Thursday, December 18, 2008

Here we come a caroling....

Last Saturday I attended a caroling party, and I discovered an unpleasant truth about myself.

I am turning into a Puritan, at least where Christmas is concerned.

The Puritans, you may recall, prohibited Christmas celebrations as being ungodly. I wouldn’t go that far, but clearly something has to be done.

To get back to the caroling party. We sang all the Christmas carols people remembered liking that were in the songbook. We sang a few non-religious songs (“We Wish You A Merry Christmas,”“The 12 Days of Christmas,” “Deck the Halls” and “Wassailing Wassailing”) But most of the songs we sang were Christmas hymns, beautiful and lyrical and deeply meaningful.

Except we left out “the depressing verses.” You know, the verses that dealt with sin and redemption or sacrifice or the need for salvation. The ones with actual theological content.

I knew very few people at the party. None of them well enough to ask, “why are you singing Christian hymns if you find the basis for Christianity so inherently distasteful and depressing?”

Christmas is not about babies in mangers. Babies are cute, sweet, nonthreatening. Christmas is also not (just) about goodwill towards all people – who could argue with goodwill?

Christmas is about God made manifest on earth in the form of a human being – an unsettling thought – who will sacrifice himself for the sins of all the earth. The enormity is difficult to grasp. (The resurrection? Beggars the imagination.)

That manger stands in the shadow thrown by the cross, from light reflected from the empty tomb. Christmas’s light is thrown out against that shadow.

Without the cross, all you have are babies in mangers. How pretty. How… meaningless.

Don’t get me wrong, I think generalized holiday cheer is great – as long as it is generalized holiday cheer. And I give and get gifts like many other people. But subjecting everyone – regardless of faith – to “Merry Christmas”? Just plain wrong, regardless of what Bill O’Reilly says.* I say, let's have more "holiday parties," because all of us need to do something at the end of the year to cheer up, not so many "Christmas Parties." Because no one should be subject to proselytizing when all you want is to have a good time. Unless you also want to have a hanukkah party (or eight!) for your Jewish friends, and a Solstice celebration for your pagan friends....

Season’s Greetings to you all.

*and before anyone brings it up, I do not think that the Great Commission in Matthew ("go forth and make disciples of all nations") requires you to cudgel people into saying "Merry Christmas," even if they or the person they're speaking to are not Christian.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Writing Exercise #1

[Note: This is the first of several attempts to make myself write whether I feel like it or not. It's pretty rough going. Feel free to skip.]

During the late campaign, Sarah Palin showed herself to be a thoroughly undistinguished individual, unfit to be just a heartbeat -- or a stroke, or a reoccurance of cancer -- away from the presidency. However, I though the Katie Couric interview in which she was unable to state what she read most illuminative.

Not because of what she read, but because she refused to answer the question at all, instead giving a generic non-answer answer.

I am not Sarah Palin. I am more than willing to answer what I read. It's not at all pretty.

I read the morning San Jose Mercury News, most mornings. I glance at the online edition of the St. Petersburg Times, the best newspaper in America. I, I am abashed to say, devour Entertainment Weekly the day it arrives at our house. I read the good parts (i.e., European politics, science, arts) of the Economist when my husband buys it when he flies places. (Is it just me, or has the Economist gotten much much more conservative in the part five years? Or have I gotten more liberal?) In doctor's offices I read Smithsonian, Time, or People, depending upon what is available and what sort of mood I am in. At the dentist's office I read Sports Illustrated, because she is the only office that has an SI subscription. (When I was growing up my father had an ironclad rule: I was never allowed to read SI before he was. Never. I have tried to instill the same ethic regarding the EW in my household and it has failed -- someone is always going off with it. I suspect my eldest son.)

Books? What are they? Every once in a while I will read another one of the Anne Perry Thomas Pitt mysteries, although I am pretty much done with them now. I re-read Pride and Prejudice every so often, because one must, if no other reason than to appreciate the expanded role of Colin Firth in the A&E miniseries. It also has one of the best opening lines in all literature.

And Connie Willis. In discussions of Science Fiction I almost always say "The only sf writer I read is Connie Willis.

I also read nonfiction "list books." These are not books with a thesis and a coherent argument, but collections of disjointed facts centered around one subject. I have a ton of those, and I love reading them. I adore dictionaries and histories of the world.

The vast amount of reading I do is online. Blogs, blogs, and more blogs. LiveJournal. Now Twitter. Not that I comment -- except irregularly at Making Light -- but just that I vicariously tap into other people's lives, either on a perrsonal level (LJ and Twitter) or intellectually (everything else).

I keep trying to think if this means I have too little time on my hand or too much, and it constantly amazes me the people who both seem to engage a great deal online *and read* a lot of books (excepting those for whom it is a profession. That I show a certain lack of intellectual rigor.

Methinks I need to work on this.

If for no other reason than it will make it easier to find something to write about.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Decisions, Decisions...

To work on my beaded Christmas/wedding presents...
Or do my necessary resume distribution for the day...
Or blow off both of those and go see Milk at the Castro Theatre with friends.

I need a Magic 8 Ball.

Reclaiming myself

I am going to engage in that most hackneyed cliche of bloggers: complaining how hard it is to find something to write about.

I pride myself on being a good writer. Good communication skills are part of my self-identification. Yet I have fallen out of the habit of actually engaging in any writing.

Part of it is time. When I was working, my tie was spent working and beading. Beading has an outside chance of being a money source, at least to the point of supporting my beading habit. Writing does not.

I have read that one should write three pages long-handed every morning. I can't do that. My fibromyalgia makes it hard to write more than a paragraph without experiencing considerable pain. I have no such problem when typing. But unfortunately when I type I spend a lot of time self-editing.

So the answer is a to write some every day here. The quality will be rough, and I may not have as many cites as I usually do -- they take time -- but maybe I can relearn the skills which are such a part of who I am.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


In response to my last post, Barbara requested pictures of Elvis. Attempts to scan the ad were unsuccessful, due to my lack of ability with the equipment I had at hand, but I do have a picture snagged off the web from the Fire Mountain website. (By the way, the same tree is also in the Fire Mountain Comprehensive Jewelry Maker's catalog on page 249.)

Elvis is made from copper wire and malachite beads and 6/0 transparent green seed beads. The ornaments are made from a variety of beads. The snowmen are Swarovski faux pearls.

Elvis was a finalist in the 2007 Fire Mountain Beading Contest. I think they used him for the ad rather than the Christmas tree which did better in the judging simply because it showcased a wider range of their products. In any case, it's cool: I think of it as the equivalent of having a short story published.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Good News

I realize that, because this blog has been nearly comatose, nobody is reading much anymore, but just in case you are ....

One of my beading pieces, officially named "Lilliputian Christmas Tree" but unofficially called "Elvis," is featured in a full-page, back-cover ad for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads in the December 2008/January 2009 issue of Beadwork Magazine.

Full-page. Back-cover. In a slick, nationally-distributed magazine. Hot damn.

Bad News

I realize that I had let this blog go dormant, primarily because I was working.

I have been laid off.

What this means for the future of this blog remains to be seen.

Monday, October 20, 2008

It has been way too long since I have posted here. But I had to break radio silence simply to point out out that I have been a Tampa Bay Rays fan since before they stepped on the ever verdant Astroturf of Tropicana Field, and that the past week makes up for an awful lot of conversations which went like this:

"The X are doing really well this season," other baseball fan.
"I'm a [Devil] Rays fan myself," me.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!, or, if they are gentle souls, "Oh, I'm so sorry".

Ten years. Ten years of always being the miserable losing team -- not cute, not lovable, just bad. We weren't even the '62 Mets, who at least were amusing in an Ed Wood so-bad-it's-funny sort of way.

And this. Better than any of our dreams had a right to be. And with the strong possibility of getting better still. I just wish my Dad, who passed away the year before the franchise was awarded but who always wanted to see a MLB franchise in St. Pete, could see it. Not bad for a team representing not a state, not a city, but a body of water.


[Edited to add: This was from the year they reached the World Series, but lost to the Phillies.]

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Two MIllion, Six Hundred Thirty Thousand, Eight Hundred and Eighty Minutes

As Keith Olbermann would say, today marks the 1827 day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.

1827 days. 365 days x 5 + 2 leap days = five years.

How do you measure the years?

In inches of newspaper columns about the war?
In number of times the photograph of George W. Bush, standing so faux-heroically on the deck of the carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (the irony of that location reduces me to simple incoherence), has been displayed by an uncritical or pandering press?
In in number of chances Congress has had to do something -- cut off funding, and if that did not work, then at least try to impeach the man -- that they have failed to act upon?
In number of politicians that have said, in an error of critical thinking skills so profound it must make one despair of the American educational system, "We fight them over there so that we do not have to fight them over here?"

In terrorists created by our invasion and continued occupation of Iraq?

In lives. Always in lives.

4063 Americans dead. 29,000 wounded. God knows how many others with psychic damage as yet unrevealed.

That's just Americans. A 2006 study published in the British medical Journal the Lancet estimated the "excess deaths" from all causes during the war (violence from all sources (not just inflicted by American military), increased illness due to collapsed infrastructure leading to lack of sanitation. etc.) to be over 600, 000. Even the Iraq Body Count Project, which records only media cross-checked deaths due to violence, had reached over 90,000 as of April 30, 2008.

Families torn apart. Families living in fear. Both here and there.

We have lost other things as well: our innocence, our security, our way as a country. Sometimes, looking back five years, it seems like a surreal dream. We are fighting a war in which young men and women are dying and having their lives destroyed and we sit and argue over what a presidential candidate's pastor said. Or whether another one was telling the truth about something completely inconsequential that happened years ago in Bosnia.

Why the hell are we not talking about THIS? Why is not every news broadcast ending with casualty counts? Would it make us too uncomfortable? Damnit, we need to be made uncomfortable. And not just on anniversaries, every day. We need to be constantly reminded what this war is costing us in human lives and suffering.

Maybe then people in high places will get serious about ending this.

There have been five anniversaries; that there be no sixth before we leave Iraq might be too much to ask for, but there sure as hell better be no seventh.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Jeremiah Wright was Barack Obama's pastor. Hillary Clinton -- and others -- have said that Obama should have left his church after Wright made his controversial statements.


But a pastor is not the church. He may run the services and have the most visible role and (in the worldly sense) be the most powerful man in the congregation, but he is not the community.

The community is...

The old ladies who have the prayer group who are always requesting God's help for everybody, whether they ask for it or not. The youth minister who makes sure that a bunch of unruly adolescents have a group to run with that won't lead them into trouble. The men who helped landscape the yard for the woman whose husband was dying of cancer. The mothers who organize the church nursery. The Sunday school teachers. The women who make sure that there are refreshments after the service.

It is the man struggling with addiction; the woman with mental illness. It is the family dealing with death and disability. It is those who found community after a long time wandering in the wilderness; it is those who are descended from generations of clergy and church leaders.

The church is people. At its best, the church is connection. It is the chance to experience God in other people.

How could he walk away from that?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

I have been thinking a lot lately about the Jeremiah Wright controversy. Aside from the double standard -- what about all of the conservative politicians over the years who have embraced right-wing religious figures that condemned the United States for its perceived moral failings in language no less strong than that of Pastor Wright? -- Hillary Clinton and many others have stated that they would have just "walked out."

All of which makes me wonder -- what sort of church, if any, do these people attend? Is church a spectacle? Something they consume, like entertainment? Or a community, of which they are a part? Walking out on a show is one thing. Walking out on the community quite another.

I know, because I have done both.

I am a progressive who has spent a great many years in churches more conservative than myself. I was raised Roman Catholic, and was rebaptized (I refuse to say "born-again") as a Southern Baptist in the early 80s. In that time, I sat through many a sermon equating birth control (let alone abortion) with murder, and homosexuality as a grave sin, and (in the SBC) detailing why a woman is subordinate to a man. I gritted my teeth and stayed in my seat, because it mattered to me to be part of the body of Christ gathered in that place. So I stayed, even though my heart and conscience told me the church leaders were wrong.

And I was not alone: there are people in the Roman Catholic church who strive to change it to be more welcoming and more inclusive of all people. It was hard for me; I can only imagine how hard it must be for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I had no calling to the priesthood, but other women I know did, and had to leave the faith into which they were born to follow that call.

The first time I walked out of a church, it was the Roman Catholic church in which I had grown up. On third Sunday in January, the priest gave his usual anti-abortion sermon. And it was a doozy.

Abortion was murder, he said. Women who had abortions were the vilest evil human beings on the face of the earth, for which there could be no forgiveness.

I sat frozen. I was home on winter break from college, my senior year. I knew that a friend of mine had had an abortion. I was saddened by her decision, even though I knew why she had made the decision she had made, and felt deep in my heart that she had acted out of fear and uncertainty. She was not the devil incarnate; she was a frightened woman in her early twenties.

I left. And as I left, I knew I was leaving for good, and it was hard. My mother was there, and a lot of the people I had grown up with in the church. I was walking out on the community of faith that had nurtured me from a child, and it hurt.

The second time I walked out on a sermon... was a very different experience. My husband and I were shopping for a church, and were in a large SBC church which I found uncomfortable from the beginning. And that was before the Tim LaHaye gave his guest sermon.

Yes, that Tim LaHaye. It was before the Left Behind books, with their atrocious writing and even worse theology, when he and his wife Beverly were the hottest shots around on the evangelical lecture circuit.

I expected the "abortion is murder" and the "women be subservient to your husband" exhortations. This was the Southern Baptist Convention, after all. But then LaHaye stated that women who placed their children in child care were selfish and evil and destroyers of society. What? I had had enough. I was sitting about two-thirds back in the sanctuary, in the middle of the row. I got up and left, as noticeably as I could, and my only regret was that I had not been able to get a seat closer to the front. I never looked back.

I had not been a part of a community, had never fit in at that church. I was a consumer, not a participant. Leaving meant nothing at all to me.

The third time I left a church service, I did so quietly, from the back, crying in anger and frustration, during a sermon given by a man I consider a friend at a church which was not merely a community but a home. It was hard, but necessary.

But this time, I did not leave the community. I went in the next week and talked to the priest about what he had said, and what I felt.* In the end, I did not change his mind, nor he mine, but we recognized that disagreement need not mean abandonment. Much like Barack Obama does when he talks about not abandoning the pastor who taught him the love of Christ, even though that pastor has made statements he vehemently disagrees with.

Because that's what being part of a faith community means.

* On at least one other occasion I argued with this pastor while he was giving his sermon. I didn't really intend to, I just couldn't help myself. He was actually amused. I would not suggest trying this with most clergy, however.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gold and Darkness

Today, January 31, 2008, is the fiftieth anniversary of America's entry into space. On January 31, 1958, the aptly named Explorer I took to the skies from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, headed to earth orbit where, besides being a "Anything you can do we can do better!" response to the Soviets, it amassed evidence of the Van Allen radiation belts.

Happy Anniversary.

It is an anniversary that falls amid other, more sobering, dates. January 27 marked 41 years since Apollo 1 caught fire on the pad at Kennedy Space Center, killing Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. January 28 was 22 years since Challenger exploded a minute after liftoff, killing Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ellison S. Onizuka, Ronald E. McNair Gregory B. Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. As of tomorrow, February 1, it will have been five years (already?) since that horrible morning in 2003 when Columbia, the first and best of them, disintegrated on reentry over East Texas, killing Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon.

I suppose one could pontificate pompously on the price of exploration, and how great discoveries often require great sacrifice. It would be true, and crass, and trite.

I make no pretense to being a disinterested observer. My mortgage is paid for by programs which hopefully will someday send humans to Mars. I have lived with a man for twenty-five years who has space exploration as part of his psyche; a NASA lifer who just got his 20-year pin. A man for whom the question has never been "Should we go into space?"but "How do we get there?" And space fever is contagious.

I do not have an answer to the question "Is it worth it?" To state that a loss of any life makes the costs too high , in what is essentially still a complicated enterprise fraught with endless opportunities for disaster, is as wrong as saying that the death of brave men and women -- who knew that they were involved in a possibly catastrophic endeavor -- do not matter. I do think that exploration is part of who we are, for good or ill: we can no more as a people renounce our desires to boldly go where no man has gone before than we can renounce our passions for sunlight and moonlight. To explore is to learn, to know -- curiosity is a basic human drive.

So we do what we have always done: mourn the sad anniversaries and rejoice in the successes. They become entwined, one around the other, the past and the present and the future.

And through it all, we still reach for the stars.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The other reason I've not been around as much is my new time sink: beading.

Including things I've made for myself and those made for others (all my female relations got jewelry this Christmas), I've made probably a couple of dozen (mostly wire-wrap) bracelets (takes an hour), two or three necklaces (ditto), a fair number of pairs of earrings (which don't take that much time individually but it adds up -- and I've lost a shameful number of them), and spent time just playing around. All of which takes up time formerly spent blogging.

And then there is Elvis. And the baby Elvises.

Elvis is a Christmas tree made of malachite and copper wire, with ornaments. It takes an hour and a half just to string the "popcorn and cranberry" garland made of Ornela seed beads. Not to mention the little snowmen made of Swarovksi faux pearls. He stands 15 inches tall; the baby Elvises -- three smaller trees made for family and friends -- stand between six and nine inches tall. All of them were time and labor intensive. (At least by my standards -- I don't have the attention span to, say, knit sweaters.)

Elvis (so named for a LJ post about him which began "Elvis has left the building...") is my first effort at serious designing. He was a finalist (alas, not anything more) in the 2007-2008 Fire Mountain Gems Beading Contest. (Fortunately, Fire Mountain is on the West Coast -- I drove the piece to Oregon, since I saw no way to actually ship it. The smaller trees -- which did not have a base -- were taken East for Christmas on the plane, not shipped.) He also convinced me to keep my day job: I could never to hope to sell them for enough to compensate for the time spent making them. So now I just make them for closest people, blood and chosen.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Art Wars

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away…

Oops. Wrong opening.

Once upon a time, er, in Palo Alto, California, there was an arts non-profit organization. It was, although flawed, a good and exciting place. It had potential. It was going places. (Metaphorically speaking, although there was a certain possibility of physical expansion as well.)

Except …

Then it wasn’t. There were (unfounded) allegations of bad faith, backhanded deals and outright fraud. Good and honorable people were slandered, their work belittled. A coterie of people undertook to make what once was a wonderful place to work a battlefield.

So we quit. That’s right, WE. Most of the board of directors (leaving a few for a transition period) and the ENTIRE junior staff (all five of us, including the weekend receptionist) resigned on January 9. It was enough to make the pages of the Palo Alto Daily News (which had provided ongoing – albeit incomplete and biased – coverage of the controversy). Because, let’s face it, a wholesale staff resignation says something about an organization. And not anything really good, either.

The Executive Director, a.k.a., the boss I would walk over hot coals for, did not leave. I can say that I am not the only one who is worried about her.

As for me, two emergency rooms visits in one week with disorientation and heart palpitations, followed by overnight admissions to determine that I had had neither a heart attack nor a stroke, made me consider that just possibly this was not a good situation for me to be in. That, and developing stress-related hypertension.

Several of us have talked about how “someone should write a book about all of this.” So someone should – and from the staff viewpoint – but although the truth is a defense in libel actions I don’t have the extraneous cash just lying around to fork out for attorneys. To tell the truth, I am a tad nervous about this post, although I have tried to make it as milquetoast as possible and with nothing that is not verifiable from already published sources.

I still mourn, a bit: I had a job doing work I enjoyed for a boss I adored with coworkers I very much liked and respected. How many times do you hit that trifecta?

But as rough as the past three months have been, I would not have traded this experience for the world. It has given me a confidence that I previous lacked. I had been out of the paid workforce for a long time – and I now know that I can survive, even thrive there. (Before things headed south starting in late September but really going to hell in a hand-basket in late November, I was doing quite well, thank you.)

I learned that I have skills people value: I write well. I am not afraid of computers. (I became the office registration/membership sysadmin by virtue of saying “I can figure out how to do that,” rather than “No, I don’t know how to do that.”) I have a sense of humor. I have the capacity to be civil to almost anyone under trying circumstances – I almost never raised my voice at a customer, member or instructor (and God knows, some of them deserved it), even though I occasionally had to walk away without speaking. Once, when I was wondering aloud why I got so much less crap thrown my way than younger staff members (I was the oldest weekday staffer by probably fifteen years, other than the ED), an instructor told me that it was that I exuded an “air of competence.” (Either that, or word got around about that law business. I was asked about it a couple of times. Although I don’t refer to myself as a lawyer, and certainly don’t use it to intimidate people, in this case I’m not going to quibble.)

I’m flexible. I am willing to do what needs being done – the words “that’s not in my job description’ were never uttered to refuse a task, although they were sometimes used to point out that I needed to be allowed more time to work on my primary goals. My boss referred to me as the office “Utility Infielder.” It’s a title I held with pride: I wanted it on my business cards. (My actual title was “Education and Development Coordinator,” which is much more boring.)

But I also learned what stresses me out: people. Those interactions I mentioned above? Hypertension city. Even routine interpersonal interactions were, by the end of the day, exhausting. I like my coworkers a great deal, and I was fine dealing with them, but the general public, or the membership, or even the instructors? Tough. I dreaded just calling instructors. (With two or three exceptions.) At the end of the day, I would go home and just want to hide. My family hated this: I was so peopled-out from work I could barely stand to be around them, as much as I love them.

I am an introvert of the first order. People often don’t see this, because I can be a chatty and friendly introvert, but I am an introvert nonetheless. And I can force myself to do customer service, and do it well, but over time it takes a toll. (I have decided not to pursue a job that at least two people have recommended to me precisely because it would require a high level of interpersonal interaction, even though I know I could do a very good job.)

So this has been a learning experience. And I have come through it bloodied but unbowed. My blood pressure is a bit lower, which pleases my doctor. (Dr. W: “What did we say you should do for the blood pressure, other than quitting your job?”) My sense of humor is intact. I have had no lasting ill effects. My major concern is that a prospective employer will see that my last job was of a short duration (under nine months) and be scared off. All they would have to do is talk to my references, though, and it would be clear that it wasn’t my work that was at issue. (Do you think it would be tacky to attach the PA Daily News article announcing the board and staff resignations to my resume? Yeah, probably.)

I’ll still be around the organization a little bit: one of the instructors (one of those who wears a white hat, metaphorically) talked me into taking a watercolor class. Although taking classes was a benefit accorded to employees, I was always too frazzled to actually take advantage of it while I was there: it was always “next quarter, I’ll get around to taking….” watercolor, or printmaking, or stone carving, but I never did. I am tremendously excited: I expect I will be rather mediocre, but that’s okay. It’s going to be fun, anyway.

And there is a possibility I may do contract work for the organization in the future (I have a skill and experience set they need), but the circumstances will be very different. They need me. Hopefully, they are smart enough to realize this. If not, oh well. It's their loss.

And now I have at least some time to write, so you may be seeing more of me in this space. After all, there’s so much to write about…. The upcoming Olympics in China, why I hope the Giants win the Super Bowl, the funniest things my kids say, squirrels and popcorn machines, shoes and ships and sealing wax, cabbages and kings.

Oh, and yeah, isn’t there some sort of political thing going on, as well?

No matter. I'm still here.