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Random Thoughts on Randomness – Part 1

“The most beautiful order is a pile of things poured out at random”
–Heraclitus
(Appropriated from Professor Metcalf’s Facebook Page)

Random Thought being a redundant phrase, of course, since all thoughts are necessarily random. For if they weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to think what you think you think.

But before I self-involvedly put out there my thoughts about that, I thought I might self-indulgently talk about this quintessential quandary:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Now, we can take a look at a question like that and try to answer it as one or the other. Or declare it a circular reference without a determinate answer. Or push the answer back before  chickens or eggs onto other questions that would have to be answered first. Or we could just say “God only knows,” and mean it either literally or snarkily.

We could have debates, hold prayer meetings, and take to twitter with our views, being champions of this or that or Him.  Maybe make some Pro-Egg flyers or Believe in the Chicken posters. It would be kind of cool to see candidates trying to appease both sides, or The Trump signing an executive order declaring both eggs and chicken are fried, so there!

Yet, any such factious (or fractious) thinking would already be moving away from the most important, the most philosophically interesting, thing: The question itself.

For answers are never that interesting. They are boring in fact. And don’t even exist, for that matter, unless maybe you’re a blind faithy, fox-news-only kind of person. But then again, if that is so, you don’t so much have an answer as have simply delegated the question to someone above you (literally and snarkily).

So let’s move back from the egg-chicken details and think about what kind of question it is. Although it is phrased as “which came first”, I hear it first and foremost as a causal question rather than a temporal one. Who made who would probably be a more accurate representation of it, but so goes the idiom.

In causality questions, what’s at stake? Why does it matter? That is, why does it matter to us? Well, for starters, the stakes are a lot higher than chickens or eggs. When we assign causality, aren’t we really assigning independence to one thing and dependence to the other?

Is the chicken dependent on the egg  or is it the other way around? Independence and dependence both shade Will. I will leave out Free from that Will for now, as that four-letter word typically adds a whole level of nonsense to these kind of discussions. Right now we can think of Will as just like it sounds: the ability to make things happen, put things into motion.

By the question, are we assigning Will to one thing, and mere obedience to the other? Is hatching the willful act and the chicken coming out just obeying what was set in motion? Or is the laying where the will resides and the egg just following orders.

We see that the chicken and egg question really is about that common but oh so vacuous term freewill.

You might argue that eggs and chickens don’t have will, or that they might have will but not freewill and/or hatching and laying are instinctual not intentional or something else in a similar putting-our-bag-of-bones into some sort of privileged position where we act and do things consciously (yet another, like freewill, somewhat vacuous and frequently unhelpful term).

But such arguments take swipe at the wrong thing. The right thing is our very conception of action and reaction, of which the chicken and egg are mere props for our thinking. But if chicken and egg are too low on the food chain for consideration, we can simply replace them with Mother and Child. Or even better, how about God and humankind? Or physics and humankind?

For that’s really to where we want to roll back, isn’t it? What, if anything, came before God? What, if anything, came before the Big Bang? Like with the original chicken and egg question, the answer itself isn’t as important as what’s at stake.

And that stake of course is the meaning of life: The mattering of it all, or of any of it. We think, perhaps, that if we push things back to some assumed unmoved mover or uncaused cause we can then bring such duly clarified meaning forward. The meaning, however, hardly needs to make such a journey. Indeed, trying to do so would be a fool’s errand.

Instead, the meaning of our lives derives neither from the divine nor natural order, but in the inherent randomness each of us possesses at any given moment.

—–

Other possible Parts as I work through my thoughts on this:

Spinoza’s God and the Necessitarianism Obstacle

Reconceptualizing Randomness

Ball in Tube Analogy

Molecule of Water in Heated Pot Analogy

Abolishing Absolutes and other Phantasms

Limited Randomness: As Free as Will ever gets

A Teaser from the Trunk

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Going through my trunk of completed but never submitted, came across a 23,000 word novella, Camphorville Connection. Later parts likely need revising, but I like the set-up. Enough so, I thought I’d share it here as a teaser.

CAMPHORVILLE CONNECTION
JD Fox

1

This story is true.

Honest Injun. Swear to god. Cross my heart and hope to—

Well, I won’t hope that. Better the verse remains unfinished. The past stays incomplete anyway, all full of flotsam and jetsam.

C’est la vie.

-2-

Month and I hated Camphorville.

I almost wrote ‘with a passion’, but that would understate it. We hated it so completely there was no passion left. We were recurrently dragged there by our parents, being too young to have our votes count. Time there passed in drying coats of paint and construction of malicious sobriquets.

I came up with banal originals such as Boogerman, Zitface, and Greaseomatic.

Month likewise dipped into the oft-mined well of physical attributes, calling me Doughboy, Pudger, and — while pissing next to me in a Denver International Airport bathroom sixty-five miles outside of Camphorville — Dickless.

That last one was a bit harsh. I did have a dick. And still do. It just hadn’t seriously started doing the growing thing a couple more years would bring about.

Of course, compared to Month’s gigantic one, it did look so minuscule it might as well have been nonexistent.

Now, in retrospect, Month’s likely wasn’t any larger than your typical 14-soon-to-be-15-year-old’s, but such is perspective, time and space and mental state affecting such things as they do.

Most of those nicknames were only casual, throwaway ones anyway. Only a couple outlasted all the others and actually passed from the realm of insults to being used as, I guess, endearment of sorts.

Leaving the typical appellations behind, I came up with calling him Month.

I thought his real name, Augusten, was stupid, and the shortened form of August, which the folks favored, even stupider. So did he. I used to call him Aug, or Auggie, but then one day it just came out all sort of spontaneous, like ‘What’s up, Month?’ or “Stop it, Month” or “I don’t wanna, Month” and it stuck.

At first, he used to get mad when I called him that, since that’s what you’re supposed to do at such things, but somehow it seemed to fit better than Augusten, August, Aug, or Auggie.

Mine is harder to explain why it stuck.

Maybe it had such staying power mainly because it was Month who came up with it and I wanted to hold on to it for that purpose, like an amulet around my neck that I never took off. Or maybe like one I couldn’t take off. Such things as cause and effect blur with time and it really amounts to a fourth of one, a quarter of the other.

Month called me Bent.

In lieu of Benjamin, Ben, Benj, or Benjy, all of which my friends and family and enemies used depending on the situation, the gender, and the context.

When my folks would ask him to get me, he would say, “Oh, do you want me to get Bent?” as if that meant something. Apparently it did to him and he would laugh. Apparently it meant something to my parents, too, as they would frown. I seemed to be the only one confused.

I eventually became less confused, if not totally enlightened, thanks to the help of classmate Gary Willicker, who happened to overhear one such exchange during a sleepover at my house. He tended to have a rather cosmopolitan knowledge of slurs, body parts, and other wondrously curious things. I became less confused about other stuff that night as well.

Regardless, Bent and Month stuck and I don’t remember us calling each other anything else, except for the mean-spirited, aforementioned epithets, and ‘Month’ was actually the very last word I said to him. Before he disappeared.

Week 17 Thoughts

Time Keeping

It’s difficult to know how to use
this limited time we got.

Better to be a mayfly
searching for a one-day stand
then drop.

Or maybe be a soap bubble
expanding its breath a glorious once
then PoP.

Better to be a rock
enduring millenniums
with stony laughter.

Or maybe an island
keeping to itself a million years
before going underwater.

A human life is only long enough
to realize it’s not.

————-

Notes on poem:

Poets and Writer’s The Time is Now e-newsletter came today. Number 17. It is also week 17 of my second year being underemployed.

The big toenail of each foot has come off during those 69 weeks due to separate cases of being in the wrong spot as I pulled a heavy load. The left one seems to have grown back to semi-normal. The right one, not so much.

I wonder if it will heal. Or if I will see it. I wonder if week 32 will find me in a better place. Or homeless. Or maybe an aneurysm at week 31 will make thoughts of week 32 moot.

At week 17, I still have power to type this. An Electric Disconnect letter makes having such a luxury at week 18 uncertain. I meet with someone today to request assistance. If successful, I can spend week 18, lights on, worrying about week 19 Food and Shelter.

Maybe week 20 I will find a better job. Maybe week 25 I will find Tin House liking the story I sent them. Maybe week 45 I will get a book deal.

Or maybe week 18 is week number 1 in another 69 weeks.

Temperature Cold, Feels like Poor

Vermont gets cold.

Winter lasts a long time. It is March and it snowed last night. I’m glad to be inside. Most days I’m trudging through whatever weather to work. But today I have the day off.

I will go out later in the afternoon to attend a board meeting of the Vermont PWA coalition. But for now, I’m in my robe and typing this while listening to “Resist” by Rush.

And I’m warm enough and so is my family.

Friday night I was scared we wouldn’t be. We ran out of oil. I was hoping what little we had left in the tanks would stretch until warmer weather or until I could find a better-paying job, whichever came first; both seeming equally elusive right now.

But Friday night, the worst possible night for such things, hope sputtered out and the temperature in our house started dropping. I thought of my ill husband. I thought of our 19-year-old cat with his thin skin.

I thought of Edgar Allan Poe’s cat providing warmth to the impoverished writer’s dying wife; they couldn’t afford heat.

We can’t afford heat. We also really can’t afford the additional cost of an “emergency” oil delivery either. But I leaned on my already strained credit to get us oil that night.

Maybe we could have toughened it out till Monday when there would be no extra charge. Maybe our two-year-old long-haired cat would have been kind enough to act as an extra quilt. Maybe odds are our older cat would have survived the weekend anyway without costly intervention.

But I’d rather not rely on playing the odds when it comes to taking care of my family. Yet, that is often what being poor means, with stakes a lot higher than the stocks in one’s portfolio dipping a little.

How delinquent can you be before electricity gets shut off? What are the rules of eviction? Can you use the food pantry more than once a month?

People of means do not ask such questions nor do they lie awake worrying about such things.

Keeping the car insured takes up a lot of grocery money. A fifteen-dollar co-pay for medicine is at least three meals. Muffins closer to the expiration date get marked down 50%.

People with means don’t spend time making such comparisons.

Yet our government – and much of the private sector, actually — is full of people with means making decisions about things far removed from their daily experience and, at the end of their privileged place-at-the-table day, of little consequence to their world.

Just a little food for thought for those of us who have trouble affording any other kind.

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.

Temple Thoughts

“My name is Temple Grandin. I’m not like other people.
I think in pictures. And I connect them.”

So begins the biopic Temple Grandin. This thought-provoking film tells the story of a woman living with autism. Notice that I used the word “living” and not “struggling” or some other woe is me verb. It is a life and not a battle. In fact, living is too weak a verb. Better to drop the “with” and change “living” to “leveraging.”

This thought–provoking film tells the story of a woman leveraging autism.

Much better. At least to me, since I mostly think in words. Or at least I think I do. Describing how you think seems to lose something in the description. We can communicate how we think, but that’s not the same thing as conveying it. “I think in pictures and I connect them” gives me a better understanding of how Grandin’s mind works. But that’s not the same thing as Understanding; not the same thing as knowing, “what it’s like.”

This natural – yet altogether profound — human disparity is captured especially well in an exchange between Temple and her professor [my emphasis in bold].

Dr. Carlock: Okay. Okay. Can you bring everything you’ve seen to your mind?
Temple: Sure.
Dr. Carlock: Even if it were an everyday object, like, say, shoes?
Temple: I see all the shoes I’ve worn, my mother’s and other people I’ve met. And you have three pairs, one needs a new heel. And I see the newspaper ads and TV ads and… Can’t you?

I certainly can’t. I’m not even that good at basic visualization. At least not as good as I think someone who is good at such visualization would be. Heck, even “thinking in words” may be an overstatement of orderliness regarding my junk-drawer mind. It might be more accurate to say I think in splotches of half-formed reality; a mishmash of a little visual this and a lot of textual that.

Especially lots of text of the hearing kind; that internal voice which is quiet to the world but is reading aloud inside my head what I just wrote. It judges the flow, phrasing, and so on. It’s there, too, with story dialogue, which is usually the first thing that comes to me in writing fiction.

I’m lousy with description, large casts of characters, and keeping time periods, ages, and hair color straight. I have to work hard, and do work hard, at these things. Dialogue, though, comes comparatively easily for me, as I hear it clearly in my head.

If you go inside your  head and think about your thinking, what do you feel is happening? What do you see? What do you hear? Or are those two verbs not applicable to you? They certainly aren’t always applicable to me. Perhaps you have better words; ones that would more accurately describe your experience. Or maybe you might become so frustrated trying to do so that you end up saying, “I just think and thought happens.”

Which is a valid enough statement since it is your mental milieu and no one else’s. As long as you can successfully navigate the You landscape to get your thoughts where you need them to go in order to live a fulfilled life, the route is less important.

But sometimes we focus so much on the aforementioned disparity that we spend an inordinate amount of effort trying to correct our thinking to better conform to normative ideas of thought-processing. In effect, we strive to eradicate a perceived or identified weakness.

The problem though is that sometimes such striving causes us to under-appreciate – and thus underutilize — a strength.

Grandin, however, realized early on that although autism gave her some challenges, particularly social ones, such issues were far outweighed by the gain it provided in the powerhouse visualized thinking it encouraged. She saw things in ways “normal” people didn’t and made conceptual connections that normal people couldn’t.

If she corrected her autism, she would be correcting her brilliance. So instead, she embraced it, leveraged it, as a part of her and became (and is becoming) all the more brilliant.

Temple Grandin is a living example of playing to ones strengths and the movie is a resonating suggestion for the rest of us to do likewise.

———–

JD Fox’s Awesome Opossum Bonus:

Dialogue at work.

Years ago, I took a writing class at college where one of the assignments was to compose a short piece of fiction containing dialogue. The restriction was that each piece of dialogue must be three words or less. I decided to take it a step further and told the whole story using only dialogue. Flaws notwithstanding, I think it still holds up fairly well.

MOOD SWINGS
You’re so young.
Too young?
No, it’s just…
Just what?
I’m just surprised.
Consider yourself lucky.
Are you legal?
Legal enough.
How much?
Fifty.
That’s too high.
Suit yourself.
What about twenty?
You’re kidding, right?
Fifty’s too high.
I’m worth it.
Do you swallow?
That depends.
On what?
My mood, mostly.
What else?
The person.
But you’ll suck?
For fifty, yeah.
That’s a lot.
Fifty’s the price.
I’ve got twenty.
Good for you.
And this.
What’s that?
A bus pass.
And the twenty?
And the twenty.
Hand them over.
Here you go.
Okay, then.
So what now?
Go in here.
Here?
Yeah.
It’s dark inside.
And your point?
No point, I…
Good.
What now?
Pull it out.
Like this.
Yeah. Like that.
And you’ll…
How’s this?
Oh… my…
You like that?
Yeah.
And this?
Oh, God, yeah.
That feels good?
That feels great.
You close?
I’m close.
Okay, then.
I… Oh, Oh…
How was that?
Incredible. You swallowed?
Yeah.
Why?
Because of you.
Because of me?
And my mood.
What does…?
I told you.
What’s this?
Your bus pass.
It’s yours now.
Don’t want it.
You earned it.
Don’t need it.
You’re worth more.
I know.
More than twenty.
I know.
I live nearby.
So?
Want some coffee?
No.
We could…
No.
I mean…
No. Just go.
What about you?
What about me?
It’s cold outside.
I’ll survive.
I know, but…
Don’t worry.
Too late.
I’ll be fine.
Spend the night.
No.
Please.
Why?
I’d feel better.
Oh, you would?
You would, too.
You think so?
I know so.
Nearby, huh?
Around the corner.
That’s convenient!
Sometimes.
It is cold…
Yes, it is.
Well, okay, then.
Good.
Which way?
This way.
Lead the way.
Here we are.
Already?
Up these steps.
What’re you doing?
Take my hand.
Why?
There’s ice here.
Oh. Just don’t…
Don’t what?
Get any ideas.
About what?
What this means.
A warm bed?
Spending the night.
What’s it mean?
You tell me.
Tonight you’re safe.
And tomorrow?
Tomorrow’s another day.
Tomorrow I’ll go.
We’ll see.
I will.
Whatever you want.
I won’t stay.
It’s your choice.
Yes, it is.
But for tonight…
What?
Sleep on it.

Life outside the Rose Garden

So keep your eyes set on the horizon
On the line where blue meets blue

Life outside the Rose Garden

Sick at Thanksgiving, it’s hard to be thankful
for fever, fatigue, and loss of productivity.
At times like this, I feel the virus
mutating my immune system cell by cell.

The next day, today, same bills still to pay
make staying home a pretend thought
stolen from others with sufficient means;
possessors of dreams that do not stay frozen.

How do you keep your eyes on the horizon
when fog banks keep rolling in?
I drink coffee, write bad poetry, and try
to keep things in a less jaundiced perspective:

I have my spouse of nineteen years
plus our dog, two cats, and a fish.

Queer History on Display

 

Queer History Display, Pride Vermont 2014

Queer History Display, Pride Vermont 2014

For Pride Vermont this year I created a display on Queer History. I thought I’d give it some additional life by posting it here along with the content I wrote for it / in it. That specific content can be found by clicking on Queer History Display near the top of this Web site.

As a bonus for weird people like me who think about creativity and how the mind works — particularly the somewhat happenstance  way the mind works — I’ll end with some comments about my creative process in putting it together.

First, though, it’s overall structure was this:

Center Panel: Pictures and text from past Prides, photocopied from old issues of Out in the Mountains, which are archived at the Leahy Library of the Vermont Historical Society. Pages are in chronological order, taped by top edge and overlapping. This allowed a page to be viewed and then lifted to view the page (i.e. the subsequent year) underneath.

Left and Right Panels: Selected Dates of Queerness I thought were important. My husband helped identify some key items I should include, like specific landmark court cases, and provided great insight into past events. His knowledge of queer history was (and remains) invaluable to me and any egregious errors that may be present in the copy I wrote describing such events are mine alone.

In the front of the three panel display, I had three sheets, each highlighting something of significance. Each had props, too!

LIKE SPORTS talks about queers in sports and the good news of more players coming out. Props were originally a basket full of miniature sports balls of all sorts, but people kept thinking they were to take, so I settled on a football taped to the table.

LIKE OUR TROOPS talks about queers in the military and the vileness of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Props were originally four toy jets circling the page, but people kept thinking they were to take, so I settled on one plane taped to the table.

LIKE SMARTPHONES talks about the absolutely horrible post-war treatment of the incomparable — and queer — Alan Turing, who, as father of computer science, laid the foundation for all computer technology. The prop was a toy smart phone, just the one, but still people kept thinking it was for taking, so it got taped down as well.

As far as creation goes, I originally intended to cut up the pages from Out in the Mountains, and tape them in an aesthetically appealing arrangement. But I was loathe to lose the year indication and other information inherent in the pages when kept as a whole. Cutting up the pages was also a more permanent move that I was hesitant to begin. The overlapping pages was an alternative that in hindsight I think ended up being the right decision.

I got important dates from Gary and a host of other sources, then wrote my own copy of such events in my own words. I tried to format such information in a way that was both logical and eye-catching, adding a few images here and there that seemed to fit.

The props — and indeed the stand-out pages — were an eleventh hour thing. Gary and I went to the Dollar Tree store (“Everything a dollar”!) so I could get the 3-panel display, markers and tape for the display. I wandered around the store and saw party favors, like the jets, and that got my mind thinking of doing some one-pagers. I found the balls as well as the phone, there. Or rather Gary found the phone.

I originally hoped to find a toy laptop, but failed to do so. Gary said why not use a cell phone, and it turned out that even makes more sense, as now we live in an age where phones are actually computers. How fitting for it to be used for a prop on a sheet on Alan Turing.

The point of all this creative talk is the consideration that creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sure, I had an idea, but the idea then got shaped and reshaped by the materials I gathered, which sparked other ideas and so on.

This is extremely important, I think, as sometimes potential writers will sabotage their creativity by saying something like I try to write, but I can’t think of anything to say. But such comments put things in the wrong order. Only the truly gifted start out with a specific — and presumably wonderful — something to write. I believe that most of us start out with a more vague notion of that something and write to clarify what that something is.

And we hope that it ends up being wonderful. Or at least readable.

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.

What Do You Meana Sestina?

I had a wonderful conversation at La Brioche with Rick Winston yesterday about art, movies and the Sestina, which is his first choice for writing poetry. I also groused about my current underemployment, where I am neither earning enough to live on nor using my skills. Here I don’t mean my poetic skills, although that would be really cool if it ever came to pass that I actually earned money with them, but I mean my more job marketable skills like Microsoft Office proficiency, records and information management, and administrative capacities.

He suggested that in the meantime I could write a poem about stocking shelves at the grocery store. So I went home and did so, using his preferred poetic form. What I thought I would do is share what I wrote, and then follow it with some notes on its formation and where I will go with revising from there.

—————————————————

Grocery Store Lament
JD Fox

My features blank, I am nothing
as I open boxes all day to stock
the shelves. There is so little time
to spend outside of it trying to create
a decent piece of art, a memorable work;
the great American novel or perfect story.

It all makes for a sad story.
Sure I started out from nothing
making life seem like a divine work
but as I take middle-age stock
of my life, I think, what did he create
and why the hell did he spend the time?

Surely no god would waste their time
on such a run of the mill, same old story.
After all, he’d have the means to create
something brilliant from that nothing.
But at the end of the day I just stock
grocery items for the masses; mindless work

that makes it very difficult to work
up the desire to continue my time
here on Earth. I think if I were a stock
I would have crashed long ago, my story
done, the selling price reduced to nothing
with no shareholder value left to create.

Am I doomed to watch others create
while I’m forever stuck performing work
that at the end of life amounts to nothing
but a squandering of this limited time
to give a happy ending to my story?
Am I blood from a turnip: vegetable stock

for the soup of someone else? My stock
in trade compels me to create
as if I might write a breakout story
that would allow me the luxury to work
on my art in something resembling full time
before my American Dream reduces to nothing.

But if this nothing is the lock, stock
and barrel of my time, I hope others create
this epigraph of my work: end of story

————————

The sestina can be an intimidating form. End words of the stanzas are repeated in a specific pattern that at first glance may seem incomprehensible. Even second glance. Hell, even after third glance and reading the Wikipedia entry on it, with its tables and algorithmic charts outlining the intentionally complex form, I’m not sure I truly grasp the mathematics behind its design. But that’s okay, as like electricity, one doesn’t need to fully understand it in order to use it.

I planned on using a table to keep track of my end words, but then I found this helpful Writer’s Digest article on the Sestina. The author, Robert Lee Brewer, mapped out the structure by line numbers, identifying the end words he used and providing a convenient skeleton of the form.

I first picked my six words, ones that seemed to go together thematically for me: stone, stock, time, create, work, and writing. My original first line was I’m a blank state, I am stone, with the thought that I would use later Am I fated to be crumbling stone or maybe Am I slated to be crumbing stone to have a dual meaning of slate. I toyed around with this, even writing a first couple of lines, but decided stone wouldn’t work (nor would writing), and changed them to nothing and story.

Here it should be said that since you will be repeating words, the most useful ones are those having multiple meanings and can be used as different parts of speech (noun, verb, etc). Doing so opens up more creative possibilities and minimizes the chance that you will write yourself into a corner where the line becomes forced by the demands of the form rather than supported by it.

And yeah, admittedly, nothing and story may not seem like much better choices than my original words, having limited definitions and parts of speech themselves. You can use story as a verb, but it is not common. However, the new words felt right, which is sometimes the best gauge for such things, so I went with them.

I Copy/Pasted the poem skeleton into word. Then I used Find/Replace to put my six chosen words into that skeleton. This allowed me the freedom to construct line by line, knowing readily what end word I needed without having to leave the poem to refer to a table. I wrote each line next to its guide:

Line 1-nothing (A) My features blank, I am nothing
Line 2-stock (B) as I open boxes all day to stock
etc.

Then when I finished, I simply deleted the guides, which might be akin to erasing initial sketch lines in a drawing. And voila: sestina!

During revision I will likely change the title to Grocery Clerk Lament, making the title more specific and accurate. I dislike that in this first draft I have both reduced to nothing and reduces to nothing, the repetition here seeming lackluster. Maybe for the first instance I should change it to something like fallen to nothing, or closing at nothing, which seem to go more with stock prices anyway.

Or I could instead change the second instance to crumbles to nothing, or maybe rewrite the line so I can use the verb form crumbling. Both crumbles and crumbling seem to go with American Dream, so either one should work.

I will definitely go through and tighten the lines, though I have read different thoughts on the rules for the form regarding this.

One guide has said the initial line in each stanza should be seven syllables and the other lines ten syllables. Even more specifically, the ten syllables should ideally be in Iambic Pentameter. For those who don’t know, Iambic Pentameter is just a highbrow way of saying each line of ten syllables should sound like da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM.

I’m not much of a counter and probably won’t be that anal. I’ll go with the school of thought that contemporary sestinas do not have to strictly adhere to that specificity of meter and syllable. But nevertheless, there can be a fine line between intentionally not adhering and just being lazy.

Is the line off meter because it really is the best way the line can be written? That is, to write it any other way would do a disservice to the poem.

For such determination, counting and meter manipulation can be extremely useful even if they do not result in a line meeting such specification. Such focus often reveals weak phrasing in the initially composed line. But one can also achieve that end sans counting just by playing around with the line, reading it aloud, and so on, which is more my tendency.

A tendency I would love to indulge more. So if there are any patrons of the arts out there reading this, please consider making a karmic donation to me.