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Look before you leap

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One of the smartest people I have ever known believes there is no significant difference between thinking and feeling.

I strongly disagree with this. It may be true for some tiny minority of humans–those whom Anne Rice has a character refer to in Interview with the Vampire as “detached persons in whom emotion and will are one.” But for nearly all humans, I think that emotion and thought can be distinguished by something that can direct the latter but not the former: reason.

You are experiencing the emotions of anger and fear as a result of the 2016 election. I understand that. Experience them, process them, express them, work through them. 

But PLEASE don’t act on them. Let them motivate you if it helps, but act on reason. THINK about what you’re going to do. UNDERSTAND the other side’s viewpoint. KNOW what the likely consequences of your potential actions are. DECIDE whether those consequences are worth whatever price you and others may have to pay.

Acting on emotion–primarily anger and fear, also hatred–is what brought many to vote for Trump. Meanwhile, many of us on the left bemoaned the right’s unwillingness to look at facts, to reason, to consider consequences. Let’s not follow in those footsteps.

Where do we go from here?

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I can speak only for myself, but I invite anyone like-minded to be part of “we.”

We pull up our big-girl and big-boy pants, we put on our ass-kicking boots, and we stand up for what we have always stood up for, though now we may feel more threatened in doing so. Those of us who are white put ourselves on the line, in danger if necessary and we have the courage, to protect the lives and the rights of people of color. (I can’t speak for those who aren’t white, and too many of them already have to do this every day.) We risk being uncomfortable, being outside our comfort zone, to step up, in whatever way we can, when someone is mistreated or bullied or harassed.

We don’t let friends or relatives or neighbors or coworkers go unchallenged when they repeat lies and bigotry. This is not the time for peace at any cost, for not losing friends over politics. If a “friend” supports policies that endanger those we care about, that person is not a friend. If we have to, we say that we respect the bond of family, but we can no longer appear to support (have contact with, communicate with, etc.) someone who cares so little about others’ welfare.

We donate what we can to the ACLU, because it stands for everyone’s rights, which is the only way anyone is safe.

We smile at and are pleasant and respectful to those in service industries. We nod to people on the street, or say “Good morning,” whatever their race, ethnicity, or gender. We open doors for everyone, and we say “thanks” enthusiastically when they open doors for us. We don’t take out our frustration with company or organizational policies on people who have no control over them. We give what we can, when we can, to help others. We pay attention to the human beings around us, and make their lives better when we can, if only for a moment. In a country that at the moment seems overrun with assholes, we aren’t among them.

This country has survived a Civil War, numerous other wars, the Great Depression, numerous other depressions and recessions, an era of lynchings, protesting students shot by their own government, corruption in high places, presidents who were inept or dishonest or maybe even evil, and more. It will survive this. But some of its people might not, and that’s where we must look.

And we must look to two years from now, when those who voted him in have had a chance to see what Trump has done. We can sign up for campaigns, we can donate if possible, to take back seats in the House and Senate.

There is work to be done.

Halloween, death, and also life

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I have always liked Halloween. I grew up Catholic, and Halloween is followed two days later by All Souls’ Day. That time also includes El Día de Muertos. It is a time for thinking about death and those who have gone into it.

I have been aware of mortality–my own, and everyone’s around me–from a very young age. A cousin died at 10, when I was 2; I don’t know when I first became aware of it, but I was pretty young. (My earliest memory is sitting in our car and seeing her come to the hospital window to wave.) My grandfather, whom I loved dearly, died when I was 5. My newborn baby brother died when I was 6. (I have a photo of him in his coffin.) A classmate and her younger sister and another child were killed in a car accident the summer after we were in fourth grade. My best friend’s 16-year-old brother was killed in a diving accident when we were about 12.

When I was 5, and again when I was 7, I was seriously ill. I didn’t, I think, know at the time that I might die, but I wasn’t much older before I did realize that I could have. In a way, I think of every day I have had since then as lagniappe.

Death and the possibility of what comes after has always interested me. Being raised as a believer, I envisioned heaven, but I gave that up along with everything else theistic decades ago. The idea of some kind of “survival” after death, however, has continued to fascinate me.

I like cemeteries. So does our younger daughter. Both of us are interested in death, and neither of us fears it. She was quite young when she first told me she wasn’t afraid to die. (This isn’t “nature,” as she is adopted, and while I “nurtured” her interest and acceptance, I don’t think I initiated it.) For me, cemeteries do represent a kind of afterlife; as long as someone, even a stranger taking pictures or doing genealogy, recognizes one’s having existed, one is still “present,” in a sense, in the world. I acknowledge the reasons for not continuing with the burial-and-monument tradition, and I specify cremation for myself for those reasons, but I deeply regret the loss.

I mentioned genealogy there–that’s another of my interests. One of the commercials for Ancestry has a young man saying that you start to feel that you know the people you “meet” in researching, and I agree. For me, it isn’t just knowing “where I come from” except in a very general sense of coming from every human who came before me. The story of how we got to where we are has given me many of my other interests and hobbies throughout my life: studying California history, collecting old bottles (and especially digging for or otherwise finding them in situ), joining historical societies, visiting historical museums, collecting old things in general, exploring ghost towns, reading about the Old West…endless.

In a real sense, the dead are not dead to me, because I picture them (sometimes with literal pictures), I imagine their lives (from their writings or things they left behind), I treasure possessions they once treasured or maybe just used in daily life and discarded. This has helped me, I think, to see a common humanity in everyone–something I have felt from a very young age.

I neither believe nor disbelieve in ghosts. The word “ghost” can mean many things. Energy of some form that can be sensed by some living people under some circumstances–I think that’s a possibility. I have experienced some sensitivity to certain places and one very early odd experience, and people whose reports I trust have had experiences that hint at something we can’t otherwise explain. I don’t think that entities conscious of their “being” as the human they were exist, but I like to read fiction that tells how such existence might play out–and who knows?

As Carl Sagan pointed out, we are all star stuff. Before we were conceived, the energy and/or material for our existence was there, and after we die some of it persists in some form. That’s enough for me.

Divisiveness in the current election?

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It’s something a lot of people are talking about, usually blaming those who think differently than they do.

The fact is that we were already divided, but people who held certain opinions didn’t feel free to express them till a leader came along and showed they can do so with impunity. The things we are learning about our relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors were true all along, but they were hiding them.

I think it’s important to always remember that the fact that people are publicly following the rules of civil behavior does not necessarily mean that they accept the rules, that they believe as their public behavior might indicate. That they don’t say racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic things in public doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t believe them. They may just be waiting for their chance to safely go public.

It’s discouraging, but appears to be true, that while conditions have improved (with still far to go in most cases!), over the course of my lifetime, for minorities, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and some others, and while many people have changed their viewpoints–their hearts, their consciences–over time, not everyone has. Some just took their hatred and prejudice into private until a man came along who told them they are right.

Election 2016

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I take this presidential election very seriously and very personally.

My children are immigrants and people of color. So is one of my grand-nephews. One of my nieces is Latina, and also my grand-niece. Among my cousins, through marriage and adoption, are black, mixed, Asian, and Latina/o people. There are people with physical disabilities and chronic medical conditions, including my son who has the same condition as the reporter whom Donald Trump publicly mocked. I don’t know of any Muslims, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I have LGBTQ relatives.

So I take the possibility of a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic president damn personally.

Hillary Clinton was not my first choice for Democratic nominee–Bernie Sanders was. But I saw no one in the Democratic or Republican field who was as unqualified as Donald Trump. I couldn’t imagine he would be a presidential nominee–and now he is. Hillary’s politics have much that I don’t like (mainly the same things I haven’t liked about Obama’s politics), but she is highly qualified to be president, and on many bases I agree with her viewpoints.

People matter to me. Even if none of Trump’s odious behavior and viewpoints touched me personally, I would still oppose him for his lack of qualification, for his reckless and ignorant approach to both domestic and world affairs, including nuclear weapons, as well as for his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic spewings. But the latter are directed at people I love, along with all the other people like them. I’ll bet that if you think carefully, you’ll find they are directed at someone you care about, too.

Bisexuality

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Partly because I have some bisexual friends, I have been seeing posts on Facebook and elsewhere, both from them and with links to others, about “bisexual erasure.” (If you don’t know what it is, please use Google.) This erasure comes, it seems, from both heterosexual and homosexual people.

I just can’t wrap my head around the idea–which seems to be the basis here–that EVERYONE is either gay or straight and that there is no way for a person to be honestly attracted, romantically, sexually, or both, to people of both genders, all genders, no gender, or all of the above. In other words, no way for a person to be attracted to, y’know, other individual humans and not to a specific configuration of genitals.

I have never been romantically or sexually attracted to another woman, even though when I was not monogamously partnered I was open to the possibility. There have been a few women about whom I have thought/felt, yes, she has the characteristics of someone I could have a relationship with–IF I felt a romantic/sexual attraction, but I didn’t. I suspect pheromones, but who knows.

The attraction that I have felt to these women is very much like what I have felt for the men I have had romantic/sexual relationships with, but minus the romantic/sexual attraction. So it’s obvious to me bisexuality is possible.

But–as I think we all know well–a lot of people believe that if they don’t experience something, it doesn’t exist. Others feel that if anyone thinks or feels differently than they do, it’s an implicit criticism of their thoughts or feelings. Add those two groups, and it’s a powerful lot of folks who won’t accept thoughts or feelings outside their personal experience.

Their world is so small.

Believing and Me

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Everyone who goes online, I think, has heard the line “someone is wrong on the Internet.” I find myself less bothered by those who are wrong (in my opinion) than by those who are absolutely unshakably convinced they are right–even if I agree with them on the point at hand.

I have said many times that I do not BELIEVE anything (or “believe IN anything”). The farthest I will go is “This is what I think, based on information, experience, and observation up to this moment. It is subject to change at any time based on new information, experience, and observation.” This is not just something I say, not some facile description. It is the way I approach the universe at the deepest level I can (“can” literally, “am able to”). It is not always easy not to cling to a viewpoint in the face of new contradictory evidence, but I try my very best not to cling, and I could cite specific cases where I have not. I find it hard to grasp how anyone can claim to be rational and not stand there, yet it seems an uncommon viewpoint on life.

(My favorite biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan, has written of having a similar viewpoint, and I was intellectually thrilled.)

I one wrote on Facebook that I am seldom _______ enough to satisfy people, except when I am too ________ to satisfy them. I am not a movement-joiner, and those “issue” groups I do join are generally those that offer me opportunities to take action but make no demands that I prove my bona fides: Another Mother for Peace (back in the day), ACLU, Amnesty International.

I am dismayed by the tendency of so many to take a sincere “why?”–trying to discover the basis, the reasons, the reasonING–as opposition or doubt or challenge. And when I generally agree with an opinion or viewpoint, I am particularly dismayed by hostility to my pointing out flaws in its development or expression; I see those flaws as weaknesses that others may exploit to cast doubt on the entirety, and I think they should be fixed. Yes, I am a pain in the ass at times.

What I am not, and doubt that I ever will be, is a True Believer … in anything.

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