mckitterick: (write hard die free)
( Mar. 8th, 2016 01:11 pm)

I just realized that losing my religion as an early teenager led to a lot of troubled times throughout my teens and even into my early 20s.

I'd actually believed this religious stuff before then. I'd been raised as a Christian, and everyone I knew was a church-going Lutheran or Catholic (though the latter was eyed with suspicion), with a couple Evangelical Free friends. As I begin drafting this late at night, after pondering this article (about how Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts) and this debate on the Facebooks, I can clearly recall being really emotionally moved by hearing certain sermons or reading stories about Jesus and salvation through love and sacrifice. About how, after He came along to burn down the authoritarian patriarchy, we could throw away all those old hateful bigotries and prejudices, and look forward to a utopian future based on love - if only everyone would just believe in Him!

What ruined this for me was when my confirmation teacher forced us to say that the unbaptized go to hell. (It was a fundamentalist strain of Lutheranism that no longer exists, closest to the Missouri Synod.)

"What about babies born in areas where they could never have heard of Jesus?" I asked, trying to fit this logically into what I'd studied about this religion's eponymous founder.

"It's tragic, but that's the Lord's law," she said.

This bore no relation to anything I had come to believe about Jesus, or the very foundations of what I believed Christianity to be. So it couldn't be right. But this religious teacher - and the pastor's wife embodying the Church itself! - was insistent this irrational notion was true. When I asked my Mom about this, she said to do what I was told (ah, the underlying virus of religious authoritarianism) and "just say the damn words! You don't have to believe them."

But if that were true, what was the point of the Church (in its broadest sense), the most-massive and enduring undertaking in all human history? If we simply recite the words but don't believe in them, how can we call it "faith"? More importantly in the societal sense, if we don't need to believe what we're told or what we say, what's the purpose of organized religion at all?

The existentially horrifying part of all this is that seemingly everyone in America (where 83 percent identify as Christian) was part of a conspiracy of fear ("You'll burn in Hell for eternity if you're a disbeliever!"), or else consciously trying to suppress reality - and trying to infect the minds of their children with this mind-virus. So it seemed that either everyone was aware of the lie and complicit in its perpetuation, or they were dangerously out of touch with reality, allowing fear to control their minds so they could accept blatant untruths, or some mix of scary-unhealthy world-views. Or all of these.

So on that day, like the clouds parting for the first time to let sunlight illuminate what used to lurk unseen in the shadows, it became lucidly clear that my faith in the teachings of Jesus as told in what I'd thought of as historical documents bore no relevance to what humans had hammered into doctrine.

Worse, what if this thing that had consumed so much of human creativity and ingenuity over the millennia had merely been a tool for authoritarian oppression devised by men seeking to control a populace who appear willing to swallow nonsense and spout things they don't even believe? And who continue propagating the lies and delusions, forcing their children also to blindly obey?

This was terrifying. Remember the movie THEY LIVE? It felt like that, as if I were surrounded by threatening aliens. How could the people around me not see them? Certainly pre-teen me couldn't be smarter or more insightful than the vast milling masses of adult church-goers. So were they collaborators in some vast alien conspiracy to take over the minds of children?

Which is worse?

Regardless, this is the moment I point to, when I lost my religion and my faith in anything. From here on out, unless I see verifiable evidence of something bandied as truth, or morally right, or real, I disbelieve. Just because some authority says something is so doesn't mean a thing, because clearly authorities were fallible, all the way back to the dudes responsible for founding the early Christian church - and obviously those who created early superstitious religions were wrong: Not only are we taught this by the leaders we're told to believe and obey, they're falsifiably incorrect. I mean, only the most protean animistic religions bear any relation to the real world, because we can see how lightning causes fire or how animals behave in the face of storms. Only the philosophy-based religions seem to offer anything useful to their practitioners, yet look at how even Buddhism has been twisted by the patriarchy.

Before this revelation, I had seriously considered pursuing a career (or at least an avocation) in religious work. During my years of crisis, I spent a great deal of time and energy researching religious systems, seeking to piece together a core set of universal and rational beliefs in an attempt to construct a religion relevant to our times. Something I could believe in, something that might help make sense of a world that otherwise seems intentionally insane.

Nothing came of the search except a deeper appreciation of the universe. I've never lost my spiritual connection to nature - the animals who've inhabited this world far longer than we've built cities, the planets where such beings can live, the stars that provide the energy to fuel our lives, and the rest of the universe, which provides the soil for everything else to grow.

But that wasn't enough to soothe my existential angst. I suffered pretty traumatic and turbulent teenage years, and barely made it out of then alive. Because this is also when I lost faith in human beings. I mean, if the single greatest communal effort to build and maintain something in all of human history - the Church in its diversity of manifestations - was either a lie, or a delusion, or a shield against fear, how could we hope for a better future? If people choose ignorance, accept on faith things that are verifiably untrue, and oppress those who do not believe mutually incompatible articles of faith, there's no hope for a long-term human future.

I just now also realize that my rejection of Christianity (and organized religion in general) is probably a big part of why my Mom treated me so much worse than she treated my brother. For whatever reason, and despite her powerful intelligence and terrible childhood, she was deeply religious. She's the one who forced child-me to go to church every Sunday and holiday, and to attend Sunday school and Confirmation classes. When I was an adult, she forwarded me so many hateful, bigoted, racist spam-mails that I had to filter out most of her messages (once such capabilities appeared). These were indications that she was probably one of those hateful Christians who now rule the American discourse. She probably hated me for rejecting her God, and her Church (she did every so often tell me that she hated me). Despite her strong advocacy of feminist concerns, I know she hated how I reject out of hand all forms of authoritarianism. She was always a leader in everything she did - work, church, friends - which was an outstanding trait for a woman in the 1970s. But it was still authoritarianism, and she still served the patriarchy.

So when my brother told me at mom's funeral that my childhood experience under Mom was nothing like his, it makes sense. He went to church, and Sunday school, and Confirmation. He accepted authoritarian rule. He continued to say the words that he was supposed to say; he might not have believed them, and I know that in his heart he was not obedient to authority, but he pretended to be. And that seems to be all that really matters to religious extremists.

To Mom, my brother was one of Them, or at least a willing conspirator, whereas I was loud and determined in my rejection of the entire enterprise. Burn it all down and start fresh!

As a boy standing alone in the dark beside my telescope, I remember calling out to the starry sky, begging benevolent aliens (for what other type would visit such a flawed world yet not eradicate us like vermin?) to take me away. I drew spaceships that I could imagine piloting far away. I dreamed of exploring the moons of Jupiter alone, far from the insanity of Earth, of the coming changes that would transform our society and ourselves into something worthy to endure into the future. I wrote stories about these things, and the fall of adult civilization, and imagined a world where I could bear to live.

See, this was also the time during which I discovered most of my friends and many of my closest relatives had endured horrifically abusive childhoods. What kind of species tortures their young? The same kind that holds them down and injects cognitive retro-viruses into their brains.

I spent a great deal of my teens and early 20s in deep depression, suicidal on occasion but mostly fearless of death, because how could it be worse than having to dwell in the shadow of the monsters who rule our world, whom we must obey - or at least pretend to obey? I've never been any good at pretending such things.

Under such rule, there can be no bright future. There can be no utopia.

Ever since I discovered it, science fiction has served as my primary existential comfort, and it remains so. SF needs no gods, and if it has religion, it can illuminate what's wrong with how we do it. It offers visions of futures where things can be different.

It taught me that change is good. That it is, in fact, necessary for growth, healing, learning, and everything else that is positive in our lives. If we're not changing, we're dying. (Huh, I just realized something else: This is what The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella is all about, and where its themes come from.)

Only by finally letting go of desperately clinging onto the plague-ship of religion was I able to restore my faith in humankind. Only be letting go was I able to imagine futures without hate or bigotry, where we can build something instead of expend all our energy dragging along the toxic casks from our past.

I sometimes joke that my religion is the Church of Science Fiction. Looked at in the right light, SF does serve that purpose better than any church I've ever encountered, in that it also offers stories about the Big Questions, about our origins and our ultimate end, what's right and wrong, transformations and transcendence. It's a space where we can identify flaws in our world today and envision possible futures where those things have either gotten worse or where we've solved them. It needs no gods but those within us and around us and illuminating the sky. It does not demand faith; it rewards knowledge and imagination and creative re-envisioning. Like science itself, it questions everything and accepts nothing that cannot be verified. Best of all, it's a community and an ongoing conversation. It's a family.

And SF is more true than any religion could hope to be.

Organized religion almost killed me. Science fiction kept me from falling into the abyss. I survived to become a science-fiction writer, a teacher of SF literature, and - like long-time friend and SF writer Frederik Pohl - a science enthusiast.

The only way our species can survive is to transcend as a whole the self-perpetuating, outdated, and damaging authoritarian structures we drag along from our past, which hold us back from reaching for the future. Science provides the tools and methods to determine what needs to be changed, and science fiction provides the safe laboratory where we can test-run alternate visions of ethics, societal structures, and an infinity of other things, including ourselves.

So, yeah, if I retain any semblance of religion in my personal life, it's definitely science fiction.

Geez, how could I forget this part (continued from late-last-night's Spring Break post):

I've also been working on my next book some more, working out plot points and developing characters and scenes. Almost have it all in place! Which leads me to an insight:

I've discovered that it takes me about 3-4 days of being away from a full day of work to clear my mind enough to really immerse myself in my writing again. No matter how much I'd like to be, I'm just not one of those people who can write for a few hours a day, at least not when first getting started with a project. There's too much mind-clearing needed, because my job is not just teaching (which also entails answering email and grading at all hours of the day), but also keeping up with Center for the Study of Science Fiction stuff pretty much every day (including planning, emails, website updates, prepping for and doing stuff like tonight's Super Nerd Night activities, and so forth), and constantly researching ways to improve each course (which I do pretty much weekly for most of 'em). There are also meetings, course development for new courses down the line, GTA training to teach existing courses I've developed, student and GTA mentoring, thesis direction, reading for the Campbell Award, and a ton of things I don't even want to think about right now. It's utterly consuming and draining.

Now, I'm not complaining, because I love my work. I love teaching, I love the Center, I love almost everything I do for my job.

The point is, what I need to maintain a level of new writing and publication that makes me happy is more chunks of time off. I used to think that summer = writing time for a teaching job, but in fact for MY teaching job, summer = busiest time of the year, with two two-week intensive courses sandwiching an international conference where we honor the authors of the best short-SF and SF novel of the year and bring in guest authors and editors from around the world.

How to find the time to make my writing happen? If I could only secure a solid month during the summer, I could write a book a year - I have no problem doing story-development in dribs and drabs.

Are you novelist or other big-project creative who also maintains an all-consuming job? How do you manage to product big projects on a regular-enough basis to remain happy? 'Cause I've reached a place in life where I need to make this happen or I'll grow more and more frustrated and dissatisfied with my career(s).

Last July's motorcycle accident and resultant AC joint dislocation not only put the kabosh on my goal to look like Robert Downey Jr. from Iron Man (which I'd set just two weeks prior to the accident), but also put the kibosh on exercise in particular and even moving vigorously in specific. Let's face it, I got soft and weak and gained at least 15 pounds. When moving one's arm more than a little fires bolts of pain through one's body, one resists doing things that move one's arm. I don't blame the injury for all of the going-soft-ness, of course; much of what went wrong was about the psychological fallout of feeling broken and the comfort eating and stuff that followed.

Last fall, I started doing physical therapy, and when that ended, continued doing my (simple resistance) exercises at home. Earlier this spring, I cut out the comfort eating, and that stopped the weight-gain. Then, with my doctor's go-ahead, I resumed some of my previous workout schedule, slowly upping the weight I lifted and number of sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, and so forth. A couple of months ago, I got really sore doing this, but with further doctor's encouragement and his prescription of using tons of ibuprofen, I worked through the pain and got to a point where the shoulder just kinds of feels sore during exercise. It's like they say: Strengthen the muscles that surround an injured joint enough, and they'll support it.

Seems to be working! Maybe it's just the change from winter weather, maybe just time away from the original injury, but I've not only gotten up to the number of reps I was doing before but finally surpassed them this week. Last summer, I could do 7 full-length pull-ups in a row and 15 nose-to-the-floor (using dumbbells to add a few inches of stroke) push-ups; today I managed 12 pull-ups and 18 push-ups, despite the injury. Over the past month, I've also lost about 10 pounds through eating better and exercising regularly. Woohoo! That pretty effectively eliminates my broken feeling. Not that I don't feel a little sore, but I'm not letting that crush my spirit anymore. And if the doctor says I shouldn't worry about a little pain, I won't!

So, without further ado, a baseline photo a la [ profile] adammaker. I wanted to do this before, but just wasn't brave enough to post a pic with my injury-gut still showing. I've never posted such a pic before, so I'm feeling shy; this plus to protect your eyes, I'm putting it behind the cut )
I took this photo today (using a handy tripod on a box on a foot-stool...), June 23, to serve as a tool for tracking my physical progress. And to shame myself into getting into better shape *g* By next time I post a photo, my goal is to gain actual abdominal definition (let's be specific: a 6-pack!) and be a few pounds lighter, plus to continue to improve my muscle tone - and hopefully get my left (injured) side more balanced in strength with my right side. I expect doing this will serve two purposes: 1) Encouraging me to meet my physical-improvement goals, because now they're public; and 2) Shaming me into getting into better shape so I can post a photo I'm less shy to show y'all.

Okay, then! I'm back to reading stories for the CSSF Science Fiction Writers Workshop.

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (robot traveler)
( Nov. 15th, 2008 01:35 am)
Last night, I was talking with friends about things personal and things philosophical, likely kicked off by the Bill Brown talk. One topic that came up as it always seems to was, "What is the meaning of life?"

One friend said, "I don't know."

Another answered, "To spread our genes."

At first I dismissed the first answer. The second answer... well, it's absolutely true in a biological sense. When you get down to the root of everything, it's the real answer.

Earlier, I was walking home from work, passing under a leafless canopy. The bones of the trees were visible. Seeds everywhere. Students on the sidewalk, cell-phones in hand as they headed to their cars to drive off to play or study or build the future in which we will all live. And it struck me like lightning:

We are only hosts for our genetic material. Everything we do, everything we are, is dictated by the tiny machines that build us into thinking meat. We are products of our genes just as trees are the product of their seeds. Organisms - even thinking ones - are manufactured by the nano-factories called biology.

I envy the trees. They are not weighed down with responsibility or questions of right and wrong or considerations of the future. To them, "Why?" never crosses their minds. They do not need to worry about how to be the best tree they can be; they simply live. They are driven by the programming of the tiny machines within them, the machines that manufactured them and maintain them and dictate their future. Those machines help guide them as they encounter wind and drought; if they survive storms and Kansas summer, they produce new seeds. Those seeds grow into new trees that can survive what Kansas throws at them. They don't build civilizations or cities or universities; they don't engineer automobiles or cell phones. They simply live. And that is enough.

We, however - we humans - we are weighted with sentience. This mass of dendrites and other products of our machines make us worry about the future, about morality, about acquisitions. We form friendships and romantic entanglements; these endure or fade or explode in dramatic fashion, and then we write novels about our experiences or film movies or create other works of art. We talk about our victories and catastrophes with friends. With our friends and loved ones, we celebrate success and empathize with failure. We craft paintings, shoot photographs, post websites, write blogs, all in an effort to express ourselves. Our creative expressions consume years of our lives. We assemble bookshelves and paint the walls of our homes that others built and which we bought with money - a concept manufactured in the forebrains of economists - and call the people in our lives using electronics that are the product of centuries of industrial evolution. We talk and write and paint and run and climb and dance; we cry and laugh and drink ourselves into oblivion; we pour the years of our existence into making things, consuming things, building futures for others or destroying them. We believe we are good, or we are not evil, or we question what is good and evil. We describe what is right and moral, and then we question ourselves in the darkness of the night when we sit alone at our keyboards, wondering, wondering. We strive and we fail; we strive and we succeed.

But what does it all mean? Are we only acting out the over-complicated programming humming away within the hearts of our cells? We, products of the products of evolution; what are we? If we are only machines designed to produce more human machines of the type manufactured by the tiny machines that built us, then it is clear that our duty is to create more of those machines of our particular brand. We must prove the value of ourselves by making replicas of ourselves. The meaning of life is to pass our genes into the future. And to build a future best suited to protecting the new machines that we produce and which will carry our genes into that future. So we build civilizations and cell phones and put money in the bank. And when the banks fail or we lose our jobs or our houses are foreclosed upon, this quakes us to our cores, because the civilization we built is like the cradle for the future, the macro-machines that will provide for the human machines carrying "our" genes, and we have failed in our sole purpose.

An aside about owership: It is more true to say that we belong to our genes than that they are our genes. Does Chrysler Corporation belong to my 2004 Crossfire? Or my 1966 Newport? Absurd. Both were manufactured by the same machine (Chrysler Corporation), but in different generations. Yet they do not reproduce themselves, so this isn't a good comparison. Do the fruits on its branches belong to the persimmon tree in my back yard? Does the tree that dropped the fruit that grew this tree belong to it? Neither; it belongs to the genetic material that created the tree that dropped the fruit that contained the seed that grew my tree.

The tree's only reason for being is to survive the seasons, thrive through adversity, produce fruits, and - having survived and earned the right to do so - make more trees like it. It exists to perpetuate its genes. It is a framework and a resource for nothing more than supporting the gene factory that made it, the gene factory whose drive to thrive creates life itself.

This is God. God is within us all. God is the gene, the self-assembling matter of life. God is the biological nanofactory. There is no right and wrong beyond what allows the factory to thrive and continue to produce.

We live and laugh and cry, we build cities and laptops and torture ourselves with questions of right and wrong so that we may provide a lush cradle for the machines that made us in order to do nothing more than deliver those genes into the future.

Our sentience is a burden, something we must carry, something that gets in the way of itself. It is an unfortunate diversion along the road to our genes' future.

This is not a comfort.

This friend also said that the meaning of life is "to seek pleasure." Pleasure, I think, is merely our genes expressing to us that we're taking the right path to provide them with what they need. But sentience does not approve. We build ethical and moral frameworks that limit pleasure and define which pleasures are the correct ones, even when they feel uncomfortable; we define which pleasures are the incorrect ones, even when they feel best.

Either pleasure is not a good guide or sentience is a poor expression of our genes. Or both. And sentience doesn't feel comfortable with the idea that it exists only as part of the product of the machine to which we belong. Even that - the gene - is merely the product of its programming. It is the machine that operates on that programming, as we operate on the gene.

After slogging through all of this meaning and meaninglessness, the first seems the truest answer:

What is the meaning of life?

I don't know.


Also posted to my website.
I have a super-power. Mine isn't the sort of thing you think of when you hear the term. It's not flying or invisibility or the ability to rearrange subatomic particles. My super-power can't be boiled down to a single word or a simple phrase. Nothing quite so grand, though I would like to believe it has saved many of my friends and family from pain and suffering.

My super-power is the ability to find bones, stones, fragments of metal, shards of glass, chunks of plastic, and so forth in my food.

"Sounds more like a super-weakness," you say. Well, consider it from this point of view: People who go out to eat with me have a much lower chance of finding said junk in their food. I figure that, although it could be seen as a super-weakness from my point of view, if I instead view this as a service super-power, I'm helping save the teeth of people everywhere.

Those of you who have dined with me know what I'm talking about. Some have argued that I find so much stuff in my food only because I chew so thoroughly and bite down rather more firmly than most gourmands. Granted. But how many of you have bitten down on part of a blender in your McDonald's soft-serve ice cream? Or a half-inch piece of a steel measuring cup in your gumbo? Or what appears to be a cube of tempered glass from a shattered windshield in your pasta? Or pea-sized stones in your salad? Seriously, I find something that doesn't belong in my meals - especially in restaurants - almost every time I dine out with people. I am not exaggerating.

I'm posting this now because I just found... an unidentifiable thing in my pasta. It would not give under great biting pressure. Looks like a pebble.

So: What's your super-power? (Super-weaknesses accepted.)

EDIT: Ooh, and what's your superhero name?

Playing along with the Self-Portrait Meme:

Take a picture of yourself right now.
Don't change your clothes, don't fix your hair... just take a picture.
Post that picture with no editing (except to reduce the size, of course).
Post these instructions with your picture.

Here's me with my little hammie in front of part of my bookshelves. He's the brown-and-white lump on my arm, just below the photo of Theodore Sturgeon:
All seems well...

And just to prove I've followed the rules, a bonus shot. Guess who just dove from my arm? I think I'm saying something along the lines of, "Oh, no! Mr. Hammie-Boy!"
...until Hammie-Boy decides to take a dive onto the couch!

(No worries; he landed on a cushion.)

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (young-Chris)
( Oct. 22nd, 2007 12:20 pm)
[ profile] normalcyispasse reminded me of this; he's teaching in Korea now, where I lived for about a year during my first-grade year. Thought I'd share the story here:

When I was a little boy living in a boss-owned neighborhood north of Seoul, the boss-man invited my mother and me to his house for frequent dinners. Americans were rare then; it was during the Vietnam War, and soldiers' families weren't supposed to be there. So it pleased him to have as guests these exotic foreigners, especially me and my brother with our blond hair.

I recall eating many things I wouldn't have touched while living in the US. But Boss Man explained to me that since my dad was away serving on the DMZ, I was the man of the house and must eat what's offered to save face for my family. Gourmet items he offered included things like transparent soup - served in glass bowls, of course - with complete fish (and other objects) floating within them; octopi the size of small children; "Thousand-Year Eggs" and their attendant bouquet; and all manner of stinky and spicy foods I couldn't hope to recognize and wouldn't touch today. But I ate them, because Boss Man and his sons had frequently demonstrated how important "face" was to them, and I didn't want to harm my family.

I would love to be able to watch the Koreans' faces while I stoically put such delicacies into my mouth, a little 6-year-old boy eating what I'm sure many of them wouldn't dare try. I do recall hearing some of the Korean party guests laughing as I ate something. Ha ha.

mckitterick: (meteor)
( Oct. 3rd, 2007 06:22 pm)
Here's a getting-to-know folks meme that's pretty neat. Here's how it works: Comment on this post asking for me to meme you, and I will choose seven interests from your profile. Then you make a post where you explain what those seven interests mean to you, why you are interested in them, and so on. Then post these instructions along with your answers so that others can play along.

I commented in [ profile] weaselmom's LJ, and she selected the following for me to explain:
my secrets revealed behind the cut! )
Well, there you go. Who's next?
mckitterick: aboard the New Orleans trolley (just Chris)
( Apr. 29th, 2007 12:05 am)
I just finished reading a fantastic novel-nominee for the Campbell Award (that would be Glasshouse by Charles Stross, a far-future novel set in the universe he invented for the near-future Accelerando), and it really got me thinking. One thing in particular was about decisions. I'm putting these thoughts here as much for myself as to share with you.

We all know that decisions can be difficult. Some decisions feel literally impossible to make, because once we make a decision, we have to live with the consequences. Some consequences feel unbearable. Can you live with the consequences? That's how to make informed decisions.

Some times the consequences of making a decision one way or the other both feel unbearable. However, simply not deciding does not simplify things, because there are consequences to not making a decision, too. I guess one could both avoid making a tough decision while also avoiding considering the consequences, but that won't stop you from having to live with the fallout or blessings, because you might end up living with other consequences, and those are often unforseeable. It's just a way of living one's life without having to take responsibility for how things turn out. I guess this is how people who cause themselves great harm to their health, both emotional and physical, get to the point of damaging themselves: They don't consider or face consequences.

I'm sure many of you are saying, "Why make such a big deal about this? It's not such a profound thought." Well, good! That means this stuff is easy for you, and I bet that helps a lot in life.

Anyhow. Here's hoping your decisions lead to happiness and health.

This is stunning:

Astronomy is the one thing that consistently soothes me, comforts me, stimulates my imagination, stirs my sense of the numinous.

I post these to share that with you, my friends. I hope you feel some of that, too.

When I was a boy, my first love was the sky. Our first nights together went like this: I would set my alarm to go off at two in the morning so I could lug my telescope out of the garage (where it was cooling) into the Minnesota winter night. I would haul this thing - 80 pounds of cast aluminum and Pyrex glass and white-painted fiberglas - hundreds of yards through knee-deep snow into a truly dark area where I would set up and observe until the mirrors frosted over or the sun rose, whichever came first. These meetings were my greatest joy - a quiet joy, with very little laughing aloud, though I did smile and sigh and, yes, sometimes laugh alone in the dark, far from the lights of home and miles from town. For a long time, that was my only joy.

I've had several loves since, but none has remained in my heart for quite so long as the night sky. Our trysts are rarer now than when we first met, but we drop right into the heat of things as soon as we embrace.

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Earth-from-space)
( Apr. 22nd, 2007 12:18 pm)
Damn you, [ profile] gmskarka! Had to take this quiz:
What American accent do you have?
Created by Xavier on

North Central. This is what everyone calls a "Minnesota accent." If you saw "Fargo" or "Drop Dead Gorgeous" you probably didn't think the characters sounded very out of the ordinary. Some Americans may mistake you for a Canadian.

Northern. Whether you have the world famous Inland North accent of the Great Lakes area, or the radio-friendly sound of upstate NY and western New England, your accent is what used to set the standard for American English pronunciation (not much anymore now that the Inland North sounds like it does).

Take this quiz now - it's easy!
We're going to start with "cot" and "caught." When you say those words do they sound the same or different?

Recently I went to this site and took their personality test. Interesting stuff, and neat that it's both a short test and thorough in analysis.

ENFP: Here's what they say about my personality type )

What do they say about you?

...but never any answers. Perhaps you can help.

Today I was doing my sit-ups in the upstairs bedroom where I can look out the window onto leafless branches. A squirrel was grooming in the sunshine; it's a lovely day today. I wondered what life was to that little animal, and even if he was aware of life and time and so forth; he seemed content and full of purpose. He ceased grooming after a while and closed his eyes, simply enjoying the sunshine. This got me thinking, wondering what it is I want from life, which got me wondering what is this thing called life and why do we need to find or infuse meaning into it.

I find myself discontented. I want to know what I should do with my life. We are only allotted so much time, and we don't know how long that will be. Certainly we can hasten the end, but what to do with the time we are given? But to answer this, I at least need to understand what is the meaning of life.

Yes, a tiny little question that no one has asked before. But, seriously, this is important to me right now. Thanks for your time:

EDIT: PS - you can answer this using the question, "What is YOUR meaning of life" if that helps clarify things. Clearly, none of us can impose our meaning upon others, and the only true answers we give to this are from our own points of view.

[Poll #933106]

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Battlestar Galactica)
( Jan. 21st, 2007 11:22 pm)
Yeah, I'm doing a meme, but let's just call it my quota for the season. Here goes:

favorite movies )Tagging you! (We're supposed to tag 5 people, but I don't like pressuring people to do memes, so do this one only if it interests you.) What are your 5/5 movies? Post in your LJ!

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (coffee tech)
( Jan. 10th, 2007 06:18 pm)
Hey, folks, whaddya think of my new glasses? A self-portrait in my living room:
They arrived today and I likes 'em. They're Scandinavian, black on front and mustard on the sides and inside.

I just got done buzzing off my hair down to the scalp. Why, you ask? I keep it short for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is to avoid helmet-head, but why buzz? Heck, I would've shaved my head if I dared, but that back-of-the-scalp thing is problem enough for buzzing; I didn't want a head full of razor-nicks.

Let me take a step back: The title of this post is not entirely accurate. Of course, we begin to die at about age 16, when our brains are fully formed and our bodies begin to succumb to the power of entropy. Time rips at the ends of our telomeres, piles garbage into our cells, ruins our skin, and our organs begin little by little to fail. Our arteries begin to clog with Big Macs, injuries acquired over the years begin to call notice to themselves, the cartilage in our joints begins to thin and tear, our bones begin to grow brittle, our eyes start growing cataracts. As we begin to take notice of these ravages, we pull back from risky activities, accelerating our demise. This risk-aversion spreads to include other aspects of our lives: We choose security: We select easy partners and secure jobs and tasks that do not test us. We embrace entropy; we gradually slip beneath the waters; we join the Dark Side without even noticing it.

Then, one day, we open our eyes and realize that we are drowning. We realize that we are failing as human beings, and that we are literally, physically, failing, like the winter sun nearing the frozen horizon. We are doomed.

Many of us rage against the dying of the light. We recognize the ways in which we are conspiring with entropy to hasten our end, and begin to eat better, lurch into demanding physical activity, harbor new hobbies that stimulate our minds, destroy the castles of comfort and security that we have mindlessly built around ourselves - edifices that hem us in rather than protect us from anything. Indeed, we recognize how all our comfort- and security-seeking has led us to a place where we are standing at the shore of the River Styx even before the ferryman can even see us. We become shadows.

I guess this is a long and dramatic way of saying that I discovered this morning - thanks to a second mirror that I was using to trim the hair on the back of my head - that I have developed a bald area on the back of my head where I used to have a wild cowlick. Over the past few years, my beard has faded to much grey. A few years ago, I discovered much to my horror that I had become fat; that I did something about, and am in as good of physical condition as ever since adolescence. But am I? The outward signs would suggest no.

So I see the failing of the light now, though the world has been dimming for many years, and that fills me with an urgency to resist. I cannot win this battle, nor can anyone I love, yet we will all fight it at predictable intervals until the light fails completely.


In brighter news, more proof of water on Mars!

While exercising today, I got to thinking. This is something that I enjoy about mindless activities: They turn on one's mind to deeper consideration, because turning a wrench or lifting something heavy doesn't require much mental effort.

I have a question, one that I've been trying to understand for a couple of years now; not that I haven't always tried to understand it, but of late it's become a core need to grasp it:

What is love?

I have always considered myself an optimist (as does everyone I know considered me that), and I usually find the good in everyone. I have always believed in romantic notions (often with the capital R, as in the movement); I have always believed in the notion of true love and the possibility of tomorrow being better than today and so on. That's to put this in perspective. Keep in mind my questions don't indicate that I'm leaning in any of these directions; I'm just trying very hard to understand what is "love" right now, and these are things that people use to define love.

Is it chemical?
Surely, that's part of it, at least for passionate love. Those drugs our bodies create when near the object of our love can overwhelm us and lead us to believe love is more important than anything else. Thus it like addiction.

In my last post, I equated comfort to dying. All animals seek comfort, but why? If it leads to stagnation and intellectual death, why do we seek it? Thus, why is this a good thing?

A cure for loneliness?
How can we separate a salve for loneliness from the real thing... if there is such a thing?

A proxy for the numinous?
Being "in love" feels a lot like being in touch with the transcendent, and this likely leads back to the chemical aspect. But what if it really is the source for the numinous? Jesus seems to have taught that, though using different language.

Lots of people get pleasure from service or helping others; I do, for one, in certain ways. This is part of why I teach: I can see how what I do helps those around me, and that gives me pleasure. But is that love? Do I love everyone? Hm.

Does the mere proximity of someone to you lead to love? Or time with that person - can people who like each other and enjoy fucking become true lovers and call one another, "My love"? Do shared experiences - good and bad and everything in between - build into something that lays the foundation for love?

Affection from the other?
Does repeated display of love from someone else lead to feeling in love, one's self? Does the mere act of reciprocation become love?

Expedient or practical?
Being in love leads to living together which leads to reduced bills and greater security both in the now and for the future. It's like the feral cat who discovers that allowing those big, scary humans to pet it leads to food and bowls of milk on the back porch. It's how we turned wolves and wild dogs into creatures who roll over on their backs when we scold them for barking. This is domestication, a synonym for becoming tamed, becoming under someone's control. So does love lead to comfort which leads to the mind-death?

I could ask other questions, too, but you get the idea. A cynic might wonder if love is pure selfishness - but mindless biological selfishness. That is, love makes us feel better, less lonely, and in touch with the numinous while it satisfies other needs. Biological selfishness is something that drives us rather than something which we understand and can control; and if we're driven toward something that kills us by inches, why do it?

I love [ profile] tatsuko_shikibu, my kitty. I don't understand that. Yes, she's a pleasure to pet, and she does things which suggest that she loves me, whatever that means to a conscience-less predator. I protect her and feed her and clean her litter box; I make sure someone is home to watch her while I'm away. We have more than a decade of history together: I watched her evolve from a puff of fur to a violent play-partner to an adult cat who sleeps on the comforter of my bed in the winter. I behave in these and other ways that suggest I love her. But is that love?

I want to believe love is something magical and core to being alive, but what if it's just these things, just a biological drive no more important in the scheme of things than clean water or a roof over one's head - or less important, really. What if it's just a program in our mammalian genes to ensure the survival of our species, no different from LJ's line of code that translates my typed text here into a post others can read?

What is love? What are your thoughts?

After watching the movie tonight and reading an entry in [ profile] kijjohnson's LJ, I got to thinking about that momentary rush of... what is it? Connection with something greater, communion with genius or something; how it's always momentary, and once experienced one always seeks it again, but doing the same thing doesn't always stimulate the same response, at least not for me. I need to have all the elements in place. So it's not easily repeatable, and when one stops getting the same emotional reward, one faces the prospect of losing interest in continuing to seek that something magical.

For me, this happens when motorcycling: Once in a while, for no apparent reason other than everything in the universe of my mind is aligned just so, I feel this surge of pleasure, and the world is brighter and smells fresher and I feel alive. When I was first riding, every ride was ripe with excitement and rife with danger; I would ride for hours on the most uncomfortable mount imaginable, heading nowhere. Now I find myself forgetting the joy of the ride and often just hop on to go somewhere and hop off when I'm there. Also when skywatching: When I was a kid, I could feel in touch with the holy so much more easily than now; now I need to keep scanning the skies past the "I've seen a blue star before" until I find that something which offers the reward. I need to remember to ride, say, out to Target not to buy something but to enjoy the sensation of moving.

I have found that patience is more difficult to summon now than it was when I was younger, because then everything was shiny and new. Now it's not just about the newness - which, itself, can be a reward - now it needs to be about the thing that really matters, the thing that woke my sense of the numinous when I first learned that I loved the thing at hand: That's still there, still shining from behind every color of star and within the surprise puffs of nebula that I discover when my patience holds; those fleeting glimpses of storm-cloud detail in the clouds of Jupiter or snow-caps on Mars; that haze of the Milky Way which resolves into millions of stars, at least in my mind's eye, when that I open that eye. It's all there, just as magical as ever: As is typical for so much about humans, I'm the thing in my own way most of the time.

I often forget the pleasure I feel once I make an engine work again, or that jolt of transcendence when I write the perfect sentence, or engage in the perfect class. I think that this forgetfulness is what drives us to stop seeking those perfect moments. Perhaps that's what it means to grow old: To lose the desire to seek those moments of magic. I'll call this lack of desire by it's true name, "death." It approaches us by inches, sneaks up on us hidden in the shadows of time and our own blindness.

I realize now that this is one of the things that made me so teary-while-smiling while I watched "The World's Fastest Indian" tonight. Burt Munro was like that, a man who never forgot the beauty and power in going fast that got him going as a kid. He seemed to possess that same sense in his 80's that he had when he bought his bike back in the 1920's. That's rare and beautiful.

Do me a favor and remember to do something today something that gives you joy.

Some of you have heard this; it came up recently, so I define it here.

My theory is that suppressing something in one aspect of the self increases the pressure across the entire self. As with hydraulics, you cannot compress emotions, needs, fears, and so on: One of the properties of a liquid is that it can't be compressed, so too feelings, emotional needs, and so on. This is how hydraulic systems work: You apply a small amount of pressure in one place to move very heavy things in another place based on the size of the pistons and levers; picture a hand-operated hydraulic jack that can raise a car. So too emotions: If you push (suppress) a lot in one place, it can move you in other places you don't suppress. If there's no outlet for the pressure in a hydraulic system, liquids squirt out from weak spots like gaskets or joints. Similarly, emotions and psychological needs that are being suppressed squirt out in inappropriate places when there's no outlet.

Make sense?

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (H2)
( Nov. 7th, 2006 11:41 am)
Great special feature in the November Motorcyclist magazine called "Why We Ride." Basically just a bunch of quotations from people about why they ride motorcycles. This got me thinking, especially as I found myself saying, "Yeah, that's right! Me, too."

For me, scootering is pretty much the same thing as motorcycling - at least around town. If given the choice, even on a rainy, snowy, cold, foggy, dark, or otherwise miserable day, I will ride a two-wheeler. I rode year-round in Seattle, from Capitol Hill to the Microsoft campus; here, I ride even through 8" of snow.

Yesterday I read an article - in a car magazine - by Greg Egan, the moto- and cycle-journalist, which described why he chose to ride a motorcycle to deliver automobile parts to get chromed (a bumper!) rather than tossing them into the trunk of his car. One of his reasons was simply fuel-efficiency, but he had a lot more.

Why? Why do we choose this less-comfortable, dangerous, less-practical form of transportation? A lot of times, I can't answer that except to say, "Because I want to." But let's examine this for a moment, shall we?

Here are three reasons why I ride:

1. I love the sense of freedom that only comes from being in the world, surrounded by it, feeling it whoosh past my skin, hearing it and smelling it and tasting it; the scents of gasoline and grass and leaves; the sweet and bitter and dry tastes of the air as it rushes through my helmet and over my lips; the closeness of the world, even the road, as I move through it. Freedom is one.

2. Simplicity and convenience is another. This might seem odd to those of you who ride, because there's that preparation stage before a ride: finding the gear, squeezing into helmet and gloves and jacket and so forth, and if it's cold, extra gear to keep your neck from freezing solid. But I love that I can ride anywhere, park right beside the doors of my destination; that all I need to focus on is the ride itself, because if I'm distracted by the millions of things that are on my mind while I'm riding, I will perish. Riding keeps me focused on one thing: the moment, something that I often find challenging to do. It keeps me sane.

3. Finally, at the end of a ride, I feel a sense of survival that I simply don't feel after most activities. How often can we experience that in our modern world? How often would we want to experience that? When I get onto a two-wheeler and roll into the pachinko machine that is the road system, I'm acutely aware of danger lurking around every blind corner, at every intersection, with every cell-phone-talking SUV driver's erratic decision. I seriously doubt that I will die or get seriously hurt when I head out, but it's a distinct possibility.

This last one enhances my sense of freedom, because I'm choosing to do this, even though it puts me in harm's way, in order to feel free. It focuses my mind like little else can, and it's deeply satisfying to know that you survived three near-death experiences due to quick thinking or good reflexes or wise instinct.

In short: Riding makes me feel alive.

I have a thousand more reasons why I ride, but I want to hear yours. If you ride - or just like to get rides on - a motorcycle, why do you do it?



mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Default)


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