30 November 2013

December comes riding

The wind is rattling leaves and tossing them from the trees.
The moon is clear and smiling, whispering farewell to the geese.
The road is a dark ribbon against the snowy moor,
And December, she comes riding--
December, she comes riding to the NaNo writer's door.

Over the cobbles she clatters and clashes on the heels of the clock.
She taps with her candy cane lightly, but the writer's door is locked.
She whistles a tune to the window, her breath a swirling frost,
But the writer cannot hear her.
     The NaNo writer ignores her.
Within his story, the writer is lost.

The wind is rattling leaves and tossing them from the trees.
The moor is clear and smiling, whispering farewell to the geese.
The road is a dark ribbon against the snowy moor,
And December, she comes riding--
December, she comes riding to the NaNo writer's door.

You cannot turn her away, pen monkey.
You cannot delay her for long,
So let your fingers fly tonight.
Dear NaNo Writer, keep writing--
NaNo Writer, keep writing before December's light.

29 November 2013

A day is just a day until you make it a holiday

I didn't celebrate Thanksgiving yesterday. Monty had the munchkins and I'm not going to Illinois until tomorrow (due to client-related excitement), so I spent Thanksgiving seeing the great pictures of friends and family celebrating and nursing another spectacular cold.

But it doesn't bother me.

Holidays don't have to be holidays in my family. There have been many times my family has celebrated holidays on days other than when they're "supposed" to be celebrated for one reason or another.

When I was a kid, I remember helping my dad put up Christmas lights in July after he came home from the Gulf War so we could have a Christmas together.

So I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving all week long next week when I get to spend a few days in Illinois with family and friends. I'll eat a lot, have some wine, and make lots of memories with people I love that I haven't seen in too long.

It doesn't matter to me whether I celebrate holidays on the actual day or any other day of the year. The important thing to me is getting to celebrate with friends and family. A holiday can be any other day, and any day can be a holiday. All you have to do is decide how you want to spend the day.

Speaking of which, how was your Thanksgiving (if you celebrated)?

25 November 2013

NaNoWriMo: the final week

It is the last week of NaNoWriMo, folks. We're in the final stretch of frantic scribbling and a mad dash for 50,000 words.

Though I haven't been participating in NaNo this year, the month has still been a whirlwind for me, and I can hardly believe it's already nearly the end. I don't know where the month went.

For those who have been scribbling away in their free time, I can only imagine how you feel today looking at the calendar.

The advice I have for you this week is don't give up. There is still lots of time left, so I urge you to keep writing. Don't worry about your word count, just keep writing until 11:59 p.m. on Saturday. There's still time, so don't give up!

Now get back to writing, and good luck!

22 November 2013

Dear Diary...

I have a journal. I write in it pretty frequently. (Mostly daily.)

I like journaling. It's a place for me to vent and work things out and speculate and brainstorm and jot notes for writing. I've worked out some difficult things through journaling. When I write, I can ramble about whatever I want with no judgment or subject-changing. I can work

I haven't always had a good relationship with my journal, though. In early 2012 I stopped journaling for quite some time. I'd discovered that someone I trusted very much had read my journal, and I couldn't bring myself to write in it after that.

Since then I've gotten back to journaling, and I'm thankful for it. I didn't realize how much, as an individual, I needed to journal until I wasn't doing it anymore.

I hope other writers will understand this--when I wasn't journaling, I was more irritable, held on to frustrations longer, and had more trouble getting started when I was writing for work. I'm the type of person who just needs to write in a journal frequently. It helps me sort through the chaos of my head to be able to move forward successfully in work and in my personal life.

I've talked lots here about the benefits of journaling. I think all writers should keep some kind of journal, whether it be to write ideas or chronicle the writing process or vent or whatever. Journals are a valuable tool for writers.

Now that I'm back to journaling regularly (finally), I want to once again encourage you to keep a journal, even if all you do is scribble story ideas in it occasionally. If nothing else, it serves as a place for you to keep ideas all in one place so they don't get forgotten or ignored.

Do you keep a journal? How do you use it as a tool in your writing career?

20 November 2013

NaNo pep talk: the second half

Congratulations! You're in the second half of NaNoWriMo! Hip hip hooray!

Celebrate! You deserve it!

I know that it might be getting hard, but the advantage you have now is that you can look back and see what you've done, then use it to motivate yourself to keep writing.

When you feel yourself slowing, look at your word count. Know that you've done that all on your own, and if you can write that much in the first half of the month, there's no reason you can't at least do the same in the second half of the month, right?

You've accomplished so much already. You should be so proud of yourself! The point of NaNo is to show yourself that you can make time to write your story. And whether you've got 500 words, 5,000 words, 15,000 words or 45,000 words, you've done that!

Yes, keep writing. Keep at it. Know that whatever happens between now and December 1st, you have words on the page, and that's what's most important!

Happy scribbling!

17 November 2013

Fighting the good fight

My heart sister, Dana, is going through some crap right now. She's up against some infuriating gender discrimination at work, and in the process of standing up for what's right, is facing backlash. (I urge you to go read her story and give her your support--she needs it.)

What she's going through is one of those situations where I knew it was going on and didn't like it, but felt like since it didn't directly affect me and I felt that society as a whole has made good progress, I'd just let it go.

But Dana's story has reminded me that gender discrimination is alive and well in our society. And, not only that, it's gotten damn sneaky.

Gender discrimination is no longer the obvious "You're a woman so you can't vote" variety. Instead it's subversive, taking the form of "jokes" and "opinions" that serve to remind women of who they should be.

In Dana's post about her situation linked above, she quotes Jean Valjean from the sung-through musical Les Miserables: "If I speak, I am condemned. / If I stay silent, I am damned."

That's the crossroads I face now. I've seen this behavior that I know is wrong and damaging, and I've just accepted it as a fact of life. But not only do I now see someone dear to me facing discrimination that should simply not exist in an "enlightened" society, but I have a daughter. And by staying silent, I have become complicit in the society I'm raising her in--a society that still tells women what they should and shouldn't do, and how they should and shouldn't behave. By staying silent, I not only damn myself, but my daughter as well. And my son, for that matter, who would be raised with as many social expectations as my daughter.

So it is time for me to stand up as a true feminist.

When I was young and stupid naïve, I had a specific idea of what it meant to be a feminist. I viewed feminists as women who wanted equality for men and women so that women would have the freedom to choose the life they wanted without being held back by society. Of course, my brand of feminism was stupid limited.

I was one of those, "Feminism is about choice and I choose to follow stereotypical gender roles" kind of women. I believed that women should have a choice and I would choose to be a wife and mother. I thought that's what I wanted.

Yes, feminism is about choice, but it's about so much more than women being able to enter any field they choose. It's about more than women earning equal pay for equal work.

Feminism comes down to marginalization. It's about society (read: patriarchal society) deciding what it means to be a woman, and what's "acceptable" behavior for both men and women.

Remember World War II? Remember when all those ladies on the home front went into the work force to hold their husband's jobs and to build planes and guns and everything else the men needed while they were at war? Then, when the war was over, lots of those women didn't want to give up their jobs. They wanted to keep making a difference in their communities. They realized that they could make a difference, and when they were expected to go back to the kitchen, their response was "Fuck you. Look what I can do." (And then go home and still care for the home and family because Lawd have mercy if a husband was expected to, yanno, do anything.)

Society (again: men) wanted things to go back to the way they were. They didn't want things to change. They didn't want to give up control. When change became inevitable, they retreated, but the mentality still exists.

Unfortunately, this marginalization is such an ingrained part of our society that we often don't see it or realize that's what it really is. It's no longer about keeping women out of the work place entirely, but ensuring that while they're in the work force, they certainly don't ruffle any feathers or upset the delicate manly balance of the way things "should" be. Dana's story is a beautiful (and by beautiful I mean horrific) example of this. And it's not new.

When I was in high school, I struggled with geometry. I loved algebra and did well in it. I can solve for x all day long. But when it came to geometry, I became frustrated. I barely passed that class. And hated every minute of it. It wasn't for lack of trying. Like I said, I enjoyed algebra, and I wanted to "get" geometry the same way.

When I sought help from my (male) math teacher one day after school, he said, "It's okay. Most girls can't do math. Just keep trying so you can at least get a C."

After that class, I shied away from math and science. (I struggled in Chemistry and got similar "help" from my chem teacher, even though I did really well balancing organic chemistry equations.) And if I'd gotten real help from my math and sciences teachers, or if someone had explained that sometimes algebra-minded people struggle with geometry, or been encouraged even the tiniest bit, I'd have been more successful in those classes. Maybe it would've brought my GPA up. Maybe I might have even pursued a more mathematical career!

Instead, I decided I "couldn't" do math because I'm a girl, and it wasn't until very recently that I rediscovered my love of algebra and math.

My children will never be told they are inherently bad at anything. They will be encouraged to try hard and keep pushing themselves so they can become the people they want to be.

There are a ton of strong, independent, good men and women in our world who believe in true equality. Some of them, like Dana, are standing up and making sure that people get called out when it's needed. Others quietly fight the good fight from their homes and communities. Still others are silent.

I have been among the silent women who wants the right things but has been afraid to take action. Well, that's not who I am anymore. We can't count on others to do what needs to be done. We must be responsible for the world we want to create.

Beginning today, right this minute, I will stand and yell and carry signs and advocate and do what must be done so that the only expectations of my children as they grow is that they live authentically.

I urge you to do the same. Stand for what you believe. Make a change. And please never forget that regardless of your choices and your lifestyle, gender discrimination does impact you and the ones you love. Every day.

Fight the good fight.

15 November 2013

Don't love me anyway.

I've been sitting on this post for a while. I've written it a few times a few different ways, and each time I set it aside because it didn't feel right or it wasn't the right time or something else kept me from posting it.

When I started coming out to friends and family almost two years ago, the response was largely positive. So far (to my knowledge) no one has disowned me because I'm gay, and most of the responses have been something along the lines of "Okay" or "Cool."

However, there are two responses I'd like to highlight because they each said--in different ways--the same thing: I love you anyway.

One person, who we'll call Brobee, is a male family member. The other, who we'll call Toodee, is a female friend.

Brobee was one of the first people I told, partly because he's family. The conversation went better than I expected. I expected Brobee to turn his back on me when I told him, due in large part to his religious  upbringing (read: IFB*). He didn't hang up on me. He didn't "disown" me. He was quiet and confused. He said he didn't understand how or why I would "choose this lifestyle," and I tried to explain that it's not a choice, it's just how I am. And he essentially said he loves me anyway.

Shortly after that conversation I was visiting Brobee. We were talking about TV shows (or something), and out of nowhere he said, "You know George Takei? He's a gay." I'll add that point to the "he's trying" column.

Toodee is a very dear friend of mine. We've been friends for fourteen years. We don't live near each other, and don't talk nearly as often as I'd like, but we're there for each other, and we know we can count on each other when we need to. When I told her, she said she doesn't agree with my "lifestyle choice" (there's that phrase again), but that she loves me anyway. That was really the last we spoke of it, and for my part, I don't feel like it's hindered our friendship at all.

But there was always something about those initial conversations with Toodee and Brobee that bothered me. At first I thought it was that the conversations were awkward, or that I was still nervous about coming out. But what really bothered me was that sentiment that they "love me anyway."

When you add that word "anyway" to a statement, it implies a "but" at the beginning. There's something that should be, but there is this anyway.

So that means if I tell you I'm gay, and you say you love me anyway, you're implying the real sentiment is "You're gay, but I love you anyway."

When you look at it like that, the whole sentiment suggests that there is something wrong with being gay, and the person giving the sentiment is setting that aside or ignoring it to love you in spite of it. And that's really why I have a problem with "I love you anyway."

Brobee and Toodee are both followers of Christianity. As part of their beliefs they are, according to the Bible, which I believe they both take pretty literally, commanded to love others**. But here's the thing. The Bible doesn't give any conditions to that. There are no caveats or addendums or exceptions. Just... love your neighbor. Love others.

Jesus even takes his "new command" a step further when he gives it to his disciples. He says to love others as he loves them. And I'm pretty sure that the Jesus people follow in Christianity loved unconditionally, right? I mean, I don't remember any parables where Jesus is telling the disciples about some poor gay guy that's going to hell because he's gay. I don't think I ever read about Jesus turning his back on anyone. And Jesus never said, "When you meet someone who's a sinner, love them anyway."

Even if you are one of those people who believes that as a lesbian I am sinning because of the way I was made, my sin should never be a part of my relationship with another person, especially a Christian. Doesn't Christianity teach that my sin is between me and god? So what do you have to do with it? Why is my gayness or anything else any of your business?

See, the thing is, when you tell me that you love me anyway, that you love me despite what your narrow interpretation of a worldview says is wrong behavior, you're being incredibly patronizing. I can almost feel the pat on the head when you say it. "You're gay? Oh, that's okay. I love you, anyway."

I am a strong, independent, proud lesbian. I am not ashamed of who I am, or the path I've traveled to get here. You can't make me feel bad for living authentically. I don't need people to say they love me out of some obligation to their closed-minded beliefs. I don't need to know that I'm accepted for something that's absolutely out of my control.

I am gay. And I don't put any conditions on it.

*Independent Fundamental Baptist

**Leviticus 19:17-19; Matthew 22:38-40; Mark 12:30-34; Luke 10:26-28; John 13:34; Romans 13:8-10; Romans 13:9-11; Galations 5:13-15; James 2:7-9 (from a quick search, but I'm sure there are more)

10 November 2013

How my faith made me kind of hate myself

I am a strong, successful, independent woman. I work hard at my craft, make a living from my writing, have a good support system of friends and family, and I'm doing what I have to do on my own to take care of my munchkins.

I'm doing pretty damn well, and I'm happy with where I am, and the direction my life is headed. Life is good.

I've come a long way from where I was.

There were moments in my faith in which I was doing everything I was supposed to do. I was reading the Bible and going to church and praying and dressing modestly and going through all the steps I was supposed to. And I was miserable. I was told by my pastor and my Bible study books and my Christian friends that if I had a "right relationship" with God, everything would be good. I'd have a happy, healthy, fulfilled life. And I was miserable.

I believe a lot of it had to do with the fact that in the brand of Christianity I followed, anything I could ever do was not good enough. I would always and forever be a sinner with a sinful nature, drawn to sin sin sin. And when I did succeed, it wasn't me that succeeded, it was the Almighty God who gave me the power, who did it for me. Because the Bible teaches that humans are incapable of doing it on their own.

You can't take credit for your successes because you didn't do it on your own.

But if you fail, if things suck, it's your fault because you didn't believe enough or the right way.

For someone who was trapped in depression and anxiety for quite a while when I was a teenager and young adult, I can tell you that taking the blame for the bad and not being able to take credit for the good can really mess with your head.

Christianity does that. It's designed to teach people they are not and will never be good enough. You can't have "salvation" without Jesus Christ. You can't have a good life without right faith.

And since you're a sinner and will always be tempted to sin and be "bad," you can never be good enough. You will never be the person you're supposed to be through Christianity.

And I felt that fully. I wanted so, so much to be a good, happy Christian. You know, the kind they show on the brochures when they try to get you to join up. And as hard as I tried, I just couldn't do it.

I was miserable.

Because not only was my life not where it was supposed to be, but my faith was teaching me that it was my own fault. And I hated myself for it.

I don't feel that way anymore. I know that I am good enough just the way I am. I know that my successes are the result of the work I do. I know that when I fail, it's okay and sometimes it's not my fault. I know that I'm not fated to be a "sinner," or inherently bad. My life is what I make of it.

I don't hate myself anymore. Funny how that worked out.

09 November 2013

How's your NaNo?

This s technically the second weekend of November, since the month was kind enough to start on a Friday, which is nice for WriMos. (Ends on a Saturday, too. Isn't that nice?)

This is a good weekend to keep pushing through on your word count. It's still the beginning of the month, so chances are, you're still scribbling away happily, and making good progress on your novel.

I don't mean to scare you, but there will come a point this month where you'll sort of hit a wall. Or at least a hedgerow. And you'll slow down. You may feel like the story is stuck or you'll want to go back and read what you've written or something that will dull the magnificent glow of the first part of the month.

That's okay.

It happens when you're writing a novel any time of the year.

The important thing is to keep writing now. Don't worry about what's coming next, either in the month or in your story. Just keep writing. Focus on the excitement and watch that word count rise every moment you spend at the computer (or typewriter or notebook or parchment).

You've already been writing. You know what to do and how to do it. So just keep doing it!

Happy scribbling!

08 November 2013

The coffee house book taking shape

I'm going to have the first draft of the coffee house book done in the next few weeks.

I know, right?

It's not in good shape right now. If I had to classify it, I'd say it's more of a glorified outline. But that's okay, because it's way more than I had a few months ago.

The first draft is just that: the first. There's lots of editing and revising and rewriting to come until the coffee house book is "ready."

One of the great things about being a writer is that you don't have to do it right the first time. You get time to rework it until it's the way you want, and that's encouraged!

Remember the idea of NaNoWriMo? Get the words on the page. It doesn't matter if it's award-winning or just okay or complete trash. All that matters is getting the writing done, and you can go back later to edit.

I know that when the coffee house book draft is done, it will be far from where it needs to be. But it doesn't have to be perfect yet. It just needs to be written.

How's your work in progress going?

07 November 2013

Looking ahead to the holidays....

So the holidays are coming. Which is crazy because wasn't it just January?

Monty has the munchkins for Thanksgiving this year, so we'll probably do our own smaller meal just the three of us when they're with me. Nothing fancy, just a nice, quiet (vegan) family meal.

Christmas is what I'm really looking forward to. Not only will the munchkins be with me, but we're going to bundle ourselves up to Illinois for the holiday for family, friends and snow. It will also be the first time the cousins will be together since July. Puck and Bug were inseparable for a while, so I'm really excited that they'll get to be together again.

Of course, before that there will be some Christmas-ing here in Florida. Decorations and homemade goodies, gift-wrapping, and getting Florida-themed stuff for stocking stuffers. Twinkle lights and everything.

When I lived in Florida before, I had trouble getting into the spirit of the holidays. The weather didn't change as drastically, so when my family up north already clad in their scarves and gloves, I was still in a light jacket. And it was hard to think about Christmas when there wasn't any snow.

So this time around, I'll make my own winter wonderland in the apartment. It won't be frigid outside, but it'll still feel like Christmastime inside. It will be wonderful.

I know it's still early to be talking about Christmas decorations, so this is the last you'll hear about it until December 1st, I promise. I'm just looking forward to the new adventures and memories that will come with this holiday season. New apartment, new chapter, new memories. I can't wait!

Are you making holiday plans yet? What are you looking forward to the most?

06 November 2013

Bringing 2013 to a close

We're in the last little stretch of 2013 now. November and December always seem to go by quickly, so I've been thinking lately about closing out the year (in terms of writing) and preparing for 2014.

I'm excited about 2014. I have big plans for my career in freelancing as well as fiction, and I know that planning ahead will help me achieve the goals I've set for myself, and pushing ahead to bigger and better things for my family and myself.

So as I'm getting my paperwork organized to file away for 2013, I'm looking ahead to my business plan, goals, and expectations for 2014. What do I want to change? What should stay the same? How can I make sure that 2014 is a better year than 2013 was?

Over the next two months, I'm going to take some time to finalize my 2014 business plan. Having a written plan helps me stay focused on what I want to accomplish, and it allows me to take what's there to write actionable goals for each month as we go through the year. Plus, it reminds me that my work is a legitimate business and not just a hobby or something I do only for fun.

When you're self-employed, having a business plan year-to-year helps you keep track of what you have to do each month. For example, when I set my goal for my 2014 income, I'll be able to break that down into a monthly income, a weekly income, and a daily income, so I'll know exactly how much work I need to do each day to hit my goal. The same is true with bringing in new clients. If I want to sign (for example) twelve new clients in 2014, I know I need to sign at least one every month.

Then, at the end of each month, I'll compare what I did with what my goals/expectations were so I can evaluate how the year is going and make any changes that are needed.

Do you have a business plan in mind for next year? What are your personal and professional goals for 2014?

05 November 2013

A Farewell to Cheese

One of the challenges I've had transitioning to a vegan lifestyle has been giving up cheese. Milk was easy (I've never really liked the taste of cow's milk), eggs were easy (I don't really like eggs, either), but cheese was difficult. I liked cheese. I put it in and on a lot of dishes, and it made the transition to vegetarianism easier.

But, to me, vegetarianism isn't enough. I've seen how dairy cows are treated, and (worse) how the calves are treated that are ripped from their mothers. Remember: cows have to have babies to provide milk, just like humans.

It was that thought that has helped me take cheese out of my diet. In fact, I don't even have a taste for it anymore. All I can do is imagine what the cows have to go through to give me something that has no real nutritional value and I just didn't want it anymore.

I'm finding that the vegan recipes I'm making (and, in some cases, making up) are even more delicious than the cheesy meals I made when I ate animal products. Instead of cheese, I taste all the other flavors that go into the meals.*

But I just don't want cheese anymore.

And I've discovered that I feel so much better after meals with no animal products or by-products than I ever did when I was an omnivore. I feel full, but it's not a bloated, icky, I-want-to-take-a-nap-now full. I feel good. Healthy. Better.

I thought it would take me longer to give up cheese. I really thought that would be the food that I clung to. I thought I'd have to buy vegan cheeses for a long time to get over the desire for that flavor in my food.

But I'm kind of over it. The new recipes I'm making a way yummier, and that flavor isn't worth the pain and suffering that occurs to get it.**

Cheese-free, y'all!

Oh, and happy World Vegan Month!

*This is not to say I only made meals with cheese before. But a lot of the cheesy recipes I have/know are easy, and when you've had a long day, they're the go-to meals. Plus, the kids like them because cheese.

**Please don't think I'm the type of vegan who judges people who eat animal products. I'm not. For my conscience, I can't do it, but everyone has to decide for themselves what's best for their bodies and lives. No judgment here.

03 November 2013

Sometimes it's the little things

I had to go to the store today to pick up a few things. I'd planned to wait until the munchkins were with Monty to go, but since the clocks fell back an hour they got up this morning way earlier than I anticipated, and we needed something to do. So we all went to the store together.

Along with the few things I needed, I bought myself some new pens to hold me until I find somewhere that sells the pens I really want, a new journal (since my current one is almost used up and I journal more in cooler weather), and I let the munchkins each pick a new toy to bring home. They'd been really good for me throughout the week, and we all deserved a treat.

Puck, whose current obsession is all things superhero, chose a Leonardo action figure of Ninja Turtles fame. Or, as he says, "Too-Nit Ninja Turtles." It even comes with little weapons that snap inside his shell. Puck is in love.

Tink was harder to please. I tried to interest her in a baby doll, action figures, legos, books.... she finally decided on a plush Minnie Mouse. She loves her new Minnie, and even introduced her to Muppy, making the two of them hug. My kids are freaking adorable.

The munchkins are totally absorbed in their new toys. They haven't even acknowledged each other for the last twenty minutes (which is probably a good thing since they've been bickering most of the day).

Sometimes you just need a new toy to change your perspective and set the day in a new direction.

02 November 2013

Life in Co-Parenting

I live in Florida. And when it comes to custody and visitation (which is strictly referred to as "timesharing" in the court system), Florida's model is to start at 50/50 and work from there based on circumstances. The parents come up with a parenting agreement that covers issues such as education, religion, expenses, and the timesharing schedule. It is meant to be as equal as possible, allowing both parents to take an active role in the children's lives.

Monty and I are operating on a 50/50 timesharing/parenting model. In our arrangement, the kids spend a week with one parent, then the next week with the other parent. Holidays are on a rotating schedule, and we each get two uninterrupted weeks in the summer. Because we both have the munchkins half the time, we split expenses 50/50, as well.

It sounds weird to someone who isn't familiar with Florida's method, but it's working well for us. I get the kids for a week (including the weekend since we exchange on Sunday evenings), so the kids know where they are every day that week. There's no back and forth throughout the week. In terms of a divorced family, the kids have stability in our arrangement.

It's working well for us.

What's most important to me is that whatever we do works for the kids, and is healthy for them. I know people have their own opinions about divorce and parenting separately and timesharing and what's appropriate for families after a divorce. But each family is different, and each circumstance surrounding the divorce is different. Each family needs to find what works for them and their children, regardless of what others say "should" be done.

I've known families in which the parents can't be in the same room and have to exchange children with a neutral party present. I've known families in which the husband remarried, and the ex-wife is friends with the second wife, and they all have holiday meals together. Two vastly different experiences, but each is what is possible in those families.

I don't know where in that spectrum Monty and I will be as we get settled into this new part of our lives. But as long as it works for the kids, and they're happy and healthy, I'll be fine with it.

01 November 2013

A rant-y post about a recent conversation about religion

I had a phone conversation with a close family member recently about the show Duck Dynasty. This family member had attended a morning worship service near his home, and Jep Robertson (a member of the family that is the focus of the show) was there answering questions by the pastor of the church.

One particular story this family member related to me was that, at one point, A&E wanted to cut the family prayer, which is seen at the end of each episode prior to Phil saying "in Jesus' name." Being evangelical Christians, the family was opposed to this. Phil's response was to pray aloud for the "Hollywood types" who wanted to do this editing. Apparently, the issue of cutting "in Jesus' name" was not brought up again.

The family member who told me this story was happy about it, having the belief that the reason the "Hollywood types" (which apparently are equated to godless heathens in this person's mind) wanted to cut Jesus out of the prayer when it aired was so they would not offend "one person." However, this family member claims it's ridiculous when "fifty-eight percent of people want it there."

After the conversation ended, I couldn't stop thinking about that statistic that was thrown out so casually. This person was using it as a debate point: 58% of Americans want to see Christianity in secular television shows.

The fact that this person made that statement doesn't surprise me. This particular family member is entrenched in a world view that begins and ends at the pulpit. This person doesn't express an opinion about anything until the church pastor preaches a sermon on it. This person doesn't think about anything beyond what the pastor says to think about, and from the perspective the pastor says to think about it.

One of the things the pastor has preached is that Christianity* is increasing in the United States, as well as in the world. As times are getting more difficult in society with increasing unemployment and financial uncertainty, more people are turning to the Christian god for answers, help, support. And since the pastor says it, it must be true. I mean, he's a pastor. What possible motive could he have for trying to keep people in the pews every week?

Here's the thing. Religion in general--and this brand of Christianity in particular--does a very good job of keeping people from thinking for themselves. When they face anything in life, they blindly trust that their higher power has everything under control. When they discuss politics or social issues or anything, really, they parrot back what has been taught to them on Sunday mornings.

They don't investigate further because they believe every word that comes from their pastor's mouth is the inerrant big-T-truth that is clearly what their higher power intended to be the indisputable opinion regarding that particular issue. They don't know if they have a real stance on anything because they take their pastor's stance as representative of their faith, and they can't go against their faith, after all.

My family member's comment that the majority of Americans want to see Christianity represented in secular programs is representative of that person's decision to ignore everything that is not permitted and/or demanded by the church, or label it as being from the devil.

And, because this is the way many religions work, people who think that way (or rather, don't think) raise their children to believe the same way. For generations, children grow up to believe that any doubt they have about god or what they're told in church is really Satan trying to bring them down. I was actually told this in a youth group meeting when I was in high school.

It wasn't until I was in a humanities class at a liberal arts college that I felt comfortable asking myself hard questions about what I believe and why. And it's taken almost ten years since then that I've been able to let go of beliefs I was mired in because of a misplaced obligation to my family.

I stayed mired in my faith because I'd been told from a very young age that belief in this supreme being was somehow better for me, that my life would fall into place as long as I believed the right way. And when I tried to question the validity of what I was being told (you know, thinking critically), I was told that my faith was being tested and I had to stand firm. Or, in a particularly helpful moment, that if I believe I'd be "safe." (Essentially, a family member told me it would be better to believe and be wrong than to not believe and be wrong.)

Looking back, it amazes me how much scare tactics are used in religion. If you don't do and say and believe the "right" things (which are determined by a fallible man's interpretation of a fallible and mistranslated book), you'll be punished not only in this life, but for all of eternity. Did you know my high school depression was the result of not having a "right relationship with God"? Because that's what my secular therapist told me.

One of the many problems with people who are entrenched in their faiths is that they allow themselves to lose perspective. They don't question things. In fact, they're told not to question things because it's all part of God's Plan. Who are they to question their god? And so, because of that, they take the church and the pastor at their words, firmly believing that Christianity is growing, that more and more people in our country want to go back to the values of the '50s, that the majority of people in the country don't want same-sex marriage (despite legislative evidence to the contrary).**

That's why I'm proud to be an atheist. I'm proud that I research issues before I take a stance on them. I look for more information rather than taking the first story at its word. I read and learn and think critically about the world around me. And I don't believe that a man with a theological degree or a book or an invisible entity (that doesn't communicate directly, by the way) has all the answers to anything. No one does.

End rant.

*By "Christianity," I mean conservative, Protestant, King James Bible, subservient and silent women Christianity. Because, to this pastor, anything and everything else is "false teaching."

**Almost there, Hawaii!

NaNoWriMo begins

Happy National Novel Writing Month!

While I'm not participating this year, I hope to be some kind of an encouragement to all of you who are. I've been where you are on more than one occasion, and I know both the joy of the first day of writing, and the panic of the 10th, 15th, 25th, and 30th days.

Now is the time to write like mad. As the month progresses, it becomes more and more likely that life happens. That's not a bad thing, but it may mean that you can't hit your 1700 words every day. By using the excited motivation you feel today to get ahead, you can bank some words for later in the month.

It's a wonderful time to be writing!

And the great part is that if you're not sure what you're writing (or not sure if you even want to participate), there's still so much time! Don't worry about hitting 50,000 words. Just write.

Good luck!