Blogathon For SSA Week: “I’m Not an Organizer”

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week… now! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 12:01 pm PDT: 429 Donors, $69,747.69
As of 1:01 PDT: 431 Donors, $69,948.02

“I’m not an organizer.”

I’ve been saying this for years now. When I talk or write about how activists need to do whatever form of activism they’re good at and find inspiring and fun, I usually add something like, “For instance, I’m not a community organizer, because I hate that and would suck at it.” When I talk or write about how important it is for atheists to build communities and support systems to replace the ones people lose when they leave religion, I usually add something like, “I have such enormous respect for the people who do community organizing, it’s such a hugely important job, and I’m sure as hell not going to do it — I hate it, and would suck at it.”

Except I realized something the other day.

I’m on the Advisory Board of the Secular Student Alliance. I’m on the board of directors for Skepticon (or I will be — not sure if that’s official yet). I do a huge amount of unofficial brainstorming with organizers about the organizations we’re part of. I do a metric shitload of fundraising for community organizations (this blogathon being just one example). And, maybe more to the point, I’m a co-organizer of the Godless Perverts here in San Francisco, and we’re hosting both social gatherings and performance events on a regular basis.

Shit.

I think I’m an organizer.

And I don’t hate it. And I don’t think I suck at it.

How the hell did that happen?

And to any organizers out there — can you give me any advice? What do I do now?

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Blogathon For SSA Week: Meditation, and the Difference Between Theory and Practice

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week… now! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 11:10 am PDT: 428 Donors, $69,712.69
As of 12:01 pm PDT: 429 Donors, $69,747.69

So as I’ve written about earlier, I’ve recently started this secular, evidence-based meditation practice, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. I started noticing positive benefits almost immediately: within the first couple of days: I was calmer, less anxious, less depressed, better able to focus on my work, better able to prioritize my work and not just chase whatever shiny bead happened to cross my path at that moment.

I went back to the next session, and said as much during the “How has this been going for everyone?” portion of the class.

And then I stopped doing it for a few days.

It was as if I’d found a solution to a problem… and knowing that a solution existed felt like enough. Like it was a math problem: once you know that a proof for a theorem exists, you can then assume that theorem, and use it to prove the next one. You don’t have to keep proving it. Proving it once is enough.

Except, of course, that it wasn’t enough. When I stopped doing the practice, the benefits stopped coming.

And I realized:

Oh.

That’s why they call it a “practice.”

m-/

It’s not enough to just have it in my head, “I know that if I meditate, I will feel calmer and more focused. Problem solved.” Just like it’s not enough to have it in my head, “I know that if I exercise, my muscles will get stronger and my overall health will improve.” I have to actually do the freaking thing to get benefit out of it.

And of course, it’s ridiculously arrogant to think that I have the meditation problem solved. I know that what a meditation/ mindfulness practice will be like in a month or two will be different from what it is now, not even two weeks into doing it. And it will be different again in six months. A year. Five years. Thirty years. it is ridiculously arrogant to think that “Aha! This reduces stress and anxiety and helps me focus my attention!” is all that I have to learn from this.

I am not studying a meditation/ mindfulness theory. I am doing some thinking about the theory behind mindfulness meditation… but that’s not the crux of what I’m doing. I am learning a meditation/ mindfulness practice.

And to do that, I have to actually, you know… practice.

Like, duh.

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Blogathon For SSA Week: Cat Songs

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week… now! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 10:05 am PDT: 427 Donors, $69,687.69
As of 11:10 am PDT: 428 Donors, $69,712.69

Ingrid and I were singing to Houdini last night:

Let me go on
Like a whisker in the sun
Let me go on
Big paws, I know you’re the one.

We have totally gone to the bad place. But of course, this is not a new thing. Making up silly new cat-themed lyrics to songs is a regular occupation. On of our favorites was one Ingrid wrote for Violet, who had one green eye and one blue eye:

violetWhy don’t you scritch me like you used to do?
Why do you treat me like a worn-out shoe?
My fur is still furry and my eye is still blue
So why don’t you scritch me like you used to do?

And of course, there’s “Everyone Knows It’s Comet!”

Who’s peeking out from under a shoebox
Leaping and twisting high in the air?
Who’s bending down to pilfer my yogurt?
Everyone knows it’s Comet!

Who’s tripping down the sofas and bookshelves
Leaping at everybody she sees?
Who’s reaching out to capture a shoelace?
Everyone knows it’s Comet!

And Comet has stormy eyes
That flash when she claws my thighs
And Comet has teeth to bite
Upon my toes
Upon my toes…

Who wakes us up at six in the morning
Poking my face and biting my nose?
Who snuggles up, then nips at your finger?
Everyone knows it’s Comet!

Who’s chowing down on all the phone chargers
Tussling with every kitty she sees?
Who’s reaching out to dig in the laundry?
Everyone knows it’s Comet!

And the one written by ReasJack, “Cat Over the Fridge Up High”:

Comet on fridgeComet!
She’ll bite like a machine
Comet!
Your feet she’s in between
Comet
Your stuff she’ll glom it
She’ll chow down on it
And vomit todaaay
badum badum
bum
bum
bum
COMET!
She needs some more play time
COMET!
She thinks “That LEG IS MINE!”
COMET!
She’ll jump upon it
So play with Comet
Get on it
Today

I still can’t believe strangers are writing songs about our cats.

Do you re-write songs in honor of your pets? What are yours?

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Cat Pictures for the Secular Student Alliance!

As part of my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 9:01 am PDT: 422 donors, $68,297.69.
As of 10:05 am PDT: 427 Donors, $69,687.69.

So that’s $1,390 raised in the first hour! Here come fourteeen cat photos! Most of them below the fold. And as a bonus treat, all the pictures in this round will be of kitties snuggling!

All tjhree cats [Read more...]

Blogathon For SSA Week: Meditation and Breakfast

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week… now! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 9:01 am PDT: 422 donors, $68,297.69.
As of 10:05 am PDT:
427 Donors, $69,687.69

So as part of this Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction practice that I’m starting to learn, our assignment for this week — is “assignment” the right word? The part of the practice that we’re adding this week is to pick a single task that we do every day, and to work on doing it mindfully: staying in the present moment, experiencing the task fully, noticing when our minds start to wander into plans and fantasies and memories and worries and then bringing them back to the experience of the moment.

Because I have some issues with food (unsurprisingly, I think a lot of people do, food is a large and deep issue), I decided to make my mindfulness task “making and eating breakfast.” And I’ve been noticing some interesting things.

First: I’m noticing how much more difficult it is to stay mindful when performing a task or an action than it is I’m just lying still and noticing each part of my body in turn. If for no other reason: It’s a moving target. Each moment is substantially different from the previous one: that’s somewhat true even when I’m lying still, but it’s more true, or more noticeably true, when I’m moving around the kitchen, or even just sitting on the sofa eating. And of course, doing activities means I do have to pull away from a simple contemplation of my immediate sensory experience, and do things like make sure I don’t burn myself when I pour the hot water over the coffee, or think about where the cheese slicer is.

I’m also thinking, though, that this practice may wind up being more beneficial in the long run than the “lying still and noticing each part of my body in turn” practice. After all, other than being asleep, lying still for forty-five minutes doing nothing isn’t really a part of my everyday life. If I can learn to stay mindful during ordinary tasks, at least some of the time, I think it will have more of an impact on my daily life.

But the main thing I’m noticing is how automatic it is for me to start on the next thing before I’ve finished the last one.

I have a powerful, unconscious reflex to reach for the next strawberry before I’ve finished chewing the last one; to reach for the coffee before I’ve finished swallowing my bite of toast and cheese. It’s being a very difficult habit to overcome: to just experience this strawberry, and not reach for the next one before I finish it. It’s not like it’s a big time-saver or anything — it doesn’t take that long to reach for a strawberry, it’s not like the half a second I save reaching for the next strawberry while I finish chewing the last one will significantly add to my time. It’s just a reflex.

And I know this reflex is a tendency I have in much of my life — not just eating breakfast. I strongly tend to live in the next moment, to live in my plans and hopes and worries and anticipations and expectations for what’s about to come, to focus on the next thing I want to do before I’ve finished the things I’m doing. Even when I’m doing something I’ve been planning and looking forward to for a long time — like a vacation — I tend to slip into thinking about the next bit of fun, rather than experiencing this one.

I’m generally okay with being a goal-oriented person. It’s a major part of how I engage with the world, and I am mostly at peace with it. But paradoxically, I think this tendency to live in my thoughts about my goals inhibits my ability to actually get them done already. When I look at all the things I want to do in a day, when I look at all the emails I want to answer and all the pieces I want to write and all the research I want to do… that’s when I turn into a hummingbird on meth, inefficiently flitting from task to task, or just getting paralyzed by all the things and just blowing it all off and watching “What Not to Wear.” I think this practice will help me focus: if I stay with the one thing I’m doing, instead of getting distracted by all the other things I want to be doing next, I get it done, better and calmer (and in fact, quicker)– and I can then move on to the next thing, and focus on that.

Not sure how to sum this up. Secular mindfulness meditation — neat!

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Blogathon For SSA Week – Why Am I So Giddy About The Secular Student Alliance?

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I’m beginning my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week… now! From now (9am PDT) until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

And I thought I’d start, appropriately enough, with a little piece on why I care so much about the Secular Student Alliance, and why I want my readers to support them.

As SSA Campus Organizer Lyz Liddell says: Students aren’t just the future of the atheist movement. Students are the present of this movement. Pretty much everyone in the atheist movement keeps gassing on about how important it is for atheists to do on-the-ground community organizing, to create social support systems that can help replace the ones people often lose when they leave religion and come out as atheists. Student organizations are doing a huge amount of this work — and they’re doing it now.

And they’re doing it for a demographic that is very, very receptive to our ideas. When you look at polls showing the rise of atheism in the United States in the past few years, you see that trend most dramatically among people 25 and under. Atheism is creeping up slightly among older age groups… but it’s shooting up like a rocket among young people. (It’s something the Christian Right has already taken note of, and is freaking out about — the rate at which kids brought up in their Christian bubble leave their religion when they hit college.) Student organizations are making atheism visible to a large group of people that is very, very receptive to the idea of atheism once they become aware of it… and they’re creating communities and support systems for these people when they do leave religion.

And they’re doing it at an astonishing clip. Check out this graph of the number of SSA affiliates over the years. Check out how the direction of the graph is going “Foom!” right through the ceiling. And note how fast the number of high school groups is growing (the green tips of the bars on the graph). As of this writing, there are 379 SSA affiliate groups — and 46 of them are high school groups.

SSA growth chart

And in case I haven’t mentioned this enough, the students in this movement are just freaking awesome. Whenever I work with student groups — which is a lot, the overwhelming majority of my speaking gigs are for student groups — I’m always struck by how energetic they are, how motivated, how inspired, how creative, how well-organized, how much work they put into their groups, how much work they put into making their groups welcoming and fun. They put me to shame, really. When I was in college, I was pretty much majoring in romantic drama and getting high. These folks are majoring in changing the world.

Please support them. Donate money if you can — even small amounts make a difference! Or help by publicizing SSA Week, telling friends and family why the SSA is important to you, post about the SSA on Facebook and Twitter (they even have some handy Facebook- and Twitter-ready icons for you to use if you like!). If you want to support and nurture the blossoming atheist movement, supporting the Secular Student Alliance nourishes those blossoms right at the roots.

“Whatever this is, it isn’t right”: Excerpt from “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More”

Bending coverExcerpt from “This Isn’t Right,” one of the stories from “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.” Now for sale on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords! Content note: Kinky sex, incest, fantasies about problematic consent or non-consent.

*****

“I’m really sorry,” she said. “I’ll pay to get it fixed.”

“That is not the point.” They were sitting next to each other on the sofa. She was wearing short gym shorts, and a thin tank top that clung to her chest. The current between their bodies should have been diffused by their argument and their anger. It wasn’t. It was turned up.

“That is not the point,” he repeated. “The point is that you acted recklessly. The point is that you treated me with disrespect. The point is that you were selfish, and didn’t consider my feelings.” His voice was rising in pitch. He’d never seemed to care about the car that much.

“Oh, come on,” she coaxed. “Don’t be mad.” She rested her hand on his knee.

And he grabbed her around the wrist, and pulled her body down across his lap. Without hesitating, without apparently thinking, he smacked her hard on her bottom.

And everything changed, as if a hand had wiped the scene.

And the new scene is alien, and overwhelming. The shock, as her body makes contact with his, and as the current running through the empty space between them suddenly shorts out. The rush of adult sexuality and female power, confusingly blended with the feeling of childishness, and frightened, embarrassed, guilty childishness at that. The memory of all the videos she’s been watching: all the bare bottoms, all the hands and paddles and everything else raining down in righteous fury, the pinkness or redness or worse, the wriggling, the tears, the bare pussies peering out from under the bare bottoms. The vivid consciousness that this is the thing she has been wanting, and has not been able to think about wanting, and it is happening, right now. The drop into helplessness, like she has been dropped into a swimming pool and doesn’t know how to swim. The acute, shamed awareness that this is her uncle, and that whatever this is, it isn’t right.

*****

If this intrigues you, check out the rest of the book! Now for sale on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords!

My Stretch in the SSA Week Blogathon Begins Tomorrow!

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I’m going to be doing my leg in the SSA Week Blogathon, tomorrow (Tuesday), from 9am to 9pm Pacific time!

During that time, in order to help raise money for the Secular Student Alliance, I will write a blog post every hour. I will not pre-write them or pre-schedule them: I will write new posts during the day, throughout the day, and post them as I go along, once an hour. Also, for every $100 donated during my stretch of the Blogathon, I will post a picture of one or more of our cats! And best of all, all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

So come visit the blog tomorrow: it should be entertainingly stream-of-consciousy and possibly incoherent, especially towards the end. Plus — cats!

And if you have a blog, website, webcomic, or other internet presence? You can participate in SSA Week, too! Please contact jessica.kirsner@secularstudents.org for how to get your SSA Week post advertised or for more information. (And yes, Facebook and Twitter count as an Internet presence.)

Infighting or Healthy Debate?

This was originally published in Free Inquiry magazine.

ArguingIn the skeptic and atheist communities, we often wring our hands over how much infighting we do. Every time another firestorm of controversy eats the Internet, many of us become alarmed at the rifts dividing our community: weakening us, burning us out, making it harder for us to work together on issues we have in common, and draining our time and energy from the battles we all share.

Yet at the same time, one of the things we value most about our community is our willingness to disagree: with our leaders, with our heroes, with one another. We understand that dissent and debate are how good ideas rise to the surface and bad ideas get winnowed out, and we relish the fact that we have no dogma we’re all expected to line up behind.

So where is the line between infighting and healthy debate?

I strongly suspect that, much of the time, we draw these distinctions very subjectively. If we personally think an argument is important, then of course it’s a healthy debate; if we’re finding an argument either boring or upsetting, then it’s obviously divisive infighting. It’s the old “emotive conjugation” thing: I am debating; you are infighting; they are creating deep rifts.

So I’d like to propose some possible semi-objective standards for deciding whether a disagreement in our community is infighting or healthy debate. Or rather, since I think this difference isn’t a clear either/or dichotomy: I’d like to propose some standards for where to draw the line on the “infighting/ healthy debate” continuum. (This isn’t meant to be the final word on the subject, by the way. I’m very much thinking out loud here, I’m sure there are ideas that I’m missing, and I want this to be the start of a conversation rather than the end of one.) [Read more...]

“It is not a position of grace or beauty”: Excerpt from “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More”

Bending coverExcerpt from “Footstool,” one of the stories from “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.” Now for sale on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords! Content note: Kinky sex.

*****

A naked woman is kneeling on a wide footstool or a low table. Her hands are on the floor in front of her; her knees are spread wide. It is not a position of grace or beauty. It is an awkward position. It is a position with one purpose: to place her ass, and her thighs, and her spread-open pussy, on display. To make them available. To place them above her head, and above her heart. Where they belong.

I can’t see her face. This is not a problem. This is more than not a problem. This is part of the point.

I can hear her crying. This is also not a problem. This is also part of the point.

*****

If this intrigues you, check out the rest of the book! Now for sale on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords!