Friday, November 30, 2007

Not Sure How to Feel About This…

About a week ago I had an experience that I still don’t know how to respond to. I was looking through headlines as I often do (thank you Google personal homepage) when I came across a news article of somewhat personal interest. The article was a brief business piece about a small company with a somewhat unique and specialized business model that is apparently doing quite well.

The kicker for me is this: Many years ago (pre-Summer even) Fireheart and I had pretty much the same idea for a business based around providing the same design and custom modification service to the same specific clientele as the business profiled by CNN. I’m not going to go into details about what this business is/was because it is irrelevant to my point and I am uninterested in debating the merits of said business. There were a number of reasons that we did not pursue our idea, some were financial, some technical, and some were based on negative feedback we got from people we ran the idea by.

In truth, I do not think that the market was ready for this idea back then (which accounts for some of the negative feedback mentioned above), and I believe that the people who are running the business profiled on CNN are probably better suited to this particular line of work then we were. All that said, here is my internal debate:

Perspective #1

Be pissed off. Not with the people making this work, huzzah for them. Rather I could be pissed at myself and Fire for not pursuing what was clearly a good idea after all. As a designer I feel an attachment to my ideas and designs, event the ones that went no where. This experience is a bit like debating buying a scratch ticket but eventually choosing not to, only to have the person behind you on line strike it big (with the caveat that buying a scratch ticket is easy and making a good design idea into a successful business is one of the harder things that a person can set out to do).

Perspective #2 (the healthier one)

I can take this as a vindication of my (and Fire’s) intuition as a designer. An idea that I had (though clearly we weren’t the only ones) is now a successful business model. Granted it is someone else’s business, but I had the idea too, and now it is working. In a removed way (as in, I didn’t do any work at all) I can be a bit proud of these other peoples’ success. I’d like to be able to gain a measure of confidence from this experience. At the same time, when I look over our current proposed project list I want to do everything in my power as Project Manager (yes my actual title) to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

The truth is that I feel both of these things. I wonder, if Fire and I had taken a different road, would our names now be up on CNN? Or were we right to pass on this idea because it just wasn’t the right one for us? Just because these people succeeded in no way guarantees that we would have.

Lastly, I just want to clarify incase I haven’t been adequately clear: I DO NOT think that these people somehow “stole” my and Fireheart’s idea. It was a good idea, and I imagine that many people other than us had it. The difference, as with all successful design is that these people took thought to action and for that I wish them only the best success.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My Mistress… Nüvi?

On my way down to New Jersey last month I found myself entered into my first rigid D/S relationship. Now, as readers of BarkingShaman know, BDSM is a major part of both my sexual and spiritual lives. However, given that I am already the Boss’ bitch, it would be hard for me to enter into a submissive relationship with anyone else. Yet here it was. She speaks with a British accent and I do whatever she tells me to. Her name is… Garmin Nüvi Model 200. Actually she can speak with an American accent too but the British is way better.

I suppose I should explain. The Garmin Nüvi is a GPS based navigational unit. You program it with where you want to go and it creates a route and directs you along it. My mistress is a lower end model (she was quite on sale) so she gives instructions (“In point seven miles, turn right, then keep left”) but doesn’t give street names out loud. I just like to think of her as giving me some measure of independence.

I realize that I am being glib, but in truth the experience of using the navigational unit is extremely strange. We tend to want to think of ourselves as masters of our own domain, pilots in our own spaceship if you will. To some extent, the navigational unit changes that. This is especially true when you start using one; doubly so if you are as bad with, and stressed by, following directions as I am.

Intellectually I can understand that making turns when the sultry British woman tells me to is little different than following the print out from Google Maps. However, there is an emotionally qualitative difference. If I am busy listening to Lost Men, the Story of Shackelton’s Ross Sea Party on audio book and I forget to check my directions printout, well I’m screwed. The Nüvi won’t let that happen though. She’ll interrupt and give her directions whether I want them or not. If I miss my turn anyway, she’ll rebuild my route to get me to my destination despite the error of my ways. Although I could swear that the way she says “recalculating” has a bit of an accusatory air about it.

What this means is that rather than the pilot of my own spaceship, I am now more like a co-pilot. Perhaps a better analogy is that of a tank driver. The tank commander tells the driver where to go, and he does. He isn’t directing the tank; he is just the interface system between the commander and the tank itself. I believe that if the Nüvi could just take my little Subaru over and drive it to Edison, NJ herself then she would. Since she can’t, I become the interface between the computer and the car.

I should clarify that I certainly don’t always feel this way. When I am going somewhere I am even somewhat familiar with I tend to treat the navigational unit’s input as a strong suggestion. Choosing the road that I prefer leads to a feeling of “that’s right bitch, you will recalculate my route, because we’re taking this road whether you like it or not,” rather than feelings of being taken to task for failure.

Where I take the role of the submissive interface system is when I am in territory that is totally alien to me. I remember stopping on my way to New Jersey at a rest stop and looking at the map next to the bathroom to figure out where the hell I was. Not in a progress sort of way, but in the more literal sense of “where is this road in the world?” (running parallel to I95 btw)

The scary thing was, if the unit had suffered some form of critical system failure, I fear I would have panicked. I cannot be sure of that. I like to think that I would have driven until I found a rest stop and bought a good old fashioned map of the state that I was in (I am never thrilled with the 50 state road atlas that I always keep in the car). More likely I would have called Fire or Summer or someone else I could expect to be near a computer and asked them to direct me to my destination. I also had Google Map directions, but the Nüvi had chosen a significantly different course from Google so I can’t be sure how useful that would have proven.

All of this has led me around to the question of whether computers will be replacing us. Frankly, if my role in the transportation relationship is primarily that of the interface between the Garmin Nüvi 200 and the Subaru Forester, then I can be replaced, maybe not yet, but not too long from now. However, the important thing is that I had a reason to be going to NJ, and the Nüvi didn’t. Specifically, I was driving from New Hampshire to New Jersey to take care of someone close to me who had had major surgery. It is this kind of motivation that I think it will take a lot longer for computers to come around to.

There are people who worry, including me sometimes, that becoming more integrated in our lives with our machines will make us less human. I think that it could free us up to spend more time on our humanity. I enjoy driving a car, but if I could tell the Nüvi to take the wheel (as she so clearly wants to do) what could I do with that time instead? Maybe someday I’ll be able to replace this mistress with her great granddaughter and find out.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Just incredible

Lee just showed me Lisa Bufano's work and it is simply amazing:

Main Page

3 short videos

She is an incredible example of creating beauty and wonder from loss.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bit o' Advice

Excerpt from an email I wrote to a young questioning (and perhaps a bit self hating) probably queer guy. I'd be interested in hearing what other things people think are important?

A couple of points:

1. you don't have to commit yourself to a label, "Questioning" is perfectly acceptable, especially in a group like a GSA

2. Bars are so NOT the way to go! (ed. note: he was bemoaning that he is still too young to get into bars and he felt that that meant that he can't meet other guys) GLBTQ people pick people up in normal places, like (possibly) through GSA meetings, clubs, bookstores, coffee shops etc. If you are working to have a healthy attitude toward being gay or bi or whatever, anonymous sex with guys you pick up in a bar or who pick you up really won't give it to you. Look up porn on the internet in the meantime, you'll be better off (something I still do regularly and I have a boyfriend).

3. Whatever you do, do it really safely. You are in a prime position to pick something up that you don't want. I have met a lot of people our age who knew all about safe sex, but when the moment struck it all went out of their heads. They thought with their dicks and in some cases paid too high a price. Also, if you are having negative feelings about maybe being queer (and there's nothing wrong with that) don't let yourself do something stupid because deep down you feel like you deserve it or because being queer or having queer sex is icky and dirty anyway or something. This applies to hooking up with guys who treat you like shit. Unsafe sex isn't just about disease.

4 (and last). I know that this may be too personal, but I'm putting it out there anyway. When you decide to hook up with someone. Be clear in advance with yourself and them about what you want to do. If you only feel mentally or physically up for something simple ( i.e. mutual masturbation) there is nothing wrong with that. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn't worth it. DON'T think that just 'cause someone is queer that they are going to immediately (or ever for that matter in some cases) love anal sex or have an easy time with it. I know LOTS of guys who are not fans of anal sex, and a huge number of guys who had bad introductions to it because they went to fast in starting the practice before they were ready or with someone who they were comfortable with or just because they felt pressured even though it didn't interest them.

Quick note on point #4: I don't want people to think that I'm against anal sex. I'm not. At the same time I know a lot of gay guys who aren't that into it, or didn't have a good introduction to it. I think that the points I make there are important because they aren't the kind of things that young and/or inexperienced guys hear.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I have conflicting feelings about something that happened this evening: South Park ran an episode in which Cartman pretended to have Tourette Syndrome.

I’m afraid that this may make my life and the lives of a lot of other people with TS more difficult for a while. I’ve mentioned this to a few people in the last week since I found out that the episode was coming out, and they’ve been dubious. Here is my reasoning: one of the biggest difficulties that people with Tourette face is the worry and reality of not being believed by other people when they try to explain their tics. In days past I’ve had people (including police officers) tell me that I was faking the TS in order to get away with socially inappropriate behavior. I specifically can remember an officer telling me (this was years ago) “Yeah right kid, I watch LA law. Now shut up!” And LA Law was an adult show, and the character on the show wasn’t faking. South Park’s target audience is the exact age group that would be most likely to pretend to have Tourette because it sounds fun. The fact that Cartman is full of it isn’t going to help that perception one itsy bit.

On the flip side however, I’ll be the first to admit that Tourette (and often South Park) can be funny. The Tourette Syndrome Association put out a preemptive press release which honestly sounded a bit like a dorky kid complaining about being picked on.

The release says among other things “We are actually surprised it took the creators so long to use TS as comedy fodder in this program, since no disability, illness or controversial topic is off limits to them,”

The problem with the way this is said is that the TSA makes it sound like a bad thing. Whether it is Judit Ungar (the TSA president)’s cup of tea as comedy goes or not, this is what South Park does. The argument being made essentially is that this episode is in bad taste. I have not yet seen it for reasons I’ll discuss soon, but I can already tell you that it is indeed in bad taste. How do I know this? We’re talking about South Park. I cannot think of an episode that wasn’t in bad taste. That is the source of their comedy. Tourette Syndrome is hardly being singled out for special treatment. If GLAAD got upset every time South Park mocked gays, they would have to hire someone full time just to write press releases about South Park.

I could wish that if South Park just had to do a TS episode, they could have gotten more creative than having Cartman fake having Tourette so he could say bad words. For the gods’ sake, I had a tic about Flying Penis Man. There has to be more comedy to be found in Tourette than in having an already foul-mouthed six year old be, well foul-mouthed.

So on the one hand, this could make things unpleasant, especially for school kids with TS who’ve already got a good bit on their plate. On the other hand, this is the sort of thing that South Park does, the sort of thing that sometimes makes South Park brilliant. I feel strongly that if I’m going to laugh when Matt and Trey are putting some other segment of the population on the chopping block, I’d better not be too pissed when they put us Touretters there too.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Excellent Op-Ed from General Clark

I don't usually reprint articles in their entirety but I feel strongly about this one. Interestingly, two of my and Fireheart's teachers, Marten and Kaerith told us repeatedly years before the invasion of Iraq, that the U.S. military was going to be in trouble in the next war because it would likely be fought in places where cruise missiles couldn't go and solders would have to.

From the Washington Post as reprinted in the Concord Monitor:

Testifying before Congress last week, Gen. David Petraeus appeared commanding, smart and alive to the challenges that his soldiers face in Iraq. But he also embodied what the Iraq conflict has come to represent: an embattled, able, courageous military at war, struggling to maintain its authority and credibility after 4 ½ years of a "cakewalk" gone wrong.

Petraeus will not be the last general to find himself explaining how a military intervention has misfired and urging skeptical lawmakers to believe that the mission can still be accomplished. The next war is always looming, and so is the urgent question of whether the U.S. military can adapt in time to win it.

Today, the most likely next conflict will be with Iran, a radical state that America has tried to isolate for almost 30 years and that now threatens to further destabilize the Middle East through its expansionist aims, backing of terrorist proxies such as the Lebanese group Hezbollah and even Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, and far-reaching support for radical Shiite militias in Iraq. As Iran seems to draw closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, almost every U.S. leader - and would-be president - has said that it simply won't be permitted to reach that goal.

On to Iran?

Think another war can't happen? Think again. Unchastened by the Iraq fiasco, hawks in Vice President Cheney's office have been pushing the use of force. It isn't hard to foresee the range of military options that policymakers face.

The next war would begin with an intense air and naval campaign. Let's say you're planning the conflict as part of the staff of the Joint Chiefs. Your list of targets isn't that long - only a few dozen nuclear sites - but you can't risk retaliation from Tehran. So you allow 21 days for the bombardment, to be safe; you'd aim to strike every command-and-control facility, radar site, missile site, storage site, airfield, ship and base in Iran. To prevent world oil prices from soaring, you'd have to try to protect every oil and gas rig, and the big ports and load points. You'd need to use B-2s and lots of missiles up front, plus many small amphibious task forces to take out particularly tough targets along the coast, with manned and unmanned air reconnaissance. And don't forget the Special Forces, to penetrate deep inside Iran, call in airstrikes and drag the evidence of Tehran's nuclear ambitions out into the open for a world that's understandably skeptical of U.S. assertions that yet another Gulf rogue is on the brink of getting the bomb.

But if it's clear how a war with Iran would start, it's far less clear how it would end. How might Iran strike back? Would it unleash Hezbollah cells across Europe and the Middle East, or perhaps even inside the United States? Would Tehran goad Iraq's Shiites to rise up against their U.S. occupiers? And what would we do with Iran after the bombs stopped falling? We certainly could not occupy the nation with the limited ground forces we have left. So what would it be: Iran as a chastened, more tractable government? As a chaotic failed state? Or as a hardened and embittered foe?

What about China?

Iran is not the only country where the next war with the United States might erupt. Consider the emergence of a new superpower (or at least a close competitor with the United States). China's shoot-down of an old Chinese satellite in January was a wake-up call about the risks inherent in America's reliance on space. The next war could also come from somewhere unexpected; if you'd told most Americans in August 2001 that the United States would be invading Afghanistan within weeks, they'd have called you crazy.

Any future U.S. wars will undoubtedly be shaped by the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, however painful that might be. Every military re-fights the last war, but good militaries learn lessons from the past. We'd better get them right, and soon. Here, the lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan couldn't be more clear: Don't ever, ever go to war unless you can describe and create a more desirable end state. And doing so takes a whole lot more than just the use of force.

The lessons from past conflicts aren't always obvious. After the demoralizing loss in Vietnam, the United States went high-tech, developing whole classes of new tanks, ships and fighter planes and new operational techniques to defeat then-enemy no. 1 - the Soviets. We also junked the doctrine of counterinsurgency warfare, which we're trying to relearn in Iraq.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. military embarked upon another wave of high-tech modernization - and paid for it by cutting ground forces, which were being repeatedly deployed to peacekeeping operations in places such as Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Instead of preparing for more likely, low-intensity conflicts, we were still spoiling for the "big fight," focusing on such large conventional targets as Kim Jong Il's North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq - and now we lack adequate ground forces. Bulking up these forces, perhaps by as many as 100,000 more active troops, and refitting and recovering from Iraq could cost $70 billion to $100 billion.

Somehow, in the past decade or two, we began to think of ourselves as "warriors." There was an elemental purity to this mindset, a kill-or-be-killed simplicity that drove U.S. commanders to create a leaner force based on more basic skills - the kind that some generals thought were lacking in Vietnam and in the early years of the all-volunteer military. Now, in an age when losing hearts and minds can mean losing a war, we find ourselves struggling in Iraq and Afghanistan to impart the sort of cultural sensitivities that were second nature to an earlier generation of troops trained to eat nuoc mam with everything and sit on the floor in preparation for their tours in Vietnam.

One of the most important lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - and Vietnam, for that matter - is that we need to safeguard our troops. The U.S. public is more likely to sour on a conflict when it sees the military losing blood, not treasure. So to keep up our staying power, our skill in hunting and killing our foes has to be matched by our care in concealing and protecting our troops. Three particularly obvious requirements are body armor, mine-resistant vehicles, and telescopic and night sights for every weapon. But these things are expensive for a military that has historically been enamored of big-ticket items such as fighter planes, ships and missiles. Many of us career officers understood these requirements after Vietnam, but we couldn't shift the Pentagon's priorities enough to save the lives of forces sent to Iraq years later.

Grad school for generals

That brings us to the military's leaders. We need generals who are well-educated, flexible and culturally adept men and women - not just warriors, not just technicians. Why aren't more military leaders sent to top schools such as Princeton, the way Petraeus was, or given opportunities to earn PhDs, as did Defense Secretary Robert Gates' military assistant, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli?

For years, Congress has whacked away at military-education budgets, thereby driving gifted officers from the top-flight graduate schools where they could have honed their analytical skills and cultural awareness.

Still, let's not be too hard on ourselves. As an institution, the U.S. Armed Forces stands head and shoulders above any other military in skill, equipment and compassion, and its leaders are able, conscientious and loyal.

But shame on political leaders who would hide behind their top generals. It was hard not to catch a whiff of that during last week's hearings. The Constitution, however, is not ambivalent about where the responsibility for command lies - the president is the commander in chief.

Surely here is where some of the most salient lessons from recent wars lie: in forcing civilian leaders to shoulder their burdens of ultimate responsibility and in demanding that generals unflinchingly offer their toughest, most seasoned, advice. Gen. Tommy Franks embarked on the 2001 Afghanistan operation without a clear road map for success, or even a definition of what victory would look like. Somehow, that was good enough for him and his bosses. So Osama bin Laden slunk away, the Taliban was allowed to regroup, and Afghanistan is now mired deep in trouble and sinking fast.

In Iraq, President Bush approved war-fighting plans that hadn't incorporated any of the vital 1990s lessons from Haiti, Bosnia or Kosovo; worse, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fought doing so. Nation-building, however ideologically repulsive some may find it, is a capability that a superpower sometimes needs.

At the same time, the United States' top generals must understand that their duty is to win, not just to get along. They must have the insight and character to demand the resources necessary to succeed - and have the guts to either obtain what they need or to resign. If they get their way and still don't emerge victorious, they must be replaced. That is the lot they accepted when they pinned on those four shiny silver stars.

Above all else, we Americans must understand that the goal of war is to achieve a specific purpose for the nation. In this respect, the military is simply a tool of statecraft, one that must work in tandem with diplomacy, economic suasion, intelligence and other instruments of U.S. power. How tragic it is to see old men who are unwilling to talk to potential adversaries but seem ready to dispatch young people to fight and die.

So, steady as we go. We need to tweak our force structure, hone our leadership and learn everything we can about how to do everything better. But the big lesson is simply this: War is the last, last, last resort. It always brings tragedy and rarely brings glory. Take it from a general who won: The best war is the one that doesn't have to be fought, and the best military is the one capable and versatile enough to deter the next war in the first place.

(Wesley K. Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO, led alliance military forces in the Kosovo war in 1999. He is the author, most recently, of A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor and Country.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Design on a.......Pentagram?

I rarely write anything about my other “professional” job in the pages of Barking Shaman. The use of the term “professional” rather than “mundane” is not an accident. While my training is in the design of assistive and consumer products, most of the money that the company has made in the past year has been in the design (both physical and magical design) and creation of custom, unique, sacred tools.

I’ve wondered of late why this work hasn’t found its way into BS before. I think the biggest reason is that people in the pagan community tend not to really understand what it is that I do. In my interactions with other pagans and magical folks I am often referred to as a “craftsperson.” I have deep respect for those I consider to be “craftspeople.” That is one reason why the term makes me uncomfortable. I am not a “craftsperson.” I think part of me would like to be, but I’m not.

I am a product designer. Both in my magical and material work, design is the primary focus. As a metal worker, I am certainly adequate. And there are not all that many people making sacred tools with access to a TIG welder or a Bridgeport vertical milling machine, which adds an element of uniqueness to what the company can offer. These things are not the reason someone hires me though.

When you give a craftsperson your money, you do so because they can make something that you can’t. A key tool in my magical and shamanic working is a soul-bonded sword made by Daniel Watson of Angel Sword for instance. Even if I had a limitless amount of money (and no demanding goddess breathing down my neck or family for that matter) so I could devote my life to the art of sword making I don’t know if I could ever produce something so lovely. This is why Mr. Watson can charge over $20,000 for his finest work (which is very fine indeed).

While my company does fabrication work and to a high standard, fabrication is not really what we are paid for. When someone hires us, especially in the case of mundane design rather than sacred tools, what we are being paid for is to think. I am not trying to say that my clients are unintelligent, or that I am more so. Rather, I spent years (perhaps as many as Mr. Watson had by this point in his business) training in a specific way of thinking and looking at the world.

Training in design strongly influenced my and Fire’s way of doing magic as well. We are often referred to as good “energy technicians” by people in the pagan community. It’s true that our way of doing magic is quite technical. We approached the study of magic much the way we approached design and our methodology and symbol system for spell construction owes far more to the Lemelson Design Center than to Llewellyn Publishing.

However, I’d say that there is a difference between energy “technician” and energy “designer.” I see a magical technician as someone who has perfect form in their magic, so nothing is wasted or out of place, whereas, a magical designer is someone who creates something new on a regular basis, especially to solve a new problem. I try to be both. I have known good “technicians” who don’t create new magic, and people who are brilliant at coming up with new ideas and spells but who have sloppy technique.

My main focus in the business at the moment is a sacred tools project that involves very little magic at all. However, the client’s needs are myriad and the challenge of meeting all of them has been surprisingly daunting. It has been the worst kind of design process. At our first meeting when the client described their needs, I believed that the design would flow smoothly and quickly. My first impression was mistaken, and I have had to fight to keep the slow destruction of that beautiful mirage from getting me too down on the project. Weeks of work (although with my health, I don’t exactly get to put in full days) and the design is finally taking shape in the computer. Like any good design, magical or mundane, when it is finished most people will look at it a think “well, that doesn’t look too hard to figure out.”

This is a problem for us as designers, fabricators, magicians, people who sell a service and now sometimes sell a product. At the top of BarkingShaman in the “about me” section is a picture of a CAD design of a product we produced for a client. It was a specialized ordeal tool designed to be worn on the head. Influenced by the Kavadi ritual, the “crown” had twelve surgical steel spikes that were fully adjustable but could be removed for sharpening or autoclaving without loosing the adjustment. Made from scratch, it also incorporated extensive magic to open the crown chakra in a dramatic, yet controlled way, and provide a structure and containment to the opening, leading to greater safety in use compared to other, less controlled chakra opening aides. The design process on the crown was extensive for both the physical and magical design. The fabrication ran about forty hours. The client for the crown was a major figure in the pagan demographic.

Although our client was quite happy with the results, the few other people who had expressed interest were turned off by the amount of money we were asking to produce another crown. One offer was %12 of the actual cost.

Like Clan Tashlin, with our unusual magical system and nameless Lady, the company is struggling to find a place in a broader community that doesn’t really “get” what we do. As I was sitting with the client whose project I am currently working on, I realized that there may quite literally be no one else in the world that can do exactly what we do. That is to say, how many people or companies have a shaman and more that one magician to address the spiritual needs of the client’s design but also have the training to identify and solve the myriad technical problems posed by the design’s necessary criteria? Finally, we have the resources of an industry CAD program, a small but capable fabrication shop, and cultivated contacts in both the magical/pagan and design worlds.

Our biggest problem in magic, sacred tool work and in presenting Clan Tashlin is that what we offer seems to come from a different place than many people in the pagan demographic. Our approach has at times turned people off or created interpersonal conflicts. In a community where “intent” and feelings are often seen as being paramount, a technical approach to magic, a Lady who doesn’t tell her name, and sacred tools designed in SolidWorks CAD are not always an easy fit.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A note about posting

I've received some good feedback on yesterday's posting re: NRA membership and wanted to let people know that if health stuff continues as it has, I'll be resuming a posting schedule over the next few weeks. I know that I've said this before, and yes, I even meant it, but I really am trying. That said, I'd still rather leave BS un-updated rather than post crap, which unfortunately is all I've been turning out on the writing front lately. I have a few articles that the Lady is really pushing for me to write, and I use BarkingShaman to keep my writing skills up the same way that I make spaceships in SolidWorks to keep my CAD skills honed.

And before anyone else asks: No, I have no clue why Blogger barfs up the total content of BarkingShaman to people who feed it on LiveJournal if I haven't posted in a while. I didn't set it all up, a friend did that for me. I'd like to assure people who are driven crazy by this happening that I won't be offended if they just go back to reading it the old fashioned way.

The Lady willing, we'll be seeing more of each other in the weeks to come...

Wintersong Tashlin

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

NRA or Gay (try 2)

The subject of my rather eclectic life is one that has been addressed in many past BarkingShaman essays but I am afraid it is a theme that has not yet been played out.

Today’s conflict regards my queerness and my gun ownership. I realize that this also is not an unfamiliar topic in the pages of BS but I am in a real quandary.

The basic question would seem at first to be rather straightforward. Do I join the National Rifle Association (NRA) or not. Unfortunately the situation is a touch more complex than people in either the liberal or conservative camps would like to say. Let’s start with one basic premise: I do not believe that the NRA is an anti-GLBT, or even in many ways anti-liberal organization. The NRA’s official position is that they are a one-issue group and that issue is the 2nd Amendment and the support of all American’s right to defend themselves and engage in recreational activities involving firearms. In my research I have thus far seen no evidence that is not the truth. However, life is rarely so simple.

While the NRA may not care about any issues outside of their mission, the politicians who they support are not so focused. Many if not most of the political players supported by the NRA due to their 2nd Amendment stances are dedicated to the preservation of so-called “traditional values” which has become a code word for an anti-GLBT and pro-Judeo-Christian agenda (I don’t know if I’ve felt so much a Hampshire College graduate as when writing the preceding sentence). Additionally, the NRA “base” such as it is, has a reputation, which appears somewhat deserved, of not being very open minded to people who are different than themselves.

There have been several high(ish) profile examples in the last few years of anti-GLBT attitudes finding their way into NRA events. Charlton Heston, when president of the NRA made some rather strong anti-gay comments at official NRA fundraisers, and a few years ago a national NRA conference broke down into a hearty session of gay bashing. Given that the National Rife Association is ostensibly single-issue, this would appear incongruous as well as inappropriate.

More importantly to my mind, the gun owning community, of which the NRA is the central force, has done little to nothing to support or reach out to the gay community. Given the large effort in recent years on the part of the NRA to get women shooting and to emphasize gun ownership as vital to the self defense of women, it would seem that the GLBT community would be a logical next step. The GLBT shooting group the Pink Pistols has shot at the NRA home range at their headquarters, but I have been unable to find any public statement of support from the NRA for the Pink Pistols or for GLBT people using or carrying firearms.

I am reluctant to give my support to the NRA because the persistent feeling I get as a liberal-leaning libertarian, queer pagan is that they don’t really want me. Certainly my interactions with many NRA members have done nothing to change that perception. I have been told flat out that the NRA does not want gay members and worse, that the NRA does not want gays to be allowed to carry guns. The representative I spoke to at the National Rifle Association headquarters was clear that neither are true, but had no explanation as to how many NRA members could have gotten that idea.

Enough about why I do not want to join the NRA. Why I might want to do so:

First off, many local gun clubs require that prospective members belong to the NRA. When we lived in Vermont, we shot at the local National Guard Range free of charge. Here in New Hampshire though we have yet to find a good place to shoot that is low cost, despite our willingness to shoot outdoors year-round. It makes more financial sense for us to join a gun club (and no, Summer and I are not eligible for a family rate at any of them, and Fire doesn’t shoot nearly as often as we do) than to pay $14 an hour per person at the public range in Manchester. It should be noted that I believe that part of the reason that these ranges require NRA membership is that NRA membership carries with it injury insurance for injuries that happen at NRA member ranges.

At least as important as joining a range though is that the NRA does work to preserve the rights of Americans to own and carry firearms. This is something that I’ve come to support very strongly. I do not believe that the government disarming the populace makes life safer for the public. One of the legacies of being brought up Jewish is that I was raised from a young age with the awareness that the government and your neighbors can turn against you. The thing I remember most from holocaust survivors coming to speak to classes and groups I was part of as a child and a young man was the message “never ever believe that it can’t happen ‘here’ because that’s what we believed and look what happened.”

What this debate comes down to is a question of which is more important to me, the advancement of GLBT rights or the continued right to have a firearm.

There is also the additional factor that my upbringing was very anti-gun. Although there was a gun in my house growing up, both of my parents are strongly in favor of restrictive gun control policies and I was brought up to believe strongly that guns are, for lack of a better word “bad.”

I still haven’t made up my mind but I am leaning toward joining the National Rifle Association. I have gotten to this point by looking at the most extreme possible outcomes:

A) I join the NRA and my $35 is some form of tipping point that leads to a severe curtailing of GLBT rights. Worst case scenario, and hopefully we have a slim chance of shooting our way to the Canadian boarder (I did say extreme). Slightly less extreme, and we loose things like partner benefits and the ability to hold certain jobs, etc, but at least if Billy-Bob and his friends decide on a fun night of fag bashing, we’re able to bash back.

B) I instead give my $35 to HRC or some other such GLBT group and a new era of GLBT rights comes about but the Great Britain style curtailing of gun ownership rights becomes the norm in the U.S. The problem with this is that the next time our drunken homophobe neighbor takes his illegal firearm and decides to drive away the fags, he might not stop with Summerwind’s car (you probably know that this is what happened to us, and yes it was an illegally purchased firearm).

I’ve trained in many weapons, from the prehistoric bolas to staff, pocket and combat knife, and even sword fighting. I can tell you from experience that when the gunshots are outside your window a long knife and a baseball bat provide slim comfort. It is worth repeating that we bought our first gun because the local chief of police told us that they would be unable to respond quickly enough if said neighbor decided to try again.

I am a strong believer in the kind of protective legislation that the leading GLBT rights groups are fighting for. We’ve benefited greatly from workplace and housing anti-discrimination laws for instance. However, I don’t believe that you can make people stop feeling and believing as they do by making laws. Truthfully, I think that’s a good thing, even when those feelings and beliefs are hostile towards me and mine. I hope that GLBT groups will keep trying to change hearts and minds as well as government policy.

That said, I want to be able to continue to protect myself and my family from those who may cross the line from hostile beliefs to hostile actions, and the NRA is the organization that works to make that possible.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Since I'm Feeling Lazy

I know that I haven't had a good post about being a spirit worker in quite some time. However, I took a lot of medication last night and then ended up having to stay up with the dog until dawn, so today that state of affairs will not be changing.

Fortuitously, my beloved sweetie over at Artsy Phu posted an excellent essay on that very subject this morning. Go check it out.

This way I don't need to feel bad about not having posted much in this vein in a while:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Friday, May 11, 2007

Backscattering My (and Your) Bits for Fun and Safety

Could we be on the verge of a whole new world for exhibitionists? The TSA (Transportation Safety Administration, not be confused with the Tourette Syndrome Association) has begun installing backscatter machines in airports. These are specially designed X-ray machines that penetrate clothing but not skin, yielding a perfect picture of what a person looks like in the nude. From the photos on the web from demonstrations and the diagrams on the TSA website the term “perfect” is totally justified. Not only will an operator know what non-metallic items you may be carrying (obviously it can detect metal too, but looking for non-metallic items is what sets it apart) but said operator will also be able to tell how large one’s labia are.

This technology is distressing to me I’ll admit. Not because I give a fuck about being seen naked by a security operator, but because it is designed to detect the very sort of weapons that my family used to travel with, hardwood and plastic knives for instance. The risk of being singled out for a search caused us to change travel tactics a while ago, but that is not the point.

Now, there are steps being taken to preserve peoples’ “privacy” as much as can be done when giving them a radioactive strip search. Originally when I heard about this technology, the plan had been to use a computer algorithm to fuzz out the subject’s bits. Apparently this is no longer the plan. Whether stymied by technology limitations or the risk of people exploiting these known blur spots to hide weapons, I don’t know. Now the computer blurs the details of the face and the operator of the machine who is actually viewing the images created by it is in a separate room and never sees the individual in person, hence never seeing identifying features. At least not identifying features one can see with clothes on. I suppose the idea is that the tech can say “There is someone in Concourse A at the moment that has the biggest dick in the universe, I’m just couldn’t tell you who he is.”

This then implies that a great deal can not be determined from all the other details of a person. Not true. A more accurate statement I imagine would be this: “There is a guy in Concourse A at the moment with the biggest dick I’ve ever seen. He’s about six foot two inches tall. He weighs about two hundred and twenty-five pounds. And he is built like so…” and on.

As I implied earlier, there is one population who I think could benefit greatly from this technology: exhibitionists. As long as some stranger is going to be looking at you with your clothes off, you could have some fun. If someone is going to be invading your physical privacy, invade the sanctity of their mind a bit. I know that for myself, I am not really an exhibitionists (although I write a blog, so there is that) but I know that I am not going to avoid wearing a T-tape and strap (the method of foreskin restoration that I have been using) just because some stranger is going to be looking at my bits on a computer screen. However, I am simply not changing my behavior because of the backscatter machines. I think that where folk could have a lot of fun is with deliberate changes.

If you have labial piercing for instance, use a chain to hold the lips apart to make a pretty butterfly for the nice man (probably want to fix that as soon as you are through security, sounds uncomfortable). I have a picture on my computer of a flaccid guy with a Barbie doll arm coming out of the end of his foreskin. Bet that would look strange on a backscatter X-ray. This could be a whole new market for the butt-plug horse tails that are sold at events like the Fetish Flea Market. Imagine being the security screener puzzling that out during a busy travel time. The list could go on and on.

If backscatter machines do in fact become widely used (right now they are only in a few airports) then I’m sure the TSA will eventually set policies regarding deliberately fucking with the technicians. However, I suspect that there could be a pretty spiffy First and Fourth Amendment case built around the issue.

I say that regardless of your policy on people smuggling weapons through security, the backscatter provides an opportunity to fuck with people that is just too good to pass up. As long as strangers will be looking at me naked, I am tempted to make sure that they never forget me, whether they see my face or not.

*5/14/07 Editor's Note* Due to concern from multiple individuals regarding the possibility of certain facetious comments I made in this post being taken out of context, I have removed the second to last paragraph from this essay. There was concern that certain sardonic suggestions I may have made could be construed in such a way as to imply that I personally, Clan Tashlin, and/or Brigantain Designs LLC could be some sort of terrorism or security concern. While this is absurd, I have complied with suggestions that I remove the objectionable paragraph as it did not contribute substantially to the content of the essay.

Maybe It Isn't a Small World After All

“The world has gotten smaller.” The phrase has become clichéd as the atomic age has gaven way to the internet age. Young adults entering the workforce today have never lived in a time when they couldn’t sit in their homes or workplaces and communicate with people who are on the other side of the globe as easily as they could talk to someone from the next town over. Combine this ease of communication with high speed transportation such as jet airplanes and it is easy to see how one’s concept of the world could be far more inclusive than in any time in the past.

This phenomenon has been especially invaluable for small and widely spread groups of people. Online support groups for people with rare illnesses is one of the more common and representative examples of this. Certainly the pagan demographic relies on the net quite a bit to maintain cohesion.

However, of late I have found myself wondering if this “smaller world” stuff is an illusion, and perhaps a dangerous one at that.

The world hasn’t gotten smaller, that is a simple fact. NASA probably would have mentioned it if it had. Our perception of the world and the people on it, has changed enormously in the past one hundred years. Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic solo flight was just eighty years ago. We went from the first solo ocean crossing in an airplane to the first footsteps on another world in forty-two years. This is a pace of change unprecedented in the history of humankind. With the radical changes brought about by engine powered transportation and the advent of instant communication (starting with the telegraph) it is no wonder that we have a world-concept that would have been completely alien only a couple of generations ago.

There have been many authors (and bloggers for that matter) who have addressed the issues surrounding the pace of change on our world. I am going to try to stay away from that worthy subject. Rather, my concerns are more personal and have more to do with how this “smaller world” idea effects what one of my friends affectionately refers to as her “zombie apocalypse plan.”

The “zombie apocalypse plan” (ZAP) for those of you who don’t know, is one’s plan(s) for what to do in the event of some form of society impairing calamity. I have mention in the past in BarkingShaman that our Lady has been pushing us to make plans that allow for the possibility of “civil unrest,” so our ZAP takes that into account. Being spirit workers and magicians also opens up the chance that a situation may arise requiring some form of ZAP of a magical nature that most people may remain oblivious to.

Personally I believe that most likely ZAP situations are will have both mundane and magical/spiritual components. There are many reasons that I and many other spirit workers, non-spirit working magicians or even completely non-spooky people, feel the need to make zombie apocalypse plans (and just to clarify I don’t mean “zombie” in a literal sense). Those reasons could take up an entire BarkingShaman post in themselves, if I thought it would be appropriate to post such things on the internet, which I don’t.

The reason that building zombie apocalypse plans makes me think of the false nature of the “small world” perspective is that the process of putting together ZAPs has made me realize just how physically inaccessible many of the people important to me are. If one chooses to take automotive transportation out of the question for a moment, and unless you drive a diesel car or truck you should, most things become pretty fucking far away.

For instance, the supermarket I go to is just five minutes away from me by car. However, on foot that 1.77mi suddenly seems like a bit much just to grab one thing. My closest friend to me is fifty-five miles away, a two day walk at best. People dear to me in distant places like Australia would be as lost to me as if they were on the moon for all the ease of contact if things fell apart. Anyone who has through-hiked the Appalachian Trail (which I have unfortunately not done) will tell you that the world is just as large as it has always been.

Tashlin as a clan, (as opposed to as my last name, the clan came first lest you think me that full of hubris) has worked hard in the past several years to build relationships with many people, mostly in the pagan demographic. It is sobering for us to realize that if the shit hits the fan, most of us will be on our own. The tendency in the last several years for spirit workers to gather and relocate to specific geographic regions is quite disturbing in this context.

Stepping away from the ZAP situations a bit, it is also concerning to realize how shallow our sense of unity and power as minorities really are. Many communities, including the pagan and GLBT communities use the internet to maintain a focused sense of identity. That unity is where power comes from. I’m not trying to say that without the net, towns would not have pride parades and covens would not meet for Samhain. However, without the national and international coverage of the Veterans Administration’s delays and hand wringing over making the pentacle available for the headstones of troops killed in battle, I don’t think that the pentacle would today be an option for the families of deceased service members. Most of that coverage came through the internet. It doesn’t take a terribly paranoid though progression to see how GLBT or pagan rights could be more easily curtailed through limiting online access to related resources (the same arguments being used to circumvent the Equal Access Amendment in order to ban GSAs in schools could be applied to GLBT websites for instance).

I’d like to say that I don’t think that my “zombie apocalypse” concerns are anything but the ramblings of an overactive imagination. Unfortunately I can’t. For one thing, the Lady and Var have made several unlikely predictions over the past nine years that have come or are coming to fruition. I’ve learned that it is unwise to ignore the desires and instructions of the gods. For another, we live in a world where not only it is illegal for gays to congregate in some countries, but the religious leaders from at least one country that is horrifically oppressive to queers has won over many disaffected people here in the United States. Not to mention that three current candidates for the Oval Office have declared that they don’t believe in evolution (I know that point is a bit out there but it makes my brain hurt so I am mentioning it).

It is one of my dearest hopes that we will never find out first-hand how big the world really is in the way I’ve discussed. Just the same, when building one’s zombie apocalypse plan, it is vital to consider just how far away one’s friends and allies may really be if the planes aren’t flying, the cell towers aren’t routing, and instant messenger is once again as distant a dream as moon rockets once were.

Friday, May 04, 2007

A Different Kind of "Whispering"

As is immediately evident from my highly infrequent posting, my neurochemistry shit hasn’t been adequately worked out. I have a large file of uncompleted posts where my brain just gave out on me. I am leaving for the Pagan Kingdom of Asphodel’s Beltane weekend in just a few minutes but first I wish to share…

Our minds work in strange and unfathomable ways. Sometimes a great deal can be learned about a person from one or another unique personality quirk. Other times you can at least get a good laugh. I’m guessing this will be the latter, but if anyone has a deep insight into my psyche, feel free to share.

My partners have taken to calling me The Penis Whisperer, bet that’s not a sentence you hear everyday. The reason for this bizarre and social inappropriate nomenclature is this:

When I see a penis, whether in person (always preferred) or even in a picture, I immediately and involuntarily imagine in my head what its voice would sound like if it could talk. I realize this is probably a pretty weird thing. I should note that I am not actually saying that other peoples’ (or my own for that matter) penises talk to me, they don’t. All I am saying is that I have an idea in my mind of what they would sound like if they did.

For some reason however, this information seems to call to mind pet-psychics when I tell it to other people. I am not sure what the “talking to penises” and “talking to pets” connection is in other peoples’ minds, although I am confident that a psychology graduate student could do a thesis on the subject. Aside from the fact that I DON’T TALK TO PENISES (just really want to make that point clear).

Despite that key point, I give you a glimpse into the cable access show that will never be:

Imagine it in your mind: A bare stage set with two chairs and a plain backdrop. In one chair sits a twitching Wintersong (would need to suppress the vocal tics so as not to scare them into silence). In the other chair sits a nervous looking middle aged guy, maybe a bit rough looking. A construction worker would be ideal. He’s explaining his problem:

“I just don’t know Penis Whisperer. Lately the little guy just hasn’t been himself. I’ve tried getting him interested in things, but every time I try to play with him he just doesn’t seem interested the way he used to be. There was a time he’d be the one to get all up in my lap and make it clear that he wanted to play. Now I have to try to get him going and he is more and more resistant it seems. It’s even worse with my wife. Whenever she decides to play with him he just goes all passive and plays dead. I don’t understand what he is trying to tell me. Can you get me some answers Penis Whisperer?”

He would then unbutton his pants and drop them around his knees. The camera would zoom in for a close up of Wintersong examining the gentleman’s gentleman parts and making the “listening” expression made familiar to many by the work of legions of pet psychics and John Edwards (crossing over dude rather than presidential candidate) knockoffs.

The Penis Whisperer would then make some generic recommendations about trying new games, new toys, and switching over to silk underwear and the show would end for the week. Before long there could be a book deal and a popular syndicated show on basic cable. At first the right wing would be all up in arms, until some enterprising individual found a way to connect Penis Whispering to finding redemption in god and there’d be a new wave of religious themed generic genital talkers (“your inner labia say that you should have waited until you were married).

I have to head out to Cauldron Farm for Beltane, my bits and I hope you have a good weekend.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

New Feature

In the next few days I'm going to be testing out a new feature for BarkingShaman. On the right side of the screen will be a list of links that will be updated anywhere from a few times a day to once every few days. These will be links that are of interest to me or that I think might be of interest to readers of BS. Like the blog itself these links will be eclectic, ranging from topics such as paganism, shamanism, GLBT issues, libertarian issues, and things that are just plain funny.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Issue Fatigue

Readers of BarkingShaman know that I am passionate in my beliefs and that many of my personal beliefs are not all that popular. It has not been a good several weeks for me on this front and I am finding myself quite prone to burning out.

First off, those of you who have read “Ritual Mutilation and Discovering Normal” know about my staunch opposition to routine male circumcision and know a bit about the road that led me to that position. I have done a great deal of research into the subject and history of circumcision and other male and female genital mutilation practices and consider myself quite educated on the matter. Several weeks ago national and international news sources covered the announcement that the United Nations has endorsed the practice of male circumcision (ideally removing as much inner foreskin tissue as possible if you read the research) as a method of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

This was an announcement that had become inevitable. There has been some research over the years that has shown that circumcised men have a reduced (some say as much as %70) chance of contracting HIV during unprotected heterosexual sex with infected women. This is far from an adequate level of protection to not require sex with a latex barrier and is only relevant in reducing one specific form of transmission (female-male heterosexual intercourse). Despite this, the New York Times proclaimed in an article on male circumcision “Last month, scientists invented the AIDS vaccine.” While the U.N. and the W.H.O. have only endorsed circumcision for high risk/low tech areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, there is clear evidence that the American Academy of Pediatrics will again be endorsing circumcision for all newborns, this time to prevent AIDS. Additionally New York City has announced a proposal for the city to pay for the circumcision of all gay men in New York despite the total lack of evidence of circumcision’s effects on HIV transmission during gay intercourse.

I could go on at length about the issue. Certain points jump out at me, such as the fact that these studies were halted early and that they have not been submitted for peer review. Or that there has been European studies that indicate that intact (non-circumcised) men are more willing to use condoms and are less prone to skin tearing during intercourse. Additionally, circumcision has been described as a cure in search of a disease. The list of diseases that circumcision has been claimed to “cure” or “prevent” is astounding (from the familiar such as cancer to the crazy such as club foot or lead poisoning). I do want to clarify that it would be completely hypocritical for me to criticize what someone chooses to do with their body. If an adult, male or female, wants to radically alter their genitals that is totally their business. My objections focus on children who cannot consent or people who are being presented with circumcision as an preventative for the contraction of HIV/AIDS by medical authorities that they have no reason not to trust.

I belong to several email discussion groups from the “intactivist” (anti-circumcision) community and over the last few months I have found that I have been just letting the emails pile up. I simply cannot handle the overwhelming ground that has been lost in this fight. Every time I hear about or talk to another parent who may have been considering leaving their son intact but now has been swayed to circumcision, or worse who has taken their child or young teen in for a circumcision in the face of this new “data” I just find myself feeling sick. Same goes for talking to circumcised men who know feel that they do not need to use protection for sex since they now “know” that they can’t contract HIV/AIDS because of their circumcised status.

Second off, I live in New Hampshire. In the last few weeks the New Hampshire legislature has been poised to pass legislation creating a civil union registry for non-married couples. As you might imagine, many vocal people in my area are more than a little upset by this. There have been many calls for the government to put the matter to a public vote. Given that the state also just legalized gay adoption statewide (it had been left to the counties) there is a groundswell of opposition to gay rights issues (and gays in general) in my area of rural NH. Each letter in the op-ed portion of my local paper proclaiming the hatred of society possessed by people in non-traditional relationships reminds me of the fact that my family is neither welcomed nor safe where we live. Every “destruction of family values” that I read reminds me of how we came to own a number of firearms and why I don’t like to leave the house without one.

Firearms are yet another of my buttons that are going to be pushed in the next few weeks. Following the grotesque tragedy at Virginia Tech the media is already afire with calls for tougher restrictions for the ownership of firearms. This ignores the fact that someone crazy enough to kill 30+ people isn’t going to care about buying an illegal handgun.

Since owning a gun myself I’ve become more conscious of other people carrying them and this has led me to an interesting realization. When I was in Washington DC recently, I noticed how many government people (such as security guards at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center) carried firearms. Normally this doesn’t bother me, but NH does not have reciprocity with DC (besides with no one can carry weapons on federal property). I was interested to see that I was uncomfortable being around so many armed people not because I wasn’t armed, but because I wasn’t permitted to be armed.

These are just three of the public issues weighing on my mind. I’ve ignored several issues closely tied to my spooky life deliberately. First and foremost I am a shaman and a magician. Recent events in my life have brought this more and more to my attention (not that I have given up on the business that I own, just that I recognize the realities of what my first “profession” really is). These issues are in varying degrees mundane ones. I find myself having only so much energy that I can devote to any one of them before it begins to intrude into my “real” work, be that the spooky stuff, the business, or my managing my health.

As I find myself “burning out” I struggle to maintain some involvement in the issues that matter to me. I know that I cannot let myself become consumed by the shamanism anymore than I can sit in front of my computer doing CAD work hour upon hour. Trying to make a difference in these and other issues helps me remember to distance myself from the shaman work in order to recognize that the mundane world is just as important as the spiritual one.

Once upon a time, I created a mental “rosary of belief.” This is a technique we teach our students wherein one makes specific mental note of incidents that reinforce their beliefs in magic or the gods and spirits in order to create a mental “rosary” to refer to when the rest of the world tells them that there is no such thing (if you are curious we modified the idea from something said to Shinji Ikari in Evangelion during instrumentality). Today, I find myself forced to do the same thing with issues that are important to me. I know that I cannot allow my faith or connection to matters of importance to me in the mundane world falter if I am to do my job adequately.

As a shaman there is an incredible temptation to focus on that part of me that is forever in death, but I have come to know that it is just as important to give equal energy to those parts of me that dwell in life or in the mundane world. Passionate beliefs, even unpopular ones makes that possible.

ps. For an insight into the kinds of issues that I follow that cross the line between spooky and mundane more starkly than these go here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ambiguity Part 1: Home for Someone Else's Holiday

One of the more difficult lessons about growing into adulthood has got to be that nothing is ever straightforward when one is an adult. The layers of ambiguity that sometimes seem to smother the world were beyond my ken when I was a child.

This is a subject that I’ll be addressing in several BarkingShaman essays over the next while. Right now, foremost on my mind regarding this topic are the events of this evening.

Tonight was the first night of the Jewish holiday of Passover and my mother asked us to come over for her seder. There was never any doubt that I’d be going. I try to go see my parents for holidays that are important family times. As a rule Fire and Summer come along whenever one or both of them can. After several years of awkwardness, my mother no longer asks me to attend religious services at her synagogue, but I go to her home at least for diner for most major holidays.

So it was with a minimum of hassle that Fire and Summer took early days from work and the three of us plus the dog bundled into the car for the two hour ride to my folks’ house.

Anyone who has attended at Passover seder however, can tell you that it isn’t just a meal. Rather, the seder meal is a ritual in itself. For a number of reasons, I have avoided Jewish worship services and rituals as thoroughly as I possibly can since leaving Judaism to serve my Lady. First off, a Jew by birth leaving the religion is a really big no-no, and not just from a community perspective. Judaic law is rather clear on the allotted punishment for idolatry, which for a Jew consists of worshiping any god but the god. I prefer to stay below the radar of the god of the Jews to whatever extent I can, and not just because I believe it to be the polite and ethical thing to do.

Additionally, my Jewish faith and identity was an important part of my life and upbringing. I do not regret my choice (such as it was) to dedicate myself to the Lady or to become a pagan. However, I would be lying if I told you that being forever cut off from such a pivotal part of my childhood and family life does not hurt, it does. I know that Judaism was not the right religion for me, and far more importantly, the god of the Jews was the wrong god for me for many reasons. On the balance, I would far prefer a devout life as a pagan than a secular life as a Jew, which was what would have happened given the disconnect between myself and the Jewish god.

Unfortunately (or perhaps inevitably, given its nature) Passover was always my favorite holiday in the Jewish calendar. It is also the only holiday whose ritual is traditionally done in the home rather than the synagogue.

The fact that my parents accept who I am so far as to invite both my partners (plus our dog) to their home for a family holiday is invaluable to me. Especially given my health situation of late, our lives would be infinitely more difficult without my parents’ support. At times like these though, it can be a challenge not to shove the complete reality of my life in their faces. I know that my religious path is a source of pain for them (especially my mother) and I try as best I can to minimize its impact on them. However, I do this to the best of my ability without diminishing who I am and what I do in my religious life.

For instance, I have two tiny “token” tanto knives that represent the two knives I carry in my shaman work. One token is polished and one blackened with cold-bluing to stand in for my full-sized polished and rusted knives that represent life and death. I usually wear the tokens on strings hanging from my belt loops. I am bound to tell anyone who asks what they mean, and I do not choose to leave them at home when I go to see my mother. Part of being Her shaman-magician is that I am forbidden to lie when asked about aspects of my spooky job. This means that I have explained to my mother the meanings of my shamanic tattoos, tools, and hair cut (for those who don’t know, I shaved my waist length hair off during my death ordeal cycle and have kept it shaved for over a year since).

As much as I value the fact that my folks have us all home for the holidays, it is hard not to resent it when they appear to be pushing me back into the broom closet, so to speak. It brings my mother joy, or at least peace, to pretend for the duration of the seder that I am still Jewish. Striking the balance between pleasing the mother who raised me and being true to my other Mother is an especial challenge during this particular ritual. The cautious dance of watching what words I don’t say during prayers to avoid swearing falsely to the god of the Jews doesn’t do any great wonders for my mental state either. An amazing number of Judaic prayers are some form of swearing of fealty: “you are our god” etc.

I imagine that the careful dance of balancing the reality of who an adult child is with how their parents might want to perceive them is hardly one that is unique to people who have departed as radically from their parents expectations as I have. I am also well aware that my parents are rather unique in how completely they have been able to accept those radical deviations in the course of my life. My parents and I have an understanding which applies most times: I don’t ask them to be happy with the path that my life has taken and they don’t try to change that path. The logical continuation of that agreement is that they generally don’t push their unhappiness with my path on me and I don’t shove the evidence of that path in their faces.

Just as adulthood is not nearly as straightforward as I expected when I was a child (imagine my shock to find that so far no one has given me a manual!), compromises feature far more prominently than the child I was could have imagined. When my mother asked me to read the four questions in Hebrew tonight (and with no transliteration no less) I could have refused on the grounds that it was not a terribly comfortable thing for me to do. However, that discomfort has led to me staying up late thinking and writing. Come the dawn it will be all but forgotten. The unhappiness that refusal would have caused my mother would have lasted far beyond the next rise of the sun.

I like to think that this decision is the sort of thing that distinguishes me today as my parents’ adult child rather than just their child.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Audacity Is An Hold System Trying to Make Me Feel Guilty

How does one define audacity? has this to say:


boldness or daring, esp. with confident or arrogant disregard for personal safety, conventional thought, or other restrictions.


effrontery or insolence; shameless boldness: His questioner's audacity shocked the lecturer.

Me, I prefer:

1. Telemarketers that call you up with an “all our representatives are currently busy, please stay on the line” message

2. Telemarketers that do it over and over again.

Now I know what you are thinking. Actually I have no clue, but I hope at least one of you is thinking the following “Wintersong, why the hell don’t you guys put your name on the Do Not Call List? Of course, I would hope that if you thought that, you would immediately say to yourself “this Wintersong fellow sounds like a sensible if perhaps overly eccentric sort, I imagine he has thought of this (apparently between thoughts you moved to England).”

Of course we thought of that. Our number is on the Do Not Call List. However, there is an exemption made for charitable organizations. Or more importantly, paid telemarketing companies working on the behalf of charitable organizations. We get a lot of these. We’ve been getting a lot of these for some time, but I will admit I may have exacerbated the situation.

You may or may not have deducted from previous posts on BarkingShaman that I struggle with depression. Or more accurately I live with depression since for some reason the term “I struggle with” always evokes images of high school wrestling in my mind. Which is weird since I’ve never wrestled, my high school did not have wrestling, I’ve never attended a high school (or any other kind) wrestling match. Despite the stereotypes, I never even masturbated to the idea of high school wrestling.

Strange brain associations aside, anyone who lives with depression, like many other neurological issues, will tell you that the medication that works great one week may not do crap the next. During one of these “medication not doing crap” periods, I answered a charity telemarketing call. We’d been getting a huge number of them at the time and saying “no” to disabled vets, retired police associations, active police associations, and such was not doing anything positive for my sense of self-worth. Hanging up on poor bastards that probably get called worst things in a day than some serial killers get called in a lifetime didn’t help either. Interestingly, I have since determined that most or all these calls may have been coming from the same call center.

When the fourteenth caller called (ok, couldn’t have been more than fifth but you get the point) I relented. Actually I tried to get him off the phone but he kept saying things like “Surely you can free up just fifteen dollars for our returning wounded heroes” although as depressed as I was, my brain chose to interpret it more like “If you just give us fifteen dollars I won’t have to kill this kitten I have here.” In the interest of saving kittens or war veterans or my own sanity I did so.

To say that the rate of calls has not slowed would be both obvious and completely predictable.

However, we have gotten quite good at dodging them. For financial reasons we do not have caller ID, but after a while we reacquired the pre-caller ID skill of recognizing the several seconds of empty line that often is what greets you when a telemarketing firm’s auto-dialer is moving more quickly than its agents. If you know this sound, or lack thereof, you can put down the receiver or hit the “off” button before a voice filled with the “I know I’m not fooling you, and you know that I know that I’m not fooling you, but my manager might be listening” kind of artificial cheer comes on in order to ask you for money. If you can get off the phone before this happens, you can do so with no guilt. The computer doesn’t give a fuck if you answer or not, it just auto-dials the next person having diner, a shower, or sex. Hanging up on the computer has a null effect on your daily “how big a shit have I been today?” meter.

In response to either a much higher rate of outgoing calls than staff, or to people getting better at the sound of silence trick, one of the companies that calls our house has now added the hold message I mentioned at the beginning of the post. As my problems with insomnia have yet to be resolved, and perhaps as a result (or perhaps for some other whacked out reason) my thought processes have mostly not been up to much deep thinking, I have spent a decent amount of time wondering what the reasoning behind this message is.

I simply cannot conceive of an remotely healthy individual who patiently waits on hold when a telemarketer calls. It is obvious that the call is from a charity telemarketer because it says so right in the message. “Company A is a paid solicitor calling on behalf of the Pay Us Not To Kill Kittens Foundation. All our agents are currently with other callers. Please stay on the line and a representative will be with you shortly.”

After much (way too much) thought on this question I’ve decided that there are very few groups of people who this particular method could work with: the very stoned, the very drunk, the very senile, and the very mentally challenged. All groups of people that have members who, when hearing that message might conceivably get confused into thinking that they were the ones who had made the call and wait for a representative to assist them. Even taken together these groups cannot account for much in the way of revenue.

Perhaps they are hopping that, baffled and weirdly compelled, people will stay on the line just to see how long it takes before they are transfered to an agent. In this case, it is a method that is likely to only work once.

Combined with the fact that there is a movie coming out about rouge man-eating killer sheep, this has to be a bigger sign of some sort of end of times than gays getting married or the availability of a vaccine to protect against cervical cancer. The right wing needs to reevaluate their priorities and get a handle on this automated telemarketing thing. It would be a shame for them to spend all this time looking for Satan in internet pornography only to find that he’d been in the telephone system all along.

You can expect that plot to hit the theaters in a few years, once the killer-sheep people decide to do a new project.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Playing Pretend (yet having nothing to do with sex)

We all have secrets that we think are shameful, it’s part of being human. I’m going to share with you what I consider one of my darkest secrets, and amazingly it has nothing to do with sex:

Despite being in my mid to late twenties, I still like to play pretend games. As an adult I suppose that wouldn’t be a problem if I kept said games to the bedroom but that isn’t what I mean. For a long time I justified my mental games by the fact that I also like to write, but I would be doing exactly the same thing even if I wasn’t writing.

What sort of thing do I mean by “play pretend games?” Well, I mean pretty much the same thing I did when I was ten, only I like to think that the scenarios have become more sophisticated. For example, I have a sci-fi world in my head that is incredibly complex. In the context of this world, I can explain in great detail what kind of spaceship any automobile on the road would be. I do this while requiring that I simultaneously stay true to the design intend and function of said automobile’s unique design features and the requirements and restrictions of the imaginarily world. It’s both impressive and pathetic at the same time.

I have a “plot line” in this world that includes a character that I play in my head. I suppose it isn’t that different that role playing, except that I have never role played. As strange as it may seem, as a kid I was told by multiple friends who role played that I was not the “kind” of person they were looking to game with. Never quite been sure why that was, but as a consequence I haven’t actually gamed before. Fireheart has said on more than one occasion that she wants me to try to write this world up as a role playing game but I am not overburdened with time and I continue to insist that as a non-gamer I shouldn’t try writing a game. I certainly can’t be a game master for one, which is the next stage of what she would want me to do with it.

The reason all of this comes up now is that my company is failing horribly. We haven’t had any good paying work in a year. Moving to New Hampshire caused me to loose all the contacts I had cultivated in Vermont and with my worsened health; I haven’t been able to pursue new work actively enough. Also, we don’t have the money for me to have an out of home office. Without a public space it is much harder to go after clients or build relationships with the local chamber of commerce. Our office in Vermont only cost about two-fifty a month but I can’t afford that right now.

As a result, we have been looking into the possibility of getting me work doing CAD rather than design work to bring in some money. Temp agencies often have CAD work listings and are just as happy to contract a company as an individual. Without client work though, my SolidWorks (an industry standard CAD program that we pay a ridiculous amount of money to have and update) skills have become rusty. I needed an intricate project to work on that would push my abilities with the program farther than they had been pushed before. The project I came up with was designing in the computer, the small space ship that my Subaru Forester is in my mind.

I have now sunk just about 43 hours into the design and I can safely say I’ll need at least half again that, if not double, to finish and render the design. I have approached the project as if I was making a model. I have made the parts of the ship and then put them in a very complex assembly file. The rendering process is remarkably like painting a model.

It has been incredibly fulfilling to actually see the ship taking form in the computer in a form I can manipulate in three dimensions and has a lot of moving parts (I was thrilled to be learn limit-mates in order to make the wings open and close together). Of course, it is fulfilling to CAD-draft any design idea that one has only previously seen in one’s head, but it is somehow different when it is the spaceship. Part of that is the exciting challenge of designing around a set of rules defined by the technology of the world in my head rather than the real world. After all let’s be honest, I am never going to get to design a real space vessel, which was once a childhood dream, as well as the subject of more than one science fair project.

The process has gotten me asking an interesting (at least to me, but then it is my blog) question. When did I start to feel that this kind of imaginary game was not appropriate for someone my age? At what age did it stop being ok to play pretend? I can’t remember a specific moment or even year that I started feeling embarrassed by my mental games. I suppose I feel about my pretend games the way many people feel about masturbating. It’s one of those things that you feel you shouldn’t do, although you don’t quite know why and can’t seem to stop. Of course weirdly enough, I don’t feel that way about masturbating at all and totally fail to understand why some people do. Summerwind says he is equally puzzled by my embarrassment over my pretend world.

So what do I get out of this imaginary world? Being able to have many of the ordinary things I do in life have an element of excitement or fun makes the activities of daily life more interesting, which given the amount of effort these sorts of activities can take when my health is really troublesome, means it can make those activities possible. For instance having a complex story when I dislocated my shoulder several years ago made physical therapy more bearable. After all, I slipped in the kitchen and was trying to catch my fall is way less fun than a story about the optical-thermal ablative coating (long story, involves car washes and sparkly paint) of my spaceship failing and an energy bolt penetrating the cabin and my right shoulder, necessitating repair work and physical therapy to be re-certified as combat-ready (the TENS unit the therapist used was nerve stimulation to try to get the artificial replacement nerve fibers to synch with the remaining natural nerves).

Maybe this all sounds awfully stupid to you. Maybe it doesn’t. I am certain I’ll spend the next few days worrying about what people think, but right now I have a CAD spaceship with a retractable rocket assembly that I have to go figure the geometry for.