So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

27 February, 2007

Fifty People a Day

I don't trust movements.

This isn't because I'm not a joiner, though I'm not. This isn't just because I have strong anarchist tendencies, though that's more to the point. It may be about edge cases and being keenly aware of them. This is actually a keenly held and intensely political position.

I got me a bunch of adjectives, and every so often someone will refer to one or another of the loose adjective-based communities I poke around in as a part of 'The Adjective Movement'. And I always wind up feeling grindingly uncomfortable with these people and their ideas.

Often, they start out with assumptions that aren't the case -- I had a spectacular go-around a year or two back with someone who was convinced that being polyamorous was some sort of Movement involving certain political mindsets and goals. That there was some deep groundswell of wingnuts who just needed One Person's Vision or something, I'm not entirely sure what, but people like that drive me utterly batshit. I'm not a part of some grand world-tranforming movement, and frankly I find people who think that having more than one partner will bring about world peace or save us all from global warming a little frightening.

But I argued with this guy for ages, because he was Saving The World and he wanted to claim to speak for polyamorous people everywhere, and was royally offended that I wasn't interested in my personal being used for his political, and that I expected people who claim to speak for me to get my consent first. He wasn't pleased that I pointed out that the overwhelming majority of my poly-related activism was cleaning up after Movement people who either got so gung-ho about What It's All About that they wind up misrepresenting normal people or who scared people off with their big fat 'this is the way it is' rhetoric and don't allow for, y'know, people being different.

Or there was the guy who was all about The Pagan Movement who sanctimoniously informed a number of people that real pagans didn't ever worship male gods. Apparently pagans fear and loathe the penis. (The pagans who insist that the Abrahamic penis is unacceptable -- no Hashem, Jesus, or Satan in their definition of pagan worship, but Lilith is okay, and Cernunnos is jes' fine -- look sane by comparison.) Or the nitwits who think that pagan communities are the right place to post their political spam supporting certain candidates or (perhaps less egregious but still annoying) their particular political causes.

Or the one I saw earlier today which came across to me as "How am I supposed to keep working for women's choices when these kids wear clothes like that? Can't they tell that's against what we're working for?" Or the people who are concerned with gay rights issues who assume that everyone is in favor of the abolition of marriage too.

Or the people who were all twitchy after PantheaCon 'cause some of the people there weren't mainstream-news values of family friendly, who were bothered by the existence of partying (at a con, for chrissakes) or people getting drunk and having perhaps ill-advised sex (at a con), or people wearing bizarre, revealing, or exotic clothing (at a ... you get the idea). These people will give the wrong idea about our religions, because religion is serious business. Or something. Let's be nice and family-friendly and not include the cross-dresser with the best damn fashion sense I have ever seen (and I'm not just saying that 'cause I got a shirt at the place he got a full outfit from last year), or the woman with the stunning velvet cloak (because those are weird -- I'm pretty sure that's part of why I had abuse shouted out of a car at me once when I was walking to the doctors, but fuck it, it was cold), or the woman with the stompy boots and the wolf tail, or anyone with dyed colour in their hair, or anyone whose religion embraces and expresses sexuality (never mind that the Pomba Gira ritual is consistently one of the most popular parts of the con), shut down access to the booth that sells legal mind-altering plant products, make sure nobody sees anything weird. (At a con!)

Or whatever else.

When Movements get involved in things, everything gets charged. Nothing can be itself. Everything is evaluated by whether or not it transgresses either the social norm the Movement wants to change or the norms of the Movement itself. Nothing has the space to be on its own -- it's either in service to the Movement or a problem to the Movement.

Back to not being the dancing monkey -- my religion, my sexuality, my family, aren't about politics. To the extent that I have to work politics to be able to do them, this is a problem, not something to be celebrated because "the personal is political". I'm not interested in trading my birthright for a pot of message. I'm not giving a message to the world by having two closely committed partners other than "I love these men", and I don't take kindly to having it treated as such. I'm not part of a vast return to the Old Ways Of Teh Gawdess by serving the gods of Egypt; these are my gods, and this is my faith, and I don't claim some vast superior knowledge of the state of the Earth because of it. My sexuality and employment preferences are not a commentary on the freakin' feminist movement. When I take an action, it does not necessarily fit into someone's preformulated morass of political meanings for that action; when I take a political action, it does not necessarily make a statement about my personal life.

I just want to let things be what they are. Not live my life as an exemplar of some particular Movement, whichever one is daft enough to think it wants the like of me at the moment. Because if the personal is political, like so many people want to argue, then I have to evaluate my personal life for political correctness according to someone else's standards of how I should be playing the game. Too closeted, too uncloseted, too conformist, too extreme, warp your life to fit what the Party wants, comrade.

Someone I know has an approach to politics that I attempt to emulate: acknowledge the way the world fails to match up to the ideal, work to correct its failings, and do one's best to live as if the world is, in fact, the way it should be. That's my politics. I don't go in for double meanings -- I want a world where faith and family mean faith and family, not The Cause, so I don't go grafting Causes onto them; I want a world where existence is the birthright it should be, not a statement of defiance, so I simply continue with I Am and work to clear a little space where that isn't noteworthy. And maybe I'll work with some people on that, and maybe I'll work against some people on that, and maybe some people who want to speak for me are in truth my deadly enemies, and maybe some people who think we're in opposition are actually doing the right thing by me -- it's happened more than once -- but I'm not calling it a Movement.

And there will be folk who say I'm blind, that their Movement has done so much for people like me, that I don't appreciate all the work that this, that, or the other Movement has done to make it possible for me to say I may be hiking alongside for a bit, but I'm not climbing up on that wagon. I've heard it all before. And maybe if I'd heard it more from people whose Movements didn't, in some way, throw folks like me under the bus (a phrase I never heard until a couple of years ago, and now it's everywhere) I'd be more sympathetic, but for now, I've got my hiking stick, there's a rock up there I can sit on when my feet get to hurting, and reality doesn't care whether or not I'm wearing your badge when I haul on that there lever.

24 February, 2007

Stranger at the Ford

You don't give me your name, but I know you: I know you, as they say, of old.

Foot against earth, hip against hip, the grapple: the mud runs thick and deep here, and there can be no space to slip. At the ford, falling risks drowning, becoming swept away, getting lost in the cold waters. I have been wrestling this stranger for years, it seems at times, through the darkness of the night.

There are strangers here, strangers that we know, which have lurked in our hearts. They stand at the ford, ready to overthrow us, cast us down into the grime, hurl us into the river if we slip.

We face the consequences of our birthright here, stolen or otherwise: next to the river that could consume us, the river that marks the transition from here to there. If we fail, if we do not stand and cross the river, the stranger is still there, waiting, a lurking menace. There is no way but the ford, but the ferryman will have its due; the guardian will not let the unready pass. We were born to face this stranger, born and shaped by the ways of worlds: each stranger a little different, carried with us always and waiting to emerge when we seek to cross the river.

Angels and demons are of the same kindred. Whether we seek the blessing or curse the encounter depends mostly on whether we slip. There is the third way, arcing between the celestial and the daemonic, what Terry Pratchett in Hogfather referred to as "where the falling angel meets the rising ape": the human.

Being human, we limp a little come dawn.

21 February, 2007


Back from my trip; responded to a few comments folks left me while I was away. I'll have some things to say about the weekend when I have my mind sorted, but currently scrambling on the cognitive foo.

Meanwhile, while I'm getting my act together, from the creator of XKCD, a rendition of George Washington's farewell address into more modern language. That can tide my four and a half readers over until I generate some of my own content.

13 February, 2007

Reflections on Schooling, Effort, and Praise

So I went to a magnet school for high school. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology: a 'magnet school' draws some fraction of its population from a larger region than a normal school for a special program. So, for example, it might draw its students from an entire county rather than a single district. These programs can be arts programs, sciences programs, other academic programs; it varies a good bit. The general notion is for students deemed "gifted" in some way; the schools for problem students are not typically referred to as "magnets".)

A reasonable fraction of the people who went through my high school's program broke down in some way when they hit college. Some needed to take a leave of absence for a year or change schools, or had seriously shaky academic time there, or did what I did and broke down entirely, dropped out, and never returned. To the point that my mother dropped me an email a while back saying, more or less, "Is it just me, or do a lot of people who went through that program wind up breaking down?"

It's something I've seen a reasonable amount in other people, too, who didn't go through that program. Hit a certain point, flame out. And live with the sort of weird, awkward guilt about never living up to that potential that people always talked about, way back when, before the nervous breakdown, or before the really terrible sophomore year grades, or before settling for getting a degree somewhere else just to escape and go seek a quiet, less spotlighted place to hide.

So I see a link to this article about praise, smart kids, and the trend towards mediocrity and mostly spend a lot of time nodding.

And thinking that yeah, I do crave praise at times -- but mostly I want specific things, solid things, not the 'you did that well' or the 'you looked good'. I want to know what and why and how and have something tangible to hold on to, because the generalities just ... aren't ... real.

08 February, 2007

Makes the World Blind

So I was talking (well, mostly observing a conversation with and occasionally putting in a comment around the edges) with one of those crazed ideological ... people ... who wants to abolish marriage.

This was, I thought, one of the saner crazed ideologues, one who responded to the fact that people will have social rituals that lead to the recognition of their partnerships whether or not they're allowed to call them "marriage" -- that being, y'know, the word for that sort of thing -- with, "Well, yes, that's acceptable to my crazed ideology."

Someone pointed out that most of the benefits of marriage can be accomplished with contract law. This is, in fact, the case; the good folks at The Alternatives to Marriage Project have done much of the research for the United States at least, and have gone in more detail than I care to do at the moment.

I, and at least one other person, pointed out that access to the resources to do this is a matter of privilege: one needs to know that it is possible, one needs to know at least somewhat what is necessary, and one needs to be able to afford a lawyer to put together the contracts -- a sufficiently skilled lawyer to make those contracts sound enough that they might survive the challenges from hostile family members, at that, if hostile family members are likely to be a factor.

I used to work as the secretary of a lawyer who did a lot of estate planning work. Just the very basic stuff to assemble a skeletal facsimile of marriage rights -- will, health care authorisations, power of attorney -- probably ran for most clients a couple hundred dollars. And that's without going into complex things, just the boilerplate, not including the people who did trusts or similar foofaraw.

I can't recall off the top of my head what it cost me to get married, but I think it was $80 and a doctor's appointment which would have been covered under the local free care if I hadn't had the resources to do it myself. $30 to file the paperwork, $50 for the JP who did house calls (which we probably could have done without, too). And for that not only do I get the effects of a basic will, health care authorisation, power of attorney, but also the tax breaks as a household, the assurance of security of custody of as-yet-hypothetical children, the knowledge that we can't be excluded from each other's hospital rooms or, Anpu forbid, funerals ...

So I'm thinking of this a bit while watching this conversation, and get a private response to my comment about the expense of assembling such thing, which went, basically:

"Well, that's why we have a social system here in Europe."

Oh, a social system.

A social system will keep hostile family members from throwing people who have no legal relationship to their partner out of hospitals or funerals. Will make sure they have the ability to make legal decisions for the people they live with, love, and care for, even over the wishes of blood relatives. Will make sure they don't get thrown out of the apartment in which the title and property were in the name of the higher-income partner because, hey, we're young, we'll be together for twenty years at least, we have time to make a will to make up for the fact that we can't get legally married.

A social system will make sure everyone knows what legal contract work they need to put together to assemble the skeleton of a marriage.

A social system will make sure everyone can afford a lawyer.

A social system does this.

If we here in the United States had a social system, not only would the poor be fed, housed, and have health care, but everyone would be able to generate legal documents with no more hassle than a three-day waiting period, a syphilis test, and an official to sign off on your will, your power of attorney, your health care proxy, your documentation of shared property, your funeral intents, your ....

Inside every Hthr is a little Skhmt.

I didn't write back.

02 February, 2007

Bleeding for Humanity

I've written bits of this several times, and I don't have the words. I can't give the context, it's not mine to give, so this may not wind up making any damn sense.

There's this thing about being human: this striving, this gathering together, this building of space that we share. We hear each other, or try to; we listen, we reflect, we build a space where it is, in fact, okay to be people like ourselves.

And there are times we meet people who have been locked out of that space, denied the space to be heard; and when we hear them, it breaks the heart, and we bleed.

And, you know, tonight I prayed for a hearth for the abandoned, among other, less coherent things. Not because he will ever know, though he might, I don't know, if his god swaps messages with the gods that hang around here. But because I am human and he is human and we strive for this, for righteousness, for a place where people belong. And it is a wounding that he went without being seen as human for so long by so many, it is something that we cannot fix no matter how much we bleed out into it.

We could bleed ourselves dry and never fix the world. And at the same time, putting out caring, space for the lost, warmth for the cold, these are things that come from that same sense of blood, that same sense that how dare the world fail so grievously as it does when we're confronted with the utterly alone. How dare the world fall so far short of even decency: what can be fixed to make that stop?

Damnit, there is still space to care. I cannot stop his pain: I cannot raise the dead, or heal the sick, or mend a lifetime treated as a leper.

"As you do unto the least of these", the fellow who they say did that stuff said.

Hear the unheard. That's the beginning.

Listen, even if it means you bleed.