Living in the Future, Singing in the Darkness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perception, perspective, stagnation of both, and changes in each. One image my thoughts return to is this:

“The Olympus Mons mountain on Mars is so tall and yet so gently sloped that, were you suited and supplied correctly, ascending it would allow you to walk most of the way to space. Mars has a big, puffy atmosphere, taller than ours, but there’s barely anything to it at that level. 30 Pascals of pressure, which is what we get in an industrial vacuum furnace here on Earth. You may as well be in space. Imagine that. Imagine a world where you could quite literally walk to space.”

–Warren Ellis,
How To See the Future

Walk into space. The closest I can get to imagining this is the descriptions of “the Wall” in Robert Silverberg’s Kingdoms of the Wall (a fantasy/sci-fi I highly recommend). And even those wouldn’t come close to what I’m sure must be the awesome reality of Mars’s Olympus Mons.

Unfortunately, as Ellis goes on to say, “manufactured normalcy would suggest that, if we were the Martians, we would find this completely dull within ten years and bitch about not being able to simply fart our way into space.”

There’s a lot of cynicism and snarkiness floating around nowadays. I can’t tell if it’s more intense than it used to be, or if we’re just more aware of it because we can dip into the negativity of a fellow human on the other side of the planet within 5 seconds of their posting their vitriolic rant on their blog. Ah well, at least it’s not a GeoCities page.

But with pessimism and sarcasm just a mouseclick away, I feel as though the negativity is ubiquitous. And it’s addictive. Sunshine unicorns glitter rainbows kittens cotton candy might be just as readily available for consumption as doom and gloom, but we humans tend to down the doom long before we reach for the rainbows.

I’ve written about this before, delving in to the creepy origins of the word “sarcasm.” So I won’t repeat myself here, not about that. But I’m still thinking all of those same thoughts about negativity and cynicism, and I’m thinking specifically of how they affect our perspective on the incredible world we live in today with all its amazing advances and advantages.

Just yesterday, I was reading an article on how women and men all over the world are using the internet and social media to fight back against rape culture. It’s tempting to gnash one’s teeth over the fact that rape culture ever existed and still exists. But instead of gnashing over that, what if we rejoiced at the brilliant and powerful ways in which right-minded people are combating it? If we didn’t live in such fabulous times, all of those beautiful, ringing, truth-filled voices would be silent and silenced.

In his article, Ellis points out a dozen? dozens of? advances in science and technology that most of us tend to take for granted and find boring — even though these things were beyond imagination not many years ago. Not many years ago, these things would’ve been considered “magic.” Not many years ago, the “magic” of uniting voices worldwide for a single would’ve been impossible.

Let’s open our eyes, is what I’m getting at. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to see all the beauty and the brilliance and the boldness that awaken hope. It’s there for the seeing, and it’s there for the claiming if we want it.

My daughter is almost 9 months old. Sometimes, when we’re out somewhere, I catch her examining her feet. Her eyes are huge, and her mouth is wide open, and she gives me this look as if to say, “Mama! These feet aren’t just at home. These feet are HERE, too! Aren’t they amazing?!”

Yes, my love, they are amazing. And I am amazed to see the world with fresh, unjaded, untainted eyes, through you.

Dream. Think. Do. Marvel like a child at the intricacy and the mind-blowing beauty of this place we live in. And let your heart sing through every darkness. Other hearts will answer.

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yellow flower

BringItClose

Tornado and Truth: In the Aftermath of May 20, 2013

Moore, Oklahoma -- May 20, 2013 -- photo by Marshall Brozek via KFOR

Moore, Oklahoma — May 20, 2013 — photo by Marshall Brozek via KFOR

I sat down to write thinking that I was numb.

But considering all the thoughts that come to mind, I don’t think “numb” applies.

My house is a wreck because we hurriedly packed up emergency supplies and essentials, in case we had to flee to a neighboring church basement or my parents’ storm shelter.
But I have a house.

My dishes are dirty because nobody had time to do them today.
But I have dishes.

My clean laundry is scattered across the dining room and living room because it was in the way and nobody bothered to pile it in one place.
But I have clothes.

My bathroom rug is soaked because the cat found the vase of Mother’s Day flowers we were hiding in there.
But I have a pet.

My conscience is bothered because I had chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert tonight, even though I’d told myself I would resist.
But I have enough food to eat.

My baby is whining and crying instead of sleeping because she spent the evening overstimulated and got to bed two hours late.
But I have a living, breathing baby.

My husband isn’t home to help me take care of the baby because he’s out buying items for us to donate to the relief effort.
But I have a living, breathing, generous husband.

My mind is full and my heart is heavy and I don’t know how I’m going to sleep tonight.
But my mind is whole and my heart is beloved of the Creator of the universe, who gifts me with rest and peace.

Considering these truths, I cannot feel numb. I cannot but feel overwhelming gratitude coupled with compassion for those who suffered loss today.

Compassion: “feeling with” another, especially in that person’s pain.

I won’t turn away from their pain by letting myself become numb.

Norah Jones, Election Day, and Quiche

Hile, inklings!

If you didn’t already know, today is Election Day in the United States of America: the day on which we, the People, decide on what the next four years of our country are going to look like. Or, at least, we express in an official manner how we imagine the next four years are going to look like. As we all now, imagination and reality don’t always have a whit to do with one another. Time will tell.

Hard Truth

But, in connection with the events of this momentous day, the following thought keeps running through my head:

“Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.”

Every nation gets the government it deserves.

~Joseph de Maistre
Letter 76, Lettres et Opuscules

If you disagree, feel free to debate Joseph and me on the topic, but I don’t think you’ll get very far. Just FYI. ; )

Ad Infinitum, Ad Nauseam

Anyway, onward! If you know me IRL, you already know that I long ago became everlastingly sick of this year’s presidential race, and for three reasons:

1. It’s stupid to spend so much money on a mud-slinging, high-school-esque popularity contest when the nation is already in gabillion-dollar debt. I mean, it’s not just poor politics or poor choices or selfishness or foolishness. IT’S STUPIDITY. Notably, this stupidity didn’t begin with the current party in power. This brand of stupidity has been going on for a lot longer than that, probably longer than I’ve been alive. So there’s that.

2. Mud-slinging, high-school-esque CHILDISHNESS. These are the people I’m supposed to trust with the running of my country? Please.

3. I don’t care for the candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties. They each have their good points and their bad points, but the plain fact is that I simply don’t like them. Yes, you could make the argument that I don’t have to like someone in order to trust them to make good choices. I agree with you there. But liking one of them would certainly make my vote easier to cast.

Breakfast Food and Norah Jones

One thought I keep coming back to is that we Americans have it pretty cushy. Or is it quooshy? I think it’s quooshy, because I just made that up and I like it. It can even be quiche-y, if you like (and I happen to). Anyway, we’ve got it easy when it comes to voting. For one thing, we get to vote. This, if you recall the quote from above, is because we have chosen the legal establishment of that right to vote. Yay us. We’ve picked a pretty easy system to live under, and so far, we’ve done things to keep that system in place. Whether or not we will or should continue to do those things is a point of philosophy for debate at another time.

Furthermore, we have chosen this system, and so we get to stand in lines today and cast our votes. While we’re standing in line, we might have to listen to the loudly expressed opinions of people who disagree with us on one thing or another…but the good news is that we won’t have soldiers trying to arrest us or terrorists trying to blow us up or government-hired mercenaries trying to shoot us. We get to have our quiche and eat it, too: voting relatively unmolested as compared to some other attempted democracies in the world. In our case, the grand democratic experiment is a success thus far. So there’s that, too.

In closing, I leave you with the words of singer/songwriter Norah Jones, who brings the kind of honesty and just enough sarcasm to the table to have captured the essence of my feeling on all of this:

My Dear Country
by Norah Jones

‘Twas Halloween and the ghosts were out,
And everywhere they’d go, they shout,
And though I covered my eyes I knew
They’d go away.

But fear’s the only thing I saw,
And three days later ’twas clear to all
That nothing is as scary as election day.

But the day after is darker,
And darker and darker it goes,
Who knows, maybe the plans will change,
Who knows, maybe he’s not deranged.

The news men know what they know, but they
Know even less than what they say,
And I don’t know who I can trust,
For they come what may.

‘Cause we believed in our candidate,
But even more it’s the one we hate.
I needed someone I could shake
On election day.

But the day after is darker,
And deeper and deeper we go.
Who knows, maybe it’s all a dream,
Who knows if I’ll wake up and scream.

I love the things that you’ve given me,
I cherish you my dear country,
But sometimes I don’t understand
The way we play.

I love the things that you’ve given me,
And most of all that I am free
To have a song that I can sing
On election day.

Iñigo Montoya: You Keep Using That Word

If you enjoy the movie “The Princess Bride,” you’ll recognize the following quote:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

~ Iñigo Montoya

Even if you’re not a “Princess Bride” fan or haven’t seen the movie, it’s likely you’ve been around the intarwebz long enough to have seen the quote bandied about in forums (fori?), in memes, on Twitter, on Facebook, and anywhere else web users tend to bandy such things about.

Today, I’m gonna bandy it some more.

Reality

We each perceive life, the universe, and everything differently. We make judgments, form opinions, and choose courses based on these observations. Lots of times, we don’t understand each other’s judgments, opinions, or courses simply because our perceptions of the same event/person/situation are so vastly different. We’re operating from different realities; therefore, if m/any of our interactions are to be beneficial, we have to step back and try to learn each other’s language before we can even talk to one another.

Please To Be Noticing

I am not saying, “Absolute truth does not exist.” I happen to believe that absolute truth does exist. For one thing, the statement “absolute truth does not exist” is, in itself, an absolute truth if one believes that it is true. Therefore, to make the statement is to contradict oneself.

I try to avoid contradicting myself. As one does.

You Keep Using That Word

So. As I look around at our world, our cultures, our occupations, our communications, our notions, ideas, brain-farts, and conundrums, I keep coming back to the quote from Mr. Montoya:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

And I ponder that it applies to all of the things I just mentioned (and more):

I do not think that argument supports what you think it supports.

I do not think that conversation meant what you think it meant.

I do not think that person said what you think s/he said.

I do not think that person feels what you think s/he feels.

I do not think that job functions the way you think it functions.

I do not think that party espouses what you think it espouses.

I do not think that candidate stands for what you think s/he stands for.

I do not think that religion embraces what you think it embraces.

I do not think that country represents what you think it represents.

I do not think that culture embodies what you think it embodies.

And so on.

And, of course, it would be perfectly valid for you to direct those statements back at me.

That’s how interesting conversations start. : )

I’ve never been suicidal. Not really. But.

The title of this post might serve as adequate warning. But. In case it isn’t, please note that this post concerns suicide. If reading about suicide is a trigger for you for suicidal thoughts, please don’t read this. Instead, call someone you consider a friend. Or call 800-273-TALK. Or click here for resources.

On the blog of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, I read this morning that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. The goal is to raise awareness of suicide, reach out to those who are suicidal (which we all should be doing anyway!), and possibly help prevent more suicides from taking place.

In honor of this, Take 5 To Save Lives is asking everyone to light a candle near a window at 8:00pm, Monday, September 10th (today). The site also encourages us to read their warning signs of suicidal behavior — and to have the courage not to ignore it.

I can’t claim to know or understand what it’s like to feel suicidal. Certainly, when I was a teenager and miserable and felt as though the entire universe were aligned against me, I had moments of thinking, “I wish I were dead!” But those moments resulted only in bathroom crying jags and passive-aggressive behavior toward my parents.

For me, the I-wish-I-were-deads never led to thoughts of how I could go about killing myself. I never even used poetry, my avenue of most intense emotional expression (still), to delineate my frustrated misery.

Because that’s all it was: frustration and misery. Through it all, somewhere in the back of my mind and in the depths of my heart, I continued in faith and in hope. I knew — whether I felt it or not, I knew — that life would change (it did), things would get better (they did), and these feelings wouldn’t last forever (they didn’t).

As an adult, I haven’t had the I-wish-I-were-deads per se…but there have been times during which I looked around and saw the pain other were going through, and I thought, “God, I can’t bear to see this anymore. Help them…and if their pain doesn’t stop, then please, just take me so I don’t have to see this anymore.” And yes, I do recognize the hypocrisy and selfishness inherent in that prayer.

This, too, passed.

Depression lies. Through faith, in spite of the cloud of doubt and fear and sadness, I’ve always had that assurance and held on to it.

Suicidal people don’t have that assurance.

I can’t know how it feels not to have that.

I can’t know how it feels not to have hold of that faith. I can’t ever say to a suicidal person, “I know how you feel.” I can’t even say, “I understand,” because how can I understand an emotion I don’t have? It would insult you and invalidate your emotions if I claimed to know something about your feelings that I can’t possibly know.

All I can say is that, even though I don’t understand how you feel, I do understand that you feel this way.

I’ll never be the saving light at the end of someone’s tunnel; I’m not created to be that. (No human is.) But I can be a way station, a guidepost, a mirror that reflects the true Light. We can all be that for someone else at some point, I believe. We can all brighten the world by lighting our tiny corner of it.

Sometimes, that little tiny light, reflection of the true Light, is all a suicidal person needs to hold on for one more moment. And then one more. And then one more. Until they can see the Light that guides them out of the darkness.

Shine a little light into the darkness today.

Defining Rape

If you know me, you know that I mostly roll my eyes at politicians and at politics in general.

But if you know me, you also know that on occasion, I get very angry with politicians and politics in general.

This is one of those occasions.

If you don’t want to read any more about Rep. Todd Akin or his definition of rape, you should probably stop reading this post and read something happier.

Todd Akin on Rape

A few days ago, in an interview on KTVI-TV, Akin stated:

“From what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy caused by rape is] really rare…If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something….”

From there, Akin went on to discuss his views on abortion, which I am not going to get into here.

What I am going to get into is his definition of rape and how it affects women.

And yes, I realize that he later apologized and attempted to clarify by stating that what he really meant was “forcible rape,” not “legitimate rape.”

Excuse me, sir — but what kind of rape is not forcible?

Defining Rape

Yesterday, I posted the following status update on Facebook:

I know I’m inviting a firestorm, but I don’t care. I’m going to say it anyway.

Rep. Todd Akin is an idiot and an enemy of women.

That is all.

As of 11:50am today, the firestorm I expected has not come. But a few responses did prompt me to post further comments on the status, and I thought these worth sharing here:

I do agree that Akin’s comment is being used to distract from other issues. But that’s not what concerns me.

What concerns me is that every day, the burden of defense in rape cases is placed on the shoulders of the woman who was raped instead of being placed on the shoulders of her rapist. In private circles, in public, and in courts of law, a woman who has been raped must prove that she really meant it when she said “no.”

Was she wearing clothing that “invited” the attack? Did she fight back? Did she try to hurt her attacker? Did she scream? If she doesn’t answer these questions to her questioners’ satisfaction, then the assumption is that she didn’t really mean “no”; that she must be lying in some way; that she maybe even enjoyed it; that she wasn’t really raped.

The reality is this: If a woman says “no” and the man continues and succeeds in penetrating her, then it is rape — even if saying “no” is all she does. If she chooses to lie there and take it instead of “fighting back,” it is still rape. If she chooses to lie there and take it and not subject her body to further stress beyond what she is already enduring, it is still rape.

What Akin has done is take away a woman’s right to defend herself in whatever way she sees fit — even if the single way she chooses is to say “no.”

A political figure has uttered a stupid, ignorant statement in an admittedly uncomfortable situation — and it’s a statement that, once again, places the burden of proof on the woman who was raped. Yes, we all make mistakes, and we all say stupid things sometimes when we’re under stress. But if Akin doesn’t know the basics of human biology and can’t keep his tongue under control when in public and under stress, he needs a different job. Most of us don’t utter our stupidities in an arena that affects the lives of billions worldwide.

As for the question of stress and ovulation, I can speak only from personal experience. No, I haven’t suffered the kind of stress brought on by rape. But still, my body has been subjected to fairly heavy amounts of stress since I had my first period. Not once in the 21 years since I had my first period have I missed a cycle due to stress. Not once has stress had any effect on my ovulation.

The times I have attempted to get pregnant, I got pregnant on the first try — no doubts that it was the first try, and no paying attention to where I was in my cycle, either.

But according to Akin, if I get “raped” and get pregnant as a result, then my knowledge of my own fertility means nothing. According to Akin, if I get “raped” and get pregnant as a result, it means (1) that I wasn’t “fighting back” hard enough to cause my body enough stress OR (2) I’m lying.

Again, the burden of defense rests on the shoulders of the woman. Again, she must prove that she was “legitimately” raped — and her single, possibly quiet “no” is not enough defense. Not against her attacker, not against Akin, and not against accusations.

Minutes after I hit “enter,” an acquaintance replied with a link to this excellent letter to Todd Akin from Eve Ensler, a rape survivor in the Congo.

Since I have never been raped, her words present the realities of all of this far better than my words ever could.

Humans, Yeah…But Love Them Anyway

A fellow blogger recently reminded me of the following: a “poem” that circulates around the intarwebz under the title “Anyway” and is generally attributed to Mother Teresa. After doing some research, I discovered that the original was penned by one Kent M. Keith and entitled “The Paradoxical Commandments.”

It seems worth reblogging.

The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

~ Kent M. Keith

(A version of these was made famous by Mother Teresa.)

The last two “commandments” stir up a lot of thoughts and mixed emotions in me. On one hand, every one of these resonates with me, and I want to shout, “YES! The world would be a glorious place if every one of us believed these things and acted on them!”

On the other hand, I struggle with setting healthy boundaries. The fight is not as tough as it once was, but there are still areas of my life in which I know my boundaries are ridiculously shoddy. (And I have a hard time not beating myself up about this.) So, to someone who has difficulty with drawing a firm line in a healthy place, Mr. Keith’s final two “commandments” can feel intimidating.

At what point do I withdraw (not my love but my self)? Where do I need to draw the line so that I’m not enabling instead of helping? For I know that there are, indeed, situations in which loving someone means not giving them my all. How do I know when I’m approaching the need to set that boundary? How do I know when I’m right on the line?

How do I know when I’ve crossed it?

These aren’t questions anyone can answer for me. The answers depend on the situation, on the people involved, and on my level of comfort (which, again, also corresponds to situation and persons). Relativity strikes again, I suppose. I just have to keep reminding myself to be patient — with me. It’s frustrating to have come so far in learning these boundary-setting skills…and then discover that I still have so much to learn.

But. In the meantime, “The Paradoxical Commandments” are good ones to live by, and I stand by the truth of that statement. Even the final two will, I think, lead one into a more meaningful and intentional life.

And that, really, is the kind of life I want: one that’s deliberate, intentional, infused with meaning. I don’t want to look back at my life and see a woman who has let fear or complacency or apathy rule her. I don’t want a life in which individuals or society have determined my choice, my direction, my goal.

Every one of Keith’s commandments resonates with my desire and my passion to brighten the corner where I am.

Every one of Keith’s commandments resonates with my desire and my passion…

“…to live deliberately…to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,
To put to rout all that [is] not life and not when I…come to die
Discover that I [have] not lived.”

~ Henry David Thoreau
(adapted)

Loving people “anyway” — not giving up on them, not casting them aside — seems like a good way to do that.

Good days aren’t easy.

So.

There are “good” days, and there are “bad” days.

It seems to me that we humans tend to define a “good” day as: day in which life proceeds as I’d prefer.

It seems to me that we humans tend to define a “bad” day as: day in which life does not proceed as I’d prefer.

Maybe in my today, life has proceeded as I’d prefer.

But in your today, life has proceeded straight into a pile of crap.

I’d call today “good.” But you would call today “bad.”

And we would both be right.

Considering this, I posit that there’s no such thing as a good day or bad day.

All there is is a day.

And what we choose to do with it.

Today, not all of life proceeded quite how I’d prefer.

Some of the Not-Like-I’d-Prefer was emotionally draining.

Someone might choose to dwell on this tiredness and, as a result, call today a “bad” day.

Me, I choose to dwell on the overwhelming beauty of witnessing a whole kaboodle of other people choosing to do something good with today.

Even though not every moment of today was easy, I feel like I, too, did something good with today.

So.

It’s been a hard day.

But it’s been a really good one.

Free Sci-Fi Romance Short Story Excerpt!

Hile, inklings! Today I’m providing you with what I hope will be a treat. As you might recall, I recently had a short story published in the latest installment of the e-mag A Consortium of Worlds, #3.

“The One Where Jack Loses” is not-so-happy romantic sci-fi with themes like the nature of Reality, the nature of Time, and the nature of Individual Choice.

The treat is that I’m publishing an excerpt from said story below, just for your reading pleasure. I hope you enjoy. : )

“The One Where Jack Loses”

A Grace and Jack Story

by Courtney Cantrell

Untitled

The woman I love is eating herself into nothingness from the inside out, and there’s nothing I can do.

How do I love her? Like one whose fingernails are ripped to shreds as he claws at the unforgiving cliff, trying to hold onto life over the maw of a gaping abyss.

I love this woman so much that the atoms of my teeth are fused together. Speech just isn’t going to happen at this point.

~

Déjà Vu

When I open the door, the first thing is the smell of her. Jasmine that blooms at night. The overwhelmation of Bulgari Blue. I think she’s overdosed on it.

“No matter what I do,” she says, “he still stays dead.”

The second thing is the half-empty bottle of Captain Morgan on the wooden trunk before her. The third is the woman herself, who contains the Captain’s other half. She toasts me with the tears pouring down her face.

“Jack, I can imagine a thousand scenarios,” says the woman draped in Bulgari Blue. “Did you see that movie, the really bad remake of The Time Machine? They changed the story so much, Wells himself wouldn’t recognize it. They have the guy be engaged. Can you believe that? Engaged, like his kind of scientist is ever gonna find time for a girl, even a neglected one. They have her die, and they have him go back again and again to try to save her. Back in time in his time machine. And he says that no matter how many times he goes back, he can’t save her. No matter what he does, she still dies every single time.”

I can’t get any closer to her than the arm of the couch. The force of this sorrow won’t let me. I can’t tell her I want to hold her hand. I can’t tell her I want to hold her body in my arms and let her sobs wring me limp. If I could finger one strand of her hair, that would be enough.

She tells me she doesn’t need a time machine. How could a machine ever take you back? The machine is physical, and time is everything but. Time is God, and how can a physical machine take you into God?

“I can imagine a thousand scenarios. I do something different every time. In some of them, I’m not even born. That’s how vast my imagination is. I’ve thought of a hundred thousand million different ways our lives could have played out, intertwined like snakes having sex, in some places they touch and in some they don’t. Even when they don’t and I’m not even born, he still dies. No machine could do what I’ve done to the inside of my heart, Jack. Every time I couldn’t save him, that’s a scar. For every life possibility, that’s a scar. Forget about some kind of metaphysical tree with pretty branches. That’s not how it works. Every life path is a scar, and I’ve got a hundred thousand million of them to prove it.”

I let myself rest my fingers on top of hers, as though they belong there. I wonder if atoms of our skin could ever fuse together like my teeth. I can’t tell her how badly I want to know what the inside of her mouth tastes like.

Grace says, “Bulgari Blue was his favorite.”

~

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways…

My eyes are tracing the sensual curves of her elegant profile. Her lower lip trembles, but she doesn’t even turn toward me. How can I but admire her courage?

“What if there’s more than one of me?” she whispers.

______

Click here to get the rest of the story. Happy reading!