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."

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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.

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

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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.

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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.