Eve of Christmas Eve Dinner

December 30, 2007

The most traumatic things in my granddaughter’s young life seem to involve food.

As traumatic lives go, I don’t think hers has been that traumatic yet, but she is practicing the emotions required just in case her life turns out to be very tragic, which it may by the age of four.

She does not display a lot of appetite. It’s hard to tell if this is a precursor of some awful crisis to occur when she is a teenager or young adult, such as anorexia and bulimia, or that she will naturally have a svelte figure that all the other young ladies will envy, or if she will suddenly become a piglet and blow up as a blimp, or it will just be something funny to laugh about when she is a more or less “normal” adult?

Her natural style of eating is grazing. This is often described as a more natural and healthful way to eat than to shove in large meals. She likes to graze as she plays and walks and wanders. However, there is something about sitting down at a table with adults that takes away most of her appetite.

On the way to visit her grandparents for eve of Christmas Eve, Mama (Random Daughter) and Mommy (birth mother and RD’s partner) had a long discussion with RG about food and table manners as a guest. Supposedly, she promised to display exemplary table manners and conduct herself as a sterling guest. I suspect this indicated she is learning To Say What Parents Want to Hear.

Her good intentions began to unravel at lunch time. We had soup. It seemed perfectly fine soup to me, but perhaps RG detected something malevolent swimming below the surface in hers that was waiting to slither up her spoon if she dipped it into the soup because she was most reluctant to break the surface of the soup with her spoon.

After her nap she had a good time with the wooden barn Grandma had bought for her. The little animals traveled in and out of the barn and had interesting conversations with each other.

As eve of Christmas Eve dinner approached, RG seated herself at the table and indicated she was very hungry. Dinner consisted of meatballs and mashed potatoes with gravy for both, as well as green beans and corn. To me, it looked like a meal that even a 3 and 5/6 years old young lady could deal with.

Grandma put a meatball on RG’s plate. RG regarded the meatball with great suspicion. A mommy urged her to eat some meatball. RG indicated it was just like a meatball she had tasted at a friend’s house and she had not liked that meatball. At all.

Mommy said Grandma’s meatball was different and very good. RG said it was just the same as the meatball she had tasted before. Also, she had been served a meatball at school and she had not liked it. Again, she was told this meatball was different. “No, it is just the same,” she insisted. A look of set determination settled on her face like a mask.

She picked at some of her other food. The appetite she had described seemed to have disappeared. She asked to be excused from the table. Permission was not granted. RG said she was going to leave the table. She was told leaving the table was not an option.

After a while, I did see her actually take a bit of her meatball. A look of quiet suffering covered her face, an expression good enough for at least an Oscar nomination.

Eventually, Mommy suggested she sit in her lap. A sound of quiet sobbing filled the room for about half an hour. Eventually, Mommy and RG went outside for a talk on the porch.

RG came inside. Mommies suggested RG give Grandma and Grandpa a hug. RG said she didn’t want to give hugs. RG went upstairs to bed. A little later RG came downstairs again. RG and Mommy went back upstairs for quite a while. Eventually RG came downstairs. She was composed. Evidently, she had decided not to starve herself to death. She ate some corn and green beans. It looked to me as she had eaten a sufficient quantity to sustain life. It apparently had provided sufficient strength for her to give Grandma and Grandpa hugs before she went upstairs again for the final trip of the night.

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Silly Result of Quiz

December 28, 2007

What’s your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Modern Liberal

You are a Modern Liberal. Science and historical study have shown so much of the Bible to be unreliable and that conservative faith has made Jesus out to be a much bigger deal than he actually was. Discipleship involves continuing to preach and practice Jesus’ measure of love and acceptance, and dogma is not important in today’s world. You are influenced by thinkers like Bultmann and Bishop Spong.

Modern Liberal

57%

Emergent/Postmodern

54%

Classical Liberal

50%

Reformed Evangelical

21%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

14%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

11%

Neo orthodox

11%

Roman Catholic

7%

Fundamentalist

0%

Peace Treaty

December 28, 2007

Mama and Mommy discussed how they were going to talk with Random Granddaughter about Jesus.

My wife and I try to grandparent with a light hand, but we certainly listened with interest.

“We should talk about it,” said my daughter. “After all, she has been opening the windows on her Advent Calendar and it’s time for the window showing the baby Jesus.”

My daughter and her partner and my wife are fairly liberal in their political views. They are a little taken back at times by my cynicism, though they generally manage to tolerate me. Liberals are supposed to be tolerant of people.

They tend to think people should live in peace with each other. I tend to agree with that sentiment as a good intention, but I suspect that as people have been killing each other violently for a long time, they are not likely to stop any time soon.

In any case, my daughter and her partner decided they should talk to Random Granddaughter about Jesus. They said they would present Him as a person who tried to bring peace to the world.

I decided not to fight with them about it.

Seeds of Doubt

December 27, 2007

At any time, my blog seems to have between 10 and 20 regular readers. For some of those regular readers, it’s probably not the most enticing and endearing reading, particularly for the half or so who are conservative Christians.

The ones who stick around allow quite a bit of slack for our daughter being in a relationship with another woman and for adopting her partner’s child, who calls my daughter Mama and her birth mother Mommy.

It probably does not help either that my wife and I gradually let our daughter know as she was growing up that we regarded the idea that Jesus was born of a virgin, rose from the dead, and was the Son of God as a myth. Not only that, but we regarded Santa Claus as a myth also, though we let our daughter make up her own mind about Santa.

As Random Granddaughter’s imagination has developed, her ability to tell stories and role play has increased as well. Mommy (my daughter’s partner) has talked to RG about “pretend” and “real” information in her conversations.

On Christmas Eve, RG talked about Santa Claus.

“Is Santa Claus real or pretend?” Mommy asked her.

“Real,” RG answered.

Last year, the Barely Extended Family had a small vegetable garden in back of their little house in the medium-sized city. RG planted some green beans. Although she has some difficulty with the idea of vegetables as edible food, she did eat the green beans she grew and now considers green beans to be tolerable food; though she still has doubts about yellow wax beans. (Well, do you eat beans made of wax?)

We’ll see what happens with the seeds of doubt Mommy may have planted about Santa Claus.

Eve of Christmas Eve

December 25, 2007

Neither my wife nor I are religious believers. My wife loves Christmas; for her it seems to epitomize domesticity; a well appointed house with a tastefully decorated tree is a work of art; and a very small group of compatible people gathered together in harmony with good food in beautiful surroundings represents the best of human interaction and values. My feelings about Christmas are more conflicted; my lack of enthusiasm often irritated her. Over the years our reactions to Christmas have gradually evolved to be more relaxed and more compatible.

As a child, our daughter believed in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. We played along with it. In the case of Santa, a very bad little boy named George who lived next door disillusioned her in kindergarten.

We chose not to raise our daughter as a religious believer. We didn’t make an energetic effort to “indoctrinate her” as an atheist, though we were irritated when a baby sitter started talking to her about Jesus without checking with us first. If our daughter had decided to become a religious believer at an age where we felt she was capable of making adult decisions, we would have accepted it. However, when she grew up and expressed beliefs similar to ours, we were happy that her beliefs were fairly close to ours.

The Barely Extended Family came to our Little House in the Middle-Sized Woods for an eve of Christmas Eve dinner. Random Granddaughter had a good time at times and a very stressful time at other times (mostly meal times). More about that later.

RG has been raised mostly without exposure to television. She has watched a couple of educational videotapes at preschool; that’s about it. She seems to have very little concept of television as a significant part of life.

We have a videotape of The Grinch. We decided to watch it as a family. I was curious about how she would react to the first television drama she would watch.

She watched intently and quietly without much comment or visible reaction.

Later Mommy (my daughter’s partner) said RG had been a little perturbed by the Grinch’s bad behavior and a little perturbed that she had been watching a “tay-vay” show, something she perceived as “bad.” My daughter and her partner quizzed each other a little sharply about who had been communicating to RG that television is “bad”; each denied talking to her in that fashion.

Later, while RG was taking a nap, Random Daughter and Out of Law Partner talked about what they were going to say to her about Jesus.

[More about the religious education of RG later.]

Last week, I went out to my car at work and discovered it had a flat tire. As I am a mechanical dork and the sky was raining in torrents, I called the Auto Club. I figured they would put on the spare tire, and then I would have time after work to take it to the tire store and they would have time to repair the tire before they closed.

Usually the Auto Club takes an hour to arrive. Wednesday, they took three hours, so it was too late to go to the tire store. In the old days, spare tires were real tires; now they are inferior tires that should not be driven faster than 50 miles an hour or for long distances.

I felt sorry for the tow truck driver as he removed the flat tire in the pouring rain. I felt vindicated as he discovered one of the bolts on the tire was frozen and he had to break the bolt off to remove the flat tire. I thanked him effusively. I took down his name and the name of the tow truck company. I promised to send a letter to the Auto Club about how helpful and gracious he was.

I decided to crash for the night at the barely extended family’s house. I drove the long distance to their place at 50 miles an hour, enraging many people behind m on the freeway. By the time I got there, Random Granddaughter was asleep. My daughter fixed me a trout dinner and told me that RG had been a juvenile delinquent at pre-school for the last two days.

“She has been hitting other children and having tantrums.”

“What do you think is going on?” I asked. I was worried. I could envision the headlines some day in National Inquirer. Former pre-school star on trial for murdering her teacher. Grandparents bankrupt themselves paying legal fees.

“She doesn’t take naps at pre-school any more. We think she is not getting enough sleep. We are making her go to bed earlier now. That’s why she is asleep even though she wanted to see Grandpa tonight. Perhaps you could take her to pre-school tomorrow?” my daughter said.”She would really like to spend some time with you.”

“Sure. I am going to use some vacation time to get my tire fixed. I will add a little extra time to take her to school.”

When RG got up the next morning, she was in a good mood. After her mommies left for work, she looked at a photo album. She looked pictures of Mommy pregnant with her. She looked at pictures of herself as an infant, sometimes saying “She” about herself, sometimes saying “I” about herself.

She looked at pictures of Mommy holding Sebastian, the late cat. At the time Sebastian died, I wondered what RG made of it as her first experience with death.

“What happened to Sebastian?” I asked her.

“He died. We buried him,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. I am still not sure she makes of her first experience with death.

She put on her coat. I picked up her school bag, which contains enough supplies for her to cross a desert and Antarctica as well. One pocket of the bag contained five different types of snacks. “I’m not supposed to bring nuts for snacks. Mia is allergic to nuts,” she explained.

We set off for school. After we had walked past three houses, RG said, “I would like a snack.” I wasn’t sure if she was supposed to have a snack on her way to school, but I decided not to argue about it. I wanted to bring a little girl to school in a good mood.

“What snack do you want?” I asked, opening up the snack pocket for her to rummage in. She rummaged. She pulled out a plastic bowl. I removed the plastic lid. She began eating the snack in a the bowl. The bowl contained nuts. (Cashews, not peanuts, but still…) I figured, Maybe RG knows what she is doing here if she is eating the nuts before she gets to school.

She finished her nuts. She started skipping. I skipped with her. She seemed in a good mood. Maybe I was going to bring a little girl in a good mood to pre-school. Maybe I would go down in the Grandparent Hall of Fame as the Grandpa who brought a little girl to pre-school in a good mood.

We got to the pre-school. I took her key card out of the pack. She held it up to the card reader with practiced ease and we entered the pre-school. What kind of world do we live in where three-year-old girls know how to use a key card to get into their pre-school? I wondered.

Sermiette

December 20, 2007

Human beings are frequently monsters. There are big monstrous monsters such as Hitler and Stalin who kill and torture many people. There are little monstrous monsters such as the people who carry out the orders for the big monstrous monsters. (They sometimes say, “I was just following orders.”)

Some of us are fortunate enough to live in relatively peaceful locations in relatively peaceful times. Most of the time we only have to deal with medium monsters and little monsters. Medium monsters include CEOs of large organizations who torment people who work for them and then lay them off from their jobs. Once in a rare while a person who was tormented or laid off goes “postal” and shoots up their former workplace.

Which leads me to the point that monsters tend to beget monsters.

My wife’s sister was very unhappy with their mother. She felt that her mother conducted herself poorly (drinking too much and engaging in affairs) and withheld love for her, requiring her (the eldest) to do much of the work of raising her four siblings. (My wife, being much younger, apparently didn’t pay much attention at that time to the drama with her parents and her sister.)

When her sister had five children of her own, she smothered them with love and attention. As adults, four of her five children now don’t speak to her. She maintained a good relationship with one child, a son. She paid lots of attention to him and his wife. I just learned that her son’s marriage is ending. I don’t know the entire story, but I suspect an unhappy multi-generational tale is still playing out.

This may be an example of monsters begetting monsters. It often goes on for generations.

When my daughter and her partner lived with us in Portland, their car was stolen from in front of our house. When we got it back, we found a lot of personal documents inside. I read the papers. They revealed that the car had been stolen by a homeless couple who were living in it. When I told “out-of-law” partner about it, she said, “Damn! I don’t want to feel sorry for the people who stole our car.”

I remember when I was about four, living in Los Angeles; I was scared of the dark in my bedroom. This is like a silly modern fairy tale, but I was sure monsters lived under the bed. I went downstairs and asked to get into bed with my parents. My mother was warm and soft and comforting. My father was angry and disgusted and told me to go back to my own bed upstairs because there no monsters under my bed.

After a while, I decided the monster was the person in my mother’s bed.

Later, as a young adult, I read some Sigmund Freud. I read about the Oedipus Complex. Been there, experienced that, I thought.

Freud thought he was a great scientist. Most scientists today think what he was doing was not really science. I have my doubts that even today “clinical psychology” really qualifies as science.

In any case, as a child I regarded my father as a monster for many reasons besides my childish Oedipus Complex. As I grew older, I realized that my father came from a very troubled family and probably had a very troubled childhood. Similar to what my daughter’s partner said about the couple who stole her car, I thought, “I didn’t want to feel sorry for my father.”

When I got married, I was still a child in many respects. I was not particularly adept with women, and when one was willing to spend a little time with me, I agreed to marry her because that seemed to be the only way to get her to get into bed with me. That sounds so quaint and old fashioned (not to mention stupid) that it embarrasses me to write about it.

Of course, one thing led to another, and then there was a child. I thought to myself, I will try not to be a monster to my child. I will try to raise a child who is not a monster and who does not raise monsters.

At various times in my life I had grand dreams. I worked for a couple of “start-up” companies. Those of us who worked for those companies thought we might get “stock options” and eventually become rich as happened to people who worked for Microsoft in the early days. I knew somebody, for example, who had worked for Cisco and became a millionaire. I also knew someone who had become a “Microsoft millionaire,” but eventually had a couple of nasty divorces and then went crazy. So getting what you think you want or what many people think they want is not always a path to real success, depending on how you describe and evaluate “success.”

I have a little writing ability, and I wrote a computer book. It was published, but nothing made it stand out from any of the other books published on the same topic, and nobody uses that software any more, so it’s about as useful as a medical book published in 1850 and less interesting, not even good for a few laughs.

I have no grand system of how people should live, or what they should believe, or how they should conduct their lives. About the best I can think of is that people should try to treat each other decently. If you introduce me to a person and tell me this is a famous star or brilliant scientist or a millionaire or a great artist or some other impressive person and tell me that someone is a “great person” but they weren’t a very pleasant parent or spouse or boss or ordinary person, I tend to have a negative reaction.

To me the great people of the world are those people who treat each other decently as best they can and I’ll happily trade the “great people” for the ordinary decent people if being “great” is supposed to justify being mean to their children or their spouses or their co-workers.

An even that’s not a brilliant answer to the dilemmas we face as human beings. The English writer, E. M. Foster, a much finer writer than I, provided some similar thoughts in his essay, “Two Cheers for Democracy” (sometimes listed as “What I Believe.”

Inmates in Charge

December 14, 2007

On David Rochester’s blog, the discussion has focused on his mental health. David explains how crazy he is; explains how his therapist is trying to help and maybe cure him; explains how he is (so far at least) incurable; his readers (for the most part, an intelligent, caring, supportive group of people, except for the two stupid, clever, and wicked people who are trying to harm David) make helpful, intelligent, supportive suggestions.As one of the two bad people among his readers, I make sarcastic, unhelpful comments.

Cheles (one of the helpful people) wrote, in part, on a comment on David’s blog:

I vaguely remember walking in on a radio program a few months ago. The speaker spoke about his beliefs that the planet we currently live on, is a “Prison Planet.” His take on this was that our souls had chosen to be here to work out a past karmic “sentencing.” Apparently, something bad happened and we were given a choice for our punishment: to be sent here to do pennance or follow evil and be doomed forever…

The entire post and the rest of Chele’s comment.

This all ties in with something I was going to write about anyway. As I was growing up, I often wondered whether or not I was a sane person. I have had various emotional problems over my lifetime. At a fairly early age I encountered the distinction between neurosis and psychosis. My childish interpretation was that a neurotic person is really irritating and a psychotic person is really dangerous. Later I amended that a bit to argue that a neurotic person is someone who never really “grew up.” One problem with that definition is that I am not sure that anyone knows what a “really grown up” person would look like or how he or she would behave. (It may be that there are no grown-up human beings.)

Another thought I had was that maybe our entire species is insane.

When I was a child, I read a lot of science fiction. One of my favorite science fiction writers was the British writer Eric Frank Russell. Although British, he mostly wrote for the American market and his writing conveyed what seemed to me as a lively American diction. Although there was a certain amount of melodramatic “space opera” in his writing, he also had a sarcastic sense of humor, a disrespect for bureaucracy and hierarchy, and and a humanistic concern for sentient beings (who might be portrayed as “humans” or might be portrayed as “aliens”) that verged on the sentimental. As an impressionable child and immature teenager, I liked Russell’s writing a a lot.

A few years ago I re-read some of his writing, and also read some works I had missed when I was young. Sometimes when we re-read a writer we liked as a child again as an adult, the author does not hold up that well. This is particularly true with science fiction, a genre that does not usually “age” that well, and Russell’s sarcasm does not always hold up that well, either when re-read after a few decades have passed. I’m not sure I would encourage anyone to search out and read much of his work. However, one of his novels, Dreadful Sanctuary, does have a “high concept” that might be worth some contemporary author taking and redrafting in contemporary idiom and perspective.

Some of the basic story line of Dreadful Sanctuary:

Hold on to your hats. The four inner planets have long been inhabited by human beings, and each planet has produced a different subspecies or “race”. Black people come from Mercury, brown people are from Venus, yellow people are the only native humans from Earth itself and white people are from Mars. Sounds like one of those simplistic relationship manuals, eh? Once the stunning audacity of this concept sinks in…. that different ethnic groups had their skin tones determined by how close they were to the Sun (?!)… things get steadily even more bizarre.

The reason our little planet has so many specimens of the different human varieties is that, a hundred thousand years ago, the Martians developed a machine which can determine whether or not someone is insane. They (the Martians, the white people, remember) deported all their lunatics to the Earth to get rid of them as a humane solution. Sheesh, we are the Botany Bay of the Solar System! Kind of explains all the war and crime and perversions and pop music, doesn`t it?

All the descendants of the Martians who have been tested and found sane by that psychotron gizmo have formed a worldwide society with cells in every major city. Forget the Si-Fan or the Illuminati or even HYDRA, the real hidden power behind governments is the insidious Norman Club. (“Norman” for “normal man”…do you think Russell was familiar with the Great Shaver Mystery with its teros and deros?) Complicating things still more is that those who know of their real ancestry back on Mercury or Venus have different agendas than those descended from Martians. It`s quite a tangle, with three different ET clans plotting and scheming behind the scenes.

Although Russell was not a racist, the stuff about skin colors was silly and unnecessary (and not really that good a contribution to his satirical purposes). I’m not going to write the book, but I think a modern retelling of a novel based on the idea that our entire species is insane could be an interesting project.

One possible route to go would be to base it on the idea that one person alone among all humans is sane, but thinks he is crazy because he is so out of step with all the crazy people.

As a former English major who dropped out of graduate school, I occasionally drop into talking about literature. As a child who was raised non-religiously in an unhappy family, much of my ideas and values about ethics and human relations have been strongly influenced by books I have read. Vladimir Nabakov famously wrote about avoiding interpreting and judging literature as a morality tale. Even though I think old Vlady had some good points, I often tend to react to some books as many people do to moving sermons in their favorite church.

I speak today of a kind of literature I will call “ironic unintended self-revelation.” Perhaps the classic brief example is Robert Browning’s poem, “My Last Duchess.” In this poem a Renaissance Duke shows a visitor a portrait of his former wife, a beautiful young woman. The emissary has come to negotiate a marriage to a new young wife. In the course of the Duke’s monologue he unintentionally reveals that he destroyed his first wife by his selfish, narcisstic behavior and attitude.

A more complex example of this literature is the British novel The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. Again, the story is told by an “unreliable narrator” who reveals much about himself that he does not grasp. Not only does he fail to understand his own character but he is essentially clueless about the other characters in the novel.

I read this novel as an undergraduate in college. It struck me as a novel written for college professors to assign to their classes. It has been called “the most stylistically perfect novel” in the English language, and it is laden with enough irony and symbolism to generate sophmoric sophmore English term papers by the bucket.

My main point is that both of these literary works reveal their points about character and theme dramatically through action and dialogue in ironic contrast to their narrator’s intent and beliefs about himself and to how things appear at first glance. Typically, this type of literary revelation is unflattering to the narrator, who turns out to be worse, or at least not as good as he thinks.

Over the past few years I’ve had a blog interaction with David Rochester. When I first started writing my blog, he greeted me and wrote encouraging words. He’s had similar interactions with many other bloggers, helping to create a blogging community.

I think I’ve read every blog post he’s written with considerable interest and enjoyment, though also some pain. Not pain caused by anything unpleasant he’s addressed to me, but empathic pain because of turmoil and distress he’s experienced in his life.

As the time passed, I began to discover many common points in our lives. For example, he lives in Portland, Oregon. My family and I lived in Portland for many years. He went to Oberlin College to study music. My daughter went to Oberlin and met her partner there (who was studying violin).

Some of these overlapping points involved more than juxtapositions in time and place. For example, I had a very unhappy relationship with my father (who died fairly young). David’s had an unhappy relationship with his father, with whom he has had to work with in a painful business arrangement.

David’s personality and sensitivity to the aesthetics of his surroundings, on the other hand, reveals him to be much closer to my wife’s personality in some ways.

The overall effect of reading David’s blog has been something like reading a complex, highly crafted novel like The Good Soldier, in that my understanding of his life (as he presents it) has grown in sophistication and comprehension.

I think.

I worry a bit about offending David by jumping to some facile erroneous conclusion about him. If I do offend by an error, I will be glad to delete or remove the message entirely.

Besides my understanding of his life (as he presents it) growing in understanding, I havd a feeling that his presentation has changed. At first, he presented a persona that was rather humorous in ironic little tales. Over time, I think, his writing as become better, his presentation of his self more honest and deeper, and there are signs of a growing maturity.

While one would be tempted to say, “Hurrah!” he does not present these as victories or successes. Instead he presents himself as deeply lonely and unhappy. So what I say here is intended to be encouraging, but I fear it will have the opposite effect.

Darn.

Both David and myself come from unhappy families. Neither of us got the childhood any child should have. Obviously, there are many children who suffer much worse conditions and influences than we did, but still I think we both had plenty of reasons to turn into monsters. That’s melodramatic–but there are, in fact, plenty of human monsters out there, and probably, more often than not, their parents “helped out” in the monster creating business.

In the kind of ironic, narrator reveals himself more than he means to literature I describe, usually the revelations are for the worse.

David often describes himself as difficult, as unloveable, as someone no one could live with or have a relationship with, except maybe three cats, at least one of whom is at least as difficult as he is.

I believe him. I suspect that if he and I were to meet in person, we would probably not get along very well.

The paradox here is that the persona that David creates for himself on line attracts many people who perceive him as a pleasant, kind, helpful person with pretty good values.

What does this mean? How to interpret this?

At the very least, he has done something in literary terms is akin to what in basketball is termed a triple-double.

He has written something like an ironically revealing memoir in which the narrator is revealed as better than he presents himself. (If you can pull that off in a novel, I think you will have a winner, at least in terms of creating a book that will be assigned to generations of long-suffering college sophmores.)

At least two additional possibilites present themselves.

One is that he is in reality a much nicer and more wholesome person in real life than he allows us to know about.

The second, is that he is the difficult person he describes, but somewhere inside is a really nice guy struggling to get out.

My neighbor is a pretty good chain saw carver, David. Perhaps I can talk him into taking a trip to Portland to see if he can free your inner Pinocchio.