Category Archives: Personal

Alas, I Never Heard Back

Online dating is hard…

nemesis

Not having heard back yet, I can only assume that she is planning some sort of ambush and I will need to be on my toes.

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I Want to be a Writer

Not, like, professionally or anything. I don’t want to be paid to write. Personally I think that would be too stressful. What I do want is to write on a regular basis for my own enjoyment, because I think I could really enjoy writing.

Here’s the problem: right now, I hate how I write. Oh sure, I’m okay at technical writing, but when it comes to writing something compelling or interesting I don’t think I do very well. I know my own weaknesses though, which I’m hoping can be a start.

  1. I overuse commas
  2. I qualify way too many of my sentences with clauses like “however”, “in my opinion”, “that being said” or “it seems to me”. Sometimes when I read back my own work I find it laughable just how badly I overuse techniques like this.
  3. I suck at literary devices. Having an education in a technical field, writing math or philosophy papers where your goal is to be very precise and unambiguous, I’ve developed a style which is just that. I don’t use metaphors, allusions, imagery or anything more poetic like that. Even (especially) if it could help me make my point, it usually doesn’t even occur to me to do so. Sometimes I’ll throw in a simile or two for colour, but similes are just a poor man’s metaphors because you’re actively explaining what you’re doing when you use “like” or “as”. Similes are like metaphors that are being beaten into the heads of your audience. Jamila Bey’s speech at Reason Rally was a very eye-opening speech for me. I was in awe of her mastery of language, and exactly how much of what she wasn’t saying I still understood. I don’t do that, but I wish I could.
  4. I need to stop starting sentences with “and”, “but” or “because”. I know this is technically bad grammar, but that’s not why I need to stop. I need to stop because I rely on it way too often. I need new types of sentences.

The irony is that the only way to really get better at writing is to practice. Unfortunately it’s something I always have to force myself to do, because I just don’t feel like I’m very good at it. It’s a bit of a catch-22 of my own doing.

So to try and improve how I feel like my writing I have selected these four things which I feel I do poorly and I will try to work on them. I’ve already gone through this post and fixed all of the instances of 1, 2 and 4 (and there were plenty). I tried a bit with 3, but this is where I need the most practice. So yeah, that’s my plan. Let’s see how it goes.

A Letter to My Heroes

Giving it some reflection, I’ve had a pretty good year and I’d like to take a few moments to thank the people who I feel are at least partially responsible.

It all started when a man asked a woman in an elevator at 4am in Ireland if she would like to come back to his room. That woman, of course was Rebecca Watson. I remember my first time watching the now-infamous video where she says, fairly simply, “don’t do that”. And I have to admit that at the time I kind of thought to myself “I don’t get it” and went on about my life.

But some people took didn’t get it even more and these people decided to take Rebecca to task for her comments in what would soon become termed “Elevatorgate”. And while most of these people were assholes and behaved as such, I owe them a tremendous debt, because they sparked a conversation that it turns it I desperately needed to hear.

I’ve always considered myself a feminist, but it turns out the whole time I had no idea what that actually meant. I thought we could get away with just saying “equality=good” and that was all the was to it. I quickly learned that I was wrong. I didn’t realize the scope of actual problems still faced by women in modern times. I don’t really feel equipped to talk about the subtle (or sometimes not-so subtle) ways women are put down in our society, but I’ve had a great time these past few months realizing just how much there is that I don’t know about women’s issues and filling in those gaps in my knowledge. After Elevatorgate I added Skepchick, Blag Hag, and Greta Christina among others to my blogroll and it’s been an eye-opening and educational experience.

So Rebecca Watson, thank you.

A few months after I started learning about Feminism, I saw a talk from Skepticon IV where JT Eberhard talked about mental illness. I ha never heard of JT before, but that was (is) a brilliant talk that literally brought me to tears. I realized some of the subconscious prejudice I had had against the mentally ill and why hat was stupid. (Watch it. No, seriously, watch it. You have no idea how great this talk is.) I find it difficult to word exactly what those prejudices were, since they were subconscious. Not major prejudices like not wanting to associate with them, or thinking they should be locked away, but little things like not understanding “Why can’t they just make themselves better?” Which I freely admit is probably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever believed: but that’s the point, it was subconscious. And in its own way, that’s a much more sinister type of belief. Without realizing you even hold it, it can cause you to mistreat fellow human beings and you don’t even realize enough to reevaluate your position. It took JT to grab me by the collar and shake me until I realized that this is the kind of thing I thought. The point of the talk is how people need to reevaluate how they think about mental illness and for me (and I suspect a lot of other people) I think it worked.

I got the chance to meet JT this weekend at the Reason Rally, and while I didn’t have a chance (or, due to my shyness, the words) to tell him the specifics of this story, I did muster up the courage to go and talk to him and to thank him for dramatically changing how I view mental illness, even if I didn’t elaborate. The next day at the American Atheists National Convention, I even got to hang out with him for an hour or so and it was probably one of the best moments of my life to be around someone just so awesome and full of life. When I left back to my hotel, he even gave me a hug, which is an amazing moment: to hug one of your heroes. While I’m embarrassed for the prejudices I used to hold about mental illness, I feel like JT has made me a much better person.

So JT Eberhard, thank you.

In my course of reading Skepchick, there was one woman who really stood out to me as someone else who made me think about things. That woman was Natalie Reed who blogs (primarily) about trans issues. Never before in my life have I had one writer bring up so many different issues that have never even occurred to me to think about before. Having been raised in the gay community, I think I felt like I had some sort of grasp on transgender issues because the GLBT community all gets lumped into one acronyms. Reading Natalie’s words, I realize not just how little I know about the trans experience and the prejudice they face, but the enormous gulf of just how much more there is for me to learn. She now has her own blog at Freethougt Blogs called Sincerely, Natalie Reed, which is updated twice-daily.

One of her biggest complaints about cis people like me is how we don’t call out anti-trans prejudice when we see it. If we see someone call someone else a faggot or a nigger, I think most civilized people are going to call them out on it. But if someone calls someone a tranny or comments that some girl “looks like a dude”, we’re a lot less likely to say anything. Natalie is trying to change that, and as someone who tries pretty hard at being a good person, I am trying to listen. At the Reason Rally this weekend one of the attendees had made a sign saying “Shirley Phelps has a penis”. Now let’s be clear: Shirley Phelps is a horrible person, who deserves only the worst things to be said of her. But the idea that she has a penis, or that she has in some way a non-binary gender or sex characteristics is somehow the most horrible thing you can say about her? I confronted the guy who had this sign to tell him why I thought it was offensive and tried to make him see why it wasn’t appropriate. In the end, I doubt I changed his mind, but I think actions like this are how we start to do so somewhere down the road. Calling out religious people who hurl “atheist” as an insult and not putting up with their prejudice was a big theme of the Reason Rally this weekend, and I suspect most people there agree with this notion. We should absolutely extend this to any denigrated minority, and I want to commit right now to doing this.

I’m not trying to tell this story as sort of a “look how good an ally I am” moment. If anything I’m trying to acknowledge that I need to stride to be a better ally to the trans community, and Natalie Reed is the person I owe for making me realize this.

So Natalie Reed, thank you.

The three of you, Rebecca, JT and Natalie, have challenged my own privilege and the only things I can really offer you is my thanks for the amazing ways in which you have changed by life in the past year towards the direction of making me a better person, and a promise at I will continue to seek out challenges to privileges, prejudices and preconceptions that I may not even realize I have.

Thank you.

Why I Am an Atheist

PZ Meyers has been doing a cool thing lately on Pharyngula (in addition to the other cool stuff he’s does) posting submitted essays on what brought their writers to atheism. I wanted to share my own.

I was conceived through IVF by two lesbian women, my parents. My donor was anonymous and to this day I have no idea who my biological “father” would be. I don’t think being gay has ever been easy, but today society has made huge strides towards tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality. I was born in 1987 and spent the first ten years of my life experiencing the kind of bigotry that existed back then. When seeking a donor for my conception, my biological mother was told by her doctor that if she wanted to get pregnant she ought to stand on a street corner and get inseminated that way. When I was born, I was not permitted a hyphenated surname from both my mothers, as hyphenate names were only allowed between the mother and father. My biological mother had to change her last name to a hyphenate, have my last name changed as well, and then switch hers back in order to accomplish this. When I was 12, my moms won a 6 year court battle with the government of Alberta to allow my non-biological mother to be legally named as my adoptive mother (from a legal perspective she had previously been my guardian). I am to this day immensely proud of them and the fact that they were able to set this precedent for other gay and lesbian parents to legally adopt children together.

But the point is that I was born with a front-row seat to the kind of persecution that gays and lesbians were experiencing, primarily at the hands of religious right-wing lobby groups.

Whether this actually affected my views of religion is hard to say. I know that my biological mother considers herself a Unitarian, and that my other mom tends to avoid labeling herself when asked. Religion doesn’t come up very often with us. I do remember being dragged to church every couple weeks and sitting there. The only thing I can recall about the experience is an immense sense of boredom and hunger. It finally got to a point where I so desperately did not want to go one week that as my mom was insisting we head out the door that I finally just yelled at her “I DON’T EVEN BELIEVE IN GOD.” This was almost 15 years ago and so I don’t remember the details too clearly, but I don’t think I was made to attend church that day, nor any day after. And for that I am intensely grateful to my parents for not forcing a religion upon me.

But even before that incident, I honestly cannot recall a moment when I believed in God. I would hear stories from adults about how you were supposed to just feel his presence (yes, lowercase ‘h’). How you could tell when he was listening. How he would speak to you if you prayed to him. I felt absolutely none of that.

What you have to understand is the notion of being six or eight years old, having all the adults in your world tell you about this thing that you should feel, and not feeling it at all. I was so confused at what I must have been doing wrong that I couldn’t feel this miraculous presence. Imagine being that young and having every grown-up tell you something that you know to be wrong. It’s extremely alienating. I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. Wanting nobody to know about my inability to sense God, I kept my disbelief a secret until that one day when I had just had enough of sitting in the pews with my stomach growling, having no idea what I was supposed to be listening for in the stories that the boring man at the front of the room was telling.

But even after coming out to my parents and experiencing no wrath or disappointment, I was still alone; confused at how I was the only one who didn’t feel this mystical connection.

Then, when I was roughly 13, my parents bought a VHS copy of a movie they had seen in theaters a couple years earlier. That movie was Dogma, by Kevin Smith. It’s a good movie, but there was one moment in that movie that was an enormous revelation for me. In one of the earlier scenes of the film, Ben Affleck’s uses the word “atheist” (or, as I thought it was said at the time “apheist”), and it was obvious from the context what it meant: a person who doesn’t believe in God.

It was such a small thing, but in that moment it was like being hit with a wave: “There’s a word for it?” I thought to myself, “An actual word that means that I don’t believe in a god? That’s me! And the fact that there’s a word for it? That means I’m not the only one!” Years of loneliness poured off of me as I realized that somewhere in the world there were other people like me who didn’t believe. Not only that, but there were enough of us that English had a word for us. I didn’t know who these other non-believers were, but all of a sudden I knew they were out there, and I felt a connection to them: stronger than the supposed connection with God I was supposed to have felt growing up.

That was the day I was no longer just a kid who didn’t believe: I was an Atheist!

(well… at least I was an Apheist: it wasn’t until early in high school until I actually met a fellow non-believer and learned the right word…)