Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Saturnalia: A New Year’s Eve Message

At the dark of the year, Misrule rules. Everyone takes time from work to have parties or spend time with their families. It’s the time for gifts and greenery, feasting and drinking. All the rules are relaxed, and some are turned upside down. Violations that would ordinarily be severely punished slip by in the general merriment.

This is Saturnalia. It has gone by other names, of course. These days the holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve serve as our Saturnalia. In the old days it was even wilder than now: slaves and masters switched places, and people run naked in the streets and indulged in drunken orgies. (Somehow the office Christmas party just doesn’t measure up.) In some cultures, there was a lottery for a new, temporary king to displace the old one. The lucky man who found a bean in his cake became the King of Misrule and presided over the festivities. He was indulged in every way. Then he was sacrificed to bring back the sun.

Enjoy the good parts of Saturnalia, Go forth and make merry. Kiss strangers under the mistletoe or at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Quaff champagne. (According to Pterry, quaffing is a lot like drinking, only you spill more.) Just remember the basic safety precautions. Don’t drink and drive. Wear a condom. Get the young man’s name and address. You don’t want to become a sacrifice to the dark of the year.

Monday, December 30, 2002

From a Distinguished Guest Commentator

In California, "on time" doesn't mean anything at all. An appointment for a meeting at three o'clock on Tuesday indicates that there won't be a meeting and there might not be a Tuesday. Few words and no numbers have any meaning west of the Nevada border. — P. J. O'Rourke

The things that tempt you are the blurred or twisted versions of the best parts of yourself, the shortcuts to what you desire, the ways to evade painful truths. The temptation to do evil — or even skipping that loaded word, the temptation to do something that will ultimately harm yourself and others — doesn't come leering in a red devil suit. It looks more like an angel of light, or at least an angel of comfort.
Now that I'm Back to Work. . .

I have time to mess around a little.

While waiting for something to print this morning, I ran a googling search. Type "[name] is" or a similar phrase into Google and find out what the World Wide Web really thinks of you. It's the high-tech answer to scrying with a Bible and a key. Someone on the NaNoWriMo board suggested this as an interesting way to get random ideas for a character; it's also fun for yourself.

Personality and Achievements

· Lynn is "Torn" (DVD)

· Lynn is describing the spinal cord.

· Lynn is a great first doll for your little one.

· Lynn is snooping around.

· Lynn is the author of the seminal book on centenarians, "Centenarians: The Bonus Years," which is based on interviews of over 250 centenarians.

· Lynn is a kind, generous, and deeply caring person who loves kids, family, animals, and the outdoors. ... Lynn is looking forward to being a stay-at-home mom.

· Lynn is one of the most decorated women road racers in the Southeast, having won 8 Master's National. Championships.

· Lynn is deeply interested in all forms of healing and committed to "bridging the gap" between traditional and conventional medicine making.

· Growing up Lynn always had music around her and was always found singing along.

· Lynn is 12 years old and she asked if we would help her.

· Lynn is on temp. Medical leave. She’s in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer.

· Lynn is poised to become the lynchpin of North Shore Tech.

· “Being in Lynn is like starting the company all over again," she said.

· The hardest part for Lynn is coming up with all the ideas as well as being responsible for a staff! ... Is it true that Lynn is Canadian and so is the strip?

· A professional illustrator for more than 30 years, Lynn is an inspired teacher whose approach encourages confidence, self-expression, and individuality.

· Lynn is now on the comeback trail and confident of making up for the agony she experienced in not making the squad back in 1989.

· Self-confidence, says Lynn, is crucial to making it over all the barriers and obstacles that will get in their way.

· Lynn is making a difference.

· Currently, Lynn is the featured Tarot reader and Astrologer there.

Pardon Me, I Think You Have the Wrong Person

· Lynn is an award winning playwright, poet, actor, and former World Champion of Blind Judo.

· Lynn is always vying for that sparkle in the eye that will make a headshot stand out in a stack.

· Lynn is like many of us who allow others to tell us what we should do.

· Lynn is a sheet metal mechanic for a heating / air-conditioning company.

· Lynn is married to a really nice girl who's name is Ada.

· Lynn is learning very fast this few days.

· Lynn is the ultimate doormat.

· No doubt, Lynn is among the very best of the youthful smokers.

· Lynn is just about the last person who belongs in this situation.

Yeah. I Wish.

· Lynn is a vocalist with luxuriance of voice and mastery of its attendant technique.

· A versatile and original stylist, Lynn is known for a wide range of musical genres that includes folk, country flatpicking and jazz.

· Lynn is about to be treated to an afternoon in a salon as a birthday present.

· Lynn is back with her first solo CD in 12 years.

Really, I Never Would Have Guessed

· Lynn is a 33 foot Tiara sport fishing machine.

· Lynn is an outgrowth of a foundation-facilitated exchange between social service professionals from Tulsa and Israel.

· Lynn is part of the Gnutella Web Caching system which helps Gnutella Clients like Limewire, Gnucleus, Morpheus or Shareaza to connect easier to the Gnutella

· Lynn is a gaff rigged topsail schooner, having three head sails and a traditional square fore topsail.

· Lynn is an historic medieval port dating back to the 12th century.

· Lynn is scheduled for a 3-day appearance at Maryland Horse World.

· Lynn is the 1996 Medal of Valor recipient, presented by Governor Marc Racicot for her bravery in saving a youth from drowning ... [note: this Lynn is a search dog. I can be such a bitch.]

· For you history buffs, Lynn is generally acknowledged as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

· Lynn Is Key To Dot.Commonwealth Road Show

No Comment

· Lynn is an optimist who truly believes that love conquers all.

· Lynn is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic speaker. ... Lynn is a person of outstanding integrity who is highly professional and objective.

· Lynn is not my favorite person.

· Goddess Lynn is a fantasy coach, BDSM Mistress, traveling companion and professional dominatrix that specializes in adult baby, adults in diapers, spanking ...

· Lynn says Laurie is always yelling at her, calling her names and has already told two of Lynn's cousins that Lynn is gay.

A Little Too Close to Home

· Lynn is a highly versatile author.

· Lynn is the middle child in her family

· With her husband gone, Lynn is willing to talk about her marriage in more detail than she would while he was alive.

· Lynn is baring her soul with this book.

· Lynn is pleased to be incorporating this beautiful and vivid language into the fabric of her stories.

· Lynn is an old industrial community that is burdened with numerous contaminated properties.

· Lynn is a very talented and dedicated Christian artist who uses his [sic] God-given gifts to advance the Kingdom of God.

· Lynn is known to members as a talented teacher, a skilled clinician, and a strong believer in the need for social workers to attend to themselves.

· Lynn didn’t take that lying down.

· Lynn is not a registered charity yet!

· Lynn is a very independent person.

· Lynn is active in the archival profession.

· Lynn is set in the heart of the countryside.

· Lynn is a feisty feminist in her own little country way and that makes her precious in my book.

· Opponents never know whether Lynn is going for their arms, legs, or heads.

· Well, where it counts, Lynn is on top (and she never made a dopey movie about aliens either!).

A Full Description

Lucky Lynn is a (master) thief. She has traveled far and has stolen from many rich and important people. The only ones that nearly caught her once where members of the holy Inquisition. She had broken into one of their treasuries and taken an unusual weapon from it. Now she is hunted. Her riding beast she got from a wizard in Al-Wazif for whom she worked once.
Appearance: Lynn is a dark eyed, fair skinned woman with a dark mane. She is about 30 and of average height and weight. Her expensive black leather clothes are matched by her exotic riding beast. [This is a GURPS character]

Lynn is the microbiologist who developed the symbiogenetic theory of evolution. Instead of falling all over the “survival of the fittest” theory put out by Darwin , Lynn wondered if there were instances where organisms would work together for the betterment of all. According to her theory of symbiogenesis, new life forms can evolve, not by dominating and wiping out the competition, but by the formation of close bonds between previously independent organisms that each bring a specific ability to the relationship. Sort of a “survival by teamwork” scenario.

Today Lynn is still making waves, researching her theory of symbiotic evolution and giving talks about her other theory, the Gaia Hypothesis

[This refers to Lynn Margulis, Carl Sagan’s first wife and a highly respected scientist in her own right. The couple split up when he wanted her to quit her scientific work and stay home all the time. Though they married when she was 18, she managed to earn her PhD as well as have and raise two kids.]

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Christmas Eve

May the blessings of God flow out upon you all: love of every kind, God and friends and family and romance; the home you need; a loving community; health and strength and growth; fulfilling work and a sense of your purpose in life; the chance to do something silly and joyful once in a while.

With very much love,

Monday, December 23, 2002

Another Great 404

Found this one myself.

About Books

These quotations appeared in my e-mail this morning. Since I tend to give books as gifts (and many of the best gifts I've ever received were books), it's a good time to think about them.

A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.
— Italo Calvino

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before.
— Clifton Fadiman

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.
— C.S. Lewis

When I get a little money, I buy books; and if there is any left I buy food and clothes.
— Desiderius Erasmus

Never read a book through merely because you have begun it.
— John Witherspoon

Just the knowledge that a good book is waiting one at the end of the day makes that day happier.
— Kathleen Norris
Quilting for Peace

A Mennonite congregation in Salford, PA (between Norristown and Quakertown), is stitching a pair of peace quilts: one for Saddam Hussein, the other for our current president.

"I thought about how Saddam Hussein and George Bush both go to bed at night," Pfister said.

"I wondered what they think about when they pull the covers up and begin to drift off. Do they think about how they're affecting the lives of people around the world?... Are they thinking about killing each other?"

That's when he got the idea for the peace quilts the men and women and children of Salford Mennonite Church have been working on ever since.

The ones they hope to somehow get to Hussein in Iraq and Bush in Washington.

Maybe — just maybe — something in the design, with its dove of peace perched in the tree of life, would move the two men.

Or something in the message on the back: "... each stitch represents our individual and collective fervent prayers for peace."

Or perhaps just the fact that so many people (about 400) cared enough to participate.

Each quilt is almost a mirror image. When they are placed side by side, the tree branches seem to intertwine. The two doves face each other, eye to eye.

Naive? Unworldly? Sure. But powerful. I don't think a peace quilt can fix the world, but symbols can gather power, can begin to help and heal. Then there's the change in the lives of the people who make the quilts. Focusing your attention and prayer changes you, yourself, and doing it in community can build strong bonds.

We have to start somewhere.
Christmas, 1 Corinthians 13 Style

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the
choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, though harried and tired.

Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way.

Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust. But giving the gift of love will endure.
—Author Unknown

Saturday, December 21, 2002

A Great 404 Page

Thanks to Gallifreyan for this link.

Friday, December 20, 2002

This Will Make Joe Happy

Today, Philadelphia is having better weather than the Bay Area. It's 55 and partly sunny there, about 50 and pouring rain (on and off) here.

Of course, the rain, chill, and high winds exhilarate me. I caught myself laughing out loud the other day, crossing the courtyard here at work. (This building is designed like a cheap motel, with suite doors opening onto external corridors. There's a central courtyard complete with fountain and four magnolia trees. And yes, the bathrooms also open onto the outside corridors.) I figured out that it's because at last we're having *weather*. This attitude has not endeared me to some of the native Californians, who would just as soon go back to perpetual sunshine.
Good News, Bad News

From Harper's "Weekly Review":

American non-Christians told pollsters that evangelical Christians are better than prostitutes but worse than lawyers or lesbians.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

This Day in (Personal) History

I did a little quiz today, listing where I’d been and what I was doing twenty years ago, ten, five, etc. I think the author was just asking for general information, but with my idiot savant’s head for dates, I know what was happening. Also, it doesn’t help/hurt that today is an important day in my life. My ex-husband’s birthday — in fact, his first birthday as a divorced man. (Any bets that he’s remarried already?)

Though some of the quiz was painful, the overall effect was heartening. My life is a thousand times better than it used to be. I’m in one of the best relationships of my life. I have a good job with great people. I am involved in a loving church. Now I have the NaNoWriters, and I love them all, even if I haven’t gone to the extent that Dan did. (He proposed marriage to us all at the “Thank God It’s Over” party.) I’ve been needing a writers’ community, as well as some friendships outside the house. I’m writing again, fiction and nonfiction. I may even be unpacked someday.

The other day I was discussing this with Ed (my carpool buddy and our company’s resident database genius/Eagle Scout). I was listing the cool things in my life, and he said, “Seems like good things do happen to bad people sometimes.”

Just in Case You Wondered. . .

I am 58% Tortured Artist

Art is significant in my life, people are scum but I have the capicity to deal with it. Give it a few more years and I will either forget about art or hate the world.

Take the Tortured Artist Test at fuali.com

Like this is going to surprise anybody who knows me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Kids and Grownups

“None of us are as strong or brave as the children we used to be.” — Peter Straub

There are times when my friend Karen wants to be a kid again: safe, protected, the focus of a lot of adult care and attention, without the responsibilities adults have to face. Nevertheless, she shoulders her responsibilities and deals with them — with occasional breaks for playfulness.

Even in my wildest dreams I can’t imagine childhood in those terms. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an adult — no, that’s not accurate. I thought of myself as old and battered, a scarred veteran walking among the fresh-faced innocents. Even when I was spending time with people a dozen years older than I was, I never took on the cute little kid persona. That is not in my repertoire. For me childhood meant having crushing responsibility with no power — meant protecting the grownups, protecting my sisters, dealing with things that were unbearable but had to be borne.

One unpleasant side effect of this is that I’ve always tended to emphasize how old I am. This must have been mildly amusing when I was in my early twenties and feeling elderly. At 43, though, I think it’s time to end it. Not because I haven’t been through vast quantities of garbage, but because I ought to have figured out by now that chronological age hasn’t got a bloody thing to do with that. It’s obnoxious, it’s embarrassing, let it end.

Yes, I do feel old sometimes when people a dozen years younger than I am talk about TV shows I’ve never seen, or music I’ve never heard of — but given that I was never particularly plugged into that aspect of pop culture, that’s OK. I love the music I love, and I am always open to listening to new music. I acquired what I know of pop culture between about 18 and 38. Then people started dying and I turned away from keeping up with every new movie. There wasn’t energy for that any more.

Oddly, I never felt that age would deprive me of anything I wanted. I don’t obsess over wrinkles and gray hairs — having stayed out of the sun, determinedly pale and geeky, I don’t have many wrinkles yet, and the few gray hairs are covered by hair dye anyway. (Redheads have more fun.) I’ve never feared that turning 30 or 35 or 40 would deprive me sexually. Now, well ensconced in my 40s, I definitely don’t feel deprived.

“I’ve been an evil freakin’ diva for forty years — now I have to go somewhere and knit!” — Cher, contemplating retirement

Well, no. Now you get to be an old evil diva. You get to be powerful, sexual, strong. I much prefer another Cher quotation, what she reportedly said when she first spotted the bagel-store clerk she lived with for years: “I want him. Have him stripped and washed and sent to my tent.” Now that’s an attitude.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Because I'm Fair-Minded. . . .

I'm quoting an article in full from the Tennessee Right to Life website.

Pro-Life Doctor May Join FDA Drug Review Panel

October 13, 2002—Washington, DC: A pro-life gynecologist from Lexington, Kentucky, who is lobbying the federal government to rescind its approval of the dangerous abortion drug RU 486 is in line for a position on a key FDA advisory committee on women's health issues.

Pro-abortion groups are furious that the Bush administration is considering W. David Hager for an appointment to the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee.

The panel advises the Food and Drug Administration and made the recommendation that eventually led to government approval of RU-486. Hager's pro-abortion critics describe him as an ideologue who has no credibility in the medical or scientific community.

As evidence, they point to a book that Hager authored with his wife, Linda, that stresses "the restorative power of Jesus Christ in one's life" and puts a strong spiritual emphasis on easing women's suffering from health problems.

"He's more interested in ideology than in science or medicine," claimed Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Hager did not respond to requests for an interview. However, his defenders say he is a well-respected physician and researcher who is hardly an extremist.

Hager is a part-time professor at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and supervises the residency program at Lexington's Central Baptist Hospital.

"He is an outstanding and highly qualified candidate," said Bill Pierce, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

One published report said that Hager would serve as chairman of the panel, but Pierce insisted that no decision has been made on Hager's appointment.

Kenton County Commissioner Barb Black said Hager would be a good addition to the committee. Black said she sought Hager's advice earlier this year when the Northern Kentucky health board was debating whether to reject federal family planning money. Hager's position on that issues shows that he is someone who "looks at all of the medical facts and considers all of the data before he makes a judgment call," she said.

Hager has been active in the pro-life movement for years and is probably one of the best-known obstetrician-gynecologists in Lexington, said Frank Schwendeman, president of the Kentucky Right to Life Association.

He also has worked to reduce pregnancy among teen-agers and has promoted the abstinence-only approach to sex education. In addition, he was one of the doctors who participated in a federal study last year that questioned the effectiveness of condoms in protecting against sexually-transmitted diseases.

Emory Wilson, dean of the UK College of Medicine, said Hager's contributions "to the literature and to our knowledge of infectious diseases in women have been significant and respected by others in the field."

In August, Hager was one of several physicians in the Christian Medical Association who petitioned the FDA to shelve the RU-486 "abortion pill" pending a review of the approval process and complications attributed to the drug.

Pro-abortion supporters contend it would be a conflict for Hager to serve as chairman of the FDA's advisory committee at the same time he is pushing the agency to shelve RU-486.

The appointment doesn't require confirmation by Congress.

"For someone who doesn't trust or support women's rights to reproductive health care ... to be in a position to make critical decisions about the future of health care is quite frightening," said Beth Wilson, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

Feldt and other abortion advocates say Hager's appointment is part of a pattern by the Bush administration to fill key advisory positions with people for whom ideology is more important than medicine or science.

Other appointees they cited as examples include Dr. Mildred Jefferson, a founder and former president of the National Right to Life Committee who has been asked to serve on a new panel on clinical research trial safety; and Dr. Tom Coburn, a pro-life former Republican congressman from Oklahoma who was named in January co-chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS. Coburn has questioned the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

Now, according to other sources (Time magazine and CBS news), Dr. Hager refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women. Moreover, Hager's book on women's reproductive health prescribed specific bits of Scripture as a cure for PMS. This seems inadequate, to say the least, but could be effective if coupled with a good diagnosis and whatever drugs are necessary. The FDA offered several candidates (who were rejected) and also asked that this appointment be temporary, but Bish insisted that it be for the full four years. At least one published report has claimed that Dr. Hager would be the chairman of the committee.

In searching out the pro-life point of view, I discovered the other appointments mentioned in the final paragraph, which I hadn't heard about before.

I'm not going to pretend to be shocked that beliefs play a role in politics and in the government functions (like the FDA) that should be more about substance than ideology. I refuse to say that a pro-choice candidate would not be a political choice. But I will say that this is bad news for women who need reproductive counseling before they're married (or after they're divorced?), who need RU-486, who want to be able to prevent or end an unwanted pregnancy.

Abortion is an agonizing choice. But sometimes it's the right choice.

Ah well. This may all be a moot point, since Dubbya is threatening to nuke anybody who has dangerous weapons. Well, maybe not just anybody. Anybody *else* — all those rogue states who go around attacking weaker people unprovoked.

Bush reminds me of the drunk sprawled on all fours under the streetlight. When a cop comes up and asks, "What are you doing?" the drunk says, "Looking for my car keys."

"Oh, you dropped them here?"

"No, I dropped them across the street. But I couldn't find them in the dark over there."

Iraq is not the enemy this time. But Saddam Hussein is right under the streetlight. Osama Bin Laden is still lurking in the dark. And I bet he's laughing.
Musical E-Mails

E-mails from two good friends.

Today, December 11, is the 94th birthday of American composer Elliott Carter, whose name is known to anyone who knows me. Carter is still active -- more than active, actually. He is still composing with astonishing fluency (though I must say my own favorite music of his remains the great middle-period pieces composed from 1959 to about 1980). In October last year, as New York City was recovering from the shock of September 11, Yo-Yo Ma performed Carter's terrific new Cello Concerto at Carnegie Hall, with Daniel Barenboim conducting. In April 2003, the Boston Symphony is scheduled to perform a new "Boston Concerto."

If you do the math, depending on whether you date Carter's discovery of his compositional voice with the Piano Sonata of 1946, the First Quartet of 1951, or even the Second Quartet of 1959, you find his "mature" period has lasted longer than Mozart's entire life, and perhaps a year or two longer than Beethoven's.

Yesterday, I received a brief e-mail from Carter expert and confidant David Schiff, who said he saw Carter a few days ago and he was in very good spirits, which is heartening news.


second e-mail

Oh, and I think Christmas is coming up, too.


The next e-mail is from another friend and is of a somewhat different import:

"George's Song" (Author unknown)
To the tune "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands."

If we cannot find Osama, Bomb Iraq.
If the markets hurt your Mama, Bomb Iraq.
If the terrorists are Saudi
And the bank takes back your Audi
And the TV shows are bawdy, Bomb Iraq.

If the corporate scandals growin', Bomb Iraq.
And your ties to them are showin', Bomb Iraq.
If the smoking gun ain't smokin'
We don't care, and we're not jokin'.
That Saddam will soon be croakin', Bomb Iraq.

Even if we have no allies, Bomb Iraq.
From the sand dunes to the valleys, Bomb Iraq.
So to hell with the inspections;
Let's look tough for the elections,
Close your mind and take directions, Bomb Iraq.

While the globe is slowly warming, Bomb Iraq.
Yay! the clouds of war are storming, Bomb Iraq.
If the ozone hole is growing,
Some things we prefer not knowing.
(Though our ignorance is showing), Bomb Iraq.

So here's one for dear old daddy, Bomb Iraq,
From his favorite little laddy, Bomb Iraq.
Saying no would look like treason.
It's the Hussein hunting season.
Even if we have no reason, Bomb Iraq.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

My Father's Death

Four years ago today, I got the call that I’d been expecting for nearly two years. My father was dead. He had finally lost the long, agonizing struggle for just a little more time to make up for a wasted life. My father could not try any longer to build a relationship with his neglected daughters (grown now, with children and homes and husbands). There was no way to do everything he could have done.

I don’t even remember what time the call came, who called me, or how I reacted at the news. It’s all there in my copies of sent e-mails, I’m sure. I can go back and look, if I want. But it’s strange that it’s so blank in my memory.

What I know, what I am sure of, is that his death hit me harder than I believed possible. After all, he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 23 months before. The two-year survival rate for that virulent form of cancer is something like 1 percent. I joked, during his endless dying by millimeters, that nothing short of a stake would put him in his grave for good.

I don’t know what wounded him, though I can guess at a few things. Some of the trouble must have been biochemical; he tried for years to self-medicate, trying to balance the raging fears and lusts and angers that tossed him around like a smashed twig in a tornado. Some of it undoubtedly was not biochemical. He was in Korea. He was a medic; I’m sure he saw things he couldn’t forget. He was so young, too: just 25 when I was born.

Some of what he did to me was understandable — maybe not forgivable, but understandable — in the light of his feelings of self-loathing, powerlessness, and rage. As for his mad-scientist glee at seeing what dead animals are made of, what little girls are made of, that’s a sign that he couldn’t or wouldn’t see what others were feeling. In some of my nightmares I have been there, feeling what he felt. Those are the worst dreams I have.

Nor can I deny him free will. Failure can be much easier to deal with than success, so he set himself up to fail over and over. He hurt me because he liked it, because it made him feel strong, because it satisfied a terrible itch in him.

I don’t excuse him, but I see, far better than I could thirty years ago, twenty, even ten, how he could make the bargains with the devil that he made. I know a lot more now about the damage mental illness can do, and I’ve done some evil things myself to survive in intolerable situations. I understand how comfortable he became with the role of evil monster. Later, when his father was dying, he took care of the old man for years. There is some redemption in that act.

The horror to me now is not that he terrorized little girls, but that he made part of me become him. These days, I carry that burden with more ease than I would have thought possible, but then I’ve had more than a decade of therapy. And I have the writing, the best chance to work through this inheritance.

We did come to a kind of reconciliation. I saw more of him in his last two years than I had for the previous twenty. I had spent something like 17 years refusing to speak to him. When in May of 1990 I did talk to him again, I ended up an emotional wreck for months. A few years later, I finally called him up and confronted him about the abuse. At first he blustered, denied it. Then he broke down and wept. (I remember that phone call.) I kept asking him why me, what had I done, why choose me as the scapegoat? There was no answer. He didn’t know.

My sisters and I visited him several times during his illness: at home, in the hospital. He was desperately seeking some kind of connection, some kind of relationship. I did try. I arranged his pre-death funeral — a family reunion over Thanksgiving of 1997, bringing together his brother and sisters, many cousins, his daughters, even my mother, if I remember rightly. There are pictures of us all together. I look horrible in them all — fat, wretched, haunted. He looks like a mad animated skeleton with hair.

We went out to Gettysburg Battlefield, a symbol so fitting I could never use it in fiction to stand for the horrors of my family, but a place where we had spent a lot of time. He’s buried there now. I told him the stories of our great-great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side who fought there, was wounded, and ultimately ended up in Andersonville Prison. He came out weighing 74 pounds. In the old photos, he has the same eyes I do.

At the end, my father knew I was a published writer. He even read the manuscript of a book I’d written about my mother-in-law’s experiences in World War II. He was impressed. I don’t remember whether in his copy I included the careful acknowledgement I had composed for him: “Thanks to my father, who first taught me about the evils of the Nazis.”

He loved history and music and the outdoors. He danced well — a skill I haven’t inherited. (Was it my clumsiness that first attracted his derision?) He was very intelligent, a good talker, a fine singer. He owned hundreds of books.

I know all the stories about women marrying their fathers, and I know it’s much more complex than that — definitely in my case. But since he first got sick, I’ve found myself with breaking heart trying to befriend, nurture, and heal various wounded men. Men who are lost and hurt; men who grieve; men whose impulsive, compulsive, irresponsible sexuality is evidence of a far greater wounding. I’m not stupid enough to get sexually involved with these guys, but I do keep listening to their sorrows and trying to heal their wounds.

If I could have healed you, Daddy, I would.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Random Notations

Most evil in the world is done in the name of self-defense. That doesn't mean a reasonable person would consider it the minimum use of emotional or physical force. And self-defense comes in many guises: protection of what you love, appropriation of what (you think) you need, defense of your self-image.

Most of the rest of the evil in the world is done with a determined smile "for their own good."

Other causes of evil:
"I wasn't paying attention."
"I felt like it."
"I was just trying to help."
"I just wanted to see what would happen."

- - - - - -

Any time you feel you "just have to" or "just can't," you're being handed a mirror to your inner self. Unfortunately, most of the time people use the mirror as a weapon, not to check out the current state of their psyche.

- - - - - -

It's amazing what the human mind can pretend not to see if there's a good reason for it.

- - - - - -

Love at first sight? No. But chemistry at first sight is real. I've been struck by that lightning on a few occasions, and I have the burn marks to prove it. I also have a few long-term friends and some wonderful memories of love directly attributable to that sense of instantaneous recognition — yes, and desire. It's happened half a dozen times in my life, and so far it has always been meaningful. Luckily, it isn't the only way I know to fall in love or to make a friend. And if sometimes in my twenties I let the passion strike first, at least I always did what I could to make the connection lasting, to turn chemistry into caring.

- - - - - -

Sometimes the worst thing you can do with pain — your own or someone else's — is to make it go away.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Post-NaNo Thoughts

It's unanimous. I feel happier and more energetic when I'm writing. The household has indicated very firmly that I'm considerably easier to live with when I'm writing. Something about the process drains off despair and self-loathing. And when I get the time alone I need, the time living in my own imagination, I’m more able to be more fully present with them when we spend time together.

So I have to keep on. The question is, what's a reasonable amount per day or per week to set as a goal? I can't keep up the 50K a month. But 5,000 a week might be reasonable. To do that, I would need to write something like 600 words a day, plus extra on weekends. I think I can manage that. It also works with the plans of the other local NaNoWriters. We’re planning to keep on meeting, both for writing sessions and for editing/critique groups. I’ve already said my novel should be ready for critique in February or March. That's a commitment.

This is exactly what I’ve been wanting, a writers’ community with bright, dedicated people. I’ve been impressed by the intelligence, magnanimity, and all-around wonderfulness of the local folks. They are very high on my list of people to thank in my acceptance speech for the NaNobel Prize for Fast Literature.

Here's my current draft of the speech:

Huge thanks to Chris Baty and the NaNo staff, not to mention all those weasels who gave their lives that human beings might have something to bet on.

Heartfelt thanks to my friends and partner for enduring me through all the moods: eager, snarly, despairing, and jubilant, and for putting up with my absence of mind and body this past month. (Sometimes I wonder if they enjoyed my absence too much.)

Warm thanks to the local NaNoWriters (cool beyond words), the staffs of various cafes and wine bars, and the other wonderful NaNoWriters who posted support and encouragement and twisted queries.

Thanks to Antony and Doreen for supplying music CDs, Steve and Steve for inventing the Mac, and all the musicians, including the Indigo Girls, Joan Osborne, Eric Clapton, Mozart, and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Thanks to my medical advisers, Juan Valdez and Dr. “Diet” Pepper. The operation to remove the toothpicks from my eyelids is scheduled for next week.

Whoever invented Pringles, I hope you spend years in purgatory being made into slurry, pressed out in an unnatural form, deep fried, spray-painted with fluorescent fake flavor powders, stacked in cans, manhandled into shards, sold at Walmart, devoured at midnight by depressed writers, excreted the next day by same, made into slurry. . . .

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Ah, Romance

From the most recent Best of Craigslist: Looking to trade my girlfriend for peace of mind.

I know I haven't been posting much lately, and I apologize. God knows it's not for want of writing. I'm writing. Dozens of bits and pieces, just not anything that is in shape yet to put up here.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Playing with Food

Lord of the Peeps is good, but Peephenge is better. Also, check out the links page. You haven't lived until you've seen the effects of smoking and drinking on a marshmallow Peep.

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Friday, November 29, 2002

Word Count: 50,053

It's over. I finished the 50,000 in a month. Of course, this is a miserable mess of a rough draft. It needs more scenes, it needs rewriting, it needs a lot of changes to make it even marginal. But I do have a purple winner's bar.

I did this in the face of odds, too: not just work, not just my own writer's block, but in the past couple of days, I've had oral surgery, a drug hangover from the Vicodin the dentist gave me, Thanksgiving dinner with various good friends, an allergic reaction at dinner (small but interesting -- my upper lip swelled up like I'd been hit with a basketball), Benadryl and subsequent unconsciousness, and fascinating struggles today with the Benadryl hangover, the despair engendered by continuing allergic reactions, and the book itself.

It's not done. I need to keep working on it. I love it. It's going to last me a long while. But I still feel as though I had shot my favorite child.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Thanksgiving Blessings

* a loving family: blood kin back east, plus the Califamily out here
* all my other communities: church, job, online, and NaNoWriters
* Joe, one of my oldest friends, who sends me poems, smart-alec parodies, and wonderful music
* Gabriel, Spawn of Satan, Fuzzbucket Supreme
* a safe and tasty Thanksgiving dinner, with no liver in the stuffing and no celery anywhere
* having most of my books unpacked (only about 15 boxes to go)
* a really great local library system, including online catalog searching and hold requests
* the ability to appreciate all the beauty around me and express it in words
* my faithful blog readers and fans — it's great to know you're there
* word count: 42,148

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Word Count: 40,620

I can see the finish line, assuming I define 50,000 words as the finish line. It isn't the end of the book for sure. It will be the end of the month, though. Today won't be a big writing day. I'm tired, for one thing. For another, I have work, followed by Thanksgiving grocery shopping, followed by the family meeting, followed by *sleep*.

Yesterday my NaNoWriMo jersey came: "No plot? No problem!" I'll wear it to work tomorrow, then to the dentist's office for oral surgery (yuck), then if I'm up to it to the cafe where the local NaNoWriters meet with their laptops and their giant power bar.

Another goodie in the mail: the book I've been waiting for. It's a powerful text on suicide motives, based on years of close study and interviews with survivors of serious suicide attempts, including a lengthy study of a young woman who attempted suicide in the same horrific fashion my character did. (Mine succeeded.) These case studies go a long way past cries for help or swallowing five aspirin. These people really wanted to die, and they chose very effective methods to achieve that end. But even the best methods can fail and leave you (for example) with your face shot off, unable to speak.

I'm including an Afterword with suicide helpline numbers and some other sources of support. If I'm going to write a book about suicide, I have a responsibility to show it truthfully, unglamorously, and to make sure even fragile readers are protected — insofar as I can protect them.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

Word Count: 35,306

An amazing night of writing: intense, passionate, almost ecstatic. I finally went to bed around 3AM, but kept waking myself with mini-nightmares. At 4 I woke screaming and screaming with a major nightmare. My father was coming out of his grave to strangle me. Unfortunately realistic imagery there.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Word Count: 30,466

It's nearly 8:30 on Saturday night. So far my weekend has consisted of housework, sleep, seven loads of laundry, a few essential errands, sleep, petting Gabriel, and wanting to sleep. However, I'm planning to do a marathon tonight, nap, church tomorrow (I'm one of the readers — a selection from the Old Testament), and a marathon tomorrow afternoon. Then I have a short week. Then I have three days to finish, and may God have mercy on my soul.

Friday, November 22, 2002

November 22, 1963

To most of us, this date in history carries one overwhelming meaning: the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But far away in England another eloquent Irishman was also dying. In memory of C.S. Lewis, let me offer these quotations from his work.

"Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness."
—The Problem of Pain

Our imitation of God in this life — that is, our willed imitation, as distinct from any likenesses which He has impressed upon our natures or our states — must be an imitation of God Incarnate. Our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the divine life operating under human conditions.
— The Four Loves

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or al least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
—The Four Loves

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Change of Seasons

Last Wednesday, I first noticed a tinge of green, the color of an unripe apple, here and there on the hills. I had to look twice to see the faint undertone. Now the hills look like watercolors with soft washes of pale green highlighting the faded straw. Each day, the tide of verdure grows stronger, and last year’s grass looks more and more like foam on the cresting wave.

Of winter. This yearly miracle isn’t spring freeing a land locked in ice. It’s winter come to soften a land baked hard by summer.
Coming Soon to a Democracy Near You. . . .

It's the classic totalitarian nightmare. No freedom, no privacy, constant surveillance, people living in fear of the government that is supposed to serve them. How would you like the government to read your e-mails, tap your phone, track your finances, examine your medical records, and invade every aspect of your private life without a search warrant? Or, to put it more broadly, would you like your Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure to be flushed down the toilet?

Yes, it's really being proposed. Democrats are shocked and sickened. Conservative Republicans are appalled. (Even William Safire, former Nixon staffer, is against this measure.) Libertarians are foaming at the mouth. (No smart-ass remarks.)

But you can do something. Click here to send a fax to your President. If you don't tell him directly, he'll find out your opinions by eavesdropping. Legally.

Remember, John Poindexter Is Watching You.
Losing Brave Eyes, Part 2

What I do now is go on without courage. What I do is honor those who have been fighting fear longer than I have.

Do you have to be so melodramatic? Just shut up about it.

Whose voice is that, telling me my feelings don't matter?

Don't make such a big deal. Just ignore them and they'll go away.

Yes. Well. I'm not so sure numbness is the most desirable state.

Maybe one reason I'm aware of this now is that I've been trying to go beyond the boundaries. When I wasn't trying anything new, I didn't need to test my courage. I didn't have to feel how terrifying it is for me to *start* something. Gradually I let my life shrink and shrink until it became unendurable. Then I broke through, with roughly the same emotional consequences as breaking through layers of glass and stone would have to my flesh. No wonder now I'm sore.

One thing: it's important to follow through and do it anyway. If I can break through my own fear and reluctance, I have all the joy of freedom. It's just the threshold that's hard. The more I let it stop me, the more painful and constricted my life will be. But if I can keep pushing on through, then I'll have a history of success. I'll know I can do it, and that's half the battle.
Losing Brave Eyes

When I was little, Lisa christened me Brave Eyes: I could see in the dark, and nothing scared me. I’m amazed now at the physical courage I had in those days; as a four-year-old I climbed trees and strolled along the narrow, arch-topped porch railing. I learned to swim by hurling myself face-first into the water. I’ve never been afraid of the dark or monsters under the bed.

Later I was calm when the surgeon told me I had cancer, and when he told me three weeks later that it wasn’t cancer I was still calm. Cancer truly doesn’t scare me. Even the Lump was more of a pain than something to be frightened of. Well, let me correct that: what frightened me wasn’t the possibility that it could be malignant, but the certainty of having to be manhandled and in pain. Since the infection and the ripping open of the incision, I’m still in pain from it, which may explain some things. (One of those Aha! Moments.)

It took everything I had to survive the past five years or so: deaths heartbreakingly sudden, gutwrenchingly drawn out; repeated moves; the slow destruction of my marriage; weeks and months when every night meant nightmare; moving to California and changing my life. And now it takes more than I have to do even simple things.

In my fearless youth, I wasn’t so much unafraid as indifferent to fear, as a fish is indifferent to water. These days I have more to lose. These days I have time and strength to feel the shattering terror, or the honesty to admit it.

I think I’ve used up my lifetime supply of courage.

What do I do now?

Monday, November 18, 2002

Creating Our Monsters
One of my favorite comments made by a journalist on the BBC was that the United States seemed to have a preoccupation with declaring war on abstract concepts — War on Terrorism, War on Poverty, War on Drugs. To me it seemed to sum up how completely dense and utterly clueless we are when it comes to problem solving.

Read the rest of this essay here. And weep. And write your senators and representative.
Almost Caught Up

I worked like a demon this weekend and brought my word count close to the halfway mark. If I can just crank out a couple of thousand words a day from now on, I'll make 50K by November 30. Hallelujah!

I do feel a lot better when I write. Once the flow is going, as long as I keep it up every day, it's not such an agony to start again. It's trying to start again from a standstill that costs blood.

I admit, there are days I wonder why I try.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Sweetness and Light Report

Really, seriously, I felt so much better just writing the "Gloom and Doom Report" that I almost didn't post it here. But then, I'm trying to be honest — I'm trying to document the process. And I swear, sometimes part of the process of getting myself to write is pushing myself emotionally so hard that I feel horrible. Then I write and feel better. At some point, the writing takes on its own momentum, and I don't need to wrestle myself into the mud to get there.

I'm warped. But entertaining.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Gloom and Doom Report

[Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that reading this blog entry could be dangerous for pregnant women, cheerful people, or those who are already depressed. In fact, any males hoping to reproduce now or in the next few years should probably skip it too, or at least put on leather gloves and an aluminum jock strap before you read it. Hey, you look cute that way. Take a few pictures, and send them to me. Maybe those will cheer me up.]

It’s been a long, rough week, mostly because I’ve been (A) depressed about the NaNovel, which is at a standstill, (B) wrung out by the antibiotics, (C) sleeping badly, and (D) trying to figure out why I’m such a wretched excuse for a human being.

These bouts of self-loathing are hard on me, but they’re nearly impossible for anybody else to live with. Unlike normal people, I don’t want company or cheering up or comfort when I feel this way. The presence of anybody else just makes it worse. I tend to crawl in my hole and hide. That’s been nearly impossible, unfortunately.

What brought this on? Other than the struggle to write, which is the chief cause, the contributing incidents are minor instances of my own failures and errors and inattention to the Real World. Nothing serious, nothing worth repeating, but enough to make me feel low, particularly since so much of my psychic energy is going to that other epic battle.

I am afraid I’ll lose.
The Leonids Are Coming!

Here you can find viewing tips, little-known facts, and other astronomical goodies.

Take your sweetie out next Monday night and watch the meteor showers together. With a thermos of hot chocolate and a nice warm blanket, you can have a romantic evening watching the most spectacular Leonids for the next 100 years.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Looking for a Beautiful Dog? How About a Story to Make Your Blood Boil?

Get both with this post from Kerry.

Someone please give a home to the handsome Draco. As for Kerry's father, I don't approve of his attitude toward raising kids or animals. I'm sure Kerry's sister and dog are both a lot better off when out of his hands.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Happy Birthday, Gabriel

Four years ago today, on Friday the Thirteenth, I stopped at Joan Benson’s place in North Jackson to pick up a new black kitten. I’d been expecting a short-haired cat, like all the other cats I’d had, and I was startled to see a little furball no longer than my hand, with big eyes and a plump little tail. With her long hair and the wisps of silver under her chin and along her belly, she was a tiny image of my mother’s cat Angel.

Now, Angel was a feral cat who lived in the woods around my mother’s cabin, which was a mile or so from the Bensons’ place. Ma fed her for a long time before the cat trusted her enough to come inside. From then on, until Angel’s death, the two shared a loving companionship. Angel was one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever known: with her lushly plumy tail, long black hair, touches of silver at her neck and belly, and her demure velvet paws, she looked like Elizabeth Taylor.

But Angel was clearly a wild animal. Though she was affectionate and friendly, she went on hunting. She also performed amazing feats of agility and strength. I once saw her somersault ten feet through the air from the railing of my mother’s deck (a good 15 feet from the ground) to grab the trunk of a tree.

Angel was probably 5 or 6 years old when she came through the woods to my mother’s door. But this little fuzzball was a new kitten. I debated names, but it was clear I had to name her after Angel. So she was christened Gabriel. Not Gabrielle. Angels are sexless, and Gabriel is a much better name than Gabrielle.

I stopped at Ma’s on my way home so she and Angel could exclaim over my new baby. Clearly there was a relationship here, possibly even a direct lineal descent. Which wasn’t surprising. Gabriel’s mother was a member of a tribe of feral cats whose independent existence overlapped the life of the Benson farm and extended into the woods surrounding it. The cats lived, hunted, bred, and died outdoors but mingled with people when the notion suited them.

These wild felines resembled Maine Coon Cats and Norwegian Forest Cats, which makes sense. In the 1970s, a couple of Maine Coon housecats had run away from various households and may well have added their genes to the local cat population. Also, given the snowy, bitter winters in Jackson, natural selection in feral cats would favor the typical Maine Coon/Norwegian Forest characteristics of intelligence, agility, climbing skills, and a thick double coat of long hair. Angel and Gabriel were clearly both members of the local feral breed: Jackson Coon Cats, or maybe Jackson Forest Cats.

What was so astonishing wasn’t that these cats had all the skills they needed to survive in the wild. It was that they were so loving in the home. My little bundle of fuzz was very clearly *my* baby from the minute I took her home. She spent time just cuddling with me, wrestling my fingers, or sleeping on my feet, but she would also go forth fearlessly to explore. Oh look, there’s a world behind the couch! Then she would realize she was alone, stop in her tracks, and start meowing. We had company that weekend, and I would excuse myself: “Sorry, I’m on call.” By the end of that weekend she had me trained.

Since then, she has been my friend, companion, and delight. When I pet her, she grabs my hand in her paws and starts licking me. She steals my covers, sometimes sits in my lap, and stands up to hug my knee when I am opening a can of cat food. Happy birthday, Gabriel. You’ve been a great delight for the past four years, and I hope you’ll be with me for many years to come.

I don't have pictures of Gabriel up on the web, but these pictures of a black Maine Coon look a lot like her. Check out the second page, too: kitties opening presents on Christmas morning.

Edited to add: Gabriel that first weekend. The picture at the top is Gabriel as an adult.
People with Too Much Time on Their Hands

Well, it ought to be an interesting show. Definitely rated R, at least.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Second Week of NaNo

It’s actually almost the third week, but let’s not go there, OK? With just over 10,000 words (many of them incoherent), I’m 10,000 words behind. I had been hoping to catch up over the weekend, but events conspired to prevent my writing at all Saturday or for more than an hour Sunday.

There were some high points to the weekend. Friday night, the book dragged me out of bed to work, and I clocked up a couple of thousand words about God, sacrifice, translation, and various other high matters. I don’t know how much of it will be usable — I don’t dare even look at it, frankly. But it’s quantity, not quality, that matters — I need to remember that. It doesn’t have to be a finished draft. It just needs to be 50,000 words.

Saturday morning I had to get up early (after 5 hours’ sleep) and drive up to Palo Alto for the confirmands’ retreat. It was a powerful spiritual experience. Then I had some lunch, got home to a houseful of D&D gamers, and took a long, luxurious nap.

And this is where I blew it. I should have just locked myself in my office to write. Instead I wanted to spend some time with Michele, then go and spend a few hours of quality time with my keyboard. I didn’t want to start writing and then be interrupted, or start writing with one ear open for the game to end, or start writing, get into the groove, and refuse to see Michele because the work was going too well.

So I asked when the game would be over. If it would end late, no problem; I could write now. If it would end early, no problem; I could have some supper and see Michele before I started work.

“This is the last encounter,” said the Dungeon Master.

OK, cool. That was around 7:30, and the games are scheduled to run from noon to about 7. I made myself some supper, did some housework, wondered if I should just go to work, checked on the battle, wrote e-mail to my family, wondered again if I should just go to work, decided not to (it couldn’t be long now, could it?), killed some more time, and realized after two hours that (A) I was starting to feel really sad, and (B) this game could go on indefinitely. On both counts, I’d better find out what was up.

So I ventured into the game area and asked to speak to Michele privately. We went out to the front porch and talked for a bit. She was actually more upset than I was — she had been trying to play the game while wondering when the damned thing would be over, and suffering her own torments of frustration and impatience while being aware that I was left dangling. And dangling in that way is a really nasty sensation, as she knows.

So she was really upset and needed comforting. Afterwards, when the gamers had gone, we spent some time together trying to deal with the emotional aftermath of the situation. So in the end I didn't get either the pleasant hang-out time I wanted with Michele, or the writing time.

I was angry that I had been misinformed about how long it would take and upset that she had preferred to be polite to the gamers rather than let me know what was happening. Most of all, I was frustrated and angry that people who knew me and loved me would be disrespectful to my work to that extent.

Of course, the DM wasn't thinking about my work. He was thinking about the game, and he didn't interpret the question as being of any urgency, or as requiring an answer in terms of minutes. He answered accurately, just not usefully. And Michele certainly didn't intend disrespect for me or the work. She got caught in a thicket of conflicting needs.

The one to blame here is me, of course, for putting myself in the position of entrusting my writing schedule to the vagaries of the D&D game.

So that was Saturday. Began beautifully but without writing, ended a real mess and without writing.

Sunday, of course, I had to go to church; I was being confirmed. And again, this was an intense spiritual experience after a night of not nearly enough sleep. Got home, took a nap, woke up and tried to spend some time with the family, I think. I did try to get some work done Sunday night, but I don’t think I managed a hundred words. I don’t really remember Sunday evening, except one agonized moment when I realized I had blown the weekend. Oh, and I spent a *lot* of time in e-mail, trying to explain the situation to someone whose mind works very differently from mine, figure out what had gone wrong, and propose ways to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

It doesn’t help that I’m wiped out from the antibiotics I’m taking for the infected surgical incision. Or that I’m still on-and-off angry about what happened. Or that Friday started with a problem with the bank which took much of the weekend to resolve. The minute this thing is settled, I am going to change banks. I’ve had enough garbage from these people already.

So it has been a rough few days. I’m cranky, tired, and irritated, and you should see my dreams.

And next weekend I have a NaNo writing party Saturday night (for which I would very much like to have a high word count), and Sunday we need to be out of the house all afternoon and early evening because of some work being done there. I am seriously considering staying in a motel near work for Sunday night. Then I would have to do some writing.

Friday, November 08, 2002

Brighten Up Your Friday

by clicking your way over to Skippy's List.

Most of us are not, thank God, in the military. But Skippy's list of official things the the brass have told him NOT to do is undoubtedly cheering.
Be Careful What You Wish For

Certainly the Bay Area wasn't a weather-free zone yesterday. I'm sorry for the damage, but the fact is, I enjoyed it. Even when I was picking up a prescription in the rain.

Here are the numbers:
Inches of rain in SF: 1.5
Inches of rain in Napa: 3.0
Additional inches of rain expected today and tonight: 1.5
Wind gusts: up to 70 mph
Residents who lost power: 390,000+
Wave heights, in feet: 27+
Bridges whose lights blew out: 1
Bridges closed because of flying construction debris: 1
Airport buildings that blew down in the wind: 1
Roads closed: many
Fenderbenders from midnight to noon on Thursday, compared with the same period on Friday: 39: 133
Injury accidents from midnight to noon on Thursday, compared with the same period on Friday: 8: 42
Total snowfall expected in the Sierra Nevada by the end of the storm, in feet: 2-5

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Bread and Roses

What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has it, the right to life, and the sun, and music, and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.

—Rose Schneiderman, August 1912

Wednesday, November 06, 2002


Wrote about 3,000 words today after getting home from a doctor's appointment. (My surgical incision is infected.) I had a few hours before I had to leave for Covenant class, and the words just flowed. It was wonderful. I am now up to 7172, which is still a bit behind, but I can catch up. For one thing, I made a breakthrough in the way I'm putting the book together, as well as in sheer verbiage. So I have great hopes.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

An Atheist's Take on the Boy Scout Mess

No, I am not an atheist. But my much-loved friend Joe is. He gave me permission to post his thoughts on the situation.

Not to knock the Boy Scouts, but this article does illustrate the kind of situations atheists can find themselves in. I was in Catholic school when my change came. I was particularly impressed by the comment that an atheist cannot be a good citizen and that the Scout leader could not remember if anyone had ever been shunned for being grumpy. (I remember John Boswell writing that hypocrisy is condemned in the Bible in much stronger terms than homosexuality, yet no one ever suggests hypocrites are unnatural.) Belief in God seems to be the one issue that everyone gets exercised about, but given how subjective talk about God always seems to be, it's the issue with least real meaning. We must declare for God; after that we're on our own.

That final line resonates, doesn't it? (Joe is a very fine writer.)

And an excerpt from the article he sent; his source was The New York Times.

November 3, 2002
Eagle Scout Faces Official Challenge Over His Lack of Faith

SEATTLE, Nov. 2 — The Boy Scout Law states that members must be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

Darrell Lambert has been in scouting for 10 years. Last year, he attained the highest rank, Eagle. Now a college freshman, he volunteers as an assistant in a troop in Port Orchard, just across the Puget Sound on the Olympic Peninsula, where his mother is the scoutmaster.

But this week Mr. Lambert got an ultimatum from scouting officials in Seattle. Eleven out of 12 was not good enough anymore. Mr. Lambert, who is 19 and has been an atheist since studying evolution in the ninth grade, was told to abide by the vow of reverence by next week or get out.

As Mr. Lambert described it, he was given a week to find God.

"They say that I should think about what I really believe and get back to them," he said. "I have thought about this for years. Can they expect me to change my beliefs in seven days?"

Mark Hunter, the director of marketing and administration for the Chief Seattle Council, said it was enforcing a national policy. The Boy Scouts is a faith-based organization, he said, and the issue of God is not negotiable.

< snip >

Mr. Shields [a spokesman for the organization] said for the Boy Scouts to insist on anything less would be unfair to the five million members. "It would be a disservice to all the other members to allow someone to selectively obey or ignore our rules," he said.

As for the other 11 points of the Scout Law, Mr. Shields could not say whether anyone had been ejected for being untrustworthy, disloyal, unhelpful, unfriendly, discourteous, unkind, disobedient, cheerless, unthrifty, cowardly or sloppy.
California: Weather-Free Zone

W. H. Auden, native of a mild and rainy island, once said that North America’s climate — too hot, too cold, too rainy, too dry — is so extreme that it clearly isn’t intended for human life. And California? Too temperate.

I don’t necessarily agree with his other observations, but I sometimes agree that California is too temperate. Many of my Eastern friends think I’m boasting of the perfect weather here. I don’t think so. The fact is, I have always loved weather, and here there isn’t any. Just a pleasant vacuity where weather ought to be, the meteorological equivalent of Muzak.

I miss the change of seasons. Spring doesn’t mean much when roses bloom in January. Winter is a joke when snow is a once-in-a-century miracle. Some trees are showing fall colors, but their radiance is lost in the general dazzle. And what is summer without a thunderstorm?

I swear that one reason Californians have earned their reputation for goofy good nature (what I used to call “being laid back to the point of imbecility”) is that they can count on months and months of sunshine. It’s true that dark weather encourages emotional gloom. I am not suggesting that we all become Scandinavians, with that culture’s bipolar oscillation between wintry Kierkegaardian despair and frenetic summertime exuberance. I would just like a taste sometimes of the kind of weather that commands attention, that reminds me of risk and danger, that suits another mood than perky cheer. Weather with an edge, weather with some passion.

I miss the slow buildup to a thunderstorm, the rising wind, blackening sky, the first shattering strokes of lightning, the onslaughts of rain, the sound and spectacle of great forces clashing, the still freshness afterward. I miss the occasional pensive grey day, what my mother always calls a good day to stay inside and sew. I miss variety. I miss appreciating the rare perfect days as the gift they are. I do try to keep enjoying the soft perfection of California weather, but people look at me as though I’m a lunatic when I say, “What a beautiful day.” Every day is equally beautiful here, thus equally bland and humdrum.

All this is in response to a completely outrageous headline in today’s San Jose Mercury News: “First storm in six months is expected Wednesday.”

The article continues that the storm “will end a long dry spell going back to May 21, when 0.10 inches of rain dropped into the San Jose Civic Center's rain gauge.”

I knew the weather was good when I moved here. But still. That’s outrageous.
If You're Still Thinking It's Too Much Trouble to Vote. . .

I don't think I've ever seen a more terrifying Harper's Weekly Review. There are a couple of bright spots, but I won't quote them; you'll need them to recover from the shock of the rest of the news.

Russian president Vladimir Putin gave a speech about the Chechen hostage debacle and declared that Russia will attack terrorists wherever they may be ("I stress, wherever they may be located"), suggesting that the Bush Doctrine, which disregards traditional principles of national sovereignty, has become the new international norm. . . . Russia's press ministry was already applying the Bush Doctrine domestically in a new assault on the media (websites were shut down, newspapers were raided), and a bill passed the lower house of parliament giving the government even more authority to ban any reporting deemed a hindrance to the war on terrorism. The United States Department of Justice defended its use of secret evidence in a case against a Muslim charity accused of giving money to terrorists but acknowledged that the use of secret evidence should be avoided in a free society whenever possible. A federal appeals court heard arguments about the detention of Yasser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen who as an "enemy combatant" has been denied counsel, a hearing, or any outside contact; Hamdi's lawyer argued that the detention is unconstitutional.

Damn it, we used to be a good example to the world. Didn't we?

Also, check out John Scalzi on voting and party affiliation.
It's Election Day!

Get out and vote. Rachel will tell you why it matters.

And if even her eloquent screed doesn't persuade you, remember that today is also Guy Fawkes Day. Blowing up the government is not the way to change what you don't like. Use your constitutionally guaranteed political power instead.

Monday, November 04, 2002

Lunchtime Writing

Amazing how much better I feel when I get a few pages done.
Lines I Wish I'd Thought Of

Old friend Joe does the studio quiz:

What turns you on?
Intelligent conversation & nude photography—preferably both at the same time.

What is your favorite swear word?

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you as you enter the Pearly Gates?
"Uh oh."

Word Count: 3158.

It’s only November 4, and I’m already more than a full day’s work behind on NaNoWriMo. This after a weekend when I should have been able to pour out words. What happened?

I got a decent start writing Friday night. Saturday, however, I had errands and housework to do, followed by lunch with a friend of the family. Yes, I know I’m under house arrest until the 50,000 words are done, but this was a family commitment I couldn’t get out of. Sonja was swamped with homework and papers to write, and it would have been rude just to send Michele, so I had to go. I really did enjoy the company, which was pleasant, but it wasn’t getting the book written.

Immediately after lunch, Michele and I did our shift at the local women’s bookstore. That’s nominally 3 hours, but actually takes 4 with the closing-up procedures. I took my laptop along, but ended up writing only about 500 words. Had a very interesting talk with a member of the local Morris-dancing troupe. I’ve seen them performing, but this was the first time I’d gotten to talk to one. Again, a lot of fun but not getting the book written.

Saturday night we were scheduled to attend a party. I put my foot down at that. But I did have to drop Michele off, which meant getting supper while we were out and then finding the place. We wandered around looking for someplace interesting but not too expensive for dinner. We ended up at the world’s worst Kentucky Fried Chicken. They got the order wrong three times.

After we had more or less eaten, I dropped Michele off at around 8:45 and was home by 9:15 or so. Spent an hour talking with Sonja -- I *miss* seeing my housemates, dammit.

Then Paul and Michele showed up at home. The party had apparently been all black lights, blaring music, crowds of strangers, strobe lights. The sort of thing that would usually have been accompanied by a great deal of drinking and/or drugs, but greatly to the credit of the hosts, neither of those was in evidence. It was not Paul and Michele’s scene, so they left early.

I know a lot of people love that kind of party. It energizes them, makes them feel free and cool and alive. But I personally loathe that kind of thing. I hate crowds, strangers, noise, and strobe lights. I like parties where I can talk to people. I was *really* glad I hadn’t gone.

I got to bed at a reasonable hour, woke up early in the throes of an asthma attack, and then fell back to sleep until noon. Horrible dreams about pink shell-less crab creatures coming up out of a well. At first there was only one, then there were dozens, everywhere, breeding and changing shape. When I woke, I realized that the creatures looked exactly like the Lump when it was removed from me (yes, I saw it), also that the incision was inflamed, aching, and oozing. It’s been a month, and now the incision decides to get infected. I need to call the doctor today.

I got up, ate some brunch, and was soon feeling thoroughly sick. Went back to sleep until late in the evening. I’d promised to spend some time with Michele, since she is now staying up in the North Bay a couple of nights a week for her job. (The 180-mile round trip was just too much to do every day.) So we talked for a while. Then she went to sleep, I went to my office and wrote a little.

So. What went wrong was (A) too many family and volunteer commitments, (B) sheer exhaustion, and (C) health — breathing issues, upset stomach, and the infected leg. What I can do about (A) is continue to refuse new commitments. I’ve already made it clear I won’t be available for volunteer work for the rest of the month. As for (B) and (C), I can try to get regular sleep and meals, talk to the doctor about the leg, and avoid too much caffeine. Oh, and keep my bedroom window closed. I suspect that one problem is that the chimney of the wood stove lets out just below my bedroom windows, so I've been sleeping badly and waking up wheezing, coughing, and generally in poor shape. Carbon Monoxide plus all the particulate matter of smoke is not exactly healthy for those of us with bad chests. And it can cause all the problems I've been having, including the upset stomach. Well, not the infected wound. That's just my luck.

I am serious about this novel. I need to get it written, and I want to do the first 50,000 words this month. I’ve been doing a little revising all along, but that may need to stop. I need to turn off the voice that says, “All this is crap. It’s not interesting, it’s not publishable, it’s just junk.” And *write*. Just *write*.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Yes, I Started

It's flowing. Brand-new words. New characters. Ideas.

Long live NaNoWriMo.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Counting Down

In just over three hours, NaNoWriMo starts. Time to get those words out of my head and onto the page. And to keep hitting Save every couple of minutes. Wretched old Word just crashed and took half a page with it.

I was talking about the difference in the way I feel tonight and the way I felt last night. Now I’m feeling the same tightening focus that I felt when I acted in college as I got ready for a performance. Last night — well, last night I hit a wall.

It had been a long rough day at work, and I was concerned about how I’d handled some issues. I stopped for dinner on the way home. I let myself relax: ate slowly, read a little, took time to think. When I got back out to the truck, though, it started. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t going to write 50,000 words. I probably wasn’t going to write any. This was going to be another failure.

Within minutes I was flung into the far past. Helpless, crying, couldn’t speak. I wanted to die.

There’s no way to write from that place, because it’s preverbal. I can go there, I can bring back memories, and I can try to explain it, but it’s always going to be an explanation. Not the place itself, or who I am there: helpless, suffering, self-loathing, with only death as a possible escape. These are flashbacks, the exact equivalent of the veteran who crosses Fifth Avenue and finds himself in a rice paddy with helicopters raining fire on him. In my flashbacks, I am little, helpless, terrified, and longing for death. I’ve failed again. I can never get it right. The early rape and violence would be bad enough to live through over and over; the self-betrayal, helplessness, and self-loathing are a thousand times worse.

But my writer’s mind, observing, saw something there, and gave me a rope to climb back. Just as my writer’s mind, all those years ago, said: Make it into a story. Tell yourself stories to get through the bad times. Remember this and tell it later. Stories will help you survive. You have to live to tell the truth.

That’s the geas upon me: I have to live to tell. Almost as strong is the other one, the curse: Don’t tell anyone what goes on in this house.

Speaking of my childhood — the fear, suffering, violence — is not self-indulgence. It’s an act of defiance, and it takes courage. Breaking the curse of silence is terrifying. I expect to be killed for it. Or to be forced into that place where death is a gift.

Live. Speak. Write. Tell the truth. I'm going to die anyway. Let me first speak the truth.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Funnier than James Lileks

Baby's Named a Bad, Bad Thing. Read it and wet your pants.

Seriously, James Lileks posts some of the funniest pop-culture commentary on the Internet. (Fifties motel architecture. Fifties food.) D. Goodman posts hilarious commentary on suggested baby names. If, like me, you were raised in the mid-twentieth century, you may not know about the current trends in baby-naming. These people scare me.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Mea Culpa

I've been neglecting this blog in preparation for NaNoWriMo, which I tend to think of as "Nanorama" — National Novel Writing Month. Fifty thousand words in 30 days, on top of work, commuting time, sleep, eating, housework, church, family. . . . Obviously it's not going to be deathless prose, but it *is* going to be 50,000 words written down, which I can then edit into some kind of shape. I'm hoping it will give me some momentum to carry into December and beyond.

Today I downloaded an Excel spreadsheet that will enable me to chart my daily progress toward 50,000 words. I've been corresponding a bit with other NaNoWriMas. I'm letting my mind fuill with characters, incidents, narrative techniques. I'm carrying around index cards in half a dozen colors so I can take notes. I'm serious about this.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Peripatetic Musings

Wow. Beautiful blog by Vagabond, who enjoys the worlds of thought and senses and feelings.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Inside the Writers' Studio

Imagine these questions being asked in a mellifluous voice by a condescending jerk.

What turns you on?
Fall, woodsmoke, rising winds, good music, intense conversation.

What turns you off?
This misuse of the language. I’m sorry, but “turn-on” and “turn-off” ceased to be amusing about 30 years ago, and they were never evocative metaphors.

What is your favorite word?
"Complex." So many meanings.

What is your least favorite word?
"Shut up."

What sound or noise do you love?
The wind in the trees.

What sound or noise do you hate?

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Bread baker.

What profession other than yours would you not want to attempt?
Soldier. I don’t do obedience.

What is your favorite swear word?
I’m trying to clean up my language, unfortunately, or I could share quite a few startling nouns and verbs.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you as you enter the Pearly Gates?
"Welcome home."

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

"Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together."

You are an arteest, and no longer have time for things like cooking and grocery shopping and laundry. Start demanding favors and treats from friends and loved ones now. That way they'll be fully acclimated to the new you once November rolls around.

This alluring invitation is from the folks at National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to start writing a novel at 12:01 AM, November 1, and get 50,000 words done by midnight, November 30. You can research, plan, plot, outline, and agonize before November, but you can't *write*.

This is a great way to get a first draft done, especially if you're a perfectionist. You get emotional support from other writers (there are message boards and 3D meetings), plus the motivation of a solid drop-dead date. And you can reassure your family that you'll be back to normal by the end of November. Once you have a draft, of course, it's much easier to sculpt it into a finished work.

I signed up yesterday. I don't have time enough as it is, without adding thousands of words of writing every day, so it seems like a crazy idea. But it also is a good focus to get my work rolling. Also, given the recent changes in my schedule, I know *when* I can do the work: at 5AM, which is when I have to get up these days.

Also, I figure that for a month I can cut out everything extraneous. My life is going to be ruthlessly simplified to work, sleep, housework, and writing. Oh, and church. I've always gone into a state of house arrest at the end of a book anyway. It's the only way to do it. By the end of a book,all I want is to focus on the book. Just to write, just to disappear into the page. And I miss that. I miss working at the top of my form, fast and pure with no rewrites.

Can I write 50,000 words in 30 days? Easy. My first book, The Crystal Tree, was written in fifteen working days. Of course, I wasn't working at an outside job then, I'd been thinking about the ideas for years, and I had written a solid outline. It was one of the great experiences of my life — three weeks of ecstasy. (I took weekends off.)

Can I write all those words while working full-time, commuting a long way, and keeping up my end of the housework? That's a tougher question.

Wish me luck.
Baseball Notes

I’m rooting for the Giants in the World Series, and not just because I prefer the National League. Barry Bonds, one of the greatest players we’ve ever had, deserves a World Series ring. Plus, I have a love/hate relationship with the Disney Corporation, and it’s simpler for me to root for the local boys.

I’m a fourth-generation Phillies fan, an allegiance I’ll never surrender, no matter where I pay rent and taxes. When I moved here I knew I had to pick a local team to root for, at least if I ever wanted to watch any games. The obvious choice was the A’s, since they used to be in Philadelphia. They’ve given me a lot of pleasure already: for much of the season, they had the best record in baseball. However, they are not in the World Series. That fact indicates that the A’s are well-prepared to administer the suffering the Phillies are famous for inflicting on their fans. A comforting sense of continuity there.

San Francisco Giants fans are in general a talented, intelligent bunch, or at least no weirder than fans of any other frustrated, championship-hungry franchise. Some, however, seem to take the desire to see the World Series a smidge too far.

These ads from both buyers and sellers are to be found in the Best of Craigslist:

— Will Trade Car For Giants Tix
— Will let you kick my ass for World Series Tickets
— World Series tickets in exchange for doing something you do already!
— World Series ticket in exchange for job

That mysterious third one is a serious offer of good Series tickets in exchange for sperm for artificial insemination. It has all the usual strings attached, and it seems to be a serious offer. She does promise to raise the child as a Giants fan. Unless she has another set of tickets she isn’t selling, she can’t be that much of a fan, or she wouldn’t swap Series tickets. Not even for the chance to have a child.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Recent Reading

Inventing the Victorians by Matthew Sweet

A readable, spirited examination of what the Victorians actually thought and did, as opposed to the starchy stereotype. (Did they *really* cover up piano limbs? Read it and find out!) Given the amount of research I’ve done on the nineteenth century over the years, I wasn’t shocked to find that Victorians weren’t all stuffy prudes, but I did find a lot of interesting information. However, the author sometimes defends the Victorians against well-justified complaints about, for example, clitoridectomy and infibulation for masturbators, by pointing out that such practices weren’t confined to Victoria’s reign but continued well into the 20th century. “Well, everybody else does it too” is not a scholarly argument.

Grade: B

In a Sunburned Country and I’m a Stranger Here Myself, both by Bill Bryson

I love Bill Bryson. He’s one of the few authors who can get me into an uncontrollable laughing jag, which sounds like I’m crying or possibly being strangled. It’s not just the individual lines, but the cumulative effect of pages of hilarity. Bryson is mostly a travel writer (he’s also done several excellent books on the English language), and he specializes in Things That Go Wrong, without being nearly as whiny and mean-spirited as Paul Theroux can be. Also, he comments on the kinds of things I look at when I’m traveling: landscape and architecture, for example, and food.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself could be subtitled “Tales of Culture Shock.” It started as a series of columns for a British weekly, explaining Life in America to his British readers. Bryson had just moved back to the US after spending 20 years (his whole adult life) in England. With his English wife and their 4 kids, he settled in New Hampshire and promptly freaked out at the new commonplaces of American life: 24-hour hotlines for every product, including dental floss; junk food; cable TV; the varying quality of consumer goods (“If my son can have his choice of a seemingly limitless range of scrupulously engineered, biomechanically efficient footwear, why does my computer keyboard suck?”).

In a Sunburned Country is a classic travel book about Australia. I learned a great many things I didn’t know about Australian history, geography, culture, trees, and architecture. But there just weren’t that many funny bits. I’ve no objection to learning about Australia, but I got the book from the library in hopes of laughing until the tears ran, and it just didn’t happen.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself: A
In a Sunburned Country: B-

Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, and the Catholic Church by Uta Ranke-Heinemann

Whew. Two thousand years of theological misogyny and what the author calls “sexual pessimism,” which sounds like being afraid you won’t get any; in fact, the term implies being afraid you might, since it means “thinking all sex is sinful.” It’s all carefully documented and exhaustively researched (though secondary sources tend to be in German; many of the primary sources are, of course, in Latin). The author quotes at length from papal bulls, accredited books by various Doctors of the Church, and other documents that bear the imprimatur of the Catholic Church.

The book is organized by topic, as a series of short essays on various specific areas of concern (contraception, abortion, homosexuality, incest, and so forth). The discussions of doctrine and practice are fascinating and horrifying. Did you know that until the 1700s, the Church taught that deaf people were automatically damned? “Faith comes by hearing,” according to St. Paul. Therefore, no hearing = no faith = damnation = treat them like dogs. There was an uproar in the pulpits when some brave and kindly soul started to educate deaf people. It was unnatural! Contrary to the will of God!

The book is generally witty and well-argued, though I certainly don’t agree with all of her conclusions. For example, in discussing the Church’s doctrine of the Virgin Birth, she lists the three points of that doctrine: that Mary remained virgo intacta (that’s right, her hymen remained in place despite bearing a child), that the birth occurred without pain, and that there was no afterbirth. Baby Jesus apparently emerged “like a ray of light” from her body. (This vaginal laser beam conjures images too dreadful to contemplate — definitely much worse than a nice normal afterbirth.)

Yes, this all argues a pathological loathing of the flesh and of women. But Ranke-Heinemann pushes her argument too far. I cannot agree that the Church is trying to rob Mary of her motherhood. In my book, motherhood has at least as much to do with raising a child as with conception and birth, and you don’t have to pant and ache and bleed to become a mother. (Anyone raising a child is going to do enough of all three over the years.) The author doesn’t seem to notice that she’s belittling adoptive mothers, plus falling into the error that the pain of childbirth is what makes it “real.” Does anesthetic somehow negate the experience?

Some sections reminded me of the classic “Every Sperm is Sacred” scene in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. Reading this book, I got the distinct impression that Cleese, Idle, and company were in no way exaggerating the theological importance of semen. Python, however, didn’t touch the corollary, which is that female emissions like menstrual blood and afterbirth are beyond profane. The disgust and shame and loathing many theologians felt for these normal God-given fluids is sad and puzzling.

The section on homosexuality is cursory, and there are times when the writing style is awkward. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book. It demonstrates all too clearly the difficulties that can result when visceral hatred is cloaked in the language and techniques of logic. Even St. Thomas Aquinas ends up tying himself in theo/logical knots.

I don’t think that pointing out the Church’s flaws is blasphemous. Nor do I condemn the entire history of Christianity on the basis of various human theological distortions. (I am in fact a devout Christian.) We need to know and understand where we make mistakes and what the consequences of prejudice are.

Though it doesn’t deal directly with pedophilia, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven can help readers understand why the Church has not been able to recognize and deal with sexually exploitive priests. After 2,000 years of twisted, self-contradictory rhetoric about sex, the Church may have been too blinded by hysteria to see even normal needs in any kind of perspective. Compared to the sheer horror felt at having sex with women, molesting little children just may not have carried the grave weight it should.

Grade: A

The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible by Jonathan Kirsch

How often does a book of Bible stories keep you up reading half the night? I recently reread this book, and I was as fascinated with it as I had been when it first came out some years ago.

Kirsch looks at a number of neglected, difficult, or mysterious stories about women in the Old Testament. Some are more familiar than others: the rape of David’s daughter Tamar by one of her half-brothers is a a fairly well-known story. But the tale of Zipporah’s ad-hoc circumcision of her infant son is not one I had ever heard in Sunday School. These stories — some given no more than a few lines in the Bible — rival the X-Files and General Hospital for labyrinthine plot, inexplicable motives, dysfunctional families, unbridled lust, and bloodthirsty violence.

The book combines storytelling with analysis, so you can read two versions of the story: as told in the Bible and as fleshed out and reimagined by Kirsch. Then Kirsch brings together Bibilical scholarship, traditional Jewish commentary, and various other interpretations to throw light on the meaning and origin of these strange tales.

The result is riveting. These tales hint at the great difference between God’s standards and those of human beings, and they promise forgiveness for even the most dreadful sins.