Thursday, September 30, 2010

Finishing Up 30 Poems 30 Days

So obviously I did not stick with the 30 Poems 30 challenge. Even so, I enjoyed the experiment. I may return to writing poetry now and then, but without the time constraint. I think I will enjoy the writing more if I can take time with the poems to make them good instead of quick. My thanks to Jacqueline Wolven for dreaming up this challenge and encouraging me to do something I had given up on being able to do. I love language and this was right in line with my effort this year to force myself to get more creative. I have this notion that I have to be an expert at something or it is not worth doing. This year I have been reminding myself that anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

The other half of the challenge was to read a poem every day and so I end September with Neil Gaiman’s “Blueberry Girl”. This is a lovely clip of the author reading his work. I’ve been a fan of Gaiman for a long time, but I just came across this and I love it. I found out today that a co-worker is having a girl so I’m sure the picture book version of this poem will be part of her shower gift. I wish this poem for every little girl I know, including mine and all of yours, and for every other little girl, too.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Can't Get Her Out of My Head

Thanks to last night’s episode of Glee, I cannot get the songs of one Ms. Britney Spears out of my head. This is not a state of mind I welcome or relish. However, it put me in mind of my favorite type of musical cover. Most singers can sing a great song well, but I really enjoy it when someone can take a song of dubious artistic value and make it great.

There is something there about taking what you find and making it better than you found it by sheer talent, hard work, and passion that speaks to me. In this spirit I give you Richard Thompson’s version of “Oops, I did It Again”.* He brings meaning, heft, and yes, irony to a song that did not have it before he got ahold of it.

*I realize this comes perilously close to a Stuff White People Like entry, but Richard Thompson is a genius so I can live with being a walking UU cliche.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Atheists & Agnostics Best Informed on Religion

An interesting Pew study found that American atheists and agnostics had a better overall knowledge of religion than did believers. You can read the longer Pew article and shorter L.A. Times overview here. Not surprised by any of this, not even the finding that Mormons knew the New Testament better than evangelicals.

The study did not break out UU's as a group, but it would be interesting to see where we fit. I would guess that many non-born-and-raised UU's would do well for the same reasons as the atheists and agnostics. It would also be nice to see how those who grow up in UU RE compare.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Close Encounter of the Moose Kind

Anchorage is the type of city that incorporates a lot of park land and the wildlife that come with that. You really can see eagles, foxes, the occasional bear, and yes, moose within city limits. We all teach our kids how to avoid and deal with moose the same way we teach them to look both ways before crossing the street. Generally, we just live our lives around them. I once actually called in to work because a moose was grazing my tree and standing between me and my car. I would be to work when it left. In Anchorage this is considered an acceptable excuse.

So now we get to today’s story. The bike path I ride to work runs by a lake in a small valley. You ride down one side and up the other. Today this path held a surprise for me as a bull moose was waiting at the bottom of the hill. Now, moose are big. They are not deer-sized. When drivers hit moose on the road the car is totaled and the driver does not always survive. Unfortunately, I could not see him from the top before I went down. So I am zipping down the hill and about halfway down he sort of shuffles out RIGHT NEXT TO THE BIKE PATH and now I can see him. It is a little too late to stop and turn around as I am blasting down the hill at what now feels like MACH 4.

I decide to continue past him AS FAST AS I CAN hoping he will not charge. They don’t look it, but moose are fast and they can run you down. As I get close to Mr. Moose he startles and does a little scaredy-dance that brings him even closer. This brings him about a foot or so from me and I pass him and I am SCARED TO DEATH that he is going to starting kicking out at me. I will be in the newspaper, “local woman is trampled by moose while commuting on bike trail.” Debates will rage in the press about who has more right to the park land – people or wildlife. My children will hate moose for the rest of their lives.

Anyway, continuing with my plan to haul ass, I race up the next hill. Dear readers, I have never before made it to the top of that hill so quickly. I pull over in an intersection there and check behind me hoping not to see angry moose antlers heading my way, fortunately, no moose. He had headed off back to the woods probably to tell him moosey friends about this crazy cyclist. After a huge sigh of relief I realize I am shaking and I am still only halfway to work. Not wanting to invite more trouble, I kept riding my shaky way down the path.

I was going to continue riding my bike to work until the first frost, but this encounter has changed that plan. We will be seeing more moose this time of year as they come further into town to look for food and it is mating season so the males are in rut. Repeat encounters with scared sexually frustrated ungulates does not seem wise so I am done.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

UU Salon - An It Harm None...

This month the UU Salon asks - What is evil?

Outside of fiction, I don’t normally think in terms of good vs. evil, but rather right and wrong. There is an implication in the use of the word evil that implies a universal standard. An action cannot be sometimes evil and sometimes good, but it can be sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

I do not believe in an omnipotent judge with a universal standard who determines which acts happen to be evil, but I would define evil or wrong as intentionally harming others. Sex is not evil, but sleeping with your best friend’s husband is, not because of the act but because of the harm done to your friend and the trust betrayed. We could quibble here about violence committed in self-defense, but I am totally willing to harm someone who is trying to hurt me or my family. I can live with that.

Where does evil come from? Desires to help and to harm others are intrinsically part of human nature and we choose which compulsion to follow on a continual basis. People are not inherently evil, but hold tremendous capacity both to help and to harm. Evil is not an independent entity that acts upon us, but it is a result of selfish choices we make. Good and evil are both aspects of human nature.

Nature cannot be evil as it does not possess free will; nature merely is. I find funny that we are often happy to ascribe goodness to nature when we like it. We may believe that a warm sunbeam is good or a beautiful stretch of coastline is good, but we don’t say a hurricane is evil when it kills so many people. This is a good reminder to me that while I may enjoy certain aspects of nature very much, nature just is. The universe exists, but it does not have good and evil sections.

I do not know who first said it, but I have often thought my favorite definition of evil is the absence of empathy. If you truly try to understand another person or creature, you do not want to hurt him or her. Empathy is a big things with me, but the more I learn about sociopaths the more I wonder if that definition is adequate. I am not in any way a mental health expert, but if my understanding of the current research is correct and sociopathy is an incurable condition is which the subject is not hard-wired for empathy from birth then we need to rethink this. If we believe in the inherent dignity of every person then we cannot declare that anyone born a sociopath is inherently evil. OK, I went off on a rabbit trail with that one, but I have been mulling this over lately.

Evil actions do not bring about our eternal damnation, but they do make us miserable. Currently, I do not believe in any type of afterlife, so I am not afraid to go to hell if I am bad, but evil does distract me from what I am supposed to be doing with this life of mine. I can’t make the world a better place if I am harming others. I can’t raise happy healthy daughters if I take out my aggressions on them. I can’t have a meaningful marriage if I abuse my spouse. The things that are important to me are not achievable through evil.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Poem for Equinox

Still chugging along at this poetry challenge, in a haphazard sort of way. Here is a poem just for today. After today, I have decided to stop writing about autumn. I need out of the rut.

Autumn Equinox

A day
in the balance,
in autumn we feel our
age and our beauty, but only

Friday, September 17, 2010

Creep Morning Poem

It was the morning that was creepy, not the poem (I hope.) Here I am, leaping back into the poetry fray. Today's poem that I read was "The Cord" by Leanne O'Sullivan

Foggy Morning

A ghostly fog
wraps itself around my spruce
and lingers in front of the mountains.
It silvers the sun so well
that it looks like the morning moon

The radio
talks of zombies and monsters,
and I look around to make sure they aren’t nearby.

teases me with its sense of mystery
and the unseen.

poses in soft focus
like an aging film star
waiting for her close up.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Big Deal OWL Registration

My husband and I have decided to sign up Tiny Daughter M for Our Whole Lives classes. This is a big deal. I was pleasantly surprised he went along with it as he dislikes “indoctrinating” our kids, but we both think the program will be good for her.

This is the first time any of my family members have gotten involved in anything UU related. I have assured Tiny Daughter that it is not like Sunday school and no one will be telling Bible stories and that was quite a relief to her. Still, I am kind of nervous. Neither of my girls have any interest in doing anything related to a church ever again and I am starting to look at the role I have played in that.

Both of my girls attended church regularly when they were little. I took them most Sundays to the Assembly of God church that I grew up in and my parents still attend. When I stopped going, I told them that church attendance was their decision; I was willing to drop them off at church, or not, as they pleased. I would not force them to go to church ever again. Neither one of them have the slightest interest in attending. At all. (OK, they do make an exception for the annual Christmas sleigh ride party.) Many people at AUUF have informed me about the wonderful RE program and how great it would be for my kids, but I have to respect their decision to stay home, even if I think they should give it a try before they dismiss it. This puzzles some people, but I cannot go back on my word to them. I cannot respect their search for meaning and coerce them at the same time.

This week I have been thinking about how my actions played a part in this. For years I hated going to church, but I went to please my mother. I was so stressed out and cranky by the time I got home on Sunday afternoons that the whole family experienced an improved quality of life when I stopped going. I never thought about how that affected them before. I am sure that watching their mother grit her teeth and endure something did not instill in them a desire to participate. I felt so alienated from my true self there, but I didn’t know that they could see it as small children. Looking back, it is kind of stupid to think that they could not. I am not beating myself up about this; I just want to look at the situation and understand it.

I have always found religion to be fascinating. Even as a non-theist, I worry that the girls are missing out on a fundamental aspect of human nature. You don’t have to be a theist to understand about religions and the role they play in human societies. Something like 90% of people in the world believe in some type of divinity and I don’t want to leave the girls ignorant about that aspect of humanity, but in no way do I want to force any sort of religion on them. They remain fantastically uninterested in any of it.

Still, this OWL registration is a big deal. Tiny Daughter M was reassured to know that next year, a high school level class will be offered and Tall Daughter E will not escape her turn.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Some Pretty Fractals

I love fractals. I love what they tell me about the nature of the world. Check out Wired's collection of a few gorgeous fractals found in nature.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Making Decisions

I have been thinking lately about how I make decisions. I am not widely known for my decisiveness so making a choice can be a lengthy process and it just gets worse in groups. When deciding where to eat for lunch, this is only a minor annoyance and, hopefully, something more along the lines of an endearing quirk (wishful thinking, I know).

While considering more important choices, this trait is more troublesome. I spend so much time anxiously going over all the drawbacks and benefits of each choice when I could spend that time productively doing something. Eventually I bounce my ideas off of someone, often my long suffering husband, to help clarify my ideas. This sometimes exhausts the patience of the idea-bouncing recipient. Contrary to his belief, I do not ask his opinion only to do the opposite.

Here is what I have noticed. Often, I know quite early on what I really want to do; I just need to time to come to peace with the decision or to give myself permission to do it. Other times I use that time “deciding” to come to terms and buck up to do something I don’t really want to do, but needs doing. I had my time to mentally whine about it, now I have to put on my big girl pants and do what is important. So if somewhere is my head, I know all along what I am going to choose, why do I prolong the process? Why can’t I accept my decision as the right one before I hash out every little detail?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Out of the UU Closet

Well, frak.

I guess I am out now as a UU to my family. Here is the story. Since I informed my mother that I would no longer be attending church with them a few years ago, my family and I never discuss religion. In the past they politely invited me to various church events and I politely declined. It is the one subject we discuss even less often than politics and it sometimes hangs there in the air while none of us acknowledge it in our WASPy way. I know that my rejection of her religion and refusal to bring up my daughters in it is very painful for my mother. I wish there was some way around that, but there isn't. She did every thing she could to bring me up in a godly manner and it didn't work. My father sometimes worked two jobs so that my middle sister and I could go to Christian school, and still I left the flock. She is respectful enough of my choices not to browbeat me with that disappointment, but it is still there, obvious and unaddressed.

I am not ashamed of any of my spiritual beliefs, but I don't bring them up with the family because I believe it will just cause more pain. My personal beliefs are not any of their business. However, when my mother informs my daughter that she cannot have a trinket featuring a peace symbols because it is satanic - it can be tough.

The AUUF is starting an official Facebook page and I have volunteered to keep it up to date. This requires me to "like" the page. My personal Facebook page doesn't have a lot of details for reasons such as these. I figure if you know me, then you know I love the Beatles and Dune without me having to make it part of my profile.

So now my extremely devout Baptist sister is requesting an explanation about why I would "like" something like the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. I guess being a "backslider" and skipping church was one thing, but at least I wasn't an out-and-out heathen. (Not the Odin & Freya kind of heathen, but more like the totally misguided and much to be pitied fallen one in need of rescue.)

I think I am going to ignore this request as Facebook does not seem like the best place to discuss theology. If she cares enough she will call. I love my sister, but she lives 3,000 miles away from me and has for over half my life. My choice of house of worship is not her business. If my family chooses to gossip about my fallen state, well, that won't be any worse than when I was 20 years old, single, and pregnant.

Thanks, blogosphere, for helping me to work some of this out. I feel a little better. The point of this blog was for me to chronicle my journey to UU and the experience of a new member. I guess this had to be one of the chapters eventually. Still, I am not looking forward to that phone call.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

44 Years of Star Trek

Happy Belated Birthday to Star Trek!

Yesterday for the 44th anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek. I cannot over emphasize the effect Trek had on my growing up. Tolerance, reason, diplomacy, courage, leadership, responsibility, curiosity, loyalty, and friendship - these are just some of the traits I learned from the various crews of the starships Enterprise.

I've said it before, but I would not be a UU today if not for Star Trek.

Thank you, Gene Roddenberry, for making this universe where a strange brainy girl felt welcome and like she could make the galaxy a better place.

30 Poems - Getting Back on Track

So I thought I would have a lot more time this week to write and post here, but it seems the opposite has happened. My schedule gets totally thrown off and discipline goes out the door. Add sick kids to that and writing has taken a back seat. Fortunately, the 30 poems 30 days challenge happens to coincide with the annual Anchorage Press Haiku Contest. So expect to see a lot of haiku about weird Alaska stuff you probably don't care about helping me make up lost ground.

The following is a bad poem. I wanted to experiment with some rhyme and I haven't made the time to write a better one. It was a really cool moment and I wish I captured it better, here it is.

A Moment of Peace in Chaos

Early September
The air still smells like last night's rain.
A moment caught in amber
here written down in vain.

All my plans gone awry,
so now a quiet calm birthday
I walk beneath a clouded sky,
Nature's chaos on display.
The mountains looks like Mordor wreathed in gloom
Chaff from trees litters the ground
and hated cottonwoods loom.
Yellow birch leaves swirl around
me in a personal dance
I feel at the center of it all
in this moment caught by chance.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

30 Poems 30 Days: Day 4

It late on Day 4, but I'm in time for posting today's and yesterday's poems. I am not happy with these, but as Jacqueline reminds me, sometimes it is better to get something done instead of waiting for the perfect version.

Sun Salutation

Reach, stretch, bend
Extend, press, hold
Feel your body glide
between the movements.
Marvel that you can.
how much better you feel
Be thankful.

And for today, a hasty haiku

We walk in the rain
Her boots splash in the puddles
We giggle and smile

The poem is read today, appropriately enough, was "Football" by Louis Jenkins.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Well is Running Dry

It is only day 3 of Jacqueline Wolven’s poetry challenge and I already feeling out of inspiration. Our family has had a tough couple of weeks and I am just fried.

I want to at least include the poetry I have been reading here. Yesterday, I forgot to include the poem I read so here is “Break” by Dorianne Laux. I loved this poem, maybe because I am raising a teenage daughter and it spoke to me. I liked today's peom even better. In fact, it may be my favorite thing I have read in a really long time. This western-style senryu is by George Swede. It is so beautiful I have been thinking about it all day.

at the height
of the argument the old couple
pour each other tea

Maybe that is part of my writing difficulty today – I am frustrated that I will never be able to write something like that. I know that is not what this exercise is about, but have I ever mentioned that I can be a perfectionist? I’ll keep turning some things over in my mind and hopefully post a new poem by midnight.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

30 Poems 30 Days: Day 2

Today I am feeling strung out and overwhelmed so researching and learning a poetry form just seemed a bit much. Today’s poem will be free form, but I promise I will return to exploring various forms soon. I hate to abandon a plan so soon, but I am not taking any more on my plate today.

I had a hard time coming up with a fresh gratitude today so you see where we are.

There Are Only Days

All summer I struggled with this steep hill
at the end of the woods, by the lake.
Yesterday I finally crested it,
pedaling, panting,
Today that success feels fleeting.
I inch upwards and almost admit defeat.
Then I tell myself the truth.

There are not days when I can reach the top
and other days when I cannot.
There are only days.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

30 Poems 30 Days, Day 1

I have joined Jaqueline Wolven in her 30 Poems, 30 days challenge so I will be writing and posting one original poem for each day in September. Please do not expect for these to be good poems, as I don’t expect them to be so. The idea of posting my own bad poetry for the world to read is a little scary, but I think that is part of the idea. Creatively, I respond well to structure as long as there is room to play within that structure; I get bored doing the same thing all the time. So I will be experimenting with different poetry forms throughout the month. I’m thinking mostly simple forms throughout the week with maybe some experimentation with more complex forms on the weekends.

The other half of the challenge is to read a poem a day. In April I posted several poems on Facebook for National Poetry Month so this month I will be looking for poems and poets who are new to me. I decided to start the month with, fittingly enough, “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins.

Today’s original poem is a cinquain.

Loons at Sand Lake

Loons on
the Lake call out
their eerie cry, only
if we keep very still and quiet,