Friday, October 24, 2014

Early Saturday Video, Birthday Edition

I turn 34 today!




You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too, yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.

Yes we're going to a party party
Yes we're going to a party party
Yes we're going to a party party.

I would like you to dance--Birthday
Take a cha-cha-cha-chance-Birthday
I would like you to dance--Birthday
Dance

You say it's your birthday
Well it's my birthday too--yeah
You say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you

Thursday, October 23, 2014

George (Fox) and Me



Well before I read the story of George Fox's trials and tribulations as a young man, I did my own wanderings. Fox, for the uninitiated, was the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers. Mine tended to be from church to church, seeking some person or Divine force to heal me. These travels always corresponded with a severe period of clinical depression, which scared me with its ferocity and longevity.

This is why some modern-day scholars have postulated that Fox may have been a manic depressive like me. When churches proved insufficient for me, I visited friends and acquaintances, often showing up unannounced. Almost everyone was responsive and concerned, never seeing me as an imposition, which I appreciate to this day.

When I lived in Atlanta, close to a decade ago, I began attending an Episcopal church. A man around my age gratefully showed me the ropes. He opened the hymnal to the right page and showed me the proper way to take communion. After attending for a month, I peered down at the order of service. Printed at the bottom was an invitation to be anointed by a priest. At the end of the service, I was guided into a smaller room than the sanctuary, one usually used for silent prayer or contemplation.

The priest was a kindly blonde Australian woman in middle-age who asked me the nature of my sin. I was desperately afraid to voice it, not wishing to give the cursed part of me additional power over me. She asked three times, then smiled and opened a circular container full of oil and wax. With an index finger, she anointed me on my forehead in the sign of a cross. I left, believing my troubles would soon depart. They did not, entirely, but I was sure I felt a change. At least I had made an immediate connection with another person, and hopefully God in the process.

I'm not equating myself with George Fox, but I do notice similarities between his life and mine. Here is how a sympathetic source describes Fox's deeds and acts.

For this reason, he [Fox] left his family Drayton-in-the-Clay in September 1643, to seek the Lord in isolation without being drawn into conversations with anyone; he left any town where he began to be recognized and drawn into conversation. While in Barnet, Fox would alternately shut himself in his room for days at a time, or go out alone into the countryside. As he continued to seek, he experienced very troubling temptations. He thought intensely about Jesus' temptation in the desert, which he compared to his own spiritual condition, but drew strength from his conviction that God would support and preserve him.

He fasted much and walked alone all night in the countryside; during these walks he experienced most of his revelations from Christ. At times, he attracted the attention of various religious scholars, but he rejected them because he did not feel they lived up to the doctrines they taught. Fox did seek help and advice from priests, but "found no comfort from them," as they too were unable to help or even give advice with the matters that were troubling him.
One priest in Worcestershire advised him to take tobacco (which Fox declined) and sing psalms; another, in Coventry, was helpful at first but lost his temper when Fox accidentally stepped off the path onto a flower in his garden; a third priest/physician suggested that bloodletting would help him; but they could not draw a drop of blood from his body or head because he was so dried up from his griefs.
Disillusioned by the inability of the priests to help him and still subject to the spiritual temptations, he returned home in June 1644. But there was no help to be found there either. Fox's family and friends offered either marriage or military service as a solution to his troubles. He left to travel in isolation again, but never as a vagabond; he always had money, even enough to give some money to the widows on Christmas (he knocked on doors to find them) and for money to poor newly married couples.

May we be resourceful and helpful to the George Fox we encounter, especially when we are least expecting it. In 1 Thessalonians it is written thus: "Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don't really need to write you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness."

Children of the light, children of the day, let us shine goodness and mercy upon those who wander and thirst for righteousness. George Fox's story is ours, too. There is a seeker inside each of us, even if the topic differs from person to person. Something about the human condition depends upon wandering. We are hobos being shuttled in boxcars towards a greater purpose we may not yet understand.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Flatscreen

It is the mid-Nineties. The radio plays “Waterfalls” by TLC on a nearly-constant loop and everyone has seen the video, too. The twin force of radio play and MTV heavy rotation continues as though it will never come to an end. Record companies spend millions of dollars for four minutes of bottled lightning.

No one has yet heard of file sharing programs or iPods, social media or the possibility for making a fool of oneself on it. In sports, Michigan quarterback Scotty Dreisbach has implausibly thrown the game winning touchdown on a crucial fourth down play against Virginia. AOL offers a free clip of the winning catch of no more than fifteen seconds in duration, which takes two hours solid to download over a phone line.

In the days before the proliferation of digital cameras, smartphones, selfies, and photobombs, she used the tools available to her. The thick glass panel of a flat screen scanner was the surface she chose. She sat naked upon it, straddling sharp rectangular corners in hard plastic. I imagined the process must have been terribly uncomfortable, or at least require a kind of nimble flexibility. Had she laid it flat against the floor? That was the only way I could reckon she'd been able to pull it off.

The image produced, squished against the perfectly level surface, had stretched external genitalia to an extreme, making certain portions of the female reproductive system much larger than they were in reality. I wish I would have kept the file around for the sake of novelty, but it got lost while transferring from computer to computer. It only would have reminded me of her.

I was not the only one to receive a copy, which she offered like some persistent souls offer business cards, though I was one of her favorites. We spoke over the phone and online on a daily basis. She had even offered herself to me, someday. That would have required a lengthy car trip my parents would not have agreed to, and even if they had, my only other option would be relying upon a ride from the airport that I knew might never arrive. Amanda was not very responsible when it came to the passage of time and I knew I might need to wait helplessly with bags in hand for hours before anyone showed.

Her mother was exasperated with the fact that she had no female friends. A little later, I called the family residence following the birth of her child. Is Amanda the Mommy here? It was a corny line, the kind I rarely use, but I was trying to make nice. The mother always made a choice remark slightly after passing the phone along to her daughter, caustic remarks I overheard from time to time. I gathered the woman didn’t like me much and I could have cared less.

The only time I ever had a productive conversation with her was the time when Amanda took off to New England from Minnesota. Her mother feared the worst, but everything was proceeding as planned, secretly and stealthily. She and her boyfriend had never met in person before, but that was no detriment to this exercise in making it work in spite of consequences. Amanda was a take-charge sort of woman. He would be collected and relocated forcibly to the upper Midwest, whether or not it took a 15 hour drive, and especially whether her mother liked it or not.

Upon one particular call of that period, I noticed a dramatic difference. The mother was panicked, frightened beyond belief. It was a momentary contrite period in her life resulting from fear and anxiety. Only then did she address me with anything resembling good manners or basic courtesy.

Even the dysfunctional can occasionally stumble across the proper way of behaving themselves, especially when in shock. The woman kept me on the line for over an hour, begging me for any information I had to share. I knew the truth, but out of respect for my friend (and spite for the mother) I shared only the most cursory details. She was a parent in a state of grief, but I already resented her enough to keep her in suspense a little longer.

Amanda had no boundaries. What entered her brain exited her mouth. Her favorite subject was sex, but in particular her own sex life. This is how I knew about escapades with her near-husband on top of the dryer in the laundry room when no one else was at home. Her man was against condoms and she had a willful nonchalance and lazy non-compliance for any form of contraception. It wasn’t long before pregnancy resulted, a fate she accepted without any complaints, apparently intending to give birth to their first child and whichever kids followed.

She worked with alcoholics and drug addicts at a treatment center on the edge of town. I often wondered if she sought to heal herself by placing herself in the midst of patients with other addictive behaviors similar to her own. Hers resulted from incest, from the awkward persistence between older brothers who always wanted to sleep in the same bed as the younger children. I think that she enjoyed those past experience in a perverse kind of horribly conflicted way, the result of which became a bonafide sexual addiction. She was vocal about her sexuality in the way few women I encountered ever were.

I refused to believe at first that women like her really existed. Most girls I knew back then, my senior year of high school, were petrified at the mere thought of becoming pregnant. I wondered if most people really treated the conception and birth of children with such little thought or concern. I live now in a world of doulas, specialty services for expectant mothers, and classes that both father-to-be and mother-to-be can take simultaneously. Women do their research, then obsess about their diet and intake of almost everything, seeking to give the fetus the best possible chance for a good, healthy life.

Idealistic, legalistic motherhood was nowhere to be found with Amanda. She was almost Catholic in a weird way, almost fatalistic about another human life to be brought into the world. Her behavior grew ever more eccentric from then onward. The only major concern I could discern from her was a desire for her child to not be sexually molested at a young age as she was. Amanda swore she’d enjoyed it, which was either a colossal lie or proof that children can be oversexualized at ages before they fully understand the sensations produced and the intense emotions that go along with them.

One could make a case for both arguments. I, however, had my fill of it. I regret to say that I raised my voice in anger against her, believing I needed to make a clean break. The voice at the end of the line was not angry, it was instead confused and perplexed. I hung up the phone after an extended rant of which I am not especially proud. I can’t remember what I said, but it terminated our relationship quite neatly. I wonder how many children she has now and if she’s been married multiple times. I wonder about the safety of her children and wonder how many like her exist.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Like Me Too Much


Though you're gone away this morning
You'll be back again tonight
Telling me there'll be no next time
If I just don't treat you right

You'll never leave me and you know it's true
'Cause you like me too much and I like you

You've tried before to leave me
But you haven't got the nerve
To walk out and make me lonely
Which is all that I deserve

You'll never leave me and you know it's true
'Cause you like me too much and I like you
I really do

And it's nice when you believe me
If you leave me
I will follow you and bring
You back where you belong

'Cause I couldn't really stand it
I'll admit that I was wrong
I wouldn't let you leave me 'cause it's true
'Cause you like me too much and I like you

'Cause you like me too much and I like you
I really do

And it's nice when you believe me
If you leave me
I will follow you and bring
You back where you belong

'Cause I couldn't really stand it
I'll admit that I was wrong
I wouldn't let you leave me 'cause it's true

'Cause you like me too much and I like you
'Cause you like me too much and I like you

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Case for Pornography



I bring this topic up with some reluctance. Speaking with such frankness makes me inclined to pick my words carefully, cautiously. I have to thread a needle delicately, to make my arguments air-tight and to have the labels and causes I've attached to myself over time line up neatly. Talking about pornography in any form is a loaded discourse that can easily cause division and raised voices.

I begin, as I have many times before, with my own story. Starting at the age of 11 or 12, my father introduced me to pornography. That sentence sounds horribly violating, but I assure you it was not. In fact, it was quite harmless. To him, I was participating in a rite of passage ritual long held by men. This is still how I see it today.

At first, he rented movies from the local video store that were termed erotic thrillers but were really barely concealed softcore pornography. Next, he purchased a copy of Playboy for my benefit, though he disguised this from my mother, who was likely to disapprove. His form of subterfuge was to conceal the issue between two sets of folded towels, then hand them over to me.

I swiftly took over from there, recognizing with time that there was an entire galaxy of images and videos awaiting. Since then, I've drifted away from the glossy, commercial stuff, insisting upon amateur content full of people who look like regular folks, because they are. I don't mean to sound that I'm patting myself on the back, because I think this progression is quite normal. In those days, with my testosterone ramped up, it didn't take much. In some ways, I miss those days because fantasy alone was more than enough.

When I became a feminist, I grew aware of the sex-positive/sex-negative debate that caused a great schism in the years before my birth. I cast my lot almost immediately with the sex-positive crowd, who gave rise to the notion that overt sexuality could be empowering, rather than victimizing. It is my opinion that ethics can exist within the naked form, while I acknowledge that certain genres, studios, and fetishes frequently reinforce sexist and even misanthropic stereotypes.

When I finally came to terms with my sexual orientation, a gay couple who were substantially older than me gave me access to their own modest library. It was an education of a sort I would have never received from my father or any other family member. I learned the vocabulary words, the lingo, and saw demonstrated before me a more-or-less accurate rendering of the truth. But even then I saw fantasies of control and dominance, which bordered on consensual and nonconsenual.

This struggle was uniquely my own. It is still consigned a little to the shadows, to be brought up in certain contexts among certain people inclined to understand. The heterosexual milieu was eager to teach me its secrets, but the homosexual part of me was entirely self-taught. There is money to be made in an endless procession of pretty faces, beautiful bodies, and entirely counterfeit lesbians. But where a minority view is concerned, capitalism is not quite as vociferous, though it may be soon, depending on how quickly queer identity is accepted as something beyond novelty or basic tolerance.

When I see overtly gay displays of affection or sexuality in commercials or on broadcast television, we will have reached a new height. But when that day arrives, we must guard against the link between making money and a very fundamental source of exploitation. I happen to believe that ethical capitalism is a contradiction in terms, but we can at least hold it accountable for its numerous flaws. This is what we do already.

Pornography has always been a release and a source of pleasure to me. I've been intelligent enough and informed enough to separate fantasy from reality. Whether other people are capable of the same is difficult to say. There's a lowest common denominator aspect to pornography and I wonder if others put as much effort into self-scrutiny as I do. And if they do not, can we successfully intervene with our own best intentions?

I see an awful lot of tap-dancing out there, when this subject is raised. On-one-hand, but on-another-hand. One of the most essential parts to us is our sexuality. In centuries past, we've sought to put the topic under strictest control, to shame and blame those who do not conform and to restrict altogether. We are less that way now, but the debate has not stopped. I know many young parents who panic at the notion that their child might be exposed to adult content and be unable to responsibly process the knowledge.

My father did not, and I think his was the appropriate response. He made his mistakes in other areas, but he was a reliable and factual source of sex education. In time-honored fashion, we spent many hours driving in cars for otherwise unnecessary trips. I asked questions freely and he provided answers. I doubt I will ever have a child of my own, but if I did, I would follow his example.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Quote of the Week



The Quakers have an excellent approach to thinking through difficult problems, where a number of intelligent and responsible people must work together. They meet as equals, and anyone who has an idea speaks up. There are no parliamentary procedures and no coercion from the Chair.

They continue the discussion until unanimity is reached. I want you guys to do that. Get in a room with no phones and leave orders that you are not to be disturbed. And sit there until you can deal with each other as individuals, not as spokesmen for either organization.-Hyman G. Rickover

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Video



Does he love me, I wanna know
How can I tell if he loves me so?

(Is it in his eyes?) Oh no, you'll be deceived
(Is it in his eyes?) Oh no, he'll make believe
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is, oh yeah)

(Or is it in his face?) Oh no, it's just his charm
(In his warm embrace?) Oh no, that's just his arm
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh oh, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)

Oh oh oh, kiss him and squeeze him tight
And find out what you wanna know
If it's love, if it really is
It's there in his kiss

(How 'bout the way he acts?) Oh no, that's not the way
And you're not listenin' to all I say
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh yeah, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)

Whoa oh oh, kiss him and squeeze him tight
And find out what you wanna know
If it's love, if it really is
It's there in his kiss

(How 'bout the way he acts?) Oh no, that's not the way
And you're not listenin' to all I say
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh yeah, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh oh, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)