CFI’s Policy, SSA’s Press, and Cromm’s Doom – Happy Caturday, Everyone!

I haz a happee. And it’s not just because I spent all last night and this morning in bed with science, although taking some time to devour a book on random bits of science and reading some nummy posts was excellent. So was having a purring felid curled up with me. But I iz happee for moar reasons!

The Center for Inquiry adopted a very strong hostile conduct/harassment policy for conferences. I know there’s probably only two of you who didn’t already know, but I wanted to do a happy dance anyway. Also, I think Ron Lindsay’s post on it was superb. He gives the reasons why CfI went this route:

A primary objective of our policy is to ensure that everyone at our conferences — speakers, attendees, and staff — will feel safe and at ease and be able to participate fully in all conference-related events. Intimidation and harassment prevent this objective from being achieved, so such conduct should be prohibited.

This is why we have embedded our harassment policy within the context of an overall prohibition on hostile conduct. We seek to prohibit any abusive conduct “that has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with another person’s ability to enjoy and participate in the conference, including social events related to the conference.”

He assures us free speech is alive and well:

We expect to have the same wide-ranging, vigorous debates that we have traditionally enjoyed at our conferences. In any event, CFI’s policy expressly states that “critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute hostile conduct or harassment.”

You can still flirt safely – as long as you’re not a crude jackass about it:

It is not our intention to prohibit flirting or a polite expression of interest in another person. For example, without more, the question, “Would you be interested in having a drink later?” would not be considered harassment.

But one-time expressions of interest/invitations to an encounter could be inappropriate under the policy, which is why inserting the word “repeated” in the policy would be unwise. To take a crude example (those with delicate sensibilities can skip ahead), asking someone “Wouldn’t you like to bury your head in my crotch and suck my dick?” could constitute harassment, even if it is said only once and accompanied by no other action.

(Note to the clueless: even if you’ve practiced your pick-up line and you’ve got it down to a suave art, I’d refrain from using it on someone you haven’t conversed with first, someone who has mentioned they’re not interested in being propositioned, or someone you’ve cornered. This will not only help you avoid running afoul of the policy, but will also increase your chances of sexy fun times.)

Sexy fun times are still on the table with willing partners:

CFI has no opposition to consensual sex among adults; indeed, this organization has long championed the right of individuals to engage in such conduct, and has protested restrictions on such conduct based on religious dogma. CFI’s policy does not interfere with consensual sex. It’s unwelcome sexual attention that is prohibited, not welcome sexual attention.

And there are other points that should assure all but the terminally dense among us that yes, you can have a policy that strictly forbids harassment and hostile conduct, and have fun, and possibly even sex! ZOMG, amirite?

I have one quibble: I’d like to see them add “gender identity” to the list of things you can’t harass people for. That seems to be a huge blind spot with a lot of policies. No, it’s not covered by the word “gender.” We’ve got plenty of trans* folks who can help them with the appropriate language.

Aside from that, I likes it, and can add one more set of conferences to the list of those that are sensible and fun.

In other news, I’d like to point out that our very own JT Eberhard has made it to the pages of the Washington Post. Go, JT! He’s got a lovely post up introducing the other folks who make it possible for secular high school students to form atheist clubs, even in the face of opposition from religious administrators who’d much prefer we icky atheists crawl back into the closet and slam the door behind us. One thing the explosion of atheist clubs in high schools and colleges is saying is that atheists are out, proud, and intend to stay that way. People like JT work their asses off to ensure secular students get a chance to enjoy the same benefits as their religious classmates. It’s nice to see their efforts recognized in the pages of the Post – and the story got picked up by the Charlotte Observer, too! With increased visibility could very well come increased acceptance. The SSA and the students who organize these clubs are amazing, courageous people, and it’s good to know they’ve got a champion like JT fighting for them.

I will, of course, be asking for JT’s autograph when we finally meet in meatspace.

These two items have made for a very happee Caturday indeed. And, just in case you weren’t already a happee pile o’ mush, I have one of the best ever cute cat photos for ye:

Image courtesy

You know, people like PZ will probably never admit this out loud, but that image has got to tug at their heart strings.

Alas, we must end on a sad note. Sad for our good friend and sworn enemy Crommunist, who in the past has been known to lob a few shells our way. Hostilities died down, and I believe I know why: his forces have been sleeping with the enemy. I haz proof:

It turns out his “damning evidence” of cats coming to the other side was just footage of spies learning the canine language so they could turn dogs into moles. I’m so sorry, Cromm. This must be devastating for you. I guess in the end you’ll have to fall back on otters – oh. Dear.

Image courtesy Cute!

Well, perhaps that’s just a single deserter, I’m sure it’s an aberration – oh. Well. Nevermind.

I’m sorry, Cromm. I’m so sorry. Still. At least you’ve got a good start on the cat ballads. I’m sure your feline overlords will consider this, along with your ability to open canned food, adequate service.

“Don’t Think Your Life Didn’t Matter”

Ando Hiroshige, Evening Snow at Kanbara. Image credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leaving religion can be soul-crushing, at first. The memory of all that pain has faded for me, and it wasn’t as if I’d spent my life immersed in faith. I’d just been raised to believe God was out there, somewhere, and had a fleeting flirtation with Pentecostalism, before a years-long seeking after something. Something huge, something magical, something that would make this world have meaning. I did have the crisis: if there’s nothing but us, isn’t this all futile? Doesn’t that mean it’s meaningless?

I found no gods, no magic, no higher powers, nothing: in nothing, found everything I ever needed or wanted. Paradox? Perhaps. Truth is, I don’t miss the supernatural. I don’t yearn for it anymore. Nothing is full of everything. This universe, physicists think, may just possibly have come from “nothing.” Nothing’s really something! But it’s not really that sort of nothing I’m talking about, but the absence of supernatural somethings. Nothing supernatural exists turns out to be a fantastic universe to live in.

It’s just that when you’ve been taught to see the supernatural as the only thing that gives life meaning, that’s a hard nothing to swallow.

I was reminded of that reading Lisa’s blog, Broken Daughters, over the weekend. In October 2011, there’s this soul cry:

I really admire the way atheists can deal with life. Life is a journey, there is no judgement, enjoy it while you can cause once the light is out, it’s really out. Nothingness. Darkness. The end. And the audience gets up, wipes the last pieces of popcorn off their clothes and leaves. That was a nice movie, they’ll say. What was it about? Forgotten before we reach home. Who cares, there’s many other movies to watch.

If that is true then I have wasted my life. Or at least parts of it. There is nobody who wants my best, who makes sure I do all the things I need to do before I die. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and that’s that.

Yup. Absolutely true. Hell, you don’t even have to leave the house: choke on a chicken bone, slip in the shower, and the curtain goes down on your life. Over and done. There was a time when that terrified me, back when I needed to believe. Utterly paralyzed me. To the point where I had a crisis every time I had to travel. There was me, going down the checklist as I packed: toothbrush, underwear, legacy? If I didn’t leave a legacy behind, what good was I? What good was my life? I’d be so upset if I died without finishing my books! So useless!

And then, one day after becoming an atheist, going into that panic mode, I stopped and laughed. Heartily laughed. What did it matter if I died? I wouldn’t know about it. There’s no me left to care. No soul up in Heaven, looking down (or, if you believe some, in Hell looking up) mourning all of those things I haven’t finished. So what am I doing here worrying about it when I could be enjoying the journey instead?

Some people may believe that’s nihilistic, that joy in nothing. But I don’t see it that way. It’s freed me. I no longer spend major portions of my day fretting over death. I don’t mourn my life before it’s over. I used to. Don’t now. I just plunge in to the things I love to do: my geology and my writing and movies and teevee and music and adventures with friends and cuddles with kitteh and, even, on occasion, quality time with family. I eat food I really like. I read books I enjoy. I don’t live each day as if it were my last, because that’s stupid advice: do you really think I’d be going to work in the morning if this were my last day on earth? But no matter how shitty the day is, I seek out a little joy in it. Every single day, there’s something wonderful, no matter how dismal everything else is. Every single day, I can say if I check out now, the people I leave behind don’t have to worry if I’d feel any regrets. For one thing, I can’t feel a damn thing. I’m dead. For another, it’s been a good ol’ life, on the whole, and I got to do quite a bit of what I wanted, and I did the best I could. Not everything. We’ve already established it’ll take immortality to achieve that, and even then, I doubt infinity will be quite long enough. But there’s very little I’d change. And don’t feel bad for me, dying with so much to look forward to, all those things I wanted to do and never got the chance. I got to look forward to them. That’s a joy all to itself, that anticipation.

I wasn’t so sanguine before I became an atheist. I always had shoulds and gonna regrets if I don’t dos hanging over my head. Now, I don’t. And that has made living all the sweeter. Especially since I’m determined to live, as fully and productively as possible.

But let me revisit this bit:

There is nobody who wants my best, who makes sure I do all the things I need to do before I die.

Oh, my dear. Oh, Lisa. I nearly cried right there, I did, because sweetheart, it’s not true.

No god wants your best. But you’ve got friends who love you, root for you, absolutely want your best. You’ve got readers. You’ve got family (your aunt, at the very least). Can we make sure you “do all the things” before you die? No. No one can. Even God, if one existed, couldn’t. All you can do is what everyone else does: enough. You’ll leave unfinished business behind. That’s inevitable. But you’ll have accomplished plenty, as long as you keep on keeping on. Keep doing stuff. Love and life and adventure and ordinary things and the occasional bit of extraordinary, if you’re able. In the end, no one needs to say you did it all. Just that you did. Just that you lived, as best you could, as fully as you could.

And Lisa: you can already say that. Trust me. I read your entire blog. I know you’ve touched lives. I know you’ve done extraordinary things. You’ll do more in the time you’ve got left. You’ll do all you can, and that’s enough.

And we, your friends, your readers, wanted your best. You know what? We got it.

That’s my criteria these days. When those moments come when I step out of the house and know I may never see it again, because shit happens – the Cascadia subduction zone could slip today, and the building at work may not be quite as earthquake-resistant as they believe it is. In those moments, I know I haven’t done all. My novels aren’t finished, my non-fiction books aren’t written, I haven’t seen Series 7 of Doctor Who or heard the new Epica album. I haven’t figured out New England’s bizarre geology, or learned how to cook chicken tikka masala. All of that’s okay. I wrote this blog, touched lives, sometimes changed them. I had a hell of a lot of fun. I did as much as I could without driving myself insane by driving myself too hard. People wanted my best: they got the best I could give, and they’ve appreciated it, will remember it. Hopefully, if the cat survives me, they will also remember to feed her, despite her evil disposition.

All that I have is a bunch of memories in my brain, and once my time is over they’ll rot away with the rest. Forgotten for eternity. Who will remember me? …. Vanishing as if they’d never been there. That is my fate, and yours too, if there is no God.

Oh, yes. that terrified me, too. That need for some sort of immortality drove me, nearly drove me insane, made me mourn every birthday because I hadn’t published my magnum opus yet and I’d be totes forgotten. I don’t know where that comes from. I don’t know why we need this eternal memory so very much. I don’t need it now. Oh, surely, it would be nice: have my name echo down through the ages like Sappho and Shakespeare. I’d very much love my words to matter that long. It’s a goal. But. But. This isn’t bad, this temporary immortality. A generation, perhaps two, friends and family who have fond living memories of me. Another generation or two, perhaps, that will hear of Dana Hunter, before she quietly fades away, and the world goes on without her. That’s not bad. That’s the least we can expect, and it’s not bad at all. Meanwhile, our molecules and atoms will go cheerfully on. Whether they know it or not, a little bit of Dana, which once was a little bit of a star and who knows what else on its way to being me, will be a little bit of someone or something else. Do I need a god to remember me, to validate my existence? Do I need a god to trace all those atoms that were once Dana? No. I’ve had friends and family and readers. I’ve had my cat. I’ve had strangers who never knew my name, but know a delightful new fact because of me. I’ve had enough. Not all, but enough. And part of me marches on, to become someone else, who perhaps will never be forgotten. Who knows?

I certainly won’t. Dead, remember? What’s fame to the no-longer-existent? No worries! So why waste time worrying about it now?

Speaking of waste:

I might seem like a calm person but I’m constantly afraid. Where’d I put my time? It’s running through my fingers like water, dripping on thirsty ground. There’s nothing I can do to get it back. Sometimes I want to scream, at my family, my friends, at my readers, at random people on the street: “DO SOMETHING! Time is short! Do something with it! You’re wasting!”

But every life has its “wasted” moments. Moments we could’ve spent doing something else, something “important,” something different. Every single life ever lived is full of wasted time. But every single one of those moments went in to making you who and what you are. Useful or useless, they’re all part of the package. So, you’re not rich, famous, a saint. You haven’t cured cancer, you haven’t written deathless prose (although you can’t know the prose you wrote is terminal, not until long after you’re gone, so the jury’s still out on that one). You haven’t done it all. What is this “all?” What is it compared to the things you have done? Those wasted moments and wasted opportunities are a necessary part of you. Without them, you wouldn’t be you.

And you have used them to touch the lives around you. Who says that’s a waste? By whose criteria? Certainly not by mine. I “wasted” a lot of time reading your blog when I should have been reading papers on Mount St. Helens and East Coast geology, or working on my books, or blogging. I “waste” my time with a lot of people that way. And you know what? I do not feel that time was wasted at all. You’ve become a part of me, part of my strength and understanding and love for this world. You’ve become an inspiration, and someone I’m rooting for, and someone who helps me become more compassionate.

Yes, our time is a finite resource. We do not have eternity. We can’t completely piss our time away. But those idle moments, those moments spent doing something other than what we’re “supposed” to, those moments headed in the “wrong” direction, they’re an important and necessary part of us. The only time I’d advise you to stop wasting is the time spent regretting them, although not altogether, because that regret isn’t always wasted either, now, is it? Every moment makes us who we are.

The point is this: your life matters, and matters intensely, with or without enduring memory. It matters now. It matters very much right now, to you and to those who love you. It will have mattered very much while there are still those alive who remember you. And it will have mattered just as much in a future you’re long forgotten in, because for this time, you mattered. That doesn’t go away. Not ever. Not just because a god isn’t there to remember. This universe might have been similar, but not exactly the same, without you. Just because, in some future you’re not even conscious of, someone doesn’t remember it was precisely you who existed and mattered intensely in that long-ago fragment of time, doesn’t make your life right now any less important.

There is a poem by Basho. It’s a poem that started running in a continuous loop through my mind as I read your post. Here is is:

An autumn night.
Don’t think your life
Didn’t matter.

How often has that poem floated through my mind! In moments when some small thing has happened that has made me delighted to be alive. I’ve thought of it when viewing ephemeral cherry blossoms, and hearing bird song, and reading words of interesting but not quite famous people. What a gift that little haiku is! What a centering, calming triplet of lines, those three, reminding me to slow down and breathe and exist and cease worrying about Meaning with a capital M, but enjoy the little-m meanings that fill a life.

Basho didn’t need a god to write those lines. We don’t need a god to appreciate them. We don’t need religion to give them impact. They are very human lines. They’ve survived for over three centuries now, and I will not be surprised if, should time travel be invented and I ever visit a far-flung future, they should be found thousands of years hence, reminding another generation of humans who stumble across them that a life matters.

By a human, for humans, inspired by a human. Basho wrote them for his niece-by-marriage, Jutei, a Buddhist nun. His nephew, her husband, died of tuberculosis; he began taking care of her and his grand-nieces and nephews; she herself died, not long after; he wrote those three lines for her.

An autumn night.
Don’t think your life
Didn’t matter.

Without Basho, his nephew, his nephew’s wife, all of the people who had existed before them who had made their birth possible, all of the people around them who had made these people who they were, those three lines wouldn’t exist. Without all of them, no simple yet profound little haiku. No three lines popping up all over the place, meaning something to people over three hundred years later, losing none of their beauty and poignancy even if you didn’t know their story (which I didn’t, until tonight).

Those lives mattered. Most of them had no idea just how much. We will never know just how much our lives matter. There are no gods who know. Perhaps people in the future will never know. But just because there’s this don’t-know, that doesn’t make us matter any less.

Don’t think your life didn’t matter.

Mount Unzen in Autumn. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Doctor

Okay, people, this is cool beyond words. Not only has my cherished friend Evelyn Mervine become Doctor Evelyn Mervine, she’s regenerated her Geology Word of the Week. And what’s the first word she chose?


Dude. Doctor. Time. She’s an honorary Time Lord, and with apologies to Doctor Who, she’s way cooler (although I love the show dearly, mind you, and always will). The following, I think, demonstrates why I have an inordinate fondness for calling her The Doctor:

Although I considered other T words such as tafoni and tektite and tourmaline, after some musing I eventually decided that “time” is a fitting word for the resurrection of The Geology Word of the Week. Time seems an appropriate word because significant time has passed (on a human timescale, anyway) since I last posted a geology word. Also, I have spent much of the last few months thinking about time. Indeed, my PhD thesis even contains the word time. The title of my thesis is: Determining timescales of natural carbonation of Peridotite in the Samail ophiolite, Sultanate of Oman. My PhD is technically in Marine Geology, but if I were to describe my expertise in geology, I would probably describe myself as a geochronologist and geochemist who enjoys using isotopes and other geochemical tools to constrain ages of rocks and rates for various geologic processes.

Yeah, she’s practically a Time Lord. All she needs now is a TARDIS.

So, go read her post, which explains time in a bit more detail than this:

But does it just as brilliantly.

And for those with no clue what I’m talking about…


Rhodies and Realities

I’m wrecked. I’ve only just now recovered the use of both nostrils after a mild but annoying cold, and then a certain manufacturer of a certain famous cell phone announced a change that has led to my day job getting busier by a factor of 10. I should be researching and writing. Instead, I’ve been spending time trying to coddle my poor brain.

This is good news for those of you who either like a flower challenge, or who like to listen to me ramble. We’re having both.

Rhododendron bud

It’s about rhododendron season. I remember reading one of those little filler snippets in a Reader’s Digest once, where a woman was talking about sending her husband home to clean the place up while she went to the grocery store after they’d invited their pastor for dinner on short notice. When she got back, the house was still a mess, but her husband was busy ensuring the leaves of their potted rhododendron were sparkling clean.

Dunno why, but that left me with the impression that rhodies were just boring houseplants with nothing but thick green leaves. I’d never knowingly seen one in bloom before. When I moved up here, I discovered that they grew up into great big bushy bushes used in landscaping seemingly everywhere, but not until after blooming season, which meant I now thought of them as boring indoor/outdoor plants with nothing but thick green leaves.

Then they bloomed.

Rhodies in bloom.

And then I understood why people plant these absolutely everywhere. They’re not only hardy, they riot with color every spring. For months, as the different varieties go off, the whole city seems like it’s exploding with tropical hues. Then they go back to being big boring bushes with thick green leaves, but one looks on them fondly, knowing what they’ve got in store.

I’m going somewhere with this. A bit of a metaphor. Because, you see, life as an atheist has been like this.

Back when I was religious, then “spiritual,” I thought life as an atheist was like rhododendrons: boring. Why would anyone want that life? How could anyone stand it? This uniform shade without even any interesting variations. Have you looked at rhodie leaves? They’re not exactly filled with intrigue. They’re sort of nice. I supposed atheists’ lives could be sort of nice. But I believed they must be pretty miserable folks, living a life where there weren’t any bursts of color, no mystery, no magic.

(Interrupt extended metaphor to provide first photo of the weirdest fucking rhododendron I’ve ever seen.)

Weird Possible Rhodie I

(I mean, honestly. I’m pretty sure it’s a rhodie, based on the leaves, but wtf is up with these flowers? I’m used to rhodie flowers being enormous bursts of yum. Even the varieties with smaller flowers have fairly large petals. I’ve never seen a rhodie with clusters of bell-shaped flowers. Is this a rhodie? Or is it just a bush that wants to be like a rhodie and only managed to mimic the leaves?)

After a brief flirtation with a fundamentalist church, I fell out of church-going Christianity because of the rampant idiocy, but clung to the idea of God a while longer. I believed there must be some sort of God, up there, and while his followers annoyed the fuck out of me, I figured he must be all right. Loving father and all that, right? And I didn’t want to piss him off by doing the wrong thing, like believing in false gods. I didn’t pray much. I didn’t go to church. But I listened to the squishy folks like Khalil Gibran and Karen Armstrong and got the warm fuzzies for a while. But there came a time when absence of evidence started looking an awful lot like evidence of absence. So many people all saying what God was and what he/she/it wanted, but they all had different answers while proclaiming they had The Truth. And none of it fit with this vague sense of what I thought so powerful thing as a god – the god – must be.

Weird Possible Rhodie II

For the most part, it didn’t matter, but I wanted the truth. And I wasn’t getting it in the monotheisms. So I decided I’d best go investigate these other religions, which had been presented as myths. Not just reading about them, filching some of their ideas for my stories, enjoying their philosophies, but taking them seriously as a possible path to the divine. I prayed my last prayer. I told God I was going to head down that path. All he had to do, if it was the wrong thing to do, was show me a sign, and I’d come skedaddling back.

Then I walked.

Weird Possible Rhodie III

I will admit that I had an immense amount of fun in those years. I played at being a Buddhist for a bit, and a Taoist. I dabbled in goddesses. Some of them were awesome, but it didn’t feel quite right: the divine wasn’t gendered, I was pretty certain, but I liked the more masculine manifestations. I didn’t much like being female back then. I’ve always been a tomboy, aside from occasional forays into total girl stuff, and I felt more drawn to the masculine gods. I fell in with Odin for a while. I ended up calling myself a Zen Buddhist/Taoist/Odinist for a while, and that felt so right. I could call on the girls when I felt like it. I could have whole pantheons, but those were my big three. Perhaps it’s a telling sign that two of them were more philosophy than religion (I never much liked the varieties of Buddhism filled with gods, nor the side of Taoism that is obsessed with magic powers and immortality. And Odin – dude, this is a god who sacrificed himself for knowledge. Way awesome). I didn’t worship. I didn’t pray, really. I did a desultory bit of divination, read the stories, absorbed the philosophies, and was quite happy living a life in which some patriarchal fuckwit wasn’t watching my every move, deeming me unworthy of love at every turn while still claiming to love me.

(Segue number two, in which I discover that the weirdest fucking rhodies ever have cousins with white flowers.)

Weird Possible Rhodie IV

But somewhere along the way, I lost all the gods and goddesses. I can’t pinpoint exactly where it happened. I just walked down the ramp that leads to agnosticism, and it sloped so gently I didn’t even know I was coming down from Valhalla. Everything I’d seen that seemed supernatural had a perfectly natural explanation. I’d never found really real magic. Science left no gaps big enough for something more than a microscopic god to fit in. I think I may have passed through Deism on the way, but eventually, I let go of all that. I’d grown the fuck up.

Weird Possible Rhodie V

Did the world become drab and boring? A bit. Yes, I regretted not being able to believe, for a while. Magic’s so sparkly. It’s just not real. And that made me vaguely sad. I was also stuck in Phoenix, Arizona in a shit job, with a shit-for-brains President, and there was no sweeping mythology that could make me feel that this had some magnificent purpose. But it’s not like life didn’t have its moments. There was the research and writing. There were concerts and other outings with friends. There were books. There were movies. There was my homicidal cat, and the pit bull puppy next door, and my wild and wonderful Mexican neighbors. There were orange blossoms in spring. You want magic? Go to Phoenix in March, when the orange trees bloom, and just for a while the city doesn’t smell like hot asphalt and diesel and pollution. Just for a while, it smells glorious.

There. There was magic. Ordinary, everyday, simple magic.

Weird Possible Rhodie VI

Then I got the hell out of Phoenix, and moved up here. The jobs didn’t really get any better. They’re still call centers, and call centers aren’t exactly the most enjoyable places to work, but it could be worse. It could be fast food. And there were new friends, and new adventures, and spectacular geology, and the Sound, and my homicidal cat still, and writing and research, and sun and rain, and a growing fascination with science that made the old myths seem rather dull by comparison.

And somewhere in there, I became an atheist without realizing it. I ran into atheists who were joyful in their atheism. I saw them bursting like rhodies, their lives full of spectacular color, and gloriously free of superstition. Perfect? No. What is? Magical? Yes. Real magic. The magic of the universe, and the world, and the remarkable fact that bipedal naked apes can figure out so damned much about it. True stuff, real stuff, stuff far stranger and more intriguing that what these made-up religions ever invented. Atheists, I discovered, could still appreciate the beauties of nature. They still loved art and poetry and music. They just didn’t have whole swaths of human accomplishment roped off because God Might Get Pissed and Condemn You to Hell.

Weird Possible Rhodie VII

But for some stupid reason, I didn’t realize I was an atheist until I scored so low on the God Delusion Index that a light went bing and I realized that, while I’d been calling myself an agnostic, I’d really been an atheist for quite a long time.

I was as wrong about atheism as I had been about rhodies. It wasn’t dull, it was gorgeous. All of those things I was afraid of – that the world wouldn’t seem so wonderful without the divine, that I’d be alone, that I’d fear death without the belief that death wasn’t the end, that without the possibility of the divine lurking around somewhere, life would be nothing but despair and ultimately empty – none of those things came to pass. Atheism actually helped me overcome my fear of death. No religion ever managed that. Atheism unlocked the universe. That takes care of all the rest. It’s hard to sit around being a sadsack and feeling all empty when you’ve got the whole of science to fill up on. It’s hard to be alone when you know every living thing is, in actual fact, related to you. And then you’ve got art and music and literature and culture to top things off.

Life isn’t perfect. Of course not. Nor was it when I believed. Nothing is perfect, but that doesn’t fuss me so much anymore. The thing about being an atheist is, you don’t expect things to be perfect. And you work to make them better rather than wondering why they aren’t already perfect. That’s outstanding, that is. It doesn’t do me many favors in corporate culture, because I can’t just meekly accept the things that suck, but I’m fortunate in having managers who don’t mind me getting righteously pissed off when we could be doing better and pushing to make sure we try. Same thing with life. It isn’t perfect. It has some features that suck leper donkey dick. And it’s infuriating. But instead of swallowing the anger, instead of meekly accepting that it’s all part of a greater plan, I can turn that anger into a positive force to change the world.

I love the world so much more now that I know it’s not the flawed creation of a rat bastard of a god. Its imperfections are no longer upsetting. They don’t throw me into doubt and despair. They’re just part of it, the way it is, and some bits of it can be changed because humans are good at that sort o’ thing, and some bits of it are just going to suck without it being anybody’s fault, but we have ways to compensate, so we’re okay.

And as for mystery, which I didn’t used to think I could live without: there are mysteries. There are always mysteries. For instance, I have no idea what’s up with that possible rhodie with the bell-shaped flowers. It surprised me. It’s a surprising mystery, and once it’s solved, there will always be another.

There will always be blossoms against a spring sky, shining in the sun.

Fruit tree blossoms against the sky

That’s how I see life as an atheist now: like the rhodies, unexpectedly and fantastically beautiful. And even when it’s not in full bloom, even when it looks dull and thick and rather boring, I know it’s just a matter of time before that beauty bursts out again.

My Readers Triumph

The unidentified flower which tormented so many for so long torments no more. Ann drilled down to the exact species, with help from Achrachno, with Adrian and F hot on her heels. And here it is, the Mount Hood Pussypaws, Cistanthe umbellata.

Mount Hood Pussypaws, image credit Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons

That is indubitably it. Excellent job, my botanical detectives! I’ll be keeping a special eye out for specimens this summer: it’s become our flower, and your triumph.

The question now becomes, do I show you a kindness and only post stuff I’ve (roughly) identified? Or was this exercise in botanical mystery solving something you care to repeat again in the future?

A Sandatlas Christmas

This is one of the most genius things I’ve ever seen, and I’m very pleased Siim allowed me to repost his gorgeous Christmas card here:

White snow is quartz sand from Florida. Stars are forams (Baculogypsina) from Japan. The snowman is made of forams as well (Sorites from Cyprus). His eyes are amphibole grains (from Spain). There are some sea urchin spines (Baleares Islands) and bryozoans (The Caribbean) as snow-covered bushes. Red lights are almandine garnet crystals (California). The whole scene is about 15 mm in width.

I’m usually pretty bah humbug about Christmas kitsch, but when someone creates a snowman out of sand grains, I squee. This is a geology geek’s holiday delight. I especially love the garnet crystals along the sides – I’m a sucker for all things garnet – but stars made of forams? Those are brilliant.

Sandatlas quickly became one of my favorite blogs. This is just one of the many reasons why. I’ve linked it quite a bit in Los Links, but if you somehow missed it, go remedy that. Consider it my Christmas present. And as a bonus gift, visit Michael Welland’s wonderful Through the Sandglass as well.

Sand seems so small, so inconsequential, but these two blogs reveal the worlds contained in those tiny grains. William Blake was so very right. The next time you’re by the water, pick up a handful of worlds and allow yourselves to dream deep.

Enjoy your holidays, my darlings.

Dana’s Gift Emporium for the Terminally Late and Non-Shopaholic

Right. Crap. Christmas and/or other midwinter holiday requiring giftage. There’s very little time left to get that special someone a little something, isn’t there? Suppose I’d best boot the Dojo to another day and get on it, then.

If, like me, you’re teh suck at this whole shopping thing, hopefully the links contained herein will offer a bit o’ the old inspiration and assistance. Even if you do have to give someone a card saying, “I ordered your gift late, so you get to open this card first.”

What if you’re buying for someone you’re obligated to buy for but don’t really like? Oh, just wait. Got that covered, too!

Science Gifties

Evelyn Mervine has the definitive list of gift ideas for geologists, by geologists. You’re sure to find something good here, but in case you need more ideas, Agile has also got some suggestions.

I’d like to plug Edmund Scientifics, because when that whole uproar started over gendered science kits, even though they weren’t the main offenders, they responded by doing the right thing and ending the gender segregation. Check them out for a little something for the Young Scientist on your list. They have a remote-controlled flying shark on the front page right now. How awesome is that?

Rocks In a Hard Place offers some fabulous items for the geologist on your list, and comes recommended by Garry Hayes. Their front page alone made me scream with joy. They’ve got fluorescent bloody minerals, and really, who doesn’t want fluorescent bloody minerals?

Also, there’s Mini Me Geology, which has some adorable options, and there’s that Austin Powers reference in the name, which makes them all the more awesome. Plus, Rock Detective kits. Seriously, where was that shit when I was growing up?! Recommended by Kate from Iowa.

Do you know someone who doesn’t own Brian Switek’s Written in Stone yet? Remedy that immediately!

And, this may not exist yet, but what an idea:

Surely this should be on every geologist's christmas wishlist? I want one. via @
Dr Rebecca Williams

Here’s a one-stop shop for the geek on your list from Double X Science.

For Those Less-Than-Loved Ones

Our own Stephanie Zvan uncovered a treasure trove of ideas for those obligatory gifts you must present to people you’d rather not buy a gift for, and will present with a present only because social niceties demand you do so. Even if you haven’t got one of those people in your life, read the post – it’s good for a belly laugh.

Charitable Works

Speaking of belly laughs, bust your gut laughing and find some good causes to give to at The Bloggess, where The James Garfield Christmas (And Hanukah) Miracle Returns. Sort of. This also ties in beautifully with the begrudging gift category. See Miracle #3.

And the JAYFK is having its Holiday Vaccine Drive. This is a fabulous thing – you can, for not much money, potentially vaccinate an entire village. We wish each other good health every season. Why not do more than wish?

Too Poor For Awesome Gifts

Are you kidding? Srsly? You can afford whole worlds!

Sign at Powell's Books

Doesn’t even have to be a new book – plenty of beautiful stuff at used bookstores at a great price. Doesn’t even have to be a physical book – get an ebook for those with ereaders, and you can afford even more!

But if you’re super-amazing poor, don’t forget the greatest toys of all time, which often don’t cost a thing. Give a copy of that post along with the toy, and you might make it out alive.

And always, always, remember the love. Give plenty o’ that, and get plenty back, my darlings!

Trek Into the Past

So. Star Trek turned 45 last Thursday. Wow.

It’s been nearly twenty years since I lost my Star Trek innocence. I wasn’t much of a sci-fi fan as a teenager, especially not the teevee shows. I loved Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica and… that was just about it. I truly believed most of those shows were horribly corny, with awful special effects and atrocious writing. I was above all that. I would never ever in my entire life become a Star Trek fan. Star Trek fans were pathetic and weird.

Ah, youth. So full of certainty and so full of shit.

Then my friend Ryan spent a few days with us on his summer break from college. This happened at the same time they’d started releasing Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS. Yes, I am dating myself. Shut up. Anyway, Ryan saw these while we were at Wal-Mart one afternoon and snapped them up with evident glee. His little face just glowed. And he assumed that I, of course, would watch them with him.

“No,” I said. “I hate Star Trek.”

His face. So shocked. He pitched. He pleaded. He cajoled. He seemed to give up in the face of my continued refusal. I should’ve known better. Ryan was a man who could hear the word no, but not when it came to entertainment he believed in. And he could be a devious little bastard.

He also knew me very well. Since he was staying at my place with a herd of other friends, he had easy access to both me and backup. So at 8 in the ay-em, when I was still dead unconscious, he came into my bedroom. “We’re gonna watch Star Trek.”

I think I meant to say something like, “That’s nice, dear. I’m going to continue sleeping,” but what I really said was, “Groan.”

He started in on a let’s-watch-Star-Trek-together sales pitch, ending with, “C’mon. Just one.”

“If you want me to watch Star Trek,” I said, “you’ll have to carry me out there.”

And so he did. He scooped me right out of bed. He’s not the strongest man in the universe, but he was determined. Picture him staggering through my chaotic bedroom, trying to avoid tripping over debris, navigating hazards, while I watched the approaching door with the certainty that I was about to have my head cracked open upon it, if he didn’t fall and squish me first. I was about to die because a friend wanted me to watch Star Trek.

We made it to the living room with only minor bruising. He deposited me in front of the television whilst the other houseguests laughed and roared their approval. Ryan may not have been a strong man, but he was a smart man. He stuffed a Coke in my hand, knowing that at this hour and so equipped, I wouldn’t have the will to move for at least an hour, and an hour was all he needed. Then he turned on the telly.

The episode, for those interested, was “The Naked Now.” Yeah. If you know it, you’re already laughing.

By the end of that hour, I was hooked. By the end of summer, I was a full-on fan. I became an officer in our local fan club. I dressed as Deanna Troi for Ryan’s next visit (which didn’t shock him half so much as the fact that I was wearing makeup). I loved the friend who constantly wore his starship captain’s uniform, and didn’t think it at all weird that he’d spent months figuring out how to say, “Take your ticket and get on the damned boat” in Klingon. He worked for a boat rental company, it made perfect sense.

I owned the Enterprise’s manual. I wrote Star Trek fan fic. I read the books (and to this day, Q-in-Law is one of my favorite reading experiences. Read it. You’ll laugh). I watched all the movies. And I discovered a wealth of stories I hadn’t even known existed.

Star Trek taught me that sci-fi could be awesome, even in the television industry, even when the special effects weren’t all that. It taught me that this genre could tell amazing stories.

I rather drifted away after those halcyon early years of passion. I no longer read the books or write the fan fic. I don’t belong to a fan group, or keep up on the new spinoffs, or even all of the movies. But I haven’t stopped loving Star Trek.

I’ll always want my tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

I’ll always want to see them boldly going where no show has gone before, even if I’m not along for every voyage.


Equality is Beautiful

New York State is celebrating marriage equality, and it’s beautiful.

Niagara Falls by @LanceBass

Governor Cuomo wholeheartedly declared July 24 as a day to commemorate marriage equality, which gives us even more to celebrate aside from the marriages of a lot of very happy couples.  If you really want your heart warmed, click here to see Phyllis Siegal and Connie Kopelov right after they tied the knot.  The Salt Lake Tribune has a huge gallery.  And the Digital Cuttlefish has written a poem especially for the occasion: “My Marriage is Gay Today.”  At least one hetero marriage has been changed by all this gay marrying!

By the time I, like Phyllis and Connie, am a white-haired old lady, I hope that every state has allowed same-sex couples to suffer matrimony like the rest of us get married, and that the idea that the United States once was a place where people who loved each other couldn’t marry simply because of similar genitalia is as unbelievable to the youngsters as the idea of Jim Crow and bans on interracial marriages.

I think this calls for a song.

(And yes, I’ll have Los Links up later today. I’m horribly behind, but they’re coming.)