving that god in return.  He then asked Belle what she thought about them.

 

 

I was surprised to hear this – throwing bible verses at a nine-year-old was not something I expected from a UCC chaplain (but I said nothing, and let Belle continue her story).  And Belle simply but firmly disagreed with him. She told him (in her 9-year-old vocabulary) that she did not find those verses – or anything in his bible – profound or relevant to her in anyway.  Despite being interested in all kinds of mythologies, she did not believe the stories about the Christian god were any different or factual than those of the Roman, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, and other deities she was reading about.

“Good for you!” I crowed, as I concentrated on *not* driving off the road (I was dancing in the driver’s seat with delight).  What an intimidating position to be in – for anyone, let alone a child – and she was able to stand up for herself.

 

So where do kids get such ideas?

 

The second incident occurred around the same season, when MH’s parents came to Oregon for their annual summer visit.  MH and his father were out running errands; I was also out, driving MH’s mother and Belle…somewhere.  Belle was in the front passenger’s seat; for reasons I cannot recall her grandma had insisted on sitting in the back seat, and then for reasons I really cannot fathom but remember as being totally out of context, Belle’s grandmother began talking to Belle about “god things.”  I gritted my teeth but said nothing – my MIL was talking to Belle, not me.  And Belle handled it with steely grace.

“I don’t believe in a god,” Belle calmy stated.

“You don’t believe in God?!?”  Belle’s grandmother spoke with shock and dismay, and if Belle had just said that she liked stomping on baby hamsters. “I feel sorry for you.”

“Well, I feel sorry for *you,*” Belle replied.

Once again, I thought my seatbelt would burst with pride.  That’s a difficult thing for a child, to stand their ground with a beloved relative who is criticizing and/or disapproving of you.

 

 

It was a long time ago and I’m unsure of the exact timeline, but at some point I thought, my work here is almost done, and I stopped attending our church.   [10]

I had wanted K and Belle to have a religious literacy, because at that time, religious thought seemed to rule the world (or at least the US of A).

 

 

I wanted them to be familiar with the dominant religion of our culture, which had figured strongly in both of their parents’ backgrounds, so that they would know what it was that they were “rejecting” (to use their grandmother’s language), and also so that they might be inoculated against religious proselytizing.  [11]   But, I wanted them to be exposed to all of this via a denomination/church where they would *not* be subjected to abhorrent doctrines which taught that, no matter what kind of life they’d led, post-death they would be sorted into either a rewarding afterlife or one where they are subjected to anguish and torment, depending on whether or not they had subscribed to certain theological abstractions.

 

 

(Excerpts from Tim Callahan’s review of Dinesh D’Soua’s frothy book of apologetics What’s so great about Christianity):

“…(religious moderates) claim that fanatics represent nothing more than a lunatic fringe.  However, we nonbelievers repeatedly encounter…egregious behavior among the faithful.  Often, those claiming to be among the Christian ‘saved’ are gratuitously rude and loutish.  Sometimes it’s only their casual arrogance that offends.  Or perhaps it’s the cosmic death threat.  D’Souza writes (p. xi)

‘Death forces upon you a choice that you cannot escape.
You must choose god or reject him, because when you die all abstentions are counted as ‘no’ votes.’…

Implicit in this statement is the threat of eternal damnation, not based on whether or not you have lived a good life, but rather whether or not you have adhered to what my wife refers to as the ‘loyalty oath.’  According to the ethics and ideology of the ‘loyalty oath’ we’re all such wretches (as in the hymn Amazing Grace) that no amount of decency in how we live can make up for our unbelief.  Conversely, any degree of depravity seems acceptable, so long as you’ve confessed your sinful nature and continue to affirm your belief in the (specifically) Christian god.  It is surprising that we take offense at this?”

 

 

And so on this weekend Christians call Easter (even though most Christians have no idea why, and the word is not in their scriptures),  I am celebrating the spring equinox, and reflecting on the ideas of renewal, and on the good fortune I had as a child and the even better fortune I chose to make for myself (and, I hope, model for my offspring) as an adult.

 

 

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week    [12]

 

 

*   *   *

May you reflect on an aspect of your childhood which was enlightening in ways you did not fully understand as a child;
May you detect the fine lines between the ridiculous and the familiar;
May you find an excuse to celebrate…something…which involves throwing colored paint on your fellow celebrants;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Several local high-tech companies employ a substantial amount of East Asian engineers, who brought their cultural and religious traditions with them and were beginning to be more “open” about their festivals and beliefs.

[2]  “Transubstantiation – the idea that during Mass, the bread and wine used for Communion become the body and blood of Jesus Christ – is central to the Catholic faith.” (Pew Research Center)

[3] As in, the intellectual dishonesty finally got to us, despite our wish to support a progressive, open & affirming congregation.

[4] Which is why it is there, and not here.

[5] Which was a large part of my inspiration for writing my juvenile novel, The Mighty Quinn.

[6] Belle is three years younger than K, and from what I heard her classmates didn’t talk religion as much as the older kids did.

[7] As in, those kids were not being encouraged at home to understand K’s POV – they were just being told that peop0le like K were wrong and/or going to hell.

[8] and is why K opted out of camp several years before Belle

[9] And apparently ratted her out to the chaplain.

[10] It took MH a bit longer to feel comfortable with being open about his beliefs; he kept attending services for a few weeks after the kids and I stopped going (I told the kids it was totally up to them if they wanted to go to church or not – even if MH and I were no longer attending, we would take them to church – any church – if they wanted to go).

[11] In my experience, some of the easiest converts, whether to mainstream denominations or cults (and what are cults, really, except for religions with less money and PR  than the mainstream denominations?), are people who’ve had no religious background at all and are naïve prey for slick proselytizing.

[12] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org

The Post I’m Not (Re) Running

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Well, not in its entirety.  But considering that in the past couple of weeks moiself  has been hearing and reading far too many, “back in my time/the good old days” sentiments, it seems appropriate to revisit the past.  The near past, in this case, from my post of 2020 (The Good Old Days I’m Not Remembering).

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Good Old Days Are More Old Than Good

Why is nostalgia like grammar?
We find the present tense and the past perfect. 
 [1]

Thanks to the podcast Curiosity Dailymoiself has learned that there is a classification for the nostalgic lens with which my mother viewed the stories of her childhood. In the podcast’s August 13 episode, one of the topics was nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations…..
Nostalgia’s definition has changed greatly over time. Consistent with its Greek word roots meaning “homecoming” and “pain,” nostalgia was for centuries considered a potentially debilitating and sometimes fatal medical condition expressing extreme homesickness. The modern view is that nostalgia is an independent, and even positive, emotion that many people experience often. Occasional nostalgia has been found to have many functions, such as to improve mood, increase social connectedness, enhance positive self-regard, and provide existential meaning.

( excerpts from Wikipedia entry on nostalgia )

Specifically, the podcast focused on the fact that the folks who study such things (nostal-geologists, as I like to think of them) have classified nostalgia into two types: restorative versus reflective nostalgia. 

Restorative nostalgia is when you feel like things used to be better in the past, and you long to relive or even reconstruct the way (you think) that things were.  Reflective  nostalgia involves recognizing your wistful feelings about how things used to be, and admitting you sometimes long for the old days even as you accept the fact that the past is past and that your perceptions of that past are probably biased.

 

 

I had an immediate, visceral reaction to hearing the names and descriptions of the two types of nostalgia; moiself  felt like I’d won a jackpot of sorts, in having a spot-on term for the kind of “looking back” my mother preferred to do.

My mother was quite willing to share her stories of growing up in the small northern Minnesota town of Cass Lake.  I frequently asked my parents about their childhoods, as I found their stories entertaining, fascinating, and ultimately revealing (even as I later found out about all of the concealing that was going on).  My father was the more skillful storyteller, both in the entertaining way he presented his stories and, as my siblings and I discovered in our adulthood, in his deftness at deflecting or avoiding talking about certain times of his life.    [2]  But this space, today, is for my mother’s restorative nostalgia.

As a child I’d observed that adults had this thing for “the good old days.” Although my mother didn’t present her stories with that introduction, the forthright manner in which she presented How Things Were Back Then ® made me astonished by the idea that anyone would pine for the olden days.

Restorative nostalgia: even as that kind of rose-colored-glasses/longing for the past is understandable, I’ve come to believe that it is ultimately not helpful, and can even be damaging.  Besides being unreal – you can’t go back and make things the way they were – restorative nostalgia is, or should be, undesirable, for any rational person. When I have met people who really and truly seem to wish for “the way things were,” I sometimes want to bitch slap them into reality…

 

 

…and ask them, Have you fully considered the totality of that “safe space” you think you long for…and would you be willing to take everything else that came with it?

Those “simpler times” for which many people wax nostalgic included the not-so-simple realities of massive (and often life-threatening) racial, gender, and sexual orientation repression and discrimination.

“Wait a minute, mom – I remember you telling me…” became my unintentional mantra, when it came to listening to my mother’s restorative nostalgia.  And after I had pointed out what, in my opinion, needed pointing out, she would respond with a somewhat conciliatory,  “Oh yes, well, there was that….”

One day when I was visiting my parents back during the first Gulf War, I brought up the subject of current events.  My mother began telling me about how she found herself “pining for” the days of World War II, aka, “The Good War.”

Uh….Mom…those were days when the WORLD was at WAR.

“Oh yes, well, there was that….” but, she continued, everyone knew each other in the town, and they all pulled together, and there was a feeling of solidarity….

I tried to validate that for her, then gently asked her if the pulling-together part made up for that awful day when the news came about the small town’s Bright Shining Hope:  the Cass Lake High School star athlete and recent graduate, beloved by all and engaged to a local girl, was killed in combat in Europe. The news devastated the town.  And didn’t she remember telling me about how horrible it was when the “telegraph truck” drove down Main Street, and when people saw it coming they ran into their houses, as if they could hide from the bad news, as if their shut doors would mean that the notice of a husband/brother/son/cousin who was KIA or MIA or wounded would pass on to another family….  And didn’t she remember telling me how “sick to death” she was by the adults who used the war to excuse their incompetence and blunders that had nothing to do with wartime circumstances, but if you tried to bring it to their attention or ask them to correct their mistakes, they’d sneer at you and say, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?!” and you’d be accused of being unpatriotic if you said anything after that?

 

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”  But things were “simpler” back then, in the old town/small town days, she declared. 

Well, maybe, I said…but “simple” doesn’t always equate to better, or even good.  And it seems far from simple – it seems complicated, even frightening, to me – to ponder much of what people had to navigate back then.

What would that be, she wondered?  She said she liked to remember the simple days, like the time when she and a friend walked back to their respective homes late one night after a school activity – they thought nothing of walking home after dark because they were safe from danger in a small town, and she’s thought of that over the years, when she couldn’t sleep until her own school-age children were home because she worried about us being out after dark….

“But wait a minute, mom…”  you had so many dangers back then that we don’t have now. Maybe you felt safe walking home at dark, but I remember the rest of that story you told me:  the very next morning, when you went to your friend’s house to walk with her to school like you did on every school day, you saw the frightening QUARANTINE! sign on her front door.  Your friend had been stricken – overnight, seemingly out of nowhere – with polio and was being kept alive by an iron lung, and your parents were almost frantic with fear, thinking you might also be infected.   And over the years I’ve heard about children in your small town who were crippled, even blinded and deafened, by diseases for which we now have vaccines and/or cures….

 

 

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….” But still, she insisted, people were friendlier back then. They pulled together, and put aside their differences to cooperate as equals – being a good citizen meant something, back then.

“But wait a minute, mom…”The “everyone pulling together” did not, in fact, include everyone.  Some citizens were more equal than others.  Don’t you remember telling me about “the Indian kids,” who were required by law to go to public school until age 13, after which they all dropped out, and how they all sat in the back of the class and the teachers rarely spoke to them and they never spoke in class?  You said, when I asked about their tribal affiliation, that you thought there were “at least two kinds of them,”   [3]   but you didn’t know what the “kinds” were – none of the whites did, because they weren’t interested and didn’t bother to find out, even though all the whites in town knew who was Norwegian-American and who was German- or Swedish-American…and that sometimes you felt bad for the Indians because you knew they had gone from being the majority to a minority in their own land….

And you told me about a high school girl who befriended the son of the only Chinese family in town – a family that had to constantly remind everyone during “The Good War” that they were Chinese, not Japanese – but this girl’s parents forced her to stop even speaking with him because they were horrified by the idea that their daughter might want to date “an Oriental”…. and when that Chinese family opened a grocery store because they couldn’t shop at the other stores in town during regular hours   [4]   no one patronized their store, and they were unable to make a living and moved to another town….

 

 

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”   Still, it was so much fun, the carefree high school days, she said, asking me if I remembered her telling me how she got to be lead saxophone player in the marching band (in such a small school in such a small town, if you played an instrument, you got to be in the band) and was valedictorian of her high school?  You know, back then, the teachers knew all the students and their families; they took a personal interest in their students, and everyone was so nice….

“But wait a minute, mom…” What about the fact that your mother had to call the school principal and fight to get you into the physics class, because the physics teacher refused to “waste my time teaching science to girls”?  And then, after the principal forced the teacher to accept the two top students in Cass Lake High School – two girls, you and your best friend, Dorothy K – into his class, the teacher refused to speak to you or call on you when you raised your hand, and said openly to you and Dorothy on the first day of class that although it was against his will he’d been ordered to allow you into his classroom, and he grudgingly agreed to teach Dorothy because, “It’s obvious that she will have to work for a living.”

 

 

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”

Then, without a modicum of introspection or self-awareness, my mother said, “Oh well, it turned out I never found physics to be very interesting….”

Well, of course not – why would you have?!?!?!  You were actively discouraged from being interested in it! The teacher paid no attention to you – he didn’t care if you learned anything. He had to give you an A because you read the required materials, aced all of the tests, and all the other students knew you had the top grade in the class.

And what about the way your best friend, Dorothy K, was treated?  Because she was “disfigured” – a botched forceps delivery damaged her facial muscles, causing the right side of her face to droop, as if she’d had a stroke – Dorothy was raised to accept the “fact” that because she lacked the most important feminine asset – a pleasing face – no man would ever want to date, much less marry her, and that she would need to make her own way in the world…in a world where the same men who would not consider her romantic partner material were also predisposed to not consider her their intellectual or professional equal….

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”

And that job you had, after your junior college graduation: you worked as a secretary at the post office, and you said it drove you nuts, how the clerk was so incompetent and you often ended up doing his duties (but of course you didn’t get paid for doing so), and you knew you could do the job better but when you asked the manager you were told that, as a woman, you weren’t eligible to even apply for such a position…and how you were saving up your money to buy a car, but as soon as you were married you had to quit your job, because a married woman couldn’t work at the post office….

“Oh yes, well, there was that….”

and that…and that…and that…and that….

The incidents – read: life – my mother told me about…how do I explain this?  She never told those stories as examples of hardship or discrimination.  She presented them matter-of-factly, and often seemed to be befuddled by how gob-smacked I was to hear them.  To her, that was just the way things were; I heard the between-the-lines details – hardship and fear, racism and discrimination – that didn’t even, technically, require me to read between the lines as they were, to me, glaringly overt…even as those details were, to her, not the point of her stories.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Dorothy Is Not In Kansas Anymore

I met my mother’s friend, the afore-mentioned, legendary (to moiself ), Dorothy K, only once.  I was in college, home for a visit, and my mother excitedly told me that her friend Dorothy was returning to the States after her latest overseas trip, and had arranged to take a flight to LAX. My parents picked up Dorothy at the airport and brought her to their house, where she stayed overnight until she caught a flight back to her home.    [5] 

I was somewhat enthralled with the idea of Dorothy: over the years, I’d heard about how she was a chemist, made good money, and spent her free time travelling around the world.  When I finally met her I remember thinking how attractive I found her to be – she had “good bones,” and I couldn’t help but wonder how her life would have been, sans that incompetent doctor forceps mishap.

Part of my enthrallment came via comparing her life to my mom’s.  Moiself  (ungraciously, I know) saw my mother as a staid homemaker, someone who worked all day but never got paid, and who had never been anywhere except for Cass Lake and Santa Ana. And here is her friend, with a career in science, who travels the globe….

I later thought of the ironies of Dorothy’s life, including the fact that the characteristic which made her “damaged goods” in the eyes of her culture is also what allowed her to go to college and work in fields that were closed to women in that time.  Her disfigurement essentially neutered her in the eyes of males; thus, she presented no threat of “distraction” (i.e., of them being sexually attracted to her).  Although I’ve little doubt that she faced discrimination (she shared a few stories with me, about always being the only woman in her department), it was as if she were a third gender: since men didn’t see her as a woman she was less of a threat to male colleagues, in terms of them having to consider that they were being equaled, or even bested, by a woman.

My mother (privately, years after Dorothy’s visit) admitted to me that she sometimes wondered what it would like to be Dorothy, whom she saw as independent and carefree.  And I wondered, is that how Dorothy saw herself?  Considering the culture she was raised in, instead of fully embracing her life – her career and the intellect she was allowed to develop – did she ever compare herself to, say, my mother?  Did she in any way envy my mother for having a husband and children – for having the life Dorothy was told would not be possible for her, even as it was the only/ultimate/proper life to which a girl was supposed to aspire? Or, did she look at my mother’s life and find it…tedious, and limited?

Such questions haunt me, whenever I think of Dorothy.  I wish I could ask her, but she died several years before my mother did. I can only hope that whatever nostalgia Dorothy dabbled in, that it was reflective, and brought her satisfaction.

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week   [6]

 

*   *   *

May your nostalgia be reflective;
May you be able to let go of the past while appreciating the lessons it taught you;
May you live in the present with your eyes open;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Couldn’t find attribution for this old pun.

[2] In this post, I mentioned a few of them. My father died not knowing his adult children had found just how poor (and dysfunctional) his family was, and that he’d never graduated (nor even attended) high school because his father forced all his children to drop out of school at age 13. And when I found this out, some missing pieces fell into place; I realized that all the stories Dad had told about his youth, to his children, were carefully told to hide those details.  For example, we’d made assumptions that the job he talked about having “after school” was part-time, when in fact he was working fulltime, when his peers were in school, and we never put the pieces together to realize that the school stories he’d shared were all pre-high school….

[3] The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe were “two kinds” of indigenous tribes which had settled in the Cass Lake area, centuries before Europeans arrived.

[4] One grocer let the Chinese family shop at his store early, before regular hours, so that the other (white) families wouldn’t see them.

[5] …to wherever that was for her.  I cannot remember; it was in some larger city.  She’d left Cass Lake to go to college, and only returned to that small town to visit her parents, who remained there until their deaths.

[6] “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists.   No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.”  Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org .

The Advice I’m Not Giving

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As referenced in my blog of 1-20-23  …

Department Of Here We Go Again
Sub-Department OF Preview Of Coming Grievances Attractions

( Sub- Department explanation: the next three blogs will deal with various aspects of The Writing Life As Moiself  Sees It ®)  …

This is part three of a three-part series. Parts one (The Awards I’m Not Winning, 1-27-23) and two (The Platform I’m Not Building, 2-3-23 ) are available to sentient beings by following the links.

*   *   *

Occasionally moiself  is asked, by those who self-identify as either writers or “aspiring writers,” for my advice via my AS-A credentials (“As a published writer, could you give me some tips on….”).  The advice being sought typically has to do with how to get published.  However, on some occasions it has also been – and I am so not making this up – on *what* to write:

“I really, really want to write fiction, but I don’t have any ideas for a story.  How do you come up with your ideas?”

 

 

I was gob-smacked the first time I heard that question, but managed not to blurt out my first thought:  “Holy self-awareness, dude, then fiction writing isn’t for you.” Instead, I leaned closer to him (this was at a book/literature fair) and said, sotto voce,

“Just between you and me, there’s this guy wearing a dark gray trench coat who hangs out in Pioneer Square on Thursday evenings between 10-11 pm, and for $50 he’ll give you a list of story ideas he found that fell off a truck….”

 

 

Last year I received an inquiry from the adult son    [1]   of a friend of a friend who wanted to pick my brain about the writing and publishing worlds. This prompted me to organize, in a marginally coherent form, the notes I’d been taking notes for years on the subject.  Thus, the following essay (which may be of little interest to those outside the writing “world,” and if that’s you, not to worry  – the usual amalgam of political rants, feminist/humanist daydreams, punz and fart jokes will return next week).

Although what follows is quite lengthy – and by lengthy I mean, thoughtful and detailed – it is the gist of what I might say if someone held a gun to my head (and moiself  really hopes that nobody will do that) and ordered me to answer the question,

In five words or less, what would you advise to aspiring fiction writers who want to write for publication?”

My answer, under those circumstances:

Ha! Don’t do it.

And if those four words are enough to discourage you from writing for publication, then you shouldn’t.

 

*   *   *

“Sometimes your job as an artist is to be invited somewhere
and ensure they never invite you back.”   [2]

RAT-A-WOF
(Robyn’s Advice To Aspiring Writers Of Fiction – yes, I know I need a better acronym).

Once upon a time, Writer’s Digest   [3]  asked a handful of writers the following question: “What advice would you offer a person who aspires to a writing career?” My favorite responses included:

“Sorry – if I had any advice to give I’d take it myself.”
(John Steinbeck)

“The…writer needs talent and application….
If you want to write just to make money, you are not a writer.”
(James Thurber)

“Beware of advice – even this.”
(Carl Sandburg)

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Despite my relative-to-almost-complete lack of literary notoriety, I’m occasionally asked what advice I would give to aspiring writers.  I have two bits of counsel.  The first:  never ask other writers for advice.  The second (should you dare to proceed after the first) is a two-parter:  aspiring writers should stop aspiring and start writing, and just as importantly (if not more so), they should read.  If more guidance is requested, well, then, you asked for it…

My Advice To Newbie or Aspiring Fiction Writers ®

  1. Don’t do it.
  2. If you ignore #1 and proceed, develop a hide so thick whale sharks envy you.   [4]
  3. Aspiring writers should stop aspiring and start writing.
  4. Anyone who can be deterred from writing fiction should be.
  5. Never ask other writers for advice.
  6. There is no #6. What were you expecting, after #5?

 

 

Aren’t those bits o’ counsel a tad harsh?

More like honest and direct.

Writing fiction, like old age, ain’t for sissies.  You must tell the truth and run, in both the writing itself and in the dicey area of offering — or accepting — advice.  And yes, my Prime Directive of Fiction is,  “Those who can be discouraged from writing fiction should be.”  Or they should at least be strongly encouraged to analyze their motivation for writing, as opposed to their motivation for “being a writer.”

Do you feel as though you have to, need to, write — as if you’ve received The Call to do so, and that you in some way have no choice in the matter?  If so, I’d recommend seeing a mental health professional to help you figure out the neediness part.

“I love living the life of a famous writer.
The trouble is, every once in a while you have to write something.”
(Ken Kesey)

The most important questions for an aspiring fiction writer to ask are, Do I like to write?  Do I want to write?  Do I have ideas, and do I want to do — am I able to do — the actual process of writing?

I used that quote from Kesey not just to engender a chuckle of wry appreciation; it illustrates an Important Point (the capitals and italics also help).  Many more people want to Be a Writer — supposing it (the writing “lifestyle” or profession)  to be glamorous, well-paying and prestigious — than actually want to write, which can be lonely, frustrating, tedious, and which, especially for the free-lancer (working in any genre), requires an enormous amount of self-discipline and motivation.

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Competition and “Success”

– For every Big Name Writer® whose byline is familiar even to non-readers and whose works are ubiquitously displayed in the high-profile stands at bookstores and in racks at the supermarket checkout stand, there are thousands (a conservative estimate) of unknown writers, slaving away at the office or classroom or café during the day and at their desks or computers at nights and on weekends.

– Several years ago The Writer magazine noted that, of the 275+ million people living in the USA, approximately 60 make a “good living” writing fiction; i.e., they are able to support themselves solely by writing and are not dependent  upon another income (from a spouse or family member or two or three “other” jobs of their own).  Sixty out of 275 million.  DO THE MATH.

– Full-time fiction writers make an average of <$7,000/year from writing fiction (The Writer, 1993…adjusting for inflation will not make this statistic any more palatable).   [5]  

– The National Writer’s Union’s survey found that most freelance fiction writers make under four thousand dollars a year from their writing, and only sixteen percent made over thirty thousand a year.  [6]

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Fun with Statistics (read: How good are you at dealing with rejection?)

I hope you like dessert, as in, the writer’s daily slice of humble pie:

Someone out there always say no.

The vast majority of queries you send out, whether to editors, agents or publishers, will receive a standard rejection. That’s the way the business is. You won’t be told why they rejected your manuscript (which can be frustrating), but there’s a good reason for that: what doesn’t work for one agent or editor might work for another.

If this happens over and over and you really want to know what’s “wrong” (or just not working well) in your manuscript, get it critiqued by a professional, neutral party.   [7]    But keep in mind that even if your work is brilliant, it might not be the right match for particular agents/editors/publishers. It’s analogous to finding someone to marry: it has to be the right person at the right time, and there are many other fish in the sea (especially for agents, editors and publishers).

Here is an example of one of the more gracious rejections letters, from the literary journal Zyzzyva, which also contains an important truth for writers to keep in mind (my emphases):

“Thank you for offering your work for consideration. I regret to say that we do not have a place for your work at this time. Please forgive us for passing on your work and for doing so without further comments or suggestions.
I would like to say something to make up for this ungraciousness, but the truth is we have so little space, we must return almost all of the work that is submitted, including a great deal that interests us and even some pieces we admire.

The grim stats:  Duotrope (a service for writers) keeps track of submission and rejection stats, and has this standard disclaimer for these stats: “Rejections are often underreported, which skews the statistics in favor of acceptances. Most publishers have a lower acceptance rate than indicated here.”  For Zyzzyva, the reported rejection rate is 98.73%.

* Typical statement from a literary journal (this one from anderbo, which, although a non-paying market, is flooded with submissions), re their stats:  “We are able to use less than ½ of one percent of submissions.”

* Milkweed Press, a respected literary publisher, receives over 3k submissions per year and publishes ~15 books per year (a 0.5 acceptance rate).  Albert Whitman Publishers (children’s literature) receives 5,000 manuscripts per year and publishes 30 titles.

* The New Yorker, arguably the most renowned/respected/influential market for fiction, receives 4000 submissions per month (and tends to draw from its stable of “established” – read: “name” – writers). It publishes one story per issue, has 47 issues per year, giving it an acceptance rate of < 0.01%.

* From an agent’s website:  “We receive 1,000-1,200 queries a year, which in turn lead to 2 or 3 new clients.” (acceptance rate 0.03 %, rejection rate 99.97%)

Unfortunately, I could go on with the grim statistics citations.  Everyone loves an overnight success story, which is why those stories of the author with the hit first novel – a truly rare phenomenon, which is what makes it newsworthy – is what you hear about (and not about the 19,000 other authors who have had rejection after rejection).  And many authors/books now considered classics had quite the rocky road to being published (and some of the most critically praised authors and artists never had their work bought or published while they were alive).  Just a few examples: 

* Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 40 publishers until it found a home.

* Emily Dickinson died unpublished.

* C.S. Lewis sent more than 800 manuscripts out before he made a sale; Ray Bradbury, also around 800.

* Gone With The Wind was rejected by more than 20 publishers.

*Jerzy Kozinski’s The Painted Bird was rejected by the same publisher several times, and one of those times after that same publisher (a different editor) had accepted it.

* F. Scott Fitzgerald was told by an agent, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”

* Karl Marlante’s debut novel, the widely praised Matterhorn, languished in literary purgatory for 30 (yes, thirty) years before the author could find an agent/publisher.

Even if you are published, what are your chances of having your book reviewed?  From Authors Guild Bulletin  and Publisher’s Weekly (2007): “Three thousand books are published daily (1,095,000 per year) in the U.S.  Six thousand were reviewed, less than one percent of the total published.”

* From an article in The Writer:  “It isn’t enough to have an incredible story, a well-written manuscript, and a dream.  Did you know that out of the hundreds of thousands of books published each year in this country (by traditional brick-and-mortar publishers), about 95% of them sell fewer than 500 copies?”

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“Anyone who can be discouraged from writing fiction should be.”
( R. G. Parnell )

How I love quoting myself.  And I’m not the only writer who does so:

“I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.”
( Variously attributed to Oscar Wilde and/or George Bernard Shaw)

But seriously, as you may have deduced by now, “Anyone who can be discouraged from writing fiction should be” is my writing advice motto.   Because if that’s all it takes – *my* discouragement – to discourage you, then you haven’t got what it takes.  And even if you do “have what it takes,” (however that is defined), the art and craft of writing is one thing…and the nasty, competitive, scam-filled and financially unrewarding (for 99% of writers) business of getting your writing published – that’s quite another thing.

The legitimate  [8]  publishing opportunities for beginning (and even veteran) fiction writers have drastically shrunk over the last fifty years.  No longer are most mainstream magazines publishing fiction – whether short stories or novel excerpts – and the few remaining ones which do will not even look at your work unless you have a “name” or are represented by a literary agent.  [9]  So, the markets for your work are mainly literary journals, most of which are associated with university English departments and thus staffed by (cringe) MFA writing students.  Translation: your work is going to be “judged’ by those people who are stupid/vain/gullible/pretentious/naive ignorantly idealistic enough to be paying tuition (or worse yet, accruing loan debt) for an MFA.  All this, and no pay for your work.    [10]

Yep: you will be paid nothing, but it will cost you something. The majority of literary journals and other venues for fiction writing “pay” in the form of free copies (or, worse yet, that dreaded word, “exposure”).   [11]      (Because you of course can turn around and pay your SCBWI and Author’s Guild  [12]   dues and Poets & Writer’s and The Writer subscriptions, as well as postage and toner cartridge and paper supplies, by trading those free copies….)

What with the “digital revolution,” markets for writers now include online journals. Some of these online journals are associated with universities and MFA programs and some not…and all mostly have the same “pay” policy ( “We regret than we cannot pay our contributors…but we offer exposure….” ).

Many journals, and even publishers, have started charging submission fees for potential contributors, (even those journals which are non-paying markets).  Or, they only publish via their contests. There are thousands of literary contests (it seems like every journal, and a growing number of literary presses, has one nowadays, in addition to – or sometimes replacing – their regular submissions venues).   [13]    This has the effect of diluting the distinction of winning a writing contest or award – it’s about as meaningful as a kids’ soccer team award (“Every kid gets a trophy for participating!”).

There are so many literary contests, it seems that sooner or later every writer will be able to claim to be “an award-winning writer.”  (for more fun-poking at this trend see my blog, The Awards I’m Not Winning 1-27-23)  Some of these contests have nominal financial prizes for the winners (which are funded by the contest/award entry fees), but, other than The Big Ones (The Pulitzer, et al), don’t be fooled into thinking that your “winning” the Michael Shaara Award For Excellence In Civil War Fiction    [14]  gives you publishing cachet, or ultimately means anything to anyone inside (or outside) the publishing world. 

 

 

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Writing classes and workshops and conferences and MFA degree programs

I do not recommend any of the above and have boycotted them on principal. Thus, I cannot offer any advice from experience if you’re interested in attending, say, a Sci Fi writers conference.

The thing about writing fiction:  except for fiction’s “one percent”  (the Stephen Kings, et al) it is difficult-to-impossible to make a living doing what you do.  Even if you are a regularly published author, so you have to cobble together other gigs:    [15]    speaking/reading/workshops….  Imagine a profession where you can’t make a living doing what you do, so you have to scheme to get paid talking about doing what you do…which isn’t doing what you do.

“The only way to make money from writing is to fleece (other) writers.
Exposure! Networking! Sigh.”
(Anonymous writer, on a SCBWI forum )

My lack of interest in and even objection on principle to writing classes and workshops is that they cannot help but be formulaic; also, I think that they either consciously or inadvertently promote art by consensus.   It’s possible, of course, to learn or to be taught basic elements of composition, grammar, spelling and punctuation, from a teacher or from your peers – you can even get some pointers on point of view, and you can certainly learn through the example of writers who inspire and impress you.   [16]    But I think the proliferation of writing classes, programs, and “How to Write a Damned Really Good Novel” seminars has more to do with the infiltration of the Cult of Celebrity into the writing profession than from any demonstration of these programs’ supposed “effectiveness.”

There is a desire on the part of many beginning and intermediate writers to rub elbows and Ipads with famous, beloved, or (often self-professed) Important and Successful ®  Authors.   It’s possible that many authors who teach writing workshops, classes and speak at seminars sincerely love teaching and value being someone’s mentor or muse.  However, a driving force behind the workshops/classes/seminars business is one of the literary world’s dirty little economic secrets:  teaching and lecturing to wannabe fiction writers provides a more reliable source of income than does writing fiction.

“It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money
writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.”
( W.H. Auden )

BTW:  Conferences and workshops where you can meet editors and agents and get two minutes to pitch them your manuscript and/or ideas – you will pay for this (such conferences and workshops charge hefty fees to attendees), as the editors and agents are usually paid to be there.  It reminds me of a Tupperware party, or those other home businesses in which the hosts are making money off of their friends, relatives and neighbors.

My advice re writing classes and workshops and conferences and MFA degree programs: save your money and buy more books instead!  Which is related to:

Content/Genre/Topics

“Bad news: everything of (human) significance has already been written.
Good news: most of it is out of print & long forgotten.”
(Joyce Carol Oates)

“If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing
that’s read by people who move their lips when they’re reading to themselves.”
( Don Marquis, American humorist, journalist, author 1878 – 1937 )

My advice re fiction subject matter:  write something just out of your reach.  Try to write the stories someone might tell you you’re not ___ enough (young; old; experienced; successful; American; European….) to write.  However, given the current political climate of fiction publishing, be prepared for someone from the self-appointed Literary And Imagination Appropriation Police ® to tell you that you don’t have the “right” to write that kind of story or character (insert world weary sigh).

Most likely, you already have ideas about what you want to write about, whether your interests and story ideas might be classified as literary or genre. So, go for that.  And (1) read *everything* –  across categories and genres –  but (2) craft your own voice.  And remember:  the first is relatively easy, and no one knows how to tell you to do the second (no matter how much they are willing to charge you for their “sure-fire” Find Your Own Voice Writing Technique Seminar).

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Miscellaneous principles, opinions, and unsolicited advice

“Of all the higher arts, it (writing) is the most self-taught…in the end, you have to find your own way.”
(John Updike,  from an interview published in The Writer, June 2001).

I couldn’t agree more or say it better…which is why I find myself using another writer’s words (ahem) to illustrate one of my most strongly held convictions:  that fiction writers should walk their own paths and develop their own voices.   This conviction is one reason I never advise fiction writers (actual or aspiring) to take writing classes and/or workshops, whether one-time seminars, intensive weekend retreats, or MFA or other degree programs in “creative writing” or whatever.   (And if I ever am found to be making bucks from teaching a writing seminar or somehow profiting from the promotion of such programs, you’ve my permission to pelt me with a ream of plutonium-laminated rejection notices).

Some writers join or form writers support groups, wherein group members meet on a regular basis to network, offer support in the never-ending struggle to attain publication, and/or critique one another’s work.  While I can appreciate the appeal such groups hold for some folks, I’ve never had any interest in them.  My time to write is limited and therefore valuable to me; also, I have a life inside, outside, and intertwined with writing.  I’ve been doing this for a while; I’ve a tough hide and can handle rejection (and acceptance) without group therapy or validation.  I am fortunate to enjoy doing what I do (well, the actual writing part – it should be obvious by now what I think about the Biz of Publishing).  I like to write; however, talking about writing — even with other writers — isn’t writing.  Besides, I can barely stand my own first drafts – why would I want to read someone else’s?  😉

“The rise and influence of MFA programs is not nearly as pernicious as the whole notion of ‘workshopping’ literature.  In what other art form would a creative artist claim as his own a work that has the thumbprints of a dozen or more people on it?
The best that can be said of MFA programs is that they give participants a sense of community, time and space to write, and exposure to the business of literature.  The best that can be said of workshops is that they train writers to respond and compromise rather than to catch fire.  These developments may account for the blandness of much contemporary literature.  They also say something about the character of our culture and the ability of workshops to really impart anything except the tyranny of taste.  Finally, it might be that good reading is actually the portal to good writing.  How much better time would be served by carefully reading Joyce and Proust.”
(Michael Keating, from his letter to the editor,
Poets & Writers, July/August 2003;
emphases mine)

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So, after all that, you still want to write fiction for publication?
Here’s what you need to do:

  1. READ! Anything and everything, non-fiction as well as short fiction, novels and poetry.
  2. WRITE! Yep, there’s no way around it.  Write whenever you can, whatever you can.  Keep a folder or journal of observations, ideas, opinions….
  3. GET AN EDUCATION! (But major in something — anything  — other than “writing.”)
  4. GET A JOB! Find or create something you enjoy doing (or can at least tolerate) that pays the bills AND leaves you with enough physical and emotional time and energy to write.  You will not be able to support yourself or your family solely by writing fiction — get used to this idea.
  5. GET A LIFE! What do you expect to write about?  And I must firmly explain what I mean here, lest it be thought for one nanosecond that I would encourage anyone to pen anything resembling a memoir.  It’s not that there is a ready-made audience for the incredible story of YOU, thinly disguised in every tale you tell.  Rather, this advice is meant to encourage you to collect experiences and observations, from and about which you and the characters you create may extrapolate, imagine, expound upon, confirm, deny and challenge.  A writer is (or should be), above all else, naturally curious.  Live, look, listen, imagine, question…and then write.
  6. READ! And encourage others to do so (do you want a market for your work, or what?)

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Oh, and one more fun thing

When word gets out – to family, friends, co-workers, neighbors – that you are a writer, be prepared for the following “I-Just-Have-A-Small-Favor-To-Ask-Of-You” scenario (from a letter to Carolyn Hax’s marvelous advice column, “Tell Me About It”):

I am a writer by profession — meaning I get paid to do what I do. I am constantly asked to edit someone’s community newsletter, write something about someone’s kid who plays lacrosse to send to college coaches, or write someone’s family Christmas letter. (I hate those things, but anyway.)
When I quote my hourly rate, I get the hurt look and, “Oh, I thought you’d just do it for me as a friend,” or — in the case of a newsletter — “Oh, I just thought it would be fun for you; it is a good cause and probably would not take much time.”

You wouldn’t think of asking your son’s soccer coach, who is a podiatrist, to fix your bunions for free (“I thought it might be fun for you – it’s probably be easier than your other surgeries, and you’re so good at it”), or try to wrangle a free housecleaning from your neighbor who works for Merry Maids. But there’s something about knowing that you work in an “artistic” field which brings out the mooch in everyone.

It doesn’t even matter to these freeloaders favor-askers, when you protest that you are a writer of fiction, not grant proposals/term papers/college essays/office brochures.  In their eyes, you are a writer, which means that you can just whip out anything, right?  Your writing and editing skills will be coveted by others, enough that they will ask you to do work  *for* them, yet not enough to be compensated *by* them.

I can count on the fingers of one hand – if that hand had lost three fingers in a tragic panini press accident – the number of times someone has asked for my professional writing skills and what I would charge for the project they had in mind.  In every other case, I very quickly discovered the Favor Asker’s assumption was that I would do the work for free…for them…for the honor of being asked, and…for “the exposure….”

*****************

If you still want to write fiction (or already are writing, and are ready to start investigating publishing opportunities), here are some resources to help you navigate the logistics of submitting your work to publishing venues.

Self-publishing disclaimer: I have not gone that route and thus will not offer advice to anyone who wishes to self-publish, except to note that I have negative opinions as to that option – which seems to be one of last resort.  If your work wasn’t good enough for regular publishers (something several self-published authors I’ve met at book fairs and/or literary events told me was their opinion – about their own work! – which is why, they said, they “had to” self-publish…and gee, could I give them some tips about how I got published by a “real” publisher?), self-publishing won’t make it any better.

Self-publishing seems to be a workable option for some writers in the non-fiction genres.  Still, every self-published fiction book I’ve read (this an anecdotal opinion, not scientific data) has literally screamed amateurish, from the cover art and font and graphics to the content and copy editing, and I’ve noticed that their authors have scrambled for “real”/traditional publishers whenever they can.

 

 

( The rest of this article contained three pages of the resources previously mentioned.  Moiself shall spare you the effort of skipping through them. You’re welcome. )

*   *   *

May you treat yourself to something amazing – if you‘ve managed to make it this far, you deserve it;
May moiself be done with critiquing the writing/publishing profession…for now;
May you ignore that inane groundhog prediction and hope for an early spring;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] The advice I give in this article is not what I would say to a child interested in writing. 

[2] Variously attributed…to someone.  Who knows, maybe I said it.

[3] Way back in September 1961.

[4] Everyone uses rhinos as the epitome of thick-skinned mammals, but the whale shark has the thickest skin of all living creatures.  Who knew? Well, now *you* do.

[5] And these stats may be even lower, what with the rise of eBooks, and the resulting internet piracy cutting into author’s royalties.

[6] From the Nov-Dec 2005 SCBWI journal.  These stats are still valid when adjusted for inflation and population changes, as per current Authors Guild and other sources.  I am too lazy to update the citations.

[7] As in, not anyone who knows you personally; not your uncle, no matter how much of a great English composition teacher he is.  You will need to pay for this service.

[8] Having your story “published” on your or your friend’s blog or website does not mean that your work has been published.

[9] Although, like The New Yorker, they will lie about this in their writers’ submissions guidelines.  That is, they will claim that they are “open to unagented submissions,” but, as one former TNY editor staffer revealed, they have *never* published anything from the slush pile ). 

[10] Beckett, the avant Garde/tragic-comic/black humor Irish novelist, poet, playwright, director, essayist, most famous for his play,”Waiting for Godot.”  Becket also provided one of my favorite anti-privilege quotations, regarding his peers studying modern literature at Dublin University (“Dublin university contains the cream of Ireland: Rich and thick.”) 

[11] And you have to report the cover price of the “free” copy as income.  So, you received three copies of The Gnarled Kneecap Quarterly  ($10.95 per copy) upon their publication of your short story.  Come time to do your writing business income taxes, you have to report $47.85 worth of income for which you received no cash payment.

[12] The SCBWI – Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and The Authors Guild, are the two preeminent associations for writers.  Members receive their quarterly periodicals, and access to their online data bases of tutorials, publishers, markets, etc.

[13] I wrote an essay making fun of that phenomenon, which one editor told me was unpublishable because, as he pointed out to me, “…practically all literary journals have contests and lack a sense of humor about it.”  But it was published, in a (now defunct) Portland-based journal.

[14] other than to you, your grandmother, and perhaps Michael Shaara’s son, who started that award in remembrance of his father, a writer of – wait for it – Civil War fiction. Yes, there’s a genre for everything.

[15] This, of course, is common to any artistic field. Very few artists, from painters to potters to sculptors to musicians, can support themselves by sales of their art alone, and most teach classes, have “day jobs,” or arrange other gigs from which they cobble together a living wage, or may be supported by their spouses, or have a patron, which was especially common during the Renaissance. And you may have heard of the stereotypical actor/screenwriter who waits tables at nights and goes on auditions (or hassles agents or publishers) during the day….

[16] And you can (and should) do this by reading their writing.

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