Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Choleric Atheist

"A man is but the product of his thoughts.  What he thinks, he becomes."  --Mahatma Gandhi

There are religious people who believe I am atheist only because I am angry and bitter toward God.  In the part of the country I live in, this seems to be the prevailing attitude.  I am not angry.  What do I have to be angry about?  I am not bitter because I was raised in an overly religious home.  I certainly have had horrendously rough periods in my life, but I don't have anything to blame for those except nature, poor choices, bad genetics, and chemical warfare.  There are certainly things that do anger me about religion, but that anger has nothing to do with any and everything to do with the way people choose to interpret their god's supposed message.  I can't be angry with a deity because I feel like that would make as much sense as being angry with Santa Claus just because someone else thinks he is real instead of a fictional character or being angry with a newspaper that reports about a crime instead directing the anger toward the person who committed the crime.

Mostly, though, I am not angry because I choose not to be.  Anger is a counterproductive emotion.  It drains us of our energy and transforms us into writhing little packets of hate.  Anger cannot coexist with happiness.  I used to be a lot more passionate about my negative beliefs, but it was detrimental to everything in my life.  Now I try to take things as they come and respond to them in a more appropriate manner.  If you lash out at someone because of their beliefs, they automatically build a defensive wall and no reasonable dialogue is possible.  I hate all manner of attack ads, whether it be by religious or non-religious groups or political candidates.  They really turn me off the idea of being associated with that group at all and makes me wonder about the motivations of the people who are.  Friendly discourse and communication is far more effective.  Tell people what you stand for without attacking the other sides.  If people agree with you, they will come to you.  I see too many attacks from groups I have no idea of the ideals of because all they do is attack and never explain their motivation.

My calm is nowhere near perfect, but I try to direct my fury appropriately when the need arises.  If your religion or belief system advocates the submission of women, discrimination or violence against gays, nonconsentual body modification, forcing your laws upon others, coerced conversion, theocratic governments, halting scientific progress, hurting children, waging wars in the name of a god, or threatening those who do not believe the same as you -- yes, you will be an object of my wrath as those things have absolutely no place in a peaceful and advanced civilization.  If you aren't doing any of those things, than whatever.  I don't care what you believe in and you shouldn't expect any flack from me as long as you don't expect anyone else to believe the same as you.  Beliefs are highly personal ideas and are meaningless if they are expected to be universal.  People should be allowed to come to conclusions on their own without the threat of fire, brimstone, and violence. 

I'm not of the "bomb first, talk later" mindset.  I know a lot of people who are, and it applies to every aspect of their lives.  How can we call ourselves intelligent beings if we are not open to diplomacy ?  I know as well as everyone else that the world is not all sunlight and rainbows, but an attack should be the last resort and not the first.  I don't even think automatic retaliation is appropriate.  There is no reason to counter hate with more hate or death with more death.  It just cycles on and on and on and spirals further and further away from any hope at a meaningful peace.  We can keep going and self destruct both on a personal and whole-world scale, or we can grab the rope and pick and climb ways out of the ravine.  Yes, it is uncomfortable and difficult and slow, and it will probably leave us sore, but when we reach the top of that canyon, we will finally be able to look around and see the whole landscape, see that there is so much more to the universe than what we saw when we were stuck down in that angry hole.

I've been accused of being an idealist and a pacifist like those are dirty words which should only be spoken in whispers behind closed doors.  Whenever I am labelled by one of those terms, I just smile and say "thank you." It is a compliment after all.  It means I think before I act and I have the problem solving skills to explore the solutions beyond the obvious.  I would love for more people to be of the same mindset, but I am not going to invade their lives with a forceful attitude, threats, or attacks on their beliefs.  I am trying to influence by example and bring a little peace to my corner of the world, a world that still equates anger with passion and war with peace.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Writing Mayfly

I started writing blog as a place to dump the thoughts which didn't belong in my books.  I express myself best through writing, especially when I am inspired and stormed in the house with a million thoughts and scenarios ricocheting around the green vortex of my imagination.  I was shocked today to see that I have been found by so many people.  I am socially awkward enough that I never know how to respond to people who compliment me, so all I can think to say is -- Thank you for taking a little time to explore a little piece of my reality.

I don't get to write on here as often as I would like, but most of my writing requires a degree of inspiration and epiphany that doesn't come out of a standard, boring day.  I'd rather write something meaningful on occasion than something mundane every day.  My inspiration also gets eaten up by art projects, crocheting, playing with my toddler, and the small collection of books I've written in the past eight years.

I am firmly planted in the real world, but I also have an imaginary world.  I can usually only get lost in my imaginary world after 10pm.  I have to wait until my family is asleep.  Only then can I fully get into character and jump into a fantasy world full of strange characters and even stranger situations.  I am not delusional, dreaming, or a role-player.  I'm just a writer. 

I'm getting close to the end of my nightmare chronicle Mayfly Requiem and I've found myself being able to write before 10pm for the first time since my son was born.  Between late nights, nap times, and distracted play times, I've written 50 pages in the last four days.  My son usually doesn't nap, but he's making an exception this week to fight off the nasty colds we've all come down with.  I just haven't been sleeping much.  The insomnia rotation of my narcolepsy has been in full swing for several weeks.

I write because it wouldn't make sense not to.  I have so many thoughts and ideas in my head.  If I try to keep them in, they eventually migrate to the surface and express themselves in different forms than what I intended and something gets horribly lost along the way.  I'll have painting in mind, but end up doing metal work.  It can still be beautiful, but I can't help looking at it and knowing that it is not at all what I had in mind.  I've been working on Mayfly for two years now, which is frustrating me because the first two drafts of my previous book (coming in at 1200 pages) only took six months.  However, I have to be happy I'm getting it finished at all.  I've been interrupted by marriage, home ownership, a baby, and accepting and 19 months later quitting a job that kept me in a lab six or seven days a week.  They've all been worth it, but Mayfly has been eating away at me the entire time.  I wrote the first draft by hand in four months, but the deciphering of my scrawl into a workable transcription is still ongoing.  It is nice that I can see the end.  I am halfway through the second of two notebooks, so I still have a quarter of the book to write, but being able to flip back and actually see where the end is in relation to where I am is a relief.

Honestly, I don't know if my books are any good.  I haven't tried publishing them yet because I am still tweaking them a little bit.  I'm an obsessive editor and the evolution of my world requires a progressive attention to detail.  The books are are interconnected but take place in different worlds with different characters, though there are a few linking characters.  It doesn't matter if anyone else finds them to be either good or a waste of time.  I'm only writing them for myself.  If anyone else reads them and likes them it is a bonus, but  I'm not writing for that sort of gratification.  I write because I like to, because I have ideas and characters in my head that I want to put down on paper to keep them from rattling around in my brain any longer, because it is a nearly free hobby, and because it gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I reach the end of a manuscript and realize I am in a place not many people have been.  I've heard a lot of people say how much they would like to write a book, but I actually have.  I finished what I started twice already, and what I started was on such a massive scale that when I look back I can't believe I pushed myself through it.  They are a labor of love and often loathing, but that is no different from most of life's accomplishments.

Writing gives me the freedom to explore perspectives and personalities, magic and fantastic locations.  I am inspired by my travels, my experiences, and the people I've met, but I can also be inspired by something as simple as a flower or a rainstorm.  I have to write down things as I think of them or those exact thoughts will be lost forever.  I guess I'm a bit obsessive about it, but it is impossible to finish any large project without a lot of obsession and ambition.  Talent doesn't matter so much, as long as you're obsession doesn't extend to a desire of fame and renown.  If you write for yourself but leave your ideas open for others to explore, sometimes interesting things start happen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Pantheism

I spent pieces of today in a debate with someone I didn't know.  I wrote the following to explain my beliefs to her.  I admit I plagiarized myself a little bit (using bits of things I posted on a message board), but some things I think I said right the first time so I didn't need to explain them a different way.

I see the universe as divine in itself, without the need for a higher power.  We are only at the zygote state of what we know in science, but that doesn't mean what we know is wrong.  Newton's theories are technically wrong, but they still apply to certain problem scales.  We modify and move on.  Nothing in science is absolute because we know that there is more than what we are seeing.  We strive to find out what that more is, and we find it, sometimes slowly and methodically, and sometimes through epiphany.  We do not assume that what we know now is all there is.

No matter how advanced our human science gets, we still won't know everything.  Particles react in strange and sometimes unpredictable ways and you have to keep breaking them down further and further to see what is going on underneath.  We used to think that protons and neutrons were fundamental particles, but now we know that they aren't.  They are made up of quarks, which are the only known particles to experience all four fundamental forces (strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational).  In quantum physics, you can keep looking and looking, but you keep finding that there is always more to see.  Complexity and perfection.  Love is the gravitational attraction between two bodies, and it, along with duct tape, holds the universe together.

There is a lot of perceived chaos in the universe, but also balance.  Cause and effect balance out into a teetering stability.  An outside reaction tips the balance, and what looks like chaos is just another effect.  Many religious people look at the universe and believe there is more -- heaven and hell and some form of afterlife.  I look at the universe and think "This is all there is, it is more than enough, and it is magnificent."  I see heaven in the formation of a new star and the birth of an otter, hell in a volcano destroying an island and a supernova consuming orbiting planets.

My moral code is simple -- If what you are doing hurts yourself, another person, an animal, or the world around you, then it is wrong and you shouldn't be doing it.  I respect life in all forms and try not to leave a detrimental impact on my surroundings.  I am trying to leave my world a better place than it was when I came into it.  There is such beauty in the world, but it is often overlooked in the course of being human.

My beliefs are dynamic.  I believe that bosons are not subject to the Pauli exclusion principle, but I am open to a theory that proves something else.  Everything proven has the potential to be disproven, but that doesn't mean that everything we know now is incorrect.  The universe is a vast and strange place.  As for a higher power, I do not believe in one.  Nature is all the power I need to believe in, and nature is not a sentient, omniscient, or omnipotent being.  Anything I don't know, I try to learn more about.  I open my mind to epiphany, to new possibilities and ideas.  That inner growth is very important to who I am.  Nature is my temple and science is my translation.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Bought My Son a Baby Doll

My one year old loves babies.  He loves to say "baby", he loves to look at babies, even pictures of babies, and he loves to play with babies.  Lately he has been "borrowing" dolls from a couple of his playmates.  He was playing with one yesterday at a playgroup and was talking as he examined the hands of the doll.  One of the other moms I was with realized what he was saying -- "fingers."  When the doll's owner took it back, my son crawled over to a younger baby, patted him on the head, and said "good baby".

I decided to take him to the toy store after my yoga class this morning.  I have to say it is very difficult to find an appropriate doll for a one year old boy.  I had a whole list of mental criteria -- no small parts like removable shoes, no bottles, soft body, not too feminine, no batteries, identifiable body parts (fingers, toes) for teaching.  I was looking for a boy doll, but the only one they had was way too big for a toddler to carry around.  I wanted to find him something fairly small and cuddly, but it still had to look like a baby.

There were lots of dolls and lots of pink.  Lots of names like "Little Mommy", and every doll was geared exclusively toward little girls.  Boys had action figures, guns.  All hard plastic and nothing soft.  Rowan loves soft stuffed animals, but animals aren't very good for teaching a toddler about human toes and noses and shoulders.  He ended up picking out his own doll, a little baby doll wrapped in a blue blanket.  It has a soft body and molded limbs and head, and Rowan's eyes lit up excitedly when he saw it.  It is a girl baby, and I didn't realize it was dressed mostly in pink until we got home.  That's all right.  He might have a little sister someday anyways.  He is curled up on the floor sleeping with his new friend right now.  A quilt of NFL team fabric is keeping them warm.

It perplexes me that so many parents wouldn't allow their little boys to play with "girl" toys like dolls, kitchens, and crafts.  I want my son to know how to mend torn clothes.  I want him to be able to prepare a tasty meal.  I want him to be nurturing and know how to handle babies.  He'll be a big brother eventually, after all.  He is a very rough and tumble little guy, so learning how to be calm and gentle with a little baby is a necessity.  I'm currently trying to teach him not to hit babies or poke their faces, and since we aren't around babies more than a couple times a week, a doll is becoming the stand-in for a real baby.

I think some of the things "girl" toys can teach are basic life skills -- cooking, mending, household chores, child care.  Why are those things marketed as gender-specific.  If we eventually have a girl, I won't think anything of her wearing her brother's blue hand-me-downs, playing with trucks, and participating in sports.  We draw the line at guns for both genders, since I won't let my children play with inherently violent toys.  I want him to play house because he will eventually be living in a house or apartment of his own.  I want him to play with stuffed animals and dolls because he might decide to have a pet or have children.  I'm going to teach him how to sew and cook because his grandmother never taught her boys such things and so they never learned.  It gets a little frustrating for me that my husband cannot even prepare a simple meal or sew on a button, especially if I am sick in bed and those things need to be done.

Our society is still so hung-up on gender roles that often people can't see the incredible merit of treating all toys as gender-neutral.  I am not turning my little guy into a sissy.  I am giving him another opportunity to learn, an opportunity for imaginative play and mental growth.  He is learning about communication and responsibility.  He is learning not to hit people with plastic bats or drumsticks.  There are appropriate toys to hit with those objects, but a baby doll isn't one of them.  He is learning how to be a big brother before he becomes one, and hopefully that eventually translates into him being a respectful adult, one who doesn't expect his partner to do all the chores, one who cleans up after himself and is gentle with other human beings and animals.

It is a very long process to instill such traits in a child, but children learn best through play.  If they are allowed to play with a variety of toys, it helps prepare them for the rest of their lives while still allowing them to be children.  I don't want my son to act like an adult just because he has a doll, a set of megablocks, and a drum.  I just want him to learn and grow and explore the world so that in seventeen years, he will be slowly transformed into a responsible young adult.  I am letting him grow up to be whatever he wants to be, and I am giving him the tools to do so.  A little guidance, a little luck, some toys and games, a lot of time, and a lot of love.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bittersweet End

I made my final donation on Thursday.  I've been slowly weaning off the pump over the last month and now I only pump if I'm really engorged in the morning.  My son is 12.5 months old now.  I'm somewhat torn about packing up the pump.  I've been able to give so much through using it, but the pumping era had to end sometime.  We're still nursing 6+ times a day and will be until we decide to wean in another year or so.

I made my first donation in March.  I started pumping for work at three weeks postpartum and went back to work at six weeks, and my freezer filled up far faster than I expected.  I hadn't even heard of milk donation at the time, but I found out about it when I ran a search for something like "what to do with extra breastmilk.  After a lot of thought and research, I decided to donate privately.  I have a lot of dietary restrictions that turned out to be ideal for babies with certain allergies.

My first donation was to a family awaiting the birth of their adoptive child.  My freezer was completely full, with no room left for food, and I gave all of it to them except for about 100oz.  I never held on to that much again, once I saw how quickly I could replenish 100oz.

My last donation was actually to two families -- a pair of twins whose mother just needed an extra 5-10oz a day for daycare, and a little girl with milk allergies whose mother worked and didn't respond well to the pump.  It was my third and second donation to these two families, and I helped the twins get past a year without needing any formula.

I ended up donating a total of 4000oz to 7 babies in 6 families in 4 states over the past 9.5 months.  Sometimes I feel like I shouldn't have weaned off the pump and could have given more, but then I look at those numbers and realize that what I did give was pretty amazing.  It is really hard to move on from being a donor, but I know it is time.  I haven't worked out of them home since the end of July, and I think my son has only taken 2 bottles since then and won't take milk from a cup either.  He is very much a "booby baby" and I love our nursing time, since it is the only time he sits still for a cuddle.

I'm sure I'll be donating again when we have another baby.  It would bother me not to, especially since I now know what my body is capable of.  All the pain and frustration in the beginning was worth it.  I am still breastfeeding my toddler and I also helped grow seven other babies, most of whom are now toddlers or going to be soon.  I'll miss my built-in reading time, but it is nice not to have to schedule my mornings around pumping.  It could be tedious and uncomfortable, but it was worth every moment, every dollar I put into the pump and supplies, and every ounce.  It only seemed weird to me at the beginning, and now milk donation seems like a normal thing to do for anyone healthy with extra milk.  I gave what I could, and what I got in return was far more valuable than money.  I received a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of self worth I'd never felt before.  Helping those babies while watching my own grow up was incredible and I am so happy I was able to be a donor.

My final donation.  I wish I had taken pictures of all of them, but I didn't think about it until the last two.