If you are not from the Deep South, you might find it odd that blessings are bestowed upon you when you are buying french fries at the McDonald’s drive through, but I assure you it is considered proper manners here.
What seems to really stump people is dealing with those of no faith. I have yet to find an etiquette guide to help handle heathens in Dixie. I thought I might offer some pointers to you good people because I am not the only atheist you know. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but next time you are at a secular event where you are supposed to bow your head during the illegal Christian prayer, you know in the next few days, look around and see who is looking around to see who is looking around. I’m never the only one.
Do not say you’ll pray for me. Look. You can pray to whomever about whatever in the privacy of your home for as long as you like. But when you say you will pray for me, you’ve just found a really easy way (for you) to tell me everything I think and feel is morally wrong, I am irredeemable, and you’re telling God. Nobody likes a snitch. “Have a blessed day,” is a habit for you, I know. But it’s really no better.
Do not say you want a dialog and then just preach at me. I know the difference. And none of that How to Convert an Atheist in 10 Easy Steps shit. I hope you didn’t pay money for that book.
Do not quote the Bible at me. Yes, I have read it. Damn. Almost as long as The Stand. And a whole bunch of other books, too. Interested in book club?
Do not assume I am angry at God. Are you angry at fairies?
Do not tell me this is why I am single. I’m doing fine, thanks. Actually, I usually date other atheists. There are more of us than you know. We have parties and listen to death metal. Naked.
Do not ask me if my life is meaningless or dark or filled with fear of death. I assure you it is not. If I told you it was, would that validate your own belief that God is necessary? Do you really need that?
Do not ask me to go to church with you. I know you think your particular church and your particular minister can teach me something I don’t already know. They can’t. If you’d like to spend time with me, I’d love to go for Chai.
Do not tell me I should believe “just in case” so I have insurance against going to hell. I am going to respect you enough to assume the threat of hell is not the only reason you believe. Why should it be mine?
Do not ask me why, if I have no fear of eternal damnation, I’m not out there killing people. Seriously, do not ask me that. It scares the shit out of me. You please keep going to church. Do that Wednesday thing, too.
Do not start in on evolution without realizing I have an anthropology degree, and I will nail you to the cross in your living room. I do not have time for your why are there still monkeys crap. Read a book. No. One of the other ones.
Do not put crosses up all over my children’s public school. Unless there is a vampire problem. Then it’s fine. Student safety should be everyone’s first priority.
And don’t tell me I am sending my children to hell; they tell me that every time they get in trouble and I cut off the internet. It’s not working for them either.
Lastly, just be aware that not everyone around you is a believer. Most of us atheists look pretty normal. The universe is not your own private house of worship. It would be especially polite if you remembered this when you vote.
I was sitting at Waffle House yesterday afternoon because coffee. As I was caffeinating myself, a homeless woman began to speak behind me. I thought she was randomly ranting about her life and how it was crazy that homeless people cannot get food stamps, and I cringed and pretended I didn’t hear. Which actually turned out ok because she wasn’t talking to me at all, but on a phone lent to her by the waitress. On a second call to a Sister Janet, she left a lengthy voice mail. I’m at Waffle House, said the woman. I need to get to the Howard Johnson for the night. I have half the money. I need someone to pick me up and drive me there and use their ID to get me a room. I just need one night. She carefully repeated the information several times. I’m here. This is what I need. For just one night.
From the corner of my eye, I could see her, sitting next to a wheel chair in a too big camo jacket on a day people were being warned to stay inside because of the heat. I could see an aura of pain around her, or maybe it was sweat. She was articulate. She probably had a job once, a family. Now she had Sister Janet and the kind Waffle House waitress. And me! How lucky for her I stopped to get coffee and actually had a small amount of cash on me.
I went over to her table and set a single bill on the table. “Excuse me ma’am,” I said. “I’d like to help you get your hotel.”
She said nothing.
“She can’t see, “said the waitress. I was startled. I had not realized she was blind as she sat rubbing her eyes.
“I’m just going to leave this here for you,” I say.
“Just tell me what it is,” said the woman.
“It’s a Ten.” I say. I had another five in my bag somewhere. Why hadn’t I pulled it out? “I’d like for you to get your hotel room tonight.”
For a long moment, she said nothing, then “Thank you.”
That’s it. Just a firm, emotionless thank you. No joy, no gratitude, no resentment. Nothing at all. Just the expected acknowledgement of my paltry gift.
I think she was tired. Tapped out. Tapped out of hope, tapped out of optimism, tapped out of momentum. That last one-sided conversation took all the strength she had. Now she was waiting. For Sister Janet. Or whatever happened to her next.
I was surprised. Caught off guard, even. I had expected effusive levels of gratitude. I had expected multiple “thank yous” and “bless yous” and probably even a “you are a good Christian,” which I get in this type of situation a lot. It’s really awkward. Is this really the time to explain to someone that you are, in fact, not a Christian, and that people who are not Christians are also capable of acts of kindness? Way to lecture the homeless person and make it all about you.
“Try to stay cool,” I told the woman, thinking about how the hotel would get her out of the Heat Advisory.
“I’ll try to stay alive,” she said, letting me know air conditioning might not be her first priority. “I’ll try to stay alive.”
Well. That was a downer. This was supposed to make me feel good about myself. But I felt just as shitty as before I paid my guilt tax. My ten dollars did not cure her homelessness. I could have given her a hundred and that wouldn’t have gotten her off the streets or the permanent address you need to get an ID so you can get a hotel room or food stamps or a voter’s registration. I could justify the inadequacy of my gift by claiming it was better than nothing. But isn’t it her job to tell me that, to make me feel better about sleeping in my own bed? Is that not the least she could do after I had done the very very least that I could do? But she refused to play. Either she would get the hotel or she wouldn’t. Either she’d survive the night or she wouldn’t. Anything I had to offer was too little, too late, and she did not feel obligated to make me feel ok about that. Had I given her money because I wanted to help or because I hoped it would make that icky feeling in the pit of my stomach go away? Both probably, but I’m not sure I got either.
Feeling good about helping is not the same thing as actually helping. I talked to my brother about this when he got back from a short Mission trip to Haiti where he had helped a few native men build a device for collecting fresh water. They appreciated his help, he said, and while it was a humbling, life-changing experience for him, he had spent money to get there to experience it that could have gone to raw materials. It’s not as if, he said, they have a shortage of labor. He would have helped more by staying home and sending cash.
Orphan tourism, which you can read about here, is so bad some places that children who have parents drop out of school to “work” as orphans to support the tourist industry. But go right ahead and feel good about those band aids you took over in your suitcase. Take some of those selfies with brown children, too. Put them on Instagram. Tell people at cocktail parties how much you helped. Open your eyes to the horrors of the world and then pay what you have to pay so you can still sleep at night.
Not much of a traveler? Bored with handing cash to winos? You can participate in the White Savior Industrial Complex from home. May I present Feeding Children Everywhere, a charity out of Orlando. You give them money, and they throw you a party. They bring everything you need for you and your friends to package single-serving meals of dried beans and rice for the low low price of $.25 per meal. They’ll even bring music! Everyone loves music! It’s fun and it only takes a couple of hours. There isn’t much on their website that tells you where uncooked single serving meals actually go. To hungry children. Obviously. The meals are really just a by-product of the experience, after all. And they do not pretend otherwise. So if you can get past the image of a hungry child staring forlornly at a baggie of food she can’t actually eat until someone with a pot and a fire cooks it for her, you might just have a really great day. You should go out for drinks afterwards. You deserve it!
I don’t really have a better answer for addressing other people’s suffering. I don’t even know if giving a pan-handler spare change at a stop light makes the problem better or worse. I just know that we all need to take a step back and make sure our actions match our motivations. And we need to make sure our motivation is not merely momentary relief from guilt. Ending homelessness and hunger are not easily solvable problems. Let’s not pretend our spare change makes these problems go away.
As for the homeless woman, I hope she got her hotel room. And I hope I find another way to get rid of that nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach that she refused to assuage. Maybe I need to stay angry, stay hungry. She’s going to. If she survives.
Good morning. Factory doors are now closed. It is 9 hours until the next break. Weather: warm. Smog: Moderate. Chances of acid rain: minimal. Taxes: Due in 12 days. Schedule: All workers will report for double shifts until further notice.
News: Our favorite little family- Monny, Poppi, and little baby Steepo are scraping by on the Outside where they are hard at work under the ashes, growing our vegetables. They have used our taxes to plant new fields of berries and build fences to keep out the Lupines. How brave they are to labor in the dirt, knowing they could be attacked at any time, while we work comfortably inside the safety of the factory. It is because of them, that we eat. Because of them, that we have not seen Lupines near the factory for a generation. Because of them, that we work until there is no day or night.
They asked her, sometimes, how she learned to Read. When she was feeling surly, when the smog was high or the vegetable trucks were late or the tax collectors had been out all night with the dogs, she said she didn’t remember. Other times, she told them the hours she spent each day Reading at the factory were a gift from an unknown celestial benefactor. Both of these things were true. It was also true that she had the vaguest of recollections of sitting on her father’s lap with her head against his rasping chest, the candles flickering as he struggled to murmur words from the pages of a yellowed newspaper. She squinted at the words in the dim light, the tiny symbols dancing and wiggling even as she blinked to steady them. But then, when the blackness in his lungs bound him to his bed, she took the crinkled pages in her tiny hands, and the words came. From her eyes to her lips, they came. Her voice was that of an angel, he said, come to guide him home. And when he grew too tired to breathe, he closed his eyes and smiled. And died with the sound of her voice echoing through his body.
News: Monny sweats as she kneels in the rusty dirt to pull weeds. Steepo clings with one hand to her indigo skirt as he uses the other to trace patterns in the soil with a stick. The air is wet today, and the dark grooves he carves look purposeful, as if he is telling a story. Monny is thinking about Steepo’s birthday, his very first. She knows they don’t have much, not since the Lupines destroyed the herds, but still, they will celebrate, and the rest of the farmers will come and drink orange flavored mead and toast her son who is already walking. “Won’t that be fun, little one?” she murmers. Poppi should be back by now, she thinks with some concern. She tries to contain the butterflies of panic that start to flutter in her stomach. Was there trouble on the fences?
It was dark in her little house. It was always dark. She remembered moments of sunshine from her childhood, sprites dancing in the sunbeams by the window, but that was before she became the Reader, and the meager hours of daytime were spent in the factory. She didn’t mind, didn’t especially care if it was morning or evening as she rinsed her hair in the large kitchen sink. She dried it carefully before combing a handful of flour into the straight locks, turning the lengths from chestnut to grey. She examined the results in the mirror, lit by a single taper. She looked like her grandmother, she thought. She was even beginning to develop a few wrinkles around the eyes, maybe, and a roughness was appearing in her hands even though she was freed from the manual labor of the other factory workers. She tied back her hair and bound her breasts, dressed herself in the androgynous clothing provided by the Supervisors, and headed to work.
News: Poppi stretched his tall frame and searched heavenward for the sun. The dull globe confirmed his location, the East fence, which was supporting a brand new hole. He knelt to examine the damage. Lupines? No. Just dogs looking for food. Well, weren’t we all? He’d need to keep an eye on the corn where the dogs liked to scavenge for rodents. He had wood and twine to make the repair, but he’d be late getting home, and the weak sun would be waning. The Lupines, if they had gotten through the broken fence, would be on the prowl. He suspected they could smell fear, so he would give them none, and he made his mind go blank with a picture of green trees and a pond and the fish his Uncles had told him about.
Her father and grandmother, by mutual agreement, did not speak to each other unless absolutely necessary, so the silence now that they were both gone was nothing new, although it carried with it a certain amount of emptiness that at times was almost deafening. She tried to fill the void with singing but found this made her hoarse the next day and also angered the cat, her only companion. One evening, or maybe it was morning, when the smog was so thick you could feel the grit settling into your skin, a knock came to her door. She found no one there, but a child-sized guitar missing a string. A gift from a Supervisor, perhaps, who liked the way her voice played over the single sheet of paper he handed her each morning. She taught herself to play in the chair by the fireplace, and the cat sat at her feet in approval.
News: Poppi should have heard the heavy breath of the Lupines behind him, but he was distracted by the laughter of the farmers who greeted him as he reached his home. Someone had cut down a tree, and a bonfire was growing, casting light on the dirty faces of the farmers who had come. At one time, the fire would have protected them, before the Lupines became hungry and bold. Before they developed a taste for human blood and a lust for the kill. It was Monny who first spotted the pack, although she could not say if it was a flash of white fur or the glow of their eyes that gave them away. She let out a cry, but they had already sprung on the farmers, their teeth finding flesh before she could scream. She saw Poppi reach for his son and clasp him to his chest, but then all she saw was blood, dripping blood –black in the moonlight, then red as torn bodies fell towards the fire.
She kept broth of vegetables simmering on the stove whenever she was home. It was not that she had much of an appetite, but someone might stop by, and she wanted to be hospitable. No one stopped by. The cat favored turnips, and she picked out little bits from the pot and fed them to him. She made bread in misshapen loaves that burned on the outside and were doughy on the inside. Her grandmother used to chastise her for her poor cooking skills, and then she would laugh and promise her that her talents were surely to be discovered outside of the kitchen. Maybe she would be a great beauty and marry a supervisor, and live in one of the fancy houses farther away from the factory, and she would never want for fluffy white bread made by the hands of her husband’s own baker. Of course, that was before her purpose became apparent, and she became the Reader.
News: Poppi and Steepo are gone now. Monny sits alone, but she does not cry. The supervisors are sending a hunting party to track down the pack that attacked the farmers. Please expect a 30% tax to fund this operation. Collectors will be making rounds immediately.
The floor needed sweeping, so she swept it. The fire was dying, but she saved the last of the fire logs to feed the stove to keep the thinned soup warm. There had not been any turnips for many weeks, and the cat had left to go hunting and had not returned. She paused by the window as a low howl broke the night’s silence, but it was just the wind. She was safe. And tomorrow she would Read.
I have no desire to see Donald Trump sworn in as president today. Also, I have a job. Also, this is probably the 11th inauguration in a row I have missed watching live. I’m not sure that counts as a boycott. Still, I will take a small satisfaction in refusing to bear witness to the installation of the country’s least popular incoming president. It’s a day where I’ll take what I can get. But, my friends, some of you, in your enthusiasm for political action, are throwing some mighty shade at the Tupelo High School Marching Band and the Girl Scouts of the USA for their participation today in the festivities, and you should cut it out.
These kids are not going in support of Donald Trump. If anything, they are going in support of democracy. Mostly they are going because it is really cool to get to go somewhere and see something that happens only once every four years in the nation’s capital. And most importantly, they have been invited to participate in the political process. And that’s important. I’m not saying that if a Brownie or two got close enough and decided to spit on the incoming it wouldn’t make my day, but more likely they will develop a greater awareness of how politics affect their daily lives, and that’s a good thing. As much as I hate it, I think we all need to take a moment to appreciate the peaceful transition of power here. This should not be taken for granted. It’s really more the exception than the rule, globally speaking, so if it helps you, think of the inauguration as a celebration of that, not of Donald Trump.
I would have let my kids go, had they been presented with the opportunity. And I wouldn’t need to sit them down first and explain to them my feelings about the incoming administration. I’m pretty sure they know. But I hope there are band parents and Girl Scout parents who are doing that very thing today. And I hope they are proud that their children are entrusted to behave appropriately in the absence of adequate public bathrooms.
There is something to be said for activism as self expression. Perhaps standing up for what you believe in, it of itself, is enough regardless of whether or not this affects public policy. But lets not allow blind hatred of all things orange take over our lizard brains. We are better than that. If your idea of political activism is not buying Thin Mints this year, I am supremely not impressed. Do better than that.
I know what you’re saying. Every warm body feeds The Orange One’s ego. Well, the sun rising in the morning feeds his ego. This is not a political rally. I don’t know how much effort you put in to not going to your local Trump rally before the election. But if no one had shown up for those, we might not be in this predicament. If no one shows up for the inauguration, he will come up with some reason that makes him special, and he will still be president.
If you are using your political power to yell at 15 year old trombone players and to boycott Girl Scout cookies, you really need to pull it together. At this point, the best case scenario is that Trump turns out to be a mediocre president who pushes through some policies that we really hate. But we all know that is it entirely possible that he is going to do something dangerous, illegal, or bathshit crazy. If that happens, deflating his ego will not be our primary goal. He’s not going anywhere voluntarily. What we will need is the help of the congressional representatives we elected. These women and men have your ear, and you should be calling them weekly to tell them you expect them to keep the president in line. Closing your eyes and humming through the inauguration is not going to do it.
And for God’s sake. Buy some cookies. It will help raise women to believe no one can grab their pussies. Even if they witnessed the inauguration of a man who thinks he can.
One might argue that science is enjoying a bit of an upswing in terms of pop culture. Science fiction movies are in at the moment, documentaries about actual scientists are also box office hits, Bill Nye is a household name, and there’s The Big Bang Theory on television (Not a fan. Don’t have cable. Also it’s painful to watch other people think Asperger’s is funny.)
So maybe it’s cool to be a scientist- at least in some abstract, aren’t nerds cute kind of way. But what about science itself? I’m sorry to say science is not sexy. The plodding work involved in the scientific method is not glamorous. Lab work is downright tedious. And that whole thing about having to replicate scientific results—how boring.
But we don’t all have to be scientists to appreciate what science brings to us ordinary humans—a way of understanding the world around us. A way of possibly even improving the world around us. This is not new, right? From the polio vaccine to Tang to solar panels, science brings us new technology that improves the life of everyone. But we also have to have the wisdom to use what we are given.
My own personal favorite celebrity scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, embraces pop science, saying it gives him a vehicle to communicate to a larger audience. He urges scientists to learn to communicate better, to reach people who may have other things on their minds than the physics of Star Trek. “You testify to Congress and you say they don’t get it there’s something wrong with them. Noooooo. There’s something missing in your lexicon because everybody else is fluent here.”
Well, it’s past time for learning to talk about science. We have completely failed at imparting even a rudimentary standard of scientific knowledge on the general public. I see no other possible conclusion when the incoming Trump administration is riddled with anti-science buffoons. This goes well beyond a Republican tendency to prioritize short term economy building over long term environmental consequences. We have an incoming administration of anti-vax climate change deniers, and I’m scared.
Let’s take global warming. On record as rejecting the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-created temperature increases, we have, based on my 4 minutes of research, Pence, Pruitt, Perry, Carson, Mulvaney, and Sessions. So much for the 97% scientific consensus. We’re screwed.
I’m not really sure how we got here. Was it Oprah? Was it Oprah giving platforms to anti-vax hot bod turned concerned mom Jenny McCarthy and Dr. (there really is nothing behind the curtain but I’m pretty and I have an MD) Oz? Was it evangelical-fueled anti-intellectualism insisting God and Einstein couldn’t both be right? Was it the dumbing- down of America that began once we won the space race? Reagan-era materialism over knowledge?
Is it just our own self-centered natures, unwillingness to embrace unfortunate truths, the stubborn human trait of lack of foresight? Are we all like Donald Trump who complained that those irritating scientists were threatening to take away his hairspray? “So if I take hairspray and I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer?…I say no way, folks. No way. No way.” If only Donald Trump’s apartment were a closed system. I’d be the first to encourage him to use all the hair spray he wants.
But none of us live in a closed system. We’re all in it together. Well, you people who live in Miami are going first, but the rest of us could very well suffer real consequences if scientific policies backslide over the next four years. I wish I had some sage advice as to how to temper the impending apocalypse, but all I can say is stay angry, and stay vigilant. And help us, Neil deGrasse Tyson, you’re our only hope.
As the inauguration looms ahead, I’ve been trying to ease into a new normal. It should be said that the protections I enjoy as a white hetero cis American citizen may make this easier for me than for some of my friends who are wondering if they are about to be deported, if their marriage will still be valid, and if they will be able to afford medical treatment. The increase in gay weddings and IUD purchases illustrate the specific fears of groups who feel vulnerable, who feel like rights and privileges granted to them are no longer guaranteed.
Those who speak out are not only criticized by Trump supporters, but also have to deflect a possibly deserved rhetoric from the down-trodden for not doing enough. If the backlash against Meryl Streep for her impassioned anti-Trump Golden Globe Speech doesn’t make you want to hide under your bed, you are made of stronger stuff than I am.
In a previous post, I called upon you to mobilize, to finish your grieving and to act. Since then, I have….well…I’ve made a few phone calls. That’s not really very impressive. I keep waiting for something to happen. I dreamed of a rogue electoral college, a stray New Year’s bullet, a miracle.
If you still hold out hope for divine intervention, today may be a good day. The news is filled with unsubstantiated claims that the Russians have both financial and personal dirt on Trump. This seems entirely plausible to me, but fake news has made me both wary and weary. And I am left to wonder what Trump could possibly have done that would conceivably turn his voters against him. I do not think paying hookers to urinate on him is enough, but what do I know? I already think he has committed any number of more egregious acts than that in public, and here we are. I am sadly not in the mood to enjoy the myriad of pee jokes already hitting social media. Still, we should be concerned. While our security is thankfully not dependent on the sexual proclivities of one man, it is dependent on having elected leaders who cannot be blackmailed.
Still, Donald Trump is very likely to be president 9 days from now. What are we going to do? It’s never fun to lose, but this particular loss has exposed the dark underbelly of the right-leaning disenfranchised, and sooner or later we are going to have come out of hiding and decide if those people are still our enemies.