Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Moving

Dear Readers, Trolls, and Bots:

I've moved to DianaDay.org where I'll be focusing on writing, editing, and a few more life experiments.  Relevant posts and comments have moved with me.  I hope to see you there.

d-day

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How to Get the Most Out of Constructive Criticism

Everyone says they want really thorough constructive criticism. That's a lie. Why would you want that? It hurts! Be honest--you mostly want to hear that that there’s nothing in your work to criticize. At worst, you're hoping for ways to improve something you already knew wasn’t working.

The most useful criticism is the stuff you’re not ready for, because that’s where the reader finds your blind spots. It hurts more though, and it’s hard to react gracefully when you don’t see the blow coming. So even when the criticism is useful, it's too much to ask that you react with a serene "thank you." Since it's going to hurt no matter what, here are some ways to make the most from it: 

1. Retreat 
I submitted this post for public critique at a writing webinar.  I did not expect the instructor to say: “the problem with this one is that the writing is terrible.”

When she said that, I put my head down on the desk and minimized the window so I wouldn't have to look at it anymore.  When my husband came in and brought me a Diet Coke, I yelled at him to get the fuck out of my office. Then I yelled at my kid for singing too loudly in the next room. You don’t have to bother accept criticism gracefully if no one can see you.

2. Attack
The instructor really hated one part of the post that she thought was dishonest and unreal. I wrote that my parents weren’t “entirely pleased” when they found out I was in remedial math, and the italics pissed off the instructor. “No one talks like that,” she said.

I got really angry at that, because that is exactly how I would have spoken it.  Only instead of speaking in italics I would have made a weird face on the word "entirely" to indicate absurd understatement. Because, what, I'm supposed to tell you about the fear and the screaming involved when you force a ten year old to learn multiplication in two days? About how I had to sit on the stairs that whole weekend with the gilt-edged World Book in my lap so they could watch me from any room in the house? The only reason I finally got it all down perfectly, late that Sunday, was because I was so terrified that if I needed quizzing again, they would find out that I’d defaced the book.

So while I would absolutely have told that story weirdly in person, I would have been weird in order to hide something I didn’t like. Which is exactly the dishonesty in the piece that she picked up on.

3. Advance
Remember that with constructive criticism, the point is to learn, not to like it. Whine and argue in private, but keep working so that you get the full benefit of the criticism. After tonight’s class, I wanted to kick a hole in my monitor, but I also didn’t want to apologize for yelling at my family. So I sat back down and wrote this instead. By getting back to work while the wound was still fresh, I learned a lot more than I would have otherwise. I also spared myself an evening of unproductive crap, like wallowing in hurt feelings and wondering if I was so upset because of the writing or because I’ve been a screwed-up approval seeker since childhood.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

First Lady of the Resistance


If Bill Whittle can be the Shadow President (and he has my vote 100%), then I want to throw my hat in the ring for First Lady.  Not like that.  And not because I want to be in charge of anything (as I have neither desire nor capacity for leadership), but because I don’t hear President Whittle talking about domestic social issues quite the same way he talks about foreign and economic policy stuff. 

I’m not necessarily trying to convince you of any of this, but I thought it would be worth it to get the ball rolling, to hear what this particular message could sound like from a messenger who believed it. 

***

FIRST LADY D-DAY ADDRESSES THE NATION


My fellow Americans.  Thank you for letting me speak to you as First Lady.  I’m not so sexist as to believe that First Ladies are mere appendages to their husbands and share the same hopes and agendas.  But it’s true that the first ladies’ agendas don’t (and shouldn’t) matter when they don’t run for that office. 

I think that must be very difficult—to be so close to power and so lacking in access to it.  It speaks to the strength and character of the American woman that, instead of turning to palace intrigues and power struggles, our first ladies have created themselves a position of influence through their work.  That right there is the American way.  Without the demands or rewards of official power, the First Lady has made herself into an institution.  And because she operates outside of the official government, she’s at her best when she works on matters that don’t belong to the government, when she is the caretaker for America’s moral health—our homes and families.  

I believe in limited government.  I believe that the government shouldn’t be involved in any of this social agenda stuff.  Not to trivialize the importance of it—precisely the opposite.  As First Lady, I want to radicalize it.  

You are being lied to.  The culture spends a tremendous amount of effort to corrupt you away from the backward benighted social mores we typically associate with the right.  And it does so with the full support of the American state.  You’ve been told that the only part of the home that matters is the bedroom, and the only part of the family that matters is a state-recognized marriage.  And the culture has tied you to those trees while clear-cutting the forest around you.  

We are consuming the cultural capital of Americans who came before, but we’re not propagating it.  Our culture that tells us it’s great to be an asshole or a deviant or a narcissist or a slut, but the only reason it’s even marginally safe to be any of those things is because most of us still aren’t.  (NOTE: I mean to say, “us” to indicate “Americans,” but to be accurate, I should probably say most of “you” aren’t.)  

So far, we’ve been largely buffered from the consequence of this moral decay by our economic prosperity.  Note that in the places in America where poverty is most deeply felt, so is the damage from the breakdown of the traditional family values.  Compare marriage rates by income.  Rich people get married, stay married, and secure for themselves and their families the tremendous social, emotional, and economic benefits of the institution.  At the opposite end of the economic spectrum, single mothers eke out an existence while raising a new generation of single mothers and fatherless sons who grow up to fill America’s jails.  This is a crisis.  It’s a social crisis and an economic crisis--caused by consumer culture and supported by our government--and it's rotting out the core of our nation and sending its people into misery.  As since the American state seems intent on self-destruction, I think we ought to be paying attention to this crisis so that we don’t screw this up again as we rebuild. 

So here is my social platform.  Let’s take it back.  The “pursuit of happiness” belongs to American people, not the American state.  

I’m not here to promote any particular religious or moral point of view; I’m not asking you to have that discussion with me today.  What I do I want is to see a discussion of social policy that isn’t based on “God said so” or “I hate those religious nuts.” I want social policies to be debated out in the open so we can have a fair fight, and so that free American people can choose to create a society based on happiness and optimism, or despair and dependency, and so that they can have all the information before they decide.  And I think the government needs to get out of the way so this can happen. 

                Happiness, and fun and joy and sex and love - THESE MATTER.  They matter way too much to be entrusted to the same people that bring you long lines at the DMV or asbestos-filled FEMA trailers (or don’t bring to you, as it turns out).  But with each decade of government expansion, we’ve ceded more and more influence in these areas to the state.  And we’ve done it because we live in a culture of nihilism that tells us that there is no tomorrow, there are only the momentary pleasures we can grab today.   Our culture is so biased in its present-time orientation that most of America believes that this is simply a two-sided war between pleasure seekers and pleasure haters.   It’s not.  I think it’s about whether you want to be satisfied today or happy for life.
                We’re having this same debate right now about fiscal policy.  Should you invest your dollar or spend it on something you’ll consume today?  Should you screw that guy on the first date, guaranteeing he’ll never call back, or wait to see if there’s relationship potential first?  Is tonight’s high worth next year’s week-long inpatient detox?  Which one is going to feel better in the long term?
                The discussion I want to have as first lady is about how much of your future you’re willing to sell for whatever cheap dopamine stroke the culture is selling you today.  The culture wants to sell you stuff, so we know which side it’s on.  But this nihilistic present-time orientation is supported and protected by our current structures of government.  After all, the government gets to own you when you’ve lived your life in such a way that you don’t have the social or emotional capital to survive without government help.  Americans deserve better than a government that’s going to join with the liars and sandbag its own people into unhappiness and dependency.  
As first lady, I’m not going to tell you what to do.  That’s not a first lady’s job.  I’m going to tell you what I intend to do, so you can take what you want and decide for yourself.


STATEMENT OF RESOLVE


                I hereby resolve not to lie about sex in the guise of “education,” especially to any children I have.  I won’t pretend that getting laid is the same as getting a back rub as long as the guy wears a condom—and I won’t lie that it feels just the same.  I won’t lie that sex isn’t awesomely fun, but I also won’t conceal the truth that if you treat cavalierly, that you’re going to be miserable after you’ve screwed away your youth and don’t have a marriage and family to show for it. 
                I resolve never to support the abhorrent “abstinence-only birth control” as a social policy.  I cannot think of an agenda so opposed to human desire that is more doomed to failure.  I cannot think of a more perfectly Orwellian expression of hatred than to tell someone they need “birth control” so that they won’t ruin the future by being in it. I suspect that people are going to have sex either way based on their hormones and circumstances, so better to promote and encourage that drive in a socially constructive way.  There are worse things I can think of than encouraging nineteen year olds to marry and start their lives early.  One worse thing is to treat twenty-eight year olds like children (and then wonder why they don’t wait until marriage for sex).   No one ends up wishing their kids out of existence.  I’d rather err on the side of being a young grandmother than on the side the ends the day with a cocktail of Clomid and regret.
            I resolve to support the return of the abortion question to the states.  The current legal posture is distorting the battle for the hearts and minds that rages.  I am utterly convinced that the progress of science and the goodness of the American people will eventually lead us to the right course, because Americans make good choices for themselves, but bad choices about other people.  But let’s also stop pretending that it’s only about the woman and her fetus.  Let’s let Americans decide locally whether they want to be part of a medical system where the culture is “we’ll do everything we can to save your baby” or “suck this one out and better luck next time.” 
            I resolve to demand truth from the medical system.  I resolve not to take seriously anyone that wants to debate “reproductive options” without acknowledging the actual risks, benefits, and efficacy.  I resolve to kick anyone in the face that tells young women that emergency contraception is “responsible” who doesn’t also tell them that it will involve three days on the bathroom floor puking your life away. (Thanks for that, Planned Parenthood!)
            Finally, I resolve to be honest about the things that aren’t good for my side.  To admit that pregnancy is agonizing and terrifying even when the result is good, because otherwise, people aren’t going to believe us when we tell them THIS WAY IS BETTER. 
            Because it is.  It really is. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Theory of Everything



This was supposed to be a pretty post.  I had an eight-page outline of what I’ve been calling The-Blog-That-Ate-My-Life, with a list of snappy images and lots of metaphors involving light and flame, with the rough sketch of an index at the end.  But I’m running out of time. 

Have you ever seen footage of a controlled building detonation?  There’s a moment after the detonation when the building hangs there in space, separated from its foundation, before it all comes sliding down.  Fifteen days ago, we lit the fuse.  [Already so long, can you believe it?]  I feel like maybe I should finish before the noise, or we won’t be able to get out.  So I need to get through this, even if it’s ugly, because we need to grab our shit and go, and we need to know which way to run.  This isn’t going to have a controlled collapse.

[Breathe. –Ed.]

***

I want to start at the beginning.      

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.

Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

God saw how good the light was.

God then separated the light from the darkness.

God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." Thus evening came, and morning followed - the first day.

Genesis 1:1-6.

Stop!  This isn’t a sermon.  I don’t care whether you believe Day 1 happened five thousand years ago, eleventy billion years ago, or yesterday.  That’s all details.  I have only one point:

There is such a thing as goodness.

That’s all we need here.  If you believe only that, I think we’re together. 

***

So this is what I think went wrong:

1 – Institutional Changes

Three is the magic number.  A man and a woman have a little baby.  Or, if you prefer: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.  Tripartite government seems most stable.  And I think that in certain times and places where humanity has shown the most beauty and learning and promise—the most goodness—there were three institutions fighting each other for individual: the Church, the State, and the Family. 

When these three fight it out in relative balance, man is left to develop to his fullest capacity as an individual, for growing in everything beautiful and exciting that makes life worth living.  And I think that part of the reasons why these particular institutions worked so well for the progress of humanity is that they are all incompatible with each other.  The church wants your soul.  The state wants your body.  Your family wants your heart. 

I think progress happens because while the institutions are doing all of this fighting over your organs, it leaves your brain for you. 

I would argue that the rot at the root of the American culture is because these institutions are no longer in an evenly matched battle with each other, and that they therefore exert a greater and more destructive influence on the individual.  Because now we have a new institution to contend with – the corporation.  The problem is that the interests of the corporation and the state are combined.  They want your money, which means they want your labor – your body.  The death of social conservatism in American politics is the result of decades of teamwork with an increasingly corporatized state to take down the Church as an influence in the lives of American individuals. 

Your church used to be your community, the hub of your social affairs.  For most of us, isn’t that how our jobs are now?   Not many people go to church.  So many of the ones that do shop around for a congregation they like that’s close to home, while commuting hours and hours each day to our jobs. 

Note: I’m not telling you to go to church, or whether you should have a religion at all.  If it will help me prove my bona fides, I’ll tell you that I don’t even go to church.  (I’m just Catholic enough to feel guilty about it all the time).  But I think the corporation, with the help of the state (which, after all, creates the corporations), have taken the place of the church in the lives of the individual. 

I think the corporation was aiming to win the battle for the body, but the prize it won for defeating the Church was body and soul.  Corporate culture – books, television, movies and videogames – are our new mythology, our new morality, and the doctrinal texts.


It seems to me that the corporate capture of government is seen as a crisis to both the left wing and the right wing in American politics.  The disagreement between them is whether the corporations should therefore be punished or the government should. I don’t see how that even matters anymore. 

I don’t think it's worth fighting over who your master will be.  That’s why I don’t care about Reds and Blues anymore.  The most important things going forward are that 1) the power of the corporate state must be brought to heel, 2) the corporate state is at war with the family and the church, and 3) even if you aren’t a big fan of the family and the church on an individual level, it is in your best interest that they don’t fail.  Unless, of course, you think that total control by the corporate state is in your best interest. 

But you don’t, because if you’re reading this far, you believe there is such a thing as goodness, and you already know that isn’t it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bonfire At Sunset

[Part 2 of too-many on what happened, why, and whether we should care.  Spoiler alert: YES.] 

How many times have you heard that there were no differences between the two parties?  Or described yourself as a centrist, independent, moderate, blue dog, or any of the other euphemisms for socially-liberal-fiscally-conservative?  How many times have you said the only differences between the American parties were whether you preferred to lose your personal liberties or your economic ones?  Isn’t that the really the default—the position of good people who judge, correctly, that politics is too dirty to be too involved with, but who vote to be good citizens?

As a political movement, conservatism, especially social conservatism, is dead.  It killed itself.  And now pretty much all of us who aren’t evangelical weirdos are breaking out our dancing shoes for the impending grave-top ball.  Even the libertarians are coming to this party!  Isn’t it great that, as a culture, we can all come together to celebrate the death of the social cons? 

When 90% of America agrees on something, THAT IS A WARNING.

So before we inter the ashes of conservatism, let’s dissect it.  As we gander at the entrails, we’ll get to know the body.  And maybe, in the end, you'll mourn with me. 

I guess we need to spend a minute first on anyone shouting to check the pulse.  To them, I say ENOUGH.  The only issue in this election that should have mattered was the impending fiscal collapse.  That’s obvious to anyone who cares to see it.  Hell, it’s even obvious to those who care to feel it – through misery of themselves and their neighbors. 

If mainline conservatism couldn’t explain the situation to voters, nor less explain why they shouldn’t vote again for a President whose spending leaves drunken sailors slack-jawed, then conservatism as an influence in American politics is finished.  The body is cold.

But wait . . .the NRO-types think they see a twitch. 

Uh, guys?  That limb isn’t a part of this body.  How can it be?  For all of the personal successes of the individual Republicans and establishment as whole, we know now unequivocally that those successes have come despite the near-perfect completeness of their ideological, messaging, and electoral failures.  The ability of Republicans to win elections is exactly and inversely proportional to the “conservative” fiscal policy they’re able to enact.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s ask Boehner.  He’s on the phone?  Yes, I’ll wait.  Oh, I think I hear him: We are deadly serious about cutting spending.  Yes, that’s him.  We’ll want to cut at least two days’ worth of deficit from this year’s spending . . . No, one day isn’t enough . . . fine, let’s compromise on six hours. . . . What? LOL.  Of course I was kidding. . . Yes, 8 o’clock tee time.  Oh, erm, maybe we should try him later.

In the aggregate, Republican politicians are no sleazier and disgusting than the Democratic ones.  The incentives are skewed, our system stacked against the sane and sober.  But until this time around, I hadn’t ever clearly thought about the fact that this awful system is actually made of people.  The system self-selects for cravens, narcissists, and sociopaths, but – and this is so obvious in retrospect I can’t believe I never followed this thread before -- the mechanism by which “the system” selects politicians is through actual people literally selecting.  I always thought the system was the problem.  But it isn’t, is it?  That’s an honest question, because all I can think, now, is that we (America) has the system we want.  For both sides’ squawking about special interests and margin of fraud and everything else, the people have made their preferences known. 

That’s my mistake, for assuming that most voters would be informed, and that informed people wouldn’t vote for this.  But I didn’t realize that as much as voters want to vote, they want more not to have to choose. 

And American voters have discovered they can be bought.  They like it so much that they’re selling themselves for imaginary money.  Partisans will adapt, thus to ensure their expanding control of the real money (while there’s any left).  So the Republican checkbox will stay on the ballot, and voters will sometimes check that box.  Even prostitutes like to pretend they have standards.  “I’m voting for gridlock,” they’ll say. 

I’m utterly sure Republicans will win elections here and there.  I’m equally sure it won’t matter.  The two-party government needs a minority party to make the majority possible.  (I think we ought to just drop the fake-descriptive labels and just call them the Reds and the Blues.)  In the coming collapse, Republicans will argue that the Democrats caused it, and the Democrats will argue that Republicans wouldn’t have fixed it. 

But while they argue forever about who’s to blame for what’s to come, on one point they’ll agree.  Reds, Blues, and whores in unison: America has rejected social conservatism, and good riddance.  It’s dead (of radioactive poisoning, they’ll explain).  Reduced to a boogeyman to frighten children when necessary (and in what’s to come, it will be.) 

Before they burn the body, let's climb the pyre.  
 
To be continued . . .

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Going Dark

I decided to avoid politics.  

It was tricky.  I couldn’t find any way to speak at all without betraying a political worldview.  I thought that the differences between people that drove belief in governance were so fundamental that even the most benign statements would tarnish my shield of political objectivity.

I’m not worried about that anymore.  It seems that none of my fundamental beliefs have anything to do with American politics.  Given demographics and culture, I don’t expect that to change.  State power ratchets only one way, tighter, at least until the winch snaps.  Politicians differ only as to the speed at which to crank.  But as politics leave me farther behind, at least I no longer need to work for political objectivity anymore—I’ve achieved it.  Irrelevance is my carapace.

I couldn't avoid it entirely though, not when my five-year old asked me what voting was.  She'd seen the word at school and didn't understand.  I explained about rules and choices, and the men running.  I wanted to challenge her, but also to explain the real differences.  This is how our conversation went:  
“You know the rule: ‘Don’t take things that do not belong to you?’  That is the rule Mr. Romney would make.  If you have two lollipops, Mr. Romney thinks you should keep them. Even if your cousin doesn't have one.”

“Then I pick Mr. Romney.  Why does Mr. Obama take things that don’t belong to him?”

“Because he wants to make people share."

"Sharing is good.  It fills your happiness bucket."  

"That's right.  Mr. Obama likes sharing.  He would take all of your lollipops and then give one to each of you.”

“But those are not his lollipops."  She was frowning.  

“What if your cousin had two lollipops and you had none?  Mr. Obama would take all the lollipops away from B and give one to each of you.  Mr. Romney would let B keep both of his lollipops.  You might not have any.  Would you still choose Mr. Romney?

She did not like either of her choices.  “But you still should not take things that don’t belong to you.”  She thought some more. 

“Why won't B give me a lollipop?”

“Maybe he will.  He’s your cousin and he loves you.  With Mr. Obama, you would get a lollipop.  But B wouldn’t get to give it to you.  He would not get to fill your happiness bucket by giving it to you.”

While there were still lollipops to be had, I did not say.

She thought for a minute and made her choice.  “You are just not supposed to take things that don’t belong to you.”  She was concerned about it though.    
“It’s okay,” I told her. “Love is more important than lollipops.” 
Mr. Obama won the kindergarten class vote yesterday.  And as it turns out, the nation. 

I didn't like either of my choices, but I never seriously believed that America would vote for lollipops.  

To be continued...