Thursday, April 18, 2019

To care and not to care

There has been a lot of bad news lately. On the same day, Notre Dame caught fire and we got news that Gilbert's kidney damage is continuing to progress and he will not recover.

I got that news and felt nothing. Except maybe guilt for not feeling anything. I just felt profoundly unsurprised. Why should anything good remain? Even the things that aren't currently dying or on fire will sooner or later be destroyed. Including myself.

After putting some thought into this, I started wondering if I am maybe not feeling as fine as I think I am. I used to be deeply emotional all the time. I cried a lot, but when I wasn't crying, I was often ecstatically happy. These days all of that feels kind of muffled.

It was such a relief slowly coming out of the waking nightmare that was my pregnancy with Jackie that I didn't complain too much over the lack of emotion. I'll definitely take calm over constant anxiety and intrusive thoughts.  But it's been two years and I would kind of like to get back to feeling like myself, if that's possible.

But to know how to do that, I'd have to figure out why.

One possibility is that I am too busy and distracted. I have a smartphone now and I spend way too much time on Facebook. Am I hiding there from my feelings? Do I need to spend more time simply looking around me and enjoying the present moment? That might be so.

Another possibility is that I was so traumatized by getting pregnant with Jackie that I have been disassociating from my feelings. In which case I might need to somehow recover from that and deal with those feelings. I'm not sure how to do that.

A third issue came to mind today. I was at the park and I made a point to put down my phone and enjoy the beautiful weather. There were fresh green leaves on the trees which were tossing brightly in the wind. For a moment, I felt happy.

And then I thought: this won't last. Like dogs and cathedrals and everyone I love, it will be destroyed and no one will even remember it.

It just made me realize I have never truly recovered from the death of my faith. I relied on it to a degree I never noticed while I believed in it. I assumed everything was stable, everything was good, eventually every evil thing would be destroyed and every good thing made immortal. That gave me the ability to enjoy temporary pleasures and shrug off temporary pains.

"And for all this, nature is never spent
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.
And though the last lights over the black West went,
Lo, morning, on the brown brink Eastward, springs."

I believed this, as a ground of my being. Is it possible to still believe the same if the Holy Ghost isn't brooding over it all?  What if there really isn't such a place, where all the good things are stored up for eternity?

I don't see any of this as an argument for the existence of God. Why should there be, simply because I want one? If there is none, the desires of my heart are simply glitches, and there is no guarantee they will correspond to the things it has any hope of achieving. Maybe things just suck, you know?

I try to reassure myself that wiser people than me have found joy in their lives without religion. They live with and accept the fleetingness of all good things, they love people even though they're all going to die eventually, they build and plan and hope even though the universe itself will one day collapse in on itself. Maybe I just need to find the way, read existential philosophers, meditate more. Or maybe it's a matter of practice: maybe part of the task of being human is coming to terms with the hand we're dealt, and I spent most of my life not learning how to do that because I thought I was holding a hand full of aces.

I'm recording these thoughts mainly as a way to reflect on them. And I think it's helped some, because I teared up writing the Hopkins quote. But I'm open to ideas.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

We enable this

Warning: post is about child harm.

There was an awful tragedy in our town last year.  A mother of twin toddlers went to work, and since her usual babysitting fell through, she left the twins in the care of her boyfriend, who lived with her.  While she was gone, the boyfriend beat both twins severely, killing one of them.

The murderer, of course, went to prison.  What surprised me was that the mother was also charged, on the argument that this couldn't have been the first time he abused them, and she had to have known.  No one else had had any reason to suspect abuse--the babysitter never saw any sign, nor the pediatrician--but the opinion of the town seems to be adamant that she did know.  I was horrified by the bile expressed toward her online, saying that if the judge didn't give her the death penalty, somebody else would.  Someone slipped her a razor blade while she was in prison and urged her to kill herself.

What gets me, what really gets me, is that all those same people who are utterly without mercy toward this mother because she should have known, are also the people who think parents who don't spank are neglectful, how in their day they got the belt and were better for it.  I even heard a man commenting at the library the other day that he moved here because my town is a lot friendlier to corporal punishment and in the liberal town he'd moved from, "you can't raise your kids right."  Certainly this town is big into spanking.  Everyone does it, everyone is proud of doing it, and they do it in public sometimes.  Any and all problems a child has are put down to weak parents who don't know when to smack.

And it just boggles my mind that nobody connects these dots.  How is anyone supposed to recognize abusive behavior when hitting children is okay?  Exactly at what moment is the mother supposed to know to call the cops?

I have known friends in similar situations and they don't know when to call the cops.  Because yeah, he blew up and he spanked the kids when we're not a spanking family, but spanking's not a crime.  Or he jerks them around, shakes them, screams at them, but well, he didn't leave a mark.

I listened to a comedy routine the other day where a dad talked about having choked his son for using a bad word.  Hopefully he didn't really do that, but how would you know?  Because hurting kids is something we joke about.  Because hurting kids is normal.  As long as you didn't cause any sort of permanent harm, it's considered discipline.  Even if you were angry and out of control, because nobody's perfect.

I just hear and see all these things and it hurts me to think about.  It makes me so angry.  Children die of being hit by parents and caregivers and we still can't wean ourselves off of it.  We think it's funny.  And I just don't know how we are going to stop these abusers before they kill a child if the line between legal and illegal is drawn as far out as it is.

This has been a rant.  Sorry to be such a downer but, man, we gotta talk about this and stop doing this, like, yesterday.

Friday, April 5, 2019

7 quick takes


Writing fiction is taking up more and more of my life these days.  I've just started another novel which is basically the Mayflower in space.  (With a sublight, constant-acceleration drive--which perhaps is only of interest if you are a COLOSSAL NERD but then, that's my target audience.)  My goal is to write 30,000 words in April, which isn't a whole lot, but it should be a manageable pace this time.  This is part of my effort to write more apart from NaNoWriMo so I'm taking a little more time to get it right than I have for the past two novels.

I love writing, and dreaming of stories.  But you know what I'd really love?  Doing it without Barbie's Dreamhouse or Cocomelon going on in the background.  Still, I am grateful to the purveyors of those terrible shows for making it possible to write, even on evenings when Jackie hates sleep.


Speaking of, here's a random review for you: Cocomelon is a children's show which is free on YouTube and not awful!  You do have to stay in the room when kids are watching YouTube to ensure it doesn't autoplay its way into violent porn or something, but Cocomelon is a trustworthy channel.

It's baby songs.  So I mean, it's a little bit dreadful.  It has this creepy-looking monkey and a truly obnoxious song about what to do when you really, really, really want to sneeze.  But on the other hand, it has its moments!  A lot of the songs are really popular fables, like the ant and the cricket or the three little pigs, set to folk songs.  And all of them have little animated stories that go with them, like "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" has a baseball game with the little family.  I like that there is one family it focuses on, though there are occasionally other people and animals who I think are the baby's stuffed animals.

And this little video is just adorable and I kind of love it:

Anyway, Jackie is completely mesmerized by it and has learned many of the songs.  Sometimes she swaps in new words, like this morning she repurposed the eating-vegetables song into a song about going to school.  It's so cute, I can hardly stand it.


I had a whole post planned on this topic, but I think it's better to accept that I'm not going to write a long post on it anytime soon.  It's just this simple thing: I strongly disagree with the idea that any ethnic group has a "right to a homeland" or that there exists a "right to the self-determination of peoples."

This came up in The Better Angels of Our Nature, but I keep seeing it around so I thought I'd address it directly.

Do I mean that people don't have a right to stay in their homeland, or that people don't have the right of self-determination?  Of course not!  Every individual has rights.  But ethnic groups, like all groups, don't have rights.

And the thing is, in a republic, we should assume that all people, of every ethnicity or religion, have rights.  These rights ought to be enshrined in the constitution of every nation.  If a certain ethnic group has no rights, the solution shouldn't be to transport them to the "homeland" of that group, or to carve up the nation with a separatist movement, but to change the nation until it grants rights to everyone.

Because if you do allow that ethnicity is a meaningful way to separate people, and that everyone has to live in the country assigned to their ethnicity, which is the only place they have any right to live . . . well, first off, you're an ethnonationalist which really should be enough.  But if not, there's also the argument that it results in absurdity.  Where would I live? With the Brits, the Irish, the Germans, the Swedish, the French...?  There are a lot of people who aren't all one thing.  And some countries are composed of very different ethnic groups.  How tiny do we have to dice them up?  Take a page out of Switzerland's book, and learn how to make a country out of diverse backgrounds.

This of course applies to Israel, but is also an argument against ethnonationalism anywhere.


Let's see, on a cheerier note: books I've read lately!  You can read all my reviews on Goodreads--I'm trying to write at least a brief review of everything I read.

During March I tried to read as much as I possibly could, so I could finish stuff before April.  I started the Expanse series, which so far I liked.  (Only finished book one, Leviathan Wakes.  Book 2 is staring at me trying to tempt me away from my writing.)  I love the world in that, and got a lot of inspiration.  Science fiction is so rarely atmospheric in the way fantasy almost always is.  Star Trek makes you feel like you're in a nineteen-eighties living room.  This book really made you feel like you were in space.

I also read up to book three in the His Majesty's Dragon series, by Naomi Novik.  It's such a clever idea, and carried out so carefully and accurately, but at the same time, it hasn't measured up to the other books of hers I've read.  It just doesn't have a very . . . arcky plot.  As I get better at plot, I realize that a lot of otherwise good books don't have that feel that you are on a single adventure.  Instead, it's just stuff happening, with no clear beginning or ending point.

I finished Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch series, thanks to driving to the faraway library and placing a hold and coming back to get that hold.  That's how bad I wanted that last book, and not in audio format, which was the only way my own library had it.  It was good.  I still think the first book was by far the best.  In the first book, you're dropped in the middle and have to slowly figure things out.  In the other two, there's a lot of explaining and I don't love that.  But all three were still very good and I would recommend them.  The whole ship-AI-with-human-bodies-linked-up thing is . . . weird.  And cool.  I also liked that their language only has a female pronoun because it just gave a very different feel and set of assumptions to gender-neutral than you get when authors use he.  (Like, for instance, The Left Hand of Darkness.)

Last, I read Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, the next Bujold book.  That honestly disappointed me a lot.  I am not sure if I judged it more harshly because I expect better of her, or if I would have even gone past chapter three if it had been written by anyone else.  It was just kind of boring.  No suspense.  No peril.  I think Bujold decided she had darn well earned the chance to let her characters hang out and have a good time.  So they do.  For a whole book.  It did give me a warm feeling to leave all the characters doing well, and with none of the sobbing I did over, say, Memory.  (Still haven't forgiven her for what she did to Admiral Naismith in that book.)


Marko got on the honor roll this quarter--straight A's.  I am so proud, because this has been his goal all year.

Michael's school pictures turned out really well.

I'm signing up Miriam for kindergarten tomorrow.  She and I both have all kinds of feelings about that.  Mostly I'm excited.  She talks. so. much.  She's so bored.  She needs this.

Jackie is much less fussy now that her two-year molars are just about through.  I thought this would make her easier.  Well, I mean, she is, because anything would be easier than her screaming all day.  But she is now SO energetic and happy I'm utterly exhausted keeping up with her.  She wants to do all the stuff and she wants me involved.  She changes clothes about four times a day, which means we all have to go upstairs and she has to reject half a dozen options first.  She loves to be silly.  She talks so much and so much more clearly.

But she naps, like, every other day.  It's the worst.  If she doesn't nap, odds are good she'll get overtired by bedtime and stay up an extra two hours.  But if she does nap, she's not tired enough and will stay up an extra three hours.  Either way, she'll be exhausted the next day and nap, unless I get her out of the house at the crucial time, but without so much time in the car that she falls asleep.  It's this constant struggle, long past when my other kids gave up naps.  I think the trouble is that she's a night owl, the only one of the family that is, so she stays up late even when she is tired.  But she can't sleep in, because we have to go to school, so a nap is her only option.


I have had just the most excruciating sore throat all week.  And tired, so very tired, though what else is new.  I finally dragged myself to the doctor, which I hate to do.  I worried that I'd be told it was viral and I was wasting my money and also malingering.  It's a whole thing.

Anyway, turns out I have strep.  It's ridiculous how happy I was to hear that.  First, because it means it will quickly clear up with antibiotics.  Second, because it means I'm not a big baby, it really was that bad.

Even better, the doctor said "that looks like it really hurts!" and "you must have been feeling awful all week!" and it just made me feel so believed.


Remember our dog, Gilbert?  He's been peeing on the floor a lot lately.  I didn't love that, so I've been taking special care to take him out more often.  I figured, well, he's about eight years old, his bladder might not be what it used to be, he needs to go out more often.  That worked for maybe a week, and then he started having accidents even then.

Then yesterday I found some blood drips next to a pee puddle.  Uh-oh.  John took him to the vet today, assuming he had a UTI.  Unfortunately, while he does have a UTI, he also has failing kidneys.  So either he's had that UTI for months without anybody noticing, or he's had something else wrong with him (any number of a long list of things).   The vet gave us everything he could -- special diet, medicine, other medicine -- and we're to take him back next week.  It's possible he might still get better.  But odds are not good and most likely he will die within a few months.

I'm shocked and upset.  I don't like Gilbert very much, but he is a member of the family and the kids love him.  So does John.  I want him to get better so the others won't be sad.  We've told the kids he's sick; I figure we can mention the dying thing if he doesn't get better.  But it's so tough.  They've never lost a pet before.  And given how Marko reacts to losing a balloon or an action figure, I shudder to think.

Wish him luck. I don't feel optimistic; he is suddenly acting very ill. He was leaping around like crazy two days ago and now he just sits there wagging.
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