Bleargh.

I don’t feel sick
I don’t feel tired
I don’t feel hot
I don’t feel cold
I don’t feel sad
I don’t feel happy
I don’t feel nothin’
I just feel old

I don’t usually feel all of my years. I look at pictures of people my age, and think they look considerably older than I do. I have friends who started going gray in their twenties, and I am just barely beginning, in my fifties. I got carded buying wine just last year.

But today, I feel every one of my years, and a good many of someone else’s as well–so if you feel extra young today, I would be happy to return your years to you.

If this is what normal aging is gonna be like, I’m having none of it. Starting tomorrow, I’m getting younger.

Ah… Memories…

I remember it so clearly
It’s as if it just occurred
I remember every image,
Every moment, every word;
I remember every instant,
Every story, brief or long,
I remember it forever…
But I just remember wrong.

I can tell you all that happened
On a day ten years ago—
I can tell you, I remember,
All my memories, I know—
I can summarize my knowledge,
All the lovely things I feel
All these things are in my memory
But it isn’t really real

It’s a perfect reproduction
It’s the best you’ll ever find
Every detail, trapped forever,
In the amber of my mind
All the flowing stream of consciousness
Is trapped in memory’s cup…
It’s astonishing to realize
Just how much of it’s made up

If your memory’s often fuzzy
Then you might have thought it best
To believe it, when they told you
Half your recollection’s guessed—
But for those with minds of crystal
Those whose memories are clear—
Why, the thought they might be faulty
Is a foreign thing to hear

But the truth, or so they tell us,
Isn’t difficult to see—
We will manufacture memories
And believe them, you and me
And our confidence is faulty,
Though so strongly we believe…
We build worlds upon our memories,
But our memories… deceive.

So, yeah, TIME (remember when they were a magazine?) has a neat (though incomplete, necessarily, given the scope of the subject and limitations of space) piece on false memories–even among those with “highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM)” (in other words: not me). Seems the evidence shows (color me unsurprised) that even those with incredibly good memories are likely to misremember, and to systematically show biases that distort our memories. (Seriously, worth reading, and with a frankly stunning video which I cannot embed here.)

Even the best are flawed. Sounds very human. And it is. (Not that other species don’t display such flaws, but rather that it seems a characteristic of humanity that we do, despite our opinion of ourselves.) The evidence we send people to execution for… is flawed. As certain as we are, it ain’t necessarily so.

I remember being ready to testify in court as to a person’s guilt… only to find that I was looking at the wrong man. I remember being the person another thought was guilty (they were also wrong, I hasten to inform you). Memory is a nasty and crude tool, but we have been told that there are some among us who claim to have mastered it.

Seems likely they are wrong.

“The Sex Toys In The Attic”

There’s a suitcase in the bedroom
Tucked away behind some shoes
And I need it taken care of
If I fight the fight… and lose

If this rattle in my bronchi
Turns out more than merely noise
Is there someone I can count on
Who can disappear my toys?

There are several shapes and sizes
And there’s many different hues
Some use cords, and some use batteries—
(There’s one that’s blown a fuse)

There are some still wrapped in plastic—
They looked better on the shelf—
There are some that need a partner
And there’s some for just myself

If I find that I am dying
(Because everybody does)
I don’t want my kids inheriting
A box of… things that buzz

So I need a trusted confidant
To do some cleaning first
So my mostly mourning relatives
Won’t get to see the worst…

Then again… you know… forget it—
They’ll discover what they will—
They can find out I was human,
That I hadn’t gone downhill

If the worst they can discover
If I die beneath the knife
Is a suitcase full of sex toys…
Hell, I lived an awesome life.

According to Twitter, this verse took half an hour; I read this wonderful opinion piece in the NY Times, tweeted something about it, and thought “there’s a verse there somewhere.”.

But disposing of sex paraphernalia — actually all those embarrassing items you have stashed around the house — is something every boomer should be concerned about. The days are dwindling down to a precious few and some of you have a nasty cough. Do you want the people clearing out your house, particularly your children, to find those feathery, metallic, rubbery, polymer blend items you ordered one drunken night a few months after you’d been forced to take early retirement? Do you want them to know their big, tough construction worker dad liked to dress up in heels and a boa and sing “La La La” from “No Strings,” one of Richard Rodgers’s weaker efforts?

You may be thinking, “What do I care what my friends or children find in the house? I will be beyond embarrassment, I will be dead.” But you are wrong. Doctors now know that the human sense of embarrassment can last up to two weeks after the heart stops beating. Consider this statement from a boomer named Stanley: “I was lying on the operating table, then I had a feeling of leaving my body and looking down at myself and all I could think was, ‘Is my gut really that big?’ ” Look it up on the web.

The funny thing is… the thing that people would find out about me, eventually, is that I wrote doggerel on the internet, and nobody knew.

Sounds pretty boring, actually. Maybe I should hide a box of sex toys.

*****

Hey–you’ve read this far, now something serious. There may be 10,000 or more dead because of Typhoon Haiyan. There is an immense need of help, and the Foundation Beyond Belief is one way you can help. Details are here–if we can’t count on the people who know God won’t help, who can we count on?

Simple

There is beauty in simplicity
When simple things are true;
But solving complex mysteries—
There’s beauty in that, too

There are simple things, and complex things,
And mysteries and more…
Sure, sometimes you have favorites,
But it isn’t either/or

Ok, so I saw this commercial, and it really bothered me:

Do you want to hear about the chemical composition of the sun? Or simply feel it on your face? Do you want to talk about all the muscles it takes for two hands to connect? Or just enjoy that they can? Do you want to debate why an apple a day keeps the doctor away? Or just take a bite? Do you want to talk about what it takes to make a miracle happen? Or just look at one?

To have a kid’s voice say these lines is, to my ears, just horrible! Kids want to know the chemical composition of the sun, and are fascinated by how muscles, sinews, bones and skin combine to make hands work. The ad writers have the kid certain that apples work, and that babies are “miracles”. Kids are naturally curious–why on earth would you base a “simplify” commercial around someone who probably makes Rube Goldberg machines out of kitchen appliances, clothes hangers, and tape. Kids see the beauty in complexity–in stuff that takes a lot of work to understand. That’s one of the best things about kids.

I can see why a healthcare plan might want to simplify. But damn, this commercial just grates at me whenever I see it.

“Why Don’t Atheists Just Kill Themselves?”

I’d constructed the ultimate sandwich
Perfection in bread, cheese, and meat
But there’s something I don’t understand, which
Has been making it harder to eat

See, although it is surely delightful
There’s a truth that I cannot suspend
That at some point, I’ll reach the last bite full
And the pleasure will come to an end

And my life, too, is not everlasting
And the Reaper will pay me a call
It’s the same, whether gorging or fasting
So why am I eating at all?

Since nothing in life lasts forever
There’s one life, all too brief, here on earth
The argument’s not even clever
That a transient joy has no worth

There are joys in this life to be tasted
There are days filled with utter delight
There is too little time to be wasted
There’s a sandwich—enjoy every bite!

I’m sure you’ve seen it–I only had to type “why don’t ath” when google filled in “eists kill themselves?”, and suggested over 2 million hits for the phrase. Some are pretty horrendous, and are good, moral religious believers suggesting that atheists ought to kill themselves, but it’s the others that I am interested in. Those that suggest that life is meaningless if it is not followed by an eternal afterlife. That life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (to use Hobbes’s delightful phrasing), and that ending it early would be preferred, were it not forbidden by God. Hell, perhaps the most famous writing in all of literature, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, explores the question:
… Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

But atheists have no dread of that undiscovered country, so why don’t we just kill ourselves?

I’d answer, but I have pets to play with, food to eat, kids to call, reading to enjoy, poetry (well, verse) to write, music to listen to, football (and football) to watch (Man City is, as I write, up 2-0 over Man United), lesson plans to make, cider to drink, (ok, now it’s 3-0), a book to put together, and much much more. Nasty life indeed.

(FWIW, I do think that suicide can absolutely be rational, and should be an individual’s choice. If a religious prohibition on suicide means someone lives years of misery and pain, wishing they could end it, I don’t count that as a case in religion’s favor.)

(ok, 4-0; I may have to try writing a post during my Browns game…)

Anxiety In Hindsight

There’s a tenseness in your stomach
And a flutter in your heart
You may find it hard to focus
Any noise can make you start
Since it came upon you slowly
Or your thoughts were turned aside
You believed it would be something
You could easily abide
Hell, you might not even notice
As you go about your day…
But I guarantee, you’ll feel it
When the feeling goes away!

So today, when I got the news that Cuttlespouse’s father’s surgery went well, it was (understandably) a relief. I knew (and expected, or hoped) that it would be. I had forgotten, though, just what a palpable, physical feeling that relief is.

I suffer from anxiety on occasion. I’m getting much better at recognizing it and taking steps to avoid it, or when it is unavoidable, to take steps to handle it (up to and including anti-anxiety meds). It is rare that I notice the beginning signs, though, until they are jumping around in front of me chanting “neener neener boo boo” and distracting me to the point of insomnia and digestive problems. And the biggest bouts I have ever experienced, I did not notice at all until something happened to impose understanding on me from without.

So I guess what I’m saying it, it’s real, it’s palpable, but it can be helped. And if you feel like a fool not realizing that you are suffering, you’re not alone there either. There are perfectly good reasons to get all stressed out about something (that’s life for you), but that feeling of relief is nature’s way of saying “y’know, it might be nice to try something different right about now.”

Everything Old Is New Again (Or, Sex With Robots)

As predictable as clockwork,
Or some finely crafted gears—
We forget about the last one
So the latest one appears

It’s designed to gather eyeballs
Both to titillate and vex—
It’s an article (with pictures)
Probing human-robot sex

Yup… this time, it’s the BBC with “Will we ever want to have sex with robots?“. In 2007, the now-defunct Cognitive Daily asked “Will humans marry robots in 50 years”, which prompted this bit of musing from me. In 2009, the big news was HRP-4C (also mentioned in the Beeb’s current piece), which also got its (her?) own verse here. I may have missed the 2011 version, or perhaps I just reposted the old verses… but now enough time has passed that we are once again being asked if or when people will be having sex with robots.

But something is different this time. In 2007… well, here, something from today’s piece:

In 2007, the British chess player and artificial intelligence (AI) expert David Levy said in his book, Love and Sex with Robots, we would be having sex with robots in five years – and be capable of falling in love with them within 40 years.

His argument is based on improvements in robotic engineering and computer programming – and extrapolating from the income generated by the porn industry each year.

Such robots would be a “terrific service” for mankind, he argued.

Well… a terrific service, in that it finally rids us of the need to treat our sexual partners as human beings. Because that is a huge, pressing problem, and the way to address it is not to teach us how to treat one another properly (really, honestly, is it too much to expect people to find enthusiastic consent sexy?) but to invest in machines that allow us to have absolute control instead.

But… for once, the old faithful story addresses this, just a bit:

“It is time to reconsider the premise that a robot is better than nothing,” says Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Because, if you are trying to solve the problem of care and companionship with a robot, you are not trying to solve it with the people you need to solve it with – friends, family, community.”

There’s a bit more there, but they did the job of writing it, so you can give them the traffic.

Unintended Consequences; or, Get Off Of My Lawn!

My parents worked through poverty,
Through hardship and through strife,
In part so we, their children, had
A better chance at life

And we, their sons and daughters,
With our parents’ words well heeded
Have worked so that our children, too
Have better lives than we did.

To make the world a better place
Each generation’s toiled…
And when it worked, our folks complained
That kids these days are spoiled.

So I’ve been helping, these past few days, my niece move into her new apartment, preparing for grad school. My parents were also visiting at the time, and helping as well.

And so it is that we know how much bigger this apartment is than the one they started out in, and how they got by with just two cooking pans, cracked plates, mismatched cutlery, and let’s not even get started on things like a TV. “The one thing we couldn’t give you is the one thing that did the most for us, and that’s poverty.”

I’m calling bullshit. This is the same romanticizing of the past that leads people to vaccine denialism–people were stronger back when they had to struggle with measles, polio, and whooping cough. Kids these days have it too easy, with their vaccines, their child labor laws, their health care, and an infrastructure that puts the accumulated knowledge of the world at their fingertips. We didn’t have computers back then, and we are better for it.

Back when my parents actually were poor (and even then, I suspect their own parents had a different view of it–my dad’s father built their house by hand, even digging the basement himself, so quit your complaining about a small apartment someone had already built)… where was I? Oh, yeah, back when my parents actually were poor, poverty was not a character builder, it was something to be escaped, or better yet, avoided. Any decent human being would work so that their children would not have to experience the poverty they did.

And it worked. Well, it worked for some, my privileged self included. My parents gave me a start that their parents could not give them. I tried, and mostly succeeded, to do the same thing for my children. As did my siblings. As did countless other parents, generations of people doing their best to change the world for the better. Our power grid is better (well, at present it is aging); our water and waste systems are better; our telecommunication structure, our food distribution, our information superstructure, all better (again, for the privileged, including my parents and my family).

It worked. Now, my kids and nieces and nephews, and their generation, can answer questions in seconds, that we had to find a library and look for appropriate sources and hope they were available and yadda yadda yadda… and which my parents’ generation might not have even attempted to answer, or asked in the first place. The world is different; it always is. It was not better to have to work for those particular answers, it was just more difficult. Now that the answers can be found easily, the newer generation can spend that effort pushing the envelope. Look at the astounding progress of science in recent decades; in part, that is possible because technology has made the difficult tasks easier, so that the hard work can be devoted to the hard tasks.

We should not romanticize poverty. If we do, it is too tempting to choose not to fight it. And just as childhood illnesses could have long-reaching consequences that last decades, poverty has long-reaching consequences, that can span decades and cultures. Vaccines can spare us much of the cost of these diseases. Education and health care are a good start at sparing us the costs of poverty.

And when it works, we should appreciate that success, not belittle it. It makes no sense at all to promote doing easy things the hard way, when we have enough hard problems to go around.

So, yes, my niece has a nice apartment. Congratulations, Grandma and Grandpa–you have succeeded in making the world a better place for your kids and theirs. Thank you, sincerely and from the bottom of my hearts. We couldn’t have done it without you. And think–if she were starting out as you started out, all your hard work would have been for nothing.

So hush now, and be proud–of her, and of yourselves. And watch, cos it’s her turn now to work on the hard problems. And because we have some real hard problems, aren’t you glad you gave her a running start?

Point B

Congratulations! I’m glad to see
You’ve struggled your way from point A to point B
(If you happened to get there via X, Q, or G,
And stumbled, or fell, or perhaps skinned your knee,
The point is, you made it, I hope you agree.)

You’ll have your detractors. Don’t listen to those
Who would tell you, you should have been pointing your toes
Or you should have just stayed and tried holding your nose.
Or maybe you should have worn different clothes—
There is no way to win, in some eyes, I suppose

But you did! You emerged at point B from point A,
Past the pitfalls and traps that might lead you astray
(And of course, there are some who are still on their way)
The persnickety people who judge you today
Though they talk quite a lot, they have nothing to say

So whether it’s fortitude, whether it’s luck
You are out of the quicksand, the mud, and the muck
You are now at point B, where at A you were stuck.
Those awful detractors, who sit there and cluck?
If you like, you can tell them you don’t give a fuck.

Alas, now I need a Dr. Seuss. I can even picture the illustration…

This verse started out with a title–a title I didn’t end up using, because the verse went a different way. They do that, sometimes. The title was “point B is the new point A”–the idea is, you make a plan to get from where you are (point A) to a particular goal (I think you can guess). The trick is, life sometimes gets in the way, and you find yourself at point C, or F, or Zed. At which point, it is easy to panic. Do you make your way back to A? Do you give up?

What I find helpful, is to re-define A. Where you are, is A. Where you are now is always where you will be coming from. If life knocks you off your path and you find yourself at point F, F is the new A. Plan a course from there. Yes, it may be easiest to go back to A–but not always. You may have learned something in getting to F, and you can use that.

And when you do get to point B (congratulations!), you will find that B is the new A. It’s (with any luck) a nicer point A than the last one, with a better view and more options. But whether it’s a stopping place, or a springboard, is up to you.

Inspired by quite a lot of things, over quite a lot of time, but particularly by Dana’s excellent post today.

Those Poor, Needy Christian Millennials!

Rachel Held Evans has another opinion piece up–why millennials need the church– at CNN, and it’s worse than the last one. Apparently, there are at least seven things millennials (at one point she does limit it to what “Christian millennials” need, but not consistently) need: Baptism, Confession, Healing, Leadership, Communion, Confirmation, and Union with Christ.

On Baptism…

In a culture that stresses individualism, the church satisfies the human need for community, for shared history and experiences.

And in a world where technology enables millennials to connect only with those who are like-minded, baptism drags us – sometimes kicking and screaming as infants – into the large, dysfunctional and beautiful family of the church.

So we need a community to share, but since technology lets us hang out with those who are like-minded, we need to join a church to be exposed to people who don’t think like we do.

Wait, what?

Schools expose us to people who don’t think like us (well, sometimes–and some churches don’t much like the idea. See the current Texas board of education for a relevant example; schools should be teaching us the things we already believe); churches, in theory, are deliberately organized around a common creed (otherwise, why would any town need more than one church?). Move to a new community, and it’s time for church-shopping, to see which one you fit in with.

And don’t get me started on the “sometimes kicking and screaming as infants”.

I am a part of many different communities–some online and some off. I have close friends, both online and off. I can see where the church could provide community, but if I want that sort of tribalism, I’ll go cheer against the Steelers for the Browns.

On Confession…

“Sin” is not a popular word these days, perhaps because it is so often invoked in the context of judgment and condemnation.

But like all people, millennials need reminding now and then that the hate and violence we observe in the world is also present within ourselves.

While she speaks of the value of accountability, of how the church’s community helps us with our concerns over “materialism, greed, gossip, anger, consumerism and pride”, there’s not a word about, say, the guilt and shame some millennials feel because of the judgment and condemnation of the church, just for who they happen to love. The hate and violence we observe in the world is more abundant because the church is so successful at creating, and then blaming, sinners.

On Healing…

At their best, local churches provide basements where AA groups can meet, living rooms where tough conversations about racial reconciliation occur, casseroles for the sick and shelter for the homeless.

At their worst, they block access to life-saving procedures, even for those who do not follow their tenets.

On Leadership…

Like a lot of millennials, I am deeply skeptical of authority – probably to a fault.

But when I interact with people from my church who have a few years and a lot of maturity on me, I am reminded of how cool it is to have a free, built-in mentoring and accountability program just down the street.

Me, I have to cross the street and talk to my neighbor. Or speak with a colleague down the hall. Or get online and find someone who has worked extensively on the issue and has genuine expertise. I mean, yeah, it’s easier to find answers when I have fewer people to ask, and they are all leaning toward the same view in the first place, and when I don’t have to worry about their qualifications, but still…

On Communion…

Churches may disagree on exactly how Christ is present in these sacred meals, but we agree that Christ is present. And millennials, too, long for that presence.

There are some days when the promise of Communion is the only thing that rouses me from bed on Sunday morning. I want a taste of that mystery.

Ok, frankly, that last bit is kinda creepy. Her craving for communion is frankly alien to me–I really don’t get it. I guess the closest thing I can see to it is (and I have done this) having a drink in remembrance of a lost friend. But of course, I can do that, and need no priest to act as a go-between.
(and see what I meant about “millennials” instead of “Christian millennials”?)

On Confirmation…

“What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

The church, at its best, provides a safe place in which to wrestle with this story we call the Gospel.

There’s a better place. The library. Or even the internet. When you buy a car, would you rely solely on the word of the salesweasel? Certainly, it is in the best interest of the church for you to hear all the reasons you should stay. But is it in your best interest?

On Union with Christ…

Those who follow Jesus long for the day when their communion with him becomes complete, and Jesus promises this will happen through the church.

Mind you, he promised that this would happen within the lifetime of some of his disciples, so…

No matter what the latest stats or studies say, Christians believe the future of the church is secure and not even “the gates of hell” will prevail against it.

Ah, here’s the rub. “Why millennials need the church” is based on an assumption that flies in the face of the “latest stats or studies”. The truth is, millennials are realizing in greater and greater numbers that they do not need the church.

For me, and for my millennial kids, there is no “need” for the church. Sure, it may provide community. “The church, at its best”, as the author is always careful to say, is most assuredly appreciated by a great many people.

Problem is, the church isn’t always at its best.

It’s true that the atheist birds of a feather
Don’t gather in churches–the more is their loss;
The warmth of community, gathered together
For singing, and praying, and burning a cross.
(oops. wrong example.)

The monks in their abbeys, preserving the writing
Of ancients, when everyone’s future was black;
They strove for salvation, while kindly inviting
The godless among them to stretch on the rack.
(dang. wrong example again.)

The New World and Africa, ignorant, dismal,
Called for new Missions, converting each brother;
Heathens were called–they could choose their baptismal–
Christ’s blood or their own; it’s one or the other.
(crap. I suck at this.)

When people are gathered, they still remain people,
They’re good and they’re bad, both alone and in unity
You can meet in a bar, just as under a steeple
Good and bad don’t depend on religious community.