Category Archives: Philosophy

The Inescapable Nevering

THE INESCAPABLE NEVERING

Close to the half-century mark
I will likely never

Climb Mount Everest
Spend a night in the International Space Station
Star in a Hollywood picture

And I’m okay with that or mostly okay
But there is another never
Far more subtle and harder to accept

Hundreds of beloved books on my bookshelf
that will never be reread
Thousands of favorite songs in my collection
that will never be heard again
And millions of pleasant thoughts in my head
that will never be thought again

Not so much forgotten or ignored
As simply not coming to mind
Buried in the vault of me

That keeps on acquiring
new books to read
new music to hear
new pleasant thoughts to cherish

iTunes tells me I need
(right now)
215.4 days to listen
(to everything)

one      time      through

Music plays while I write this
The whole of it on shuffle

Finding Our Pulse

kind

Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.

Mark Combs, a friend of mine from way back, posted the above Voltaire quote.

I like the line quite a bit, even though I consider words like “guilty” and “good” to be counterproductive and ultimately vacuous, as are their antonyms, innocent and evil. The problem with such words is that they can too easily draw people into a cycle of focusing on assignation rather than pushing them forward into personal action.

And action, really, is at the heart of Voltaire’s words. A call to action.

A call to the realization that not taking action is an action in and of itself. A realization that there is no middle ground. A realization that you have a choice to act and that “if you choose not to decide / you still have made a choice.

With the Orlando massacre, there are analyses of cause by both professional and armchair intellectuals.  There are conversations about prevention ranging from passing stricter gun laws to saying everyone in the nightclub should have been armed.

But I want to approach it a wholly different way. Approach it at the individual level; at the level I go to on a daily basis.

What part did you play in the massacre? We all should ask ourselves this question, and ask it often.

And you did play a part. Of course you did. Remember: there is no middle ground.  So, phrased another way, did you play the part of someone trying to make things better for all?

Passing bathroom bills and engaging in other forms of hate speech is the antithesis of better. And doing nothing amounts to the same.

When I hear about violence, I tell my husband how much I love him. When I hear about animal abuse, I hold my critters close. When I hear about child abuse, I think of all the kids I work with and how much I want to protect them.

And then I expand that circle: say hi to a neighbor, pet a stray animal, think of another way I can help kids.

So phrased yet another way, at this precise moment, with your finite life running out, what “good” do you have left to do.

And what are you waiting for?

The Whelming

1100-2

Spur yourself to muster the power of faith. Regard your survival as wondrous. Employ the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other.

Many things in my current slice of Vermont life are overwhelming. Underwhelming, too, as those two words are more collusive than opposing.

All the concrete biggies are in play: Finances, Health, and Security. The existential ones too: Purpose, Meaning, and Creativity.

I am anxious about being able to provide for my family, my dangerous drop in weight, and the uncertainty of the future. I worry about not doing what I was born to do, finding less attached too often to meaning, and words unwritten dying with me.

I take action of course: applying for better, more-suitable employment, like with the Vermont Humanities Council; creating work and putting it out there, like with this post; and continuing my volunteer activities, like with reading submissions for the Mud Season Review.

I take more actions than the above and try to think of what further things I can do, what other steps I can take, to create a life that is something other than “nasty, brutish and short.”

Lately, in addition to chanting, I’ve been reading and rereading Strategy of the Lotus Sutra. It is a short letter, just a page or so, Nichiren wrote to his devout follower Shijō Kingo. It is a reply to a letter Kingo had sent about being ambushed by some of his fellow samurai, encouraging him to remain strong in faith; indeed, for him to become even more resolute.

Faith is difficult for me to muster.

Ribs clearly visible in my gaunt body, I envision the formidable obstacles in any potential roads taken and doubt my abilities. Yet I am still alive to have or not have faith, time passing either way.

“Regard your survival as wondrous” seems to have two meanings. The first as in thinking wow, I survived this horrible attack. How amazing! But also, life in general is a constant struggle to survive, and us being around at any given moment is something quite extraordinary.

The “strategy” of the Lotus Sutra is faith; not just having it but understanding its relation to other things. Faith is not something to be added later, but should come first. It is the foundation upon which all other actions – strategies – are built.

I’ve been trying to chant – and take action – with such thoughts in mind.

Nichiren ends the letter with “A coward cannot have any of his prayers answered.”

I think of this line, too, as I take determined steps forward, despite being very much afraid.

Death of a Cat

Christopher, 2015

Christopher, 2015

Life continues until it doesn’t.

Obvious, huh? So much so, why bother writing it? Maybe because I’m not sure what it means.

Christopher died on Tuesday. We had been expecting his death, but it still felt unexpected. The timing was definitely…

I half want to write “inconvenient” here as there is a certain amount of accuracy to it. But there is an unintentional coldness present, too, with using such a word; an uncaring to it that is as far from the truth as one can ever get.

Maybe I can substitute “awkward” instead.

Gary called me at work. Already stressfully behind on bills, including rent, and with little food in the house, Christopher died: on Tuesday, two days before a future paycheck already devoured by red. I borrowed $85 cash from the store director to cover the cost (deepest thanks to him), clocked out, and, along with Gary, took Christopher to Kingston Funeral Home and paid for him to be cremated.

Afterwards, I went back to work.

Life continues.

We had him since he was a little black dot of 7 weeks. An integral part of our lives, his 19 ½ years saw us in three states, various apartments, and up and down circumstances. He woke us up on our 1996 Wedding Day with his “turbo tongue” full of kittenly affection. He was still around for our 2013 Marriage Redux.

Over the years, cat habits formed.

Evenings, he’d patrol our home like a security guard, checking off each room and being annoyed at us if we got up during the night; he’d have to recheck that room. Affectionate in his own way, he’d make a beeline for our heads, wanting — needing — to touch noses before settling on our laps. Later in his life, after we introduced moist food to help with constipation, he developed a clockwork habit of waking me up by standing on me and screaming to be fed.

He loved office chairs, catnip, and shredding nice furniture. He had a talent for opening doors and cabinets. He liked butter, which we learned to keep covered on the table. He had a strange fixation with tape that made wrapping presents – and keeping them wrapped — challenging.

He was lovable, insufferable, and all the adjectives in-between. Then those adjectives started losing their hold except for lovable, being replaced by the new ones old age and sickness bring. Yet it felt like love alone would be a powerful enough word to contradict fate…

Yet, here I am, Sunday, several days later and still trying to properly mourn the loss of our beloved cat.

Sunday, my day off, with a committee meeting and board meeting coming up this afternoon. Grocery shopping somehow needs to be done, as we have nothing for dinner. I have submissions to read for the Mud Season Review, author bios to compile for the Burlington Book Festival website, and I should probably read Go Down Moses for the event I’m hosting at the Kellogg Hubbard Library come this Tuesday.

I have a resume and cover letter, too, that need revised, as they both must be absolutely perfect as I apply for my dream job at the Vermont Humanities Council.

And, of course, my in-progress fiction and poetry awaits my focused attention, along with markets to be researched for submitting completed works…

Life continues until it doesn’t.

Is that a nihilistic expression of the meaningless of life? The ache in my heart feels like it is, wanting me to throw in the towel at the banal absurdity of it all.

Or is it a seize-the-day cry emphasizing the first part and beseeching us to pick the towel back up, dry our eyes, and make the most of this limited time?

I think it just might be both.

 

Peacocking

peacock-raise-his-feathers-19036647

I’m a lousy peacock.

I’m trying to be a better one as self-promotion, branding, and otherwise best showcasing one’s attributes is the name of the competitive game. But I tend to forget what feathers I have let alone think to puff them out at appropriate moments.

Instead, I tend to dwell in the What next? moment, all too much aware of my lackings, what I would like to accomplish, and obsessing-compulsing about things like whether or not “is” in the sentence above should be “are”.

After all, a series, therefore plural, is indicated. Yet, “otherwise” separates “one’s attributes”, giving the series a different flow. But if “are” is used, wouldn’t “name” have to be changed to “names”, which doesn’t sound right at all. And should the sentence before this one end with a question mark or a period?

It should probably be rewritten altogether, but I will leave it; won’t dwell on it or the semicolon in this one.

Instead I’ll talk about excel.

I’ll proclaim proficiency, because that’s what one does on resumes, and I reckon it’s true. But I don’t think in such terms, as that word and its smug brethren are at their core meaningless. What matters most is the case by case:

Gary asking me if I can help him format his spreadsheet and my having the ability to do so; my wanting to better organize my writing submissions and being able to use pivot tables to do so; needing to add a drop down list and doing so.

I’ll talk about revamping my resume.

I now go into more detail about my current – and numerous — non-paid activities, which involve “work” and “skills” and other feathery things. But here, too, my presentation sometimes suffers from omission.

I added this non-paid to my resume:

Copy Editor, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
– Proof and edit submissions for the Flynn’s show blog, which typically features a preview of an upcoming show and a follow-up review.

True enough. But I had forgotten another component – another workforce skill – involved, until today, when I had to employ it. Afterwards, I added a simple, yet important, sentence, making it:

Copy Editor, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
– Actively solicit and schedule writers. Proof and edit submissions for the Flynn’s show blog, which typically features a preview of an upcoming show and a follow-up review.

Lastly, I’ll talk about my job at Shaw’s.

I never know how to best respond – think peacock here — to my director’s questions.

The other day he said/asked something like: “You’ll fly through today’s backstock, right?”

I should have just said “sure” or maybe even “Sure, of course!”

After all, I work hard, am efficient, and tend to be project-minded. Although I dislike the term “fly”, I certainly would get through it at a decent enough clip.

But I took the subtext as, “You’ll be able to get done with X in time to do Y.” This makes it less a question and more asking for some guarantee.

Although highly capable, I don’t make promises lightly. And when I make them, like committing to writing deadlines, I keep them. But here X is variable and its completion made all the more challenging by retail curtailing hours.

I ended up saying something anemic like “I’ll do my best,” which is hardly peacock speak, even though my best is actually pretty darn good.

And certainly worth a feather or two.

Faith and Fortune

In order to save living beings,
as an expedient means I appear to enter nirvana
but in truth I do not pass into extinction.
I am always here, preaching the Law.
I am always here,
but through my transcendental powers
I make it so that living beings in their befuddlement
do not see me even when close by.
When the multitude sees that I have passed into extinction,
far and wide they offer alms to my relics.
All harbor thoughts of yearning
and in their minds thirst to gaze at me.

I’m not much of a person of faith.

My husband is more inclined towards spiritual beliefs, having converted to Nichiren Buddhism when he was 18 and remaining steadfast in practice these nearly three decades since.

I lean more towards philosophy infused by science (“Yeah, sure, buddy, that’s an elegant theory of mind you got there, but if you don’t have a solid grasp of the biological underpinnings of thought, you’re just blathering.”).

But I have been known to pray on occasion. Especially when there seems to be nothing left but faith. Which is probably an awful lot like cheating – or cramming maybe – but like I said, it’s not in my main wiring.

However, feeling like I’m going to short-circuit from befuddlement is present. I am working hard at trying to turn things around for us, but have been having various setbacks. I thirst for solutions to our current situation.

Not knowing what else to do – befuddled indeed! – I started chanting regularly again: Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. A half-hour in the morning and half-hour in the evening. As I chant, the main focus of my mind is on these two parallel thoughts:

I need a door, some door, any door, to open.

How can I be a better person in my current environment?

I’m not chanting or thinking these things to an outside source. For Buddhism teaches the oneness of self and environment; that outer reality can be affected by our inner reality. Another way of saying this without sounding so New Age is that we all have the power inside us to transform our lives.

The most recent thing that needed transformed was rent.

The last week in January I wrote my landlord saying rent would be late, that I would pay it on the fifth. But it turned out that approaching the fifth found me worse off than expected, thinking triage, thinking I’d pay what I could of February rent, which wouldn’t be much, and writing the landlord again saying I would make payments over the next few weeks the best I could, and hoping that would be okay.

On the fifth, I had the day off. Among other things, I chanted a half hour, wrote an hour on a novel-in-progress (The Tulip Tree), and checked e-mail. I went to the Montpelier Food Pantry (Thank you, Montpelier; much, much appreciated!), read with my Everybody Wins VT! student, and stopped by the library to pick up books for the daycare for which I do library outreach each week, bringing books and reading to the kids.

Afterwards I took care of some household tasks and picked up some needed items from town.

Late in the afternoon I sat down to do what I’d been dreading: checking accounts that hardly had anything in them to check, and see what I could pay of my current onslaught of bills, including rent.

I got this welcome surprise: tax refunds had posted, both federal and state.

Now it wasn’t a huge amount by any means. But it was enough, along with what I had, to pay rent in full for the month. I still have many other bills, but it felt wonderful to know that at least our shelter has been paid up for another month.

So not really a door opening fully. Just ajar, just enough to let some light in, and maybe just for this month. But still…

Coincidence?

Like I said, I’m not a man of faith and tend to be cautious in assigning causality. But I did find the timing interesting.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

The 3 F’s

When one comes to the end of one’s good fortune, no strategy whatsoever avails.

Three F’s dominate our life: Free will, Fate, and Fortune.

The importance of this triad, particularly the significance of fortune, occurred to me as I flipped through Pokémon: Discover Nimbasa City! By Simcha Whitehill. I recently had my first “Power Lunch” over at Union Elementary. My reading partner there expressed interest in Pokémon, so I was looking for corresponding material to bring to our next lunchtime meeting.

This particular book is a Pick Your Own Path story. Different publishers call such stories by different names, such as: Choose your Destiny; Choose your Own Adventure; and so on. The general format by whatever name is the same: You read a few pages, then are given a choice between two or more options. Your decision determines what pages are read next; how the story plays out.

Such decision-making seems illustrative of what we generally mean by free will: you freely and willfully make a choice. Sure, there is gray here as to what degree real choices can be made – how much free will can be possessed — by an organism constrained by laws of chemistry, biology and physics, but that’s a whole other discussion. Here it is enough that free will feels like free will.

Yet there is fate here, too. The writer has already conceived the outcomes and no conclusion exists outside of it. We assume there are “right” decisions that will lead to favorable outcomes; however, being omnipotent, the writer could have all story threads converge to the same endpoint regardless of their freewheeling meandering.

But that would be mean, wouldn’t it? So let’s assume here a benevolent writer who allows for some variance in his authored fate; enough of it to give free will some meaning. Let’s even go so far as to assume the plot lines are written such that if one determines the proper course of action, they will be rewarded. Is such a model illustrative of real life?

Fortune, the wild card in such matters, would say no, not at all.

For bad things can certainly happen to “good” people who do “good” acts. Likewise, “bad” people can coast into and through favorable circumstances not by their own efforts but by sheer dumb “luck.”

Even more perversely, if measured by outcomes, sometimes the “wrong” decision is the right one or vice-versa.

Deciding to blow your child support on Powerball tickets instead of food seems like a bad idea. But eventually someone somewhere does end up with the winning numbers…

Stretching your household dollars by buying ground beef instead of caviar seems reasonable. But maybe there’s a soon-to-be-announced meat recall that won’t happen soon enough to do your family any good…

I think if I were to write these kinds of books, I would write at least two outcomes for every point of decision. Then I would package the book with dice.

Make your decision, then roll the bones to determine the next pages as you ponder the fundamental question:

Do I feel lucky?

Fostering Useful Labels

Labeling JD Fox (a blog video supplement)

There is a current nonsensical mantra in the queer and questioning community that chants some variation of “Don’t label me.” Like its equally imbecilic sibling “Don’t discriminate,” it has obvious good intentions with its attempt at breaking down assumptions:

Sexuality is fluid, so don’t make assumptions about my orientation; gender and gender expression are fluid, so don’t make binary assumptions about my gender; my identity is my own, so don’t make assumptions that you know me.

All certainly laudable goals; however, the “don’t” command is misinformed about human nature, misguided in its efforts to improve society, and ultimately self-defeating.

The catalyst for this particular post is the character Jude (nicely played by Hayden Byerly) in the TV series The Fosters. There are many wonderfully ambiguous yet queer positive scenes with Jude expressing his individuality (nail polish) and drawing homophobia out with specifics (what if I was gay?). However, I saw a scene the other night where Jude gave his friend Connor the don’t label me speech that is so common nowadays and walk away like he has made some major higher-ground point.

Such rhetoric misses an important fact about labeling — that we cannot help but label – and takes the conversation into an absurd territory: one of trying to not label rather than one of trying to develop the skill of using labels more wisely and realizing when we are not doing so.

Considering our evolution in simplified fashion helps illustrate this.

A one cell-organism “labels” (in quotes because no neurons yet to actually “think” this) its immediate environment as “hospitable” or “hostile”. Based on this label, it either stays put if the former, or, if the latter, tries to move to a different environment to the extent that its rudimentary locomotive ability allows.

Add some cells to give more specific sensory input. Such inputs have value because of the labels they encourage: In a hostile environment, the original “hospitable” label as being “a point away from here” becomes modified to distinguishing “Over there A” from “Over there B” with one or the other being assigned a label of “better”; i.e. more hospitable.

Onward we move up the life scale. Some of our first labels were sweeping, diametrically opposed ones: Edible, not edible. Will try to eat me, won’t try to eat me. Something I want to screw. Something that wants to screw me.

Over time, neural networks became more sophisticated, allowing labels like good worker, dependable, or that boy over there is hot. It also allows us to see how others might label us and act accordingly: if I do x, my boss will label me as a good worker; If I do y my neighbor will label me as dependable; or if I do z, that boy over there will label me as hot.

We are labeling machines by construction with discerning eyes and discriminating tastes. Our ability to simultaneously make fine distinctions and grand generalizations is one-half the trademark of our intelligence, allowing us to thrive.

The other half, which likely came much later, is the ability to continually revise both. Revision is key to everything. For revision is what allows us to recognize our labels for the expedient means they are and not mistake them for some sort of permanent truth.

Mistaking a label for truth is at the heart of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and any other type of labeling gone awry. It is not the labeling itself, but the inability – whether deliberate or otherwise — to revise such labels in a productive way that is problematic.

Connor, being human, will continue to label Jude in multiple ways, well beyond gay or not gay to encompass labels like “doesn’t want to discuss his sexuality” or “is touchy about his sexuality” or “someone who gets mad at me for trying to understand him” (just like Jude, also being human, will likewise label Connor as “homophobic” or “someone with a father who is homophobic” or “someone who is invading my personal space.”)

When conversations end like the one Jude had with Connor, the labeling doesn’t stop; it can’t in fact stop, which is the main point of this post. But the fruitful potential for revision does indeed get truncated.

What if instead, the conversation played out something like this:

Jude: Don’t label me.

Connor: Okay, okay. Sorry. I wasn’t trying to… it’s just… how do you feel about me?

The conversation – and subsequent label revisions – could go a hundred different ways from this new point of departure. The best path for revision is reversing label direction, going from the original generalization to the specific.

For you can’t tell me that Jude’s adversity here to being labeled by Connor means that he does not have internal labels of his own, such as one classifying Connor as a boy he likes in that certain way or doesn’t like in that certain way.

It is no longer the generalized label of “gay” or “not gay” but instead the specific label of “that particular boy” or “not that particular boy.” Out of such specifics new labels get built or old ones revised. That is why exposure to diversity and conversations about diversity and learning about diverse people transform our thinking — our label making — in positive ways.

“Don’t label me” is as useless as it is moronic. Far better, far more useful, is “Be cautious with your labels as you might mistake them for truth and lose your ability to revise them.” But that is not as sound-bitey as the former.

So maybe we should phrase it another, more inviting way:

“Hi, there. I’m JD. Tell me about yourself.”

Courting our Thoughts

This post is about words

More specifically, a word: court.

So if you don’t give a fuck about words and/or the word court, don’t read. But then again, even if you do give a fuck, go ahead and read but please don’t give your fuck to me. I’m not sure I even know exactly what you would be giving me, but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t want it. I’m also fairly certain that I already have a sufficient supply of fucks of my own to give or not give.

Ah, beautiful language. Beautiful fucking language.

I attended a cool mixed-media performance last night at Buch Spieler, a record store with records. Owner Fred Wilber — of the band Madman 3 — laid down some nifty electronic sequences to accompany the ever provocative spoken word of VT Poetry Slam Champ Geoff Hewitt.

One thing good art does is lubricate the brain and heaven knows that my rusty brain perpetually needs a squirt now and again to remind its more creative neurons to stay on their axons; not something easy to do when your paying-bills job reminds you of the machine room in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

As I watched, listened, and zoned in to the show, I thought I need to write more poetry.

I also thought I’m hungry, as I had worked all day at the aforementioned job and had yet so far only had a couple of muffins several hours ago. But I mostly thought about poetry, as I can go longer without food than without creativity.

Fast forward to the next day, this morning actually, to after I fed our cats and was out walking our dog, both those things needing done before I’m off to my own version of Lang’s world.

WORD ALERT — the word COURT ahead —- WORD ALERT.

The above is for readers who might either be skimming or bored or both, wondering when the hell is he going to talk about the word court. So now you to know the hell is soon forthcoming.

I walked us up State St to the Vermont Statehouse, then through the parking lot, spilling onto a street I thought I’d never been on before. It turned out to be Court St, which I had previously traveled — though I hadn’t walked that part of it — when walking to Hubbard Park.

To get to the Park, I went up School St and turned on Hillside Ave; that intersection where Court St angles off to go its own northwest way. I absently registered the name and idly thought about the word Court in the context of names like Fowler Courts at Purdue University, where I lived for a couple of years. I tangentially thought of how roads are called streets, avenues, lanes, boulevards, courts, and so on, and wondered about the distinctions.

I also thought holy mackerel, Hillside Ave and especially the Cliff St that it becomes is friggin’ steep; this is tiring. But that’s unrelated to the promised Court discussion, so we will say no more about it here.

Walking southeast from the State House down the unfamiliar street I came upon the Hillside Ave signage which also informed me I had been walking on Court St.

This time I thought, “Oh, duh, that makes sense.” The name of the street, that is. Before the Statehouse, is the Vermont Supreme Court. So a road leading to Court being called thus isn’t exactly head-scratching. But it is fascinating from a philosophy of mind viewpoint.

The duh, that makes sense came about because I automatically, and effortlessly, drew the “logical” connection of their being a judicial court and the road to it being called Court. Previously not realizing the presence of such a building, my Court thoughts were different.

To me this illustrates two important mental points.

The first should be obvious: that thoughts are always about something; that is, attached to something. I mention it here because sometimes in philosophy you’ll hear goofy ideas about Pure Thought, as if we can strip away the mental from the physical and thus better understand it. But that would be like cutting down all the trees so you can have a better look at the forest.

The more sublime — and amazing — point is how its aboutness and its attachment changes along with our experience. We never think in a vacuum; in a space devoid of content. Our interactions with the world — and what we are doing at any given moment in time — influence it.

What is altogether neat — or spooky — is that most — practically all — of this type of processing occurs at the unconscious level; our brain continuously processes — and reprocesses — the inputs we feed it via our senses and our ongoing mental activity. Its “conscious” output is thus heavily — primarily, really — influenced by the Un, even though it feels otherwise.

I have a lot more to say on this, but unfortunately I have to go to my non-thinking-about-thinking job. But I want to end with this illustrative thought:

When you read the first two words here in this little blog — “This post…” — what did you think “post” referenced? You likely didn’t think of fence posts or flag posts or bulletin board notices or daily mail or any other usage of post except for an entry like this.

But the two words — This post — give no clue on their own as to which meaning of “post” is intended. Yet you did not need to have anymore than those two words to have an expectation of a blog entry.

You consciously read the words, but it was your unconscious that gave the otherwise vacuous words meaning.

Our Queer Language

Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

Speak my language

This post is about the difficulty of defining sexual orientation.

But it is also about the struggle to create a decent (that is, successful) resume for a tough economy. Indeed, it is even more broadly about the challenge of adequately presenting identity at all.

The word “queer” seems to be in fashion in Vermont. I see it used by RUI2, Outright Vermont, and many of the people I have encountered, especially youth. Of late I’ve taken to using the word myself, identifying as “queer” rather than “gay”.

The word “queer” of course has a mixed history, being both a pejorative as well as, perhaps ironically, a word of pride. Sometimes its status as either appears to ebb and wane through the decades; at other times it appears to possess both characteristics simultaneously.

In effect, it is a queer word itself.

Yet it also seems to be the best word we currently have.

The LGBT community has a serious letter problem. Or I should say the LGBTQ, or maybe LGBTQAA, or is it LGBTQAAI or LGBTQ*? Indeed, those of us middle-aged remember it as GLBT, the L and G getting switched somewhere along the way.

The addition of each letter is supposed to make it more inclusive, but in a way it defeats itself, especially if we are not careful in our thinking. It reminds me of the debate about adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States, where it comprises the first ten amendments.

We have inalienable rights. The ninth amendment itself is very clear on just how broadly this should be interpreted:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Yet we tend to gloss over its stunningly bold and arguably sweeping statement of the individual and focus instead on the comparatively weak checklist quality of the other nine. Focus to the point that we give those other nine entries in the Bill of Rights some kind of comprehensive status rather than viewing them more accurately as emphatic.

Likewise with LGBT (or GLBT). Its original intent may have been to be more like the ninth amendment in its scope. However, Each letter represents a category that, like the Bill of Rights (with the exception of the ninth), inevitably leaves something out; leaves someone out. So the “solution” has been to add more letters.

But each of those letters becomes yet another unintentionally narrow category – another checklist box – that may or may not quite accurately fit the person. In many ways I am such a person, though I’ve commonly used “gay” as the best fit.

I have had sex with women. Two, actually, which is still plural, but is less than the number of such encounters I have had with men. Still, less or not, that sexual history is part of me. It is also a part of me that I could “get it up” for a woman.

Yet, I do not consider myself bisexual according to my understanding of the word. For the “getting it up” I mentioned has less to do with attraction, arousal, or desire, and more to do with the mechanics of body, blood flow to penis, and the manly urge to ejaculate.

Sure, there was some attraction, arousal, and desire present in the opposite sex encounters, but it was situation-driven rather than because of orientation.

“Gay” seemed to be a closer fit, encompassing my spontaneous thoughts of such things. With a woman I have to deliberately think about whether or not she is attractive, whereas with a man such notions arise automatically and instantaneously.

So I’ve usually described myself as gay.

But for whom is that term necessary? Defining myself as gay does nothing to facilitate my own understanding of self and it does not change my history in the least. I am still who I am, who I was, and who I will be.

Instead the definition is for the benefit of the world at large; an attempt at conveying who I am to others who are not me.

Yet, whatever word I use is going to be colored by the experiences of the reader, who necessarily can only understand it as a category; a category that will not – can never — have quite the same hue as my own understanding of it.

Such is the problem of language in general. It is adequately functional at best and highly dysfunctional at worst. If I say think of “chair”, we are both thinking of the same thing and yet not of the same thing. For your thought of “chair” brings to that particular neuronal firing all of your previous chair thoughts, constructing it accordingly.

Typically such disparity is close enough for government work.

If I asked you to sit in a chair, I likely wouldn’t find you sitting on the floor due to an intractable misunderstanding of the term. On a day-to-day, we can make corrections, too, that alleviate some of that discrepancy by being more precise: “Hand me a screwdriver… no, I meant the Phillips screwdriver.”

Neither my coloring nor yours changes the reality of chair or screwdriver. Likewise our back and forth refinement of such terms only affects our alignment of language to one another and not the underlying object itself being thus referenced.

Resumes present a similar issue. I have certain work experiences I wish to convey. Did I collaborate with team members or did I communicate with them? Did I coordinate that program or manage it? Did I write content or create it?

All of those action words are true, yet they fall short of the elusive whole truth. The unchanged reality of what I have done – the chair and screwdriver of my work history – gets put into a category that limits it, sometimes to detrimental effect:

The employer might assume you can’t do work A because the terms they associate with doing work A are not present in your resume. I’ve been trying – quite unsuccessfully so far – to tweak my resume with each new application in such a way that I can generate a favorable response; one that, in my eyes, more accurately reflects the breadth and depth of my capabilities.

A resume, at its core, is an expression of identity; a work identity. A sexual orientation is another one. And of course there are innumerable others, all of which get continually tweaked during communication as we attempt to convey who we are in the best, most clearly understood, way possible.

Queer is much broader and inclusive than the paint-by-letters of LGBTQA-Z. For me, it encompasses the entire spectrum of gender attraction, identity, and expression. For I cannot think of anything more wonderfully strange and beautifully odd than the underlying diversity that is inherently present by us each being unique.

Of course, that might instill the comment that “straight” people should fall into that category as well, indeed making everyone queer.

Well, yeah, in a perfect world I think they should and think they would. For in a perfect world, everyone recognizes everyone else as being sovereign of their own selves; recognizes and respects that sovereignty.

For now, though, the world is queerly imperfect.

So when I write “queer” protagonists I am writing characters “outside the norm”; however, for them queer is the norm, as it is for me. We’re just waiting for the world to catch up.