Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Are We Human, Or Are We Dancer?

I ran across, courtesy of my vulture-reading husband, a construct recently that has the capacity to change the way I encounter life. (By accusing Kevin of being a vulture, I mean that he doesn't have the grandiose literary nose that I profess to. He doesn't look at the cover, and then at the publisher, and then at the date, and then smell the pages and read a few paragraphs to hear the author's voice before starting to read a book. If he's interested in the idea, he'll buy the book, give the author a long rein, and glean what he can. Just like a vulture, flying high above the veld to descend onto whatever train wreck of a carcass lies rotting under the baobab tree. Even if the stench reaches the stratus cloud levels, the meat can still be quite tasty if you can hold your breath long enough.)

Here's the idea, taken from Robert Fritz's book Creating: along with a myriad of other responses to our present, there are two responses that can determine how we process our daily living. The performer approaches life as if it is a performance. She plays a role in front of an audience. Because she is role playing, she has lines to learn and to deliver, and a precise set of blocked out actions to follow. When things don't go according to plan, the performance is a failure. Ergo, she is a failure. On the other hand, the learner approaches life's activities as opportunities to learn. When things don't go as planned, she stops, looks around, figures out what worked and what didn't and goes on. Mistakes are accecpted as an inevitable part of learning. They are not greeted with dismay, shame or embarrassment. Even horrible mistakes don't reflect on her inherent worth. They are indications that that particular approach is not going to work--at all.

They also indicate she is nowhere near to mastering the skill she’s practicing, whether that skill is public speaking, being married, raising a particular child, teaching, litigating a trial, or being a good neighbor and friend. According to Malcolm Gladwell, who cites other studies inOutliers, about 10,000 hours of practice is the tipping point to mastering a particular skill, whether it is the violin, tennis, bass guitar or computer programming. Taking that as a guide, think about how many hours you’ve spent at a particular endeavor. Then consider how many more hours you still have to invest to become a master coach, master wife, master husband, master parent, or master gardener.

I coach a soccer team of ten and eleven year old boys, including my son Adam. We've dominated every team this season, except yesterday. Yesterday, we lost 3-2. The average winning margin in previous games has been about 8-0. The team we lost to lost 8-1 to a team we beat 4-3. (Probably didn't help that the one linesman who negated two of our goals for offsides was the older brother of one of the opposing team's players! And that the final goal against us was a penalty kick on a flop. But, no sour grapes in this story. And in the next life, no 13-year old center refs who show up 20 minutes late because their mom was at parent-teacher conference and couldn't give them a ride.) So, essentially, you have a team of young boys who are great soccer players, and who over the course of the season, have been able to move away from the passing attack we started out the season with to individualistic runs down the wing (at a pretty good speed) and shots on goal into the top corner. This approach works when you have an undisciplined, slower team to play against. But yesterday's team had speed, and two players who could control the ball. So, we lost, even though we controlled the ball 70 percent of the time.

Now, for a performer coach, such as me, the loss could be devastating. It would mean that the performance went horribly wrong. The unbeaten record is gone. If the whole purpose is to give a good performance, and good is measured by winning, then we failed yesterday. (I will admit that the performer coach in me woke up at two this morning and couldn't sleep because I was playing the key moments of the game through my mind, and castigating myself for not preparing the team better. So I read the latest Sandra Brown novel (high brow literary taste!) to conclusion, and fell back to sleep at 5. 30.)

But to a learner coach, whose purpose is to teach soccer to these boys, that lost game is actually a really great teaching tool. The season hasn't really afforded us opportunities to learn that if you don't play fundamentally sound soccer, with a passing game that moves forward, backwards and sideways using the center as a fulcrum, then you have a one dimensional attack. They haven't, until yesterday, been on the learning end that a lone attacker who will not or cannot pass the ball to his support is easily contained in a double team. We learned all that yesterday. Sometimes, you can't learn those very important soccer lessons and still win. My job next training session is to communicate this to the boys, and to return to the horrible possession drill that they hate to play but which makes them so good at moving off the ball and looking for the pass. If my approach to the next few training sessions is to reinforce what they still need to master, then we're really learning how to play and coach soccer.

True confession: I think I am a performer lover, or at least have been in the past. Somehow in my brain, I had it wired that only people with perfect bodies could make perfect love. Making love was a performance—a well crafted, soft music playing (sometimes soaring orchestras with string sections), genteel kind of experience which leaves you glowing and stroking each other's faces. But making love well is also a noisy, sticky, messy enterprise. I can't think of how many times my brain had slowed down enough to stop thinking about what I would serve for dinner the next Sunday or what tiles would look better in the downstairs bathroom to register that what Kevin was doing down the left side there was really quite enjoyable. Just as I would be about to surrender myself to the sheer physicality of us, I would hear my stomach flap against his. And that noise would ruin everything. My love bubble would crumple.

You see, in my making love performance, you don't have stomachs flapping against each other scripted in. That's just not a part of the performance, of the ideal session. And if they did flap and flop, then it wouldn't be something to laugh at together. It would be an embarrassment. It would be me getting it wrong again. There's no fluids either, in performance love, or yeast infections, or flatulence, or leg cramps that tie you up like a hog. And because those events feature in my lovemaking, obviously, we must not be very good lovers, by performance standards. (Kevin's thinking we just need to hit 10,000 hours!)

If I were a learner lover, I would be willing to tell Kevin where and when and how and how quickly without feeling embarrassed (performance lovers know exactly when and where without having to articulate, I suppose). I would be able to laugh out loud, even scream if I wanted to (but not because that's what they do in the movies). I would be intent on learning how to make love as well as our two bodies and souls could, bodily fluids, noises and fat included. There would be no script and no standard of measurement except how we both felt at the end of it. And I would be utterly free to say, "I don't bend that way. Let's see if you do."

How about performance religiosity? I just returned from a walk with a friend of mine. She's worried that she cannot stand and unequivocally state that she believes that all the doctrines and the practices of her church are true. Because she cannot do that, she feels that she is apostate, and that she might as well give up now. Applying this performance/learner worldview to her dilemma, I question which script it is that establishes that we must know everything absolutely. Where is it stated that in order to be a faithful member of a religious community you have to have an unwavering knowledge, even belief, that all of its doctrines are correct? I don't know. Perhaps some of us act as if we do know. Our language is unequivocally without doubt. Our examples we use are capable of only one interpretation. The moments of inspiration deliver messages with complete clarity. When faced with such absolute certainty, I can't help but think, "Me thinks thou dost protest too much." But that might be me self-reflecting my own insecurities. Nevertheless, in every faith community, there is an ideal. Living up to the ideal can lead, if we are not honest with ourselves, to us becoming performers delivering lines and moving through scripted events right on cue. Some of those lines concern what we do and do not know to be true.

The idea that one must know and know absolutely in order to be a faithful member seems to me to be part of performance faith. It's part of that script we think we must live out in order to fit. When we fail to feel the part, we feel there can be no place for us in this particular passion play. But, the whole notion of knowing absolutely as part of religious faith is a contradiction of the very term, faith. In order to have faith, I choose to believe in the face of doubt. I am moved by the letters of Mother Teresa, published after her death, in which it is revealed that she experienced periods of great religious doubt, even darkness. She wrote to a confidant, "Jesus has a very special love for you. . . . [But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand." If I am learning to be faithful, I let doubt live alongside the things I do know. In Mother Teresa's case, she lived with the darkness beside the light for forty years. If I am to learn how to be faithful, the moments in which I feel to have no faith and all doubt are absolutely necessary. How else can I learn that faith is choice, and that I want to be faithful? I can't flee because I find myself in a place that is uncomfortable to me. I can't squish the doubt like an unwanted bug. The things I don't know I put gently on a shelf, and, maybe later, I'll take them out to look at them again when I have the inclination or need to really know. I have 10,000 hours of learning to be faithful before I can expect any kind of mastery from myself. I can be patient.

As a learner of faith, I am figuring out how to be faithful. In the learning, there is a risk that I will be faithless as I try to figure out what faith is and how I need to be faithful (not my neighbor's faithful, not the PTA president's faithful, not the skinny blonde who stays size 2 when nine months pregnant faithful; just my faithful). Learning faith requires a willingness to be wrong, to make mistakes, and to ask difficult questions for which there might not be institutional answers, but which answers can come personally. Learning faith requires me to recognize that acquiring this attribute/skill won't always be comfortable and that I will feel out of sorts, discombobulated, and stretched—just like trying to get back in shape after four children and fifteen years off. Part of learning to have faith means learning that it's okay not to know.

I recognize it's easier to become a learner when you live with learners and have raised learners. It's easier to try something a little different when there's no cosmic significance attached to your efforts, blown though they may be. When you live with learners, your entire life becomes your laboratory. The next step becomes something interesting, the outcome a little unknown. When you live with performers and perform yourself, the next step can become undercut with anxiety. The desired outcome is so specific and predetermined that anything but the bull's-eye can often seem like a failure. How often do we manage to hit the bull's-eye? Not too often. Thus, the lives of performers are colored by a nagging sense of failure, of not being good enough. Speaking from experience, it's rather an exhausting way to live.

Title: from "Human" by The Killers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Man of Constant (Useless) Sorrow

About a month ago, Kevin and I were walking along the railroad trail that runs through the center of Bermuda. The air was thick, and the trees overhead made a tunnel through which we walked. Every twenty minutes or so, we ran across another remnant of the British colonialism that I was so familiar with as a child. A stone marker, into which is perfectly etched the mileage from a certain point, perhaps Flatt's Village or Simonstown, and the initials of the political body to which the particular stretch of railroad belonged: B.N.R.R. (Bermuda National Rail Road), or, from memory, C.C.C. (Cape City Council) or S.A.R. (South African Railways).

Our topic of conversation, sprinkled liberally with my Tourette-like observations about our surroundings (hens with chickens, orange-gabled houses, hibiscus hedges, parish workers clearing vegetation with machetes, the cost of real estate), dwelt on guilt and remorse, and what the difference is between the two. Kevin started off the conversation as he always does: "So, I was reading today about these ideas. I want to run them by you . . . ." He went on to explain Wayne Dyer's concept of erroneous zones: that we have in us emotional areas in which we spend time that doesn't do us any good. By good, he means, cannot do anything to affect the present for good. To illustrate, Dyer uses the example of telling somebody that you're tired, or that you're not feeling well. He asks, what good does it do to tell somebody that you're tired? What can they do about it? How does it make you feel any better about your present state? Does it make you less tired? No. So, Dyer says, complaining about your tiredness to a poor soul who can do nothing about it except listen to you grumble, is actually abusing that soul. Now, if there is something they can do, like watch the kids while you close your eyes for ten minutes, then that's useful conversation because it positively affects the present. But, just to kvetch about the general state of tiredness with no hope of improvement, well, what's the point? The complaining just keeps you bathed in self-pity, and essentially immobilizes you in your tiredness.

So, Kevin says as we round the golf course, and come upon a field of zucchini hidden behind vines and stone walls, one of the areas in which we are fundamentally flawed is guilt. According to Dyer, guilt is the most useless of behaviors, and by far the greatest waste of emotional energy. We spend time in the feeling, worrying about what has happened in the past, contaminating the present with guilt, which does nothing to make the present or the future any better.

As Kevin spoke, I couldn't help thinking that perhaps we confuse legal and spiritual constructs of guilt. And that in the confusion, we prevent ourselves from moving forward and up and out of the guilty state.

Guilt, as a legal construct, is a pronouncement of a particular condition in which you are measured against the law using the rules of evidence. You either are, or are not, guilty of, for example, manslaughter. In other words, if you're found guilty, there is enough evidence, taking whatever evidence has been admitted into consideration, to find that it is significantly more than likely (criminal burden of proof) that you, even though you didn't mean to or plan to, you killed the old lady crossing against the light but within the crosswalk. You might be found guilty even if you haven't' actually done the act with which you have been charged. It's the judge or jury who gets to decide after looking at all the evidence (or the color of your skin in certain places) whether there is a likelihood that you did what they say you did.

There is always a punishment attached to being found guilty. This punishment can be a fine, an act (orange overalls in which to pick up trash), or detention for a time frame. Rationales surrounding punishment vary. Some say that the reason to sentence people to time is to punish them; others believe that it is to rehabilitate the offenders. That the time spent in prison will turn the offender from one who would steal to one who would work. Another reason to sentence people to prison is as a deterrent factor. Some think that knowing that a particular punishment is attached to a particular crime will act as a deterrent—supposedly the logic behind the three strikes and you're out approach taken to petty drug crime in the late eighties and nineties i.e., you will not distribute heroin, or buy it, if you know that you will face an enhanced jail sentence of at least ten years if you are caught this time. Being found guilty doesn't have to translate immediately into punishment. Sometimes, for example, when you get a traffic ticket and the city in which you have been caught (Provo, Sandy, American Fork, but not Pleasant Grove or Heber, speaking from experience) has a traffic school, you enter a plea in abeyance, which means that you are confessing your guilt but that the penalty attached to the crime will be suspended if you complete the conditions upon which the plea is based. If you don't complete traffic school, within the time allowed, the legal guilt resurrects itself and, having been found guilty, you are subject to punishment.

While legal guilt and punishments attached are familiar to us, problems arise when we transfer legal principles of guilt to the conditions of our emotional and spiritual lives. Guilt, generally, is emotional or psychological state in which we recognize that we have violated a moral standard, or, in the opposite, we not done something which we should have. In the face of our actions or inactions, we feel responsible for the position in which we find ourselves. As an emotion, guilt is useful. That sweeping sense of distance that fills you when you realize how far you are from what you thought you were. Some describe it as an oily sensation. I sense it as a chasm that opens up and pushes the present me away from what I imagined myself to be. Those moments, painful as they are, are crucial. For me, anyway, they are times I see myself clearly. I see what I am and what I want to be, and the two can only be seen at the same time by using my peripheral vision. This feeling of distance then is the by-product of guilt and it should propel me from the moment it came into view to creating a different present and future, and a different me. This, I think, is guilt put to good use.

There are other times, when guilt becomes a behavior, and a perfectly useless one at that. Guilt as a behavior is a constant return, again and again, to the site of the crime. By returning, we confuse the emotional and legal constructs of guilt and condemn ourselves to serving time in guilt that is absolutely unnecessary. Note: there is no jury or judge pronouncing guilt externally; it's our internal dog, off its leash, that returns again and again to its own vomit.

To illustrate this principle, I am reminded of a long conversation I had with a friend of mine a few weeks ago. We were speaking about the newly married issues we all face or faced: physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, in-laws, career choices, how much is enough? She had had a long running (even before she got married) sense that her mother-in-law disapproved of her every choice, including perhaps the choice of her son. This sense of disapproval was so strong that she couldn't be in the same room with her mother-in-law when opinions were being expressed, in particular opinions about whether women should go to graduate school, should work while raising children, should move away from their hometowns, should run while nursing etc, etc. My friend felt like all these comments were aimed particularly at her. From an outsider listening in, I could see a very well-meaning, essentially sweet, interested woman in her mid to late fifties offering running commentary based on her own experience to fill the verbal space between her and her young daughter-in-law. But the daughter-in-law, caught in her idea that her mother-in-law disapproved of her every breath, interpreted the conversation as a diatribe against her every action. I told her, "Just ignore her. Let her talk. She doesn't mean any harm. She doesn't intend any offense. Talk to her about it. Does she know you feel this way? " I repeated this over and over again. Her response was interesting: "I could never talk to her. I feel so guilty, so guilty that things are like this between us." Every time I suggested an action that she could take to improve the situation, like a discussion, or a letter, or a phone call, or an interest in the mother-in-law, my friend cried, "I could never. I just feel so bad that things are like this. I feel so guilty." I was lying on the couch by this time, my head sunk into one of the pillows. After about the fifth exclamation of guilt, I raised my head and almost-shouted, "Well stop! Stop feeling guilty. Do something about it."

I do the same thing with my house. I work from home. In my "I want to be a princess" brain, I would love to have a beautifully clean, neat home, where even the fitted sheets are perfectly folded in squares and stored in colour coordinated, cedar lined linen closets. I would love to have the beds made every day—by housekeeping. When I walk by my son's bedroom to see the duvet crumpled at the foot of his bed, I feel guilty. Guilty as in, "Oh jeez, when will I be able to pull my act together and either make his bed or raise kids that will make their own beds?" Does my brain acknowledge that 90 seconds of effort would produce the result that I desire? If I just stopped on my walk past his bedroom and pulled up sheets, straightened the duvet, it would make every subsequent walk past that bedroom today pleasant. . . . (I just went and did it; 73 seconds). So, what is it about feeling guilty about not having children who make their beds that I enjoy more than a made bed? What is it that causes me to live with my finger pushing on the yellow center of my soul's bruise, to feel the deep pain, in preference for moving on and making the bed?

First, guilt is an easy, effortless state to be in. Far easier to sit in guilty than to move on, out and forward. But, our souls are not part of a penal system that hands out time to offenders. There is no statute that says that daughters-in-law who walk out of the room on their in-laws have to spend 18 months feelings guilty, and then another 18 on probation. We can commit to change, to be a different creature right there. Second, perhaps, strangely, perversely, we enjoy guilt, and the feelings we get when we condemn ourselves to our guilty state. By being willing to feel guilty for long periods of time, by returning again and again to that guilty feeling, we fool ourselves into thinking that we are sensitive, caring, moral people. It feels good to feel guilty, in a way. We congratulate ourselves on being sensitive enough to realize that we have done wrong, and then we rejoice in the feeling. Well, rejoice is probably too strong of a word. It's more like the feeling you get when you've worked out really hard and your quads and glutes are sore, so sore that you can't even squat to go to the toilet. In that half-second where you are poised above the bowl, the feeling of pain, of muscles tearing as you sit down, actually feels good. At least, I feel good. I am reminded through the muscle pain that I have earned that pain, that the lunges across the gym with the weighted bar on my shoulders were worthwhile. But, my body is not designed to stay in that state. I should push through the pain, get the quads moving again, step up jauntily into my car even though the very movement causes me to grimace. Then, soon, in a few days, I'll be able to walk again, without grimacing, without pain. My legs will be stronger, and I will be able to launch myself and my bike off the curve going up the canyon with a power that will surprise me.

However, and I don't know how to explain this, other than by this metaphor of muscles and pain, if I don't move through the pain, if I don't approximate my normal, everyday actions through muscle that is rebuilding itself into a stronger version of what I used to be, I retard my muscle rebuild and cripple myself in the process. If I refuse to move against pain, emotional or physical, I will hobble through life. Similarly, this guilt state that we sentence ourselves to cripples our here and now and alters our future. It's a counterfeit for the remorse that should swell up, and serve as a catalyst for personal change and momentum. So, my personal commitment is, whenever I hear the language of guilt coming out of my own mouth, I am going to stop myself and look carefully at the distance I feel between where I want to be and where I am, and step across the divide. I will keep moving.

Title: "A Man of Constant Sorrow," from Oh Brother Where Art Thou.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Oh No, Not You Again!

So help me understand this mentality, if you happen to possess it.    

I am reading along in a library book—this has happened to me twice in the last month. The first book was The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste, a fascinating book on what we have done in the past and what is now done to handle the millions of tons of human waste produced everyday across the globe. In the opening chapter, the author, Rose George, is trying to explain her rationale for using the word "shit" for what will be the hero/villain/protagonist of this entire book. She goes through various options, and then settles on "shit" as the term of art for the book, explaining that in most cultures and contexts, particularly those that deal with the substance on a daily basis, the term is not pejorative. Some kind, well-meaning, but, I am inclined to think, egotistical soul had crossed out the word "shit" and asked in the margin, "What about poo?" Roll my eyes in frustration. As if the author is going to answer back, as if the author needs to treat the readers as if they're five-year olds and use code words—poo, peepee, tinkle and willy.

This gentle reader was probably the same one (alarmingly, we must have similar reading preferences) who used permanent marker to erase the first occurrence of f*** that was appropriately used in a scene out of the Battle of Salerno in The Summer Guest. The problem was that that particular passage had more than one such term. Following chapters had a few more. The remaining bombs were left untouched. I wonder at the logical jumble that finds it acceptable to black out one word, but draws the line at erasing every trace of the offense. Is it to let future readers know that at least one of the educated in this university town has a refined sense of language? Or is it to publically register your anonymous disapproval so that everybody knows that somebody disapproved but will persevere in the name of art? Or did you just never get the etiquette lesson on how to treat property that is not yours? Hint: Leave no trace—of your dinner, of your suntan lotion, and definitely, no trace of your opinions.

I don't get it. I know we're supposed to roam across the face of the earth doing good of our own free will and choice, but, in what mentality does the definition of good include defacing something that doesn't belong to you because you happen to disapprove. You would no more think to come into my front garden and rip out the daylilies because they trigger your son's asthma than you could contemplate throwing a brick through the library window. But, somehow, in the privacy of your own bathroom, you think that it is helping the world to black out the word "shit." Would you have the courage to take your trusty pen to the expletive while standing at the desk under the eye of the librarian? Or is it only in private acts of moral rectitude that you excel? Which acts take place in places where you have self-appointed yourself the warden of the jail, monitoring and guarding against any evil influence that might possibly filter through.

I think you—the person who reads library books with a Sharpie in hand—also sit in the carpool lane in your Dodge Caravan/Subaru Forester/late model Crown Victoria/hybrid and put the cruise control at 60 miles per hour. Never mind the speed limit is 65. Never mind that the far right lane, the one with the semi's loaded with sheep and triple containers filled with canola oil, has an average speed of 75, and there is nobody, I repeat nobody, in the middle two lanes. At first, I used to give you the benefit of the doubt and think that perhaps in Montana or Washington or Wyoming, or Pleasant Grove, there has never been a carpool lane. And so, bless your rural little hearts, you think if you have more than one person in your car you have to ride in the car pool. I couldn't fathom that somebody would, of their own free will and obstinate choice, park their fannies (might as well be park when they're going 15 mph slower than the flow of traffic) in the car pool lane. But then, considering this is the land of "I can tote my gun wherever I want to even into church" and "don't tell me I have to wear a helmet," you aforementioned slowriders don't have the cultural DNA to meekly slide into the carpool lane simply because you're carrying passengers.

It has to be some other motivation that causes you to speed up to get into the HOV lane and then slow down, kick back, and crack out the knitting. Is it a power kick? What do you think when you look in the rearview mirror and behind you, stacked up like data packets waiting for transmission over dial up, is a long line of cars stretching back to just past the last access point? Is it a rush of righteous pleasure that you are acting like the moral governor of every car with the misfortune to be on the road the same time you are? Do you congratulate yourself that you are setting an example for the rest of us? Do you quietly purse your lips as we go by you in the middle lanes and pray, if not for our souls, at least for our insurance rates when we get pulled over? Or are you confident that by holding down the speed, you have won one for the good guys by completely eliminating any possibility that any person travelling within your influence on I-15 could possibly get a speeding ticket?

Kaye Gibbons' Ruby, whom I mentioned in the last post, had parents, who shared the same mentality as the self-appointed censor who dogs my reading list and blocks my flow of traffic : They brook no possibility that their children (or anybody else's for that matter) could possibly be exposed to the uglier side of life:

Growing up, I had absolutely no idea anything bad could happen in a life because nothing bad had happened in mine, no catastrophes. My grandmother died but mama and daddy helped me through it, and I'd spent so much time with her, watching her get weaker and weaker that I felt like dying was the next step for her, something that should naturally happen next.

But worse than my ignorance of any bad coming into a life was the fact that I didn't have the imagination, the pure imagination to see that hard things or ugly things might happen farther down the road. I was just whistling along. I can't remember making decision on my own. I might've made a mistake, and that was something my parents were real careful about. . . My parents protected me from bad choices by making choices for me. . . . My mama was the kind of woman who believed girls in girls clothes are less apt to get trouble than girls dressed like boys. I remember begging her for some pants to play outside in, and when she finally made me some she sewed eyelet around the cuffs, just a touch of girl on those pants. And my daddy and brothers were just as bad. If I had a tough piece of meat on my plate, the minute one of them saw me struggling they'd lean over, take my knife and fork from me and cut the meat up for me. I never rebelled against it, snatched my knife back and said, "I'll cut my own meat up, thank you." All the women in my family were calm women. They wouldn't have said a word. It was just the way things were.

    Kaye Gibbons, A Virtuous Woman, page 27-28.

We have a painting of a nude hanging on an interior wall leading to our living room. I think she's beautiful, particularly because she was painted in Czechoslovakia, before the curtain fell. She's an impression of a nude, backed with bright reds and blues. By this I mean, although she is obviously sitting quite primly on her stool, she has no facial features and her breasts are missing their nipples. (Or should I call them nip-nips, or pepperonis?) Still, she's definitely a nude. Every time we have the local youth group over for a meeting, or a party, Kevin takes her down and puts her behind the chair in the office. I was hurt at first. If they are going to descend en masse into my living room, the least I can do for them is to expose them to good, Cold War art. But, he insisted—which is not a posture he often assumes with me. So, down she came. Afterwards, I would rescue her from behind the chair and apologize to her as I put her back up: "I'm sorry. They just wouldn't appreciate you. I think you're lovely."

So, why can we take her down and put her up on a whim, but I bristle at you with your pen in hand hovering over a library book that I might check out after you? Because she's mine, and it's my house, and the parents of some of those boys and girls might, actually would, find it highly inappropriate for their children to be exposed to the female form at all. In order not to offend, Kevin takes her down and I put her back up when they've gone, accompanied by whispered apologies and the loving buffing of her frame. (Once Kevin forgot, and the left side of the room had a disproportionately large number of fourteen- and fifteen-year old boys with a good vantage point. (I hope they know there's parts missing!)).

But, the carpool lane is not yours. The walls of the local elementary school are not yours, and neither is the artwork. The library book is not yours. You probably didn't even contribute to pay for it, because, according to a combination of John Adams/Revelations/The Second Amendment/and Glen Beck, there's a misunderstood subsubclause in the Tax Code that definitively shows that you are not subject to the jurisdiction of the federal government, let alone measly county and city officials. But, I digress. Back to business: The author is not imposing her views on you; neither are you being forced to read her work, nor I to check it out after you. Leave the words alone. Let them stand. They were chosen by someone else, who thought them proper and appropriate. Let their best efforts stand. If you wish to rise up in public protest on the steps of the library, by all means, proceed. Despite my philosophical misalignment with your cause, I'll help you make the signs and even get the permit for your protest from City Hall. That's your First Amendment right to gather in public to effect change. But secret warfare, under cover of anonymity, destroying property and ideas and possible choices that are not yours, merely because you disapprove, well, at best, that's just misguided cowardice. And at worst, it feels like an egotistical, self-centered, overreaching need to control.


Title: Australian Crawl, "Oh No, Not You Again."