Piss Whorening

This morning I am thinking about profanity, and auto-correct. (This morning will not be appropriate to read aloud.)

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday, and it came up how her phone wants to change “fuck” into “duck,” or “Huck,” or “guck.” And I know this is a common complaint — I usually get “ducking” on my phone, as in the well known phrase, “Are you ducking with me?” of “What the duck is wrong with that guy?” — but I said, what if you had a phone that actually changed innocent words into similarly-spelled curse words?

“I went to the fuck pond in Central Park yesterday, but all the fucks were gone. Not a fuck to be seen. It’s too bad: I like feeding the fucks.”

“I like those paper bitch trees, you know? The ones with the top layer you can just peel off?” “Oh, the white bitches? Yeah!” (*Special note: I would include this in the actual blog, but it’s a travesty and an offense against one of my favorite poets, so I’ll just tell you: read Robert Frost’s poem “Birches” and change that R to a T  throughout it. Here.)

“Dammit, I just spilled coffee [cockee?] all over my dress shit! I just ruined my favorite shit!”

 

My two favorites, which came out of the conversation with my friend, are:

“I got my shirt stuck in my belt fuckle!”

and

The Adventures of Fuckleberry Finn. By Mark Twat.

 

As I should always do, I’ll end with the words of the master:

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This Morning

This morning I’m thinking about choices. And about fate.

And about these two.

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These are my babies. The fluffy one on the left is Samwise, and the little girl with the house-elf ears is Roxie.

 

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A better picture of Roxie

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Samwise’s close-up

They both came from PACC, the county animal shelter near here. Samwise was first; we brought him home in 2014, just a few months after our first dog Charlie died.

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This is me and Charlie, holding paws while we pursue our favorite hobbies.

Samwise was not our first choice. We’d been walking dogs at the shelter for a few months, partly as therapy and partly to keep an eye out for a good boy or girl to bring home. We had just decided that we were ready for another dog, and we found a different dog, a Whippet mix named Henry, if I remember right, and took him out for a nice long walk with his kennel buddy. Henry was great: he was happy and energetic, and smaller and less dominant than Charlie had been — he was part Chow-Chow, and was so alpha he made other dogs pee just by looking at them. We went home and thought about it, and then back to the shelter the next day to get Henry. But first we took him for another walk: and he freaked out. Completely. He was making a strange whining noise, walking erratically, and he kept jumping on his kennel buddy and trying to sort of play, sort of bite his ear. He wasn’t sick or anything, just acting entirely different from how he had acted the day before. And far more aggressive/invasive to another dog; the kennel buddy, who was bigger and more dominant, almost started to fight a couple of times, and we had to walk them separately.

So we decided not to bring Henry home. I’m sure somebody else took him, and I’m sure he’s a great dog; but we were still recovering from losing Charlie, and we weren’t  ready for that much of a challenge.

Somewhat despondently, we split up and walked around the kennels, looking at the other dogs, wondering if there was anyone else we might like. And when I looked down the row, there was this little face, resting on the bottom of the cage door, looking out at me.

 

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It may be hard to tell from the picture, but he didn’t look well: he was far too thin, his fur was thin and patchy. And he looked sad. And scared. I went over and said hello, and then I went and got my wife, and we took him out for a walk. We went to a bench outside the shelter, and he came up to us and put his paws on our hands, one on each.

So we took him home. Really, what choice did we have?

Turns out that he was a special needs adoption: his first owner had apparently abandoned him onto the streets of Tucson, and he had spent some number of — days? Weeks? Months? — living on whatever he could find, which is how he got so thin and why his fur was short and patchy: they had had to cut off tangled mats of fur, and he had scratches and was malnourished. He was also plagued by fleas and ticks, and in the time he spent on the street, he had developed tick fever, a parasite infection that produces anemia. Tick fever requires fairly expensive blood tests (About $300 every six months to a year) and a long run of antibiotics to treat, and so Sam (He was named Benny, then, but that was a moniker picked by the shelter; whatever motherfucker had him and then threw him out onto the street didn’t have any right to pick a name for him.) had been adopted and returned, twice, by people who balked at the expense. He was basically on his last strike when we took him; if we hadn’t, he probably would have been put to sleep, because of his illness.

The tick fever is chronic, it turns out, but also, Sam is now so happy and healthy that his blood count is essentially normal and he lives without symptoms. It also turns out that he’s fluffy as hell, and the best, sweetest, smartest, calmest boy I have ever known. We call him our Goodwill Ambassador, because he’s far friendlier and more outgoing than his introverted parents, and he never fails to be upbeat and pleasant; we’ve taken him to school, to farmer’s markets, to California, and he has been swarmed by children looking to pet him, and he always sits calmly and lets them. He’s very soft.

But then, after Sam had lived with us for almost two years, my wife went back to work full-time outside of the house, and Samwise was left alone all day. We worried that he was lonely — and I wanted a second dog, I admit; Charlie was my first dog, Sammy is my second, and I’ve never had two. And so we went back to the shelter to find him a sister.

And we did.

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Roxie was also not our first choice. They had puppies at the shelter, and we planned to get one of them, because we wanted to be sure that the new dog would not crowd Sam. We figured it would be fine because Sam is so calm and friendly, but you never know how two dogs are going to react to each other. The puppy would have been ideal, because then Sam could have been the big brother from day one. But after the puppies had been there for a couple of days, and we had gotten to know them a little, their owner turned up and claimed them. So that was out.

But there was this other dog, a tall dog, who every time she saw us, wagged her tail so hard it shook her entire body. She’d whack it against the bars of the cage loud enough to be heard across the room.

That was Roxie.

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Roxie was also found on the street; we don’t know if she was abandoned intentionally, or if she got out and her owners never went looking for her. She wasn’t alone for long, because she was basically healthy when we adopted her, though she was  clearly traumatized and had not been taken care of well. She was unsure about coming in the house, unsure about getting up on the furniture even when invited; she has no idea how to play with toys, and she shrinks away from objects held in the hand, which tells us that she was either hit, or had things thrown at her, or both.

But, as it turns out, she is also the sweetest dog in the world. She is even friendlier than Sam: she wants to meet everyone, and pulls on the leash towards anything that moves within her sight line: people, other dogs, wild rabbits, coyotes, cats, anything. If she meets anyone she tries to lick their hands or faces, and jumps up on people no matter how we try to break her of the habit. She never growls, never threatens or bristles; and always, always, she is wagging her tail.

If her first jackass owner had claimed her, we wouldn’t have been able to take her. If the puppies’ owner hadn’t come forward, we’d probably have one of them instead. If Henry hadn’t freaked out, or if I hadn’t noticed Samwise, or even if Charlie had lived for another year or more, we wouldn’t have these dogs, we wouldn’t have this family.

That’s what I’m thinking about this morning.

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This Morning

This morning I’m thinking about deadlines.

I’m a little afraid I’m going to miss this one, because I woke up this morning without a definite idea of what I was going to write about, and then in trying to think about a topic in the shower (one of my most productive thinking times), I thought of too many topics, and I couldn’t focus on one and follow a line of thought to a conclusion. That’s okay, I often don’t know where these written thoughts will end up when I start them; that is, I know what my opinion is when I start — I’m against deadlines — but I don’t know exactly what I’m going to say about them. Will I end up affirming my opinion? Will I find some compromise? Who knows?

This comes up most often at school, of course. I try not to use deadlines. I don’t quite believe in standards-based grading — which means that the only grade a student should really get is whether or not they have met the standard, and it’s a large topic that I will write about another time (Note to self: SBG.) — but I do agree with a component idea of it, which is that grades should be based on the work a student does, not on a student’s behavior. I think schools have taken on too much of the responsibility for raising our students, and I don’t think it’s good, and personally I don’t want to do it; therefore I don’t want to use the school’s (theoretical) focus, education and achievement, to bully students into doing what they’re told. Giving students a deadline, and then imposing grade penalties when they miss that deadline, is not educating them in a subject; it is an effort to instill a work habit. It’s a good work habit, but that’s more akin to character building than it is to education, and therefore I’m pretty much against it.

Now: I am not against being a model, as a teacher, of good work habits. Good any habits, really; I think it’s important that I be visibly and clearly respectful of others and their opinions, that I be kind and generous, that I explicitly oppose sexism and racism and intolerance and injustice. Without doubt. I think that everyone should do those things all the time with everyone they know: I think I should model good behavior with my wife as well as with my students, though for an entirely different reason: I don’t need to show my wife what good behavior looks like, I need to show her that I know what good behavior looks like so she knows I’m not an asshole. And if that sounds, by the way, like a lot of work, if it sounds like I always have to be performing and therefore I always have to be focused on doing certain things and not others, that’s true, but it also assumes that my relaxed, default state is being an asshole, and it takes extra effort to resist being one when I’m at home; I don’t think that’s true, and if it is, I don’t want it to be.

So I am in favor of meeting deadlines as a teacher. I try. I try to get their work back to them before grades come due. I try to have materials ready in time to use them. I try to have lessons planned well enough in advance that I’m not giving them what they keep asking for, a “work day” or a “free day.”  I do miss all of those deadlines sometimes, especially the grading ones; the most common response I get from my students when I give work back is, “Oh, I forgot about this!” And I give them work days, and I have had to change lesson plans in the moment because I don’t have handouts ready or I couldn’t get the reading done myself the night before.

But that’s the point: things come up. Things don’t work out. I get insomnia, or I have to deal with a sick dog, or my car gets a flat tire. The copy machine breaks, or is full of multi-page math jobs. A student stops me to ask for help, or even worse, comes to me in tears in a crisis. Things happen, and stuff doesn’t get done on time. We all know it: we all live with it constantly. I hate being late for appointments, but sometimes there’s traffic. And sometimes I get to the doctor or the dentist or the hair salon and they’re running late, and they ask me to wait for a little while before they can get to me. I complain all the time about the thousand little tasks that are incessantly assigned to me as a teacher (A colleague of mine refers to this as “death by a thousand cuts.”), and what bothers me most is that they are given artificial and unreasonable deadlines, often without sufficient notice: this year we were asked to contribute to our own evaluations (which is its own travesty — note to self; personal evaluations) and were told we needed to collect “artifacts” (which does have a nice Indiana Jones feel to it, which I like; I kind of want to burst into my principal’s office, sweaty and covered with cobwebs and maybe a couple of blowdarts, and drop a golden idol on his desk and say, “I GOT THE ARTIFACT!”) as evidence of our expertise; but we weren’t told of this in advance, simply given a deadline about a month out, during our busiest time of year. I am not ashamed to say I didn’t make that deadline.

So when I impose deadlines on my students, what am I teaching them? That they are held to a higher standard than me. That I have the power to boss them around, but they can’t return the favor — after all, they never get to tell me when I need to have something graded by, and if they even try, I bristle and get self-righteous about it. On some level, I tell them that their behavior, adhering to a deadline, is more important than their work, because if a student writes an A paper and turns it in late, they don’t get the A; the quality of the work never overrides the lateness of it.

So what priorities am I modeling? When they see their parents missing appointments, running late to work, turning in their taxes on April 16th, and not really suffering very serious penalties, if any; and then I cut their grade in half if they’re a day late, or even a few hours? What does that say?

You know perfectly well what that says. It says the thing we pretty much all said when we were in high school: it’s a joke. It doesn’t prepare us for the real world, because the system in high school is exclusive to high school. It is self-contained. It mimics the real world in a number of ways, but there are a number of things we do in high school because we have traditionally told ourselves that they are preparation for the real world: and then we just do them, without really thinking about them. At some point they become self-sustaining, because we keep trying to think of better ways to make this artificial system work for us; until we stop thinking about why we do it in the first place.

I take it back: that is preparation for the real world. It’s just preparation for the very worst parts of it.

 

Wow, that was longer than I thought it was going to be. But most important: DID I GET IT DONE ON TIME???

This Morning

This morning, I think I have an answer to my question from yesterday morning.

Yesterday, I was wondering what I could say to my wife, to my students, to myself, that would help comfort us in the face of inevitable suffering, and I wished that I could rely on God as that answer, because then I could at least stop thinking about it — and I should have said worrying about it and fretting about it, because that’s the point; it’s not the idea of not thinking, it’s the idea of “let go and let God.” Which I can’t do, but I appreciate that people can.

But I have another cliche that I have gleaned from outside of the fields of the Lord (And that enormously obscure reference is brought to you by the podcast I’ve been listening to, Sunday School Dropouts. Probably also why God has shown up in this atheist’s morning ramblings.), that as I understand it, many churches focus on as the heart of their message (and others may sprinkle in, in between railing against homosexuals and abortion and Democrats in Washington), which is this: God is love.

Once again, that doesn’t work for me. But it comes with another way of looking at it, that I think does fit in nicely with what I’ve been looking for:

Love is God.

That is to say, love is everything. Everything that matters. It is the alpha and the omega, it is the answer to all questions, all doubts and fears. Love. And love, I think, can offer an answer precisely as satisfying  — and not any more satisfying — as can the answer “God.”

What should I tell my students when the future looms ominously over them? Love. Look for love in your life, look for love in what you do; if you don’t find any love in your life, then change it, and if you don’t find any love in what you do, then stop doing it. Don’t work for money, work for love: and I don’t mean to be flippant there, because I am a person who works for money precisely because he cannot live on what he loves; but for me, the money I earn is spent on those I love, and used to give me an opportunity to do what I love, which I am doing right now. So I never mind my job very much, because it is done for love, if not always in love. And yes, sometimes I love my job: I do love books and poetry, and I love writing, and I guess I don’t entirely loathe my students. (No, I love some of them. More, I love the people they become, and the potential I see in them when they are young.)

What do I tell myself when I am in my darkest, foulest, most hopeless moods? Love. I have lost some of my liberal idealism in these last few years, and I have begun to lean a wee bit more conservative; it has made me worry, because I know that this is a common pattern, especially among aging white men, as we start to get a taste of power and become greedy and start worrying about people taking away what we have. And I do not want to be that guy. But I think that so long as I focus on love, so long as my actions and intentions are begun with love in mind, then I won’t turn into someone I would hate. At least some of my shifting to the right is based on the consideration that people on the right can’t be bad people, can’t be evil people, not all of them. (Trump is.) Not any more than there are evil people on the left. It’s not reasonable to take a person’s political leanings as the sole evidence of their morality or their value, or anything else apart from their political leanings; evil people are conservatives, conservatives aren’t evil people. Thinking that makes me give some conservative ideas (like the free market and lower regulation, the independence of states and, perhaps most shocking to me and those who know me, the value of the Second Amendment) the benefit of the doubt, and that makes me move away from my liberal roots.

But that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I’m a liberal or a libertarian or a moderate or an anarchist: so long as I consider what is best for my fellow men, and treat them always with respect and with love, then my ideas will never be bad, even if they are wrong.

I also need to remember this for myself when I am disappointed in my writing career. When I think about how old I am compared to other writers, and when I realize how good I am compared to some other writers — and then when I think about how entirely devoid of success I am compared to most other writers; I need to remember: love. I do this because I love it, because I love the me who does this. And so long as I write for love, with love, and out of love, then I can’t be a failure. I am a writer.

What do I tell my wife when she worries about our future, about what we’ll do for money, about where we’ll live, about how we’ll see the world and how we’ll live in it? I will tell her, as I do as often as I possibly can, that I love her, without limits and without end, and that I always will, and that love will see us through, no matter what else happens. Always. Love.

It doesn’t solve the problems we all face. But then, neither does God. I hope that it brings you some comfort, as it brings me some. I hope that it gives us all the strength to keep fighting towards our goals, and I hope it keeps us from hating those who fight against us, or at least in the opposite direction. I hope that the love in your life is enough to make you smile, as it is for me, even on a Monday morning.

Thank you for reading what I write. I won’t say I love you, because I don’t know you, but I love the fact of you and the existence of you, and what you give to me. Thank you.

Now go love!

This Morning

This morning I understand why people talk about God.

Not why they believe in a god; that is, I think, an entirely personal choice, based on individual feelings, and it’s a choice I haven’t made and feelings I haven’t felt.

But I think I see why people use God in arguments, why they rely on God as an explanation, why they write books and sermons and songs that describe God as the answer. It’s because doing so is comforting. I don’t think it’s easy, because relying on God as the answer means you have to accept some stupid and disturbing answers — like killing is bad unless God does it, war is hell unless it is a holy war in God’s name, the suffering of innocents helps others to recognize the horror of sin — that’s a lot to swallow right there, and you need a whole lot of soul butter to get it down.

Okay, I only said that last  metaphor so I could use the phrase “soul butter.” One of my absolute favorite phrases. Mark Twain. So good. Really, though, it takes a lot of faith to accept those answers, and faith is generally hard to maintain. So I don’t think that God as an answer is easy. But I do think it’s comforting.

The world is large. It is large, and it is inevitable: things happen that are terrible, and they keep happening, and will always keep happening, because even if we conquer the world, the universe is larger still. Disease and disaster and death, disappointment and despair and devastation. And the worst part of all of this is that the world is not only large, but it comes into our small lives and crushes us and those around us intently, intensely, instantly. It would be one thing if the profound absurdity that is the U.S. government affected only those in Washington, only those who wanted to be movers and shakers; I could sit here in my living room, with my dogs beside me and my wife sleeping in the next room, and write my tiny blogs for my few dozen readers (if that), and work with my teacher-friends at my little school teaching literature to my young students, and everything would be fine. But it’s not like that: the government in Washington has a direct and substantial impact on me personally, on my wife, on my friends, on my students. Hell, it has an impact on my dogs: it has an impact on my literature. I keep seeing references to our current political situation in things I read; last night I was re-reading The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, one of my absolute favorite fantasy epics, and I got to the chapter about  Aridhol, the city that had been great, one of the allied nations that fought back the tide of evil, until they grew too desperate, and a man came who whispered poison in the ear of the king, and the city grew dark and evil, paranoid and cold and harsh, until the people turned in on themselves and destroyed themselves out of fear and anger and mistrust, and now the city was Shadar Logoth, Where the Shadow Waits, and the evil is palpable and visible and able to kill anyone who comes inside its borders; and if that isn’t precisely what is happening in this country, right now, then I’m a devout Christian  and a Republican.

The world is large, and because it is large, the things that happen are beyond our control: we can’t stop the world from turning, I can’t stop famine and cancer and drug addiction and rape and death. But those things affect me and those around me directly, all the time. Even when I am insulated from the worst suffering because I am a white middle-class American. Famine, along with other terrible travails in Central America, makes people come to this country; the government cracks down, and one of my students loses his mother because she is deported. Another of my students, one of the smartest kids at the school, can’t get his visa for a month because he needs to be extremely vetted. Cancer and drug addiction are in my family. Rape culture and the violence in our society means that people cannot be vulnerable, they must be on guard at all times — and even then we are not safe from violation, from degradation. And death? How do we deal with death?

How do I tell my wife that things will be all right? How do I tell my students that their lives won’t be devastated by circumstances beyond their control? How do I tell myself those things?

That’s why it must be comforting to be able to say, in all of those difficulties: “God.” God is the answer. God is the reason, and God has a plan. It doesn’t change those terrible things, but it means you at least don’t have to think about them. God is a replacement for thinking, and though that clearly isn’t a good thing, it does sound relaxing, particularly when all the thinking in the world isn’t going to change the fact that we’re all going to die, and we’re not going to die at the same time, and that means all of us will be devastated by loss, one by one, until we are lost ourselves.

And wouldn’t it be nice to think that there is another place where we all get to go hang out together, forever, where everything is nice and nothing is inevitable because nothing changes.

Yes. I understand.

You know what, though? I still don’t wish I believed.

This Morning

This morning, I am going to read.

This morning, I am going to take care of myself.

This morning, I am not going to make excuses.

This morning, I wish you the same.

 

(Also, please note this is my 42nd This Morning post. Hallelujah.)

This Morning

This morning, I’m wondering why people are in such a hurry.

I saw a twit yesterday (You know, on Twitter? They’re called twits, right? I mean, if it were Tweeter they’d be tweets, but since it’s Twitter…) expressing anger at people who “drive slow” in the left lane on the highway. Okay, if someone’s going 10 mph, that’s dangerous; the people driving fast could smash into you. But otherwise: if someone is driving, say, the speed limit in the fast lane, and you want to go 10 or 20 mph over the speed limit, what this means is — you have to slow down. Or you have to change lanes. In the process of which, you might need to slow down a little. But really: if you’re going 75 and you have to come down to 65, how much more time does that trip take you? If you’re going, say, 15 miles, then the time difference is — about three minutes, by my calculations.

Really? Three minutes slower gets an angry twit? How tight are your timeframes that three minutes makes a substantial and important difference to you? Three minutes? And that’s only if your overall speed for the entire trip is curtailed that 10 mph; if it’s only for, what, 30 seconds or a minute until you go around the person or they get out of your way? What does that cost you, maybe 30 extra seconds of driving? Total?

This isn’t about the actual time it takes to commute: it’s about people refusing to slow down at all, for any reason. Refusing to wait.

I had a bad habit at one point, when I started teaching; there was a back road that I took to get to school, and some of my students took it, too, a pleasant little two-lane country road that curved and pirouetted up into the hills. And sometimes when driving to or from school, I would look in my rearview mirror and see students who I recognized, and I would — slow down. A lot. The limit on the road was 25, but I would go down to 10 or 15 mph. Grinning impishly and humming pleasant tunes. I wouldn’t do it for long, and if there were any other cars on the road I’d come back up to regular speed; but I thought it was funny. Then one of my students one morning, stuck behind my ultra-slow-moving blockade, crossed the double yellow line and whipped around me. When I got to school I confronted him:

“You broke the law.”

“You were going so slow!”

“You could have caused a head-on collision!”

“It was taking too long!”

“We weren’t late, why did you have to get here, what, 30 seconds faster? A minute?”

“I didn’t want to wait.”

That’s all. He didn’t have a good reason;  he just didn’t want to drive that slowly. Again, I was messing with him, and I shouldn’t have been, especially not if it was going to precipitate genuinely dangerous driving like that; and I’m aware that there are people reading this who are also thinking, “10 mph?!? I would have crossed into oncoming traffic too!” But I can’t understand that. What the hell is the big deal with going a little slower? With taking a little longer? It’s not like getting to school sooner meant he got extra time in the ice cream dance party extravaganza; he sat around for an extra minute or two before the bell rang and class started. Whenever people speed, whenever you speed — what do you do with that extra time you save? How does that time improve your life?

When I went to get dinner tonight — we had burritos from Chipotle — I had to wait for the food. I ordered online, because I am always going to take the opportunity not to talk to people; I also hate ordering multiple meals all by myself, because I worry I’ll screw the order up, and also I’m afraid the people behind me are mad because I’m only one guy but suddenly I’m ordering TWO meals? That takes twice as long! WHAT THE HELL! But the Chipotle was slammed tonight: when I got there, there were three other people waiting for online orders, and an in-person ordering line that had to be twenty people long. So it took a while. That was fine; I went on  Twitter and wrote a long twit-thread about how much time it takes to be a teacher. I had fun, actually. (And I have to brag: the person who set me off by claiming that teachers don’t have a demanding job, we’re just bitter and don’t manage our time well, has now blocked me. That’s my first angry blocking on Twitter! What a milestone!)

But the people ahead of me? They bitched the entire time. “I’ve been waiting for 30 minutes! Why is this taking so long!” And I thought, I’ve been here for 10, and that whole time the line hasn’t gotten any shorter. “I don’t understand why it takes this long just to make one burrito bowl. It should only take five minutes tops for one bowl.” Uh . . . because they’re not making one bowl? They’re making like fifty? Finally the woman who had been there the longest gave up and walked out: and not five minutes later, they brought out her food. Which then sat there, unclaimed, on the Online Orders shelf. I’m sure they eventually threw it out. And she went home hungry, after 45 minutes of waiting, because she couldn’t wait 50.

I just don’t understand why people can’t wait.