Godless Perverts Social Club March 4!

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Tuesday, March 4, is the next Godless Perverts Social Club — the casual, hanging-out social arm of the Godless Perverts empire. Join us every first Tuesday of every month at Wicked Grounds, San Francisco’s renowned BDSM-themed coffee house, for an evening of conversation and socializing. Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers. So please join us on the first Tuesday of every month for an evening of conversation and socializing. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome.

Wicked Grounds is at 289 8th Street in San Francisco, just three blocks from the Civic Center BART station. There’s no admission, but we ask that you buy food and drink at the counter, or make a donation to the venue. Wicked Grounds has yummy food and drink options ranging from full dinners to coffee and tea, with lots of snacks and baked goods and other light nosh in between, and some of the best milkshakes in the city. We’ll be there from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Hope to see you there!

Welcome Kaveh Mousavi to Freethought Blogs!

Please welcome new blogger Kaveh Mousavi, and his On the Margin of Error blog, to Freethought Blogs! Here’s what he has to say about himself:

Kaveh Mousavi is the pseudonym of an atheist ex-Muslim living in Iran, subject to one of the world’s remaining theocracies. He is a student of English Literature, an aspiring novelist, and part-time English teacher. He is passionate about politics, video games, heavy metal music, and cinema. He was born at the tenth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. He has ditched the Islamic part, but has kept some of the revolutionary spirit.

I know, right? Please visit his blog and say Hi!

I’ve Been Misquoted by American Conservative Magazine!

This must be some sort of career benchmark. I’ve been misquoted by American Conservative magazine!

American Conservative did an article about American Atheists being booted from having a booth at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference), after initially being told they could have one. In their article, they had this to say:

If their soft-pedaling had won them supporters, American Atheists might have had a new problem on their hands. Although the many conservatives are uncomfortable with atheists, it’s not clear that the atheist movement is necessarily much more comfortable with conservatives. When Edwina Rogers, who had previously worked for Senator Trent Lott and President George W. Bush, was tapped as Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of America, Greta Christina, a popular atheist writer, called it “a disaster” and “unacceptable,” and resigned her membership in the SCA.

Um… yeah. Not so much.

Here is my reply to American Conservative, which I’ve written to them both as a letter to the editor and as a comment in the article.

*****

Dear Sir or Madam:

You recently quoted me in an article, “Conservative Atheists Speak Up About CPAC Shunning.” However, your quotation is highly misrepresentative of the actual position I took — in fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. In your article, you stated:

“Although the many conservatives are uncomfortable with atheists, it’s not clear that the atheist movement is necessarily much more comfortable with conservatives. When Edwina Rogers, who had previously worked for Senator Trent Lott and President George W. Bush, was tapped as Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of America, Greta Christina, a popular atheist writer, called it ‘a disaster’ and ‘unacceptable,’ and resigned her membership in the SCA.”

I did refer to Rogers’ appointment as a “disaster” and “unacceptable,” and I did resign my membership in the SCA as a result of it. But this was not because she was a conservative or a Republican. My opposition had to do with Rogers’ deceptive, manipulative, contemptuous, and insulting responses to questions about her appointment. Her conservative politics were cause for serious concern about whether she shared the values of most people in the atheist community and could effectively represent us. But I specifically stated in the article you linked to that I was willing to be proven wrong about this. I said, quote, “Maybe this is one of those ‘only Nixon can go to China’ things. Maybe a Republican could be uniquely effective at pitching secularism to Congress, and to America. The people who hired her aren’t idiots. This is worth considering. Keep an open mind.” I opposed her appointment because of her evasion, spin, and outright falsehoods in response to questions about her record — evasion, spin, and outright falsehoods aimed at the very community she was appointed to represent.

To state that I opposed Rogers’ appointment solely because she was a conservative is a serious misrepresentation of my views. I would very much appreciate a correction. If and when you issue one, please let me know. Thank you.

*****

Am now holding my breath for that correction. After I recover from the utter shock of American Conservative misquoting a progressive atheist in order to fit their narrative.

Brief Blog Semi-Break, With Houdini Belly

I’m going to be in the recording studio for the next few days, recording the audiobook version of Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. I won’t be able to blog much for the next few days. To comfort you in this time of woe, here is a picture of a cat.

Houdini belly

Houdini belly!

Exquisite Corpse Results

We were playing Exquisite Corpse today (if you’re not familiar with the game of Exquisite Corpse, here are the rules and the origin story), and I thought I’d blog some of my favorite results.

Ten thousand angry igloos took responsibility for the sexual peanut butter sandwich.
The raunchiest, raciest, filthiest space-time continuum has formulated a suddenly exposed sea gull feather.
My brand new ostrich or emu skull was rather unsettled by the pock-marked things.
Each absorbent beast paints over Fred’s friendly habits.
The wildly gesticulating mango-flavored sangria wrote passionate but not very good poetry about his favorite SF Giants pitcher.
Four friendly stockings have already reluctantly forgiven your feverish lover.
The salacious limbic system verifies my sweetest pile of teddy bears.
An anhedonic fairy climbed on top of a blackened pony.
The tiny sycophant disdainfully hurled the bizarre princess.
An elegant jarhead delivers the twelfth worm.
Five or six of the largest wastrels have been quarreling with all, and I mean all, drag queens.
Joanne’s tumescent timepiece failed to escape from the most insular tombs.
A softly-lit supervisor for District 5 had kinky sex with the red, red detonator.

I love my friends. I’m just sayin’.

Secular Meditation: Listening to Silence

There’s this meditation technique I’ve been using. It’s a little hard to talk about: not in the “painful or upsetting” sense of “hard to talk about,” but in the “literally difficult to find words” sense. But I’ve been finding it very valuable, so I thought I’d share with the rest of the class.

I’ve been calling it “listening to silence.” (Not a hugely original concept, I’m aware…)

earWhen I was at a daylong meditation retreat thing a few months ago, one of the “bringing our awareness into the present moment” techniques our teacher had us do was to listen: to be aware of the sounds around us, and to let our awareness change as the sounds changed. A couple/ few minutes into the session, the background noise of a heater in the room shut off… and the room was suddenly very, very quiet. I hadn’t even been aware of the sound of the heater until it stopped, but once it did, the absence of that sound was palpable. No heater, no traffic, no music or conversation drifting up from the street. Just… silence.

And I sat there, listening to it.

And ever since, I’ve been doing this on a semi-regular basis.

Here’s the thing. Most of the meditation techniques I use are fairly inward-focused: focusing my awareness on my breath, my body, my thoughts, my emotions and mood. But there are times when this doesn’t work very well. The chatterbox in my head is always somewhat hard to quiet, but sometimes it’s especially persistent — and when I’m doing an inwardly-focused meditation, my awareness tends to be drawn into the chatterbox even more than usual. The jump from “breath” or “body” or “mood” over to “whatever plans and fantasies and memories and anxieties and ideas for blog posts and opinions about TV shows my brain is churning out this second” is a pretty small one. It’s all stuff that’s going on inside the fairly small confines of my own skin, and my awareness is easily seduced from one to the other.

But when I focus on something external, like sounds, that jump is a bit bigger. It’s a bit easier to stay focused on whatever I’m focusing on, and I can do it for a bit longer, and it’s a bit easier to notice when I’ve become distracted and to pull my focus back. Of course I still get distracted, of course my awareness still gets sucked into the chatterbox — but when my focus is outside my self instead of inside it, the gravitational pull of the chatterbox is a little less powerful.

And when the room is really, really quiet… here’s where it gets hard to talk about. I mean, what is there to say about nothing? How can nothing be a thing to pay attention to? And yet, it is. When I draw my focus away from “chatterbox on autoplay” and listen to what’s around me, and I hear nothing, and I keep listening… the calming effect on my brain and my mood is powerful. It quiets the chatterbox like just about nothing else. It is an odd thing, though: secular meditation is very much about fully experiencing the present moment (for me, anyway, and for lots of other people practicing it), and there’s an odd paradox when the thing in the present moment that I’m experiencing is, literally, nothing. (A friend of mine who’s a secular Buddhist sometimes talks about “the union of emptiness and clarity,” and maybe that’s what this is about: a clearer perception and experience of nothingness?)

truckOf course, silence is almost never actually silent. I don’t meditate in a soundproof booth (although that might be interesting to try sometime). Of course sounds drift into the soundscape: the fridge turning on, a truck going by, a neighbor coming down the back stairs, Talisker making those mysterious yowling noises that sound like she’s being strangled but that really just mean she has a toy in her mouth and is parading it around the house. These sounds get folded into the meditation: I notice them, notice them pass, listen to the silence again. It’s something of a pleasure, actually: really listening to these sounds instead of having them be part of the backdrop. It’s like an experimental music composition or something, where ordinary sounds get turned into music simply by putting them in a particular order, or even simply by drawing attention to them. Concerto #4 with Distant Truck.

Even when the room is very quiet indeed, even when there’s no fridge or truck or neighbor or yowling cat, the silence is still rarely silent. When I listen closely to the silence, there are small sounds deep inside it: the house settling, leaves rustling in a slight breeze, my own stomach rumbling. I just have to listen really deeply: let my focus really sink into the silence, and hear the tiny sounds embedded in it. Which, of course, is much of the point of the whole exercise: that deep, conscious focus on the here and now.

And of course, silence itself can also have that quality of an experimental composition: the quality of music being created, not out of instruments or vocal cords or amplifiers, but out of attention. John Cage’s “4 Minutes and 33 Seconds,” and all.

Not sure where I’m going with this. Not sure if I’m going anywhere. Which I suppose is somewhat appropriate for writing about meditation and mindfulness and being in the present moment. I’m trying to come up with one of my trademark punchy conclusions, but it’s not coming, so I think I’m going to let that go and just let this trail off. Into, you know… silence.

Coming Out Godless, and Not Assuming the Worst

“Coming out is the most powerful act nonbelievers can take!” “It’s personally powerful; it’s politically powerful.” “If you want to help humanism/atheism, if you want to push back against the corrosive influence of religion, if you want to make life better for yourself and other godless people—come out about your godlessness.”

People have been saying this stuff for as long as I’ve been in the organized godless movement. I’ve been saying it myself. In fact, I’m about to come out with a book—Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why—that offers specific strategies and overall guiding philosophies for coming out of the godless closet. In preparation for writing this book, I read and listened to hundreds of “coming out atheist” stories, and there was an immense variety among them; I read stories that were hilarious, poignant, tragic, ironic, sweet, dramatic, joyful, anticlimactic. (And yes, many of these stories appear in the book, told in people’s own words.) But as I started to read through the hundreds of coming out stories I’d collected, one consistent theme emerged: Most of the time, coming out atheist turns out okay.

This was a huge surprise. When I first decided to write this book and started doing the research for it, I was bracing myself for an onslaught of horror stories: stories of ruptured families, shattered marriages, broken friendships, ruined careers, disowned children. I was bracing myself to write a guide on coming out as godless in a world that’s probably going to reject you, shun you, even despise you, once it knows you’re a heathen. True, that hadn’t been my own experience, but I figured I’d just gotten lucky living in the famously progressive and largely secular San Francisco Bay Area. I was even writing a diatribe in my head—a scolding little speech I was going to include in the book, aimed at all the bigoted believers who had made life so difficult for the atheists in their lives.

But once I started reading the stories, I had to scrap that entire mental narrative and start another—a narrative of encouragement, and of reassurance. Because most of the time, when atheists tell the people in our lives that we’re atheists, it turns out okay.

*****

The Humanist coverThus begins my latest Fierce Humanism column for The Humanist magazine: Coming Out Godless, and Not Assuming the Worst. To read more, read the rest of the piece. The Humanist’s online edition is all revamped and shiny, by the way — I encourage you all to take a look. Enjoy!

“Coming Out Atheist” Is At the Printer! And It Has a Cover!

Coming Out Atheist cover 150My new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, is at the printer! Yaaaaay! This is really and truly happening! I love this part, where the idea for a book is starting to take physical form.

We’re scheduled for an April 16 publication date. We’re on track for that — production on this book has gone eerily smoothly, with very few hiccups and no major ones. (If I were superstitious, I’d be nervous about saying that out loud and jinxing it — but I’m not, so I’m not.)

We’re planning on a simultaneous publication of the print, ebook, and audiobook editions. The ebook is being formatted as we speak, and audiobook recording is being scheduled now — I should start recording in about a week. Watch this space for further announcements.

And yes — we have a cover! Here it is, in all its glory:

Coming Out Atheist cover 550

Many thanks once again to the extraordinarily talented Casimir Fornalski for his excellent cover design. Woo hoo!

Fashion Friday: On Looking Like a Middle-Aged Lady

There’s a pattern I’ve been noticing when I shop for clothes or get dressed in the morning. If I try something on and think, “This makes me look like a middle-aged lady,” I immediately reject it and put on something else. If I look at an article of clothing on a store rack or in a catalog and think, “Nah, that might look good on someone else, but on me it’d make me look like a middle-aged lady,” I won’t even try it on.

And I’ve been wondering: What’s that about?

Greta in sweater dressAfter all, I am a middle-aged lady. I’m 52 years old. And I’m generally comfortable and happy with my age. There are downsides to aging, of course, mostly in the area of physical health and ability — but there are serious upsides as well, mostly in the area of confidence and experience and perspective. And I’m happy to have my clothing reflect my age. In fact, I’ve written on the topic of age-appropriate style more than once, and although I have some issues with some of the details of how that concept plays out in our culture, the core of the concept is one I embrace. I am a different person now than I was when I was 20, and I want my style to reflect that. So what does it mean that I’m comfortable with my age, and am comfortable looking my age — but that I don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady?

I’ve been thinking about this. And I think I know what it is.

When I think, “I don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady,” what I mean is, “I don’t want to look like society’s perception of a middle-aged lady.”

When I think of the cultural tropes and stereotypes of middle-aged ladies, especially when it comes to fashion and style, the words that come to mind are: Conservative. Conventional. Modest. Sexless. Inobtrusive. Invisible. Stodgy. Frumpy. And none of that describes me.

Greta in batwing minidress and octopus necklaceI don’t want to look flashy, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to command attention. I don’t want to flash my flesh, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to express my sexuality, and in some situations I even want to flaunt it. I don’t want to flagrantly ignore cultural standards, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to express independence and even defiance, albeit in a more thoughtful and selective way than I did in my youth. I don’t want to look like a kaleidoscope took mescaline and threw up, the way I did in my twenties (well, not usually) — but I do want to express exuberance and joy.

It’s a tricky thing. As I’ve written before, it’s hard to use the metaphorical language of fashion and style to express “sexy middle-aged woman,” when the very concept of a sexy middle-aged woman is one that’s seen as incoherent. And it’s hard to accept and respect the basic idea of using fashion and style as a form of expression and communication, while rejecting many of the assumptions that the language is based on. The assumption that youth, by definition, equals beauty and desirability; the assumption that after a certain age, expressing your belief in your sexual desirability is just embarrassing; the assumption that unless you’re Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep, once you’ve reached a certain age you might as well just give up — these assumptions are deeply woven into the language of fashion.

And of course, any number of impossible contradictions are woven into that language as well. There’s an assumption that looking younger means looking better — coupled with a perception that people should age gracefully. There’s an assumption that of course everyone over 30, indeed everyone over 25, wants to look younger and should try to look younger — coupled with the perception that women who try too hard to look younger are making fools of themselves. There’s an assumption that it’s embarrassing to try too hard — coupled with the perception that it’s also embarrassing to not try hard enough, to “let yourself go.” We’re supposed to try the exact right amount, I guess. (More accurately, I think, we’re supposed to look younger — but it’s supposed to look effortless. A theme that crops up a lot in cultural beauty messages. But that’s a post for another time.) We’re supposed to find that perfect sliver where we accept our age, but also accept that of course it would be better to look and be younger. And that perfect sliver gets narrower and narrower the older we get — until the walls pressing in on us collide, and cross, and we enter the zone where the expectations of us move from being narrow to being literally impossible.

So how do I find my own voice in this? How do I find a way to express middle age, while resisting the cultural assumption that being middle-aged — or at least, being middle-aged and female — means not commanding attention, not expressing sexuality, not showing exuberance and joy?

Maybe the issue is with the word “lady.” I don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady: I am not a lady, and I do not give a flying fuck about being a lady. (Obviously — if I did, I wouldn’t toss around the F-word so freely.) I am not conservative, conventional, modest, sexless, stodgy, frumpy, inobtrusive, or invisible — and I do not give a flying fuck about being any of these things. To the contrary. I am radical, shameless, sexual, defiant, obtrusive, and as visible as I possibly can make myself be. And I embrace all of these things.

Greta in striped jacket and bootsI don’t want to look like a middle-aged lady.

I want to look like a middle-aged woman.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Yes, I know. Valentine’s Day is a manufactured holiday, concocted by corporate interests to manipulate some of humanity’s deepest and most valuable emotions — as well as people’s anxieties about those emotions — in order to sell candy, cards, lingerie, jewelry, vacations, and more. Plus, insert rant about the privileging of coupled relationships. I know. I get it.

But it’s a built-in excuse to be mushy about Ingrid. And I pretty much never pass those up.

Saw this on a Huffington Post piece, 21 Awkward Valentine’s Day Cards For Your Confusing Modern Relationship, and couldn’t resist.

Valentine

“There is nobody else I’d rather lie in bed and look at my phone next to.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie!