Monday, December 30, 2013

On Gratitude

You see it a lot, the phrase 'an attitude of gratitude'.  Over November, many people I know were doing 'thirty days of gratitude' across various social media platforms, taking some time each day to offer a general acknowledgment of something or someone for whom they felt thankful.

Here lately, I've also seen a lot of people wrapping up the end of the year with "I'm so glad for all I have!" posts, talking about wonderful communities and wonderful friends and the support they receive every day.  They gush, in glowing terms, how lucky they are to have made such wonderful friends.

I think I'd like to ask them a couple questions.

You've acknowledged your general gratitude for the things and people in your life, but have you specifically thanked and acknowledged the people who have helped you?  How often do you sit down, and instead of throwing a general thanks 'out there', seek out some person who's done something to support or empower or protect you, so that you can say "I see what you did, and I honor what you did, and I could not have achieved what I have if you had not?"

That's the thing, you see.  In the US, we glorify the culture of the 'self-made man'.  And in the culture of the self-made man, there is no room for specific gratitude, because it suggests that another person's work and love had some impact on who you are, that you are not wholly self-made.  So long as you keep your thankfulness general, you don't have to admit that there was some part of that self-making that you simply did not and probably could not accomplish on your own.

It's OK to thank God (or the gods) if you're a 'self-made person' because you can subscribe to prosperity doctrine or the law of attraction, that says that if you have the right faith, belief, or mindset, that's all that's needed for divine or universal blessings to be given to you (see also magical thinking).  You can couch your acknowledgment of what you've been given with vague gratitude so that the credit still really rests with you, for 'keeping positive' or 'being a good person'.  It's karma, you see, that your previous good deeds have put a down payment on the world rewarding you with help when you need it.  If this friend hadn't chosen to help  you, someone would have, because you deserved it.

Same thing with being grateful for your community.  Sometimes people say "I'm grateful that I have such good friends," and I hear "Congratulations to me for choosing friends who will help and support me regardless of whether I have helped and supported them!"  Keeping gratitude general still lets you, on some level, claim credit for foresight or good judgment in ensuring that community would be a resource to you.  (it is fine to be grateful that you have good friends, as long as you understand that you should probably also occasionally acknowledge why, precisely, they ARE such good friends)

When it comes to specifically looking at your life, and recognising that an individual made a deliberate choice he or she was not obligated to make, to benefit and support you, that can be very daunting for some.  To admit to real and specific gratitude to another person's free choices is to swallow your pride and acknowledge that your identity as 'self-made' is a convenient fiction.

None of us is self-made.  We must all own our decisions, and we are all in control of how we will respond to what happens to us, but we all owe gratitude to someone, somewhere.  Maybe it's as small as 'stopped to help me change a tire on the way to a job interview' or 'stayed on chat with me all night when I was stressed about my sick cat' but it's there.

So I challenge you, when you practice your attitude of gratitude, to examine your life, and pinpoint those choices that others have made for you, out of no obligation other than love, empathy, or compassion.  Then seek out those people (if you can find them) and personally thank them, not 'for all you did' but for 'that moment in time'.

Thank you for reading my blog, by the way.  Every time I see clicks or comments, it inspires me to keep writing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On the Longest Night

Tonight is the Longest Night.

As they do every year, the days have become shorter and darker, the nights longer.  And as it does every year, a tiny but visceral fear has taken root in my mind:

What if it never gets better?

What if the days just keep getting shorter and darker, until the light is gone forever?

What if this is the last winter, the forever winter, that will never ever go away?

That's a bit like what living with episodic depression is like.  Every day a little darker, every day a little harder to get out of bed, and you keep telling yourself, because your rational scientific brain KNOWS IT, that this will have to get better, that the world is a circle and life will spin back to long days and lazy afternoons someday.  But that Traitor Brain in the back of your head says, "What if?  What if it never gets better?  What if the happiness becomes more and more fleeting, less and less powerful, until the long darkness just...stays?  What if this episode is the one that kills you?"

It's no coincidence that most of my serious depressive episodes happen in the winter.  Though it's not quite SAD, there's something about watching the sun go that speaks to an inexorable creeping darkness.

Yule has special meaning for me, because it is a defiant night, when you stand in that darkness, and you watch the sun go down, and you throw faith out into the world and tell yourself that this, this is the darkest of it.  And you put all your faith, everything you are, into the certainty of the coming sun.  You burn so brightly into that darkness, because you know you're halfway there, and you throw a little extra into the fire because you know that somewhere out there is someone whose faith may not be strong enough to see them through to sunrise, but they can get there by the light of your burning.

This has been a good year.  Traitor Brain has been driven back to her cave, and holds little power in my daily life.  Last winter was much harder, much colder.

I know that the worst of winter lies before me, the bone-deep cold and the hard frozen earth and the creeping frost death that strikes even in the heart of Texas.  But I am armed against that whispering chill, with a sword to batter the walls of ice and a shield before me that shines like mercy and wonder.

I believe in the sun, and I will it back with the joy of my heart.

Blessed be, my loves.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Extrovert's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Your Introverts

My 'extrovert' post is far and away the most-read thing I've ever written in my life.  It's still turning up, over a year later, on websites and facebook and everywhere.  It makes me really happy that so many extroverts have said, "Thank you, so much, because I thought I was alone, and now I don't feel alone."

In the comments for it, someone suggested, "Why don't you write a piece about how to manage healthy relationships with introverts, from an extrovert's point of view?"  A lot of the 'how to deal with introverts' advice seems to come from the sorts of introverts whose position is "Go away unless I want you there, and don't disturb my precious, precious personal space except on my terms and don't disrupt me with your inanity."  That is not helpful.  I'm not discounting that some of the advice out there, particularly advice about how to approach and interact with introverts who are not already your friends, can be very useful, but "don't bother me unless I want you to and don't expect me to communicate when I want you to," isn't very helpful in a long-term relationship where both people have needs and expectations.  So I sat down and thought about "How do I maintain my friendships with the people I love and respect, who also happen to be very introverted?"

Keep in mind, this is NOT written from the introvert's perspective and contradicts a number of those 'how to deal with an introvert' tips.  Please understand that I've been navigating relationships with introverts (I am an extrovert nerd and/or geek, so I am seriously outnumbered in my community) for over 25 years, and if you want to disagree with me, please read the companion piece linked at the top of this article first.  This is an extrovert, writing for fellow non-introverts, about what has consistently worked for me.  So, here we go!

1.  It is NOT about you.  This is the big one.  Your introvert friend didn't come to your party, or left it early.  Unless there's some drama within the friendship that you're conveniently ignoring, this has nothing to do with you at all.  Introverts find varying levels of human interaction wearing, and have to choose the energy they spend carefully.  Let your friend know, "Hey, I missed you and I'm sorry you couldn't make it."  No guilt, no recrimination, just "you were wanted, and you were missed."  The important thing is that you should never take it personally unless your introverted friend is rude, flat-out stands you up, or deliberately makes you feel unwelcome and unwanted (more on that below).

2.  Introverts don't 'all hate people' and it's kind of rude to make jokes about that.  I've known a few introverts (and dated one) who were self-proclaimed misanthropes.  The misanthropy is separate from being an introvert.  A lot of introverts really like people and enjoy their company in reasonable doses.  If someone is a misanthrope, call him a misanthrope, not an introvert, and call out people who tease or pester introverts about not liking people.  Your introvert friends will appreciate that you understand the difference.

3.  If an introvert comes to your party, that IS about you.  If you're an extrovert or an ambivert (most people are neither extroverts nor introverts, but ambiverts), you look at a party invite from a casual friend, or a co-worker, and you think, "I'll check it out.  Maybe it will be fun.  I haven't been to a party in a while!"  Introverts almost never go to large gatherings just because 'maybe it will be fun'.  They go because they have to (professional or familial obligations) or because they genuinely want to.  If your introverted friend is standing in your living room with fifteen people, drinking a beer and making small talk, it's because she LIKES YOU.  She made a conscious decision to spend time and energy doing a thing you invited her to do.  Think about that.  Value that.  Make sure during the evening to engage in conversation with her directly beyond general social chatting.

4.  Introverts frequently leave social events early.  You may look around and find that the introvert hasn't actually been in the bathroom for half an hour; he quietly got his coat and ducked out while you were chatting with another friend.  Nothing happened, he's not mad, he wasn't avoiding you.  Likely he just hit his critical limit of 'dealing with groups' and didn't want to have to get into a long explanation of why he was leaving abruptly, or make a long and chatty round of goodbyes.  Most introverts, having had the "no, nothing's wrong, I just want to go home now, I promise," conversation several dozen times, will tend to avoid it if possible.  If you make it clear that you understand the concept of that threshold of social interaction and respect "I have had enough and am going now," your introverted friends will stop just vanishing and quietly come to tell you, "Hey, I'm done.  I'm headed out now.  Thank you for inviting me."  Say "OK.  I'm glad you came!" and not "But you can't leave now!" (letting them know "we are cutting the birthday cake in three minutes if you'd like to stay for that" is OK, but they still might leave anyway).

5.  Introverts want to be included.  So you send your introvert friend invitations to every party, and invite her out to dinner frequently, and she only accepts one invitation in ten.  Keep inviting, and accept refusals graciously.  A lot of people respond to introverts' lack of social participation by assuming they don't care to socialize, or they say, "You never come out when I ask you!  Don't you like me?"  Consistently maintain a posture of "Hey, you are always welcome but not required," and you'll find that your introvert friends feel more comfortable with you.

6.  Give personal invitations to small events.  If you haven't seen your introverted friend in a while, and you'd like to get together, call him up and say, "Hey, honey, I miss talking to you!  I'd love to have lunch, just you and me.  Is there a time that's good for you?"  Choose a restaurant that's quiet, so you can have a nice long deep conversation and really catch up.  Most introverts prefer one-on-one interaction so they can really connect, because it's not as draining *and* gives them a chance to open up and interact.  Don't just say, "Man, I haven't seen you in forever.  We should hang out more," because introverts hear that a lot, but the follow-up invitations are not always forthcoming.  Lead with the follow-up invitation.

7.  You don't have to excuse clear rudeness as 'introversion'.  I have a few introverted acquaintances who also have no social skills.  They cut over others in conversation because 'you were just making dumb small talk and I wanted to talk about something interesting', they make people feel unwelcome in their presences, they make comments about 'not having time for stupid social shit' because they have important things to do, and in general they create a clear impression that they resent being out in public and consider people who enjoy social interaction shallow narcissists.  You don't have to put up with that, and it's not 'being an introvert'.  It's 'being rude'.  Privately address rude behaviour with anyone, introvert or extrovert or ambivert, and explain that you would rather someone stayed home instead of making others feel dismissed.  The gracious and socially skilled introverts among your friends will appreciate that you don't consider rudeness and abrasiveness hallmark traits of their personality type.  Some of the offenders will try to haughtily explain to you that 'introverts are thinkers, unlike extroverts.'  It is appropriate to tell those people "I don't need to be friends with someone who thinks I'm stupid or shallow."

8.  As with all relationships, remember to respect others' boundaries and communicate your needs.  If you're romantically involved with an introvert, this can require negotiation so that both your needs are met.  Remember, your need for social interaction is equally important to the introvert's need for solitude.  Never allow anyone to dictate that you have to forego getting your own needs met because it's not convenient for them.  An extrovert or ambivert dating an introvert may need to establish a way for the introvert to say "I don't feel like going, but you should go and have a good time," and *mean it*.  Ambiverts and extroverts need to hear that as it is, and not interpret it as "I hate your friends and the things you enjoy are stupid."  Introverts need to trust their more socially-focused partners, and not assume that wanting to go out when your significant other would rather stay in is anything other than "I need to be around people right now, and I know you don't want to go so I'm going alone and I'll give everyone your love, then come back and tell you all about it."

9.  If you really need an introvert to be somewhere where there will be a lot of people, give plenty of warning.  If you want your very introverted friend to be a groomsman at your wedding, tell him months in advance, let him know there will be a lot of people there, and DO NOT plan eleven thousand social gatherings the week of the wedding that you expect him to attend.  If you're throwing a big birthday party for your best friend, let his very introverted wife know in enough time that she can scale back social activities around it and manage her own needs.  Also, when planning large gatherings to which you've invited introverted friends, it's helpful to have a smaller, quiet area (a back patio, a library or study with just a few comfy chairs) where people can step away and get a little quiet time if they're feeling overwhelmed.  Don't make a big deal out of it; people will find it if they need it.

10.  Remember that you're not responsible for maintaining your friends' emotional health, just respecting it.  Ultimately, it's up to people to manage their own needs and boundaries, and it's perfectly reasonable to expect your friends to communicate those needs and boundaries.  You're only responsible for basic courtesy and empathy, not for anticipating the possible feelings of everyone you interact with, assessing the exact correct level of human interaction, and bending your own needs to fit around theirs.

A lot of these are just 'good tips for dealing with people', but they're especially helpful if you find that you work or play in a mostly-introverted community and you're 'the social one'.  It's also important to remember that extrovert/introvert is not a be-all-end-all defining personality trait, so what works in relationship with one person may crash badly with another.  Most of all, be aware and respectful of the differing social paradigms that we all find most healthy for us, and do what you can to make sure everyone around you feels most at ease and comfortable in your friendship.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Winter Driving Tips for the Uninitiated

As we head into our first winter storm weekend here in the lovely People's Republic of Austin, I hear many of my native Texan friends talking about how they have no idea how to drive in ice or snow.  People who cannot drive in ice but insist on doing it are a danger to everyone else on the road.  Therefore, your Friendly Midwestern Badger would like to give you some driving tips.  Here are the rules for driving in ice and snow:

1.  Don't.  Before you leave, ask yourself, "How much do I REALLY need to be there?"  Ask yourself if what's at stake is worth a couple grand of damage to your car or a hit on your insurance, because even if you're being really careful, someone can still hit YOU, and even if you're not hurt, accidents are expensive.

2.  Plan ahead.  Consider your route.  How many bridges and overpasses does it contain?  How many of those long curving flyovers Texans love so much?  How many times will you come over a hill to find a sharp curve or a stop light at the bottom?  These are all accidents waiting to happen.  Once you have considered your optimal route, revisit question 1 before proceeding.  If you still must proceed, double your expected trip time.

3.  Go slow.  Like really slow.  Like ten or fifteen miles below the speed limit slow.  Yes, your buddy who grew up in Wisconsin will laugh at you, but he learned to drive 60 in a blizzard at age 18 in a car made entirely out of cheese; you did not.  Allow an extra carlength above and beyond your usual caution between you and the car in front of you.

4.  You have no brakes.  Do not use them, do not touch them.  They are a trap.  Control your car as much as humanly possible using changes in direction and acceleration; if you slam on the brakes, the terrorists win.  Brakes will just add fuel to the fire of a skid.

5.  Steer into the skid.  Everyone says this, but if you've never done it, it's a really difficult thing to explain to you.  Basically, when you feel your car start to slip, you'll have this impulse to fight it.  Don't fight it.  Zen that bitch out, embrace the skid, and pull your car *through* it instead of *against* it.  If you have sufficient room, you'll be fine.  Just pull over for a few minutes to regain your composure, because that first-ever skid is very alarming.  To practice, Midwestern parents take their children for a day known as Shopping Mall Donut Day.  On the first snowy day, large parking lots (like those at shopping malls before they open) are often full of helpful parents and friends teaching new drivers what the hell 'steer into the skid' means.

6.  Aim for the ditch.  If all these other rules fail you, and you find yourself in an out-of-control car, your only option is to *aim* it.  You can't steer it, you can't stop it, you can't regain control, but you can *point* it at something.  Point it at the ditch, point it at the grassy median, point it at the bushes.  Having to wait two hours for a tow truck to pull your happy ass out of a clump of rosemary in your neighbor's front yard is vastly preferable to having to tell him you slammed into the car parked next to his driveway.

And above all, remember your manners and be aware, because not everyone has a Friendly Midwestern Badger.  Remember that someone spinning through an intersection probably didn't have time to use his turn signal (and which way would he signal, anyway?).  If you bump someone or someone bumps you, try to work it out without being a jerk about it.

Know what the inclement weather reporting rules are; in some states, during weather events you can report an accident for up to 24 hours afterwards instead of calling the police, if everyone involved agrees and no one is injured and the damage is minimal.  Take advantage of that, because waiting an hour for an irritated cop to get OUT of a warm car in 30-degree weather to sign off on your scuffed bumper is a near-guarantee that you'll be ticketed for whatever the officer can find, while filing a walk-in report (if that's legal) usually means that *if* you're ticketed, it's purely for the 'failure to maintain safe speed' or 'failure to maintain control of your vehicle'.  Just don't forget to report it, because if the other driver reports it and you don't, there can be trouble.

Be safe!

(seriously, if at all possible stay home and drink some damn cocoa instead.  Light a fire in the fireplace you never get to use.  This is Texas; it'll be 65 degrees in a day and a half)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Solutions, Tools, Sympathy, and Experience

Imagine for a moment that you are a mechanic, with an old, lovingly-maintained but still quirky car.  Periodically, some part on this car fails on you, and replacement parts are harder to get, but to you it's still worth it.  One day, this car won't start.

You investigate, and because you're pretty familiar with this car you quickly determine that the problem is a bad part in your ignition system.  You call around with no luck, but finally find one at a junkyard in another state; they tell you they're pretty sure they can have it to you early next week.  You're a little bummed out about this, because you'd planned a road trip for the weekend to see a friend and show him your car, but there's really no help for it.

One of your buddies, who is not a mechanic, drops by, and you invite him in for a beer because you've had a frustrating day and you could use some company.  You're telling him about having to reschedule your trip, and he interrupts you.

Him:  Why don't you just rent a car and go anyway?  I'll even lend you my car.
You:  That's really nice of you to offer.  But I wanted to show my other friend my car.  He's thinking of buying one, and wanted to get a feel for how working on it would be if he did.
Him:  Well, can't he come here then?
You:  No, that's not an option for him.  Next weekend will work.  I'm just bummed because we were gonna get awesome barbecue.
Him:  Are you sure the battery's not dead?  Did you try jump-starting it?
You:  Yeah, it's just a part in the ignition.  I've got another one coming, it's just inconveniently scheduled and frustrating.
Him:  Did you put gas in it?  Maybe it's out of gas.
You:  Uh, no, I'm pretty sure I learned to read a gas gauge at a pretty early age.
Him:  Well, you don't have to get defensive.  Hey, it is blue.  I read somewhere that blue cars break down more often.  I've got some time this afternoon.  Let's paint it green.  I'll help you!
You: ...
Him:  Oh!  Maybe it's out of oil.  You have to put oil in cars, you know, between oil changes.  I used to have this old Chevy, burned a quart of oil a week...let's go put some oil in your car and see if that fixes it.
You:  No, it's fine on oil, and by the way, if you've got a car losing a quart of oil a week, that's really long did you drive it like that?  Your current car isn't leaking like that, is it?
Him:  Well, it was running fine.  Anyway, why don't you just go to the part store and get the part?  I'm sure they've got whatever you need at the AutoZone.  I got headlight lamps there last week!
You:  This is a forty-year-old car.  It hasn't been made since the mid-70s.  There wasn't one at the local junkyard, but I found a guy who specializes in this model and he's getting me the part.
Him:  Well, but let's just go to the AutoZone and check.
You:  No, the AutoZone won't have it...who are you calling?
Him:  The AutoZone.  I'll just check for you, because you never know.  Hello, AutoZone, I need a...what's the part called?
You:  (specify part, plus make and model and year of the car)
Him:  (gives info)  You don't?  Since when?  Well, there's no need to be RUDE!  (*hangs up*)  The clerk laughed at me.
You:  No real surprise there.
Him:  Why don't you just let me take a look at it?  I might be able to rewire it for you.
You:  You know I do this for a living, right?  I know what I'm doing, and it's just a part I'll get replaced, OK?
Him:  Well, I'm just trying to help.  I do have a knack for mechanical things.
You:  Last year you set your workshop on fire 'fixing the toaster'.  Can't you just sit here and enjoy a beer and hang out with me?
Him:  That's your problem.  You always want to TALK about your problems, you never want to actually hear how to FIX them.

This conversation is how I feel when the men in my life talk about how "women just want sympathy instead of solutions because they're not invested in fixing their problems.  Men are solution-driven, so we have to just learn to listen tolerantly and not try to give any real help."

Generally, the 'problems' I am talking about are well beyond the three-minute understanding of anyone who's not me, and the last thing I need are simplistic, uninformed and unhelpful solutions from someone who doesn't have any idea of the full scope of what's going on, who then gets angry at me for the fact that his suggestions don't solve my problem, and accuses me of either 'not telling the whole story first' or 'just throwing up roadblocks' when I try to explain the complexities.  I don't 'just want sympathy' because I don't want solutions.  I 'just want sympathy' because you probably don't have the skills, experience, and tools to solve the problem right now, or because your goals and needs and expectations are different than mine and what would work for you in the same situation won't get me where I want to be.  Or because I've already set the solution in motion, but some part of that solution frustrates, upsets, or irritates me and I want to vent to a friend I trust to offer empathy.

If the solutions are that 'glaringly obvious' do you really believe I can't see them myself?  Or is it a more likely explanation that the glaringly obvious solution has a hidden cost, anything from incurring a social debt I don't want, to a hit to self-esteem I can't afford right now, to abandoning a larger goal that doesn't appear connected from your perspective, but is?

I'm not saying, guys, that I don't want your help or your perspectives.  But unless I've started the conversation with "I could use some advice..." or ended it with " what do you think I should do?" then accusing me of 'not wanting to fix' a problem I'm having just because what's readily apparent and obvious to you isn't a reasonable solution to me is pretty insulting.  And writing off the entire female gender as 'not really interested in SOLVING problems as much as talking about them' is a pretty good way to keep me from trusting you enough to talk to you about problems you can help solve.

Monday, November 4, 2013

On Magic and Magical Thinking

Fairly frequently, the disputes I run into over the validity of witchcraft happen because one side or the other has conflated magic with 'magical thinking'.  'Magical thinking' is the idea that if you just believe in something enough, it will come to pass.  You can visualize that weight loss without ever cutting a calorie, wish your way into that loving relationship without working on communication, and believe that a better job is coming instead of working at the one you have.

People on both sides of the faith debate seem to buy into this, and so non-practitioners become confused when people who practice more practical forms of faith-based work refer to it as 'magic' or even 'prayer'.  So allow me to explain the difference, as I see it, between magic and magical thinking.

I'll use a story to illustrate it.  Several years ago, on finding out that I'm a witch, one of my friends asked me to do a spell to help him get a new job.  He hated the one he had, he said.  I told him to spend half an hour writing out a list of the general criteria he wanted in a job, and to bring me that and a copy of his updated resume.  He arrived with a listing he'd printed out from a job website, and explained that he wanted me to do the spell to get him THAT job.  I said that no, that's not how it works, and asked him about the resume.  He hadn't had time, and besides what did I need it for?  I explained that I was going to use the resume as a focus, to create a spell asking that when he applied for a job, his resume would reach the desk of the person most likely to hire him, be seen by the right eyes and represent him well.  Basically, I was offering to use magic to remove obstacles and allow him to more easily get the right job for him.

I will never forget the look on his face when he said, "What do you mean APPLY?"  Yes, honey, you have to actually APPLY for the jobs, and go to the interviews.  You can't just wish for it and believe hard enough that you should have it, and expect it to happen.  You can't just buy a witch a piece of pie and sit back to let job offers rain upon your head.  If it were that easy everyone would do it that way.  And I would have SO MUCH PIE.

He'd fallen prey to magical thinking, because he believed that if he focused on a thing, wanted it enough, wished for it, then it would 'just happen'.  Magical thinking is based in a sound principle, the first thing they teach you in driver's education: where the eye goes, the car will follow.  However, it completely ignores the mechanical connection between eye and head, head and body, body and hands, hands and steering wheel, steering wheel and car.  According to magical thinking, the eye controls the car and no other effects have to follow through.  You don't need any understanding of the process of driving, because the only thing that matters is where you focus your eye.  You don't even need to gas up the car or turn it on.  Just keep *looking* at where you want to be, and someday you'll just be there without crossing the intervening space.

There's a good deal of evidence that focusing on positive outcomes improves your life experience.  Thinking about what you want, instead of what you don't want, increases the chances of getting what you want.  Lots of people make ridiculous amounts of money hosting workshops and writing self-help books that expound upon this premise -- and stop there, creating a class of frustrated self-actualized theoretically empowered people who still don't understand why they're not getting anywhere.

Actually acting to *get* what you want increases those chances even further, and that's where practicing magic comes in, and that's the part a lot of people (pagans, Christians, and atheists alike) don't want to talk about.

For me, magic is best described as "an act of will backed by the will to act."  It's a bargain you make with yourself and whatever divine entity you're petitioning.  You say to the entity, "If you will act upon the world to assist me, I will commit to the technical part of the process and do the physical work."

If I want a new job, I'll polish my resume and apply for jobs.  If I want a new romantic partner, I'll actually ask people out.  If I want better health, I'll improve my habits.  That's my part of the bargain: the daily work of what I want.  Driving the car.

Sooo...where does magic come into it?

Luck.  Intuition.  Coincidence. Reinforcement.

Nothing is assured.  I know people who work hard, do all the right things, perform every right action to get to what they want, and they don't get it.  A flat tire on the way to an interview means they miss out on a job.  They don't notice the attractive person sitting at the next table reading their own favorite book.  They turn left, instead of right, and miss out on an opportunity.  I know people whose doctors have made bad decisions, with terrible consequences.

When a friend goes into surgery, I know the gods aren't holding the scalpel.  But do I believe they can be the voice of intuition that helps a doctor make a wise decision.  They can be the second glance a nurse takes to see that a medical dosage was written down wrong, confirm the number and get the patient the right treatment.

I have asked the gods to be the voice that whispers to me "refresh that jobs listing one more time before you log off," so that I didn't miss applying for a great job.  To inspire me to try a new coffeehouse or restaurant and strike up a conversation with the attractive man whose table I ended up sharing.  To help me find the strength and focus to keep acting towards what's important to me, even when I'm exhausted and demoralized.

Magic smoothes the way.  You still have to travel the distance.  That's the difference between it and magical thinking.  Magical thinking genuinely believes that you can convince whatever forces direct the Universe to give you a miracle every time you want one, with no investment or work on your part.

As a famous squirrel taught me when I was but a child, that trick never works.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

On Holidays Secular and Spiritual

When I was a young Badger, I started to understand that my country celebrates two Christmases.  There's the solemn celebration of the birth of Christ, honoring God's promise of hope and salvation.  And there's the warm, loving celebration of time with family and friends, exchanging gifts and drinking eggnog and singing about sleigh bells.

Even when I was Christian, those two holidays were different for me.  When we went to evening/late services on Christmas Eve, I didn't associate the magical candlelight sermon on hope and love with the next morning's explosion of wrapping paper and Family Dinner.  I found that the differentiation seemed easier for me than for many of my peers, over the years, as they wrestled with cramming spirituality into a Christmas stocking.  And when I left Christianity, I had no trouble keeping Family Christmas alive in my life and discarding Spiritual Christmas, which had ceased to hold a deep meaning for me.

Lately I've been coming to understand that today has a similar dichotomy for me.  There's Hallowe'en, which is the orgy of costumes and candy and spookiness that seems to bring out the kid in every last person.  And there's Samhain, the dark winnowing to end the year, when the veils are thin and our dead stand among us.

I like Hallowe'en just fine.  I like candy, and I like to see other people's costumes, and it's great to watch people get SO INTO creativity and expression because maybe they don't feel like they've got an excuse year-round.  But I find that I celebrate it mostly by observation, by watching others embrace it.  I have no costume ideas.  I don't feel compelled to carve up a pumpkin for the office contest.  While I totally respect the effort that goes into designing witch hats out of donuts, ice cream cones, frosting and sprinkles, I have no desire whatsoever to put forth that effort.

Samhain, though, is incredibly important for me.  It's the time of the year when most are pulling inward to rest through the dark part of the year, when I and those like me, who have chosen the alternate path, begin our winter's burning to stand as guideposts and guardians.  Today, so to speak, I take up my sword and begin my watch.

Today I stand in love and trust with my dead gathered around me, not mourning them but honoring them.  I thank those voices that have spoken to guide me, I am grateful for those who walked into darkness to light my own way, giving me the courage to stand as light for others.

After long years of wrestling with this holiday dichotomy, I'm finally at peace with something: I don't celebrate Hallowe'en.  I love to watch it go by.  I laugh and enjoy other people's celebrations, and it makes me genuinely joyful to see all the fun and happiness.  I am not, by any means, a Hallowe'en Grinch.

But this is one day of the year I have to stand apart, my loves.  As I take up more fully the path of the Warrior, as I step more deeply into the Wood, sometimes I have to choose the path apart from the crowd, because what I am doing needs my full attention.  I don't begrudge you the ability to balance the secular and the spiritual in your celebrations, to stir the cauldron and still use it to bob for apples.  Perhaps in future years I'll manage that balance as well, but right now, at this time in my life, what I am doing in the spiritual consumes my focus.

I have been, as I do, resting this summer.  Today is my last day of rest for a season.  Tonight I gather my final harvest, draw upon the energies I've been storing, and light the fire I'll hold through until spring.

Let me say, because I do not say it often enough: I am more grateful than I can ever say to have been given this space to burn, this torch to bear.  For the trust I am offered, for the chance to serve and ward, I am thankful.  My harvest is not of the physical; it is the trust, respect, and love of those people, living and dead, who are part of my life.

I love you all.

Monday, October 14, 2013

On Gaming as a Tool Against Depression

A few weeks ago, I got a new phone (it is a shiny new Samsung Galaxy s3).  I asked friends for app recommendations, and among the suggestions was Ingress.  As that website's not very helpful, allow me to explain:

Ingress is a worldwide online multiplayer game of Risk, basically.  There are two teams, and each team is vying for territory.  The 'Enlightened' represent those working to bring the effects of this alien 'exotic matter' more fully into the world, on the premise that the coming evolution is both good and necessary.  The 'Resistance' represent those working against that influence, on the premise that there is malicious intent behind it.  When you begin the game, you default to 'Resistance' but you have an opportunity to choose 'Enlightened' during training.

The territory is controlled by 'portals', which are usually found at places of interest.  Churches, post offices, historical markers, scenic overlooks, state parks, landmarks, that sort of thing.  You claim a portal by putting 'resonators' on it, and can also add things like shields or defensive turrets.  If the portal is owned by the other side, you use 'XMP' grenades to take out its defenses and claim it.  Once claimed, you can link portals together and use those links to create 'mind control fields', territory held by your side.  You can also 'hack' a portal, which nets you some shiny new gear.

One of the primary features of the game is that it must be played in person.  To capture a portal, you have to be standing next to it.  You can defend remotely, but only by recharging existing resonators, so if someone can attack faster than you can recharge, you'll lose your portal.  But to really play, you must get up, go out of your house, and walk or drive around your city seeing the things that someone, somewhere has decided are interesting and worth looking at (some portals were generated by the game makers, but more have been submitted by users, who love their cities and want people to see what's cool about them).  If you really want to play, you have to break out of the 'wake, work, home, relax, sleep' cycle.

I'm enjoying the game.  I'm very close to level 5 (the game is in beta, and currently only goes to Level 8), so I have a reasonable ability to take and hold portals, though sometimes other players take mine.  What I'm finding, over the last three weeks, is that this game is uniquely suited to resisting my personal manifestation of depression:

1.  I must leave the house to play.  I must go out, into the fresh air and sunshine.  The game sends me a message that says, "Someone has attacked your portal, and you only have one half-powered resonator left!  If you don't go rescue it, you'll LOSE IT!"  That's a perfect trigger for me to put down the book or laptop and go, because it's just enough of an 'emergency' to feed the need for manufactured crisis, without any actual crisis.

2.  The game is geared around small, attainable goals.  The above-mentioned manufactured crisis is easily resolved.  I get to my portal, I put more resonators on it, I re-attach all its links and fields.  Or I locate a weak enemy portal, go to it, and capture it.  Mission accomplished, small 'hit' of confidence acquired.  I made a plan, I executed a plan, and the plan worked.  I did A Thing because I am a Competent Human Being.  On dangerous days, when the Traitor Brain is loud, it helps tremendously.

3.  The defeats are small and without serious consequence, and provide more challenges.  This weekend, someone took out a couple of portals I was using to anchor a large field.  Now I get to find a way to get them back, find a new field to build, or work around what that person did.  I may have 'lost' something, but that 'loss' just gives me more reason to play, more to think about, a chance to re-plan my field layout.

4.  Because most of my portals are interesting things to see, I also spend a few minutes in a city park, or at a church labyrinth, or at a scenic hill country overlook.  I'm forced on a regular basis to stop and appreciate some aspect of my city that I might otherwise have passed by.  When people ask "Why are you standing here in front of our church looking at your phone?" I smile and tell them "I'm on an electronic scavenger hunt of beautiful places, and your church is one."

5.  There is a supportive community.  Perfect strangers will point out unclaimed portals to lower-level players, or even go on strafing runs to knock down a bunch of enemy portals for you so you can claim them yourself and level faster.  Maybe you only hold them for a day or two because you're Level 2 and everyone in your area is Level 8, but you get the points for claiming and linking them, so you can get to a higher level faster than you would alone.  I have been able to help a couple lower-level players myself, now.

I'm coming to realise that I need to seek out systems and activities like this if I want to stay emotionally healthy.  I see how I respond to 'get outside' triggers and a structure of small crises and accomplishments, how the structure and the planning and the ability to say, "I have had a hard morning.  I think I want to go capture that park near work and make it my own," gives me a lot of tools to stay even-keeled.

The more I dig down into this brain I inherited with no user's manual, the more tools I find for operating it.  It's really pretty excellent to have found this one.

Monday, October 7, 2013

On Being Alone In Your Head

Here's a question:  when's the last time you were alone in your brain?

Here's another one:  was it a comfortable experience?

When I say 'alone in your brain' I mean really, truly alone.  Not only no other people, but no internet or phone.  No book or movie or music to distract you.  No input except looking at what's there, hearing the ambient noise.  No goal-ended project to focus on.  Just you, and your brain.

Since I've been dealing with severe anemia, I have not been able to safely hike alone.  I've noticed that I miss the time with my brain.  This isn't about 'too many people'.  It's that the distractions never go away unless I deliberately leave them.  The phone is there, with its little games.  The internet beckons me with blogs and facebook and chat.  Even offline, I'm surrounded by books, and radio stations playing catchy music.  There's *manufactured content* everywhere for me to consume and I live in a world of active distraction, and unless I make a conscious effort, I'm never fully alone.

A lot of people ask me, "What's wrong with manufactured content?"  They say, "I get inspiration all the time from things I read or hear on the radio or see on TV."  And I agree that there's nothing wrong with it; it's just other people's brains.  And when you're listening to other people's brains, working on other people's deadlines, you don't have much incentive to stop and listen to the voices in your own head.

You get a clarity, left to face those voices.  You come to understand more about what you want and where you're going and who you are.  You also have to face the big life truths out there in the brain-black, ask the big questions:  Am I happy?  Am I a good person?  How can I be a better person?  How can I navigate the experiences of my life without compromising who I need to be and what I want to become?  If you establish a regular relationship with them, you develop a dialogue and an understanding, and you can really work through some serious growth.  Intuition is based in being able to hear and respect those voices.  So is inspiration.  They represent your subconscious collating information you didn't even know you'd taken in and pulling together your *own* conclusions from it.

Meditation helps, but it's hard to meditate long enough to really achieve the flow and stillness of your own mind.  Driving long distances without the radio is good, but not terribly environmentally sound.  Even when I work out, I'm listening to an audiobook or watching the TV above the elliptical.  I get a few minutes in the shower each morning, but I'm usually going over my day in my head and making lists.  Most of the people I know only spend quality time with their brains at one time: when they're trying to fall asleep.  I've been in that position lately, and I'm starting to notice that I'm having a little more trouble dropping off at night.

I suppose it makes a certain sense.  Is it any wonder that your mind, shouted down all day with television and conversation and books and blogs and work, takes that moment when you're not quite tired enough to fall asleep, grabs you by the face, and drags you off to hear all the things it wants to say?  You're a captive audience.  And when I'm trying to fall asleep, I'm still not in a place where I can engage my brain constructively.  I'm still trying to shut it down with my *own* worries and anxieties: If you do not let me go to sleep, brain, I will not wake up in time tomorrow and I will be late and groggy for work and the whole day will go badly.

I'm feeling much stronger now, and should be able to start heading back out for regular solo hikes.  I'm looking forward to finding out what my brain's been doing without me this summer.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Which I Admit I Should Probably Not Be President

Today is the 12th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and everyone I know is talking and thinking about them.

I am generally considered a fairly calm, reasonable person in crisis.  Most who know me would say that I am very level-headed, and not inclined to make decisions in anger.

But twelve years ago today, I felt like this.  Fear set in later, but in the first few hours there was nothing but the bloodwrath.  I remember saying, at around this hour of the day, to one of the co-workers with whom I was on a field trip, "Someone did this to us.  I want the people who planned this dead.  I want to find them, and I want to bomb them until they are a sheet of glass in the desert, until they and everything they love are reduced to rubble.  I want to do it with my hands."

A few days passed, and my pain and temper cooled, and I was able to read the stories and marvel at who we became in that moment.  Everyone knows the stories of first responders running into danger and giving their lives to save others, and over a decade later I remain in awe of those who listened to final calls from their brothers on the line and still ran into the fire.  There are other stories, too, that have filtered out.  Two men lifting up a woman in a wheelchair to carry her down flights of stairs, so that she and the people trapped behind her made it out alive.  Total strangers stopping to lend an arm or a moment, supporting someone who'd faltered.  As I watched the news reports, I could see people in the background staggering to reach safety and other people running up to help them.  The passengers of Flight 93, who died in a field in Pennsylvania rather than sit passively and let themselves be used as weapons.  People opening their homes and businesses to the stranded and the frightened, huddling around televisions looking for sense, for meaning, for familiar faces among the survivors.  So many people, reaching for the small heroisms within their sphere of influence, affirming humanity and empathy in the face of terror.

I watched as the world reached out, and said, "Oh.  Oh, we are so sorry.  This is terrible, and we weep for your pain."  We set politics aside, we set old fights aside, and for one moment in time we embraced a shared and common humanity.

However, I cannot forget that if the gods had granted me the power of life and death twelve years ago today, I'd have rained down the fury of my own pain and anguish on anyone I felt was responsible, whether I had proof, whether I had justification.  In that moment, in my wounded rage, I would have gladly accepted whatever the cost to become a dark avatar of furious vengeance.  That is my lesson, that I must be profoundly grateful that the gods did NOT choose to endow me that day with the power of life and death, and that I must always be mindful of the emotions influencing my decisions.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, a lot of decisions were made.  Sweeping restrictions of free speech and privacy were enacted, laws were passed trading privacy for the illusion of safety, and individual people targeted people in their own communities for retaliation.  A sidewalk bench through a coffeeshop window.  Hateful graffiti on a mosque wall.  Vicious threats against a Muslim community center.  Women in hijab were harassed while shopping or walking down the street, and dark-skinned men were greeted with suspicion and hostility.

My rage passed, and with it my desire for vengeance.  My fear passed, and with it my need to be protected.

I look around, twelve years on, and see that there are people in this country who still allow that rage and fear to divide us.  I see Islamophobic rhetoric, I see militant Christian propaganda, I see warmongering in the name of crushing the Other, and all I can think is that while I'm glad the gods did not give me the power to destroy everything I touched that day, to abandon every guiding principle I cherish in the name of blind obedience to my demons, I wish that perhaps they had not given that power to my fellow Americans, or that more powerful voices among us had been wise enough not to use it.

Resist vengeance, my loves.  Acknowledge your rage and let it pass through you without leaving its footprints in your heart.  If you are frightened, be frightened but never let fear make your decisions for you.  Take time, when emotions are high, to fully understand before you act.  We all carry the potential to be dark avatars of rage and destruction, and we carry the potential to be voices of calm and reasoned response to crisis.

In every moment, in times of crisis and times of respite, we are given choices that indulge one side or the other.  Small choices: "I will not snap nastily at the barista who has screwed up my latte for the fourth time in a row."  Large choices:  "I will not hit that person with my car."  The more power you have, the more capacity you have to make those choices:  "I will not drop nuclear weapons on every suspected al Qaeda stronghold in the world."

The greater your power, the greater your consequences.  Be glad, my friends, that my rage did not find its vengeance, and be hopeful that the echoes of those that did will fade in time.

I love you all.

Monday, August 12, 2013

In Which I Expect Better

I have one friend who, upon hearing any complaints or concerns I have about living as a woman in this world, or in any discussion of poor behaviour by a member of the male gender, invariably responds "What do you expect?  You're dealing with men."

The answer is "Better.  I expect better, and I get it more often than you seem to think I would."

I reject the cynicism inherent in the idea that I just can't expect more than the most basic, short-sighted, thoughtless actions from the men in my life, that the poor dears just can't be expected to stand up for equality with me, to treat me as an equal, to examine or challenge their own experience, unless I nag and berate and bully them, unless I dumb down and ease up the experience until it's easily palatable for them.

"They're just like that and you'll have to drag them kicking and screaming to make them better," is an outgrowth of "Boys will be boys," the harmful mentality that says little boys can't be chided or disciplined for acting out in ways that are detrimental, because that's just their natural masculine rambunctiousness and they don't *mean* any harm.  You can't *teach* them that teasing little girls or pulling their pigtails as an indicator of interest is a precursor to not respecting other boundaries or communicating clearly, because That's Just How They Are.  They can't overcome their basic boy natures to be self-aware, thoughtful, compassionate, or mindful.  They can't be taught consensus-based negotiations, or open communication, because those are just things girls are better at.  And you can't teach boys *or* girls that the other side is not the enemy, because, well, girls and boys are so different that they're just natural adversaries.

Yes, by all means, let's spend their childhoods lowering the bar when it comes to respectful, mindful interaction, so that when they're adults we can say, "What do we expect?  It's how they were raised."  Let's spend the first twenty years of their lives dividing boys and girls into armed camps, setting them against one another, teaching boys to be active and girls to be passive, teaching girls that they shouldn't fight for what they want and boys that they shouldn't accept compromise, and then shake our heads when adult men and women don't have the tools to work together effectively in ways that utilise a broad skill set balancing cooperation and competition.

I expect better, and oddly enough I get it an awful lot of the time.  I expect the men in my life to support women's equality, to embrace the idea that women deserve equal pay, accessible healthcare, educational opportunities, and the same respect men get.  I expect the men in my life not to say "Well, but she wore that skirt," or "It's not sexist; women just aren't as good at math," or "Of course women don't get paid equally, because employers have to account for the fact that they're going to take time off to have and raise babies.  Plus, women just can't be aggressive enough about demanding better compensation."  When we discuss relationships and the possibility of children, I expect the men who want to be part of my life to approach that discussion without assuming I'll be the one staying home to care for them.

How do I get better behaviour from the men in my life?  I challenge them, but I don't take responsibility for how they respond to that challenge.  I let them know what my expectations are, and the ones who aren't already living in a way that meets or exceeds my expectations for decent behaviour often respond by rising to meet expectations when they know what they are.

If I communicate a boundary, I expect a man to honor it.  If I explain something about my experience as a woman, I expect him to consider it.  If I talk about inequality, I expect him to look for ways he can challenge it.  If he doesn't, or won't, then he doesn't stay in my life very long.  I won't waste my time spending six months 'training' someone to respect a clearly-communicated boundary, because there are SO MANY men I've met who respond to "These are my expectations" with "Oh, thank you so much for telling me, so I don't have to guess and fumble around and worry about offending you by saying the wrong thing, and by the way THESE are MY expectations, clearly stated and openly communicated, and man, it's kind of awesome to start a friendship/relationship from this level of understanding."

And what have these expectations for decency and equality brought me?  Some frustration and some lost friendships, to be sure.  But...the last several men I've been involved with respected my competence and intellect and felt secure in their own.  The practice of communicated expectations and boundaries has meant that my relationships have a lot fewer miscommunications and hurt feelings.  Among my male friends are people who fight as hard or harder for my equality as I do, who speak up when they hear sexist comments or rape jokes, who are mindful of the complexities of gender.  I know many fathers of daughters they're raising to be curious and fierce and smart, and fathers of sons they're raising to be empathetic and cooperative, and in general the fathers I know are raising their children to carefully consider and challenge expected gender roles (as are the mothers, but this conversation is about the quality of men in my life).

The men in my life are my allies.  They have my back, and I have theirs.  They're fighting beside me, and I stand with them.  They genuinely care about women because those women are half the population, because they don't accept the status quo, because they can see that inequality hurts everyone, not just the disenfranchised.  Even the man who asks me "Hey, what do you expect?  They're men," believes in and works for women's equality, because exceeds what he seems to believe his gender's capable of.

It won't get better unless we expect better.  And regardless of how many times I'm told that men are dogs, men are pigs, men just can't be trusted or counted on, I'm going to continue to expect better, and I'm going to choose men to be in my life who honestly, genuinely, consistently meet those expectations.

Friday, August 2, 2013

In Which I Am Almost Certainly Geekier Than You, But Don't Have to Demonstrate That

Almost twenty years ago, my friend Flea invited me to play in her Chill game.  I'd never played a role-playing game before, but I'd watched my older sister play D&D through the early 80s with her friend, and it seemed like fun.  Flea told me I needed ten-sided dice to play; off I went to the newly-opened game store downtown.

I walked in, and the room fell silent.  Guarded stares hit me full-force.  Trying to ignore it, I headed for the dice display at the register.  Having learned at an early age that the best response to intimidation is to keep thinking, "I belong here, I belong here, I belong here," I started to pick through the big basket of ten-siders, looking for my dice.  The clerk, a regrettable collection of basement-dwelling stereotypes, asked my left breast, "Can I help you?"  To this day, I'm not sure why the *left* one seemed to be the one he expected most likely to answer.  I told him I just needed a couple of ten-sided dice.

"Oh," he said.  "OK.  What's your boyfriend play?"

I said, "These are for me.  I'll take these two."

He stared at me (Lefty) a second longer, and said, "What system?"  I answered, "Chill."  He looked up, at my actual face, a little perplexed, and said, "But they don't have healers..."  I paid for my dice without further comment and left.

A few months later, one of my close male friends (we were sibling-close) and I were out, and he wanted to stop in at the store and check something out.  I was hesitant, and finally explained my prior experience.  He didn't believe me.  So he went in first, and I went in a minute or two later, and walked towards the back of the  store.

I have no idea what the clerk said to my 'brother', but the next thing I heard was a sound of furious rage and, "That's my fucking SISTER, man.  What the everloving fuck is WRONG with you?"

Frantic backpedaling ensued, in which I note NO APOLOGY was ever offered to me, but profuse apologies were offered to my friend because "I never would have said anything to you if I knew you knew her."

Over the years I've had better experiences with game stores, and worse ones, but that one stands out.  So this week when this video (no really, go watch it, I'll wait) started to make the rounds, it came back to mind.

So many of those cards are things I could have written.  I've been assumed to be playing in my boyfriend's game because he needed a cleric countless times.  Men playing in their first campaign have condescendingly explained the difference between a ranger and a paladin.  I've had guy friends asked to play in campaigns, right in front of me, by people who mentioned they had a hard time finding players but didn't even consider that *I* might be a potential one.

When I tell people I LARPed (Live-Action Role-Playing) for several years, most of them think of the Vampire games of political intrigue and social climbing.  What I mean to say is "I camped for a weekend each month from March to November, in any weather.  I fought with padded sticks, I made up spells in rhyme on the fly, I ran and hid and tracked and stayed almost fully in character for forty-eight hours at a time."

And for two years, I did it in a motherfucking corset (technically a bodice, but the difference is insignificant for practical purposes: I was laced into a restrictive cleavage-enhancing garment, in which I performed armed melee combat, occasionally in the rain).

I've played in game systems I can't remember the names of.  I've got a folder of old characters going back to the first one, whose information I laboriously copied out onto a blank piece of typing paper because we didn't have enough printed character sheets to go around.  Whenever a new friend asks me to list off the games I've played, usually at least one is unfamiliar (most likely Alternity or Earthdawn, but sometimes Nobilis).

When I was about nine, my father handed me The Hobbit to shut me up on a rainy summer afternoon.  I devoured it, and though the Lord of the Rings trilogy was a bit more daunting, I eventually worked through it over a year or so and was delighted, some time later, to receive The Silmarillion from him for a birthday.

I've read the books, I've seen the shows, I've played the games and fought the battles.  I saw Star Wars in the theatre (admittedly, I was four and my memory of it's a bit hazy) when it was still called that and no one referred to it as "Episode IV."

My mother gave me my first microscope at age eight, and not one of those shitty Fisher-Price ones, either:  a Tasco.  She regretted it a little later when I was growing bread mold under the fridge to make my own slides, but she never told me science wasn't for girls.  My favorite part of science class was the dissections, because you got to TAKE THE THING APART, but that didn't stop me from looking sadly at my Biology II teacher over the open abdomen of a domesticated feline and saying, "He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." (he laughed)

But what's most remarkable about the last several paragraphs is how often I've been demanded to produce the information in them to be 'allowed' in geek circles.  How often I've had to justify or defend my right to love the things I love, to do the things I do.  How many men I've dated (and their friends) have assumed that the reason I prefer geeky men is something other than "We have things in common and similar interests."  How often that recitation of my 'cred' earns me an "Oh, so you're a real geek girl then."

I admit to a certain frustration with people who have begun to emulate my culture without embracing it.  To an annoyance with people who adopt 'geek culture' trappings as an ironic statement, who say things like "LOL look at me studying on a Friday night, I'm such a nerd LOL."  To a whole HOST of issues with The Big Bang Theory's ostentatious mockery disguised as homage.  But nobody died and made me Chooser of the Geeks.  I am not some nerdy Valkyrie, riding my celestial direwolf across the land to select those worthy to play Settlers of Valhalla at my never-ending Doctor Who marathon (though I suddenly have a really GREAT idea for cosplay).

And neither are you.

We're all real geek girls, whether we meet your test or not.  And while things are getting *better*, I still don't feel wholly accepted or entirely safe in my community.  I still walk into a gaming store for the first time, each time, expecting that silence, expecting to need to be somebody's "SISTER, man," to be treated respectfully.  My boyfriend wants me to go to Star Trek events with him, and while a large part of why I'm apprehensive is that for an extrovert, walking into a large room of strangers and risking social rejection is daunting, the underlying problem there is not the large room of strangers.

It's that I can't shake, until I'm there, the expectation that I'll have to 'earn it'.  That I'll have to prove my right to be there, and that at some point someone will say something to me that will force me to decide whether to slap him, excoriate him, or simply walk away.  And while I'm tired of accepting that as the way that it is, and tired of having to prove myself, and tired of living out that status quo...I'm also tired of fighting that fight, a little.

So, probably next year I'll go to a con or a gathering with him, and I won't defend my right to be there.  I won't give anyone the satisfaction of making me demonstrate my cred, or earn his respect.  This blog is the last place, I hope, where I will ever lay out my pat and detailed explanation as to why I deserve to be elevated from 'fake geek girl' to 'real geek girl'.  I'm brave enough to look someone in the eye when he challenges my right to be there and say, "Because fuck you, that's why."

But I'm not quite brave enough to do it without a group of friends at my back, because the world hasn't changed yet.

We still have to change it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

In Which I Consider That I May Be An Adult Now

As I begin this post, I am thirty-nine minutes into my fortieth birthday.

I thought about doing a massive party, or even a smaller party, some gathering of friends playing games or roller skating or sharing food, but that didn't happen.  Maybe it was a failure of planning, maybe the fact that most of the activities I considered are better when it's not brutally hot, maybe it's that my life is so full of gatherings of friends and family, celebrations of joy, that I don't need a dedicated party to mark another year on the planet.

My birthday has been a fortnight-long affair.  My father and stepmother came up to take me to dinner, birthday wishes have been showered upon me at community gatherings and dinners with friends.  I have a loving boyfriend who's used my birthday as a perfectly reasonable excuse for presents and cake and random hugs and messages, and not one but two special birthday dinners.  A regular gathering of my tribe will share my actual birthday.

Today, my best friend chose to spend one day of her first real adult vacation at Fiesta Texas riding roller coasters, and she invited me to go with her.  So, in celebration of my fortieth, I screamed and laughed and stood in lines and collected sunburn.  It was glorious.  I love to be an adult.  She and I, we have some things about adulthood figured out that I think maybe some adults never get.

When I was a little girl, I thought 'adults' were these magical figures who had it figured out.  I listened carefully to them, sure they were dispensing secret and brilliant wisdom and True Answers.  I've since learned that adults don't have it all figured out, that we're grasping and muddling just as much as we ever did.  We've got some pieces of it, and others have some pieces of it, and all together we've got some right answers and some wrong ones and no way to know which is which.

But today, in line for one of the rides, a mother turned to me and said, "If you're riding alone, will you take my little girl with you?  I don't really want to go on this ride."  I said I would, and suddenly found myself entrusted with an eight-year-old named Josie.  She said, "I'm not scared."  I said, "Me either."  She said, "Mom thinks I should be."  I said, "People say you should be scared a lot, and it's OK not to be."  She nodded wisely, and said, "I know."  We had a great ride, and I returned her to her waiting mother (people give me their children a lot; I have one of those faces, I think).

A little later, my friend and I got caught up in the conversation of a couple of preteen girls, who were talking about the rides and the people and math and everything else.  We joked and chatted with them, agreeing that the man trying to text on the ride thought he must be important.  As we walked out, we talked about how "Those girls are probably going to grow up to be us.  I'm comfortable with that."

There's a fun part to being an adult, the part where I get to decide when it's Roller Coaster Day and when to eat cookies for breakfast.  There's the part where I have a control over my life and destiny I never had as a child.  For a long time, I thought that I was 'paying' for my breakfast cookies and my mental health days by being a responsible citizen the rest of the days, by paying bills and being on time to work.

But...that's not how I pay for my indulgences.  The real price of adult freedoms comes when a pair of perfectly trusting eyes looks up at me, unafraid, and I have the chance to nourish her courage.  When two joyful children on the cusp of adolescence test the waters and engage with 'adults' on a more equal footing, I have the choice to shove them back down into childhood or to relate to them as peers.

At forty, there's an argument to be made that I am now entitled to greater respect, that I've got a greater level of experience and understanding, that I should probably embrace my 'grownup' identity and settle into some stability.  But I'm going to keep eating cookies for breakfast and ice cream when I want it, and I'm going to consider roller coasters or skydiving or base jumping or hiking alone a perfectly reasonable pursuit for 'a woman of my age'.  I'm going to laugh and love and choose all the things that bring me joy.

In part, I do this because I a choosing joy and love as the life I want.  But in part, I am doing it because I *am* the adult, and I *do* want them to learn the things I have figured out.  And the things my forty years have taught me, children, are (in part) these things:

When you have the chance to meet someone's eyes, do it.  When you have the chance to laugh, take it. Sometimes you have to work hard and sometimes you can play, and there is a value and a beauty and a necessity for each in the healthy life.  Friends are the people who love you whether you are weak or strong, and trust you when you know where they are weak.  You can have cookies for breakfast, but if you have them every day you'll stop thinking they're special.  People who love you will try to understand you, but they won't always succeed; forgive them the failure and forgive yourself your own.  It's all right to admit you're afraid, but you never have to be afraid just because someone else expects you to be.  You have the right to be happy, and the responsibility to get that way.

Most of all, you are loved and beautiful and you have infinite capacity for joy and suffering, and EVERY SINGLE DAY is a series of choices you make to create your own destiny.

I love you all.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In Which I Am Not Triumphant So Much As Resolved

Something amazing happened yesterday.  Texas Democrats stood up and fought like hell to prevent the passage of SB5, which would have brutally restricted abortion access, imposed an arbitrary and unrealistic 20-week limit, and closed the clinics that currently provide essential women's health services to tens of thousands of women, especially the clinics that serve poor and mostly-nonwhite parts of the state.  Just under a dozen Senators stood up for the women of Texas, backed by THOUSANDS of citizens who turned out to stand with them.  And in the end, despite cheating, despite a complete assault upon parliamentary procedure, despite lies and despicable tactics on the other side, despite the literal (and possibly illegal) alteration of the legislative record, that plucky little band of Democrats prevailed.  Just before 3 in the morning, word came down that we had prevailed, that the vote had not happened in time, that the Democratic filibuster had succeeded in running out the clock.

There are a lot of names to remember from last night.  Senators Wendy Davis (who kept her feet and her head when all was chaos), Kirk Watson (who wielded procedure and verbiage with fabulous aplomb), Leticia van de Putte (who stood her own ground, in her grief, with a grace and courage that stunned me), Royce West (who ran Senator Duncan around after his own tail on whether you could appeal a ruling that is not a ruling once the presiding officer has ruled...or not ruled?), Rodney Ellis (who asked, "Is it fair to say the rules have become very flexible in this body?" at just the right moment), and Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa (who had the foresight to print out the evidence that proves GOP tampering with the record).  Even Senator Eddie Lucio, who supported the bill based on his personal beliefs -- but refused to vote with Republicans to suspend the rules of the Senate and accelerate the process, out of respect and compassion for his friend, Senator van de Putte, so that she could attend her father's funeral and return in time to vote.

Soon, they will all need our support because you can bet they'll be targets in the next election.

There are other names to remember, too.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Senator Robert Duncan, who between them completely mocked and gutted any pretense at parliamentary order or rules.

Senators Donna Campbell (who insisted that the legislation already existing to restrict abortion was not germane to a discussion of restricting it further), and Craig Estes (whose irrelevant, insulting, and bullying questions I lost count of), and all those who supported not only the bill, but the unethical tactics used to try to force it through.  I can respect those who voted 'yes' on SB5 for reasons of conscience, on which we disagree, but not those who participated in devious, underhanded, and dishonest tactics to push it through without scrutiny or debate.

Governor Rick Perry, who has already called another special session to force through legislation that he KNOWS does not reflect the will of his constituents, a special session that will cost the taxpayers of Texas money they must find somewhere: schools, state parks, highway maintenance, environmental monitoring...

*They* will also be targets in the next election.  Remember them, find out who is standing against them, and support every one of their opponents.  Not one of them ever deserves to hold an office with more responsibility or power than 'Second Assistant Deputy Inspector of Dog Park Fecal Collection Bags' ever again.  Let's remember how we feel today, and keep it in the coming weeks to fight through the special session, and then in the months beyond as we work to get these people OUT of office.

Monday, June 24, 2013

In Which I Do Not Care Why You Made That Choice, Just That You Were Free To Make It

I'm going to tell you something I generally only discuss with people I'm considering as potential long-term committed sexual partners:

I do not believe it would be ethically or morally right for me to terminate a healthy pregnancy, so I won't do it.  If I become pregnant, and the fetus and I are physically able to survive and thrive, I will carry the baby to term and raise it.  The level of the father's involvement will be at a minimum fiscal, and based on our relationship at the time.  I won't sleep with anyone who can't accept that reality.  I have great respect for the two or three partners over the years who've said "Yeah, I am really not ready to be a father in any way shape or form and I am not willing to take that risk," and either limited involvement with me to non-risk behaviours or ended the relationship entirely.  That takes a lot of self-awareness and integrity.

Why won't I terminate a healthy pregnancy?  Because I'm physically, emotionally, and financially able to take care of a child.  Because I'm educated about birth control and pregnancy.  Because I have access to reasonably effective, reliable birth control.  Because I live in a city where I have access to emergency contraception in the event of rape, and good prenatal care in the event of accidental pregnancy.  Because, to me, an unplanned pregnancy would be inconvenient and perhaps a little awkward to explain to my conservative employers, but it would not require me to give up an education or a career or other opportunities.

There are personal reasons and spiritual reasons and all manner of other reasons, but what really matters?  Two things:

1.  That I have the right and legal protection to make whatever my choice might be, with the guidance of a trusted physician, and receive safe, legal, reasonably priced healthcare.

2.  That I understand that no part of my personal reasoning for whether or not I would choose to terminate a pregnancy has any bearing whatsoever on the decisions another woman might make.

In Texas right now, laws are being passed to deny women the right to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks.  Many proponents of these laws say "Well, isn't five months enough time to decide?"

You know what?  Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't.  Maybe a woman's just found out she and her husband are carriers for a potentially devastating disease.  Maybe she's escaping an abusive relationship and knows her ex will use a custody fight to keep stalking her if she has the baby.  Maybe she's got erratic periods and she didn't find out she was pregnant until her fifth month, and she's been taking medicines that cause birth defects the whole time.

And maybe, just maybe, nothing in that last paragraph matters because a woman seeking an abortion at any time, for any reason, does not need to justify it to me or to anyone else.  Maybe there should only have to BE two people in that room when the choice is made, and one of them should be the patient and the other should be the doctor.  Maybe we should trust women to know their lives, and their needs, and their capabilities, far better than any other person would know them, and make their decisions accordingly.  Maybe we should assume that a woman considering an abortion has already talked to her partner, her mother, her spiritual advisor, her therapist, or anyone else whose input she feels is important to the decision, and does not need a governmental mandate to do so.

A lot of people say "If you don't have a uterus, you don't have a right to an opinion on abortion."  I disagree absolutely.  We all, every one of us, have the right to that opinion, and the right to speak it freely, and I think that as long as we can do so respectfully, we have an obligation to speak our minds freely.  I believe that a clear and open discussion of the moral and ethical issues surrounding sexuality, pregnancy, abortion, and parenthood is long overdue in this country because we'll never stop using shame and fear to control sexuality until we can have those conversations openly and without judgment.

What we don't have?  The right to turn opinion into law.  The right to assume there is a common religious morality that should direct legislation.  We don't have the right to assume our choices are a universal ideal and judge or shame those who don't fit it.  We don't have the right to claim a moral high ground we do not actually hold, and deny essential healthcare funding (and access) in a perversion of 'Christian values'.  We don't have the right to establish rules regarding when others should have 'made up their minds' or whether someone's reasons are 'good enough'.

There are dozens of reasons a woman might end a pregnancy, and dozens of reasons she might not.  I refuse to split hairs, to even engage in the act of finding 'defensible abortions' that justify why a woman might have a 'reasonable' explanation for it.  I say, absolutely, that it does not matter to me that another woman might choose differently than I might.  It matters to me that both of us are given equal respect and freedom to make those choices, and equal care and opportunity to carry out our choices in the way that is healthiest for all concerned.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

In Which I Admit Lust

I was going to write a light philosophical musing about the range of Beltane practices in the pagan community, from the visceral and orgiastic to the fully academic, but instead I find myself focused on something else.


For years, I buried passion in compassion, earthing it down and keeping it tightly reined.  My sexuality was something deeply private, even its *existence* shared only with the few partners who managed to make it through the intellectual and emotional obstacle course to my bed, and even then I didn't always admit the most powerful truth: it's not the act of sex that pleases me, but the exchange of desire.  Inexperienced and fumbling, lacking the right vocabulary or even a complete understanding of my own feelings, I could never fully explain that it mattered far less how a man touched me than it did whether or not his hands shook with pure need as he did it.  Being wanted wholly, utterly, helplessly has always been my greatest aphrodisiac.

The face I showed the world was one of service, kindness, duty, compassion, hiding my more feral impulses beneath a calm, smooth, helpful smile.  I was considered, by many who knew me, as prudish, repressed, even frigid.  Some of this came from my own acceptance of the idea that lust was something only thin, pretty, socially normalized girls got.  As a fat girl who's been more than once described as 'sort of plain', I assumed that my chances to be truly desired would be few and far between.  The events surrounding my marriage, which don't bear going into here, only served to reinforce that assumption, to add yet another layer of "so much is clearly wrong with you that your lust could only ever be a burden to its targets, gratified as an act of pity or mercy."

For years, I believed that anyone in whom I felt a sexual interest would be embarrassed by the knowledge, and if he were sufficiently generous of spirit, he could bring himself to accept and perhaps even indulge my desire without showing his revulsion.  I cannot begin to count how many men I watched, hopeless, fiercely hiding any evidence of my interest to spare them.  Even when I could manage to admit it, I was circumspect to the point of nonchalance, and probably gave the impression of lukewarm interest instead of the burning passion I felt.  Very few men saw through it, and I wish now I'd made it easier on them to love me.  (I'm sad to say that some of you, reading this, have probably missed out on a certain amount of what I imagine would have been pretty incredible sex, as a result of my fear.  Sorry about that.)

Each year, Beltane came and went, and I buried myself in academic musings about personal creativity and intellectual fertility, shying away from the true celebration of desire, of lust, of the sheer blissful sharing of intimacy as a sacred act.  I said, "This is not really one of my holidays."  I feigned disinterest in the romps and celebrations of my friends, while secretly wishing I could join their headlong burning.  I so tightly bound and constrained my own expressions of desire that they only rarely woke reciprocal desire in others, and when they did I found myself thrown off balance and inclined to deny them entirely.

Just before I moved to Texas, that began to change.  I began to work with fire magic, and I learned that you can't actually hold a flame suppressed indefinitely.  It must be given freedom to burn, to shine, to glow as it will.  Before I was able to move into safely holding and working with fire in any meaningful capacity, I had to address my own desires -- not just sexual -- and acknowledge them as valid and worthy.  I had to learn to make "I want" statements without feeling I was a penitent asking for a favor.  I had to stand, open to the gods and myself, and admit that desire is a sacred prayer, a ritual of will, an expression of being alive.  This led me to the practice of sacred sexuality, to the idea that all acts of intimacy can be joyful rituals of shared love and lust.

This Beltane, I choose to formally honor my desire, to acknowledge that I am grateful for passion's presence in my life.  I honor the gods with my spirit, and with my heart, and with my body.  I begin from a willingness to accept my own wants and needs as valid parts of my experience in this life, and I embrace my nature as a sexual being.  I will not be embarrassed by or ashamed of my own lust, and I will not hide from what I desire.  I will offer to share my passion as I will, and on my own terms, with no constraint beyond my respect for the boundaries of others.  And when the opportunity for shared and passionate joy comes into my life, I will not suppress it, will not temper that passion with the fear that I am giving too much, delving too deeply, flying too close to the sun.  This Beltane, I join that headlong burning, that spinning arc of sunward longing, that visceral and joyous celebration.

I want.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

In Which I Finally Understood Easter After I Stopped Being Christian

One of the last times I visited my grandmother, she wanted to give me 'a little money' (I think it was $20 or so; she liked to tell me to 'get myself a treat'), and I followed her into her bedroom so she could get her purse.  Looking at all the family pictures on her dresser, I noticed one that wasn't a relation.  Neatly tucked in among the shots of my mother and aunt, sister and cousins, of my great-grandmother and my great-uncle and my nephews, was a small framed picture of Christ.  I didn't really think much of it until I was headed home, but it says something profound and significant about my grandmother's relationship with her faith.

She had, of course, all the other pictures of Jesus that Midwesterners have, the one over the TV, the one in the guest room, and so on.  But here was one that made a statement that defined her: Jesus was part of my grandmother's family.  He was not a remote and unknowable being, a distant mythical figure to be worshiped but never understood.  He was a friend, a brother, a father to her.  When she prayed, she genuinely believed that he heard her, and that feeling of being heard gave her comfort whether her prayers were answered or not.  Though, my grandmother's prayers were usually answered -- not because she was better than the rest of us, but because she knew what her God could give her.  She wouldn't pray for an end to a sickness, but for the wisdom of the doctors and the courage to endure.  She wouldn't pray for a good harvest, but for the strength to work hard and the skill to make the most of weather and circumstance.  When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, she didn't ask God to take it away: she prayed for smart doctors, and her own courage, and her husband's comfort.  She understood that faith isn't about waving a magic wand to get what you want; it's about having support and comfort for your journey.

I'm thinking today about my grandmother's relationship with her gods because it's Easter, the most holy and joyful day of the Christian faith.  A lot of my friends like to mock it with faux-clever quips about zombie Jesus, but I can't really see my way clear to mocking something that meant that much to someone who's meant so much to me.

When I was little, I didn't really like Easter because it wasn't as fun.  Sure, there were eggs and candy, but Christmas had a TREE and PRESENTS and maybe even SNOW and time off school.  I left the Christian faith at 19, before I fully understood the idea of self-sacrifice, of making life choices for the love of others.  Within paganism, as I've chosen a path of duty and service, I've finally come to understand Easter, to understand why this story of incredible love and compassion is so powerful to those of the Christian faith.

My grandmother believed that once upon a time her God had looked forward to everyone who would ever be, and had known that someday she personally would exist, and he had asked his son, "I love these people.  Will you also love them enough to die for them?"  And she believed that Christ had looked forward, and had seen her (and everyone else who would ever be), and said, "Yes, I will."

In the Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay, a character named Kevin Laine swears an oath: "Though he be a god, and it mean my death ... to this I will make my reply."  Later, another character references that promise and points out that you give a little leeway to a man who says that sort of thing, even if he doesn't quite know how he'll accomplish it when he says it.

That's sort of how I feel about the Christian promise.  I am not a Christian theologist, and I have my own ideas on the nature of free will and redemption that may or may not jibe with the Easter story.  But the gist of it is that one man said, "Yes, these people, I love them so much, even the ones I've never met, that I'll go through this horrible thing for them, just because of my own belief that somehow my sacrifice will make something possible for them that they couldn't have otherwise managed."  And...I have to give a certain amount of respect to a man who swears that sort of oath, even if the fundamental mechanics are sort of unclear to me.

If you've read Fionavar, you know what Kevin's reply was.  If you haven't, you should.  And it remains to be seen what Christ's reply really means in the long run; people have their own beliefs ranging from 'nothing' to 'everything'.  Maybe he never existed.  Maybe he existed as a man and teacher who's been expanded to the Son of God to fill a mythic role.  Maybe he was the literal Son of God.  I don't know.  I can't know.  Personally, I don't need to know.

But I do know that my grandmother loved him deeply, with all her heart, and that her love for him was profound and important enough to her to inform every single aspect of her daily life, to color every interaction, every conversation.  And just as I wouldn't mock someone's dead father, or dead brother, and just as I would be hurt by someone mocking my grandmother or the best friend I lost in 2004, I simply cannot find it in myself to disrespect her love that way.

I love you all.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In Which I Advocate for Domestic Partnership

Almost everyone I know is currently up in arms about gay marriage.  It's understandable; a substantial portion of the American population is being denied basic civil rights on a flimsy 'moral' pretext.

The argument as to whether homosexuality is moral or immoral is relevant to the social and personal treatment of gays, but it should be irrelevant to law.  Law is not, contrary to popular belief, derived from a moral argument.  It's derived from an ethical agreement we participate in as a society.  Things are not illegal because they are 'wrong' on a moral level.  In a pluralistic society, things should be illegal because they're detrimental to the social order, not because they're in opposition to a theological position.

Civil rights are not detrimental to the social order.  Equality is not detrimental to the social order.  If you give everyone the same rights and privileges under the law, it creates a more stable system, not a less stable one.  Greater social stability is an inherent benefit to those who live within a society, so long as it doesn't prevent the growth and progress of that society.  Any expansion of civil rights encourages the growth and progress of a society.

Marriage equality is a complex issue, and one that affects me on a number of levels.  As a non-Christian, I object to living under the assumption of 'Christian morality'.  As a straight ally, I see my friends and loved ones denied a basic right I enjoy simply because my sexual preference is more palatable to a certain segment of the population.  And as a clergyperson, I have to wrestle with the issue of whether or not I will perform heterosexual marriages when I can't legally solemnize same-sex ones.

The first two are larger social problems, but the last can be viewed as a matter of contracts.  Ultimately, what I've come to consider is that I should give up my power to confer legal status on anyone, straight or gay.  When I perform a wedding, it should be solely a spiritual and social ceremony, with no legal standing at all.  I believe that clergy should play a simple role, managing the rites and rituals of community life.  But I believe that ultimately, the only way to maintain a proper separation of church and state is to create two separate elements to marriage.

The first element is the social and spiritual one, the ceremony before community in which consenting adults swear oaths to one another by whatever they hold sacred, oaths that create no legal obligation.  This element of a wedding confers a social standing upon the participants, by which those who share similar values can recognise that these people have made promises to one another.  It creates a moral obligation, but no connection under the law.  I feel, as a priestess, that I am qualified to perform these ceremonies because I intimately understand the structures of oath and obligation, the social fabric of community that makes that ritual meaningful.

The second aspect of marriage is the legal contract.  It creates a connection under law, a set of obligations with fiscal and legal ramifications, and a set of privileges that affect property transfer, parental rights, healthcare decisions, and financial standing.  The set of promises entailed in civil marriages all relate to simple contract law, and should be handled as such by a state-appointed official well-versed in contracts, estate law, tax policy, and property rights.  As a priestess, I am not an expert on contract law, and am not best qualified to legitimize that relationship.

I propose a complete severance between the aspects of marriage, that the clergy be left unmolested to perform any marriage they choose:  man to woman, man to man, woman to woman, three or more people.  In cases where one party is unable to legally consent (age, mental incapacity), clergy marriage shouldn't provide protection to the relationship (if you find a priest to marry you to a twelve-year-old girl, "she's my wife" should not protect you from statutory rape), but otherwise there should be no legal restrictions on who can be married in such a ceremony.

In tandem with this, any domestic partnership should be required to undergo a civil contract registry to obtain the rights, privileges, and legal standing available to married persons.  Any number of consenting adults can sign a contract, provided all signatories agree to the terms.  You can be married all you like, but without a domestic registry the state recognises nothing about your union.  Each state has a standard set of rights and privileges associated with marriage, and a simple "John Doe and Jane Smith agree to enter into a domestic partnership according to the laws of (state) with no exceptions," contract would cover most marriages, and those with more complex relationships are free to seek legal counsel to codify the terms of their marriage contract, just as a couple can seek legal advice for a prenuptial agreement now.

Most suggestions of 'domestic partnership' offer a 'separate but equal' dodge around marriage equality, creating a second tier of 'almost the same' to be offered to gays and lesbians, but that creates a second-class marital status.  Pure equality under the law requires, ultimately, that only the law determine who has a legal standing.

This involves me giving up a power I currently hold under law, but I've been feeling a growing conflict with that power for some time.  I am not qualified to advise on the legal ramifications of contract marriage, and if I am truly taking the responsibility of officiating weddings seriously, I should be able to intelligently explain to everyone involved the full ramifications of the thing we are doing together.