All posts by RameyLady

I write. I design. I cook. I read. I make music. I talk to people -- all kinds of people. I used to teach and hopefully will do so again someday. My dream job would be a cross between barrista and therapist, with a large helping of international travel and bohemian wandering through concerts, museums, galleries, and open spaces. Somewhere back in time, my students started calling me "RameyLady" and the name stuck. I like it. There's a Ramey-man too. He's a much better writer but he seems to be too humble to share it with the world....at least, not yet.

A tiny rant re: pronouns

I’m slogging through a book — review will follow soon — that’s using two different systems of gender-neutral pronouns: xe/xir and e/eir depending on the culture of the person in question.

So here’s my tiny rant, to all you sci-fi authors out there:

I applaud your actions that incite progress in accepting a wide variety of humans in our present reality via the way you imagine future or fictional worlds.

However, your readers live in this one, and we currently have no established, familiar, comfortable gender-neutral pronoun set, though they/them works ok in real life.  Generally, if I’m talking about someone I know to someone else who knows them, the pronouns aren’t a big deal. We both know Mickey, and we can talk about Mickey in a text message without breaking syntactic sense: “I’ve asked Mickey to bring their cooler too, in case we need it. They said they’ll be here around 3pm.”  

In a story, it’s different.  In a story, where everyone is made up and nothing can be assumed, the author has to create reality for the reading one word at a time. In that environment, the gender-neutral pronouns are disruptive. Actually, I think they make some books and stories unreadable.

Just to be clear, I’m NOT saying it’s ever ok to misgender individual people in real life.  If  I had a friend who wanted me to use xe/xer as xer pronouns, I would do so without complaint….because it’s a small thing for me to do but large in acknowledging who xe is.  However, the reality of xer’s full existence as a person looms large beyond the pronoun selection. Zer’s face comes to mind when I use zer’s name.

[See how annoying that paragraph is, because you don’t have this person firmly planted in your own mind?  Yeah. Try reading 300 pages of it.] 

Pronouns are the backbone of a language, along with other critical “function words” like prepositions. Central grammatical structures change slowly over time, if they change at all. English has been using I/you/she/they pronouns for what, a thousand years now? We can count on one hand the significant shifts to core grammar: the loss of thou/thee and ye from 2nd person pronouns; the Great Vowel Shift; the elimination of verb endings for individual person/number in the indicative. (We went from “I know, thou knowest, he knows” to “I know, you know, he knows.”)

By the 21st century we’ve lost a lot of clausal complexity, and YA writers are addicted to tagging every single line of dialogue with a “he/she said” marker. (Lazy writing!)  Latin endings are nearly dead…. I cringe when I hear “indexes” and especially “curriculums.” *shudder*  And the subjunctive mood is on its deathbed. Am I the only person who shouts correct grammar at the radio when the singer intones, “I wish she was you?” But those shifts are minor compared to the loss of verb endings or changes to pronoun structure in the early Modern era. Most of the time, our language keeps up with the times by shedding old words, inventing some new syntax (especially among youth), and adding new vocabulary every day.  Not by breaking its spine on purpose to insert a new one.

I sincerely hope that English speakers come up with an agreed set of neutral pronouns, since it seems like we indeed need them.  I don’t know anyone personally who is genderqueer, but I want them to have pronouns available, and I’m happy for all kinds of people to see themselves represented fairly in stories.

But right now, this thing that sci-fi writers are trying to do?  This is too much. 

You can’t shove whole new systems of pronouns at people in a 300 page novel and assume it’s just going to work. I read a story for the Hugo ballot this year that focused on a set of twins. One was clearly female and the other was genderqueer until [he] chose not to be. When they were children, the author referred to individual twins using “they/them”
….except they are TWINS.
For crying out loud.  How the hell am I ever supposed to know whether the author was referring to one twin or the other or both of them?  

If I hadn’t been reading for Hugo voting, I would have stopped immediately.  Linguistic confusion makes poor writing, no matter how noble your cause.

Also, the current slate of popular sci-fi novels are stocked with like 50% non-hetero people and 25% genderqueer people, but …. human reproduction doesn’t work like that! This isn’t how biological evolution tends to progress. Current demographic data is fuzzy, but recent data suggests the entire population of LGBTQ+ individuals is less than 5%.

Look, I get it. Oppression leads to revolt which leads to change — and that is GOOD. I want to see acceptance be the norm in society, so the 5% of non-hetero folks are happy being who they are without fear. And making sure people have stories that reflect who they are.  All of those things are good, and we’re getting a lot more of it in mainline media now, not just fringe.

But this pronoun thing has got to get sorted out, and it’s not going to happen by every frackin’ book published in 2018 using xim, ze, or eir to refer to characters constantly.

I think this current trend (especially in sci-fi/fantasy) reduces these characters to merely their gender identity, often giving us little else to round out the picture.  As a reader, I’m left with an odd mental picture of a person who’s nothing but zir genitalia and sexual preferences and fashion habits. I think that’s reductionist and demeaning to the real humans who exist as genderqueer.

I fully support the inclusion of all kinds of characters into all kinds of stories. It’s just that few fictional universes make sense with majorly disruptive notions of gender identity crammed into the cultural development and world-building because “that’s what all the cool kids are doing these days. ”

Ursula LeGuin wrote one of the best novels I’ve ever read, Left Hand of Darkness (Amazon), about a planet whose people exist within a single gender identity except when they differentiate for mating. I wasn’t annoyed by her prose even once.  Authors can tell incredible, powerful stories without annoying the hell out of their readers by futzing with one of the backbone features of English syntax.

I’m firmly on the side of the SJW’s making life better for all people, but I’m longing for the pronoun fest to calm down so I can get back to reading stories for the reason I pick up books: to be challenged by big ideas and to learn something about humanity.  Not to wander each page in confusion wondering who said what, or stopping every fifth word to process a sentence like “E sent xim a note through eir datapad asking if xe could bring eir’s favorite wine for supper tonight.”

Ugh. *puts book down, walks away*

/rant

 

Advice from my 40-something self to my 20-something self

*taps* Hello? Hellooooo? Is this thing on? (You never know with time travel equipment.)

Ok. I’ve got a chance to send some advice back to my younger self, and I think it’s worth the risks. If I poof out of existence because I tangled the timelines…well, I guess this post will disappear too.

But not before I pass along some good stuff, the hard-earned coin of these past couple decades.

Don’t buy things. Buy experiences.

Young Self, I’ve been sending a lot of your stuff to Goodwill and eBay this year, stuff I bought when I was your age and then didn’t really use much. It’s easy when you’re just starting out in life to buy things that other people use because they seem to be getting so much good use out of them.

Here’s the thing: we Americans are hoarders. We’re consumers. We consume things then leave their discarded husks around to clutter up shelves and closets and the garage. It’s dumb, and it spawns a lot of needless dusting and angst. Let. It. Go.

All you need in your kitchen is …

  • An excellent set of knives. When the Cutco Guy shows up at your door sometime in 2002, make sure you let him in. Yes, the price is outrageous, but good tools cost money. No, you can’t afford it – buy a set anyway. We’ve been using these knives for 15+ years now and I thank Hephaestus for them every single day. We got them re-honed and factory sharpened a couple years ago. I plan to use them till I die, and then my friends can argue over who gets to inherit them.
  • A 12″ cast iron skillet and a 6″ cast iron skillet. You hardly need any other skillets. I don’t know why I waited so long to discover the magic of cast iron, but I’m going to blame it on the stupidity of youth. We make a breakfast scramble in the little one at least once a week and use the big one for nearly everything.
  • An enameled cast iron Dutch oven. This is the other half of my short list of “indispensable cookware.” You can make soup, stew, cacciatore, gravy, roasted meat, braised beef, slow cooked pulled pork….. it’s a magical device. It’s heavy, yeah, but it’s worth it. Make this beer braised pork roast and these carnitas and this Belgian beef stew all year long.  I have the one by Food Network because who has money for LeCruset?
  • Round out the cookware with a heavy sauce pan (I have a great anodized aluminum one from Calphalon), a cheap big pot for pasta (big and thin so it boils fast; mine is left over from a T-Fal set), and a small LeCruset metal enameled pot for making rice or cheesy grits. Any small, heavy pot will get a lot of use.
  • A small supply of high quality tools, preferably ones that do multiple jobs (Alton Brown’s rule). My list includes silicon scrapers and stiff spatulas that resist high heat or work for scraping a batter bowl; wooden spoons for cooking because they can handle high heat and a lot of abuse; a sturdy nylon whisk and a pan whisk (so handy – go buy one), good quality ice cream scoop (this one has held up for at least 15 years) and pie server (Pampered Chef wins here); a citrus reamer (I use this metal coated one); a thin and very sharp knife (I got a few of them free at Pampered Chef parties but you can buy them inexpensively on Amazon); and these little spatulas from Pampered Chef which are absolutely perfect for cookies. We also use stainless steel measuring cups (for dry ingredients) and spoons all the time, and a classic set of Pyrex 1 cup, 2 cup, and 4 cup for liquids. Just like Mom’s! 😉

I’ve got a few other random kitchen tools tucked away, but I’ve gotten rid of a whole bunch of them and I feel so much better.

You don’t need to hoard recipes, except a few proven winners. I have a few handwritten cards of my dad’s recipes (still) and the ones given to me by ladies at my bridal shower (though I’ve cooked only a few…..hmmmm….probably should dig into those).  You’ll soon learn that cooking is an art and a set of heuristics rather than an exact science, and I pull out recipes only rarely.  I pared down my cookbook collection as well, though I did keep a few standards or really pretty ones.

This is our #1 favorite coffee-making machine. We got ours from Amazon; click the image to check it out.  Morning coffee is an amazing, sensory ritual – and takes less than 5 min.

Throw out that damn automatic drip coffee maker. Blech. Ours broke one morning 4 or 5 years ago so we turned to Google in desperation to figure out how the “uncivilized” world makes coffee. Discovered that we were the heathens, imprisoning our coffee for years in that sad machine. We’ve settled now on a simple Bodum vessel and a Black & Decker electric kettle (which also helps out for heating water for pasta). Coffee takes 109x better and our morning coffee ritual (which takes barely 5 minutes) is genuinely satisfying.

I don’t know why I waited 10+ years to buy myself an electric can opener (this is ours and we love it). Sometimes you hate doing a particular chore and it’s worth stepping up to a better tool. I should have bought one in Year One of our marriage. Durp.    I put my KitchenAid stand mixer in this same category. It’s 20 years old and trucking right along.  I’ve used it to make bread dough, cheesecakes, and mashed potatoes, but Coart uses it all the time to mix up chocolate chip cookie batter — and that’s a holy rite which shall never be interrupted.

Ok, enough kitchen…. on to other topics…..

Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t, even to keep other people happy. Hold your head high when you walk into the liquor store or when you wear that pink shirt and short shorts or when you duck into Hot Topic to see what the kids are into these days or when you crank up the volume on your playlist. I still remember a lady at church talking about hiding beer in her grocery cart and feeling like she had to justify herself to people in the store: “I’m buying it for taco soup!” Look: No one cares why you’re buying beer. And if they do, is it any of their damn business? NOPE. Don’t hang out with judgey people and don’t let them dictate your actions. (But don’t be a jerk either – it’s obviously kind and caring to avoid engaging in actions you know will offend a friend.  I’m talking about the non-friends who exist in your personal orbit.) 

Thing is, there’s a lot of pressure on you to stay within particular boundaries, especially when you’re a teacher.  Don’t go out looking for trouble, but don’t ever pretend to be something you aren’t. Eventually people will figure it out. (And teenagers will detect bullshit immediately.)

If something is wrong or harmful or unkind, don’t do it.  If it’s not any of those categories, then don’t pretend like you don’t do it if you do.  Simple as that.

This is on my list for the front door area as soon as planting season hits. (Links to Amazon)

Plant stuff in the yard the first year you buy the house! Don’t wait around (like we did, thinking “we’ll get to it….”) because then you’ll end up owning the same house for 15 years but still have zero landscaping except now you’re angry about how much nicer your yard would’ve looked by now if you’d scraped together some money for landscaping from the very start.  Skip 4 Starbucks runs and buy a plant or a load of topsoil instead. 

Stop working for low pay. This one might be controversial, younger self, and I’m not trying to tell you what to do. Other than this: take time to sketch out a career plan. Don’t just let your career happen to you. And don’t allow your skills to be undervalued in your earnings, unless you’re getting something else equally valuable (like experience or learned skills or fulfillment).

Get better sooner at making a monthly budget and sticking to it. You aren’t good at this. And growing up poor warped your understanding of money and finances. I know you know that you’ll get more out of retirement savings if you start sooner. Start with something like Acorns with loose change, at first.   I know it’s hard to forego current delights for the sake of future investment. Not working for low pay will help you fix that problem, but adjusting your lifestyle down to enjoy experiences rather than material goods helps too. Go find a friend and hang out. You don’t need to spend $60 to visit Biltmore to do that effectively.

Don’t pay for cable. Don’t steal it either….just….hang in there. They’re going to invent this service called Netflix and also YouTube and then this other thing called Hulu and then you’ll have all the TV you’ll ever need. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have friends who pay for cable but share their online account password with you so you can watch this hot show on HBO called Game of Thrones.

 

I think my connection is fading, so last thing:   Take care of the kids who need you –they’re going to grow up into amazing adults one day, and they’ll appreciate what you invested in them. Don’t stop fighting for the kids no one else thinks will make it. The underdogs can make it – they just need a hand up.

Peace out.

Waking up to questions you didn’t realize you had

This article in Relevant Magazine (Jul-Aug 2018) wrecked me today.

The Evolving Faith of Lisa Gungor – RELEVANT Magazine

This was rock bottom, the point in Lisa’s life in which she felt the most desperation. And she says the core question—the thing it all boiled down to was love. “What do I believe about love?” she says. “Love is the whole story that I’ve bought into about Jesus Christ, so what do I believe in?”

The answer to this question arrived through a lot of labor. Lucy, the couple’s second child, was born with Down syndrome. “And it was kind of this painful, epic, beautiful, wonderful climax for me,” Lisa says. “This little girl is born into a world that our society says is broken, and needs to be fixed and at the same time, I’m feeling that within my self. I’m broken, and I need to be fixed because I don’t believe like I used to.”

The peace Lisa found in Lucy was not a resolution to her doubts but the understanding that she could live with those doubts and they didn’t change who she was.

I was already weeping, reading the article. But that passage just stopped me dead.

*****

I can’t really tell you what I expected from my 40s, but it’s been a constant merry-go-round of surprises.

Just for starters — I never really expected that I’d be childless and thus was caught flat-footed in my late 30s without any career arc or plan (I’ve written a bit about that here).  My husband and I have watched multiple friends move far away in the past several years, coinciding with shifts into work for both of us that doesn’t inherently create community.  I feel like the world exploded in 2016 with Trump’s election, ripping the mask from a cesspool of racism and xenophobia and hatred that has been simmering unseen in American culture, probably since its founding. But seeing that ugliness on my Facebook feed from people I know? Painful.

And then there’s church. Hoo boy. Where do I start?

I didn’t mean to leave Fundamentalism in my late 20s, but it happened when what I was seeing in Fundamentalism didn’t match what the Bible says. I’d been taught in seminary at BJU to query the text and give priority to the text. When we realized the “doctrine of separation” was invented and unbiblical, we walked away from everything we knew.

That led us to the PCA, which was a good home to us for several years. Reformed theology gave me many gifts which I treasure to this day, not the least being an understanding of the Dutch Reformed stream thanks to our M.Ed. coursework at Covenant.   But the PCA has a big problem with legalism, one that they acknowledge (sort of) but cannot solve because of the presumptions they bring to their understanding of faith.

Also, the PCA along with nearly every Evangelical group harbors a lot of patriarchy-in-the-name-of-Jesus which I can no longer tolerate in silence. If I’d had a daughter (or a son), I don’t know how I could raise her in an organizational structure that entirely deprecates the role of women in leadership.  If anything, I’m more convinced now in the wake of #meetoo that women are endangered when they are powerless.  Traditional Church structures are built to disenfranchise women and locate power entirely in the hands of male leadership, using God’s name to justify this system. I’m so done with that.

All that aside though, I didn’t mean to leave my church in 2016. It just ….happened. I was just as surprised as anyone else.  I took some time off to change jobs and rest a bit, including absence on Sunday mornings for a variety of reasons. When I asked to get back onto the schedule for church musicians, my queries were met with….crickets.  My husband had stopped going anyway (for several of reasons), so it seemed like a clear indication that our time there was done.

I consider my faith to be important and central to my life, but I have struggled in the past 2 years to see “church” as a central practice.  At the same time, I deeply miss the sacraments and having fellowship with fellow believers. It’s just hard to know how to start “dating” a church again when I know how exhausting that process will be.

I haven’t been to church in nearly two years.  When I was reading Lisa Gungor’s description of the questions she could not ask in Church, I nodded along.  The Problem of Evil is lurking at the basis of her doubt, and any theologian who tries to hand-wave away the depths of evil, death, and pain in human experience loses respect from me immediately.  The older I am, the more horrified I am by poverty, murder, school shooting, abuse, rape, discrimination, racism….. not to mention disease, cancer, death. The Bible doesn’t give any glib answers to this.  Why therefore do so many churches refuse to allow its people to wrestle?

I have a friend who’s struggled to accept their sexual orientation.  They have also – understandably – struggle with their faith, and with the idea that God answers prayer. This friend begged God to take away their same-sex attraction, but He has never provided relief.   Is God a hateful Father to create someone who loves people of their own gender, and then condemn them as sinful?  The most faith-rocking experiences in my world stem from knowing several people who are gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender who are also (sometimes) people of faith.  My marriage to Evangelicalism fell apart when I realized I was being asked to act hatefully toward people whom I love, and whom I believe God loves.

*****

To have faith, you must confront doubt. You have to lay it all out on the table and be honest about it. You have to own up to the questions.  Look, if you’ve never wondered HOW you “know” that God is real, are you even a thinking human? Do you honestly just swallow anything anyone tells you?

I’m not saying “throw out your faith.”  I’m saying, Recognize that ‘faith’ is subjective.

If God is in relationship with me — and I genuinely believe that He is — then I have to give Him the room to do whatever He decides He’s going to do.  I also have to be honest about my own questions and acknowledge the ambiguity in that relationship and in the way the Bible uses many different genres to express complex and nuanced ideas that I don’t always understand.  Every church I’ve been in cannot handle a Bible text that isn’t iron-clad inspired, sparklingly clear in its statements, and applied with gale-force wind to the lives of people sitting through a 45-minute lecture on a weekly basis.

If you think Christianity is some easy cut-and-dried process, then…. good for you?      I think you’re nuts.

“My perspective is I’m trying to live in the way of love and the way of Jesus the best I know how. I know I don’t have it all right, but I love the way of Jesus. I don’t have a definition for that.”

I don’t know what to call it either, Lisa, but I’m right here with you.  Whoever said that people get more conservative as they get older apparently didn’t live the life of a GenX woman who’s just now waking up to a whole lot of questions.

Hugo Award Reads: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Review)

It’s Hugo Award Season! I love when June rolls around and I get to read books for 2 months with the excuse “I’m reading for the Hugo ballot voting!”  Not that I need an excuse to read books; our house is practically composed of stacks of books. But still…. it’s nice.

I’ve already read three of the nominees for Best Novel earlier in the year, so I’m picking up the other two.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Robinson is a big name in sci fi but this is the first of his books to land on my reading pile. My husband, who is a voracious reader of sci with increasingly discriminating tastes, doesn’t love Robinson, so he’s not been as much on my radar.  Based on this novel, I will likely give his Mars series a shot.

New York 2140 is a big wandering novel told from multiple points of view (one per chapter, kind of in Game of Thrones Style). The novel introduces multiple themes of interest:  the realistic effects of global warming and climate change, the real effects of putting a coastal city under water, the lopsided wealth distribution, a sense of near-future tech applied to near-future climate problems, an exploration of the battle between political fortitude and the lure of lobbyist money.

It’s also a book about characters, more so than tends to be typical for an “ideas book.”  And this is what sold it for me.

I have head that Robinson is accused of creating “paint by number” characters, as have so many of the “idea guys” in science fiction. What they’re good at is building worlds and asking questions; the people in those stories exist only to carry on the plot and showcase the ideas.  I think Cixin Liu’s series (Three Body Problem, etc) are a good example of an idea guy who can’t really create believable human characters. (Though I have to give Liu a bit of a pass, since I could be missing the Chinese cultural nuances that a native speaker reading his novels in Chinese would see, and we might be losing more in translation than we realize. But the poor characterization ruined Death’s End for me.)

New York 2140 isn’t going to win a Pulitzer for characterization, but the New Yorkers here struck me as legit: with all the can-do and fuck-off attitude that NYC has delivered anytime I’ve been within its borders.  Of all cities on earth to find itself spit in half by a rising ocean, dealing with housing millions of people in a broad intertidal zone that bisects its critical districts, New York would survive.  New York would find a way to thrive. And New York would find a way to make money off that fight for survival.

I don’t want to tell you much about the plot – you can find summaries everywhere, but who wants to ruin a story like that?  Some have complained that the novel took too long to get started. *shrugs* If you enjoy sitting on a bench in Union Square and watching people for two hours, you won’t be bored by the novel’s opening. This book always drew me back for more, and honestly, it was usually to discover whether these people were going to be ok. That’s a good sign for a science fiction novel.

If you’re interested in how New York in particular would stare down a 50-foot rise in the oceans, this is the novel for you.

If you’ve never really thought about how rising sea levels will bring an apocalypse, but then a New Normal, this novel may interest you.

If you sense that our government  isn’t really much of a democracy any more, but we’re run by a rich-old-boys oligarchy, this novel might get you thinking about the natural consequences of that.

If you’d ever wanted to go treasure hunting in New York harbor, this book might intrigue you.

But really, if you enjoy visiting The City and soaking in everything New York has to offer, from brilliant minds to piss-soaked streets, read New York 2140. Just as New Yorkers got about their business after 9/11, they will find a way to get about the business of living once the oceans reclaim the coastline.

Pick up a copy of the book on Amazon.com (affiliate)

*****

Hugo Ballot thoughts:

I’m working to finish Ann Leckie’s Provenance and then I still need to read Six Wakes. What I’ve read of Provenance thus far doesn’t suggest it’s going to be a top contender, so at the moment I’ve got Jemisin’s Stone Sky and Lee’s Raven Stratagem on my short list for Hugo Best Novel.  Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire was a fun read and I’ll pick up the others in that series, but it doesn’t rise above the others IMHO in my balloting.

I don’t think Robinson’s novel rises above either of my top picks at this point. His ideas are solid and it’s a good novel.   But for the Hugo, I look for striking originality or truly novel ideas.  I think Robinson will do a lot to help the general public understand the real effects of climate change, though I hold little hope that anyone is willing to pay the price to reign in our overconsumption and reliance on fossil fuels in order to make life better for people who won’t be born for another 100 years. Robinson’s voice is added to the pile of those saying, “Hey! This is bad, y’all!”

For me, the question is, should Robinson’s novel stay above the “No Award” line?  I believe the answer is a firm Yes.  This is a good read and hopefully an influential one.

That sweet spot of “nailed it”

Someone somewhere defined a way to identify a good career fit; unfortunately I can’t remember where I read this.

Ask yourself, When do I feel strong and powerful?

You’re probably looking at a good career fit if your talents and gifts shine when you’re doing a particular task. Your inner self will know, too, and you’ll feel the strength and confidence – at least you’ll get glimpses of it.

For me, that sparkle hits whenever I’m talking with someone who has a problem they’re trying to solve, especially at work or within some kind of organizational structure or work process.

The other day at work, I enjoyed a double-shot of this joy: I had two conversations with separate colleagues about problem areas, trying to identify the cause of the issue and sketch out potential solutions.

At one point I asked, “But what problem is this initiative trying to solve?” Because that wasn’t clear — neither when the initiative was launched, nor throughout its implementation. So often we leap to implement a solution, often the first workable one that came to light, before we’ve taken time to understand why the problem is happening in the first place.

In this particular instance, someone imposed a workflow on five separate teams of employees in an attempt to gather data on the effectiveness of a particular organizational practice. The workflow itself isn’t terrible, but it’s not efficient for the employees implementing it. I’m sure a few workers were consulted, but none of them asked the right question — what problem are you trying to solve? Because the workflow bears all the marks of a fuzzy and vague goal rather than a laser-focus on testing a precise solution to a clearly defined problem.

I ended up working about 90 minutes past my usual cutoff time one day last week, but it felt so good. I was going something I’m particularly gifted to do: ask questions that get to the heart of the matter, and help others see that focus area more clearly, so they can go off and build better solutions.

I don’t know how to make the leap into my perfect job. One  where this is what I would do all day:
– Go around and visit various people in the organization.
– Ask them how their job is going and what’s working/not working
– Listen hard to what they say, work to understand the problems.
– Clarify the problem and pitch ideas for a solution. Connect people and ideas. Cross-pollinate.
– Move on to the next person. Remember everything I’ve heard so far. Cross-pollinate even better.

This is my gift. How do I turn it into a lifestyle? lol

Good Times, Bad Times

So, are humans a disease to this planet or demigods of power, possessing nearly unlimited strength and resilience?

Am I the only person wondering if the human race has long outlived the patience of any divine being?

2018 is weird, man.

*****

I was raised in conservative Fundamentalism, a sliver of Christianity that’s thankfully grown much smaller since the 20th century.  A lot of people like to define Fundamentalism by its strict code of rules, a feature which drew sharp lines around my desires, behavior, and dreams as a kid. But I think Fundamentalism is better defined by its warped understanding of sin and Grace. Perhaps those both arise out of a core misunderstanding of God, one that shaped my view of the universe well into my mid-20s.

The Fundamentalist God is a jerk, honestly.  As a child I envisioned God as a lot like my dad: a good person at heart, but easy to make angry, and dangerous when he was mad.  I knew God hauled around the cosmic baseball bat of Consequences™ that we always heard about in sermons, how “be sure your sin will find you out,” and how maybe God could be bargained with if you showed you were serious about abandoning sin for the straight and narrow.  “Hey, God, if I promise to never do this again, could you maybe not let my cat get killed this summer?”

An abusive Father who accepts bargains. That’s the Fundamentalist God, no matter how much pastors talked about “grace” in sermons.

One of my friends in graduate school came to me sobbing one evening to confess that he’d cheated off my quizzes throughout undergrad. He was terrified that his girlfriend wasn’t going to marry him – she’d said as much –  and as part of his holy dealmaking, he was coming clean and confessing his sins so God might bless him and not take away his chance at being a husband.  (They eventually got married. I don’t know if he even remembers doing this.)  I’m glad he got his cheating off his chest, but even at the time, I was taken back by the blatant economics of the whole situation.

What’s odd to me about Fundamentalism is how badly it misunderstood sin. I guess it makes sense for a movement founded on a concept of purity to redefine sin as both a horrific impulse that defines humanity at its core, AND an external influence that can and should be avoided at all costs.  I’ve written about this before, here and here and especially here, so read up if you’re unfamiliar with those thoughts.

The critical point is this: properly understood within Protestant theology, sin is an internal impulse, a flaw in the human system, like someone beat a steel rod into a 90 degree angle and then tried to straighten in out again.  The Hebrew words for ‘sin’ are fascinating: words like “pollution” and “twist” and “guilt.”

We humans are bent at the core, and we can’t unbend ourselves well enough to work out the kinks. The entire Story of Redemption expands from here.  God the Father sacrificed God the Son, who lived a perfect human life free of sin and its pollution and twistedness, so that we can be given – as a free gift – the right-ness we humans do not possess since the Fall.

****

I’ve come to doubt nearly everything Creationist that I was taught, mostly because astronomy and evolutionary biology have mountains of evidence on their side, coupled with my long study of how literature works (and Hebrew itself). I mean, we went to the Field Museum in Chicago last summer and I saw — no lie – half a dozen fossils that could easily be the “missing links” that Answers in Genesis people mock. When the evidence is staring you in the face, it’s hard not to realize that literally 24-hour, 6 day creationists are doing argumentative backflips to maintain a highly literalist interpretation of 3 chapters of the Bible, mostly because they’ve also built a theological house of cards that uses literal creationism as a keystone to the entire house of literalist evangelical bullet points. Pull out the keystone and their structure collapses.  (Not that Christianity itself collapses. Evangelicalism is a mere blip within a two-thousand year history of the Church. Thank God.)

http://www.instagram.com/p/BU7edPQg8Hr/

 

That aside, and truly that’s a discussion for another day, I have no problem believing in the special creation of Adam and Eve, of humans being created in God’s image (though we’re not really sure what that means), of God giving his special creation a level of choice with unparalleled and destructive consequences.

I am a firm believer in the Fall, of humanity given a choice to trust God or no.  From this flows the whole problem of evil.  I don’t have an answer for you. Go climb the wisdom of the ages and seek for yourself. It’s complicated.

It’s because I believe that God gave Man a choice, and we failed in that choice, that I believe firmly in Redemption, in Grace, in Love, and in genuine Evil. (Thanks to Milton, the Fall is a fascinating moment in the story of mankind, and Satan should be ever thankful to Paradise Lost giving him such a rich character. “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”)

And that Fall, that permanent twist in the soul of every human who’s ever lived, this is on my mind a lot in 2018.

*****

Let me tell you, 2018 has been an experience.  A rip-roaring ride through the best and worst that I’ve seen of humanity with my own two eyes.

Let’s see. In the past couple weeks, I’ve seen people vilify immigrants and justify that by raising American border laws to the level of a moral code. Those same people have shrugged at the separation of children from their parents in the same of “discouraging illegal immigration.”  I’ve witness a profound ignorance of the effects of American foreign policy on other regions of the world. (Short version: why is life so bad in Latin America? Go read up on imperialism, colonialism, and the American war against communism during the Cold War years, then the War on Drugs in the past 30 years. If you just read about the history of the 20th century till now in Latin America, you’ll get the picture.)

I’ve read the news from Syria with one eye open, barely. It’s devastating. Also South Sudan, Yemen, the massacre of like 150 Mexican candidates for election.  We’ve got wars in several spots of the globe. Meanwhile, our president is punching every ally in the eye as he lumbers through a NATO summit on his way to meet with Putin, the latest Russian strongman.

I’ve watched multiple reports of Americans screaming at people they think are immigrants to go home — as if Americans didn’t steak every single scrap of this nation’s land from the people who were here already.  We glorify rich men, men of power, puss-grabbing men who lie boldly and get away with it.

Our planet is heating up. Our love for red meat and fast cars and air conditioning has spread to the developing world, where the overrun of environment impact from these Western practices will likely raise the oceans and flood island nations and costal cities globally by the 22nd century.

But hey, we’ll all be dead then, right?

Why care for the poor when we can blame them instead? Why provide health insurance when we can instead make it easier for insurance companies to make money off of death and disease? Why tip the balance in support of workers rights when capitalism runs off exploiting labor for the benefit of owners and stockholders?

****

Nobody warned me that my 40s would be a time of such…. anger.

I watched two particularly well-written episodes of GLOW last night (season 2, episodes 4 and 5). It’s a light Netflix dramedy about an early 80s women’s wrestling show, based on historical events. I love the acting and the casting, and the story’s been solid through both seasons.  The two episodes we watched last night tackled first the “exploitation” nature of the wrestling show and its use of racial and ethnic stereotypes as entertainment. You could argue (as I’ve learned from my hubby, who’s been absorbing movie criticism on YouTube) that such shows provoked people – those with an already developed sense of irony – to recognize the actual exploitation that made such shows work. But it’s still hard to watch a black woman throw herself into the ring under the moniker “welfare queen” and not hear the dogwhistle of racism in Reagan’s (and Nixon’s) politics which made that character so relevant to the early 80s.

Episode 5 showed us a Weinstein-esque encounter between a central GLOW character and a station executive. I cringed the whole time. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt angry. Look, I have almost never attracted sexual attention from men during my adult years – I chalk it up to being fat and not particularly attractive. But I know this is what so many of my sisters put up with every day at work. Whether it’s getting catcalled or hit on or treated to the soft misogyny of low expectations as a woman or dismissed or talked over during a meeting or having our ideas absorbed by the male manager who brought them up to someone up the power structure, a power structure we didn’t have access to …. we women know what these things are. We’ve lived them.  I’m angry.

*****

Lately my attitude has been pretty dark. Not as in “not hopeful,” though I have no reason to assume America will drag itself forward rather than backward.  I do tend to think that history progresses, and I’m thankful that many people are actually aware of concepts like white privilege, soft racism, or the highly negative mental health impact of constantly telling LGBTQ+ people they’re either sinning or an abomination or (at best) a mistake. That’s progress.

But I’m thinking it’s good that God promised not to do another worldwide Flood. Because I’m ready to burn the whole thing down, right here and right now.  We humans are a piss-poor example of the Divine.  I’m tired of the exploitation of the poor and weak by the strong and rich.  I get the imprecatory Psalms now, much better than I did when I was a young person.

Psalm 5 NIV
from Bible Gateway

A perfect Barcelona itinerary

 

If you’re planning to visit Barcelona, I’d like to offer a tested, enjoyed, and real-life itinerary for a perfect visit.  How do I know? I just got home! 😉

Tip #1:  Take your time

We spent 8 days in the city, arriving on a Monday (midday) and leaving the following Monday afternoon.  Barcelona was our home base, and aside from a few day trips, we didn’t try to travel beyond the borders of Catalonia.

Why?  Barcelona is a city best absorbed slowly, one sip at a time, one sunset at a time.

We’ve traveled through Europe several times, usually cramming in everything we can, moving from city to city every few days. It’s exciting but also exhausting. This time, we set aside that little twang of FOMO pain (“But we’re so close to Madrid!”) and agreed that we would stay put.  The result? A fantastic, interesting, restful vacation that brought us home with great memories instead of exhaustion.

Tip #2: Get to the locals

With AirBnB and other companies offering excursions and adventures, there’s no reason not to get out there beyond the museums and cafes to experience local culture.  A few of our highlights:

  • Sailing the Mediterranean Sea at sunset — AirBnB Experience led by a fantastic sailor on his gorgeous sailboat (link). The evening concluded with tapas and wine at the marina where we chatted with our new-found friends.
  •  Making paella with a local in Sitges – AirBnB Experience.  Not only did we get to eat delicious paella, the ingredients were as fresh as that morning’s catch, we enjoyed visiting the local market (so much fish!), and we learned a lot about local culture from our host chef Rosa.  She took us on a mini tour of Sitges as well, a lovely beach town a short train ride down the coast. Once we were done with lunch, we were free to roam the city and enjoy the beach.

Making gazpacho and paella with Rosa in Sitges! @airbnb

A post shared by RameyLady (@lorojoro) on

Tip #3: Don’t overdo it

We developed a rule back when we took students on field trips to big cities or overseas: one museum a day, and two “big things” a day, max.  It’s just as true for adults as teens: you need downtime to really soak in what you just saw.

It’s tempting to cram as much as you can into every day, because “you only live once!” and “sleep when you’re dead.”  But you’ll get much more out of the experience if you select just a few museums, parks, cathedrals and the like to fill your days.

Tip #4: Embrace the snack culture of Barcelona

I loved Barcelona for many reasons, but topping my list is their ability to spread little snacks throughout the day. It makes touring much more fun:  finish up an activity, then beeline for the nearest cafe for an inexpensive yet tasty cafe con leche and pastry or a bit of jamon.  Retreat to a museum during the heat of the day, then find some churros and chocolate.  Kick off the late afternoon with some vermouth and patatas bravas.

Barcelonans seem to snack their way through the day yet without overloading their calorie budget at any one point. It was a great way to experience many tastes and views around the city.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Depart on international flight

Day 2: Land in Barcelona.  Check into AirBnB and get settled and refreshed.  Tour Park Guell. Visit local grocery store for basic supplies: yogurt and cereal for breakfasts, fresh fruit for snacks, and wine, jamon, cheese, bread etc for suppers at the apartment.

Pro tip: stay up on your feet until local bedtime to get over jet lag faster. It’s brutal but worth it in the end. 

Day 3: Day trip to Sitges. AirBnB Experience: Paella in Sitges (8am-2pm). Went with our host Rosa to the market to buy fresh fish and seafood for the paella and vegetables for gazpacho. Cooked and ate like royalty!   Beach day in Sitges; light snack before taking the train home. Supper at the apartment.

Pro tip: The train system in Europe will take you nearly anywhere you want to go, but it can get expensive. Our tickets to Sitges were only 3 or 4 Euros after the station attendant explained we could buy a pack of 10 rides for a reduced rate.  We were traveling with someone fluent in Spanish, but if that hadn’t been the case, I would have done more research before arriving at the station. Don’t expect to find English speakers working the windows. 

Photo

Day 4:  After a brief ramble down Las Ramblas looking for coffee, we did Montjuic Fort (in the morning) and Gardens (afternoon). Leisurely breaks throughout the day including coffee and lunch at the Juan Miro Foundation. Lovely cable car ride up the mountain and back.  Sailing the Mediterranean and Sunset Tapas: AirBnB Experience. Supper at a restaurant on the shore.

Pro tip:  Learn to use public transportation! We did a few taxi rides the first day or so until we got our bearings, but the metro stop was a short walk from the apartment and we used the bus system several times. With Google Maps on your phone and international data (or a local SIM Card), you can get anywhere you need to go without having to plan everything down to the detail. It’s great! Such a change from our trips to Europe just a decade ago!  

We also traveled with a laptop and the house had free WiFi, so we spent a few minutes each evening researching the next day’s adventures. 

Day 5: Day trip to Girona. Rented a car and drove to Girona. Stopped off in Blanes (one of the Costa Brava towns) along the way to visit a friend and have lunch there – crepes at a seaside shop. (Needed a break from ham sandwiches.) Toured Girona (site of Game of Thrones filming – Circi’s “walk of shame”) with views of the cathedral, the old city, and the city walls.   Toured the Museum of Cinema there, which was an absolute delight.  Drive home. Supper in the apartment.

The medieval church of Girona, famous for its backdrop in several Game of Thrones scenes

One of our group decided to spend the day on her own, and visited a Gaudi museum and did some city walking and exploring. We enjoyed swapping stories about our divergent experiences that evening.

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Day 6:   Sleep in!  It was Friday, and we were all pretty tired, so we enjoyed a very leisurely morning at the apartment. Lunch at Tasso, a great little lunch and tapas place near La Sagrada Familia. Back to Montjuic. After an unsuccessful attempt to see the cathedral without having purchased tickets in advance, we changed our plans….  In the afternoon we all went to the National Museum of Art, and walked down the Montjuic paths to a local Churro shop for our first real taste of churros and chocolate – magical!  That churro shop was well off the beaten track, and the owner poured us some of the biggest drinks (whiskey, scotch, gin & tonic) I’ve ever seen for an incredibly affordable price. 

Day 7:  Half of us toured the Gardens and Olympic Stadium and Plaza in the morning while the other half caught up on sleep.  The Olympic area is well worth your time!

Pro tip: We use AirBnB for travel lodging  because you can’t beat having a whole apartment or house as a retreat when you’re genuinely tired. There’s little that a hotel could offer that we didn’t have at our AirBnB (aside from a pool, but we were in a coastal city), and much that an apartment can provide which far outshines any hotel I could ever afford.

Awake, we went out to a little cafe for lunch then gaped at the awe-inspiring beauty of La Sagrada Familia. Get tickets online in advance! Plan to spend a while at the cathedral just soaking up the beauty.

La Sagrada Familia cathedral

Off to the Gothic Quarter for shots of vermouth and a late afternoon snack. The vermouth was a house blend and it was just fantastic. Wish we had done that earlier in the week.  We shopped a bit too and enjoyed wandering the Gothic Quarter for its architectural interest and quirky little side streets – definitely recommend!  Later in our trip, we found the best souvenir shopping here.  Wrapped up the day by seeing the Maritime Museum – I’d give it 3/5 stars.

Day 8: Leisurely brunch at a lovely little shop lear Plaza Catalunya off Las Ramblas.  Strolling!  Finally back out for a delicious final evening meal in Barcelona at a Basque place  recommended by a friend of a friend, and more wandering in the Gothic Quarter and down by the Port.

Rejected: Mount Tibidabo. We could see it from our apartment, but after researching the fees to ride up the mountain for the views, and the insane price to get in to ride the ferris wheel, we decided to use our day in other ways.

Day 9: Shopping and departure!  We don’t recommend leaving shopping for the final day of a trip, but that’s how it ended up for us. Thankfully, we found some neat souvenirs in the Gothic Quarter, and hauled everything back to the apartment for final packing and taxi ride to the airport.

Pro Tip: We should have checked into whether shops would be closed on Sunday.  They were.  Everything was closed except restaurants.  Really put a wrinkle in our shopping plans.

Final Thoughts

Barcelona was a delightful city for a one-week stay.  It felt more like becoming friends rather than rampaging through the city.

This was the itinerary that worked for us.  It didn’t include as much wine as we’d expected; we found that tapas and jamon got tiring after a few days too.  But coffee breaks were a consistent source of happiness, and we had no trouble finding beautiful places to explore.

In retrospect, I’m very thankful we booked the AirBnb Experiences for paella and sailing, because those gave us such a rich exposure to people and places we would have missed otherwise.

I’m also thrilled that we took the time and trouble to rent a car and drive to Girona. It’s a beautiful medieval city, and the Cinema Museum was one of the neatest collections I’ve ever seen – for just 5 Euros!

My only disappointment was that we had trouble finding good souvenirs. Many of the “tourist junk shops” were owned by people with zero connection to the city, and the merchandise there was worse than usual. Hucksters were swarming us at most popular sites, but their wares were subpar and derivative. Ugh.   Museum shops didn’t really offer a great selection of merchandise worth taking home for the price they were charging.

We’re used to European cities having a signature product that makes a perfect gift. Barcelona offered many wonderful experiences, but little to take home.  Las Ramblas and the shopping districts are fun, but I don’t think of Gucci or Prada or Zara as places to buy souvenirs, just as I don’t shop Fifth Avenue when I visit New York.  We did buy some vermouth (Yzagerre, if I remember the brand correctly) at a grocery store and some chocolate and saffron. I found a neat t-shirt at a local shop in the Gothic quarter along with a few other real gems in that area.  If you’re headed to Barcelona, start looking for your take-home gifts early and often.

But if that’s the worst I can say, it was a great trip! 😉

We’re lucky to have a couple friends whose travel style matches ours. Go find yourself a few people who will be your adventurers, and good luck on the Path! 

I’ll upload the best of our photos as soon as I get them sorted and edited.