Friday, August 5, 2011

Born to Live, Born to Die:Reflections on Life, Death, Change and Camp

I remember a therapy session I once had when I was sixteen.  I was worried my life wouldn't have meaning.  The therapist replied with a simple question:  What do you think meaning is?  To which I replied "To live and to die".  Of course this answer was the workings of a depressed teen and at the time it didn't have much meeting.  Flash forward 10 years and I'm sitting in a different office with a different woman complaining about the same thing, to which she replied "If you died tomorrow, would you say your life had meaning".  This time I could smile and say yes.

Sometimes I can't believe I'm the same girl in that office with the cut marks I couldn't follow through on and the suicide note in my pocket that I never really intended to use.  I did those things because I sought sympathy from others hoping that affection would give me the meaning I craved.  Well I lost a lot of friends and respect that way, but I've changed.  I hope for redemption, but will settle for less.  I'm zen with that.

What I'm about to write isn't a hello or good-bye. It isn't for sympathy or pity.  It isn't to make me feel superior or justified. At the core it is just reflection, my thoughts recorded.

It is also an introduction to the new me. Because I have acted foolish to gain sympathy.  Maybe it was because I've always been naturally emotional.  Or maybe it was the pressing feeling coming from inside my chest that alcohol gave me the courage to release. There are some things and details I've never shared with anyone.  I'll be careful when and to whom I share those things with, but I hope someday it will happen.

The new me has  so much more confidence.  While I still have personal insecurities I've come to embrace the beautiful things about me.  My smile, my eyes.  And I like my boobs. Those will stay as is.

There remains my core, who I am and what I've become and what I have learned.

I sleep with my blankie.  Always have and probably always will.
I listen to Justin Bieber and read Twilight without much shame.
I've encountered the malevolent  power of abuse.
I've seen beautiful people ruined and taken away by drugs and depression.  That could have easily been me.
I've learned that all actions have consequences.
I've been in the presence of intense love.  I've seen it burn hot, fade or be wiped clean far too early.
I've had people leave me long before they should have.
I once looked into the eyes of a child and was rendered speechless my the innocent and unjust suffering that looked back at me.  I made it my mission to make sure he never felt that way again.  After 3 years of silence one day he said my name and my world forever changed.  I left that school feeling complete.  He died years later from complications related to a seizure he had.  So yes, there have been times that I have wished prayer were comforting to me again.
I have had and currently have a handful of irreplaceable friends.  I've also had some not so good friends, but they only make me appreciate the ones that have stayed by my side even more.
I can be overly caring and accommodating to the point of being a pushover just to make sure someone is happy.
When I was 18 I wanted to go to NYU and pursue a career in creative writing.  I thought getting an SLHS degree at the University of Minnesota would be more practical.  I now work  in the mortgage industry and actually kind of like it.
I have always found more beauty in the written word than in nature, but have been brought to tears by the magnificence of the starry sky one summer night at 7000 County Road 15 with some of my best friends.
These are just some of the things that make me who I am. There are countless memories that have made me who I am but those are reserved for my memoir.

Then there is Camp Quest.

When I picked up a pamphlet for Camp Quest in 2007 I felt like throwing in the towel.  I was ready to resign to my current unsure fate.  Then I met these kids and my life changed forever.  It has kept me going, given me the strength to repair relationships and better myself.  I have met people I'm pretty sure I couldn't live without today.  They should know who they are by now.  I have never had a child of my own, but now I feel I have 50 of them.  I'd like to think I have helped make a difference in their lives, help make they know that they do have someone to lean on, just as they and some of the other adults have taught me.

I'm writing all this because I find it therapeutic. But also because our time here is limited.  I could die in minutes, hours, days, months years or decades. That isn't my decision.  What is my decision is how I want people to know me.  So whether I die tomorrow or in 70 years I can only hope that these words will imprint the legacy I wish to leave behind.  Though I can be emo and moody I'm  also so much more than that.

We were born to live and born to die.  What we do in between defines us.  I chose do do something with the path I'm on, because in the words of Robert Frost " I have promises to keep.  And miles to go before I sleep".

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Music Woo

Part of being a good skeptic is looking at the evidence and being able to change your mind.  I don't see this as admitting you were wrong about something.  I feel it is more of a learning opportunity.  I once thought X, but I learned Y and now I believe  Z is correct.  You know...what adults do.

Recently my views have changed on the topic of teaching Music education in the schools.  I used to be against this.  Not because I found Music class to be painful and boring as a young lass, but because I feel that too many of our schools are lacking in the basics: Math, English and Science.  I really felt that those should be a priority.  I still do, but now I'm not so down on Music education.

I've been reading a book by Oliver Sacks "Musicophilia".  He makes an excellent argument for music education.  Remember when there was that whole "Baby Einstein" movement awhile back. The theory was that having a child listen to Mozart would make them smarter, particularly in math.  Well, it turns out there is some truth in this.  It turns out that exposure to music plays a part in stimulation.  However, it appears as if active participation in music is what really makes the difference.  Using magnetoencephalography, when a child as participates in music, certain parts of the brain are stimulated.  The areas that work together to listen or perform music have other functions as well.  Specifically the Corpus Callosum plays a big part in music, but it is also responsible for communications between the two hemispheres.  Studies have shown that musicians that are trained at an early age tend to have larger Corpus Callosums, which means more brain talking.  While this doesn't exactly prove anything, it makes me more inclined to support music in the schools.  So, break out those recorders and buy your kids their "Guitar Hero" video game systems.  It is for their education after all.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Holiday Reflections: Atheism, Reality TV and Sweet Hypocrisy

Today is the Fourth of July.  After sleeping in on my day off I grabbed a bad Mexican beer after the obligatory "it is after noon so I'm not a drunk" time and climbed into my hammock with a computer and a book.  It is beautiful outside.  There is a slight wind, the weather is perfect and I'm doing absolutely nothing.  I am at peace with that.

Though I have been writing more I still feel as if I really haven't been doing anything.  It is really a venting mechanism and nothing more.  Because really, what will my lazy ass accomplish sitting in the comfort of my porch drinking a beer?  Absolutely nothing. But because I don't claim to be changing the world I can be o.k with that.  But I am not hypocrisy free.

I have been following this Facebook thread with the same tenacity as I would watch the Jersey Shore.  It is akin to The Situation and whoever the other guy is competing on who as the bigger muscles (I assume that is what they do.  I really am more of a Jerseylicious kind of gal).  It really isn't going anywhere, has no purpose and is really just irritating.  But I keep reading and growing more and more frustrated.  Don't these people see that their energy can be going to accomplishing something great?  I mean actually accomplishing something and not purporting to.  But here is where I'm a hypocrite.  It turns out I'm just as lazy as they are.

The latest debate has been on this AA banner flying business.  I've already said what I "think" should be done. But I haven't actually done anything about it.  Just as these people aren't really doing anything to support their cause.  This should be a wake up call for us all to grow up.  I mean look at me. I embody the vision of laziness and the sometimes self imposed lack of knowledge.  Because it really takes too much time to think of original arguments. I'd rather take a nap.  And I can because if I want to wake up and argue some more I don't really need to do any real research.  I just need to look at some treads and pick out the same tired talking points all the riled up atheists use when debating.  And really it doesn't matter what is being debated.  Right now the debate is the July 4th celebrations.  But it could just as easily be teaching creationism in the schools or fighting for gay rights. All you need to remember are these points.

1.  Atheists are the victims.  Each and every one of the Christians are against us.
2.  All the Christians indoctrinate their children.  We really need to stop this.
3. We need to make our presence known.
4. Christians lie.
5.  Don't forget about the fucking Crusades.

If you are feeling really gregarious you can improvise on some of these topics, but the same ones keep coming up.  There is really no need to be unique.  So why do we keep reading?  For the same reason people enjoy reality shows. These blogs make us feel superior to people that don't think as we do.  And there is always the troll.  Whether it is that Snookie character or someone like me or that unfortunate "Your Not Helping" fellow we all need someone to focus our anger on.  And I am no different.  Every troll has their troll.  Mine is PZ, Dawkins and the like.

Authors Note:  I realize I open myself open to the stone throwing by seeming to dismiss the above talking points.  I'm sorry to take the pleasure away from you, but I do agree that the above can often (though certainly not always) be a problem.  But they have their times and places.

So yeah we all sit around pissing in a circle trying to have the superior pedantry, but I've come to realize  we are really all the same.  We should embrace each other, but really what is the fun in that?

All these reflections have made me tired.  It is time to retire and  look up at the sky to see if I can see one of those damn banners, and maybe pat myself on the back for writing something world changing that probably only other atheists will read.  That is, if I have the energy.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

My First Atheist Rant-Holiday Edition

I have never been a huge fan of the American Atheists.  I have never cared for their billboards or their behavior at conventions.  I have been in charge of PR for a non-profit organization for long enough to know that there is such thing as bad press.  However, that is their prerogative, and often I've found myself in the minority in regards to my opinion of them.  Because of this I was surprised to see so many atheists speak out against AA's new campaign.

For those not familiar with the campaign, AA is planning on flying banners over various cities citing phrases such as "God-LESS America".  They argue that atheism is patriotic.  There are atheists that feel we are seen as being less American and are tired of hearing politicians saying "God Bless America" and having a supposed monopoly on patriotism.  This campaign is to make the atheist voice heard.

For the record I am not a closet atheist and I don't promote closeted atheism.  I feel that we should not feel ashamed to speak our opinions and personal philosophies  however unpopular they may be.  My issue is with  how those things are spoken for, especially by an organization that seems to represent the atheist population, though that has never been explicitly stated.

My issue with this is that the banners make it seem as if patriotism applies only to the godless.  While this may not be the intent it certainly will seem that way to many people.  It makes it seem as if the whole country is and/or should be god-less.  It will also be perceived as a one way street.  The message many people will get from this is all atheists are patriotic and Christians are not.

I do understand that politics is riddled with Christianity.  I am myself guilty of rolling my eyes every time a politician says "God Bless America".  I am horrified by belief driven campaigns to rid the world of abortion, gay rights and other civil rights.  I think that religion in politics is often dangerous and scary.  However, do feel that political campaigns and the problems that arise from them are a separate issue.  This banner campaign is targeted at the Fourth of July holiday. This is a secular holiday.  Don't go around messing with that.  Leave religion or the lack there of out of it and focus on what the holiday represents.

I haven't done a lot of research on this, but from what I hear this campaign is going to cost roughly $22K.  This really, really bothers me.  I'm all for making a presence in the world, but if you have that kind of money don't blow it on something that will turn people away from organized atheism.  Use it for good.  I have often been crucified as being a bleeding heart hippie but seriously.  I hear atheists bitch all the time that money collected at church goes to pay the preachers and upkeep the building.  That money should be going for good they say.  How is this any different?  Instead of flying your inflammatory banners, make your presence known with a generous donation to veteran relief.  Help a family who has lost someone serving this country.  Help pay the medical bills of someone disabled fighting in the war.  The economic downfalls of serving in the military  or losing a family member is devastating.  You can even specify that money only go to atheist families if you must.  But instead of you know, actually HELPING someone with the money and making a positive presence, AA has blown a significant amount of money on a very expensive pissing contest.

One of the beautiful things about this country is the freedom of speech.  I can sit here in the comfort of my hammock and be a troll and others can do the same.  We often see and hear things we don't like but that is the consequence of this freedom.  So I can't sit here and tell them what to do (who would listen to a 26 year old, slightly tipsy hippie like myself anyway?).  I can however wish that if they bear the atheist name that they think a little more rationally about the consequences of their actions.  We all have the freedom of speech but we need to think of the responsibility that bears.