What I Learned About Freelancing From My Dad and Pushing Social

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My blog is my favorite thing about my professional life.

I’m always reading about ways to do it better, and there’s a huge concensus among people who give blogging advice that monetizing a blog–unless you are John Grisham–is probably more hassle than it’s worth.

Last night, via Twitter, I found Pushing Social, which offers a lot of different thinking and advice about using your blog to monetize yourself. Which is a beast of a different color than click revenue and ads from your blog, which is distinct from yourself (hopefully).

One of the reasons I love my blog so hard is that it’s a whooole lot of work for no money.  I have a deeply ingrained sense that I am not good enough, or that there’s no honor, in being fairly compensated for my work.  More on this in a moment.

I am compensated by my blog, however, in more real ways than I am by some of my clients.  My blog forages connections, gives me an audience, and loads of affirmation.

The Origin of Self Worth

The sense that I am somehow less worthy than others as/less talented and dedicated than I am comes to me from the way I have watched my dad, who is a legitimately, maybe even exceptionally, swell, smart man, toil for his entire life for far, far less than he is worth.

I have seen him put in 80-100 hour work weeks and live a very middle-class life.  I have seen him buy a car for $100, put 10 hours of work and $50 in it, and sell it to some sod with a sad tale for $200.

My dad enjoys these arrangements in which he rips himself off because it makes him feel like a good person.  I have heard him say gleefully, “Yeah, but that’s $50 bucks I didn’t have before, and I helped someone out, it’s a win-win!”  Yeah, dad.  And at least three evenings with your family and a Saturday afternoon you didn’t have, too.

As a person in my dad’s family, I have often been on the short end of his work-for-too-little-money-and-moral-affirmation stick.

I watched him buy a falling-down house for $40,000, dump $20,000 plus a half a year’s worth of sweat into it, and sell it in a private sale less than a decade later for only $80,000.  (This was when the real estate market was in full boom, back in the early 2000s–the house was a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom, cavernous, old house: when he bought it, it was uninhabitable).

I’m starting to see that my dad is pissed about taxes and does stuff to “keep Uncle Sam’s hand out of his pocket” because he has, actively and persistently, undervalued his own worth.  He has–for lack of a better way to put it–fucked himself over. People with enough money to live and retire don’t mind paying taxes.

A cynical, but amusing, aside
This is why–contrary to logic–middle class folks tend to vote republican.  They want to keep more of their money.  They also apparently tend to equate moral, religious, and philosophical issues with politics, which is why the republicans are currently spewing hate speak all over women who use birth control instead of telling us what they’re going to do about the absurd educational system.

Recently, I’ve started to notice about myself that I mimic some of my dad’s patterns with regard to my life as a freelancer.  I have a ridiculous tendency to get involved in doing stuff I love and believe in for free or for such a pitiable sum, that I have no time left to find work that pays me–not just enough to live–but what I am worth.

Now, I’m not a hotshot multiply published author with a personal assistant.  But I’m an excellent writer with a constantly growing body of published work, a blog that people like and read, and half a novel written in my head, while only a tenth of it lives in Word.  If I keep doing as my dad does, I will never get to hotshot author with personal assistant land.  I will never make six figures a year.

Hate me if you want to, but I want that.  I want to have too much money.  I have lots of ideas about good things to do with a surplus of money, but for now, I just want to be able to pay my bills on time every month.

But I know that I can–and will–because starting now, I am going to do some things differently.

What does this mean to you, blog readers?

As a writer, the sense that I’m not good enough keeps me striving, working, sanding my nose down.  So don’t worry.  I will keep blogging, and as far as the content of my posts, you probably won’t notice much difference.

You will notice, however, that I will offer products and services more aggressively in my sidebar.  And if you’re here reading this now, it’s because you think I have excellent things to say or get another kind of value out of this blog, and you won’t mind.  Maybe you’ll even pick up my guide about starting a writers’ group, or scoop up a mini writing course for $10.00.

For the time being, I’ll be avoiding banner ads (like from Adsense through Google) and affiliate linking (as through Amazon).

For today: Maybe you noticed, my Workshops Tab is back above.  Please click it and check out the courses through Penn College.  These are less costly than the ones I could offer at the Pajama Factory.

And don’t forget, too, that I’m a professional writer and editor, so if you dig my advice or my writing, maybe you want to hire me.  For what I am worth.

Is Frack, Indeed, Wack? Reflections on Viewpoints and a Call to Discourse.

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The other day, I posted about how you should all watch Gasland, and about how I’m getting out of here ASAP.

I live in an area that’s been getting slowly invaded–probably since before I lived here–by Anadarko, Haliburton, etc., and all the requisite dirt and trucks and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) land leases.  These companies and their employees are extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

The debate over whether they should be allowed or not presently splits many a room in North Central PA.

After the other day, when I linked to Gasland,

an acquaintance of mine sent me the following text:

Just wanted to share with you a few thoughts on gasland.  The filmmakers present a decingly one-sided view; here are a few facts you need to have in your back pocket if you want to properly evaluate the film.

First, the filmmakers present this shocking image of people being able to light the water that comes out of their faucets and they present this image as proof that fracking is dangerous to the environment because it causes gas to leach into our water supply.

First fact; in Pennsylvania, the geology is folded (mountains), which means that you have many pockets of natural gas, both shallow gas and deep gas.  You can find shallow gas pockets close to the water table.  Deep gas pockets are well below the water table.  You find deep gas pockets (the Marcellsu Shale) below 6,000 feet.

Shallow gas pockets are responsible for gas leaching into the water supply.  But it is not clear who causes what.  There was a lot of shallow gas drilling in Pennsylvania 80 years ago and it is certain that this caused some leachign of natural gas into the water supply.  But two things:

1) in mountainous areas where there are mountain streams and shallow gas pockets, people have been able to light the gas bubbles in the streams for over 100 hundred years, well before any drilling began.

2) people who drill their own wells for water (which is many of the people in the movie) can and do coem close enough to shallow gas desposits that the gas bubbles up into their water supply.

There are no instances of the gas from deep pocket deposits migrating into the water supply.  Geologists conducting half a dozen studies have determined that 1) even if there were cracks in the deposit (which by the way occur naturally because of shifting tectonic plates) the gas simply does not migrate upwards through various rock formations for 5,500 plus feet to enter the water supply; and 2) the gas drillers encase their wells with lined concrete which means the gas is pumped directly into the pipeline – the companies test the well lines to make sure there are no cracks in order to maximize profit – to date there has been no migration of gas from these wells.

This does not mean that such migration could not occur, but the current estimats that this would happen is on the order of 0.00000001 percent.

Gasland films only areas where shallow gas drilling has occured and yet they present their information as if it includes all drilling, deep gas drilling as well as shallow gas drilling.

Makes for snesational film, but it is misleading and therefore irresponsible.

There are risks associated with gas drilling; there were a number of smaller companies that sought to maximize profits by takign short cuts, which led to safety issues.  The state of PA cracked down hard on these companies.  At the moment, the small comapnies are no longer involved; the big companies bought them out and are now the major players.  Here is an explnation fo the difference in terms of maximizing profit.  small companies might only have the resources to develop 5 wells and they can only drill to about the quarter of the depth that the larger companies can drill; thus they are always seeking shortcuts.  When a well comes in for a small comapny, they get a return of about 100 to 1 on their investment.  But they may get nothing b’c they could go 0/5.  Large companies however have more resources so they can drill down 6.000 tp 9,000 as necessary adn they can drill more wells.  When a well comes in for a large company, they get a return of 1000 to 1.

The other factor to consider is this: because Pennsylvania as a state was very consdiered about how to regulate the gas adn oil industry with the exporation of the Marcellsu shale, they put a lot of energy into examining the ipact and the benefits from all possible angles.  As a result, Pennsylva is now the world standard for the most comprehensive set of regualtions and policies concerning the gas and oil industry in the world.  the industry would tell you there is too much regulation in PA.  But the real winner is the citizens of PA.

Just a few thoughts.

PDB <—Peter Damian Bellis, Author.  Have his book for free.

I asked Peter to cite his sources, because I like to have a balanced view of all things, especially inflammatory things, and I’m going to share the next bits of response from him (except for the parts about Peter’s spouse and her job) with you now.  I’m hoping to inspire some discourse here.  The comments section is for you, my friends.

Here is a summary fact sheet that also contains links:
http://cce.cornell.edu/EnergyClimateChange/NaturalGasDev/Documents/PDFs/marcellus_regulations_fact_sheet[1].pdf

PCT{PA College of Technology} has been on the ground floor of this stuff, they are hosts of the Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center.  They have received nuymerous Penn State studies concerning the Marcellus Shale play and the drilling that is going on, though from a workforce perspective, they still contain significant info on environmental impact.

The discourse needs to acknolwedge that there are two sides to the issue but to be frank, the anti-gas movement is responding to a mix of isolated negative incidents and generalized propganda.  There is a great deal of science which by accessing the links in the fact sheet can take you to further links to get the science side.  The location of current drilling is so precise b/c of GPS (the same technology we use for directions and cell phones), that they know exactly how far away they are drilling from ground water and every other geologic formation of interest.

Go to:
http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/office_of_oil_and_gas_management/20291

The amount of regulation in PA far eclipses that in Texas, Colorado, Alaska, or any other state, adnin fact it eclipses the regulations found in any other country.  To say the amount is inadequate, which may be true, is a qualtiatve judgment, but that does not negate the fact that PA is the most regulated region in the world when it comes to oil and gas.

It is extremely important that people have all of the facts before they make judgments and choices; otherwise we run the risk of making very poor choices, of course this is the history of the world, but exacerbated in a sound-byte world wehre stock phrases andimages push our emotions and thereby eliminate the value of reasoned inquiry and intelligent discourse

also a word about the quantity of water used.  according to the state, the gas industry is 7th on the list in terms of water usage by industry.  the golf courses in the state use far more water than the gas industry, and the chemicals they use to maintain their fairways and greens, all of which are toxic, run off directly  into the sewer systems and creeks and immediately impact the water supply. But fewpeople voice concern about this.

Italics are mine, typos are Peter’s.

What I think

Frankly, I do not know where Peter finds time to engage my email inbox in this manner.  I am also interested in hearing what you, my blog readers and your friends, have to say about this.  Please, do your own web searches or present your own anecdotes in the comments.

I’ve whined before about how documentaries do inadequate homework and present a skewed version of the story in a lot of cases.  And there were a few questions I had for Josh Fox after his documentary, but I do not think it’s fair to call his movie “sound bytes and stock images.”

1.  Is the industry still paying the affected people (those who are sick themselves and/or who have contaminated water and/or who have sick animals/poisoned farms) land lease money?  Does that money stop once the gas company is gone, and if it does, does the site stay put?

2.  Did all of the folks in the documentary lease their land, or did some of them just have neighbors who leased their land?  Why didn’t you talk about that in the film?

3.  What, exactly, did the land lease offering you 100,000 dollars say?

4.  How did you afford to drive all over the country making a film?

Here are my observations about what’s happening here, where I live, and about Peter’s notes.

  • It is in Penn College’s interest to believe that there are statistically negligible health/environmental risks involved with natural gas drilling.  The Natural Gas folks have given them piles of cash.  They’ve dumped a lot of money into the community, too, which is how they’re able to stick around, I reckon. I ask, why would they invest so much of their profits back into the community if they’re blameless and not worried about PR backlash?
  • My kid was invited to “Science Night” which would’ve been more accurately named Natural Gas Indoctrination Night.  Fella took her and  she came home with a bagful of swag from the Natural Gas folks.  A big story book (The Adventures of Energenie, who has a gas well logo on his hard hat, and whose adventures are sponsored, loudly, by Anadarko) about how amazing natural gas drilling is, a beach ball, one of those wrist bands kids love…
  • One of my clients is an organization dedicated to helping to rehab flood victims’ lives (yes, they do still need help.  A surprising number of them need a surprising amount of it), and yesterday, I did a courier run all around a chunk of North Central PA.  I was shocked, though not surprised, to see that one of these well beds was neatly and openly positioned on the bank of the Susquehanna River, along route 11.  The giant pit of mire into which fracking water is dumped & mixed with soil and sand over a porous plastic tarp was even bigger and uglier than it looked in Gasland. There is no sensible way to interpret that very real installation other than irresponsible and dangerous.
  • Being able to light a bubble of water in a stream is a ton different than being able to light tap water that was previously drinkable, whether or not a person drilled his or her own well.  How does PDB know that the folks in the movie drilled their own water wells?  And I imagine they would’ve hired professionals to help, since water-well drilling requires equipment that most of folks don’t have on hand, and that these professionals would be aware of the geography such that they could avoid tapping a shallow gas deposit when tapping the water table.
  •  So we’ve made the regulations, but who’s enforcing them?  The state’s budget is in shambles.  Having enough inspectors to be driving around the state and overseeing a number of gas wells that the state recently oopsied over even knowing the correct number of is a proposition that would be costly and require time to develop the infrastructure to support.  Unlike Anadarko and Halliburton, Pennsylvania does not have that kind of bread…or time.

The trouble is that all the research I’m finding–and this is universally true of all kinds of research, except for pure university research, and even that is tainted by the researcher or researching body’s views/biases, etc–may be in support of a behind-the-scenes agenda that I don’t have the time to suss out.

I find this whole thing puzzling and worrisome, but maybe if we all work together, we can scare up the right information & we can all either rest easy or get the heck out of here (or wherever there’s a shale)!

My personal suspicion?  If we follow the money, we’ll get some ugly answers to some real questions.

Some Additional Reading (not even a light score in the surface, really):

Articles from Wilkes Barre’s Times Leader

Rural PA Drinking Water Study, not by Gasland

Interesting public discussion

Other interesting “public” forum

If you are concerned, find a local chapter of The Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA)

NPR, Rush, Hannity, and Me: Reflections on a PBS Documentary & a Ride Worth Taking

I find the whole politics thing to be exhausting.  I feel like it’s a media full of talking heads touting half truths, and mostly just rhetoric to sway our under-educated public–who has been intentionally trained to NOT think critically–for personal agendas.

On one hand, I forgive them because they’re just trying to make money.  Everybody likes money, even when we hate it, we like it.  On the other hand, I am disgusted & totally overwhelmed by the task of sussing out the truth.  I am not willing to take anybody’s word for it.  My dad believes everything Fox News & Rush Limbaugh say.  Fella believes everything that comes from sources he perceives as “liberal” or “socialist.”  I find myself holding my breath and suspending judgement most of the time.

Last night, Fella and I watched a Frontline documentary that examined the national debt.  The documentary explained that the budget deficit creates the national debt over time, and that there have only been 4 of the last 50 years in which there was actually a budget surplus, and so the national debt shrank instead of grew.  These were four of Clinton’s years.

Between Williamsport and Harrisburg, there’s a seriously sketchy public radio section, so today I thought I’d try out the AM dial, because I love me some talk radio.  I would rather listen to talk–even conservative pundits–than classical music or country or top 40, which were my options.  P.S., AM radio ads are completely hilarious.  It was like being transported back to 1962.

Hoo doggy.  I got to hear Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.  The only one I absolutely WON’T listen to is that crazy Mormon, Glenn Beck.  I would laugh at his verbal hijinks if I could, but mostly I find him to sound like a poorly informed conspiracy theorist.  It’s no wonder that most of his books are made of pictures & hopelessly skewed infographics.

So today, I heard Rush say that Obama is single-handedly responsible for ruining the economy.

WTW?  Pretty sure it was less than a year into his presidency when he had to make a pretty hard decision about allocating public money for some banks, the auto industry, and a ridiculous number of American Mortgages.

How is that ANY politician’s fault?  Even Bush’s?  That was a economic tsunami that didn’t just well up overnight.  That thing was YEARS–and I would posit Clinton/Bush years–in the making.

I heard Hannity say that Obama’s approval rating is at 43%, and that only 27% of Americans identify themselves as liberal.  Pretty good, Obama!

Hannity’s thing was that people are so disgusted by the connotation of the liberal label that they will call themselves anything but.

I mean, maybe that’s true if you’re Hannity, but I’d be a lot less embarrassed to say that I’m a liberal than to say I’m a tea partier.  I’m neither, truthfully.  I call myself a libertarian, but only because it’s so extreme that I don’t have to marry a single ideology, and because I love the IDEA of a very, very tiny government–but culturally, we’re way past that.  Much as I want to, we’ll never be back to the 1890s governance, or lack thereof.

Most accurately, I’m sympathetically unaffiliated.  Whatever I call myself, I can’t vote in primaries–which are the ones that matter–unless I call myself Rep or Dem.  Which I can’t.

Then, when I finally got close enough for WVIA (Williamsport’s public radio), I heard them talking about how the smear Mitt Romney campaign is in full effect EVERYWHERE, and that the Republican ticket is looking weak sauce regardless.

Whatever.  I like listening to Obama quip.  I think he’s wicked smart and/or he has awesome speech writers.  I think he’s also got a terrific sense of humor & must be the most insanely logical person in the world. I love that we haven’t heard about him schtupping interns, or lavishly vacationing on a golf course in Tahiti.  So if he’s doing those things, at least he’s got it on the DL.  If we have him for another 4 years, I’m good with that.  If we get a republican, that’s okay, too.  I don’t think that the political affiliation of the nation’s leader really matters at all because our political system is BROKEN.

As we watched that Frontline documentary, they aired clips from CSpan after Obama submitted his healthcare plan, and it seemed to me like congresspeople and senators are just a bunch of whiny, entitled, rich people who only care about continuing to be in the public eye and arguing over what insanely off-kilter thing they believe their constituents to want, even though they’ve never asked them.

What the hell?  They’re not the reasonable, articulate, well-researched negotiators they should be, they’re middle school students on a playground in very expensive suits who’ve apparently mostly forgotten their very expensive educations.

The only people who really have a voice are the people who have enough money to buy powerful ears.  That’s not most of us.  So I’m just going to buckle in for the ride, and try to get less fat so if shit goes too bad, they’ll let me into Switzerland.

Open letter to Bueraucratic Bitchasses

Dear Bueraucratic Bitchasses (hereinafter B.B.A.s),

Maybe you remember me.  I am that woman for whom life has been slightly difficult, but who is doing her best.

I am that girl who didn’t procure a state-funded abortion and has spent a cumulative total of 2 of her daughter’s six years utilizing any sort of state- or federally-funded programs, because she is capable and smart and resourceful and good at things.

You know, the one who’s been working and paying taxes since she was fifteen?  The one who bucks the statistics about women like her, unfortunate women who were not blessed with her incorrigible drive, resourcefulness, and intelligence, who have also faced some bumps in the road.

You remember me.  I’m that chick who has shitty credit, but who provides for her daughter anyhow.  I make my payments at their inflated interest rates and bust my ass to get better.  I help my daughter with her homework, punish her when she misbehaves, so that you red tape loving, condescending wankers won’t have to do it for me.  For her.  For society.

I view my role as a person who lives in this country who has bravely faced and thrived in poverty, who has seen to her own education despite it, who has reached out to her community for help and contributed in ways she could as a positive one.  I look forward to having an increasingly positive impact as I claim more of the success that can be mine, as I push the boulder of my standards up a long, steep hill.

But you lordly fucks just won’t leave me alone.  You massive corporations with the power to exploit people without the financial chutzpah to hire the lawyers they need to stand up for themselves; you tax collection bureaus who insist on extorting another $20 from me when I have already paid you hundreds in penalties for money I couldn’t afford to pay you, but did, in full, several months ago; you school principals with rubber stamp signatures who send me letters about how much school my kid has missed when you approved the time for which I petitioned in advance; you financial institutions who can only see the fact that I haven’t been writing my own paychecks longer than two years, who think you can assess my devotion to my responsibilities by an arbitrary number assigned to me on top of another arbitrary number assigned to me at birth, who hold all the cards, who have the hubris to take my tax money and use it to write yourselves bonus checks big enough to buy two average middle class homes, and laugh as the chasm between the rich and the poor gets wider, and then tell me that I’m not credit worthy.

Leave. Me. Alone.

Take your legal jargon and your postage machine and your automated voice messages and wrap yourselves up in that red tape of which you are so fond, that you use to wrap up people who happen to be less male or less white or less rich than you are, that you use to contain potential, and scorn people who realize theirs anyhow.  Get yourselves all cozy in your red tape and go hang out alone in a corner.

Leave me and all my middle class friends alone.

I don’t blame capitalism, B.B.A.s.  I don’t blame our founding fathers.  I blame whatever happened that let the government get so big it couldn’t see the people it was governing anymore.  I blame you, B.B.A.s, for using your massive power to get bigger and forgetting that people–whatever else they are–are people who deserve fair compensation for their toil, and doing something about it.  I blame us for standing for it.  I blame myself and all my fellow Americans.

I blame whatever happened that let us forget our priorities.  That made the power of the dollar trump every. other. concern.

But we’re fed up.  Shit has gone so far, B.B.A.s, that I can’t go two weeks without some haughty message from one person or another telling me how I’ve got it wrong, or how I paid them, but they made a mistake, so now I have to pay them some more.

Suck it, B.B.A.s, and let me have my middle class life, and let me run my little under-$20,000/year freelancing business.  That’s all the money I need.  You can have anybody else’s money who’ll give it to you.  But leave me alone.   Let me toil away over here because I have what’s really important: enough.  And people who love me.  And a relationship with my child that extends beyond what I can buy her, or what Ivy admission letter I can instigate.

But watch out, B.B.A.s, because I–and lots of others like me–am going to come after you someday.  When my boulder gets lighter and my pockets get fuller.  And you’re not going to like it.  You’ll get hung up by your toes and poked hourly.  Your phone will ring constantly, and you’ll get enough letters about some invented fee you didn’t pay to paper every inch of your 10,000 square foot home.  And we will all laugh and take pictures, and put them up on the news and talk about how sad and hippie-like you are.  We’ll talk about your removal like it’s a beautification project, and it will be.

Sincerely,
XXX-XX-XXXX

 

Religion, Genitials, and Offensiveness

This was on Facebook.  I shared it to my page yesterday.  I initially posted above, “Hey: this is what I think.”  Because I utterly agree with this sentiment.

Then I thought to myself, “Oh no!  somebody might think I made that up!  Better make sure I don’t take credit for someone else’s brilliance.”  I am witty after all.

So I commented below it: “i think what i mean is I agree with this. I didn’t think this first. Somebody else did. And then put it on wrinkly paper in photoshop. I just shared it from Kelli Travis‘s wall.”

So then somebody I know peripherally from bible quizzing in my youth, and who married someone I grew up around, posted about being offended on “many” levels: that I would both share and justify.

Not to be a boob, but that only makes up two levels, and those two levels are more personal than ideological.  I’m kind of okay with people finding me to be obnoxious: it’s a hazard of being a writer who also has the powers of critical thinking.

And I was really looking forward to a rant!  I want to know WHY this rubbed that person so wrong!  I want to know on which specific (and how many) levels the person is offended.  Because it seems to me that, while maybe the analog is a little bit PG-13, this is a sentiment that could be shared by anybody!  Agreed upon by folks who do and who do not profess to be religious.  This is a religiously non-partisan sentiment.

I was raised up in a Christian home.  While I presently consider myself to be religiously disaffiliated, I’m reasonably certain that the particular faction of Christianity to which I was exposed as a youth would agree that people who practice a different religion (even as similar a different religion as Catholicism) are totally allowed to (with certain limitations), and even to be proud of it, but that they should definitely not try to convert its children: its lambs.

Late in high school and more in college, I was exposed to Judaism, and I love the heck out of that very formal, ritualistic (even in its less orthodox forms) religion.  I went to a few services in synagogues, and I love listening to Hebrew.  I think about converting often. I reckon I will once I get a little older and tamer than I’ve already become.  But when I suggested to my family that I may convert, my father explained that there are Zionist Jews who believe that Jesus was the savior, and if I’m going to convert, I should be a Zionist Jew.  My dad didn’t want any of that stinky Hebrew penis in my mouth.

I want to point out for the record that a person can’t just become a Jew.  It’s not a costume.  It’s my perception that a Gentile can practice Judaism, but couldn’t call himself a Jew.  Jewishness is different from Judaism.

I’ve recently learned a little bit about new age spirituality and paganism.  I think that both of those religions are as completely legitimate as any other.  But new age and pagan are both dirty words to a lot of people, religiousness or lack thereof notwithstanding.

When I was in elementary school, my favorite teacher of all time was accused of practicing Wicca (which is a faction of paganism) because she dressed like a witch at Halloween, and exhibited some open-mindedness.  Her job was in jeopardy for a time, and I can’t think of a more tangible example of folks who didn’t want an unfamiliar religion shoved down their kids’ throats!  That the fact of her Halloween costume was a basis for diagnosing her was a Wiccan shows the depth and breadth of folks’ ignorance and fear about that ancient set of rituals and faiths.

My mom and dad take my daughter to church every chance they get.  And I’d be lying if I said that it is 100% completely a-okay with me; if I posited that when my sweet girl tells me things like God and Jesus are two different things but the same thing and she Wants to Understand, I am filled with delight and happiness.  I am not.

But I recognize that my parents’ feelings on the topic are fraught with matters of mortality, and I don’t mind giving them the peace they get by taking their granddaughter to church, and I don’t mind admitting that whenever she starts spouting Christian rhetoric, I am sure to tell her that it’s totally all right to believe what she believes, but that there are tons of other options and ideas.  And whenever she asks me a question that my parents would answer “because of God,” I say, for example, “Well grandma and grandpa think that God made everything, but some people say there was a massive explosion, and the truth of the matter is that nobody really knows where the world came from.”

So as I grapple with the thesis of this post, I think my point is that it’s right to be offended by someone suggesting that all religious people are committing kiddie rape.  But that’s not what’s going on here, and I think that that reading of the penis analog is, well, analogous to people believing that Jesus was actually Zombified on the third day after his crucifixion and that it’s more than a morality tale meant to control the behaviors and views of folks who subscribe to the notion that the Bible is nonfiction.

Maybe I shouldn’t be confused.

Amish

These two humans look amish, but I’m guessing they’re part of a traveling cast on account of their highly well-formed faces and the garishly painted bus behind them.

Amish people do all sorts of things well:  breed, grow vegetables, raise barns, apply well-built roofs to secular homes for a fraction of the cost, etc etc.

But I have been experiencing some anxiety over them of late.

We go to this farmer’s market on Saturday Mornings where there are a number of Amish vendors.  They have produce and baked goods and cheese and raw milk and really everything.  We often buy tomatoes, peppers, squash/zucchini, onions, garlic, and all sorts of other stuff.

Recently, I’ve felt a strong impulse to boycott the Amish stands (which is insane, I know), and the answer about why came to me this past Saturday when we were at the market, and there were almost exclusively deformed Amish with evident issues of delayed development. The young girl, probably between 13 and 15, who sold me the $6.00 pound of homemade butter (that is neon yellow, by the way) could barely count, make a fist, or focus her eyes.  She was all but drooling.

Clearly there’s inbreeding.

Amish people deny the importance of education, their children being lucky to get to the equivalent of an 8th grade education.  There’s an extent (I think depending on the sect of Amish?) to which modern medical intervention is eschewed, which doesn’t offend me terribly, I myself believe that the minimum of medical intervention is probably always for the best, but the thing that bugs me is that the Amish are essentially imprisoning their own.

They have that thing where the youth can choose to leave, but unless the youth is exceptional—but the odds are stacked against him since his cousin is probably his mother, and he barely has an education at all, and any medical intervention for any genetic abnormality he possesses has been denied, so he may also have an abnormally large left side of his mouth, or be blind in one eye or something—he is probably going to prefer to return to the tender womb of his Amish brothers and sisters, and their increasingly genetically inferior kin.

The thing that makes me really embarrassed to be so bothered by this is that I think that people should be allowed to do whatever they want.  I am highly permissive toward others’ beliefs and desires and intentions.  I want people to do what makes them happy, so long as they’re not hurting anybody else.

But there’s the thing: when I buy their produce, I’m enabling them to continue in their mistreatment of young people, in their haughty, traditionalist points of view and beliefs and faiths that–since their education is so minimal–they can probably barely articulate.

And the Amish are not required to follow the same rules that I am required to follow under the rationale of public safety (i.e., I MUST vaccinate my child if I want her to go to public school), so if, by some miracle of little-g-god, one of these young Amish do join the secular world, and they get Polio or Mumps or Measles or something, well, I mean, as much as I would prefer those rules not be in place for anybody, how is it reasonable for the Amish to take these risks that I’m not legally permitted to take?  Secular people are discouraged from engaging in sexual congress with family members, and the offspring of such unholy unions are generally removed from the offending parent’s custody.

I mean, normally when I see a disabled kid, I feel love for the parent (for being a parent of a disabled kid), and pity, and pride.  When I see the deformed Amish, I am angry at the parents.

So somebody set me straight.  Somebody who knows more of the Amish than I.  I’m being ridiculous, right?  The Amish are financially successful, and their people are hale and hearty and contributing to the economy, right?

My 9/11

Ten years ago at this time, I was sitting in my HON 150 course. HON 150 was “Introduction to Critical Inquiry” and it taught me how to watch the news with questions.  That was a good skill to have for 9/11. It was probably my second or third week of college ever, and I remember weeping in class when I tried to say something about it.  I remember my teachers looked at me with this strange mixture of pity and judgement and confusion.

I was 20, I would turn 21 in about 7 weeks.

I’d heard the news on the radio–back when people still had radios and cassette players in their cars–on the way to class.  I remember kind of rapidly experiencing shock, then disbelief, then bewilderment.

Later that day, my roommate Steve and I sat transfixed in front of our inherited tube TV and watched the news, the replays of the footage, the crazy newscaster rhetoric.

I remember wondering whether I should go to my job at the Olive Garden later, and when I did being totally freaked out that people actually went out to dinner.

Fast Forward 10 years:

Today, things between Brad and I are tense for reasons that are unclear to me.  We’re having his folks over for dinner later, and I am looking forward to the warmth and family feeling that comes from consuming piles of carbs and one or two obligatory vegetables with people to whom I am not really, but sort of, related to.

I wrote a piece for the newspaper about a famous Indian tabla player, Sandip Burman.  I didn’t actually get to speak with Mr. Burman, but I spoke with his harmonica player.  Mr. Burman is feeling unwell, and is probably worn out from his road schedule.  He was set to cross the Canadian border about an hour ago.  I wonder if they scanned his tabla and sitar for bombs.  He must be a terrorist, after all.  He’s Indian.  And brown.

It didn’t occur to me until a few days ago that this would be the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  It’s not something I thought about on New Years.  I’m kind of embarrassed about how unproductively we’ve handled 9/11 as a nation.  To me, it seems like an occasion to gather awareness, sensitivity to other cultures and their customs. But it seems like all we’ve done is put government sanctioned racism in place, and amped up a bunch of unproductive, ignorant rhetoric that has fueled domestic political movements (ahem Tea Party) that glorify the exact same unexamined, ideological absolutism that bore those attacks.

It doesn’t seem like a swell reason to launch a war, responding to hate and violence with hate and violence.  It’s kind of like those people who cheered the death penalty the other day.  I wonder how people who’re both pro life and pro death penalty reconcile that for themselves.

I have a child who is 6, and yesterday, when I was weeping in the car while I listened to some of the stories from 9/11 Story Corps on NPR, I had to explain to her about how a few crazy, mean people flew some planes into buildings because they don’t like Americans or our religion.  And how a lot of people got hurt really badly or died, and how it is still very sad.

I watched an episode of Law & Order, Criminal Intent that had that Rider Strong (baby faced bad influence from Boy Meets World) playing a convert to Islam, religiously fueled terrorist who intended to put off a pair of suicide bombs with some Eastern counterparts.  There was a lot of simple silliness and ignorance in the episode, but I reminded myself that the show was probably made less than a year after the 9/11/01 attacks.  Brad was disgusted.  I was, too.  But I’m all soft in the middle now.

Ten years ago, I would’ve been so pissed about that episode that I probably would’ve written off the show forever.  I certainly wouldn’t have entertained any sympathy or finished watching the show.

Now, I think that a harried writer was probably under fire to produce anther of the same story, but with some ratings-growing political elements to acknowledge the off-kilter sense we all had of the world.  I believe that the ridiculousness of the kind of television that gets made, and the poor writing that sometimes slips by, is symptomatic of something bigger that’s wrong with us as a culture.

What that is or how to stop it, I don’t know. I suppose if I had the answer, I could run for president.  But answers are subjective.