Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Brief Recap of the Past Few Days

I'm ill and annoyed. The endocrinologist has no clue how to correctly prescribe medication taken to block production of Estradiol (Estrogen). In accordance with his orders, I've been taking 1 mg of Arimidex for the past two weeks. What I was not informed is that I instead need to be taking half the prescribed dosage half as often. In my case it means I need to take .5 mg of Arimidex every other day. But for now, I am going to need to wait three or four days and let the levels lower on their own. That's really the only thing I can do.

I've been quite sick the past four or five days. I wasn't aware of how sick until yesterday. While I was four hours away from home, I was actively contemplating whether or not I needed to to go the ER. I'm fortunate in that I have a friend who also deals with chronic health issues of her own, and she was able to keep me calm over the phone. And I was also fortunate in that the nearest hospital was a two minute walk away. Bodily systems are related, so when my physical health gets worse, so too does my emotional/mental health. Bipolar is a disorder of the brain and the brain is a very large organ in charge of regulating lots of important things. A mild depression is very often the result when my physical health suffers.

But, in time, my physical health problems should lessen. Today mostly I just feel drugged and weak. Nausea and a non-existent appetite until late in the afternoon has also been an issue. My eyes stayed dilated from the instant I woke up until I drifted off to sleep. I found myself having no energy and having to rest frequently. One of my intentions was to take lots of pictures over the holiday, but I was unable to attain the the stamina to do so. Even now I still feel some of these same symptoms.

Out-of-pocket cost to me was also a factor in deciding not to go to the hospital. While as part of disability I do have Medicare, which will cover expenses everywhere on U.S. soil, it will not cover everything. While in DC, I have Medicaid, which will pick up almost everything Medicare will not. Medicaid, however, is not portable from state to state, territory to territory, or region to region. Though I would have gone if my condition had worsened, I would have also had at least a few hundred dollars to pay. Exact cost always depends upon how many tests they run when you're there.

I expect to be feeling better tomorrow. Part of what's wrong with me today is having to wake up super early to get the rental car back by the noon deadline.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Friendly Game

In between dessert and departure
are meaningful, hesitant glances
across the table

Presented with thousand stories
of wishful thinking
and occasional certitude

The summary and analysis
provides an excellent examination of
major and minor characters
with underdeveloped relationships

Those unfamiliar with the rules
Scarcely notice the game underway
Cat once, mouse next, repeat
Egalitarian enough

You first, then me
On equal footing
a game of upping the ante

I see you
I raise you five seconds

You raise me five seconds
daring me to tip my hand

Calling your bluff then
attending to my dining companion

For a time
You act likewise

The game resumes
getting away with something
as we get away from someone

time for leaving
my hands reach

round your waist

do we shuffle
do we deal

whose hand is

-29 May 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Quote of the Week

I am going to be traveling this weekend, so I thought I'd put this up now, a day early.

FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed--
BARABAS. Fornication: but that was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead

-Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta

Saturday Video

In which I show my age and allegiance.

Friday, May 27, 2011

For Old Time's Sake

It’s been a long time,

years and years since
I flabbergasted

set tongues

found that
should you not
shut the closet door behind you

someone will gladly do it

your active rebellion
sanitized for public consumption

knowing this

how do I maintain even
two second’s worth of
guilty eye contact?

taboo excitement
and magnetic pull

gazing upwards
and then downward again

From the Vaults

There is no real perfection
There'll be no perfect day
Just love is our connection
The truth in what we say

There's no good revolution
Just power changing hands
There is no straight solution
Except to understand

So listen to my song of life
You don't need a gun or a knife
Successful conversation
will take you very far

There is no real perfection
There'll be no perfect man
Just peace is our connection
Forgiving all you can

There's no good kind of killing
Just power taking life
It's all good blood that's spilling
To make a bigger knife

So listen to my song of life
You don't need a gun or a knife
Successful conversation
can take you very far

So listen to my song of life
You don't need a gun or a knife
Successful conversation
can take you very far

Successful conversation
will take you very far
Successful conversation
will take you very far

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Culture We Need, The Culture We Want

“There is much to be said in favor of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community. By carefully chronicling the current events of contemporary life, it shows us of what very little importance such events really are. By invariably discussing the unnecessary, it makes us understand what things are requisite for culture, and what are not.” –Oscar Wilde

As much as I generally dislike pop culture, I do believe it is important to be regularly examined. Unquestioned, pop culture is much more injurious and damaging. I'm sure those of you reading this can think of several examples which fit the above criteria. And yet, along with our denunciation, there's the troublesome concept of that which does and does not signify "culture". It seems as though every activist, identity group, or concerned citizen has a different interpretation. Sometimes the task seems daunting. There is usually some value present, but that requires lots of effort to locate. Sifting through the massive amount of garbage churned out for public consumption on a daily basis is like panning for gold. It takes much work to find a relatively small amount of that which is worth keeping.

The news media mines the work of scientists and scholars and conveys it to the general public, often emphasizing elements that have inherent appeal or the power to amaze. For instance, giant pandas (a species in remote Chinese woodlands) have become well-known items of popular culture; parasitic worms, though of greater practical importance, have not. Both scholarly facts and news stories get modified through popular transmission, often to the point of outright falsehoods.

Hannah Arendt's 1961 essay "The Crisis in Culture" suggested that a "market-driven media would lead to the displacement of culture by the dictates of entertainment." Susan Sontag argues that in our culture, the most "...intelligible, persuasive values are [increasingly] drawn from the entertainment industries", which is "undermining of standards of seriousness." As a result, "tepid, the glib, and the senselessly cruel" topics are becoming the norm. Some critics argue that popular culture is “dumbing down”: "newspapers that once ran foreign news now feature celebrity gossip, pictures of scantily dressed young ladies... television has replaced high-quality drama with gardening, cookery, and other “lifestyle” programmes [and] reality TV and asinine soaps," to the point that people are constantly immersed in trivia about celebrity culture.

One can make a strong case for and against this argument. Many of us have adopted a cynical, defensive posture whereby we assume the worst so that we can be surprised when the best appears. There's also a certain aspect of elitism and purity that dominates this kind of thinking. We who value education highly have been taught to equate self-worth with difficulty of attainment and a refined vantage point. This has even crept into language itself. Should we have the means, the money, and the work ethic, we can achieve a Master's Degree. Theoretically, at this stage, we ought to have some sort of mastery over a particular subject area, but anyone who thinks that education stops with the presentation of diplomas is often sadly mistaken. Synthesizing hypotheticals with realities is hard work.

These days, I'm more enthusiastic about education and training that deals with the practical, rather than the intellectual. I wish that more schools provided access and credit to those willing to take CPR classes. It has long been my dream that in addition to teaching facts, dates, and concepts, teachers and professors both would allow their students to think critically and draw their own conclusions from the materials set before them. Real world skills like learning how to file one's taxes or take out a bank loan are often in the minority. And beyond the strictly practical, I know the value of locating oneself where content areas intersect and influence each other. When these parallels are drawn, school subjects do not as easily exist in ranked fashion as part of their own hierarchy. If I had been able to link math to history, I might have done better myself in the former subject.

How we variously filter and categorize what passes muster for us travels first through several lenses. Societal taboos like racism, sexism, and homophobia come first. Then matter of personal preference or bias come next. For example, I genuinely am irritated by reality television. I see the entire genre as a means to perpetuate unhealthy stereotypes that harm other people for the sake of profit. Can I prove any of this? Sometimes, and sometimes not. Amateur social scientist that I am, I have been known to sound the alarm of caution when I feel it is necessary. Still, this world is often too big to reflect more than my own casual observations based on my own limited pair of eyes. At times, I have been known to make hasty generalizations that shore up my argument, as have we all.

I've often been this guy.

DENNIS: Anarcho-syndicalism is a way of preserving freedom.
WOMAN: Oh, Dennis, forget about freedom. Now I've dropped my mud.

It might be more wise not to see the attainment of culture in terms of name, rank, and serial number. If we can manage that, we might put aside our desire to rescue the Eliza Doolittles of the world. Many of us would refuse to convert others to our own religious faith, should we be religious people ourselves. But we would and do take that same approach to those without, and I shall repeat it once more, culture. We will never really be satisfied unless we reach the top rung of a ladder ourselves, should this be our grandest ambition of all. And even then, we may not find lasting contentment. This doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of worthwhile work out there that needs doing, but it does mean that larger cross-currents we may not always be privy to sometimes get swept aside in our desire to be better people. I've never been a bit fan of Justification by Works because it functions on the basis of an unfair, unreachable standard. Sometimes being still and being present is better than drawing up battle plans.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I’m on a roll,
I’m on a roll this time
I feel my luck could change.

Kill me Sarah,
kill me again with love,
it’s gonna be a glorious day.

Pull me out of the aircrash,
Pull me out of the lake,
I’m your superhero,
we are standing on the edge.

The head of state has called for me by name
but I don’t have time for him.
It’s gonna be a glorious day!
I feel my luck could change.

Pull me out of the aircrash,
Pull me out of the lake,
I’m your superhero,
we are standing on the edge.
We are standing on the edge.


The wisdom of past lovers is sometimes wise and sometimes not. But in any case, lengthy conversations from those who know us best is time consuming. Which is why I didn't write today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


involving facial hair

end up full of

Once I had a

(which is factually

but I say it
and cringe inside

the potential
double entendre

sexually charged
always include a few

whether acknowledged
or suppressed

who I can halfway
convince myself

are just naturally
very friendly

are preferred.

You aren't entirely
sure of all the details

But you know

rushing back
to grab my attention

subtle, entirely inadvertent

fortuitous on my part

it keeps you close to me
for a time.


It's all right if you love me
It's all right if you don't
I'm not afraid of you running away
Honey, I get the feeling you won't

There is no sense in pretending
Your eyes give you away
Something inside you is feeling like I do
We've said all there is to say

Baby, breakdown
Go ahead and give it to me

honey, take me through the night

now I'm standin' here
can't you see

it's all right

It's all right
It's all right

Go ahead and give it to me

honey, take me through the night

now I'm standin' here can't you see

it's all right

It's all right
It's all right

Monday, May 23, 2011

George Fox and the Miracle of the Manic Depressive

A couple weeks back I spotted a post on my meeting's listserve, soliciting personal anecdotes from people of faith who have disabilities. I've long been willing to be vocal about having a chronic illness. This is partially to negate the still-potent stigma of bipolar disorder, and partially to ensure that insurance companies cover mental illness as they would any other medical condition needing regular treatment. Within a day, the editor contacted me back, eager to inform me that he liked what I had written and that my story would be published as part of a book he was compiling. When released, it will be called Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability and Inclusion. The book will be published by the Alban Institute.

According to some modern scholars, George Fox could have been bipolar. I admit I've always related strongly to his struggle early in life to find himself. In many a depressive episode, I shut myself up in my room, entertaining no company, much as he did. Then, when I could no longer bear the isolation, I sought company and guidance. Most of the advice I variously solicited was either insufficient or useless. Most was offered with a genuine desire to help, but I suppose I had to find my own way. With greater health came the end of these journey; I found once I became a Friend that something finally fit. I wish I could say that I was scaling Pendle Hill at the time, or that I had a mystical experience of sublime insight but my experience was far more ordinary. I found that simple human company and a kind word went just as far.

But before then, confusion was paramount in my mind on multiple occasions. I recall a time in my life where I wandered from church to church and person to person for several months. Once, a romantic relationship exploded and with its destruction also came isolation from a badly needed social network. She had been active where I attended, and when we fell out, the breakup was so nasty that I was asked politely to not return for six months. This was a request not made of her, for reasons more financial than spiritual. The rug was pulled out from under me twice, leaving me gasping for breath. I had only just begun to put down tentative roots in an unfamiliar city, and I found myself with only one real friend.

So, on another visit to another church, I remember questioning the minister after the service about my prior treatment at a prior house of worship. He entertained what I had to say for a time, but was made visibly uncomfortable by the advanced state of my depression. Upon a later visit to an Episcopal church, a kindly priest anointed my forehead with oil, but this alone was not sufficient to ease my torment. Shortly thereafter, consumed with guilt, I asked a Catholic priest upon an impromptu visit before Mass if I could take Confession. He brushed me off, insisting I had to go through the requisite classes first and fully convert.

All of this is typical bipolar depression behavior. It's a means of seeking to escape inner uncertainty and pain by means of travel. For still another example, in the book The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, the main character, Esther, takes meandering, impulsive bus trips to the seashore day after day until her money runs out. When I was severely depressed, I would fill up the tank of my car and drive around all day, until I grew exhausted. At least I was doing something. If I had to make the judgment based on anecdotal evidence, I would concede that Fox at least struggled from clinical depression. The mania aspect is a bit trickier to diagnosis, relying as we are on personal conduct and not established medical fact.

Fox's deliberate effort to interrupt the sermon of ministers and priests is often seen as a revolutionary gesture. For many, it's the ultimate act of speaking truth to power, regardless of the consequences. Yet, mania, even in a mild state means that shame, guilt, and contemplation of potential consequences are no longer present. It can seem noble and bold, and it can be both of these, but it is also a symptom of a chronic illness in an acute phase. Manic can be deceptive in its early stages. And would we see George Fox differently if we viewed him as ill rather than inspirational or transformative?

A book I read on the same subject, The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America by John T. Gartner, posits that many American leaders had full-blown bipolar or at least a milder form. Referring to George Washington's trusted assistant, the dashing but impulsive Alexander Hamilton, Gartner suggests that the iconic picture of Washington's troops crossing the icy Delaware river should instead be titled Danger, Hypomanic on Board.

Soon after graduating from Columbia University in two years, Hamilton caught revolutionary fever. In one two-week period he spewed out the equivalent of a book in the form of 60,000 words of propaganda. During a raid, when everyone else had ducked for cover, Hamilton walked straight into an artillery bombardment. He soon caught the attention of George Washington and became his aide de camp, only to impulsively quit a few years later. At Yorktown, now with a battlefield command, he paraded his troops in front of British cannons. The British were too dumbstruck to open fire. Later in the battle, Hamilton led a reckless charge that turned out right for all the wrong reasons.

Hamilton was the main instigator of the Constitutional Convention, but one biographer described him during this period as "restless and depressed," and another "like he was on something." He delivered an impassioned six-hour speech, then walked out for good in disgust, unable to appreciate why the delegates couldn’t simply settle their differences and back his brilliant proposals. Nevertheless, once the document was ready for ratification by the states, Hamilton became its greatest champion, cranking out 51 of the 85 op-ed pieces collectively known as the Federalist Papers. He was also the political point man in winning over New York.

It should be mentioned that in the book the Quaker William Penn is also pronounced hypomanic. I, however, am nowhere near the stature of the people mentioned earlier, but I do share similar past patterns of behavior. Once, having the beginnings of a manic episode, I spent twelve hours solid working on a paper for grad school. Unfortunately, unchecked mania often grows excessive and damaging both to the self and others. My behavior became so eccentric and outlandish that I was actually asked to leave a class in which I had enrolled. I don't usually like to talk about it, because it reminds me of a period of intense humiliation and shame I'd rather forget. But it happened. Yet, until I reached that apex, I was the top student in the class.

The United States contains the highest number of people with bipolar disorder in the world. We are a nation of immigrants after all, and perhaps it takes a kind of manic courage to leave the familiarity of home for the promise of plenty elsewhere. The people who are often the best leaders have a kind of superhuman quality to them, if not by their prodigious output, but also by their vision. To see out into the future and survey the big picture that so many others miss requires a heightened sense of perception. Innately sensitive people often suffer from some form of mental illness. And yet, we desperately need these people for their talents and skills.

When I read that George Fox could have been manic depressive it confirmed for me that I was in the right place. And for the rest of us, does that knowledge make us push away? The stigma of mental illness in any context is often extreme, even with advances in understanding and medication. What would it take for us to concede that leaders, like ourselves, have hindrances, some even severe? There were times in my life that I questioned God's purpose for my life, but no longer. The lesson learned from all of this is for me is that God can use each of us to accomplish awe-inspiring things. I have already observed evidence of this in my own. And when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Learning

Pictures reveal

you eight years ago
your hair cut short

Still beholden to
adolescent gawkiness

its grip on you
particularly tenacious

such progress made
and yet not enough

aware of this
your leitmotif of
knowing the need
for growing up

is a well-intended but
unkempt New Year’s Resolution

a gym membership used
extensively for all of two weeks

If only life experiences
Could be stamped into a passport

Then you’d have it made

If there was a Study Relationships Abroad
program, you’d have
signed up for that, too

And excelled, of course

If feeding the poor
in a work camp in Africa

If observing everyone
else’s interaction

with rapt interest
meant trials and travails
conquered by osmosis

If only, if only

here, resumes are only helpful
to an extent

it's not where you worked
it's what you learned there

Romance is not a sociology thesis
Uncovered from direct questioning
And diligent research

It must be experienced
Even if no one ever knows
(and may never know)

The ultimate letter grade

Quote of the Week

"We believe we can change things according to our wishes because that's the only happy solution we can see. We don't think of what usually happens and what is also a happy solution: things don't change, but by and by our wishes change."- Marcel Proust

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Song

I am not usually this profane in what I post, but please pardon it for now. This is a fun song with some pertinent messages embedded.

Do you think everything, everyone
Is going mental?

It seems to me,
We're spiraling out of control
It's inevitable

And don't you think
This time is yours, this time is mine?
It's temperamental

It seems to me,
We're on all fours,
Crawling on our knees, someone help us please

Oh Jesus Christ almighty,
Do I feel alright? No, not slightly.

I wanna get a flat, I know I can afford it
It's just the bureaucrats
that won't give me a mortgage.

It's very funny,
'cause I got your fucking money
And I'm never gonna get it,
just 'cause of my bad credit.

Oh well, I guess I mustn't grumble
I suppose it's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Oh, yeah, so fine
Everything's just wonderful
I'm having the time of my life.

Another one,
Something else, something new
What have we got here?
And don't you feel, it's all the same,
Some sick game, it's so insincere.

I wish I could change the ways
Of the world, make it a nice place
Until that day, I guess we stay
Doing what we do, screwing who we screw.

Why can't I sleep at night?
Don't say it's gonna be alright,
I wanna be able to eat spaghetti bolognase,
And not feel bad about it for days and days and days,

All the magazines they talk about weight loss,
If I buy those jeans, I can look like Kate Moss
I know that it's not the life I chose,
But I guess that's just the way that things go.

Oh, yeah, so fine
Everything's just wonderful
I'm having the time of my life

Oh Jesus Christ almighty
Do I feel alright? No, not slightly.
I wanna get a flat, I know I can afford it

It's just the bureaucrats
that won't give me a mortgage.

It's very funny,
'cause I got your fucking money
And I'm never gonna get it,
just 'cause of my bad credit.

Oh well, I guess I mustn't grumble
I suppose it's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Oh yeah so fine
Everything's just wonderful
I'm having the time of my life.

Saturday Video


He loved her and she loved him.
His kisses sucked out her whole past and future or tried to
He had no other appetite
She bit him she gnawed him she sucked
She wanted him complete inside her
Safe and sure forever and ever
Their little cries fluttered into the curtains

Her eyes wanted nothing to get away
Her looks nailed down his hands his wrists his elbows
He gripped her hard so that life
Should not drag her from that moment
He wanted all future to cease
He wanted to topple with his arms round her
Off that moment's brink and into nothing
Or everlasting or whatever there was

Her embrace was an immense press
To print him into her bones
His smiles were the garrets of a fairy palace
Where the real world would never come
Her smiles were spider bites
So he would lie still till she felt hungry
His words were occupying armies
Her laughs were an assassin's attempts
His looks were bullets daggers of revenge
His glances were ghosts in the corner with horrible secrets
His whispers were whips and jackboots
Her kisses were lawyers steadily writing
His caresses were the last hooks of a castaway
Her love-tricks were the grinding of locks
And their deep cries crawled over the floors
Like an animal dragging a great trap
His promises were the surgeon's gag
Her promises took the top off his skull
She would get a brooch made of it
His vows pulled out all her sinews
He showed her how to make a love-knot
Her vows put his eyes in formalin
At the back of her secret drawer
Their screams stuck in the wall

Their heads fell apart into sleep like the two halves
Of a lopped melon, but love is hard to stop

In their entwined sleep they exchanged arms and legs
In their dreams their brains took each other hostage

In the morning they wore each other's face

Friday, May 20, 2011

It Really Really Really Could Happen

This is the next century
Where the Universal's free

You can find it anywhere
Yes, the future's been sold

Every night we're gone
And to karaoke songs

How we like to sing along
'Though the words are wrong

It really, really, really could happen
Yes, it really, really, really could happen

When the days they seem to fall through you
Well, just let them go

No-one here is alone
Satellite's in every home

Yes, the Universal's here
Here for everyone

Every paper that you read
Says tomorrow's your lucky day

Well, here's your lucky day

It really, really, really could happen
Yes, it really, really, really could happen

If the days they seem to fall through you
Well, just let them go

A Few Words on the Subject of Rapture

"And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet."

"However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows."

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."

End of Argument.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Light Years

I think she said
It's like a kiss from God
Then she laughed
Still I found it odd

That I'm only realizing just how
She is light years away from me now

"Have you seen the stars above from the roof?"
She repeated while I acted aloof

‘Cause the only thing on my mind
Was the light years between our own kind

Still I'll likely come when you call
Addiction is sweet, will I savor the fall?
But if you hit the bottom floor
Will I still hear a knock at my door?

I don't hear from you so much anymore
And I wonder if you're still going to score
With the stars that are shooting tonight
I keep track of them upon this flight

Still I like to come when you call
Addiction is sweet, that much I recall
But if you hit the bottom floor
You will see the light above my door

And the stars that are shooting tonight
I'll keep track of them before this flight

The Testimony of Patience

I got inspired. That often happens with me.

Woman preaching

People often ask me whether or not my religious beliefs conflict with my feminism. Truthfully, I can say that they don’t. I can, however, understand their reservations and why they exist. Scriptural passages have been used to justify the subservience of women to men and many religious groups still maintain this interpretation to suit their own ends. Women have been denied the pulpit, or demanded to cover their heads, or told way back in the beginning that it was somehow their fault for talking to that snake. But I’ve always been able to disregard these beliefs, feeling certain that they did not speak to my own condition. From the beginning, Friends were very different.

Quakers hold a strong sense of spiritual egalitarianism, including a belief in the spiritual equality of the sexes. From the beginning both women and men were granted equal authority to speak in meetings for worship. Margaret Fell-Fox was as vocal and literate as her husband, George Fox, publishing several tracts in the early days of Quakerism. Early Friends argued that inequality between men and women arose from the Fall from the Garden of Eden, but that since Christ has come to redeem our sins, this inequality should no longer stand. For example, George Fox wrote in 1674:

And some men say, “Men must have the Power and superiority over the woman, because God says, ‘The man must rule over his wife, and that man is not of woman, but the woman is of the man’” (Gen 3:16). Indeed, after man fell, that command was. But before man fell, there was no such command. For they were both meet-helps. They were both to have dominion over all that God made. . . And as man and woman are restored again, by Christ, up into the image of God, they both have dominion again in Righteousness and Holiness, and are helps-meet, as before they fell.

Fox’s idea of a union between man and woman as meet-helps is not only an uplifting notion, it is also an especially tender one. I also see no reason why it could not be expanded to a same-sex relationship. Both partners help each other as they meet. Once I met a fellow Quaker who, along with his wife, changed his name to Helpsmeet once they got married, itself a variation on this same concept.

George Fox, the founder of the faith, met Margaret Fell, herself a wealthy member of the landed gentry who became one of his earliest and most trusted supporters. The powerful conviction of her eventual husband’s preaching led her to embrace the new movement completely. Though at the time she was married to someone else, she nevertheless devoted herself to the Religious Society of Friends, writing epistles, funding missions to spread the new faith, and turning her home, Swarthmore Hill, into the epicenter of Quakerism. After the death of her first husband, Fell married Fox.

Eventually known as the mother of the faith, Fell was every bit the equal of her soon-to-be husband. She is best known for writing a religious feminist tract entitled Womens Speaking Justified in the late 1660′s. In it, she concludes,

By these we see that Jesus owned the love and grace that appeared in women, and did not despise it. And by what is recorded in the Scriptures, he received as much love, kindness, compassion, and tender actions towards him from women, as he did from any others, both in his lifetime, and even after they had exercised their cruelty upon him.

Notice this, you who despise and oppose the message of the Lord God that he sends by women. What would have become of the redemption of the whole body of mankind if they had no reason to believe the message that the Lord Jesus sent by these women about his resurrection? These women had received mercy, and grace, and forgiveness of sins, and virtue, and healing from him, the same that many men had also received. If the hearts of these women had not been so united and knit to him in love that they could not depart like the men did, but they sat watching, and waiting, and weeping about the tomb until the time of his resurrection and so were ready out of their tenderness and love to carry his message as it was revealed to them, how would his Disciples, who were not there, have ever known?

These ideas found their way into the Testimony of Equality. Quaker Testimonies are not dogmatic or doctrinal. One is supposed to apply them to oneself and one’s own personal leadings. Some Friends don’t feel as strongly about gender parity as I do or may interpret Equality in a different way. I could argue that the same thing is true with Feminism. Each of us has our own unusual, idiosyncratic perspective. Our intersections differ.

We also have our own reasons for why we devote ourselves to feminist evangelism, to quote Jessica Valenti. A more across-the-board belief would surely be easier to manage, but that would also rob us of our ability to choose freely. The challenges that face feminists are often the same challenges that face Quakers. What keeps us all on the same page and focused towards the same desired conclusion? Do our own unique leadings draw us together or push us apart?

My own suggestions follow. I’ll answer here as I would if I were speaking to a fellow Friend or in the middle of Worship. When vocalizing an idea, speak towards the center, not to the sides. Speak not in opposition to anyone else’s Truth unless it is deliberately meant to inflame or provoke, and try to speak out of love should you decide to respond. Take the time to carefully consider what you are about to say. After each person has spoken, use an extended period of centering silence to contemplate the message.

Some perspectives take a while to sink in completely. I have become a big proponent of inward contemplation, especially since I am consistently around so many people with passionate opinions. Passion is a wonderful thing to have, but some means of articulating it are less helpful than others. I direct this suggestion towards no one in particular, nor any group, community, or on-going event. This is meant to be merely something of which we may need to be mindful.

Busy Day

After my doctor's appointment in a few hours, I'll be leading a worship sharing group of Young Adult Friends in the evening. Worship Sharing, in a Quaker sense, is an activity wherein participants are asked a series of open-ended questions (referred to as queries). As would be true in worship, all present enter into a period of centering silence, and those who feel led by the Spirit speak. The intent is not to speak directly to anyone's message, but to aim for the center. Friends are then asked to answer queries Truthfully in a spirit that speaks to their own condition. I've found that worship sharing is also a good way to determine what others in the group feel and is also an effective means to think critically about faith. It's enlightening and often draws people together much closer.

Quakers don't have doctrine or dogma in the strict sense. We do have four Testimonies (Peace, Integrity, Simplicity, and Equality), but each of these is meant to be applied to the self. These aren't uniform beliefs that everyone must follow to a T. I myself am often indebted to the Testimony of Equality, because I have a strong leading to work to achieve gender equality. Many other Friends have interpreted Equality to mean the very same thing. It is interesting because in the past few weeks I notice that someone has put me on the mailing list for both NOW and The League of Women Voters. I have no objections, but I am curious to know who signed me up. Part of me wishes they would've told me first. I assume it's someone from my Meeting, since my vocal ministry during Meeting for Worship and my writings routinely explore Feminist themes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Living with the Masses

Living with the masses
Will always get you down,
And next to me they're teaching classes
On how to really bring me down

I never asked for a neighbor like you,
To run around and around like a wrecking ball,
Is there some renovating you should do,
Maybe you should cut in the dark with your table saw?

Always going faster,
Than the others down the road,
You should bring out the sand blaster,
So I can really hear your workload.

I never asked for a neighbor like you,
To run around and around like a wrecking ball,
There's so many others just like you,
You're like the sights and the sounds of a nuclear war

The bomb bay doors are opening
And soon they will be falling all around
The bomb bay doors are opening
And soon they will be falling all around

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mind Games

at our outset
a simple case
of product placement

often not nearly
as cunning as intended

because fascinated eyes
have been known to shine

as personal space
defines a relationship between
self-reflection and base desire

when catching oneself
before over-committing

along with a week's worth of
all black attire

practiced eyes
know the symbolism well

and its intent

and yet first valiant effort
portends nothing

the second act is self-doubt
and insecurity unexpressed

feelings channeled elsewhere
the genius of compartmentalized

risk-averse romance
comes without a partner

Because I Couldn't Do a Competent Version Myself...

Here is the original. Revolutionary lyrics for its time, that being 1966.

One girl was called Jean Marie
Another little girl was called Felicity
Another little girl was Sally Joy
The other was me, and I'm a boy

My name is Bill, and I'm a head case
They practice making up on my face
Yeah, I feel lucky if I get trousers to wear
Spend evenings taking hairpins from my hair

I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But my ma won't admit it
I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But if I say I am, I get it

Put your frock on, Jean Marie
Plait your hair, Felicity
Paint your nails, little Sally Joy
Put this wig on, little boy

I wanna play cricket on the green
Ride my bike across the street
Cut myself and see my blood
Wanna come home all covered in mud

I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But my Ma won't admit it
I'm a boy, I'm a boy, I'm a boy
I'm a boy, I'm a boy, I'm a boy

Health Update

I finally have a formal diagnosis for the hypogonadism, sort of. It is now believed that persistent abdominal fat is keeping hormonal levels from staying regulated. Due to frequent exercise and weight lifting, every other portion of my body is more-or-less in good shape. A pharmacist I spoke to yesterday postulated that Seroquel, one of my bipolar medications, may be the culprit here. Getting off Seroquel isn't feasible right now, especially since its properties as a sedative keep me asleep all night long. Along with other chronic conditions, I've also been a heavy insomniac for the past several years. It would be fantastic if other ways of treating it were discovered.

To keep testosterone levels high, I've still been relying on weekly intramuscular injections. Those will continue for the next couple months, at least, after which I'll have a decision to make. I've also been simultaneously taking a medication to prevent the conversion of testosterone to estradiol (estrogen). I'll soon have a choice between testosterone replacement therapy or taking an estrogen blocker. Right now, estradiol levels are too low. The aromatase inhibitor, Femara, that I was taking before is too strong. Men do need to have a certain estradiol concentration that is somewhere between 20 and 30. My last level was around 2. I've now been prescribed a somewhat weaker inhibitor called Arimidex.

Diet also has a role to play, but it's still uncertain what restrictions or limitations that means for me. Like so much about this condition, trial and error is the only method available to me. I've been off dairy completely for the past three weeks, though I've fallen off that wagon a couple times. I do feel a bit better but somehow, I'm not quite sure this is the silver bullet for which I've been praying. In time, I hope that better, more effective medications are discovered for everything. This is all so inexact and frustrating, but the treatment for bipolar as well as for hypogonadism is primitive compared to other illnesses and ailments.

Emotional lability describes what hormonal shifts produce in me. Namely, I find I cry quite easily and unexpectedly, and that my moods shift constantly. I haven't had bouts of anger, but I have had periods of time where I've felt completely out of control. Those with a history of abuse often seek some degree of control, since the thought of not having it is distressing. I don't have a formalized diagnosis of emotional lability. I don't neatly fit the profile, but not striking the optimum hormonal balance has produced similar symptoms in me. I tend to go into emotional vomit mode as a means of reasserting control, but with the exception of one outbreak, I've been okay.

I will need to follow up with an endocrinologist periodically for a while. Years, likely. So now my treatment moves somewhere on the axis between active and continuing care. But what's one illness, more or less?

Monday, May 16, 2011

I'm Just Sayin'


The Era of Republican Big Government is Already Here

It is far too soon to make sweeping pronouncements of any sort, but one of the most persistent issues of next year's Presidential Election may well be a grand debate on the size of government. Republicans have considered this their meat-and-potatoes issue since 1980, but in many ways, it is far less applicable today. Even so, now that a substantial federal deficit exists, Republican Presidential candidates will be sure to keep bringing up that fact in debates, television ads, flyers, e-mail blasts, Tweets, and solicitations for contributions. If only they knew that the era of Big Government has long been over. Their paranoia about the evils of contagious socialism is a mere specter now. But so far as myths go, this is one of the more persistent, and has gone unchallenged for so many years that it might as well be gospel in the minds of many believers.

An issue rarely articulated on any grand scale, for reasons unknown, goes directly to the problem. If we really were having a national discussion about the ideal size and function of government, then that topic might be a debate worth having. But up until now, our arguments and counter-arguments have not considered a especially crucial factor. In an effort to minimize cost, government has increasingly turned to private, contract labor to offset its expenses. Sometimes contracting out basic services does improve its bottom line, and sometimes it allows government agencies, by accounting slight-of-hand, to make it appear as though substantial savings have resulted. Fewer official government employees on the rolls does cut down on expenses due to salary, benefits, and pensions. And with that judicious pruning comes funding necessary to run programs, initiatives, and departments. This is completely disingenuous and counter-intuitive thinking, but such is the nature of the game sometimes.

A website from Cornell University Department of Government reveals the truth.

Privatization is a worldwide phenomenon. In recent years all levels of government, seeking to reduce costs, have begun turning to the private sector to provide some of the services that are ordinarily provided by government. The spread of the privatization movement is grounded in the fundamental belief that market competition in the private sector is a more efficient way to provide these services and allows for greater citizen choice. In practice, however, concerns about service quality, social equity, and employment conditions raise skepticism of privatization.

This process was underway well before the recession hit and the job market tanked. The aftershocks are still with us. A bad economy forced government to outsource even more and more jobs to the private sector. But this was not a reaction unique only to government. Many Americans have had no choice but to accept contract employment, often granted without health insurance, frequently without recourse should they lose their jobs, often at reduced rates of pay, without any semblance of job security, and regularly for short periods of time only without any further promise of work. Some people believe that if government proves problematic or inefficient, the private sector is its flawless, shining savior. Should we not also take into account the multiple shortcomings of the private sector in rectifying an intricate problem, we are doing no one much good at all.

What follows below are, admittedly, the worst-case scenarios of contract labor in the context of security. We saw some of these excesses with Blackwater and Halliburton in Iraq. And though these pertain to one specific field, they do have a broader application. Before I share, I would also like to point out that Republicans approve wholeheartedly of big government. It's called the military. My source here is Armies Without States written by Robert Mandel.

On the subject of individual attitudes, selfish panic can result. This destroys a sense of community obligations and it magnifies, massively, this perceived fear. On the subject of societal norms, unjust inequality is sometimes created. What is then created is a might-makes-right social order, which then widens the security gap between rich and poor. Regarding state responsibilities, government facade breaks down. There is often a complete loss of state control over society. Conflict management can quickly sour, producing institutional violence. Coercive force becomes the tool of choice and government security forces grow increasingly militarized. On the question of basic law enforcement, integrity vanishes. Corruption grows as does the resentment and friction between public and private sector officials. And, lastly, as pertains to foreign policy, restraint is abandoned wholesale. Those in charge result to destructive neocolonialist behavior, and behave irresponsibly in asserting foreign policy by proxy.

All of this, amazingly, seems to be translated directly from the Neocon, and perhaps even the Tea Party playbook. But to me, speaking from my own perspective, it serves as a warning about what increasing the impact of the private sector could well produce. These very same problems can be found in many other government agencies, departments, and bureaus. America is a nation beholden to contradiction. We are governed under a confusing, constantly shifting system of government known as Federalism. And anyone who holds the Tenth Amendment near and dear to his or her heart memorized long ago that powers not explicitly delegated to the Federal Government are the purview of the states. But since then, we've all argued incessantly about exactly what those rights really are. As have the courts. It nearly goes without saying that the public sector and private sector are immensely different. Their priorities and basic intentions are often at loggerheads and they will never see eye to eye on certain crucial issues.

Watch and listen to the latest declared 2012 Republican candidates over the next several months. You'll hear many a lilting paean to the goodness and virtuous rightness of smaller government. Contrary to what they think, "government", in the traditional sense, has been shrinking for a while now. We're all the worse for it, since the people who provide us needed basic services are more and more pulled from the roles of the mercenary novice of immediate need. While I will concede that the structure of government is often far too unnecessarily complicated, but removing, for the sake of cost alone, skilled workers who have learned with time how to best manage the system is pure foolishness.

This country is currently sitting on several potentially lethal time bombs, and this issue is one of them. We cannot resort to quick fixes. We must look long and hard at how we can update our thinking. Otherwise, we are like a star slowly burning itself out. In part, this is so because we only think about reductionist arguments that sound good but aren't viable unless we really consider the big picture. Until then, Republicans ought to concede that they are also the party of big government. Government by any other name, of course.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Embassy Days 2011

Not the best set ever taken, but a few gems can be found here and there.

Cubism on the Cheap

Extended Quote of the Week

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out.

Don't you know it's going to be alright?

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan

You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're all doing what we can

But if you want money for
people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother, you have to wait

Don't you know it's going to be alright?

You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We don't love to change our head

You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead

But if you go carrying
pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain't gonna make it
with anyone anyhow

Don't you know it's going
to be alright?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011

Something Different for Friday

This poem was written very informally as a means to apply to a contest. It does contain some inside references that only those who regularly view the Young Adult Feminist website Feministing will likely get, but I think most of it is comprehensible. I want to underscore that the content is not to be taken literally. I decided to take on the persona of a disgruntled anti-feminist. Beginning with a pun on the website's real name, I ran with the whole notion of anthropomorphized bee behavior.


Feminist sting

welcome to the hive
the hum of activity and worker bees

for a time I myself
circled round and round

drones like me are
all buzz and no follow through


months later I realized
I was, in fact,
a rare cross-breed

my role is still uncertain
Do I pollinate or do I make honey?

I never was much
for scaring away

Gender roles are
such a drag

This hive confuses me
Who is the Queen?
Are these Italian bees?

Back in my day
drones were drones

The Queen got waited on

Then, of course,
her children started getting divorced

It's a shame to see a hive divided

The Great Bee played a cruel trick
so I hide in the shadows

avoiding the impotent drones
and the fussy workers

One day I'll kick this hive
just you wait.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Virtue of Preemptive Honesty

Now that Newt Gingrich has formally tossed his hat into the 2012 ring, the GOP will have to determine for itself how willing it is to forgive a candidate with serious flaws. It remains to be seen whether the former House Speaker's role as resident bomb thrower and agitator will endear him to more than a specific audience. If he is to be taken seriously, Gingrich will need to radically reinvent himself. One cannot easily make a silk purse out of this sow's ear. Any effort to cozy up to Evangelical voters is bound to register only as cynical posturing, à la John McCain in 2008. Gingrich is neither a contrite, nor humble person by nature, a quality true to far too many who seek expanded powers. It could be argued that any Presidential campaign is a vain endeavor, but Gingrich has never been the sort of person to disguise his ambitions or the ways in which he has consolidated influence.

Americans are an odd people sometimes. Perhaps we are no different than anyone else. Our attitudes towards those in the public eye are equal parts voyeurism and envy. When hypocrisy or salaciousness are detected among major names, we much enjoy vocally registering our outrage. This process continues long enough for us to extinguish the critical and cathartic impulses we feel. These feelings subside and it's off to another person's unforgivable sins. It may seem like the end, but this is not the end. Wait long enough and the opportunity for a comeback arrives. Americans love a comeback and a return to form. Do we contradict ourselves? Very well then, we contradict ourselves. We are large. We contain multitudes.

Ours is also a culture where we are actively encouraged to be ashamed of our past. We hold ourselves and each other to impossible standards of purity and perfection. If we were capable of seeing outside those strongly drawn parameters, we might all be healthier and more grounded. Viewing ourselves and those we idolize through entirely different framing might be a activity worth contemplating. For example, I myself enjoy most of the early works of the poet T.S. Eliot. His later, denser, more heavily religious works win critical praise but don't do much for me. Most artists think that their current project is the most complete and most important. But really all they are is a snapshot in time, which will be eventually replaced with a newer series of still images. Our perception is often subjective. We like to believe in the idea of progress, in that what is to come is always better than what came before, but this isn't always true. Or rather, this isn't uniformly true. The past is better than the future in certain circumstances.

The most successful politicians are those who understand the complexities of perception. Poll numbers and numerical data have their own strict limitations. The best candidates are not those who can memorize trends, speaking only to the latest uptick in popular sentiment. Most politicians can win favor among a few, but securing an Amen Corner is not especially difficult. Amen Corners can be purchased easily. This is why flawed candidates like Gingrich find it hard to gain much traction. Sincerity requires a sincere heart, and though there may be a sucker born every minute, I find that people aren't nearly as gullible as all that.

During the last Presidential election cycle, some commentators questioned whether it was wise for Barack Obama to speak frankly about his own youthful indiscretions. Most of them were included in the then-Senator's first book, and had been public domain for years beforehand. Self-admitted passages about past drug use were a surprising non-issue, even when Hillary Clinton's campaign tried to make them into one. The Robert Altman HBO series Tanner '88 discusses this strategy. "Preemptive dirt digging just makes good sense. You've got to bust yourself first." This quote is pulled from a larger dialogue in which it is noted that, prior to running for President the first time, George W. Bush hired a private detective to accumulate evidence of past youthful dalliances. To his credit, or perhaps to the credit of his advisers, this was a very shrewd political move. Doing so takes the fun out of the process of investigative journalism, a tradition that stretches back to the muckrakers of the early Twentieth Century and has its real genesis with Watergate. By this means, a four-day exposé can be safely reduced to a two-day story, one without nearly as much bite and sting attached.

We admire blatant honesty, even if we don't sometimes know what to do with it. In my own life, I have sought to truthfully reveal parts of myself and elements of my past to encourage personal healing. When these past problems have been voiced in a public forum, they often produce silence, not vocal denunciation. People aren't quite sure what to do with it. We know how to condemn, especially for those we sense are hiding something. We are masters at righteous indignation. Candid speech is a virtue, but it's a virtue that is so frequently rare that we aren't practiced in how to respond to it. I work as hard at my writing, my activism, and my other passions so that we might live in a world where this was not the case. We can hold ourselves to a fair standard without expecting superhuman ability, but also not darkly concede that everything behind the curtain is rotten and corroded. That change starts within us. Forgive us, Father, for being human.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Living With a Disability

I wrote this essay for a collection entitled Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability and Inclusion.

My first experience with chronic illness, disability, and faith arrived when I was in elementary school. A girl in my class had been stricken with cancer and had to undergo regular chemotherapy treatments. Her hair vanished and she wore a hat for the rest of the year. All of this was, of course, explained to us as a class on days she was not physically present. I knew that her ailment had to be quite serious because of the extra effort teachers made to prepare us. The more overtly religious among my classmates informed everyone that they were praying for her health and survival. Not being raised especially inclined for such public demonstrations of faith, I myself wasn't quite sure what to pray for or what not to pray for, in all honesty.

I could roughly conceptualize the discomfort, pain, and inconvenience but I could not really apply it to my life. I would nod my head up and down when she talked about the medication she had to take in staggered fashion throughout the day, but that was the extent of my comprehension. The full realization arrived years later when I was in my teens. If I myself had not experienced it for myself, my understanding would have remained limited. Empathy and compassion alone cannot compensate, and this discrepancy drives abelism, in which the needs and limitations of the disabled are often not taken into consideration. Like all instances of privilege, few people deliberately intend to omit the perspectives and particular challenges of the disabled. It's a perfectly understandable problem, but one that nonetheless needs to be addressed.

Returning to my life story, I should note that I was always a fearful, anxious, somewhat melancholic child, apparently from birth. By the age of fifteen, an undiagnosed anxiety disorder coupled up with demoralizing bouts of severe, lingering depression. These worsened with the passage of time, as did their frequency. I soon found myself praying that the pain would lessen and that I might have my life back. These prayers appeared to have no effect whatsoever, at least at first, and I eliminated prayer from my daily routine, except for in the worst times when seeking a distraction from a silent, but troubled mind. Depression slows thought processes and with it the desire to engage with the world. Sadistically, a slowly building depressive episode slowly removes the joy of life and the motivation to keep fighting. Any conversation with God pulls the mind away from omnipresent pain.

I felt distanced from God in those days, openly wondering whether he had abandoned me or whether I was being punished for some transgression. My father, a severe skeptic of organized religion, adopted this same attitude himself, I suppose as a means of coping. As I read the Gospels, I even allowed myself to question whether there was something to the idea of demonic possession in a literal sense. When medical science proved to be of insufficient help, I longed for someone to set the demons inside me free. I was seeking solid answers, but such matters are incredibly rare and inconsistent regarding all diseases of the brain. The brain is a complex organ. Only a fraction of its mysteries are understood with any certainty, which is why mental illness of any kind is a massive challenge.

If I frequented any Biblical book most of all back then, it was a particularly obvious one, Job. Many people who undergo periods of sustained suffering find solace in those words. I was always afraid that what I read encouraged self-pity as I applied them to my own condition. I was, after all, a teenager, a time of usually harmless self-absorption, and with it great personal exploration. In a moderate, but pronounced rebellion against the institutions and traditions of my childhood, I vacillated between periods of great faith and great agnosticism. This was all very normal, but the intensity and difficulty of my diagnosis was anything but.

My senior year of high school rolled around with great fanfare, and for most of the first half of the year, I was even beginning to enjoy myself for once. However, my diagnosis was badly mangled and I was given in excess a medication that slowly began to bring on the worst bout of depression I had ever faced. Shortly before Thanksgiving, the pain was so intense that I began to seriously contemplate ending my own life. I had made half-hearted efforts before, but severe depression begins to slowly, inevitably wear down anyone's lust for life. Returning home from a short shift at a part-time job, I had just about made up my mind to do it.

I collapsed on the cold concrete floor of the basement, my system full of poison, waiting to die. Yet, something made me cry out for my parents, who were only one flight above me. Suicidal thoughts to me always reminded me of some eternal struggle between good and evil. It felt like the forces of darkness were encouraging my death, but at the last minute, those of lightness took control of my body. I've sought to ascribe this experience to many things over time. Perhaps God sent angels to rescue me. I believe now that he knew that I had much greater responsibilities ahead of me and that my continued life was imperative. I am grateful now to have been spared, even though it must be said that significant health challenges continued to face me for years after the fact.

My parents had long assumed, based on months of threats and sincere attempts that this day would someday come to pass. My father lifted me to my feet and away to the hospital. Once admitted, I stayed for two months of intense treatment. I never returned to school, instead being tutored from home while I slowly recovered. The first half of my twenties was touch-and-go, with frequent, debilitating periods of suffering. At twenty-two, I had my first manic episode and was pronounced bipolar. Mania was a different animal altogether, one destructive not just to me, but often to others. And as it subsided, and the pieces lay scattered in front of me, there was no greater anguish than to direct one horrified prayer upward. God, what have I done?

Fortunately for me, enough experimentation with different combinations of medications and therapy proved ultimately successful. Now 30, I have taken daily medications for half my lifetime, and doing so has become long-practiced habit. I don't expect to be cured and I know I should expect sporadic periods of mild depression and mania forevermore. My lifestyle has long since been modified in multiple areas specifically to keep myself on an even keel. I call myself Job in remission, and hope that I don't become Job in an acute state. At the moment, I am dealing with an unrelated chronic illness that has dragged on for nine months, but despite the inconvenience I do have the benefit of knowing that it is nowhere near as painful as was the case for me earlier in life. Having chronic illnesses teaches you to pace yourself and to set realistic long term plans for yourself. And, after the experience in earlier life, I never doubt the existence of God. I may not always understand the plan, but I do know that I am still here for a reason.