I Sense That You Have Ballads to Write…Or Something…

Back when I was about 18 and just starting college, I came home for a dinner party kind of thing at my parents’ house.  In attendance was a couple, we’ll call them Bob and Debbie, that my parents had befriended during their EST days.  At that point in time, their relationship with my parents had faded to almost nothing, so I was surprised to see them there.  I hadn’t seen them in many years.

These people had been frequent characters in my childhood memory, not only because they were around relatively a lot, but also because I watched my parents’ lose adoration of them.  Bob and Debbie lost their luster, much like the New Age.  Of course, I should point out that I am remembering this through the eyes of at 5 year old, but my assessment is probably pretty correct.  In short, my parents abandoned EST when they found out that the movement, in general, was a crap shoot and they didn’t really have patience for Bob and Debbie when they realized that Bob and Debbie were also full of crap.

My parents raised me to be a critical thinker, especially when it came to people.  Never mistake my ability to put up with people’s crap as an inability to identify people’s crap.

That last part makes me sound like that scene in Jurassic Park when the one paleontologist goes digging through a giant pile of triceratops droppings, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s not that graphic, ok (and I totally spared you the picture of triceratops crap that I found online).  I just mean that I’m fairly sure that one of my main sources of misery as a kid (and as an adult) was that I knew so many people who were full of it and refused to call them out on it.

Over the years, I heard a lot of mockery of Bob and Debbie.  As a little kid, I didn’t really get it.  I think what it came down to was that they behaved as though they were incredibly enlightened individuals, but in reality they were both a mess.  They were each facing years’ worth of unrequited dreams and trying to pay the mortgage and raise an emotionally troubled son just like every other jackass.  Of course, this is, to me, the New Age movement in a nutshell.  It has never seemed any better than any other religion to me.  You replace the word God with the word Universe.  You put your faith in it just the same.  Sure, there’s more of a focus on personal responsibility, self-control, all that.  But it still seemed to defer to doing all this in the hopes of receiving gold stars from the Universe when you successfully didn’t throw a chair across the room in a fit of anger.

Honestly, I grew up thinking sometimes that my parents were a little harsh when it came to Bob and Debbie.  I mean, they tried to do things that they wanted to do.  In the end, I think it was because they projected an air of superiority for the things they were interested in and instead of coming across as interesting, they just came across as pretentious.

So they disappeared for a while and when I was 18 I came to a party at my parents’ house and there they were.  They looked about the same.  They weren’t acting any differently.  It was almost as though no time had passed.  The only difference was that I was 18 instead of 8 and I had truly begun to come into my own as a person.  Suddenly I found myself forming my own opinions about these people based on my own personal experience with them and it was both depressing and hilarious.

I found myself in a conversation with Bob.  He asked me what I was doing in school.  I told him that I was studying chemistry and he says, “Oh.  OK.  Well, you know what you should do then?” “What, Bob?” “You should solve nuclear fusion.”

I looked at him and blinked a few times.  I will give him points for not asking me to make him some LSD or something.  That’s usually what people say when I tell them I’m a chemist.  He was kickin’ it Old School™ by saying a close equivalent to, “You say you’re a chemist, ey?  What say you and me go blow up Japan?”  Yes, yes.  I know.  Those were physicists, but most people don’t know the difference.  The nuclear fusion thing was a similar faux pas.

“Solve nuclear fusion?  Oh, well, let me go get a couple of cocktail napkins and I’ll jot down a few of my ideas for you!”  I figured giving in to his demands would be easy…if I had a genie or something.

“I’m just saying, that’s where it’s at.  If you could solve that, then the education would be worth it.”

“Well, Bob, that would be nuclear physics and I’m a first year chemistry student, so I’ll get back to you after I get acids and bases all figured out.”

The rest of the conversation was similar in that he would ask me about something I was interested in and then proceed to tell me what I should actually be interested in and doing.  It reminds me of the conversation between Fry and Leela in one of the greatest episodes of Futurama ever:

Fry – What have you always wanted to do more than anything else?
Leela – *sigh* To meet my real parents…
Fry – Whatever. The correct answer is “to be a super hero”.

At some point we got onto the subject of music.  I informed him that I play the guitar.  Now, at that point I had not written a song yet.  Well, I think I had written one but I didn’t really like it.  I had put a couple of Peter’s poems to music by then but was even more critical of my own words then than I am now.  So, I tell Bob that I like playing Neil Young songs and he says, “Ok.  Well, what you need to do right now is record an album.”

“Um…well, I would if I had any songs that I have written.”

“Well, write some!  Now!  Before it’s too late!”

“I’m fairly certain I’m not going to die in the next couple of days. Look, Bob, I’m not going to write anything if I have nothing to say.  Songs written by people who have nothing of consequence to say make for terrible albums.”

“So what?” he said. “You’ve got to record.  NOW.”

“But whatever I would record NOW would be horrifically mediocre.”


“Why would I want recorded evidence of my extreme mediocrity?”

“You might DIE!”

“I WILL in fact die.  Why would I want my legacy to be a string of mediocre ballads about being a teenager or something?”

It went on like this until I found out that he had recently recorded an album.  He brought copies for everyone and made us listen to it.  When the first track started, his wife said, “Oh god.  Again, Bob?”

The album was, as I expected, completely mediocre and uninspiring.  After they left I thought about this a lot.  On one hand, it was hilarious.  On the other hand, it was so very sad because I know that this guy paid out the ass to produce this thing that no one cared about.  To him it was this thing that he did before he died and to everyone else it was boring noise.  Could I fault him for fulfilling a dream of his?  Of course not.  But I am left wondering why it was such a dream of his when he had absolutely nothing of exciting to offer the public.

I was reminded of all this recently as I sat in the attic of Peter’s lovely house recording one of 90 little takes that comprised my electric guitar part for one of our newer songs.  Peter and I have been writing and playing together for 4-5 years (officially) and as we continue on this huge project of recording our first real, fully tracked, studio album I see that we have achieved something brilliant.  We are far from mediocre.  It took me a long while to realize this.  Much like a kid who is short for most of hir formative years who suddenly gets a growth spurt, never quite understanding that zie’s not short anymore, Peter and I used to be quite mediocre musically.  Our friends supported us because they were our friends…and often I feared we were subjecting them to our music, rather than entertaining them.  I still have a hard time understanding that this isn’t the case anymore.  Sure, most of our fan base are our friends, but I think they actually like to come listen to us play.  I think they actually find us entertaining and really worth listening to.  Our friends know the words to our older songs.

At a rehearsal recently, I found myself somehow distanced from the rest of the band.  I was listening to everyone but myself and I found myself thinking, “Wow, this band is awesome.”  I spoke to myself as though I wasn’t part of it.  It was a moment of slight objectiveness wherein I could hear how great a band Arcati Crisis is and then I remembered that I get to front it often.  I looked over at Peter and thought about how we’ve known each other for 17 years and have managed to get here.  No, we aren’t making any money and we don’t have a lot of notoriety, but it is a legacy that I am proud to have etched on my past and present.  I think about that conversation with Bob and I am happy to say that I didn’t just write some songs to say that I had done it.  I wrote some songs because I had songs to write.  If I were die suddenly, I would at least have those songs to leave behind and by listening to them you would get a pretty wonderful idea of who I am.

There’s often discussion about how atheists are depressing, defeatist misanthropes who just want to crap on everyone else’s good time.  People equate saying that there is no God, nor is there magic in the world with “Nothing is beautiful and nothing moves me”.  Well, I wholeheartedly disagree.  I am struck so often by the beauty that is life and that I can appreciate it for its beauty, nothing more nothing less.  When you have one life to live, when you are simply living for yourself and the people you love, simple things like recording truly high quality music with your best friend is really all you need.

So, in the end, Bob was kind of right.  You’ve got to do what you love before it’s too late.  Sure, Bob is kind of an idiot and rather abrasive in that he tells everyone what they should be doing all the time (and thinks that nuclear fusion is just one of those things you think about and figure out), but he did something he had always wanted to do.  Many people can’t say that and go to their grave never having accomplished even a mediocre version of their biggest dreams.  I mocked him back them.  Heck, I mocked him here right now, but ultimately he played a pretty big part in inspiring me to keep at it once I did, in fact, have a song to write.

Don’t get me wrong.  He’s still pretty full of crap.  But we can often find one undigested kernel of truth in even the biggest piles of crap if we don’t mind getting our hands dirty.

Wow.  I really just wrote that.  That might be the worst version of “every cloud has a silver lining” that I could have possibly come up with.  And yet, I’m somehow not deleting it.  Well, I guess with all this talk of legacies, I gotta do what I gotta do.  I yam what I yam.

Close up on a partially opened can of spinach.


Atheism+: We are the 99%?

OK, first off the bat, it’s quite obvious that atheists are not the 99%.  While atheist/nonreligious numbers are growing, we have yet to break even 15% (The Crommunist has a break down of some numbers here).  But does this mean that our atheist+ values are not similar to the values of the 99%?

What seems pretty clear to me is that the focus on social justice in the atheist/skeptic/secular community cannot be an accident of history.  The Occupy movement of last year,  which continues in a transformed state, has obviously had ripple effects throughout the political and social world.  The 99% meme is now a part of our language and culture, and it has created an ideological watershed that will likely become part of our legacy as a set of generations active today.

So, to what extent are the values and goals similar to those of the Occupy movement? Well, I’m not sure, but people who are concerned with social justice will recognize the real divide between the economic elite and those below them.  The haves and the have-nots.

Control of the levers of political, and thus to a large extent social and cultural, power are in the hands of extremely wealthy people.  Most of the rest of us get to vote, but forgive my cynicism in pointing out that many people are frankly uninformed and thus have an oversimplified view of policy and thus support idiots.

Hence the current Republican party.  Is it a surprise that science, education, and social equality are not on the list of things-to-do for people who have done such a good job of swaying an electorate with propaganda and emotional appeal in the place of news and public policy? It shouldn’t be.

The Republican party is in serious need for a takeover by people who, while I disagree with them philosophically in most cases, have some important contributions to make to political thought.  You know, the old style intellectual conservatives a la Barry Goldwater.

Clearly Atheism+ is heavily progressive.  My guess is that atheists who lean conservative in this political climate will tend to not support the cause, and if they do so they will do so weakly.  And I don’t mind that it is progressive, because I am largely progressive myself, as are the other people here at PolySkeptic.  Hell, as I said yesterday, I am in favor of being radical, and perhaps I could be described as radical politically, to some extent.

So, do we try and overtly tie the messages and goals of the Occupy movement with Atheism+, or do we think that many of the Occupy people might resent that and leave their meme to their use, and simply help where we can?  Can we call ourselves part of this larger social movement? Because while people in the 1% are probably both atheist and theist, nonreligious and religious, clearly most of the atheists are part of the 99%, and the values of atheism+ contribute t0 the values of Occupy.

The Occupy movement is not about religion or god-belief, although certainly the levers of power have historically been tied to institutions such as the Catholic church and other theocratic forces.  But today the most wealthy don’t, as a rule, sit near an altar, a throne, or in the metaphorical clouds as gods or demigods.  Their power is levered by money, political maneuvers, and ideology.  All tools utilized by religion, sure, but we cannot directly tie the atheist movement to the 99% Occupy movement.

What we can do is point out that many atheists share the popular values of equality, social justice, and the existence of fair opportunity for all people.  Our culture, political institutions, and approach to problem-solving is in dire need of adjustment, and in some cases demolition and rebuilding.  Too much innate privilege is further privileged, too little room for proper application of skepticism is allowed, and too many people are uneducated about how to fix it or even think about it.

As Thomas Jefferson said to William S. Smith Paris in a letter written in 1787;

God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.

We have been too long without a real change in political and social atmosphere.  We, as a culture, are stagnating.  I don’t know what the best solution is, but I know the direction we are going as a culture cannot be it.

To get to a world of social justice and reason and to not continue on this path which empowers so few and keeps ignorant, distracted, and stupid so many, we need drastic change.  While we debate such easy questions as gay marriage, “legitimate rape,” and the place of religion in public policy, the vast majority of us are being swindled without full realization.  The classic misdirection of the pickpocket, except the pickpocket lives in a massive estate and pick-pockets millions of people every day.

We are not powerless, but we are not utilizing our powers.  We need more things like Occupy and Atheism+.  We need education, information, and a set of values to follow towards cultural and political transformation.

Social justice, at all levels, needs to be radical

With the recent label of Atheism+ becoming all the rage, I have been thinking about things like social justice a little bit more than usual.  As a self-described liberal/progressive, even as a voting independent, I do care about creating a world of fairness and compassion.  But I am hampered by a relative privilege which prevents me from fully, naturally, grasping how badly our society needs to consider social justice as necessary.

This blog is undoubtedly a place where we talk about “first world problems.”  I address the assumption of monogamy, theism, unskeptical thinking, and a host of other intellectual problems which take place at all levels of society, but which are mostly relevant among the educated elite of our world.  That is, the educated Western middle class, which you are likely a part of if you are reading this, are subject to really poor thinking, but their problems are pretty insignificant when it comes to the crippling poverty, violence, oppression, and so forth which some other bloggers address.  But they still matter.

I am under no delusion that most of the things we discuss here at PolySkeptic are of lesser importance than many of the issues which social activists deal with.  But what I am willing to say is that the methods we employ—skepticism, logic, and a willingness to accept challenge—are the methods that we need to employ to solve problems of all levels and kinds.

Take, for example, this article from Phillymag.com about PTSD in Philadelphia (it’s quite excellent, so take the time to read it all).  It addresses the cycle of violence, physical brain damage from experiencing violence, and cyclical behavioral effect of said damage on cities such as Philadelphia.  The article takes a scientific approach to the problem, painted with set of narratives, and talks about how we need to approach this on a large scale, as a society.

From the article (page 4):


There’s a solution available—a remedy that might change this city’s funereal culture. But when entire neighborhoods become toxic, the medicine has to be vast in scope. “You really only have two choices,” says Drexel’s Sandra Bloom. “You can remove the person from the environment, or you can change the environment itself.”

So, says Bloom, individual treatment can be helpful, including both talk therapy and pharmaceutical interventions. But big cities like Philadelphia, with large neighborhoods subjected to decades of violence, need to think in broader, more dramatic terms. “To treat large populations and cause a cultural shift,” she says, “we need to look at the kinds of group treatments”—including group therapy sessions and a wide mobilization of mental health resources—“that have been employed in war-torn places like Rwanda and Bosnia.”

Upon first reading, this seems an outrageous statement. In 1994, Rwandans suffered 800,000 deaths in 100 days. But Bloom’s point isn’t that the horror visited upon Rwandans and the murder and injury rates in Philadelphia are statistically equal. Her point is that they are shared experiences of protracted violence that have shaped the way entire communities think and live.


There are so many assumptions, experiences, etc which make up our worldview that we are almost completely unaware of.  We are often so blind, not only to what life is like to others, but even to why we think and behave the way we do, that to try and solve these kinds of problems seems daunting.  Our lives are framed by our experiences, our environment, and we too easily obstructed by such things to see that the problems around us affect us.  We are interconnected in cultural, political, and ideological ways which are usually unseen, but we should try to see them better if we care about solving them.

Whether we are talking about PTSD/violence cycles, poverty and political/legal systems of keeping people poor, religious indoctrination and skeptical skills, or the assumption of monogamy and how that affects how we think about love, relationships, and sex, we have to be aware that any solution will have to be broad and persistent.  We need people aware of the problem and who are capable of helping in some way.

That is what social justice is about.  And now we are starting to see that the atheist movement is being included into the set of social justice issues, and is subsequently willing to group together, as atheists, to lend some hands in spreading ideas, proposing solutions, and hopefully to get our hands dirty in addressing social justice issues.  Many atheist groups have been doing so for years, and now we have a label for such efforts.  I cannot imagine a good reason to oppose this label.

As a community, we have had the discussions, are becoming more aware of the problems, and are realizing we need to create formal and informal organizations to move towards better ways to address the issues which surround and bind us.  Call it Atheism+, call it secular humanism (but perhaps with a generational upgrade), or call it snarfwidgitry for all I care.

But realize that if we are to survive this adolescence of the human race, we need to address some of the fundamental problems, from the crippling poverty, oppression, etc to the lack of application of skepticism to questions of relationships.

We have to be willing to question all of our assumptions, learn to check our blind spots (including privileges), and not simply accept the prevailing wisdom as wise.

In short, we need to be at least a little radical, or we will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.  Because while we are not inherently Fallen and sinful, we are inclined towards behaviors which are damaging to ourselves and other, and we need to actively work to counteract such inclinations to be better as people, societies, and a species.


Wherein I Equate Six Flags Great Adventure to the Underworld

I just put up a long diatribe about Six Flags Great Adventure on my other blog and thought that y’all might be amused by it.  Here’s a little to “wet your whistle”:

On Thursday, Wes, Jessie, and I went to Six Flags Great Adventure.  It had been years since Wes and I had been there.  The previous time was about 9 years ago when Wes managed to steal me away from my boyfriend at the time by wowing me with his Whack-a-Mole prowess (that’s another hilarious story for another day).  I had remembered that Six Flags is kind of awful for various reasons. The only reasons I really remembered were things like “lousy food”.  But I thought it would be fun to go because I do, in fact, like roller coasters and Six Flags is certainly the place to go for roller coasters.  I am partial to the wooden ones and Nitro myself.
After spending the day at Six Flags I can say that if someone wanted proof of Satan’s existence, Six Flags Great Adventure is it.
I remember seeing the movie “Bedazzled” for the first time (the one from the 60’s starring Dudley Moore).  I thought that the depiction of Satan was the most realistic.  The concept was that Satan just ran around annoying people and slowly driving them mad by doing things like committing random acts of mischief and fulfilling gross misinterpretations of people’s wishes.  It was perfect.  He wasn’t evil really…just an asshole.  This is Six Flags in a nutshell.

Falling Off Walls, Walking on Eggshells

My sense of community has never been strong.  It’s just not the way I was raised.  Growing up, I liked just off of South Street in Philadelphia.  It’s a business district with a lot of bars.  Sure, I lived on a little side street and seemingly other people lived there too, but it wasn’t particularly common to socialize with the people who lived there.  We didn’t have a typical neighborhood experience.  Maybe it’s because we lived in a tourist area…maybe it’s a symptom of living in a big city, but we just didn’t have a desire to particularly know our neighbors.  It wouldn’t be until I was in my teens that we even knew the names of people living near us (before that we only knew the names of their dogs…).  My family was very social with each other (my parents were my best friends and I rarely liked spending time with my peers more than spending time with them).  We were loners.  We didn’t have close family friends.  My parents were part of the New Age movement when I was very young and they had a couple friends from that, but as their attachment to EST faded, so did the friendships.  We weren’t religious in any other way so there was no expectation of a church/synagogue community either.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately.  It is seemingly something that many atheists think about because many people were not raised in an atheist environment and came to it over time.  Before becoming atheists, many of them went to church and I have often heard that this community is the thing that is most missed about leaving religion.

I understand this logically.  It is calming to be amongst like-minded thinkers.  Institutions make easy places to meet people.  It was hard to remember how to make friends when I wasn’t in any kind of school anymore.  You make friends at the places you have to go.  I imagine church is like this for kids.  Your parents make you go.  Everyone is there for the same thing.  You make friends with people in the same situation.

But I have never been comfortable in “communities”.  When I was in school, I had friends and such (I was quite social, actually) but I never particularly felt like I belonged anywhere.  This has not particularly changed now.

I have spoken about my general feeling of being an “other” lately.  Now that my home is filled to capacity with people who I love, 4 cats, a dog, and considerably more Star Trek merchandise than I ever expected to have, I feel a general sense that this is my community…but really, this is my family and I see that nothing has changed since I was a kid.  The people with whom I share my home are the people I feel most “normal” around and it is easy to get comfortable with that and not want to seek out more people in the world when there are so many people who will disappoint.

There are frequent atheist meetups and polyamory meetups and I have had a very difficult time being remotely interested in attending either one.  Granted I’ve had very limited experience with either one, but my experiences up to this point have not particularly inspiring.

I have been to two local atheist meetups (the same one).  The first time I was subjected to the social awkwardness of having the audacity to be female and show up at one of these things.  I was a new person at a pretty small meetup and most people couldn’t even bring themselves to make eye contact with me, let alone introduce themselves or say “Hi”.  I was ignored until I decided to be assertive.  Before that I had to listen to one dude’s tales of hitting on chicks at the bar.  The second time I went, I talked to people more, but there was a lot of Christian bashing…which I find counter productive when you’re out in a public space that is pleasant enough to host you…especially when the jokes aren’t even funny.  I think about going back here and again, but my motivation is mostly to be a female presence, an ambassador of sorts, and sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it to expend the energy to be that person.

I’ve only been to a couple of polyamory meetups (other than a BBQ with several friends where everyone was polyamorous so we didn’t have to explain it or particularly talk about it) and my feeling about them is similar in that I feel the need to be some kind of ambassador.  Often the people that come to them are new to it and are looking for information.  We talk about jealousy and time management and rules.  I get worn out quickly because, well, I blog about this stuff too.  There have been days where it feels like it’s all I talk about.  I want to be approachable about it.  I want people to ask questions and all that, but I also just want to live my life.  Sometimes I want to just give people a copy of The Ethical Slut and a business card with Polyskeptic.com on it and tell them to do their research.  Also, I rarely feel like I belong at these things because not only is “the way I do polyamory” or the “way I communicate and have relationships friend or otherwise” seemingly difficult for many to grasp, but I also don’t see anything spiritual or cosmic about it in the least.  I am not a member of the New Age.  I am just challenging social convention because this is the way I want to live my life.

But why does all this make me so angry?  Why is my instinct to just pull away and give up on being out in the world?  Why is telling people about life and being a person others can reach out to so terrifying?  Why does thinking about it bring me to tears sometimes?  My answer to all of this has always been that other people aren’t worth it and that being more alone is easier and better.

Well, here’s the thing: I can cite all kinds of reasons why I feel uncomfortable in communities that define themselves by a Granfalloon, but ultimately the underlying issue is my insecurity and my anxiety.  I still feel the need to be two different people: The Great Ambassador (who is perfect, always happy and rational, and is a pristine example of the “movement”) and, well, me (who is pretty good but far from perfect, unhappy often, full of anxiety that is difficult to control).  I don’t go to meetups if I feel incapable of people The Great Ambassador.  I don’t want people to meet me any other way because I fear that seeing all the cracks will make people question my choices.  I’m afraid that if I’m not at my best strangers will think poorly of me.  It’s all the same as it ever was.  Granted, I have met a few people who have given me some moments of regret for going to a meetup and have made me want to give up on meeting new people, but I also had to remember that the last time I was feeling like this was right around when we met Shaun and Ginny and that turned out pretty fucking good.

I have been crazy for weeks, and only after a brief reprieve of a few weeks here and there.  I struggle with anxiety and low level depression daily.  In the last several weeks each day has been a struggle to keep it together.  I can do it.  I can control myself.  Circumstance certainly can be stressful and there has been a lot going on (what with people moving in, me going through the entire house in an effort to get it organized, and trying to change the slob part of me for good).  I have been trying to pay attention to my diet (I have been caffeine-free for a month!) and my water intake and sleep to try and keep myself in the best condition possible.  But, well, I finally have given into the fact that I need professional help.

So, I made an appointment to go see a therapist and probably a psychiatrist after that because  I am starting to think that this is more chemical than circumstantial. I need someone outside to help me figure out what’s going on.  I have made wonderful changes and am miles ahead of where I was years ago, but I am expending a ridiculous amount of energy to remain stable and I’m tired.  I get enough sleep but I’m tired all the time and I think it might be because I’m trying too hard to be OK on my own.  I have been scared of therapy because, while I don’t judge other people badly at all for doing the same, I have convinced myself that I am strong enough to do this alone and that giving in to this is failure.  And maybe I can do this on my own, but is it worth it if I’m just crazed all the time trying to be strong?  I have to ask for help and I have to do it without shame.  It’s time to reach out.  I have been afraid of potential medication because I’m afraid of losing the parts of me that I like, but I have to remind myself that if this is the path required that this medication will be like anything else.  You have to find the one that works for you and trust that the people that love you will be patient and help you through the searching process.  I did it for birth control.  I can do it for this.

Since I can’t apparently stay quiet in the blogosphere about everything going on with me, I will likely be chronicling this process here, because like polyamory and atheism, mental illness is a real thing in the world that needs multiple voices and I realize that at this point I really don’t care who knows about it.  I wrote an email to someone close to me last year asking them to seek out therapy and I was responded to with scorn and the declaration that they would never ever go to therapy or try antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication.  Well, that’s fine, I guess, but I am not special in seeking out help like this and I am not better than anyone for having avoided the option for this long.  And sure, I might be weak sometimes but that’s why we ask for help.  Why do I ask for help lifting a 200 lb weight but expect myself to be some kind of emotional juggernaut?  I’m tired of being tired.

Yesterday I had to leave a supermarket because I had a minor meltdown about money AND the general idiocy of people in markets on a Sunday.  There was a point where I almost picked up a cantaloupe and threw it.  There was another point where I nearly started screaming at people in an aisle.  I can control myself, but it’s time to figure out how to really get a handle on this.  And then maybe I can get excited about being out in the world again, about being public in real non-internet places.

Three Parents?

Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



The UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics has recently approved a controversial fertility treatment requiring three genetic parents:

scientists are hoping to see it used as a therapy to eliminate rare mitochondrial diseases. Mitochondria function as powerpacks that can be found in virtually every human cell, and just like the nucleus, they also contain DNA. Unfortunately, inherited defects in this mitochondrial DNA affects approximately 1 in 5,000 births, leading to severe or even fatal results.

Researchers speculate that a way to overcome this problem is to take two eggs, one from the mother and one from a donor. The nucleus of the donor egg is removed, leaving the mitochondria intact and replaced by the mother’s nucleus. The resulting embryo has properly functioning mitochondria from the donor — resulting in a potentially healthy baby, albeit one with three parents.

This research is in its infancy, and right now is only meant to be used to prevent mitochondrial disease, but it’s not hard to see how further research in this area would be of great interest to poly parents. Using this procedure, the resulting baby would have only .1% of its genetic material from the donor parent, but even so, having just a bit of a child’s genetic material be from them could mean the world to some parents.

Predictably, the procedure is already getting pushback from natural-law advocates:

“Just as Frankenstein’s creation was produced by sticking together bits from many different bodies, it seems that there is no grotesquerie, no violation of the norms of nature or human culture at which scientists and their bioethical helpers will balk.

“The proposed techniques are both unnecessary, and highly dangerous in the medium term, since they set a precedent for allowing the creation of genetically modified designer babies.”

He argued that such techniques would affect many generations and crossed “what is normally considered the most important ethical line in the prevention of a new eugenics” and this was “precisely how slippery slopes get created”.

The fact that arguments like this are taken seriously is the likely reason why we won’t see this sort of procedure available to three-parent households in anything resembling the near future. Still, as a member of a poly V, and one which intends on raising children together, this is certainly an interesting development.

Is polyamory a social justice issue?

In reading about this new Atheist+ issue generated by Jen and others around her (especially Greta), I have seen various social issues included in the list of causes that people want to support.  Women’s issues, POC issues, trans issues, LGBT issues, neuro-atypicality issues, etc have been enumerated, for good reason, but I have seen no mention of issues related to polyamory.
So here is my question; am I being irrational in thinking that polyamory should be included in such lists, or are many people behind in not including this as a social justice issue?

As a quick note for those that don’t know; I live in a house with 4 other polyamorous people.  One is my wife, another my girlfriend, and the other two are my girlfriend’s husband and his girlfriend.  So these questions are not merely academic for me; they are real questions with potential serious significance.

There are real-world fears around being polyamorous.  Coming out at poly has consequences similar to coming out as gay, for example.  Parental rights can get complicated with polyamorous families.  Visitation and end-of-life rights, afforded to legal spouses, becomes problematic when you have more than one serious long-term partner.  In short, all of the rights that one gets as a spouse cannot easily be extended to other partners, which can create problems.

The foundation of this problem is the cultural lack of familiarity with what polyamory is about.  We are not the same as swingers (although there are often overlaps).  We do experience some forms of social discrimination, stereotyping, etc.  I have been told that I have chosen this lifestyle, but I cannot choose how many people I love any more than I can choose what genders I love.  I have discussed my view on the issue of choice, or orientation, in terms of polyamory here, but I will briefly sum it up in saying that I do not choose my desires and my feelings, but I can choose to act on them or not.

And why would I repress my actual desires? Would I do so for the sake of cultural norms which make no sense? No.

I am not aware of large scale cultural campaigns to react against polyamory comparable to reactions against ‘the gay agenda’.  There are not common stories of poly people being beaten, fired, or killed.  There is a persistent social stigma against it, and it is presented as the conclusion of the slippery-slope for things like gay marriage (” if you allow anyone to marry, the next thing that will happen is 3 people getting married!” The horror!), and there are the many legal issues briefly mentioned above.

And I will briefly mention that advocating for polyamorous rights and protected status in society is made more complicated in context with polygamy and its relationship to fundamentalist Mormons, Islam, and the patterns of abuse against women, and young girls, in those communities.  So it is a complicated issue, but I do think it is a social justice issue.

I think that we need to keep that in mind during these discussions about adding social justice issues to our atheist activism.


The Atheist Prayer Experiment: or, Ginny loses her shit slightly

I’m feeling all fired-up after reading several articles on the dumbass “legitimate rape” quote, and then I read this ridiculousness: somebody wants atheists to pray, every day for 40 days (of course it’s 40 days) for God to reveal himself (their pronoun), recording their experiences and submitting them for inclusion in an academic paper.

First let me get through my rage that this is being considered an “experiment” and might be made the basis of an “academic paper.” P.Z. pretty much spelled it out: there’s no methodology here. The participant pool is entirely self-selecting with no (stated) filtering criteria; there is no discussion of what is being measured; guidelines for participants are so vague as to be meaningless; and no discussion is made of the researcher’s personal bias and how that might affect results (a particularly important piece to include in qualitative research, which this would be if it were research at all. Which it’s not.) It’s appalling from a purely academic standpoint.

Then there’s the personal hit. And excuse me, because this gets personal. Motherfucker, do you not think that people have tried this? Let me tell you about my three months (your 40 days plus another 50 or so) of asking God — begging God — to reveal his existence to me. It started shortly before Christmas, and I realized that the faith-bearing part of my brain, the part that believed in God whether it made sense to me or not, was gone. And I was devastated. I felt like I’d been left by the one person I had always counted on to be there for me. Because that was what happened. If God existed, he had withdrawn, for his own mysterious reasons, my previously unshaken belief that he was there, was real, would one day meet me face to face. For a long time that’s what I thought had happened, and I earnestly tried to submit to his will; to play the role which he had evidently asked me to play, as a non-believer who desperately wanted to believe. But I also prayed, often with tears, that if it was all a mistake, that if something had gone wrong and I had gone astray somehow, that he would lead me back. That he would give me back my faith. I prayed for three months; I let go of all reservations and expectations about what this God-being might be like or how he might manifest. After three months I felt I couldn’t keep up the pretense of being a Christian any more, so I told my friends and family what I was going through, but at the same time I kept searching. Kept praying. Kept hoping, because if there was one thing I didn’t want, it was to live in a world with no divine force in it.

And eventually my longing was enough to enable me to create a new imagined reality. I never got back the strong, tangible sense of God’s presence that had been with me for the first 25 years of my life. But I started interpreting everything I could as evidence that God was speaking to me, and I came up with complicated rationalizations for how the fact that I knew it was myself, and my own interpretations, was yet another way God spoke to me. I couldn’t recreate those mental contortions if I tried. If you want to believe something badly enough, you will find yourself a way to let yourself believe it. And always, always, I was praying — for revelation, for insight, for guidance.

So don’t fucking say that what atheists need to do is earnestly pray for God’s revelation. Not to me. It’s ignorant and insulting.

And don’t set people up for the kind of self-delusion that I engaged in: don’t tell them to look out for a sign, no matter what it is, and it could be anything, that God is responding. You know what will happen if you do that? The people who want to believe will find a sign. Because that is one of the number-one things human brains are best at: reading signal in noise. It’s a trait I love about us — sometime I’ll write about my experiences with tarot cards and why I find them valuable even though I don’t believe in any supernatural influence — but you can never let go of the awareness that the signal comes from ourselves, not from outside. Otherwise, you can so easily be exploited and manipulated, which is especially traumatizing when you’re the one doing the exploiting and manipulating.

The whole thing makes me sick and angry. I’m going to take a shower.

My Bigger House

This morning I got in the car, plugged my phone into the speakers and blasted Mama Cass singing “Make Your Own Kind of Music”.  Mama Cass is one of my female vocal role models.  Granted, she’s nowhere near Grace Slick, Janis or Heart, but she’s there.  I heard “Make Your Own Kind of Music” for the first time on “Lost” when Desmond was introduced.

Shut up about spoilers.  I’m not even going to talk about how that show ended.  Bullshit.  Listen, if you must watch it, watch the first couple of seasons and then stop.  OK?  I warned you.

Anyway, I love “Make Your Own Kind of Music” because it has that classic late 60’s pop sound that I love and it has a message I can get behind as your friendly neighborhood weirdo.

Make your own kind of music.
Sing your own special song.
Make your own kind of music,
Even if nobody else sings along.

My dad always thought that my theme song should be Linda Ronstadt’s “Different Drum”.  It has its moments, but “Make Your Own Kind of Music” applies to every part of my life thus far.  Plus, it’s really fun to belt out in the car.

So, picture the scene of this morning if you will: I get in the car, I crank the volume up to 30 and as the opening piano and guitar comes in, I sway.  Yes, I sway and put a stupid look on my face…like this stupid look:

Then I start singing at the top of my lungs (while paying careful attention to vocal support, of course.  I don’t need Peter throwing things at my when I show up for overdubbing on Wednesday and say, “Oh, sorry…I can’t sing…Mama Cass.”).  I would assume anyone looking in the car would have assumed I was taking my final ascent into Muppetdom.  Perhaps they are right.

The other day, a coworker changed the picture he had on his desktop to this photo of him in Jamaica.  He was smashed in between two huge drag queens.  He asked everyone if they found it offensive.  I walked over and said, “Eh, that just looks like what my life outside of the lab looks like.”  Everyone laughed and probably believed that there was some truth to it, but I always wonder how much truth they think there is.  I wander around at work with everyone thinking that I’m “original” and a little bit strange, but they never really know how strange.

When I talk about Shaun, Ginny, or Jessie, I call them simply my friends.  This, of course, is not a false statement but by cutting it off there I am lying by omission.  I can’t seem to bring myself to be open about it, mainly because I don’t really think it’s any of their business, and possibly because I don’t want to have to talk about it everyday.  There are times when I have come very close to telling people everything because I think it’s a stupid burden to carry.  But this is my job, not my family, not anything except where I contribute intelligence and skill in exchange for money and benefits.  It is enough that they know that I have a husband.  That they can understand and we don’t have to talk about it.

I suppose it might be silly to say on a blog devoted to subjects such as polyamory and atheism, but I get burned out on these topics often.  I don’t talk about atheism much because I am rather uneducated about it.  I know that I do not believe in gods or any kind of spirituality.  This is the rational conclusion we must reach with the evidence at hand. I don’t really have a lot to say about it other than that most of the time.  I talk a lot about polyamory because my relationships are pretty much the biggest thing in my life.  Because I am living this way and building up experience points, I feel like I can speak intelligently about the subject.  I like to present myself as a person living this way successfully and happily.  I want to be inspiring and informative.

But it is still my life and I find that explaining why this works for us for the umpteenth time begins to take its toll.  Sure, it’s easier when people are being accepting.  For instance, the five of us were at a wedding the other day where after a while we mentioned the fact that we were polyamorous to the strangers we were sitting with and one of them said, “Yeah, that’s pretty obvious!”  It was refreshing to not have to explain what it is.  He didn’t even follow it up with any qualifiers like “Well, that’s cool if it works for you…but I could never do it” or anything.  So yes, that’s easier.  It’s harder when you find yourself still having to explain yourself to loved ones or to strangers and dealing with all the confusion and sometimes venom it causes.  It is not fun to be the cultural liason for lifestyle all the time.  It is exhausting and there’s only so many ways I can explain why jealousy sucks and how you shouldn’t think it’s a requisite of a committed relationship or any of the other things that people don’t want to understand because it might say something is imperfect in their views of relationships.  Being adversarial is hard for me.  It takes a lot of energy and resilience.  I run out periodically.  It takes such a toll on me that I have been waiting forever to write this particular post because how much can I wax poetic about poly before someone throws something at my face?  But whatever.  This is my life.  It is amazing.  Hate it if you want to, but it is amazing nonetheless.

Shaun and Ginny moved their office desks and computers to the house this past weekend and both of them consider home to be wherever their computers are…so my home is their home.  This is something I have hoped would happen for a while and I am still in a general state of shock about it.  Yesterday morning, Wes and I went to a diner and got home around 9:30am to find Shaun and Ginny both up and clicking away at their computers.  I was surprised by it, and then realized that it was one of the best things I’ve gotten to see in my own house recently.  It has been an interesting and sometimes tumultuous year.  The fact that this is happening will seem like a dream for quite a while I think, but it’s a good dream that stays with me throughout the day.

The main concern people have expressed to Wes and me is “Is the house big enough for 5 adults???”  Well, seemingly the answer is yes, especially if I gut the place for clutter.  I have been driving myself batty for the last several weeks going through things and getting rid of everything except what I really want, which as it turns out is not nearly as much as I thought it was.  The house is transforming into something rather impressive.  Shaun inspires me to do these things, to be neater, to take care of the house more responsibly (mainly because if I don’t, he will first and I can’t let him take all the credit now can I?).  Also, I’d like him to stick around for a while so I don’t want to push him out with piles of useless crap.  I’ve been working ridiculously hard on these things and there’s more to do, and though it is stressful and exhausting for me, it is worth every amount of effort to make the house so much more comfortable for everyone.

My house has gotten bigger.  I didn’t really think it was possible, but it is completely filled with amazing people almost all of the time.  As I have mentioned often when I speak of having Jessie as part of our home, there have been moments of profound perfection in our house since she arrived.  I thought of all the years before that I have been doing it so wrong.  I used to want everyone to go away.  I used to be terrified to share my space and not know when people were leaving because when there were people around I couldn’t be myself.  But now I am the same person alone as I am with people, but even stranger, I am better with these people around.  And now I feel like I actually have it all because I have all the people around me who make me so much better than I am on my own.  And yes, I am still insecure and flawed and all those nasty things that I fight constantly, and I wonder what I did to deserve all of this…

And then I tell myself to shut the hell up and enjoy it, dagnabbit.

Soon, the epic house cleaning/organizing will be over and we will just have to maintain it and fall into a sublime sense of comfort and normalcy in an existence that many would deem bizarre and undesirable.  I suppose it might be bizarre, but it doesn’t seem that way when I’m at home.  It feels like this is exactly how my life should be and how lucky am I to be living exactly the life that I should be living.  I suppose it seems undesirable to some, but I couldn’t ask for anything more than this.  Despite the fact that none of us has decided to procreate as of yet, we have ourselves a delightful family, a family of our choosing and I hope that this is the beginning of a life time of awesomeness and calm.

I sat down with Wes this morning for a cup of decaf and then finished up some dishes before I left for work.  Shaun came downstairs and I nearly passed out to see him out of bed before 8am but there he was.  I kissed them both goodbye, grabbed my grown-up sippy cup full of water and went out to the car to drive to work and listen to some Mama Cass and think about how wonderful it is to be weird.

Then, when the song was over…I put on some Journey.  Whatever, shut up.  Everyone secretly likes at least one Journey song.

It’s true!