Monday, September 16, 2013

Healing Together, Walking Together

[Ed. note: After I wrote the essay Falling Down, I authored the update below. Please read Falling Down first, if you have time. Thanks!:]

While my wound is healing, it still hurts when I walk or put pressure on my left leg. I did see a doctor, even though it cost me a $25 copay, and I had to pay $15 for the supplies to treat my wounds. That's okay - I know that I have to stay in good health, and can't get an infection.

Speaking of old wounds, I have been feeling some anxiety about my social situation lately, although I suspect my fears are overblown. It's just difficult for me to avoid my apprehensions even when I have good reasons to suspect they're ill-advised.

I can recognize that many of my friends and the groups where I associate are trending in different directions than I am. Once again, tonight I am going on a date instead of spending time at an outing with some of my closest friends. Almost every time, I feel stupid afterward for missing good times with my friends in exchange for an at-best-mediocre date.

So why do I keep making this trade? There are a few reasons: I do feel lonely sometimes, and I very much want a relationship. Also, while I know my friends are close to me now and I cherish them, I feel vulnerable relying so much on the same people for so long. I want to expand the circle of people I know, especially people that I can keep close to me.

Sometimes I worry that my interactions with my friends and people I meet are two one-sided, too focused on myself and my needs. I want to be a better listener, a more generous and more supportive person. I feel inadequate in that effort in part because I realize that I'm not inclined to take initiative. I'm not always a demonstrative person, and I don't tend to go out of my way to connect with people. I have an inkling that I may want to change this feature, but I'm not sold yet, let alone wise enough to decide how to change.

I just feel like I don't know enough about myself, or about other people yet. This sense of ignorance feeds my insecurities, too...and already, we've returned to a focus on *my* issues - when I'm trying to think about others.

Cutting myself some slack, though, part of the reason I have focused more on my own reactions than those of other people, lies in good intentions. There have been times in the past when I've tried to connect with people in counter-productive ways and seen my outreach backfire badly. That is a major influence on my current instincts of deferring to other people or focusing primarily on my own perspective.

Focusing on myself has long felt like the safer and more courteous option. I am tortured by worst-case scenarios; I can't escape the fears I have of repeating the debilitating mistakes I have made in the past.

As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, every day you can ask yourself two things to become a better person: 1) what have I learned today? 2) what have I done to help other people? Considered through this prism, I feel positively overall about the strides I have made to be a better person towards my fellow human beings.

I want to focus on the positive lessons I have learned, not on the dread or shame of past mistakes. I want to have the comfort level to take risks, and the discretion to take smart risks. That goes back to why I am going on a date tonight instead of spending all my time with the friends I already have: I know I could take the safer option, but how is my life going to improve if I always fall back on what feels safe?

Sometimes, I fall. Sometimes, I fall because I've done something rather stupid. I have wounds that have healed, and wounds that are still mending. Sometimes, old pains flare again, and it takes all my strength just to walk on my own. Yet - sometimes - putting one foot in front of the other makes me feel more powerful, wiser, and bolder with each towering step.


Watching those who are attempting the same journey, I wonder how I can do my best to help others. What does that promise mean? How do I fulfill this commitment? I have no idea. But first I'm going to get up, and I won't be going alone.

Falling Down

[Ed. note: I first wrote this essay almost two weeks ago, but waited to publish these words until now:]

Yesterday evening, I was walking home through my neighborhood, when I took a false step off of a curb and fell down. I was falling straight forward, so I involuntarily caught myself with my hands and knees. At the time, I was carrying my briefcase and a package of M&Ms, and I was thinking about something else.

I ripped holes in both legs of my dress pants, and managed to scrape my right hand plus both of my knees, which were skinned through the holes that were created in my pants when I was breaking my fall.

It was very painful to have to walk all the way back home. When I got there, my roommate gave me some bandages. I washed my wounds, and then put on band-aids.

My hand and my right knee seem to be alright, but the wound on my left knee won't quit bleeding. I had to ask my boss for a package of tissues to borrow so I can swab the blood. I already changed the bandage this morning. I wish I had a bigger bandage, but all I have are the standard-sized band-aids that are way too small for my wound, so I have to use four or five of them.

As far as I know, I wasn't having this problem last night. I'm worried. Hopefully the wound won't get infected and will quit bleeding soon. I'll change the bandages again as soon as I return home, but that won't be for several more hours.

I feel pretty silly about injuring myself from falling down in the street. I was just mundanely walking when, all of a sudden, I fell down.

When I was changing my bandages this morning, it was very painful. Ripping several bandages from my skin at once - plus the fact that the bandages stick to the hair on my leg and rip that off, too - makes the process hard to endure.

While I was writing the last paragraph, I had to pause and daub the blood off of my left knee again. Argh. I don't even want to buy bigger bandages, because I'm so low on funds before my next paycheck. I'm already trying to decide if I have enough money to pay my Internet bill during the next week, or if I can pay my portion of our apartment's lease change fee.

If the wound gets worse - showing signs of infection - I will be reticent to get that examined because, frankly, my insurance situation is terrible. While I'm fortunate that I can stay on my parents' insurance, since I live so far from them, places where I live that take our insurance are harder to find. I can pay a co-pay at the office because I have insurance, but then I get billed a ridiculous charge later just because I saw a convenient care doctor one time.


When you don't have much money, and don't have good insurance, even the smallest, most inane of events can produce anxiety - even something as silly as falling down.

Life Precedes Words

[Ed. note: I actually composed the following essay before I wrote Better Living Through References, even though I published the latter essay first on this blog. I intended the essay below to serve as my reintroduction to this blog, this time:]

I have allowed some time to elapse since the last time I updated this blog. That is true for a variety of reasons. In the past few months, I have started a paid internship which has become a temporary job. I am cautiously optimistic.

I am hoping to secure something more permanent while I continue my current work. I am heartened to have something steady while I keep searching, but anxious for the low margin of error I still have. I have faith in the skills that have gotten me to this more positive place, but still feel trepidation for the uncertainty ahead, just as I often have in the last few years.

I've also spent some much needed time relaxing with my friends. In between worrying about my work, whether I can pay my bills, or how I'm going to coordinate my living situation, staying in touch with my closest friends has been more invaluable than ever.

While I have wanted to expand my social circle, by and large, I'm spending time with the same people that I knew when I left college. Another side project, my writing, has been largely hit-or-miss. I've faced prolonged dry spells and feelings of inadequacy, laced with some intriguing experiments and inspirations. I do feel that I have progressed as a person, especially as a young adult seeking to be more independent and responsible. That quest continues to be my main objective.

I have been discussing my interest in the disability community with people from several organizations. My work in health and aging advocacy provides a natural segue to the disability world. I devoured the book "No Pity" by Joseph Shapiro, which chronicles the development of the disability rights movement and describes the challenges that people with disabilities face and overcome.

In parallel to this exploration, I have spent more time reflecting upon my identity as a person with a disability. I have not reached the end of my deliberation, nor do I expect to reach an end - everything I consider is a reaction to the evolving situations in my life, and I relish the opportunity to grow as a person and immerse myself in new experiences (and as clich├ęd and stilted as that sounds, I believe that attitude and embrace it fully).

So, I am trying to manage all of these different ambitions and necessities before I feel composed enough to express myself coherently on other topics - before I have time, or before I have inclination. I realize this is all elaborate excuse-making, but I also have a cynical faith that the best inventions of human reason tend to be rationalizations. In a last-ditch effort to be somewhat genuine, I am sharing my rationalizations here.

I hope to write more often in the near future. I hope to update this space with something to pique interest. Whether that hope materializes, I cannot predict. I have often hoped on one hand, and schemed to act differently on the other hand. If I have any shot at delivering on these promises, I must scheme to reverse myself again, and return to my original intentions - which change too rapidly to measure.

Yes, those who know me and follow my vain attempts at writing have learned that uncertainty is my crucible and my companion...the catalyst that overwhelms my reluctance, feeds my devotion, and yet, undermines my ability to articulate anything close to the thrill and fervent terror my mind evokes.

My entire life is a somersault: when I dare to reach new heights, spinning in the air to keep my balance, I am stretched so far that I am unable to bring my thoughts to the surface. It is in that brief moment afterwards, when I am standing on solid ground but still remember the sensations of leaping, that I can properly share a true vision of movement.

Okay, that's the round-up of what I haven't been doing, and what I don't know. Eventually, I'll return to tell you about another time when I haven't done something else...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Better Living Through References

A close friend of mine once told me that her brother with Asperger's has only communicated with her through shared references. Her brother has never had any other type of interaction with her - his efforts to reach out never migrate from direct experiences to reflection - never include what most people consider "real" conversation.

Many people tell me that it's hard to know that I have Asperger's. My close friend has reported that she sees vast differences between her brother and myself, yet sometimes, I feel that all of my "sophisticated, thoughtful" ideas are still loosely based on references and nothing else.

I have a phenomenal working memory for topics that interest me, and I store as much useful (or useless, depending on how you value the data) information as I can. This allows me to cheat, to make me seem like a person with "normal" reactions to life.

I feel like a human version of the "Turing test": every day, I wonder if people can distinguish what I say and how I act from the people around me. Will I pass? How long will people know me before they suspect me?

Once upon a time, Windows operating software like Windows 95 functioned on top of a pre-existing program called DOS. Windows 95 gave users the illusion of direct control, but Windows was still dependent on DOS architecture for daily operations. I like using this analogy to describe what it's like to be a person with Asperger's who has made some adjustments to cope with a neurotypical world.

While I strive to act compatibly with the majority of the people around me, I am in fact deeply dependent on a very different set of hardwiring. As much as I try to act in a synchronized way with what other people seem to expect from me, there are invariably times when I become frustrated by my limitations and the strenuous difficulty of staying on constant alert.

There are many things I do and ways I think about the world which are considered unusual. For example, I have a profoundly different sense of humor than most people I have met. A lot of things amuse me which are similar to neurotypical humor, but they tend to have their own subtle but pleasing spin for me.

Lots of people appreciate slapstick humor and the idea of the pratfall. Countless comedians - from Charlie Chaplin in the silent film era, to Chevy Chase's bumbling impression of Gerald Ford on Saturday Night Live, to Ben Stiller antagonizing Robert DeNiro in the Meet the Parents movies - have made their reputations and millions of dollars from this brand of comedy.

For me, though, the concept of the pratfall extends from the physical to the emotional and societal. When people are hypocritical, inconsistent, passive-aggressive, dishonest, euphemistic, or otherwise find their feelings and actions at cross-purposes, I feel a great surge of schadenfreude. Those who have, as I have, spent their entire lives struggling to relate to people or to decipher the murky impressions people agonizingly leave in their wake, find it especially hysterical when neurotypical people struggle with some of the same problems.

On a related note, one of my favorite things is when neurotypical people adopt behaviors that autistic people have used to cope with a society that is inherently difficult for them. Every year, more people adopt smartphones, tablets, and other kinds of technology that occupy a person's every waking moment - insulating individuals from the burden of small talk and other social relationships. People are so cocooned in their own worlds - due to technology - that they miss out on the subtle, intimate details of daily life that people like me have struggled in vain to notice.

It amuses me to no end that so many neurotypical people are voluntarily abandoning a portal to the world that has been troublesome for me to access. When I am surrounded by a group of my friends who are all consumed in their smartphones, and I am the one person most intent on making conversation and observing the world around me...I cannot help but guffaw.

In an era of wildly proliferating Internet memes and the burgeoning celebration of pop culture references as a touchstone of daily life, I am beginning to wonder whether I am the person who truly has a problem with relying too much on abstract references and ideas.

The consumer-focused, hyper-individualized culture of America has blurred the lines (yes, that was intentional) between my struggle to anticipate how other people expect me to behave, and my longing to capture as much of the human experience as I possibly can.

I now face a society that discourages authenticity and the hard work required to immerse one's self in a diverse array of experiences. I face a society seemingly satisfied with low-hanging fruit and lowest-common-denominators. If I used to worry that I would not live up to the expectations of society, perhaps it is society that needs to worry about whether it's going to live up to my expectations.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Laughter As A Way Of Life

I used to be afraid. I felt rage and indignation, mixed with regret and despair.  I felt so out of touch, and I was worried that I would never feel at ease.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night. I feel so much useless energy coursing through me. I feel anxious, and feel so many thoughts rushing through my mind simultaneously that I hardly know which way is which.

I am constantly reminded of my insecurities. Usually, I suppress these feelings, for lack of a better way to cope. I felt like I had to choose between suppression - ignoring the feelings entirely, or depression - blaming myself, or anger - venting at situations over which I had no control.

I didn't know that there was another option.

I'm trying. Sometimes I still feel like I'm in denial. My laughter is not a way to separate myself from my feelings - it is a knowing acknowledgement of the absurdity of my life - but is not a hollow, hopeless, or self-defeating absurdity. This is an affirmation.

I have tried, hard, to find another place - a better place - to go, mentally. I end up so often in my thoughts, that I need some kind of refuge. I have tried to appreciate things in my life for the way they are.

So I laugh. And why do I laugh, and what do I find funny?

I giggle about what I don't know - what I once didn't know but have now learned - what other people deeply feel to be true but don't actually know - about patterns others miss that I understand - when I finally learn something that it seems like other people understand easily.

One of my closest friends recently told me that I am one of the most optimistic people she knows. This shocked me. I have never thought of myself as an optimistic person. Now, I am trying to be more like the version of myself that she has apparently seen.

I'm not saying that I am changing to satisfy other people. I'm doing as much as I can to be true to myself, it's just that there are things about myself that I don't like. Besides, the idea of being "true to myself" has always seemed somewhat contradictory and problematic for me, both in theory and practice.

Theoretically, how can I be true to myself when I barely know what I want? Aren't I just privileging the things I already know? What's the fun in that? I want to keep expanding my horizons - I don't know where I will be in the future, and how I can be true to what I do not yet know?

Practically, I've always felt insecure about some of the ways I act. I feel very uncomfortable in many different situations, and yet I can be extremely engaging and gregarious with very close friends and when I'm talking about my passions. Still, I'm clumsy about how I express myself - I interrupt other people too much, and too often find myself waiting to speak again instead of listening to what people are saying. I'm genuinely trying not to be inconsiderate - I really am - I just find it so difficult to relate to people sometimes, that when I feel like I have something valuable to contribute, it's hard for me to hold back...so this is a way that insecurity feeds upon itself.

I'm constantly struggling to live up to my own expectations of who I can be, of what I can do, and what I can accomplish. I put a lot of pressure on myself. All this laughter is a way for me to deflate the tension.

Sometimes, I just look in the mirror, and I start laughing. Then, like the world's unsexiest vampire, I disappear for a little while.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why Damon Linker Is Wrong On Atheism

In the online edition of The Week magazine, Damon Linker of the University of Pennsylvania and The New Republic published a rant inspired by the recent release of philosopher A.C. Grayling's book promoting atheism. Linker writes in his column, Where are the honest atheists?, to bemoan the idea that godlessness is good for human beings.

While Linker doesn't mind the attacks on religion in "new atheist" books (although he implies that these attacks are over hashed and repetitive), he declares that the "style of atheism rehearsed in these books has reached a dead end" because it "quite obviously is not" true that atheism is good news.

Right away, Linker kneecaps his own analysis of atheism through his failure to properly and thoroughly understand its ideas. I don't know whether Linker is an atheist, but if he is, he needs to pay more attention to his subject matter -- and if he isn't, this is only one example of the dozens of times a non-atheist has written something about atheism that is full of misrepresentations and inaccuracies which the author uses to falsely attack atheist ideas.

Many atheists agree with Linker (!) that the new atheist books have reached a dead end; but this does not mean that atheism is not good news. Moving beyond ideas from The God Delusion and God Is Not Great, a large number of atheists have realized that it is not sufficient to tear down religion to improve the world, but rather, non-religious people must promote forward-looking alternatives to religion.

Linker has missed many developments toward this end. The Atheism Plus movement, which implores atheists to focus on social justice issues - which asks atheists to overcome racism, misogyny, and other unjust forms of privilege beyond religious privilege - is a worthy example of how atheists use their lack of faith as a foundation to inspire larger activism. Atheists have established charities such as the Foundation Beyond Belief, to organize atheist charitable giving and more effectively create positive change in the world.

When Joe Klein of TIME Magazine falsely libeled atheist groups for their lack of an organized response to the Moore, Oklahoma tornado -- several organized atheist groups (including the Foundation Beyond Belief) have, in fact, contributed money and organized volunteers and the distribution of goods for victims of the tornado -- Klein refused to apologize and TIME Magazine refused to issue a correction. Where is the honest atheist?, asks Damon Linker. Where is the person who is honest about atheism?, is a much better and more relevant question.

Atheists are being more open today. Why? Perhaps it is because most non-atheists particularly enjoy depicting atheists as: loners, joyless nihilists; vitriolic and snide; people without morality; people who are not essentially American; people who have no community and are not truly involved in their communities. These stereotypes are false and empty, yet it still remains popular to perpetuate these mindless exaggerations.

"If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we're alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic."

This is what Damon Linker has to say about atheism. Linker describes atheism as a tragedy, only because that is how he chooses to see atheism. I see the same set of circumstances as Linker, yet I ask him:

If atheism is true, why isn't it good news? Learning that our fate is in our own hands, that we have the freedom to solve our problems for ourselves, that humanity is not intentionally designed to suffer, that we are not falsely separated from the natural world, that we need not fear punishment after death, that our sufferings and our joys matter more than we could ever imagine because they belong to us and us alone, that our lives and loves are the ultimate point of our present existence, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment are not rewarded with eternal bliss and that those who lead kind, decent lives do not suffer eternal torture for believing in the wrong religion -- all of this (and much more) is utterly joyous.

Further, Linker completely whiffs by casting Nietzsche's description of the death of God as an "awe-inspiring catastrophe" for humanity as a bad thing for atheism. There is another level of nuance in Nietzsche's thought beyond labeling the death of God as a catastrophe, otherwise how is it an "awe-inspiring catastrophe"? On the contrary, the death of God is an excellent opportunity to avoid a descent into nihilism and create a more meaningful life. If there are no gods controlling the destiny of our lives, then each of us is ultimately responsible for imbuing meaning, creativity, and love into our lives and the lives of our fellow human beings. How can people descend into nihilism when they have such a terrific responsibility before them? There is too much left to do to become a nihilist.

Likewise, when Linker cites Camus stating that the lack of a satisfying answer to the question "why" demands that the goodness of human life must be reconstructed from the ground up, this is not a bad thing. The goodness of human life should originate from the ground up - it shouldn't originate from unverifiable, untraceable divine notions accepted with blind faith. If you must reason from the ground up, suddenly you are exposed to entire new and liberating vistas of compassion. Seeing the tangible reality of how people act, rather than adhering to unimpeachable dogma, it's harder to believe that gay people are less human, that people of other faiths are less moral, and that our individual fates are not inextricably bound to each other and to the health of our environment. Linker asks, in so many words, why do you want to be free? Wouldn't you rather hold on to the shackles of religion?

Linker cites the writing of Philip Larkin, claiming that a world without religion leaves "no solace or reassurance" and "the horrifying prospect of a lonely plunge into infinite nothingness." In later paragraphs, Linker adds that the "whole point of the liturgy performed on the church altar, Larkin implies, is to seduce us with the beautiful and supremely fulfilling illusion that our worldly compulsions have cosmological meaning and significance." No. Without religion, our solace and reassurance is in the present moment. With religion, the meaningfulness of our present lives plunges into infinite nothingness. With atheism, that meaningfulness is paramount and sacrosanct, because it is all we have. Religion does seduce us: encouraging us to trade the life-affirming view that the meaning and significance of our lives derives from our own actions, for the paralyzing idea that our lives are only meaningful in a context outside of our ourselves. Religion poisons and disparages the grandeur of the moment to sell us a fragmentary and unattainable future.

Perhaps my statement attacking Linker for preferring the shackles of religion seems extreme. Here is what Linker says about "the deepest sources of humanity's religious impulses", a statement that deeply disappoints me and neatly illustrates the injustices of too much religious thought:

"The compassionate generosity and honesty of Larkin's atheism also infuse a poem titled "Faith Healing," which reflects on the deepest sources of humanity's religious impulses. Larkin suggests that human beings are creatures governed by the longing to love — and even more so, by the longing to be loved. It is a need, a hunger that never can be permanently satiated. But religion tries, understanding and responding to this crucially important aspect of humanity perhaps more fully than any other institution or practice. When a preacher looks into the eyes of a suffering parishioner, cradles her head in his hands, and utters "Dear child, what's wrong?", Larkin writes, "an immense slackening ache / ... Spreads slowly through" her, "As when, thawing, the rigid landscape weeps." The preacher's love may be a charade, the loving God that appears to act through him may be a fantasy conjured out of a combination of imagination and spiritual yearning, but in that moment faith has demonstrated its unique capacity to heal the human heart."

It is the highest shame of religion that it unjustly redirects the vital human impulse to love and to be loved from its best and most honest source - between actual human beings - to the abstract, rationalizing, sophistical idea of gods. Religion abuses normal human love - the love that we have for each other, from person to person - and arrogantly declares this love to be insufficient, creating a false hunger through its own practices.

When a preacher loves a parishioner, when a father loves a daughter, when a sister loves her brother, when firefighters sacrifice their lives for their communities, the healing of the human heart was there all along - in the love the people gave each other, from each other. It is religion that has the unique capacity to trivialize the human heart, whereas atheism sets the heart free to love on its own terms.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reflections on a UU Service: 6/30/13 (Part Two)

After that joke, I felt the sermon got off to a rocky start. As is often the case when non-atheists attempt to discuss atheist ideas, the pastor began the substance of her discussion with a misapplied definition of atheism.

The preacher stated that atheism relies too heavily on an absolute certainty to suit her tastes. While I will try not to be too condescending as a philosophy major, I do find it irksome when people who are not familiar with the philosophical and practical definitions of atheism use a false definition as a straw man to give an unflattering impression of atheist beliefs.

Saying, as she said, that atheism is the certainty that there is no god is not accurate. This sort of statement ignores the distinction between weak atheism ("I have no evidence to believe in a god, so I don't"/"I lack belief in gods"/"I can't say what is out there, so I'll default to not believing in gods") and strong atheism ("there is no god"/"the very idea of god or gods is so ridiculous that I can rule it out entirely").

Also, her portrayal of atheism ignores the common occurrence that many people are both atheists and agnostics - that some people are ambivalent about whether they know if any gods exist, but they choose not to commit to any beliefs about gods and live their life as if there are no gods. This is similar to being a weak atheist.

Many of the things this pastor said about atheism really pleased me. She favorably quoted Penn Jillette's idea of moving beyond atheism, and insisted that non-belief should be a starting point, not an ending point, to inspire action and kindness toward others. The pastor complimented atheists many times, often referring to "the open-hearted atheist", someone who puts themselves on the hook instead of a belief in religion or even the acceptance of atheism as a way to solve problems and care for other people. This line of thinking is a great parallel to the Atheism+ movement that has been building on the Internet within the last year. Saying that you're an atheist doesn't make you a more humane person - that atheism must be a motivating factor to improve the lives of other people. I agree.

On a similar note, the most memorable quote of the sermon was when she said, "Proving a negative is a wasted breath when so many people in the world are suffering." While many people assume that UUs are completely impartial to what people actually believe (and the preceding quote may reinforce that assumption), this preacher was fervent in saying that "beliefs matter", and her test for the benefits of different beliefs is whether they leave "walled gardens" or "open doors" - whether beliefs promote "an experience of wholeness" and evoke "unity but not division".

Now, at this point, I have to disagree with the pastor again. Yes, atheism is not enough to improve people or the world. Yes, beliefs matter. Let's examine, though, some assumptions that lurk behind her point about the preposterous presumptuousness of proving a negative.

Atheists need to be loud, clear about who we are and what we want, precisely because our beliefs matter. When most people assume that it is a good thing to be religious, that religion is inherently a social good, and that religion is required for morality...then there is a great danger that people will use religion to promote fear, bigotry, intolerance, hatred, and division without facing any substantial criticism. Giving religion a blank check is a really good way to make sure that anyone can cover for their actions - no matter how dubious, reprehensible, or spiteful - by wrapping what they do inside the contours of the word "religion".

Further, is unity a good test to determine if a belief benefits the world? Is openness a consistently good quality for an idea? Should we remain open to ideas that stigmatize, and spread prejudice? Should we be open to combinations of scientific ignorance and religious rhetoric that decry evolution and harm science education, malign climate change and wound our environment, or promote pernicious practices with no medical validity but plenty of use for faith - such as homeopathy - that when used instead of proper medical care have at best wasted money and at worst ended lives? We should not be open to the worst of religious ignorance and incredulity, and we should not have unity for the sake of preserving dangerous and unfounded ideas.

I am glad that the preacher favorably quoted Bertrand Russell's three main goals in life: to 1) long for love 2) search for knowledge and 3) pity suffering. I believe that humanity can best achieve these goals not with blind faith, but with open minds. It is far more important for our minds than our hearts to be open.

***

For another good discussion of the relationship between UUs and atheists, see Part I, Part II, or Part III of atheist blogger Adam Lee's accounts of his experiences with UU activities "Can an Atheist Be a Unitarian Universalist?". Note, though, that since most UU congregations are highly autonomous, experiences across different congregations tend to vary greatly.

Reflections on a UU Service: 6/30/13 (Part One)

I'm an atheist. So when I heard that a local Unitarian Universalist congregation would be hosting a sermon entitled "Ten Commandments for Atheists", I knew I had to be there.

This past Sunday was not the first time I've been around UUs or even attended a UU service, but this was the very first time I've attended a regular UU service on a Sunday morning.

***

First, I loved the fact that the opening announcements applauded the Supreme Court's overturning of provisions of the aptly misnamed Defense of Marriage Act. However, I was taken aback when the pastor specifically celebrated the unity of churches fighting for gay equality. While I am heartened by the coalition of religious groups working to advance LGBT rights, I was surprised that she described the decision as a moment of religious unity.

Do I need to recite that most of the animus against homosexuality in America is driven by religious antagonisms? For every congregation and denomination that welcomes gay people, there are several that openly denigrate homosexuality as a sin and inspire bigotry and hatred towards LGBT people.

While I am glad that there are some religious people working to undo the damage done by other religious groups, giving religion as a whole the entire piece of credit - in this situation - seems to be putting religion as institution in a disproportionately favorable light. People with long memories and a desire to promote acceptance should remember when and why and how various religious groups have fanned the flames of intolerance for many years. To sugarcoat religious intolerance in the name of pluralism is not acceptable.

***

After the opening welcome and a few other rituals, but before the sermon, the congregation paused for a Meditation in Words and Silence. The invocation was more theistic than I would have preferred, but I enjoyed the chance to sit in quiet and reflect. Notably, the preacher said "Amen" at the end of her prayer, which she addressed to the "Spirit of Life". As a humanist, I strongly believe that - as human beings living a world with no discernible author or controlling intent - that it is negligent to leave the solving of our problems to any force beyond ourselves. While I certainly don't begrudge people their own beliefs, praying to a "Spirit of Life" is not something I will be doing if/when I return to this UU congregation.

***

Now, let's discuss the most interesting part of this service, the sermon. The preacher used a great gambit to open the sermon: she rattled off a long apology for coming out to her congregation after many years, to declare that she was...not an atheist. I appreciated the suggestion that this was a room full of people who wouldn't presume someone else's religiosity. How many times can you go to a religious service where the preacher disappoints the congregation by saying that she's not an atheist?

(This is the end of part one of my account of attending a UU service on June 30, 2013.)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Faking It

I have a problem. I keep pretending to fit in by trying to understand references that I don't fully know.

Here is an annotated list of things I've made jokes about that I haven't read, watched, played, or listened to:

- Kanye West
- LOST
- Game of Thrones
- Mario Kart
- Bollywood films

Many of my friends are avid gamers, and yet I have never played video games. Many of my friends are addicted to shows such as Game of Thrones, Community, Doctor Who, House of Cards, Mad Men, and Downton Abbey. I have watched these shows only sparingly or not at all. I want to watch them, but I don't have the time.

I have this constantly nagging sensation that I don't belong. There's a pit in my stomach, as I agonize over my lack of cultural knowledge. Because I have a photographic memory and a ridiculously good sense for small details, I can read comments that people make about their favorite shows, books, and movies, and get a pretty good sense of what people like about their entertainment and what they find memorable - I don't typically know enough to have an in-depth conversation but I'll remember enough to laugh at inside jokes that only fans usually get and to deduce what happens next in shows without getting the spoilers first.

I am alternately dismayed and amused by my talents.

I've never been a primarily self-guided person - I've always been heavily influenced by other people, whether it's been my parents, my former church, my fellow Scouts, my school mates, my coworkers, or my college theater friends. When I was in school, I always found it annoying when teachers asked me to answer questions for them before being instructed in how to solve them.

While I now realize that these teachers were often teaching me how to think, I often felt at a disadvantage because these teachers were trying to get me to think in a way that is more difficult for me. My best thinking happens when I reconfigure things I hear and learn from other people and imaginatively rearrange them. Among the first CDs I ever got as gifts were Weird Al Yankovic's Running With Scissors and Allan Sherman's Greatest Hits. I respect the work of these parody artists, who substitute their own words in popular songs to produce jaw-droppingly awkward and subversively hilarious new interpretations.

I'd much rather learn what people believe is best and why they believe that, and then try to make the connections myself. Perhaps that is why I added a philosophy major when I was a college student. I've long been fascinated by how people construct their own realities. That leads me to ask whether my own efforts to construct reality are, in fact, a parody. That's a difficult question to tackle; let's agree to defer the follow-up question, asking if my parodies are genuine or ironic?

For me, claiming to be an individual has never been a natural or a self-evident act. I can see the fault lines where I added or subtracted various habits and fandoms to become who I am today, and I recognize the role of luck and contingency in my life so far. It just doesn't matter that much to me whether I'm riding the crest of a wave of popularity or favoring obscure pursuits that most people ignore or impugn.

Nevertheless, I'm eager to see how far I can push. How inventive can I be spurning the social boundaries of my generation, sparring with the popular imagination, and spurring strange new vistas of awareness? Or am I just rationalizing my own laziness to sound pretentious? The answer, of course, is in the act - in the knowledge of the act - and in the knowledge that, despite our best efforts, we are all actors in our own way.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Leap Into Song: "Rococo" by Arcade Fire

This is the third installment of my recurring "Leap Into Song" series, where I examine my thoughts about different songs and artists that have influenced me. Previously I have covered songs by Muse and Lady GaGa.

I've been getting more and more interested in Arcade Fire recently. I particularly enjoy their songs "Culture War", "Modern Man", and "Wake Up", but "Rococo" most of all strikes a chord with me.

As a philosophy and political science buff, I appreciate the implied digs at postmodernism and cynicism in the lyrics. The "modern kids" downtown are "using great big words they don't understand". Many times I have listened to this song and sympathetically exclaimed, "F*$% Derrida!". But that's just the first level of resonance I have with this song.

As a person with Asperger's Syndrome, I am often prone to fits of echolalia. To avoid being hypocritical by using a complex word without explaining myself, echolalia is "an automatic repetition of vocalizations" (according to Wikipedia). Further information about echolalia and other symptoms of autism can be found here and here. In my own life, I often repeat thoughts or sentences that I have just said - to myself or to people around me - or I'll keep returning to the same ideas over and over.

In "Rococo", Arcade Fire repeats variations of the word "rococo" over and over again, but they vary the notes, the length of the word, and the melodies behind the words. It's a very tasteful and affirmative similarity to echolalia. The way the saying of the word "rococo" becomes bolder and more confident throughout the song, the way that the music swells to a peak of assurance...it's a wonderful synchronicity.

In a world where people are "moving towards you with their colors all the same", it's a positive thought to embrace many kinds of diversity, including neurodiversity. While I'm not at all sure that Arcade Fire is intentionally delivering this message, I have chosen to interpret "Rococo" in such a way that I find personally fulfilling and affirming.

I encourage all people to live their lives in a way that reflects strongly upon their own strengths, no matter what other obstacles they may face. I am thankful for the ability to imagine a positive vision of my life, including my unique features such as my occasional echolalia. These things that make me who I am are neither good nor bad, but they are something I want to celebrate, and I will continue to find ways to see the positive aspects of my personality. I am grateful, lastly, to Arcade Fire for making such great music which has helped me stay optimistic and feel more capable as a person.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Autism Awareness Day


Earlier, I read on Facebook that today - April 2nd - was Autism Awareness Day, which I had completely forgotten. I was excited to hear, though, that people are wearing the color blue to raise awareness since I was already wearing a blue dress shirt.

It can still be difficult for me to tell other people that I am on the autism spectrum, although I have been more open about my condition...condition? Is that the word I want to use?

While living as a person on the autism spectrum definitely isn't a "lifestyle choice" (relax, this is a joke)*, it does seem quite absurd for me to use such impersonal, almost dehumanizing language like "condition" to describe something that has had such an impact on my life so far.

*Would I have to say that so explicitly if I were someone else? (I don't even say "normal", because no one really is "normal", but everyone has problems and quirks that change who they are.)

On that note, I choose to describe myself as a "professional human being". I've spent an often disconcerting amount of time parsing the nuances of the behavior of other people, not to mention my own actions.

When I was younger, I knew less about the world and felt far more sensitive to my own shortcomings. When I had difficult interactions with others, I always assumed that it was my fault, because I was the one who stuck out from the crowd.

Yes, I do make my fair share of mistakes -- but so does everyone else. No one has a monopoly on making or not making a social faux pas.

In some ways, having so much trouble with understanding certain things about the world for so long has helped me. I have more patience for uncertainty, more tolerance of ambiguity, and a greater willingness to see things from the perspectives of other people.

From ignorance, wisdom. And the last shall be among the first.

So that's something. Everywhere I go, people still insistently ask me "where I'm from" because "I have an accent". I usually don't tell them that I probably sound unusual to them because I have Asperger's Syndrome. I want people to believe that I'm really a male counterpart to Anna Chapman, sent as a representative of a foreign country to live undercover in the United States of America, and that my apparent accent and pedestrian background betray my ulterior motives. At least, I hope that's what people think, because that's cool as hell.

Now I just need to practice a Russian accent:

"My name is Teleprompter. I am a professional human being. I am from suburbia, USA, from somewhere you've never heard of, like a good American..."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Leaving the Scene of a Crash


I may have slain one of my computers, a laptop my parents gave me the summer before I entered my freshman year of college. If this is the end, perhaps it is a fitting time for that machine to go. I've finally received a physical copy of my diploma in the last few weeks, and I'm interviewing for what would be my first paying job after graduation tomorrow. A symbol of my late adolescence may have chosen to exit stage left.

This is the computer that helped me become an atheist, helped me win and lose my first girlfriend, find and secure several jobs and internships, and stored countless memories.

It would be easy to feel that I am burning down part of my past, but that's not how I choose to see the situation. I am leaving a part of my life behind me, where it belongs, to embrace new adventures. That's not just about the computer, by the way.

***

I've finished my interview, and it went well enough. The job is in telemarketing, so it's probably not going to be super challenging and the hours aren't that great -- but I need the money. I got great news today that I got an interview for another job - this time, one in advocacy that is ideal for me. It's something I can do at the same time as my Hill internship, which is really neat.

I'm feeling especially adult today. I've been incredibly productive. I wrote several people to ask where they're living after the spring, and soon I hope that I'll have arrangements for where I'm living after my current lease expires.

If I manage to land a paying job, even a part-time one, and I can find another good place to live for awhile, I'll feel pretty set for the time being. I still have a lot of leads, and I'm really feeling good about my life. I feel very proactive.

Every time I go to the grocery store and get food to eat instead of going out or ordering, every time I pick up dry cleaning and put it away instead of leaving it out, every time I write someone back quickly instead of dilly-dallying and forgetting to contact them...I feel progressively better about my life and what I'm accomplishing.

I'm not doing anything monumental yet, but I am seeking to become a master of small details that should add up to a larger picture. I'm taking time to establish a good, well-ordered life for myself as best I can, and I'm trying to manage the chaos and enjoy what I'm doing in the meantime.

I realize that today and yesterday are parts of the days where I don't feel like I have anything interesting to say. Still, I'm not writing this blog only to be interesting. I need to write, and I don't particularly care whether I say interesting things or not. I need to be persistent. I can't let the perfect become the enemy of the good, because goodness knows I've done that often enough in my life already.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Poetry Digest: #5


From time to time, I hope to publish a collection of a few of my recent poems. I will refer to this series of posts as my "Poetry Digest". This is Poetry Digest #5.



The Escalator's Speech

The careful plucking of strings resonates
Between awful, desperate groans and gasps,
Straining mechanical encumbrance -
All the pride and fury of Beethoven:
Symphony seven, allegretto - two.
Thumping guttural hums and pipsqueak sighs;
An escalator for an orchestra,
Seething underneath to find the right pitch.
My pride peaks as my height rises to time
In swelling triumph with trumpets and flutes.
This raspy, tired...contrivance confounds me:
Moving people without stirring their souls?
I feel the agonies of wonder lost.
I resolve to share its humble thunder:
Wailing without end, in stale baritone --
Let us all thrust our songs into the world!


The Syntax of Things

Order is the absurdity of repetition -
the inability to see, singularly,
in the necessity of the individual moment.

Necessity is the order of the individual -
the inability to see repetition
is in the moment singularly, of absurdity.

The inability to see order is repetition -
the moment of necessity is singularly,
in the absurdity of the individual.


inside-out

brush
the dust
off your coat
fix your collar
redo the buttons
don mismatched gloves
no mirror
applies
here


siphon

blow
your breath
in focus
gazing within
the ephemeral
both in and out
together
either
way

twang
buzzes
underneath
smooth melodies
reverberating
past the effect
unaware
weaving
tones

track
hollow
wobbling
just passing through
empty stereo
between spaces
composing
what is
gone


transfer

use
swagger
expertise
your best bull rush
briefcase bludgeoning
with the stiff arm
swinging by
swarming
hives


Running for My Life

world class expert in banana triage
ripened owner of clementines
steward of much yogurt
dawn champion
I rise

ready
daylight beckons
just before my alarm
I leap into a buzzing burst
underdog of the drowsiness relay

I win one pants leg, and also the next
I have earned the title black belt
defend my crown daily
no atrophy
no ties

but ties
I am training
I surmount obstacles
each routine is my next event
I'll finish first place on the Metro stand


In Statuary Hall, A Proud Hoosier

Oliver Hazard Perry Throck Morton --
I'd commandeer that, commodore!
Oliver P. Morton.
Among Hoosiers,
First-rate

Leader
In civil war,
Staunch ally of Lincoln:
"Perhaps the shrewdest man I know".
Two men from my state who don't hesitate.

"Filled with the most Southerners in the North".
Confederate flag bumper stickers
Common in my hometown
Still testify - -
Too true.

Things change
Yet are the same:
Lead a state to acclaim -
You won't be lampooned in the East -
Which lasts longer...humor, or prejudice?


We're Borg Again in Indiana
*(to the tune of "Back Home Again in Indiana)

We're Borg again, in Indiana -
Where it seems that we can see
The growing of our might
Our crushing might
Burn the sycamores for me
So you will pay
Give us our tribute
Or we will burn down your home
And when we form a hive mind army on the Wabash
All the world will call Indiana home

Friday, February 22, 2013

Existential Sonatas in Pacific Time


I almost forgot to write a blog post for today - then I realized that even though it is technically early Saturday morning...for me...that my blog publishes my date-line according to Pacific time. So it will appear that I did write an entry for Friday! Muahaha! Of course, that I'm telling you about this insight does undercut my point, but I'm still happy to attain the technical accomplishment of keeping my promise alive for one more day.

I've been paying more attention to my experiences of time since I started my most recent internship. I've had days where I feel that I just arrived for the office opening at 9 am ten minutes ago -- when it's already past 6 pm. Some parts of my day feel especially fast or slow.

Lunch, overall, moves very quickly but each moment passes meaningfully. I am aware that I am running out of time - I know if I'm outside the office longer than I want to be - I can feel the moments expiring as they happen, individually and in sequence. But then what feels like ten minutes, when I look at my phone, was actually half an hour.

After work today, I met several of my close friends. One of these friends is a physics major. He told me that he gets aggravated by his quantum physics class which starts at 8:55 am. Or, as I told him, "you get mad about your 8:55 am quantum physics class that starts at 3 pm?"

I feel no fear when I'm with my closest friends. I say absolutely preposterous things. I utter words that would be reckless for me to say anywhere else. I am greatly fortunate to have such wonderful friends in my life. I've felt awkward and apprehensive around other people so often before now, that making and keeping friends has eluded me for some longer stretches of my life than I care to admit. (For instance, pretty much my entire freshman year of college.)

I have zero shame when I am with my friends. Even when I do something that I legitimately regret, I am able to move on and not hold onto the guilt as I would in other circumstances. My friends tolerate my quirks and don't judge me negatively.

It is now so late that I don't feel like writing any more words. I heavily resist the impulse to write further, yet I still feel incomplete. Tonight, I am thankful for my friends, my internship, my family, my senses, my learning, my home, and my creativity. I am thankful for time and change and entropy. I'm thankful that when I got really hot water from the cooler at work, that eventually it was only lukewarm so I could drink it before I left.

Everything ends, even days that you measure in Pacific time. But the most important thing is to make the most of the time you have, and that's what I'm trying to do. I am, again, exceedingly appreciative of the time I have, and to those who are sharing that time with me as we all journey into the unknown future.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

That Loveless Feeling


I worry about the first impressions I make. I'm stressed that I'm the sort of person that people like more as they get to know me better, but I'm anxious that people won't take the time to let me reveal myself to them in a way that makes me feel comfortable. I also worry that people aren't that interested in my personality. I just feel extremely vulnerable.

I work so much, and I try to deal with my uncertain work and living situations, that I don't want to put in the effort to reach out to other people. I feel like every time I try, I get burned. Maybe I'm waiting for the right moment. I don't believe in fate, though, so what am I waiting for?

I believe that I have to make my own opportunities if I want to be successful in anything...maybe that doesn't sound romantic, but why isn't it? Effort is hot. If you work hard to encourage other people to see you at your best, if you're not counting on true love that falls down from heaven, that's an even truer love. That's a love that takes everything. What's more romantic than giving everything to a lover?

I hate dating, I hate being lonely, and I hate feeling uninspired. It's a chain of negative emotions. I'm trying to remain an optimist. I don't count all the times I have failed, all the awkward encounters I have had, or all the people who haven't called or written me back. I'm an optimist, not a masochist. But, somehow, I still manage to put myself through a lot of pain in the name of pleasure.

Dating feels very superficial to me. Of course, I'm no less superficial than anyone else in a lot of important ways. Physical attraction is very important to me. I know from my experiences, though, that it's more difficult for me to feel more than a passing physical attraction for someone unless I feel emotionally and intellectually compatible.

The beginning of dating never seems to involve this element much, so I'm stuck gasping for air more often than not. I don't want to get to know someone by being glib. I'm not going to waste my time. I don't feel comfortable being real with people I'm just meeting, but I don't feel comfortable being someone I'm not. I feel genuine when I can say or act in ways that I feel other people will not understand. Their judgment is looming over me.

You like Netflix? You work? You like this food, and those movies, and these songs? This kind of small talk is like warm piss: the words are beyond use, have become stale, and are going to smell worse the longer they sit outside -- until someone acknowledges the mess and flushes it where it belongs. I'm not sure what I want instead. I really want to have someone in my life who isn't afraid to risk everything for me, but how can I earn that trust? How can I earn the love of someone as crazy and curmudgeonly as I am?

I don't know how to fix this problem. I'm not sure if there is a solution. Maybe I'll just stay home and dance uncomfortably in my apartment while no one's looking.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I'm Conflicted (For Good Reasons)


Today, my life's motif is "conflicting goals". I'm wasting time that I could spend completing some urgent and important job applications because I want to ensure that I reinforce my discipline for continuing this writing project.

However, when I was paying attention to my job applications, I had to create a statement of less than 250 words so I could apply for a position on Capitol Hill. I wanted to write something political to impress my potential employers, so I wrote about the conflicts between America's concerns for human rights and national security.

Now, I have a real life example of just how hard it can be to satisfy multiple desires with limited resources. That is not an excuse, though. I will keep updating this blog, just as the United States should keep trying to promote freedom. Any backsliding is not an indictment of the idea, but an illustration of its importance through the insufficiency of its absence.

I will find a paying job. I have finally graduated college, and now I'm taking my next steps toward adulthood. I've said a lot of baloney in my life, but now I'm trying to find a way to become someone I can believe in.

I don't want to abandon the joy of my youth, my delight in immature jokes and absurdity of all kinds. I want to add a steadiness and a confidence that will grow over time - that will propel me through many challenges, so my ability to handle crises rises every time I overcome a new obstacle.

My toughest struggle is not a gargantuan behemoth: it is the smallest, most mundane details of my daily routine. Every time I do something fulfilling and meaningful instead of searching online dating profiles or soaking in sports banter, I become closer to the person I envision. Of course, there is a place for me to relax and find pleasure in frivolous things, but I can't let my impulses consume every free moment I have. I am trying to live intentionally.

Thus, this is part of my justification for writing this blog post instead of finishing those other job applications. I want to have an idea about how I'm doing. This effort in writing helps me pay more attention to my moods, my habits, and my desires. When I am constantly worrying about work or my social life, I lose touch with my own awareness. I become less human.

It is difficult for me to talk about myself for very long without generalizing or rerouting my observations to make them about other people and what they should be doing instead. I drift easily from the concrete to the abstract. Perhaps that is why I am a good poet and otherwise a frustrating writer. "Show, don't tell". But I'm so much better at telling people things than showing them!

Now that I've made that aside, I give myself permission to tell you the following: perhaps being an adult, perhaps living, is all about conflicting goals and how you handle them. That's my tentative take. It's for the best that my observations aren't set in stone, because there is no certainty in a conflict between worthy ideas.



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Poetry Digest: #4

From time to time, I hope to publish a collection of a few of my recent poems. I will refer to this series of posts as my "Poetry Digest". This is Poetry Digest #4.



No Apology

there's something to say
to credit Winslow Homer
or Edward Hopper

for longing for clouds
Socrates drank his hemlock
no more Socrates

yet, you know better:
the clouds are, in fact, still there,
Aristophanes

even more than books
even more than life itself
I prefer the clouds

artists may capture
a brief moment of rapture --
that is all there is


The Fog Cycle

before rain arrives
my breath joins the clouds above
we are fog machines

slip into the night
filter your own outpouring
water the cycle

condensation drips
and travels through all of us
so I relinquish

the trees fill my lungs
their shadows overcome doubt
sustaining my life

I pine for a hush
that will return my silence
better than I found


advance

sprint
forward
do not stop
nor halt progress
keep running apace
if you sputter
company
will bring
you


exile

last
winter
gaping wounds
exposed my fears
I walked silently
no companion
averted
trials
fought


rationale

sleep
is not
an excuse
it is my foil
to suspend my doubts
moving deadlines
encourage
undue
haste


paradox

change
I am
change itself
to be the change
I remain the change
that is no change
I must change
the same
change


Into The Void

if I am not long for the world of dreams
I can consider anything
all possibilities
stir together
endless

formless
yet to take shape
a place where time ceases
between everywhere and nowhere
I am on the shoals of consciousness

tell me which direction I am heading
my only guarantee is fear
I must wait until dawn
when I wake up
to know

before
I can relax
I will pay my respects
to the memory of each day
to a story with a life of its own


Rush

I could be the Vice President,
Since I'm great at undoing ties.
I am careful how I present.
As each one of my fingers flies,
Why do I have all these buttons?
Clocks race, adrenaline heightens:
Who is that stranger in the suit?
I forget during the pursuit.
Zipping alongside the platform,
I look for the right car to catch -
Or wait, sit down, and start to kvetch.
As a queue begins to reform,
I find a window -- look within --
To find the place where I come in.


Reference Point

I'm not the one to strike boldly.
Look elsewhere for the first to stride.
I would rather detach coldly;
Stress needs a place and time to bide.
I will change nothing, and needing
Nothing changed, I will do nothing.
Frequent madness is my advice,
But few exist to pay that price.
Above all, do not be passive.
Supply a beginning, and end -
Join them together as you bend
Timing, enormous and massive.
I warn all those who dare ignore:
There is no such thing as before.


In the Year of the Lighthouse

When I'm drifting and I'm falling,
I don't even know where to start.
I keep swimming, I keep searching -
I reach for something in my heart,
Catch that beacon, and I follow:
Not to let my love lie fallow.
I turn those pages, flip a switch --
My light and signal, perfect pitch.
Here's my harbor, here's my guidance.
Raging waters aren't what I seek,
But without waves there is no peak:
I cry out for deliverance!
Watching you, I unleash my sails,
Now I'm fearless - come tide or gales.



Monday, February 18, 2013

Another Absence

Change. Change everything you are. And everything you were.


I've been absent from this space again for the past few months. After I finished volunteering for President Obama's re-election campaign - after which he successfully won the state where I worked and won another term in office - I still couldn't find a paying job. I had a few very good opportunities that didn't quite pan out - it was an agonizing time. Since then, I have begun working as an Intern in a Congressional office. I still don't have an income or a sense of security, and my job search is still aggravating. I often feel very unsettled and uncertain.

Tumultuous times are great at producing things that I want to describe in my writing, and abysmal for leaving me time to write about those things that I want to describe.

I have been reconsidering the initial mission of this writing project - such rethinking is unavoidable given my failure until this point to see it through. If I want to succeed in my goal of writing every day, I must change my approach entirely. I still refuse to make any promises - the most likely scenario is that I will break them unabashedly. However, I want to set a new routine. Ideally, I will commit one specific portion of each day to writing in this venue, and I will not spend more than thirty minutes per day writing here. I cannot yield to laziness or to vanity.

I also cannot yield to my sense of perfectionism. Part of the reason I started this project is to increase my ability to be vulnerable in my writing. I want to open the floodgates. I need a space where I don't care what objects, values, or attitudes my thoughts smash along the way. My feelings must be what they are. If I don't like the way I am feeling, at least it will be easier to alter those feelings if I am more familiar with my inclinations. If I don't pay attention to my emotions, it will only be more difficult for me to evolve.

Yesterday, I watched a TED Talk given by Esther Perel. The subject of her speech is "The secret to desire in a long-term relationship". Perel's insights remind me of many things beyond relationship advice: satisfaction at work, satisfaction in friendships, and satisfaction in intellectual curiosity are all navigated in the same perilous and exciting way. These spheres of our lives all depend on the balance between security and discovery - the combination of what you have, and what you want.

This blog, this writing project of mine, is partly a response to that call for a precarious but necessary balancing act. I need a steady outlet to express my reactions as I have them, yet I also feel a burning need to question my understandings of the world -- so I can expand my awareness and find greater satisfaction in my life, as I acquire new ways of finding joy and sympathy in each day.

You've got to be the best. You've got to change the world, and use this chance to be heard.