Category Archives: Philosophy

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.

Drivin’ the Point

So okay, Gary and I recently saw a couple of movies at Sunset Drive-in: Godzilla and The Amazing Spiderman 2.

Godzilla is a movie about the famous giant lizard. This version opens with a man losing his husband at the nuclear plant where they work. In effect, he causes his husband’s death because he has to seal off part of the plant to protect others from the fallout during a breach. So of course he is tormented by this throughout the movie…

Oh, wait, just kidding, that didn’t happen. He had a wife, as is typical of Hollywood, which is actually quite conservative despite the ridiculous claims otherwise.

And Spiderman 2, of course, is a movie about the famous spider-like human. In addition to fighting evil-doers and being an all-American champion of the people, this superhero has an on-again, off-again, tumultuous relationship with his boyfriend…

Oh, wait, just kidding, that didn’t happen. Because Spidey has a girlfriend.

During the same week we saw the movies with their “blatant” and “disgusting” displays of heterosexuality, Michael Sam celebrated his getting picked by the Rams by kissing his boyfriend. I’m not kidding here, as that did happen, as he does have a boyfriend.

Though I am just kidding about “blatant” and “disgusting” as I would never say that about displays of either heterosexuality or homosexuality, as at their cores they are both natural expressions of being human.

But some folks think otherwise, using a different standard for evaluation. Upset by the Michael Sam kiss, they are going on various and nonsensical tirades about it. The Russell Report remarks on this perpetual – and ironic — double standard:

Others want gays to keep it in the bedroom, which isn’t entirely true. The couple in Lawrence v. Texas were arrested for gay sex despite keeping it in the bedroom.

The thing is, though, sexuality is never kept in the bedroom. Certain physical acts, yes, but certainly not the attraction component of it, which is “on display” everywhere. We are social animals by nature. As such, we are constantly forming bonds with one another and expressing those bonds in different ways.

A nod, a shake of hands, a pat on the back.

A smile.

A penis and vagina, a penis and ass, or no penises at all.

A kiss…

Those in a tizzy over Michael Sam probably watch movies like Godzilla and Spiderman and barely register the heterosexual content. They live in a world of privilege, validation and reinforced assumptions of their reflected world that make such registering unnecessary.

But I register it and I point it out. And I counter it.

Not by telling the makers of Godzilla and Spiderman to keep it in the bedroom. But instead, I write about it. Sometimes directly in blog posts such as this. Mostly, though, I prefer to drive the point more subtly by simply writing stories with queer protagonists that reflect my world.

My world which is their world which is your world too: our shared world of hugging, nodding, kissing, fucking, talking, touching, listening, loving, and just plain existing.

In the not so Present

This is why events unnerve me

It’s early morning. When am I?

I am currently sitting on our couch with a laptop and a cat – Amber – on my lap (making a fairly crowded lap) with a cup of coffee close at hand. But I’m only partly located in this most curious currently; this collective fiction of now.

Instead I am thinking ahead to my shift at Shaw’s grocery store, which begins in a few hours and will be day number six of eight-hour-plus shifts. I am thinking ahead and beyond that, looking forward to Thursday when I have time off (which is weird expression when you think about it).

Time off, or maybe more accurately time on, to provide feedback on a poem in my mailbox from a professor of English I met; and also review his feedback on a poem that I sent him. I plan (another non-now word) on doing so tomorrow morning.

In the morning before I go to the afternoon orientation at the library for volunteering there. Which will be before The Vermont Cares board of directors early evening meeting. Which will be before the later evening Montpelier Conservation Commission meeting.

I’m thinking to the next days as well. Friday with another Shaw’s shift. Which will be before the Montpelier Friday Night Group, where I’m co-facilitator. But also Saturday, which is another day off (and another strange phrase when you think about it), where I wil be volunteering at the Vermont Queer and Allied Youth Summit.

I type these words, this list of upcoming, as Amber makes a little half-purr noise indicating life is good on JD’s lap and closes her eyes. My eyes are open, but I’m only partly seeing the screen and her, most of me looking back to recent events that I had hoped to have blogged about by now.

Such as the wonderful film by Kubrick I recently saw called Paths of Glory. Or before that to the wonderful poetry reading I attended where sixth graders from Main Street Middle School read their poems alongside seniors (senior as in elderly, not grade) on themes of adolescence (Looking Back, Looking Forward). Or after that to a wonderful birthday party a friend had where – and this seems very Vermont to me – a recitation of Four Quartets by TS Eliot was given.

A lot of wonderful deserving to be written about. And I want to write about the not so wonderful, too. And write about the in-between wonderful as well.

Some things somehow do get written in the oh so limited now space that doesn’t even really exist, forever falling away out of our grasp.

I didn’t write about the sixth grade poets, but I got inspired to write a short story about a queer sixth grader trying to get his older sister in trouble and things not going as he had planned. Wrote it and submitted it. I haven’t yet written my response to the poet on the poem he sent me. But a dystopian poem of mine we had recently discussed has been accepted for publication by Cactus Heart.

Two, four, or six degrees of creative separation, maybe?

Daylight stirs Amber. She decides her now is better spent on the condo by the window and currently stares out into a reality that for her is happening one tick and tock at a time.

My own ticks and tocks are a jumbled mess. Past and future clicks of the clock blur together as they’re drenched in present worry of there not being enough of them left; soaked in the realization there were never enough to begin with.

I type here as I.C. Water by Psychic TV plays on ITunes. The song is dedicated to Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division. His temporality ended abruptly with a rope.

I type in this ambiguous space of when I am as the now dissolves and brings me ever closer to the far less ambiguous when I’m not.

Tick.

Tock.

Tick?

Ninth Place

I ended up in ninth place at the Cabin Fever Spelling Bee on Saturday.

I know this because my husband diligently kept track. I must admit such knowledge made me feel pretty darn good about my performance. Maybe not as good as winning would have, but with my bar set on the floor at “please don’t let me be the first one out,” the losing felt like a win.

Still, I lost on a stupid word.

Pomegranate.

Well, to be fair, I reckon the word itself isn’t stupid. I love language far too much to slander any contribution to it, even rather bizarre new entries like twerk or old ones from my generation like tubular.

But still, from a thinking about thinking viewpoint, the misspelling possessed a couple of levels of most curious mental freezing.

The first was with the word itself. Although I occasionally get paid for writing, it’s not yet been the kind of paid that extinguishes the necessity of having to eke out a living by doing all sorts of non-writing things. One of my current such eke’s is stocking groceries, which includes handling a yogurt with the aforementioned fruit on the bottom.

I must have seen that word hundreds upon hundreds of times, yet I couldn’t spell it when called upon to do so.

The second was with what I actually did spell.

I spelled the last part g-r-a-n-i-t-e. Which may have been influenced by us now living in Vermont, but still…  even as I spelled it that way I knew it was wrong; I just couldn’t think of the right way. Yet, where did this feeling of wrong come from, if I ostensibly did not know the right way of spelling for such a comparison to be made?

A reasonable answer would be that it was not a case of merely not knowing, but more a case of not being able to bring that knowing up to the conscious level. It might seem here that the shorter sentence of I couldn’t recall would suffice and mean roughly the same thing as my more verbose sentence with all its nots.

But it doesn’t and doesn’t.

For recall makes it sound like the conscious part is the only part involved in thinking; like we reach into our bag of memories and mental whatnots, and once we do, once we make the retrieval, that is where thought happens.

But thinking is what our brain — our entire brain — does, 24/7. We are thinking whether or not we think we are thinking. Sometimes, though, all those thinking parts aren’t always the best at communicating with one another.

So the part that thought about granite, compared it to its no doubt knowledge of the correct spelling of pomegranate, and finally advised, nope, that’s not right, failed to take that extra step and provide the correct spelling to what we typically refer to as consciousness.

Although frustrating at times, subconscious thinking is one of the things that makes writing so fun for me. Even when I plan, I never know for sure what will come out; what the unconscious parts of me will think is important enough to nudge me in that creative direction.

For instance, when I started this blog entry, I thought I intended to write about the weirdness of how things are spelled and pronounced in English, hoping to have an excuse to use The Tough Coughs As He Ploughs the Dough by Dr. Seuss in such a discussion.

Or at least use the word gallimaufry, which is a neat word that I had never heard before and the person sitting next to me spelled correctly. She knew it as the title of a book on obscure words she had recently received. It means a confused jumble or medley of things.

But all’s well that thinks well and I included both anyway, appearances of gallimaufry notwithstanding.

New Year’s Gay

Yes, this is another gay-affirming post. But it is also about dark matter, hyperloops, giant drill bits, collecting dung, and English as the dominant language for science.

I just wanted to mention the gay part upfront so that any homophobes who may have unintentionally stumbled upon this blog can flit away to the safety of their sandboxes where they can bury their heads and wait for Fox news to come on.

This post started at the Laundromat.

Well, technically, significant parts of it started way before that, but I will say it started at the Laundromat just for the sake of narrative clarity. Regardless, I found myself stuck there with the horrible misfortune of not having brought anything to read.

Now the nice thing about places that often require a great deal of waiting is that they tend to have reading material strewn about. It may not always be the preferred choice of such things, but it is there. As such, I can typically make do, having an eclectic enough yearning for learning that I can find things of interest from a variety of sources.

Just the other day, I read a most fascinating article by a biologist on the abnormal shift in the rutting patterns of deer. This was at the Mazda dealership, in a hunting magazine outside my usual perusing of periodicals called North American Whitetail.

As luck would have it, the Laundromat had something more straightforwardly in align with my tastes: the November 2013 issue of Popular Science.

Sad to say, I’m not smart enough to do science, or at least do it justice. Lot of the math behind the cutting edge leaves me in question mark land. But I can usually — somewhat — grasp the significance and implications of, say, a discovery, even if some (much) of the technical part goes over my head. If nothing else, I can go “ohhh” and “ahhh” as my understanding, dim as it may still be, is illuminated.

Dark matterDunkle Materie — is an entire intellectual orgasm worth of Ohs and Ahs. If you study philosophy and/or religious studies, you should want to pay some serious attention to it. Basically, it would seem, based on things like galaxies rotating faster than what would be expected and other gravitational effects that would require more mass — more material — in the universe than what is visible, that something is missing.

Something that takes up about 85% of our reality.

Another way of putting this would be that we are woefully ignorant — in the dark, to squeeze in a lame pun — of 85% of the universe. That’s a mind-tripping large amount of an invisible something making up the vast majority of, well, everything.

The way the article describes the current hunt for the elusive dark matter is too good an analogy not to share. It is like going after the invisible man. Say the invisible man were a jogger. You believe he is likely to jog down a certain street that has other joggers on it. So you watch the street. Watch and watch and watch. Because it is probable that at some point at some time during his daily jogging, he will happen to bump into another jogger, thus giving evidence of his presence.

You watch, and hope, and pray for that bump.

Other articles didn’t leave me quite as spellbound, but were nevertheless fascinating:

The fifty-seven foot wide drill bit tearing into Seattle ground with a force that would bring tears of joy to Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor’s eyes.

A proposed Hyperloop transportation system that seems like something straight out of science fiction, but is close to becoming reality. I could be wrong in my imagining here, but I’m thinking of the contestants in The Running Man traveling down those high-speed tubes and ejected onto the stage.

Profiles of some of the worst and best jobs for scientists. Worst were things like Dead Moose Dissector and Bush-Meat Market Data Collector (i.e. collecting dung). One of the best, and my personal favorite, was Extreme Product Tester, which should be self-explanatory.

The short bit on English being the current international language of science made me think how we evolve as a human race and how easily it could go in some other direction. We who speak English as a native language tend to expect the world will always understand us. What if we suddenly found that to be taken seriously as thinkers we had to write in Chinese?

Okay, so, that’s the science bit of this post, and on to the gay content.

But a prelude to the gay content is straight content, as the contents are linked. And it’s from the same magazine I’ve been talking about here: Popular Science.

As I flipped through the pages I came across an ad for Lee jeans. Now this was Popular Science, not GQ or Sports Illustrated, so the heterosexual context was more low-key. But still, in the picture, hanging on to the male model’s arm, was a woman, looking up at the jeans-wearer with adoring, relationship eyes.

They were not doing anything sexual, yet the image clearly indicated a heterosexual predisposition. A predisposition subtle enough that people with a similar predisposition might not notice it any more than right-handed people regular notice that the majority of desks in classrooms are designed with them in mind.

But I notice.

And I try to remember this when my culturally-instilled self-loathing tries to emerge and tell me I’m “too out” or “flaunting it” or in some other way acting in a fashion deserving of restraint. I try to remember this and think “Are you kidding?”

If anything, I’m not out enough, not forward enough, not yet bold enough in my proclamation of self.

We soak in heterosexuality. It is flaunted in subtle and not so subtle ways. So much so, it is not recognized as the flaunting that it is, or even that it is. Instead, it is typically absorbed without awareness into our subconscious and sweated out in policy-making that might seem at first glance — which is far too often also the only glance — as neutral, objective even, but actually isn’t.

So what is to be done about this? What can be done? What should be done?

Well, for starters, we of the LGBTQ community can speak out more. I don’t mean speak out more against the status quo of heterosexuality or against the subtle pervasion of homophobia. Although of course we can do those things, and we have been doing those things, and we should continue doing those things.

Rather, I mean we need to speak out more for ourselves.

We need to move away from being a persecuted class into being that of a liberated one. We need to become less concerned about how others view us and more concerned about how we view ourselves. Acceptance by others is a benefit, but acceptance of ourselves is a requirement.

These are not unrelated or incompatible notions. For the more rock-solid view of ourselves we have — and the more we assert our natural right to express it — the less damage the fickle weather of the majority can cause us. What does a mountain care about either sunshine or thunderstorm?

My 2014 goal is to market my writing, and myself, with the artistic honesty and integrity both deserve. With that in mind, I have created New Business Cards.

New Business Cards

Let the New Year begin!

Buying Life

What matters most is
how well you
walk through the
fire.

The Dallas Buyers Club features an unlikable protagonist.

He is a misogynistic, homophobic, drug-using, straight piece of white trash who is kind of proud of being those things. But there is something about him that makes him likable. And to me it’s not because he eventually has a (slight) human revolution that softens his views of others, although that helps and is part of the based-on-true-life story.

Instead, it is his uncompromising view of — and confidence in — himself that makes me nod in affirmation and admiration, much in the same way I do when I read and reread the late great poet and professional drunk Charles Bukowski.

The general story:

Ron Woodruff (played exceptionally well by Matthew McConaughey) learns he has AIDS, a disease which he had previously thought only affected homos: a “faggot disease“. How would he have thought otherwise, considering the apathetic response of the nation?

At the time the movie takes place, during the reign of Reagan where that misnamed great communicator’s greater silence permitted many to die and many more to get infected, accurate information was not widely disseminated.

The only treatment for AIDS in the US was high doses of former cancer drug AZT, originally shelved because it didn’t work on cancer and had high toxicity. Human trials started being rolled out, and you may or may not have gotten access to even this drug that may or may not work.

There were other things being tried in other countries, vitamins and other supplements as well as different medicines, but they were not FDA approved. They were also difficult to obtain and some of them were even illegal to buy/sell in the states.

But not to possess.

So Ron traveled abroad. He bought them, used them and discovered they sometimes worked. They sometimes didn’t. And they sometimes caused problems. But sometimes they worked. And compared to the known-to-be-toxic AZT, the working / not working ratio proved worth the risk.

A risk he rightly wagered others would likewise be willing to take.

Ron didn’t sell such non-FDA-approved formularies, which would have been illegal. Instead, he sold memberships to the Dallas Buyers Club, which entitled members to have access to the vitamins/medicines/supplements for free. See the clever distinction?

Not everyone agreed with such technical splicing of legality, and much of the movie revolves around that disagreement.

But far more interesting than the basic plot is Ron’s determination to always be the author of his own life. It reminds us that ultimately we are the only ones with a truly vested interest in ourselves. For:

The pharmaceutical company had a capitalist orgasm over bringing AZT back on the market. Exorbitant pricing and rising stock prices made rich people richer. It was a happy, profitable time for the drug manufacturer and its stockholders as they reaped obscene benefits from this latest exploitation of another person’s tragedy.

Doctors might care, then and now, but the nature of research necessarily tempers such caring. In a trial, a certain population gets a placebo. That’s the only way to be sure of efficacy. Like it or not, the most efficient way of determining if something works is for the control group that doesn’t get that something to, well, die.

Death is a good measurement for such things.

Oh, sure, there is surely at least some minimal altruism there that would keep the above two goals — profit and research — from being the only driving forces for the people swept into those two broad categories. I’m not trying to diminish that important aspect of human nature and I certainly wouldn’t be one to go all Ayn Rand.

But there is never just one goal involved. We are far too complex, far too evolved, for it to be otherwise. We all have multiple goals, and more importantly, cross-purposes. Our hundreds of daily interactions and tasks both major and minor reflect that. It is fine for others to champion us, and it is certainly welcome when they do; however, we ultimately should be – and we actually have to be if we are going to survive and thrive — our own, most vocal cheerleader.

When adversity comes your way, do you glance left, right, and maybe upwards praying for a rescue that is always outside your realm of control? Or do you cast your eyes forward and take another bold step, letting the coals burn your feet as they may beneath your smiling face?

Exiting

There’s got to be just more to it than this
Or tell me why do we exist
I’d like to think that when I die
I’d get a chance some other time
Iron Maiden

I missed the exit.

We were going out to dinner and then to a movie. Which we rarely do because of cost. But Gary rarely turns 46, either, so we thought we’d make the night one of those rarelies.

The I-89 North ramp was closed so the department of transportation could blow up a ledge. I’m a bit foggy on the whys and other details of detonation, except for that it likely will be closed for a month. I think I could probably blow up something faster than that, but hey, no one asked me. I also think I might have tried to time the blowing things up with not having construction also occurring on the detour route going around the ramp.

But again, no one asked me. That’s okay, though, as people rarely ask me anything anyway. At least they don’t ask me things I want to be asked, like Would it be okay if I gave you some money and publish your work?

And besides, I had planned for it — we had planned for it — and left in plenty of time.

But exit 10, which was now an exit closer than usual since I went around the initial ramp before getting back on the interstate at Exit 9, came up faster than expected. I can’t say for sure why it did this, as I’m pretty sure that for the most part Exit 10 traveled at us at the same 65 mph that we drove at it.

“Weren’t we supposed to turn there?” Gary said, being right as he usually is about such things.

Now the blessing and curse of Vermont is all the gorgeous land. Miss an exit, and you’re frequently stuck traveling for several miles of it.

We nevertheless did make it to the next exit and had planned on navigating via non-interstate roads back to where we needed to go. However, getting off at the exit trapped us in stop and go traffic where stop dominated. So much so, I had one of those ideas that are much brighter at the time they occur than in the dim glow of the afterwards.

“I’ll get back on the highway and take us back to the exit we missed.”

Which might have been closer to a bright idea if the U-turn I made taking us in the opposite direction of the exit ramp we were on led us South. But the opposite direction in this case curved around to the not so much opposite direction of North.

We did eventually make it to dinner at the Depot Street Malt Shop. It took two exits further North and the same two additional exits back South again, for a grand total of four extra exits, to do so, but we made it.

We also made it to a showing of Gravity. Not the showing we planned on being shown, but a showing nonetheless, and one in 3-D, which is a good way to view things since that is how we view things.

The movie is good enough to deserve a good review.

And by good here I mean thoughtful as well as favorable, as in addition to cool effects it has philosophical layers to it which Gary and I talked about afterwards, with him adding insights I hadn’t thought about, which he usually does.

My life has been full of missed exits.

I missed an exit and stayed with a girl for five years. I missed an exit and ended up studying engineering. I missed an exit and dropped out of college. Several exits went by unnoticed but just as surely missed as I drank in a fugue state lasting several years, pulled over on the cold shoulder of life’s road.

Oh, I eventually got back on the road and found new exits.

I’m with a guy now. I’ve studied philosophy and graduated from college with a 4.0. I’m drinking mostly coffee now and trying to keep my car moving as well as pay more attention to signs along the way.

But damn, if I don’t feel old and wonder if it’s too late to really get anywhere; that there are no more exits of any consequence.

I act like it isn’t and like there are.

I volunteered at the Burlington Book Festival. I’ve started volunteering at RU12. I got appointed to the Montpelier Conservation Commission.

I am constantly looking for other ways that I can be in life motion, as the only way to find the next exit is to keep driving. But I’m also constantly racked with day-to-day doubt about not only the drive-ability of this used soul of mine, but the underlying metaphysical meaning of it that may very well not underlie it at all.

There has to be more than the force of gravity that anchors us to the world. Something inside us that pulls us not down but forward.

Sandra Bullock found her something when she had to.

I’m still looking…

Tubes, Butterfly Wings, and Free Will

Segueing from my last post, a what now recently came into my mail box.

The assistant to the city manager e-mailed me about another opportunity to get involved: the Montpelier Conservation Commission has a vacancy. So I’ve applied for that, like I did with the Development Review Board. It will be a few weeks — sometime in October — before the council votes on appointments to it, but I’ve put my application in, and that’s as good of a first what now as any.

But there are lots of nows until then. So learning from my past and hoping to give a better impression this second time out come October, I’m going to do some research on what the commission has done, plans to do, and hopefully talk to some relevant people live about the role.

I might still not get it. And if I don’t, I’ll try to learn from it and see what other, perhaps better kinds of actions I might take towards achieving my civic goals.

Nothing unusual about that: taking action, seeing effects, and taking more actions based on the effects you’ve seen. Comes with being human and having faith that are actions do generate effects.

And they do. But they also kind of don’t.

The don’t is what I’m thinking about right now, which escorts me towards free will territory. But I won’t cross over too far into that borderland for this particular post, as the ground there quickly becomes treacherous and tricky to navigate, starting with even getting at a satisfactory definition.

But here on the edge of it, I’ll cash it out simply and oversimplified as what kind of power you have to take action in the world, which further cashes out, it seems to me, as what kind of effect you can have in the world.

Now I used to be a big butterfly believer: the idea that a small action — like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings — can have large effects. And I still am to some degree and still think a small action can. But lately I’ve started thinking about scope and how difficult it is for any action to have true consequence.

All actions have effects, but effects can get cancelled out. And if they do, from the point of view that encompasses all the relevant actions, there is no real effect.

Imagine a tube. You throw a ball down it and it ricochets every which way, but it still comes out the end. You can throw it down the tube again and it will likely go a different every which way, but it still spits out the same place at the end.

It’s not necessary to know each and every point of ricochet to predict — to determine — the outcome. You just have to be able to see the tube that holds the events not the events themselves.

And of course the tube doesn’t have to be an actual tube nor look anything like a tube. It can be a life or lives, a war or wars, a society or civilization itself.

Nothing revelatory about this. Myths mine it heavily and we have words ingrained in us like fate, destiny and the ubiquitous phrasing full of implicit deterministic belief “meant to be”.

And of course the tube doesn’t have to be confined to the plight of humankind. It can be one large enough to funnel the world, the solar system, the universe. When all is said and done, the sum of it all — our all — will likely be just a single ricochet off the side of a much larger tube.

A tube that I would think is God if I were religious-minded. But I’m not, so I’ll stick with envisioning it as a tube; yet, nevertheless I can’t help but think how bizarre it is for the ostensibly religious-minded to harm others in the name of that tube, whether in Kenya or Andromeda.

Maybe their answer to what now is driven by an unconscious realization that they are going down the tube, as is everyone, whether they want to or not. They think that if they can claw their way over others, they might stop their dropping, or maybe somehow arrive at a more prime spot at the end; win favor with a tube that is not so much indifferent as unaffected.

Being neither a god nor a tube, I can’t help but be affected by the goings-on halfway around the world. I can’t help but think that each and every person is in this tube together and that should be a common thread that binds us; one that should encourage us to help make the mutual descent as pleasant as possible.

Being just a mortal, I do not have the power to stop, or really even slow, the absurd amount of bloodshed caused by others.

But, as just a mortal, I can sew my what nows with that aforementioned common thread and do things like try and join a conservation committee where I might help preserve natural beauty for everyone to see. I can pick up an author from the airport for a book festival, try to be nicer to my husband, and take time out from whatever I’m doing to pet my cat.

Small acts for sure. But then again, in the blind eyes of the tube, all acts are small.

But they don’t all have to be, and shouldn’t be, so damn shallow.

Fair Thoughts

I went to the animal fair
the birds and beasts were there
The big baboon by the light of the moon
was combing his auburn hair
The monkey he got drunk
and fell on the elephant’s trunk
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees
but what became of the monk, the monk

I don’t know where or when I first heard that silly rhyme, but it’s stuck with me without deliberation in the weird way some memories do. I want to attach it maybe to my Grandfather Ross or my step-dad Max, or both, as I seem to remember it coming out of their mouths, but I can’t be certain beyond that seeming.

That’s par for the course for me, as my memories are at best disorganized. And at worst? Maybe lost or at least irretrievable.

I remember my life in fragments that are never attached to dates.

Oh, sure, I can sometimes calculate what the date must be, but that’s coming from the outside as I re-process the shard of remembrance with the conscious part of my brain. I mean that there is typically no date inherent in the memory itself. Instead, stray pieces of event data bubble to the surface.

As they did when Gary and I went to the Vermont State Fair.

We went on Patron Appreciation Day, which translates as Free Day. Gary had a caramel apple. I had fried dough (which sounds wrong to me, as I grew up calling the same thing an Elephant Ear, and that’s how I always think of the pastry, and will likely always think of it). We also saw different birds and beasts. And rode some rides.

The rides is where the most bubbling occurred for me. Again, without dates or any other such lattice to fully secure them into place. But I remembered:

Being downright chicken-shit with rides. One of the more embarrassing childhood moments for me was slinking out of line for a ride my step-brother Tim tried to trick me into going on. Or in. He told me it was a line to go watch motorcyclists drive around the walls in that gravity-defying way that is popular for watching.

Instead, it was that ride where you stand against the wall of a round room which spins fast enough to allow the floor to drop out from under you in your own gravity-defying, non-motorcycle riding way.

I was mad at him at the time but now I’m thinking he had to have found me exasperating.

Sometime, though, during the course of life, I became un-chicken-shitted. I rode The Racer — backwards and forwards — the Screaming Demon, The Beast  and The Bat as well as assorted rides that emphasized various degrees of equilibrium-disturbing spin. One of my strongest memory fragments is racing through Kings Island with my friend Mark making  sure we got our money’s worth of thrills.

Just a short decade or so ago Gary and I went with  the folks to Busch Gardens and rode, among other things, the Demon Drop, which is just what it sounds like:  a completely vertical drop

Now, though, I find myself viewing such rides again with more than a little trepidation.

Oh, I can’t rightly say I’ve reverted back to my scaredy-cat past. For one thing, the pair of balls I’ve managed to grow over the years won’t let me. I’m not the same afraid-of-my-shadow kid that I was and I think all-in-all that’s a good thing.

As it is, I reckon I even fancy myself being the butch — or maybe more butch — one of the relationship, so I kind of have an obligation to automatically agree to whatever ride Gary wants to go on, regardless of any reservations I might have about the amusement level of such amusement rides.

So I bought us each a ride band and we rode as he willed, us getting scrambled, tilted, whirled, and, déjà vu of that day long ago with Tim, spun fast enough so the floor could drop away from us as our backs clung to the wall.

As we revolved around our mutual center, I couldn’t help but think of that song by Duran Duran:

The world spins so fast
that I might fly off

And yeah, I had faith in the machinery that moved us, just like I have faith in the gravity of the considerably bigger ride we’re on, so I didn’t really believe I might fly off in either case.

Yet how are such beliefs grounded?

Yeah, sure, we can measure, predict, and mathematically model this spinning piece of rock we call home, but the starting point of such scientific explanation rests ultimately on a faith similar to that of a religious nature.

Oh, I don’t mean the silly dogmatic kind of religious faith that applauds dioramas of men riding dinosaurs like Neanderthal cowboys and weirdly if earnestly believes that calling evolution just a theory somehow is a refutation of it.

I mean instead the faith of those who are actively engaged in trying to make sense of something that at the end of the day, no matter how you grapple with it — philosophically, religiously, or scientifically —  is beautifully, wondrously, and awe-inspiringly more than a little absurd.

The ride stopped and I stepped out onto the ground that was there as I expected it to be, blind faithfully feeling the Terra Firma baptism of the cosmos.

Mountain Climbing

Okay, so it wasn’t a mountain. It was more of a hill.

And I didn’t climb, I walked. Though I reckon the two verbs merge as angle of degree increases. Still, I would be hesitant to ascribe the perhaps exaggerated exertion of climbing to the route I took to the Hubbard Park Tower which was 90% paved road.

But the pavement part leading to the relatively level trail-inside-the-park had an ungodly elevation to it that suited the street names of Hillside and Cliff. Even the final street before the Tower Loop, Corse, sounds enough like curse and course to make it seem readily a part of such spot-on naming.

The frequent changes in inclination here are surely a wonder to behold, but they can also be a challenge to making pedestrian plans. A short and sweet route on Google Maps often gets a reality check that reveals itself to be longer and not near as pie-easy as originally anticipated.

But I kept faith in my chosen path, put one foot in front of the other, and made it to the tower. I climbed — stairs inside, so it is climbing — to the top and took a picture of the new view I had:

IMG_20130830_165518

Kind of a crappy picture, I know.

I did it with my phone and my face reflected back at me, so I couldn’t be sure what kind of view I actually had through its lens. Also, in retrospect, I should have used landscape view. Nevertheless, it gives perspective that a ground-view doesn’t offer and I like the isolated  house or two up in the hills that it captured.

However, the most important thing is that the path I walked took me where I wanted to go. The map may have obfuscated the difficulty involved, but it did not lie. I just had to follow it the best I could and, based on my previous knowledge of maps, I had certainty that my goal would be achieved.

I wish I had that kind of confidence in my other exertions.

I find myself suffused with doubt about my ability to do anything that truly matters. The kind of doubt that looks up a staircase of meaningless infinity and is overwhelmed from taking the steps needed to get anywhere. Indeed, the kind of crippling existential doubt that not only questions the chosen where, but wonders if there is a mattering where to be found.

So much so, I’ve let myself mentally and philosophically languish.

I’ve been in a kind of thought coma that I’ve been having difficulty waking up from. I know I should have deep thoughts, want to have deep thoughts, deserve to have deep thoughts… but one of the problems with deep thoughts is that any single one of them is only arrived at after a journey much more involved and difficult than a jaunt to the tower.

The other problem is the obvious one: the deeper the thought, the less clear what the best route is, or whether the route being taken is a good one at all.

It is like climbing a mountain where your footing not only is uncertain at best, but there is a nagging feeling that upon reaching the summit, if one is even reached, you will cast a gaze in the distance and realize you should have been climbing that one way over there.

I’ve been trying to squelch such depressing and disempowering thoughts, since the alternative is staying way down here where nothing grows and the way over there would still be way over there; we just wouldn’t know it.

On Amazon today, I looked inside the kindle edition of the most recent book by the septuagenarian philosopher Daniel C  Dennett. At the start of chapter one he has a quote by Bo Dahlbom that made me feel considerable — and deserved — guilt at letting my tools rust and my blades dull.

You can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands and you
can’t do much thinking with your bare brain.

Philosophical mountains call to me and I think my backpack’s been on the floor for far too long.