Monday, December 9, 2013

What Pisses Me Off About the Hunger Games

Now, before you get all psycho-fan-geek on me, I'm as Hunger-Game-crazed as they come. My pre-pub paperback copies of books 1 and 2 are respectfully mutilated. And Mockingjay I listened to on audio book, which concludes with a rare interview with Suzanne Collins. Highly recommended, if you haven't yet ventured into the world of audio books.

Additionally, if you're paying attention at all, I've adopted HG's charmingly clueless protagonist, Katniss, as my alter-ego. There may be some Freudian interpretation to my chosen persona, but let's move on.

There are many reasons I believe Collins' trilogy to be one of the finest pieces of recent literature. But for the sake of not losing every reader to my geeked-out drool session, I'll sum up. 

Important themes: challenge the established system, whether it's "good" or "evil"; human connections are messy, but ultimately make life worth living; does the end justify the means?; what you are told should always be run through the filter of what you feel is right or wrong. 

It is this outside-the-established-boundaries thinking that makes HG so popular, like so many cherished iconic stories. The audience has an easier time imagining how "things could be different" because it's someone else's reality. It's much easier to see how some other person, culture, way of thinking is flawed than to evaluate your own, from within the bubble.

This is no easy task. In real life, it can be difficult to recognize that you are even confined within a bubble. Oftentimes, breakthroughs require a catalyst. An event that pushes you beyond your limitations, out on the ledge, so to speak. Or sometimes, you realize the small-ness of your world when you come into contact with someone from another culture. And you start to ask yourself: why do I do it this way? Why do I do it at all? 

The reason is because you didn't know you had a choice. Culture (and oftentimes religion) keeps you within certain restrictions and breaking out of these can mean isolation, rejection, and in mythical contexts, eternal damnation.

Novels like HG help us wake up to our bubbles. Our pre-programmed actions that we run through without realizing it. The structures we use to make our decisions, not realizing there are other structures available, or (wonder of wonders!) that we can make our own!

While I will always have a soft spot for all things Katniss, Collins fails in one very obvious way. She questions the very fabric of society (her's is fictional, but still), but she doesn't question the possibilities of relationships structures. I mean, it's okay if we start talking about equality, peace, (and in the real world) gay marriage, and freedom from religion. But monogamy? This isn't even brought into question. Collins assumes that Katniss will have to choose between Peeta and Gale. Or, at least, that her faux-mance with Peeta means there is no possibility of her being with Gale. A big assumption for a fictional future dystopia.

Oh, Katniss is kissing Peeta on national television? Gale must be sad, jealous. Oh, Gale is sneaking kisses in the woods with Katniss? Because if Snow and the Capitol found out, then it must mean she doesn't really love Peeta. There's no way she could truly love both. (And for Katniss's sake, she doesn't really love either, but realizes she needs both to survive. But that's another story.)

Others have written about the poly/mono implications in HG and more recently Catching Fire. Some have focused on gender issues, and have even made good points. 

But what really pisses me off about the HG is the assumption. The assumption of the author. The assumption of the readers. We're thinking progressively here, people ... oh, but not quite that progressively. You couldn't possibly have a love triangle without conflict. I mean, how much would that bring in at the box office?

As long as these assumptions prevail in our entertainment, it will cement the mass populace in their comfortable bubbles.

In Collins's defense, I appreciate her ending where (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Katniss ultimately chooses neither. She is content to allow things to be as they are, as long as no one is getting hurt, which I would argue was her position all along. 

If I see one more Team Gale or Team Peeta, I think I'll puke.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Embracing Limitations: Or, What I Learned at Polycon

You don’t get to choose your parents, your metamours, or your triggers. Triggers? Those are the people, the situations, the news, the events that cause you to become irrationally angry, jealous, scared. Triggers cause minor or major panic attacks, and often inspire me to lunge for the Xanax.

Some triggers you are aware of. You know when to expect their arrival. When he spends the night at her house; when everyone goes out together on the night I work; getting cut off on the highway; or, mentally calculating the best price on vitamin brands at the grocery while two over-tired children scream at each other, attracting the attention of everyone within a 10 ft. radius. (Not that I’ve ever experienced that before …)

Then there are the times when triggers sneak up on you. Surprise! It’s not okay for you to wear the dress I bought you on a date with him. Surprise! Roses? My stupid crazy ex-boyfriend used to buy me roses! How could you? Surprise! I’m okay with you dating girls but not guys!

Some might call these weaknesses, but instead, I’ve upgraded their status to “limitations”. Limitations are the boundaries (permanent or temporary) within which we can work effectively. Trying to work outside our limitations only brings negative consequences. For example, a food allergy can be a personal limitation. Sure that cake, ice cream, garbage pail full of everything you want to engorge on looks great. But indulging in your personal limitation will only bring undesired consequences. It is the same with relationship limitations.

Working With Limitations

Does this mean it is impossible to move beyond your limitations? Sometimes. There are some limitations you can work on, become better at, adapt strategies for. You can be gentler, more approachable, more intelligible, more knowledgeable. But then there are some limitations you just have to respect.

All my life I have struggled with meeting new people and going to unfamiliar places. When I was younger, my strategy was to avoid them.  As you can imagine, I was lonely and eventually my desire to change was stronger than my fear of the unknown. Recently, I was reading about a condition known as Avoidant Personality Disorder. While I do not claim to have said disorder, I do identify with some of its components.

For Avoidants, being in certain social situations, or even just around strangers, or in public at all, causes stress which produces a chemical reaction in the body. Some become paralyzed with fear, anxiety, or even panic to the point where they cannot bring themselves to go to work or the grocery store. There are different degrees of the disorder. And the goal is to work on strategies which allow the individual to perform the necessary tasks despite the chemical imbalance.

I feel this stress even just thinking about new venues and people. Sometimes the chemical reaction begins before I even get there. In many ways, I have been able to overcome some of these obstacles in no small part with the help of TheLordofDarkness.

But even now, in social situations with people I don’t know, I can feel the panic rising in my chest. Cognitively, I know there is no reason to panic, but I still feel it. And I know I’ve reached my limit when strangers (or people I’ve only just met) infiltrate my personal space bubble. It’s more than I am able to handle. This is my limitation and this is the time for me to walk away.

I’m furious with myself of course.

This past weekend, TheLordofDarkness and I attended BeyondThe Love polycon. I observed how easily he navigates through what seems to me an obstacle course of
anxiety. Him and others make friends, new partners, hookups look easy. Fun, even.  Damn, them.

Someday, with practice and lots of support from partners and friends, I may be able to work past this limitation. But for now, I know this is my stop and I get off the bus.

Embracing Limits

It’s easy to beat myself up over what I can’t do. Instead, I consciously choose to see my limitations as the other side of my strengths, the things I love about myself. I am very sensitive and take things way too personally some of the time. It is also my sensitivity that gives me a deep level of empathy for others, especially those I’m close to. 

It is my sensitivity which causes my relationships with partners and close friends to be deep, meaningful, and life-long partnerships regardless of how the structure of the relationship changes. I love this about myself. I desire and cherish these relationships. And I would never change it.

Punishing myself for not being what others are or what others expect me to be, accomplishes nothing. Forcing myself beyond what I am reasonably comfortable with only makes me miserable.

It is by embracing my limitations, and affirming them as strengths that I create space to grow. Loving and compassionate people inspire us to learn and grow. Negativity and condemnation only cause us to clam up, hide, and give up. Why shouldn’t we treat ourselves, our limitations, with kindness?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Our Collective Subjective: Or, There's No Such Thing as Objective Truth

From the universe's point of view, we are of no more concern than any other atom, planet or speck of dust. The universe does not distinguish the violent ending of a human life from the snapping of a tulip's stem. There is no Universe or God of Tulips who is going to prevent you from clipping those buds in late spring. Because the universe doesn't care. It is indifferent.

In Secular Wholeness, David Cortesi observes: 
This universe regards the murder of one human by another exactly the way it regards an avalanche falling on a human, or a virus infecting one: with sublime indifference. Avalanches fall; viruses infect; mammals prey on one another-- it's what they do
Because the Universe is not a conscious, all-encompassing being--at least there's no indication of this so far--it negates the possibility of an objective reality or truth. As humans, we can only know truth from our own individual and collective perspectives. But as insignificant beings in a vast universe without (so far) other conscious life, there is no objective, fixed and ultimate, truth. 

Even if another conscious species were to come along, that species would be subjected to their own collective subjective. Objective reality, or truth, cannot exist because there is no One who can see every view point. There is no One who is omnipotent, though it would be vastly convenient if there were. 

Does this negate human morality? Far from it. Cortesi continues:
Now, this absolutely does not mean that we should be indifferent! On the contrary, desiring to be moral, trying to be compassionate, and urging other people to be moral and compassionate are also things that we do quite as naturally and with better outcomes for our own survival.
What it means is that there is no objective morality; there is no right and wrong beyond what humanity ascribes as right and wrong. However, the morality invented by humanity will only be from humanity's subjective viewpoint. Because you are human and I am human, This Means You!, we are accountable to our species' definition of morality. In fact, it is this very collective subjective which creates our morality, a code for living.

Religion will tell you that there is only one right way to to be and do. Which we know to be completely false as religion has failed, and continues to fail, at it's own morality as well as the collective morality. 

Additionally, as Cortesi points out, it is the refinement of this collective morality which increases our chances of survival as a species, though not necessarily as individuals. Another excuse to be immoral? Possibly. But consider your probable chances of a happy life if you choose an illegal occupation over a legal one. Consider the quality of your close relationships if you continuously lie and manipulate, instead of treating others with compassion. Yes, bad things do happen to good people, but morality substantially increases your chances of happiness.
What does the subjective collective mean for you? First, it means you cannot view the world in black and white, good and evil. Those are concepts we have created. The same way we have created countless gods, civilizations, and poetry. You will have to look at the evidence and you will have to think. You will have to use all of the tools at your disposal to come up with what you should do, how you should behave, how you can help others. You will have to make the decision. 

Second, it means you cannot judge other humans based on an objective moral code. Judging and convicting criminals is part of our society, but the rules by which we pass judgement cannot be set in stone. In every case, it is the betterment of the species that has to be considered, the collective subjective. As we grow and access more knowledge of the physical universe, our understanding of right and wrong changes. Our collective subjective changes. 

It is by coming together and facing the indifferent universe united as a species that we will progress.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Does the Average 'Sunday Jane' Really Believe This Shit?

My former profession was a female-dominant workforce. I shared a working space with three other women, all Christian, two Catholic. Though we never discussed it, I believe they were aware I did not attend church and was a "nonbeliever". From time to time, I would overhear conversations about various church happenings and promises to pray for this or that personal calamity.

I attended an undergraduate Evangelical college. (Evangelicalism is a branch off of Protestant Christianity which, most distinctively, recognizes the believer's "assurance of faith".) I took many classes on the history of Christianity, the doctrines of the faith, and even entire semesters devoted to single books of the Bible. So I have a heafty understanding of church doctrine. Not necessarily something I'm proud of, but then, you work with what you have. Clergy, pastors, reverends and others like me have a deeper understanding of exactly what is meant (at least according to current century interpretations) by phrases such as "the Word became flesh" (John 1) or "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22).

Now back to my three co-workers, or even just the average church-goer in general. What happens when you try and bring up these tricky questions with them? Of course they can do little more than repeat doctrine they have been told, if they are even able to do that. But more practically speaking, when you are talking about something as important as the meaning of the universe or the final destination of your "soul", isn't it important to actually know what you believe? Even if you can't explain hundreds of years worth of the Popes' memoirs, shouldn't you have your own basic understanding of your religion?

Why is it that the average church-goer (or adherents of any religion) are satisfied with not knowing what the church actually teaches? Why are Christians embarrassed to talk about the important questions of their faith outside of church?

For the sake of argument, imagine me bringing up any of the following topics with my three pious church ladies:
  • The Holy Spirit is God and is all around us. So, you're telling me that God, in spirit form, is right here in the air between my fingers and the keyboard. If I wave my hand over my head, I'm waving my hand through God? If I lay a stink-bomb, will God choke and gag?
  • Those who reject Jesus go to hell. You're telling me that as we sit in this meeting discussing our plans for next quarter, all the while I'm (unknowingly) going to spend eternity in hell? How can you just sit there tapping your pencil? Don't you want to save my soul? 
  • Prayer will bring about divine intercession that otherwise would not have occurred. So, your brother's uncle's sister-in-law is in the hospital and will have life-saving surgery tomorrow and you say you will keep her in your prayers. If you are so convinced this will have such a significant impact, why don't the two of you step outside and pray in the parking lot for this poor doomed lady? Why not? Oh, because you actually know that it's not going to work and you'll look silly in the process ... oh, wait, I'm ruining my own punch line.
Given half a chance, Christians will talk your ear off about the community service their church is involved in. The pious Christian is happy you recount for you Sunday's service as well as who they saw there and the latest gossip. But how often do you hear Christians in the real world talking about exactly what they believe? (And I'm not talking about the loony sandwich board guys. I mean, the soccer moms, PTA presidents, and bus drivers.) Their silence is odd considering how important all this supposedly is.

The first reason: They feel they are uneducated about the finer points of their faith. But even stripping Christianity down to its most basic belief that Jesus died for your sins, the average believer is at a loss to explain exactly what this means. How exactly does the "sin" transfer from one person to another? Once transferred, how does the death of this one individual make the "sin" disappear?  Assuming "god" is able to make all this magic happen, wouldn't it be quicker to just hose everyone down like they do with uncooperative asylum initiates. Even the most uneducated Christian needs to understand this most basic doctrine of the faith, enough to talk about it the same way you explain to your children that thunder and lightning are the same thing.

The second reason: They are afraid of criticism. Or, in other words, they are afraid of looking stupid. (I will skip the arguments for martyrdom, knowing that not everyone was born to be a martyr.) Why would someone criticize your beliefs? If they criticize your beliefs, can you present logical arguments to defend your position? Usually, the religious are able to do little more than repeat what they have been told about their religion. They do very little thinking about it for themselves. This is something to be embarrassed about. When Einstein or Newton or Galileo presented their "beliefs", how did they deal with criticism? They presented logical arguments, and continued to speak out. In the end, it turned out that their critics were the ones embarrassed. Why don't Christians (the average ones, not the educated ones) avoid the criticism?

The answer is that ultimately the every Sunday Jane and Joe know that their religion is hokey. They know they look silly praying outside of church, even though that is what their religion tells them to do. They know that the doctrines about Christ's saving blood don't mean squat. They don't argue with nonbelievers because they know how silly most church doctrines are.

This isn't enough, however, to turn Jane and Joe against the church. This would mean losing their family, friends, support network. Also, they can easily change the subject to the morality the church teaches (which Humanism also teaches) and how the church provides aid to third world countries (which non-religious organizations do also).

Ultimately, average church-goers aren't religious outside the comfort zone of their own church walls because they don't believe it. But they aren't ballsy enough to think for themselves which might actually mean they have to stand up and contradict the religious majority(?). 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Religious Divisions? Science Unties!

This past weekend my Rev. Mother spoke at ceremony for the departure of a Protestant denomination church from its larger national network of churches. In other words, this particular church didn't agree with the decisions the other "like" churches were making, and so, made the move of countless other religious factions before them. They split. 

Shouldn't be surprising considering it's nearly impossible to count even the number of Christian sects. Something like 41,000? Read this if you really want a breakdown. And of course that's just one of the world's Big Six religions. 

Even more impressive is this artistic map of the world's religions. Though as I understand it, it's missing several branches of Islam. Is it even possible to list every version of religion? Since it seems no two people
can agree, we could simplify things by listing each religion by each person who believes it. How many people are on the planet right now? *Sigh* See this is why I don't dabble in statistics.

All of this is to say the longer any one religion exists, history tells us, the more divisions it will have because the more charismatic know-it-alls will disagree with each other.

Consider, instead, science. Mathematics has been called a language all its own. Those skilled enough to speak it (regardless of what language they speak at home) can have conversations with each other. There's nothing about mathematics that ever changes. As it grows, it becomes more refined. And as it refines, experts agree more and more as to what is mathematically right and wrong. That is to say, mathematics unites those who understand it.

We see the same pattern in science. As more and more knowledge is gained about our physical world, scientists agree more and more. Of course there will always be disagreements about what is unknown, what has not yet been proven. But consider human knowledge of the planets. Once thought to revolve around our own planet, today scientists have a more accurate understanding of how celestial bodies orbit the sun and are controlled by gravity. In other words, rather than divide, this knowledge unites scientists. They can agree about previously discovered and proved theories, and move on to other mysteries of our universe. 

In Sense and Goodness Without God, Richard Carrier observes: 
[N]aturalists throughout history, who arrived at their views wholly independently of each other, even in widely differing cultures, have all converged toward the same general conclusions and world pictures, ensuring that our worldview even if always a minority view, will still find more and more uniformity rather than division of views. Yet Christianity a thousand years from now will not be the same Christianity lived today, just as what we have today is not the same as that lived a thousand years ago. In all periods we meet hundreds of sects at fundamental variance with each other. Every other major religion faces the same story.
So, this defecting church, pulling away from its like-minded sister churches, will set out on its individual path of "truth". Once again claiming to have the only true knowledge of "god" and what that god wants. 

If "god" were actually real, don't you think he would step in a do something about all these disagreements? I mean, he could really clear up a whole bunch of shit by giving us Ten Clearer Commandments which actually tell us something about abortion rights, marriage rights, human sexuality, taxation laws. 

I mean, if I were Goddess, I'd want these things cleared up for sure. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Thoughts on The Game that Detects a Cheating Spouse

I realize I have been ignoring the religion part of this blog lately. And I was all set to give you another installment of My Favorite Bible Stories. Until this story caught my eye.

It’s a fictional story about a man who successfully maintains a “respectable” job and family life, while sneaking off with a girlfriend a couple times a year. This cliché continues until the development of an app which detects the brain’s instinctual recognition response, something to do with P300. Read more about the P300. In the story, the app is called The Game that Detects a Cheating Spouse.

The point Bruce Kasanoff is making involves easily accessible technology which is able to instantly and accurately tell when you're lying. While there is an obvious connection with relationships and cheating, Kasanoff remarks that such technology concepts could also be applied to situations such as lying at work, or anywhere else you find it easy to be economical with the truth.  Kasanoff says, “What will life be like when the truth becomes inescapable?”

Well said.

But I want to take this beyond obvious lies; cheating, stealing, willful deception. Not a human on earth would deny having told at least a few “white lies” in their lifetime. In fact, I would venture to guess, most of us tell white lies several times a day. We lie to keep from hurting someone’s feelings, such as That is the world’s most god-awful lipstick. A world where you can’t successfully lie about your boss's new plaid blazer would be different indeed.

Then there are the lies we tell, the carefully plotted deceptions we construct, to keep others from seeing our
weaknesses, our insecurities. Like when we laugh at a joke because everyone else is laughing, even though we don’t really get it. Or, we nod along, even when we have no idea what someone is talking about. 

The scarier deceptions come when we’re hurt by someone or something, but we can’t bring ourselves to talk about it. So we pretend it doesn't exist. This may preserve our feelings for a little while, but it’s still lying. And like any lie, you have to keep lying in order to keep it hidden. And keeping anything hidden, never feels good for long.

Even though the story is about cheating, what I’m talking about is self-actualization, fulfilling your mental needs and reaching your full potential. What this story brought to my attention was … how much I don’t lie anymore. To anyone, about anything.

It’s not just about having open and honest poly relationships. Though that’s part of it. I also see how I have finally come to a place where I am comfortable with my weaknesses and my insecurities. I have on occasion taken them out and laid them on the table where anyone who cared could see them. Not for pity, but merely because I had nothing to hide. Here they are! I know they’re stupid, childish, petty, maybe even unnecessary. I acknowledge them. I embrace them. And I don’t expect anyone but myself to deal with them. Though I’m not above assistance every now and then.

Recently, while in the process of making a fool out of myself, someone told me: “I’m not laughing with you, I’m laughing at you.” But here’s the problem with that. As long as I own my foolishness, as long as I think it’s just as foolish as you think it is, as long as I’m laughing too, I cannot be laughed at. When my weaknesses are revealed, intentionally or accidentally, the way I see it, you have only two choices. You can laugh along with me, because I find my stupidity to be endlessly amusing. Or, you can choose not laugh. And neither choice will bother me.

I literally have nothing to lose because I have nothing to hide. Even if I were to lose the people and the things that are important to me, I still have the knowledge that I have nothing to hide. I don’t feel the need to lie about my insecurities or blunders to win someone’s affections. Such people aren't worth my time anyway. And though my opinions about how others dress, or speak, or conduct themselves might hurt someone's feelings, I am not ashamed of them. I do my best to conceal these truths for their sake. But I have no fear of them being revealed.

Are you Liar, Liar, pants on fire! ?
All of this freedom, to not have to lie about my opinions, my feelings, my truly most embarrassing moments … all of this I attribute to the secure sensation of absolute happiness I've had of late. I have nothing to fear, and so the world is my playground.

What insecurities are you hiding? What would happen if you revealed them?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why I Love Wildflowers: And Why You Won't Find Them on OKCupid

Janapnese Meadow Rue
Spiraea japonica
I'm a sucker for wildflowers. In fact, just know, if you are hiking with me: THIS HIKER MAKES FREQUENT STOPS. Classifying wildflowers is one of my favorite reasons to hike. Once identified, I loudly pronounce its name at every occurrence, mostly so I won't forget it. Wood-Sorrel. Rattlesnake Hawkweed. Rue-Anemone. Also, to annoy you.

Why do I love them so much? Probably for the same reason I like polyamory (and variety in general). Wildflowers are amazing because they are unexpected. There I am hiking along, tired, sweaty, thirsty. I come around a switchback and suddenly a hillside full of Brook Meadowrue takes my breath away. Meadowrues are my particular favorite.

I record the flowers I've met in my field guide, as well as the time of year and trail where I saw them. Some flowers I have seen hundreds of times. Thyme-Leaved Bluets are everywhere. Even out of season, I can recognize the wildflowers I've previously identified. In fact, it's hard for me not to see them. Because I'm looking for them.

Relationships can be this way too. (Oh, yeah, I'm also a sucker for metaphors.) What makes a finding a relationship so wonderful is when you don't really expect it. Whether it's that "friend" you've had forever who suddenly notices you, or that cute guy at work, or the ever-so-rare OKCupid matchup (does this ever really happen?!) it feels miraculous. "Wait, you feel the same way I do?"

Then there are those days, usually when it's raining, where it feels like I've hiked for miles and not spotted anything noteworthy. Hunting for the proverbial unicorn, if you will. There are many plants in my field guide that I have never and may never see.

Green Dragon
Arisaema dracontium
This makes me think of the countless hours you can spend on OKCupid and still come up with nothing. Sure, it can be frustrating, but then, most things in life happen this way. The more you look for something, the harder it seems it is to find it. Additionally, you're not going to improve your chances by making your ideal romantic partner the ever elusive Green Dragon (see photo). How I would love to see one of those some day.

Does that mean I cease hiking through the woods? If I do then my chances of spotting the Green Dragon are zero or worse. Whether hunting for plants or partners, you press on. You continue to hike, to search, to tweak your profile to attract just the right mate. And regardless of the results, keep putting one squashy wet boot in front of the other like the happy hiker you are.

What's been bending my ear lately (and I realize this is not a new problem) is the constant complaining (I think it's complaining anyway) on all forums poly about How do I find someone? Where do I meet people? Why doesn't OKCupid work? 

How do you meet someone? That's easy, go out and talk to people! Where? Anywhere that people are. They're not hard to find, shockingly. But they're probably not poly. They won't want to date me. Is this all that people are to you? Potential dates? People are like plants, there are many of them and oftentimes there are far too many of the status quo. (Damn ferns!) But that's what makes wildflowers so beautiful! They stand out. And these people, the ones who stand out, are worth meeting, whether they are potential mates or not. These are the people who challenge you and change you. They are worth endless days of hiking just to catch a glimpse of because they are so rare and beautiful.

When you are lucky enough to find that rare and beautiful flower, do you scoop it up quickly and run away into the night, laughing manically (... clearly I've been watching too much kid's television). Poaching is a real crime that state and national parks deal with, sadly. Besides depriving the plant of it's chosen environment, poachers also deprive the rest of us of their beauty. Even worse than that, in my opinion, is how relocating a wildflower converts it to a domestic flower, essentially detracting the very thing that makes it so extraordinary in the first place. The fact that it's survival does not depend on humanity at all. That it is wild.

Poaching is a dangerous habit with lovers too. Not only will the thing you desire begin to lose its desirable qualities, but, in the end, you will end up hurting the very thing you are trying to love. You will destroy it.

Which brings me to the second reason wildflowers are so beautiful. They aren't controlled, or shouldn't be. They exist for their own sake. If others receive pleasure from seeing or being with them, what a great bonus! But it's not necessary for their survival. In other words, people, the worthwhile ones anyway, are independent of others. They don't need partners and they certainly don't need you. If they allow you to tag along for a while, then count your blessings.

Thyme-Leaved Bluets
Houstonia serpyllifolia
Of course, maybe you're not cruising OKCupid for wildflowers. You'll just take any willing plant that comes along, or that fucks well. (Hmmm ... plants fucking? Evidently, I need to rethink this metaphor.) I will tell you the secret to finding wildflowers, though it only refers to people, not plants. Still trying to concoct a formula for the plants. The secret is to be a wildflower yourself. Be independent. Be the kind of person you are wanting to meet. And be satisfied to sit on a sunny hillside and wait for that determined hiker to come along. There's no guarantee how long you will have to wait, but the more beautiful you are, the harder you will be to miss.

Another secret, once you learn to spot wildflowers, you find them everywhere. Like Thyme-Leaved Bluets.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Philosophy of Love: Am I Doing It Wrong?

Ludwig Wittgenstein

A few weeks ago, The Guardian posted a story written by Giles Fraser, a British priest and journalist. The title really says it all, so here it is in it's entirety: How Ludwig Wittgenstein Helped Me Get Over My Teenage Angst. Needless to say, the title caught my eye.

Wittgenstein, being a cherished philosopher from my undergrad years. Words are a function within a larger system, and all that jazz. Bertrand Russell described him as "passionate, profound, intense and dominating". For me, it was love at first sight! Though, I admit, I have not read much of him since, and at this point he is more fantasy than anything.

In the article mentioned above, Giles details how my dreamy, handsome philosopher actually turned him toward religion. Yes, there are many faulty arguments (if you can call them that) in this article. A hot-bed for atheist bloggers. But one particular section gave me pause:

Moreover, there is no need first to develop a coherent philosophy of something in order to go on and do it. Apropos ... you don't need a philosophy of love in order to be in love.

Say what?!

Let's take that second statement first. Everyone has a philosophy of love, whether or not they realize it. No matter their orientation, kink, number of partners, age, lack of sexuality, etc. EVERYONE has one. It would be impossible to be human and not have a structure of how you approach, analyze, and ultimately behave concerning love.

The word "philosophy" may be a bit off-putting for the uninitiated. But don't run screaming just yet. From the time you were born, you were interacting with the world, developing beliefs about it, and reacting to it. As you got older and could understand language, you may have had particular worldviews and opinions thrust upon you without your knowledge. Religion would be one such worldview. Hopefully, as you became older, you used your knowledge about the world, as well as your own experiences to form a worldview, a philosophy, about what life is, how it functions, and the best way of getting along in it. This is your philosophy, most likely terribly flawed, as everyone's is, but a philosophy nonetheless.

Giles even agrees with this:

Philosophy is ... creating better intellectual maps that reflect what people are doing when they say the things they do.

In other words, there are reasons for your actions. They don't just happen randomly, even if you don't know what those reasons are. Your beliefs, values, and ideals are at the root of all your actions. 

Now let's apply this to the experience of love, whether that be the way you love your partner or the way you love your new car. (I'm looking at you, LordofDarkenss!!!) Every person has some idea of the experience of love, though our ideas about the
experience may differ extensively. We call this a universal experience because it happens to everyone, in all cultures, time periods, across the scales of skill or intelligence levels. To love is part of what it means to be human.

The first time you fell "in love", kissed someone you were attracted to, or had someone profess their love for you, you had a profound feeling, an experience.

And from that moment, you associated this experience with the concept of love. You began developing ideas about what love meant, how you were supposed to act, and ultimately what you wanted your "love life" to look like, even if that means you wanted nothing to do with it at all. This is your philosophy of love.

Giles stated that we don't need a philosophy of love in order to be in love. But human beings cannot help forming a philosophy of love, even if unintentionally. A human's ability to reason ensures that some kind of philosophy will form for all experiences. Therefore, since everyone experiences love (universal experience), everyone must have a philosophy of love. And this happens even if you don't know it's going on.

The second problem with Giles's statement is that he claims you don't "need" the philosophy to be in love. His implication, I believe, is that human beings experience love naturally without needing any rational activity taking place. Falling in love, he's saying, is not like deciding how or if or when to start a business. However, it is naive to think that you can do something well, or that your plans will turn out well, without a solid philosophy about them.

If my philosophy of love is that I am the center of the universe and everyone I "love" has to do what I say, well, it's obvious I am going to fail miserably at my relationships. (Unless of course I meet a really kinky submissive.) That's an extreme example. Let's look at one that's more frequent, and since this is a blog about poly (sometimes, anyway), let's make it a poly example.

I was raised to believe that the only choice for love was a long-lasting monogamous marriage with my soul mate. This was a faulty philosophy given to me by my mother about love. Why is it faulty? For one thing, I do have a choice. Monogamy is not the only choice. Having multiple, simultaneous partners is a choice. Having no partners is a choice. The truth is, if you can conceive it, it's a choice. I didn't know that. For another thing, the word "soulmate" is an invented concept, perpetuated by Hollywood. Letting go of the dream of finding that one perfect person just for us can be brutal. It's a seductive fantasy.
There's probably a host of other reasons this philosophy is flawed, but we'll move on. 

Getting married, then, based on this faulty monogamous philosophy created all kinds of problems for me. I wasn't happy being with just one person. And, my "soulmate" didn't turn out to be "perfect". It's unreasonable to think any partner could be. You can guess, no doubt, this made for some pretty shitty "love". If I had chosen to continue within this faulty framework, I could have gotten divorced and looked for a new "soulmate". And so, the cycle would continue.

When real life doesn't fit our philosophy, we have the option to change it. By adopting a new philosophy, I could make decisions that made me, and everyone around me, much happier. Taking time to research (a fancy word for gaining more knowledge about a subject) and rationalize and do some serious introspection led me to a different philosophy about love. My new philosophy fit the poly lifestyle quite nicely. I was even able to short-cut many poly relationship pitfalls due to my poly Fore-Sisters and Brothers, who made the mistakes for me and kindly blogged them on the internet! (I cannot thank you enough, Fore-Sisters and Brothers. And I could never list you all. Just know that I'm grateful.)

So, to review, a faulty philosophy of love caused me to make decisions which led me to a very unhappy situation. However, a well thought out, introspective philosophy led me to a life where I am happier than I
have ever dreamed. So, yes, Giles, you can fall in love without a solid philosophy, but if you do YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. If you want your love life to be worth anything, you're going to have to put some thought into it. And a lack of knowledge about your personal philosophy (even if you say you don't need one) will cause needless heartache for you and your loved ones.

[A]ttention is properly directed on what one does, how meaning is indexed to behaviour. Neither [psychology nor philosophy] is about the clever answers one can provide under cross-examination. Which is just as well – because I don't have them.

A naive worldview, indeed. Whether or not you like it, Life will throw hard questions at you, and sometimes you will have to address them with "cross-examination" speed. You may not have the "right" answers every time, but if you have a well-thought-out philosophy of life and love, you will have a head start. Life does not accept "I don't know" as an answer. Life deals out consequences anyway. In this case, accumulating as much knowledge as possible about yourself and your experiences will better equip you for Life's obstacle course.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Defense of the Primary/Secondary Model: In Which I Finally Bang Patrick Monahan

The titles "primary" and "secondary" for partners is not reflective of their importance, the depth of the relationship, or simply, who comes first when shit hits the fan. Primary and secondary refer to the investment partners have made with each other. In other words, how much their individual lives are entangled with each other. There are many ways partners can invest in each other.

The most obvious (because it usually happens first) is friendship. Friends look out for you. Tell you the truth when you need to hear it. Listen to you when everything goes wrong. And won't think any less of you because of any of this. Friendship, even though basic and foundational, should not be overlooked. Partners who are solid friends can last through emotional tsunamis. Friends, the ones who are worth while anyway, will put you ahead of themselves when you really need it. They make no requirements other than honesty and decency (sometimes not even that), and they make little or no demands on your time, affections, loyalty, (other non-demands).

Romance is another basic entanglement that most partners share with each other. This is where shit gets emotional. Cause somehow it's just way more hurtful if your partner cancels a date, than if your friend does (the reason is irrelevant). Emotional attachment means, among other things, that you care about what this person thinks about you. If a friend doesn't like my new haircut, well, screw them. They'll get over it. But if my romantic partner doesn't like it ... later, you'll find me at the wig shop.

Sex gets way more face time than it should. For some, like me, there is no experiential difference between sex and romance. But I know for others (maybe most), sex is the only reason to bother with any of the other components of relationships. Thus, I have given "sex" it's own distinction. There's nothing wrong with sex-only relationships when it's mutual. However, when looking for something more, it's best to keep in mind that sex is only one way of relating. Over-emphasizing sex in a relationships, or placing a higher value on sex-only relationships could get you to a place where you don't want to be. Then again, maybe you do.

Finance. First comes love, then comes marriage ... I am not saying that love has to lead to marriage, or should. But marriage is one way that partners become financially entangled. You buy a house, share a bank account, provide health care, are legally considered next-of-kin. This is way more serious than friendship, romance, sex or even all combined. If you want to be rid of a friend (they're seriously crampin' your style), you can stonewall communications, and the relationship is over. If you decide your romantic partner is too co-dependent, you can break up with them. But, once you entangle your finances with a partner or multiple partners, it's gonna take a lot more than a phone call to break things up. It also means there is more to consider when ending the relationship. Can you support yourself? Are you in desperate need of the health care provided by your partner's job? Is there somewhere else for you to live? This level of entanglement can be a stronger bond depending on how interdependent you and your partner(s) are financially. Then again, it may play only very minor roll, and be very easy to break off because everyone's rollin' in the dough. For others though, it could be a life-changing decision.

Parenting is probably the most obvious of relationship entanglements. And the hardest to draw clear boundary lines for. Whether a relationship between parents is on or off, they will have to find a way to communicate. A relationship that involves parenting is never really over, even if you break up and move on, chances are communication between exes will still take place. In my opinion, parenting is the most important relationship area when it comes to getting it right, as success or failure effects more than just the happiness of the partners. I would never say that nontraditional arrangements can't or shouldn't work. But clear communication is needed about responsibilities, expectation and intent of the level of involvement.There may be occasions when a partner's parental responsibilities may not be demanding, but overall, this can be the deepest entanglement for most partners.

Business. And of course when partners are involved in some kind of business together, this can have an impact on their overall attachment to each other. It could also be a sub-group of finance, as business is often tied to livelihood.

Partners can share any one or more of these entanglements. And there are numerous combinations. (Can someone else do the math on that please?) The more two partners are entangled, the more important that relationship is to the individuals. An individual may choose to use the words primary/secondary or not, but regardless of the label, they will still make choices based on this model.

There is no "right" way to have a relationship. What I love about poly is the freedom to let each relationship be what it wants to be without trying to force a cultural model upon it. Friends can be deeply financially entangled, but not romantically involved. Married partners may live separately, and be financially independent of each other, but have a deep romantic relationship. Any relationship may have all the mentioned entanglements, or only one. (None, of course, would mean no relationship.) And as time moves along, relationships may change, adding or dropping entanglements according to the wishes or circumstances of each partner.

The depth and number attachments a relationship has will designate partners as primary or secondary. Meaning, when decisions have to be made (relocation, change of job, birth of a child, whom to marry/divorce, metamores not getting along, etc.), primary relationships will take precedence. This doesn't mean that the other relationships are less important or have less depth. It means that the dynamics of the individual's self-designated primary relationship are more important to that individual's life goals.

Time For an Example and a Whole Lot of Sex

In my model of a completely realistic poly family (see diagram), I am partnered with Brad, Patrick, and Ryan. My relationship with Brad includes friendship, romance, and finance, and a shared dwelling, but (glaringly) lacks sex. (Wait ... who made this damn model anyway? We need to fix that! Stat!) Anywho, Pat is my go-to guy for sex. And with Ryan, I share hot hot sex, steamy romance, and business (we make movies together, yeah that's how I roll). Now, we all know how complicated poly families can get, so for the sake of making a point, without spiraling helplessly out of control, I made this family simple. You can assume Pat and Ryan are both banging other hot movie stars, but they don't affect my point.

When things are peachy, relationships are easy. Brad doesn't mind how many nights I spend on set with Ryan in exotic locales, mostly because he's got Angie and Scarlet on call. Of course Pat's out on tour over the summer, but usually home November-March, and we spend our time together then. See, one big happy poly family. (God, I love my life!)

Now, let's add the secret ingredient: life! This is where shit gets complicated. Angie decides it's time to move. She's got a new lover 5 hours away. This means Brad won't get to see their mutual children very often. He has a few choices. He could move too. But, of course, this would affect me. Do I want to move? If I move, I won't see Pat as much when he's home during the summer. Unless, of course he wants to come stay with me during the summer. But Brad and Pat don't get along that well. (Country vs. Pop music, or something).

Brad has got to make a choice. Which relationship is primary to him (over the other)? And let's not forget poor Scarlet. She needs love--er ... I mean, Brad, too. In this scenario, Brad has to determine the depth and importance of his connections with each of his partners. Perhaps he is hoping the sex-only with Scarlet will eventually develop into something more, so this is his primary concern. Or maybe, being a parent is what he considers the most important thing in his life.

If Brad does decide to move, it won't affect our financial relationship much, seeing as how my last movie was a box office hit. But it would hamper our friendship/romantic relationship. Now I've got to determine which relationship is primary to me. To do so, I need to evaluate the depth and importance of each relationship and what moving will mean for each of those. Will I lose a good chunk of time with Pat? Will I be unable to make more movies with Ryan (unlikely)? Brad and I have been friends for a very long time, and this might be the most important relationship. Am I willing to let the others suffer to keep this relationship fully intact?

The label primary/secondary isn't important. However, understanding that all relationships have different levels of involvement is. It is foolish to think that all relationships are equal to each other. Life will demand that you shake things up every now and again. Understanding the degree of entanglements of your partners' other relationships will save you much heartache.

If Brad decides to move closer to Angie, for example, and I choose to stay closer to Ryan and Pat, I know this does not mean "he likes her better than me" or that she is "primary" and I am "secondary". I understand that being a father is important to Brad, and this is what really makes him happy, so this is his primary concern for the time being. I support his decision. Brad, in turn, recognizes that my other relationships have a stronger hold on me at this time in my life, they are my primary concern, and that my decision to stay in no way means that I love him less or love them more.

Let me explain ... No, there is too much. Let me sum up ... Using labels like primary/secondary, can save your partners a lot of heartache by letting them know where your desires/life goals lay at any one point in your relationship. The distinctions of friendship, romance, sex, etc. are arbitrary. I used the most common attachments between partners merely as examples to make a point. The bonds that partners can have with each other can only be defined by those individuals. You may not choose to use the words primary/secondary. But communicating how and why particular relationships may take precedence over others will go along way to keeping everyone on the same page when life happens. The labels are not important, but communication is essential.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Who Am I?: Major Depressive Disorder and Identity

Major Depressive Disorder is the result of brain functioning which produces (or fails to produce) sufficient chemicals. It is a disorder I have struggled with all my life. At some point I should probably post an entry detailing my particular journey through personal madness. But for now, it suffices to say that I cannot remember a time when I did not view the world through an angry grey lens. As a child, I assumed everyone experienced the world the way I did. And at 17, I was (voluntarily) admitted to the nut house and began the long road to recovery.

Of course you never really "recover" from your brain's faulty chemistry. But neither does choking down a lottery of medical cocktails solve all your problems. I had to do some of the work too. And that's what I want to address today. Who is this "I"? 

Thanks to (being dragged kicking and screaming* to) read Richard Carrier's Sense and Goodness Without God, I have been better able to clarify just what it is that I believe makes up the "self". The "self", or the individual, is composed of a unique set of desires, thoughts, decisions, values, abilities, and all of those are (directly or indirectly) the result of the brain's functioning. 

What this means is that, when it comes to depression or moodiness, my brain fails to function like most other brains. So I say to myself, "Self, how can this be you? How can you be a person who loathes yourself? Are you really this person who unfairly compares yourself to others? Finding faults in others to feel better about yourself? Being angry with anyone who is 'prettier', 'smarter', or 'more successful'?" I mean, is this who I am?

Truth is, I like to think of "myself" as the person I am when my cocktail has supplied me with the necessary chemicals. I'm thoughtful, confident, and gracious. I help others to the best of my ability. And I find I have unlimited stores of patience with myself and others.

When I'm feeling poorly, I'm self conscious around people whom I don't trust not to judge me, who might think, 'Well, that's just who she is, negative, argumentative, and lazy." But I don't really see myself as "that" person. I prefer to assign those attributes to the disorder. I aspire to keep my dark side from interfering with my behavior and relationships. The depressed person is not really me. I am this other person who is happy, and compassionate, and patient and generous.

But this, of course, isn't true. I am that depressed person. That person is me. As much as I don't like it. 

One funny thing about medication (which they don't tell you about initially) is that it doesn't last forever. By that I mean, your body builds up a tolerance to it. This is true of all medications (as far as I know) not just antidepressants or psychiatric medications. So, it came to pass, on the eighth year of my second brand of happiness-in-a-pill, that my mood, energy, empathy, and ability to feel pleasure plummeted. It was time for a new med.

Changing medications which alter one's mood is a bit like playing Russian Roulette. The effects could be minimal, the switch could be easy. And the first time I changed meds, this was my experience. However, back to reality, this time around it has been a bit more difficult. Among other unpleasant side effects, I have noticed a sudden inability to tolerate criticism in any form. (A quality whose reverse--the ability to accept and effectively utilize criticism--I take great pride in, when I'm feeling "myself".)

A stranger passes me on the street, I smile as I normally would, he looks away, a neutral expression, no smile. And my thoughts run rampant. It's like opening the Pamplona bull gate! I start jumping to all kinds of conclusions that I know aren't true, and running for my life before one of those bulls gores me. He hates me. I'm ugly. I'm worthless. Everyone hates me. There's no point to living. I am pitifully out numbered.

Thankfully, years of meditation and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have enabled me to nab these thoughts right out of the gate, wrestle them to the ground and strangle them outright. (That's right, bull fighting, baby!) But that can't stop the emotions and tears that inevitably follow.

TheLordofDarkness and I have been fighting more often than usual during this Great Transition, and, I suspect, in large part because of it. Every problem he tries to express to me I hear as criticism, and it's all I can do to keep those pesky, terrifying thoughts at bay. I have no energy or mental aptitude left to address the actual problem. Is this who I really am?

The answer is "yes" (as discussed above), but that is not all. I am also the person who decides I don't want to be this way. I am the person who tackles the terrible thoughts, and refuses to let them control my behavior. I am the person who calls the doctor and I am the person who has the courage to say, "No, I am not okay. I need a change. I need some help." This is me too. 

Don't get me wrong, the most terrifying experience a person can have is when her own brain is trying to kill itself. When the self is trying to kill the self. Suicide is a alluring and deceptive mistress. Yep, this is still me. But not all of me. Because, while I have one voice that says suicide is easier than dealing with pain, there is another voice telling me that it doesn't have to be painful, and I can make it through, and I should ask for help. And I can always make the choice. Ultimately, this defines who I am: my choices.

*Have we not yet created a tongue-in-cheek font? I'd use it here if there was one. Can someone please get on that?!

As a personal side note, you may be sick of reading mental health stories like mine and roll your eyes at things like what I'm about to say. And if that is the case, feel free to stop reading. I give you a free pass. For everyone else, if you suspect you or someone you care about is suffering from a mental illness, PLEASE ASK FOR HELP! Do not let anyone tell you how you are feeling or what you need, except a mental health professional. The worst that can happen is that you suffer a small amount of embarrassment being told there is nothing really wrong with you. If you do have a mental disorder and you choose not to seek help, the best you can ever hope for is a miserable, unhappy life. The worst, is no life at all.