Thursday, September 29, 2011

Going back in time

My high school's 50th reunion was the middle of September. I debated before, and even after, whether I wanted to write about it in this blog. One reason for not is wanting to give others privacy. It's not like I write about everything that goes on in my life. On the other hand, I wrote about Farm Boss's and maybe it was only fair to write a bit about mine. Reunions of all sorts are part of our culture as well as this one being my personal experience.

The first thing I felt is the same as at Farm Boss's. It is just so amazing to be nearly 68 years old and in a room with most others around the same age. Wow, how did that happen? I made it? Really, I made it? When I got the small booklet the organizers gave us, I learned the names of 20 of my classmates who would never make it. That is out of a class of about 112. That many deaths seem like a lot and not sure if it's the average or maybe relates to being part of the Vietnam generation as well as growing up in a mill town.

For the actual reunion, I felt mine was well put together. That was doubtless helped by the planners being many of the same people who have served on the committees for all the others. They have been quite faithful in having one every five years which means they have probably learned a thing or two along the way. Interestingly I talked to several attendees for whom, like me, this was their first reunion. I think that number fifty had power.

This one was more costly than Farm Boss', but the cost all went into having it in a setting where the food was excellent, the rented conference room was lovely, the country club provided great service, and the setting of tables and room made it very easy for people to connect with each other. They had music in the beginning that fit the era of our high school, and I thought that was a lovely addition even though in mingling around the room I only could hear it at one side which actually is also good as it means it wasn't too loud to be able to hear people talking. For entertainment they asked several of the students to discuss memories from those years which is what such an event is all about.

Overall, I felt the attendees were nice people with whom to spend an evening which was not a surprise as basically they were pretty nice people back in 1961 at least in my experience. I think high school can be a difficult time, but mine pretty well yielded typical experiences of dances, sporting events, clubs, and classes. (Three of our teachers attended the dinner). I have good memories from my high school years. The things that weren't so terrific were part of experiences where we don't just learn from the easy things but also the hard. Even though I was taking classes aimed at entering college, I think I was a bit shallow back then; but let's face it, teen years are bound to be a bit that way and maybe that's not bad as a part of growth.
One thing which I think made the experience particularly relaxing for me was (and a tip I might suggest for anybody facing such a reunion after many many years of not seeing people) I went as me. The dress I ended up wearing is at least twenty years old if not more, which did require taking it to the cleaners to remove the dust accumulated (it is one of the few things I own that being 100% rayon did need drycleaning and could not be hand-washed).

Those high-heeled sandals might be ten or more years old but are the most comfortable pair of heels I have owned. My feet never hurt once even though I was on them most of the evening. So, a comfortable dress, bare legs and sandals, how much more can you ask to help an evening  physically work well.

As anyone would know, who has seen my photos in this blog, I also wore my hair as I generally do and no more make-up than usual. For me, that was a lot more relaxing than something more phony like a glamor look which might be someone else but wouldn't be me.

I don't think the woman that night was who I was in high school (not to say there aren't pieces of that girl), but overall to not be that same person today is something I find to be exactly how I want it to be. I like the idea of change as part of life. Milestone events like a reunion lead one to assess those things in a way I likely wouldn't otherwise.

Farm Boss and I were doing photos for the dinner, and that was fun as it always is for me. It was a bit more complicated in this case because I also wanted to do some visiting which I didn't feel personally was needed as much by me when it was his. I think I learned a few things about what would make the photographs better if I, in the future, do it again for some other group.

For instance, I had expected that the lighting would stay the same since it was all indoors, but it did not due to outside lighting changing or maybe even some within the room since this was a service provided. I'd pay more attention to that in the future. I'd also be sure to offer those who wanted couple or best friend shots to have pictures taken at a set time. Some hate having their photos taken and others might have liked it and we missed them. Live and learn with doing this as it's not like I am a professional.

When I wanted to adjust the group shot, the ones that Farm Boss had taken, I found anything that covered everybody, was small, missed a few, or seemed too dark. I managed to find three he had done one-two-three, in wallpaper like segments and was able, using my ever faithful Corel Photo-Paint 7, to meld them together as in the top photo. I'd do a better job on that kind of thing in the future.

What surprised me the most about the whole affair was that I felt more stress after it was over than I had before going. I think it was a sort of overload of blending together memories of the high school years with who those people appeared to be today. They went from 18 years old to 68 in a few hours. Sometimes I would have known who they were; but often, I'd have not had a clue until I saw their name badges or they told me.

Also I found myself (this happens to me a lot of times after big social gatherings) wishing I had said less or more, etc etc. For a couple of days afterward, I actually felt as though I had moved back in time to a place I had long ago left.  There were emotions from those days of the both good and the insecure sort.

None of that was what I had been expecting as I had thought it was just a social gathering. It was not. A reunion with people, with whom I started grade school and had known in various classes and social settings for 12 years, was not just a social gathering. It was a meshing of emotions, stories and memories of all sorts. It took awhile to leave that behind again.

One final thing, I really appreciated the support I got from Farm Boss beforehand, while there, and letting me stress out afterward. It's nice to go to something like that where you know at least one person there has your back. He gave me freedom to mingle with old friends while he did his own thing as he took half the photos. I was proud of the man I married 47 years ago (our anniversary was two days later).

Monday, September 26, 2011

The concept of Li (Confucian)

One of the problems that I think we face in America today is we don't seem to have a collected sense of what morality means. Some claim they get their morality from the Bible; but when they try to apply it to say today's government, they are left claiming there should be little government because I do not think they can figure out how to apply something like the Sermon on the Mount. Or they seek to vote for someone who claims they have a direct pipeline to God which means they themselves do not have to figure out how to apply say Leviticus 20:9 (and many more like it) to today's laws or regulations.

When I was reading one of the books I have recently been sorting, I came across the word 'li' which I then had to go looking to see what the heck it meant as I thought I understood Oriental teachings at least on a rudimentary level but had never heard this word. Which meant I didn't understand as much as I had thought.

Wikipedia had this to say in a general sense about li in [Li (Confucian)]. Here is what particularly attracted me to thinking of what it means for us today:
"Confucius envisioned proper government being guided by the principles of li. Since Confucian ideals proposed the perfectibility of all human beings (through the practices of li) as well as propriety being its own reward, government prescribed punishment was not seen as being necessary. Confucius stressed the importance of the rites as fundamental to proper governmental leadership. In his writings, Confucius regarded feudal lords in China that adopted the Chinese rites as being just rulers of the Central States. Contrarily, feudal lords that did not adopt these rites were considered barbarians, not worthy of being considered Chinese or part of the Central States. (Spring and Autumn Annals)."
I believe our founders had this idea in mind with their attempt to found a country with this kind of potential goodness. In the Preamble to the Constitution, they laid out some goals:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The ones who wrote the Constitution were a learned bunch. They laid out a basic structure but also left room for growth and change. Whether they knew the word li, it seems to me that they were striving toward that concept in how government should work.

For us all now, instead of taking the view that government fails and can never be trusted, as is pretty much the view of the tea party, what if we thought of government as something that should serve a purpose and people needed to be trained how that would be achieved?  Of course, this is the ideal. It's like Plato or any other philosophical concept but without the ideal, can we do anything?

"Just as li is the outward expression of the superior man, jen (goodness, humaneness, love) is the inner ideal. Confucius taught that men should love one another and practice respect and courtesy. If li and jen were operative in a person, the end product would be the Confucian goal: the superior man. Confucius believed in the natural goodness or at least the natural perfectibility of man. He stressed government by virtue (Te) and the arts of peace (Wen)." 
 What I like about this word li is I think we need something simple rather than a whole set of complex laws, as some would claim say the Bible offers in the Old Testament but where many of them have no application to today (like whether to eat shellfish or have cloth blended of weaves). It has enabled forgetting the meaning behind the laws and frankly it is what Jesus attempted to teach but whose teachings seem to have been discarded by many today who claim to be followers. He reduced it to a simple commandment where it applies to human interaction-- love others as you love yourself. They call that empathy.

The assumption of some today is that man is inherently evil and has to be schooled to be anything else. If we instead assumed man was inherently good; but it's human experiences which change that, we might have a better way to look at fixing what so many believe is broken. I do not believe that babies are born the same. They are born with inherent traits, but then experience takes those and begins them on the road to where they will end up.

The concept of li is very applicable to government and what it should be here to accomplish. The idea that we don't need government is ridiculous for anyone who lives in a community of people. The idea that local government is superior to federal is equally foolish.

Government needs to have a purpose defined; but in the end, it's run by human beings who often have on set of standards by which to judge any of what they do. They are operating on one need after another but too often with no overlying sense of purpose. What if we just thought of government as li, and when it is not, we would demand change? What if we expected it to work; and when it did not, we redirected it to the higher standard which we knew we had the right to demand.

This would take training and getting away from partisanship to a moral set of standards that worked to make things function smoothly. Someone just saying we need tax cuts would not work unless they could explain how that helped the whole. Taxes aren't evil as you'd think some would suggest today. They are necessary to pay for services. Too many today see government as some evil entity separate from us and only there to hurt them. Plenty of politicians have played that game even as they ran for an office to put themselves in government also.

I believe we need li thinking in our daily lives, in our businesses and we should expect it from our government. But we are becoming told instead to expect nothing from government so instead we give up on it.  Today it seems to be the slick ad or quip that leads people to vote for this or that person. We don't have that inner balance and therefore cannot recognize it in someone we are electing to higher office.

For anyone who is familiar with the concept of li, I'd like to hear a more concise definition than I was able to find online. The author who had used it was not using it in terms of government but more in the sense of another word I like very much-- the Navajo word hozho which means harmony, beauty, balance, tranquility, equilibrium, rightness, centeredness, truth, clarity of action, and thought. It sounds like it would mean what above is discussed as jen. 

On a personal level, we need this sense of balance, and I also think we need it as part of our government where the rituals and its form serves to help it function on a higher level. Without it, we are where we are today, and we have people yelling out that when someone is hurt without insurance-- let them die, cheering at the idea of executions, and booing that someone wants to be able to live true to who they are. Are we the kind of people I don't think many of us would like very much? We can turn this thing around. We can reach toward our highest ideals, not stoop to our lowest. I really believe we can, and we start with us.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Georgia triumphs and we all lose

This will be a cultural issue and a rant. It dips into a political realm and how our country has divided itself; so if that is bothersome, come back another day as I need to write about it because another of our country's cultural dichotomies just slammed me in the face when I got up this morning and read the online papers.

Here's the thing. How can one group of people say government cannot do anything right and turn around and defend the right of a government process to execute anybody through a jury trial? If that makes sense to you, you are a right winger and further right than you maybe admit.

Having served on a felony jury trial this summer, I learned some things that come home to you more when you do something than when you read about it. You, the jury member, do not get all the evidence or all you might want to know. During the trial, you cannot raise your hand and say, how reliable is this witness? You cannot ask if there was a deal cut to shorten one person's sentence to insure that another is found guilty. You do not know everything; but you must find a verdict and it is a heavy weight that you have to do with those limitations. A death penalty case would have to be many times harder.

Now the state of Georgia and our Supreme Court have basically decreed that the jury system is perfect and it doesn't matter if new evidence arises as it did with Troy Davis, as seven witnesses recanted and there never was any solid evidence against him. Never mind that. The government process must be protected.

Okay, I understand their logic, those who believe government is perfect and it must be protected, in a tragic sort of way. It causes me to nearly cry when people cheer at death row executions or when I read that Troy Davis said with his last words that he was innocent of this crime, which he has said all along he didn't do. Even the jury has said they'd find a different verdict today than they did back then. The main remaining evidence is the word of a man who admitted to someone else later that he did the shooting. It does not matter because Georgia did justice; but explain to me how the same people who would cheer that fact are the ones who don't think government can do anything right. Does that make sense to you?

If you read anything about this case or heard what Rick Perry said in one of the debates about his having no doubts at all about executing people based on a government system, you know that as with many other moral dilemmas in this country, logic is thrown out the window. I am trying to understand what we are getting in exchange and that makes me want to cry all over again.

The family of the slain police officer wanted closure and they wanted Troy Davis executed for the murder of their loved one. Well what if they didn't get justice? What if they still have the murderer out there, a man who has threatened the person he told he did it? That family was grieving still; but the nation, our system of government, should have had more ability to use logic and decide that keeping a man in prison for life gives an opportunity to say you were wrong and have it mean something.

I actually pity the ones who sent Davis to death, despite the changing stories of the witnesses, because someday they'll have to deal with what they did. They will have to recognize it. These are the same kind of people who yelled they wanted Jesus executed to protect their system of government. Do they understand that?

The people as in the whole of the government should rise above that. Government is not inviolate. It can make mistakes. I don't know what's wrong with a people who on the one hand say government is the problem and on the other hand say you have to say everything it does is perfect.

This is a dark day for our country and it is not just lefties who believe it. I read a very good piece by [Bob Barr] who is anything but a left winger where he made the case that this should not have been a death penalty verdict.

When there is doubt, and there sure was in this case, we should not be allowing anyone to be executed. There are other principles at play here, ones that those, who say government cannot do anything right, should be considering. This execution might or might not be an issue of race but how the death penalty is enforced is definitely one of class and economics.

I have supported the use of the death penalty in cases where there is no doubt as to the killer, where the slaying is particularly brutal or of many people but when there is no doubt. If we can't function better than this, I'll be signing petitions to end the death penalty because life in prison at least can say I am sorry.

Another piece I read later which added to the understanding: Execution in Georgia amounts to state sanctioned murder  Reading the comments below it, particularly from the right, adds to understanding how some see this.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The shift of seasons

With the Equinox officially tomorrow, fall is here, with the golden and orange colors, the shift in the air. We've been selling livestock as part of seasonal work and getting the place ready for winter. Lots of hay in the barns. I can't say I am ready for the shift of seasons but it comes ready or not.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A creek at the end of summer

This is the time of year when wading our creek is easy as it's lazy and slow moving. It has places where the silt is deep enough to make the wader wonder about a little quicksand (not really). Other places are rock shelves or gravel bars. It is mostly from ankle to thigh deep on me.

Tracks along the banks reveal the other creatures here before us. Crayfish scurry for cover as we wade past. Once we startle a pair of wood ducks who fly off in a huff. Sometimes there are fallen trees to get over or under. This creek, as probably all creeks, is a living treasure for those are fortunate enough to live along its banks.

We waded it last week-end with our son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons. Sharing it added tremendously to the joy it always yields.

This is kind of an odd entry into fall for me as it seems a lot is going on but the days are slowed into a rhythm of preparing, waiting, waiting for fall, for the leaves to turn and drop, for something new to come.

I look at a clock and see only moments have gone by when it seems hours should have or it's the reverse. What's that all about!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Harvest Moon

We don't try to photograph every full moon. I must admit some I barely notice other than to find it's quite bright at night if it's necessary to look out toward the barns and determine if a sheep is in trouble or just whining. Sometimes when I can't sleep well, I'll think is it a full moon and it will be. I do usually notice and particularly like three full moons, one of which is this one-- the Harvest Moon.

We went out with the tripod and telephoto and got some shots early on that showed the detail quite well. There was a lot of dust and some smoke in the air from the dryness and forest fires in the Cascades. It gave the moon a delicious yellow color which by playing around with settings we were able to capture with the camera requiring no color adjustment through editing.

It is one of those little pleasure in life to go out at night when the moon is rising just over the tops of the trees, when it's quiet with only the sound of crickets and sometimes a frog down by the creek or a disturbed deer that bounds out of the brush. I can watch the moon from the house windows, but it's not the same as being out there. Right now our nights aren't cool enough to require even a sweater at night. It's changing fast though.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What 9/11 did to us?

Although I seldom write about events/holidays, sometimes I feel culturally they are so significant that there is no way to avoid looking at their impact. Pearl Harbor had been one of those for an earlier generation of people. 9/11 is for another. The question is what do events like these do to us as a people when we enshrine them? Who do they make us into? I won't go backward into past ones, but I'd like to just look at 9/11 because here comes its tenth anniversary. It's not a holiday yet but it probably will be if some get their way. It's a day media and politicians can use and they all will be. I am swimming against the stream to say what I am going to here as I know how Americans see this.

To begin, yes, it was a horrible tragedy, and you cannot get past that part of it. Most of us know exactly where we were when we heard; and if we had on the television because of the first World Trade Center being hit, we actually watched helplessly and in shock as the second plane plowed into the second tower. We saw the horror of people being trapped in those buildings and unable to get to them to save them, we learned of the rescue teams running in to die with them. We learned what looks like a very strong building can collapse like a pancake if it was not structurally sound, and we didn't know some of them were not. None of us will ever forget it, it became part of the lexicon of our people.

Immediately, by the politicians, it was turned into a cause to use and a cause it remains. The cause wasn't to get the author of the disaster. The cause wasn't about the victims because some people quickly resented the survivors complaining or receiving money and help. The cause wasn't to make sure it never happened again because that's a combination of paying attention, luck and timing whether it happened in the first place [The missed signals of 9/11].

We know there are those who would do it wherever people believe taking innocent human life is a valid sacrifice to greed. Yes, it is greed because it's about attaining power and power is one of the most heady temptations of greed that there is. The murderers who died expect power for themselves on the other side and they expected their side to gain power over here.

So it happened. We went to war over it, and the first war made some degree of sense because we were going after those who had planned the attack. It made sense until at Tora Bora when our men were held back, and we let the author of 9/11 escape. 9/11 was the original tragedy but the tragedies were just beginning for those sent to war, the ones in foreign countries who would feel its impact on their homes and bodies.

We were told it didn't matter why the original murderers had done it. We did not need to look at motivations that led to the attack. For years then our government took the gun and bomb as the solution and we as a people supported that.

A war in Iraq was supposed to be quick and paid for by oil revenues in that country. The connection to 9/11 was never there, but it didn't stop our vice-president from claiming and insinuating it to those who only listen to him. By the time of the invasion of Iraq, our president said, whenever he was asked, that the terrorist leader was irrelevant. He said this while other terrorist attacks linked to that group were happening around the world.

Why didn't our leaders want him or should I say our president at that time want him? Was it because we needed the terrorist leader out there as a symbol?  Did our president believe they could get him whenever they wanted? Or did he believe they couldn't and he wanted to distract Americans from the failure? We will NEVER know.

If you want to have a war, symbols are important. "Remember the Maine!" You can insert many other names in the place of Maine. How else can you motivate people to go to war, to in this case ruin their economy over the war and throw their young people into harm's way. It takes a big symbol and to begin with that symbol was a man's face. That was before somebody figured out another symbol to replace it-- democracy for everybody.

So here we are ten years later with a big anniversary to once again be lived and relived by everybody because it's what we do as Americans-- glory in tragedies?

There is little doubt there will be much posturing and politicking today. Oh it'll be along with somber sad faces, while speeches are given, but let's look at where we are ten years later and what not 9/11 but the reaction to it did to our country. We cannot control events and actions from others. We can control our reaction. Our people's reaction to the attacks ended up more catastrophic in the long run than the attacks as it has torn at the very fabric of our country leading us to become a nation at risk of losing our values.

We are still at war. We are still run by a government that has kept up the wars even when the face of one of the terrorist leader is now dead, actually the face of two of them since another face was superimposed over that second war to justify it. Governments used to like to justify wars but do they need to anymore or do Americans just accept whatever the government wants to do without a reason? It's barely mentioned that if we ended both of them tomorrow, we would cut our deficit, and we could start paying down our debt without hurting the poorest among us.

Before 9/11, despite our previous wars (and this country has rarely been out of war somewhere), we justified those wars by their being needed for one main reason. We were fighting over there (doesn't matter where over there was) to avoid fighting here. After 9/11, that argument was gone forever as obviously we can be attacked here and nobody can realistically pretend it cannot happen again, but I still hear the same argument-- we are fighting them over there to keep the homeland safe. Yeah right.

Well we do have the most powerful military in the world. No denying that. It might not stay that way given the way the world changes and China's emergence but for now we can go beat up anybody on the block. We paid a high price for that and are continuing to do so and it's not always appreciated elsewhere but we do have that military might.

Now their role though is complicated as we don't just go to war with rogue nations or to catch terrorists, now we go to pound democracy into other nations, to install leaders we want no matter whether the country would prefer a different regime. (And some of those leaders who we want. Good Lord, what are we thinking with that?) We do this to sovereign nations because a certain bunch don't see it matters so long as they are in power and they maintain that through justifying themselves to themselves if to nobody else.

Do we need those wars to convince ourselves of something else with which we are bombarded-- American Exceptionalism (that wasn't even a word we heard much, if at all, before all of this rah rah stuff began). Oh yeah, we are the best in the world huzzah huzzah and therefore, it's okay whatever we do. Everybody should know we are the very best of the best; and if any politician dares to say any other country is even as good, they can kiss off being elected. We are a people who like being stroked. We don't care if it's true. Just say it.

We don't care if our death rate in babies is among the world's highest-- matching some Third World countries. It's not about reality for us. It's about what we say. We don't care that nearly 50% of our young people cannot get jobs unless they join the military (where those wars come in handy). We don't care if other Americans fear catastrophic illness not just for the debility and pain but for the loss of their homes and everything they own. No, that's not what matters to us exceptional types. We just want the yellow ribbons, flag pins, patriotic songs, rah rah speeches, and I guess going to war somewhere because by now we don't have to have a reason. So, we borrow the money and take away yet more public services, let more infrastructure crumble. We support the world's best military, mercenaries for the world want us or not, and we are paying for it by sacrificing our young people, our bridges, our schools, our future generations' hope for a future.

Did the author of 9/11 win?  You tell me. With the help of Cheney and Bush, we turned our whole ability to function as a government around. Our people became so frightened of another attack that we let the government tell us what to do and we let that include taking away some of our rights under the Bill of Rights. Cowards that we are. Willing that we are to let someone else be tortured, all of it was done to keep us safe. We gave up ethics when we accepted torture and rendition with secret prisons. We gave up personal autonomy and the right to not be spied upon without cause. The generations who came before us must be so proud of what we have accomplished.

Before 9/11, we were on a path to show that government worked, and we were not only providing jobs to our citizens but also services. We were doing that and beginning to pay down past debts. Somebody benefited from 9/11, somebody grew rich from it, got satisfaction from it, proved government can't ever do anything right (that viewpoint was heavily pushed by Reagan), but it hasn't helped the average American citizen.

And if I hear that word exceptionalism again, I am turning off whatever TV show or politician that/who used it. Right then and there, whoever it is, rightie or leftie, it's going off. I could tell them a little secret but they won't listen. You don't need to tell people you are exceptional if you really are. They will know it.

I won't look at one single memorial event or the reliving of it that is on television now and has been the last week. I am very sorry for those who died so horribly as I am for their families and the tragic loss they suffered that day. The cost has been high for our people going in many directions; and that cost today came from our reaction to what happened more than anything else. As a nation, we let our leaders scare us into losing track of our values. I don't know if I have faith that we learned anything from that reaction.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The Dilemma

Through Netflix, we took a chance on a Ron Howard film starring Vince Vaughn called The Dilemma. It's a comedy but one of those ensemble stories which also confronts a serious issue. If you know something detrimental about a friend, say that their partner is having an affair, do you tell them or not?

Not only does it explore friendship, what we owe to a friend; but also how well do we really know anybody. It's funny but more than funny, it's about a real issue that we all have to think about once in awhile if we have close friendships-- when do we interfere in their life? If we do interfere, are we helping or hurting?

I don't really know if the film got good reviews, but we enjoyed it for a slice of life kind of movie with, of course, larger than life comedy tweaks.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Sex in books

Consider this to be a kind of disclaimer or maybe warning regarding my books that later this month or maybe the beginning of October will begin to be in various eBook outlets (and I will mention here where and when). I do not want any reader to be blindsided by the fact that these books contain sex as a component of the story. I do not consider them to be either erotica or porn; but imagine to some readers, who have remained rather innocent in terms of their reading choices, they might seem that way. To a fan of either erotica or porn, they will be disappointing likewise.

If sex in a story makes you uncomfortable, please do not buy my eBooks. I don't think you will be happy with them, and I'd hate to lose readers here based on becoming offended by a broadside they weren't expecting.

I also want to say that when reading fiction, never assume that the writer has experienced any of what they write about. It's hard to say exactly from where stories come; but where it comes to sex, it'd be easy for a reader to imagine an author with a very exciting sex life or maybe one totally warped. Neither have to be true. It's creative, and it's fiction.

When I decided to put some of my stories onto the internet, I debated whether to take all the sex out of them. I could have done that as none that I write about takes up pages of text. Even in published books, there are romances where there is zero sex between the main characters. Think Jane Austen and there may not even be a first kiss.  Since I am not trying to please a genre with these books, I had the freedom to do whatever I wished.

The thing is I like to have some sex in them. I enjoy writing about a whole experience where it comes to the coming together of two people. I had read a lot of steamy romances before I began to think about putting sexuality into my own stories. There are romance books where a sexual encounter can take pages and pages to describe and I have to admit after having read a few of those, I tended to simply skip over the descriptions, as not embarrassing but boring, until it got back to the story.

There is a reason to have sex as part of the story when it is describing the soul and emotional connection between two people where finally the physical (which could come before either of the first two) becomes an important part of their experience.  It can also be challenging.  The sex in a romantic story can serve a purpose, but it's not there to gratify prurient interests even if it can be pretty sensual.

My belief is, to tell my stories, sexuality is part of the relationship as it comes together. Some of mine have more detail. Others brush over what is happening. The couples do have a level of commitment to become sexually involved but that does not mean marriage.

How to write about a sexual encounter is something I think about when I am writing as I don't want the action to seem phony, but on the other hand, the events have to have some creativity or what is the point? I also ask myself how comfortable would I be if my kids read what I wrote. My thirteen year old granddaughter asked if my eBooks would be ones she could read, and I said not yet. She said she had been afraid of that. Well, it's not just the sex where it comes to her (although that would definitely be a factor), but I don't want her, at her age to be thinking that much about romance period-- well any more than already is there.

To date, my main characters have all been pretty much in their twenties to early forties. They have beautiful bodies and appreciate each other's bodies very much. They are heterosexual only because it's what I know most about, but the stories sometimes have gay characters who are friends.

My favorite villains are not defined as to gender and might use the threat of sex to subjugate (I don't write about kink) because sex for them isn't about attraction but power. Now I am not sure why I like these kind of villains; but maybe it's because by the nature of being outlaw types, they obviously are people who break all the rules and where we like to have people's sexuality put into tidy boxes, a villain who can't be pegged, adds a dimension. He, as a user of people, becomes equally a threat to the heroine and hero.

My romances and their sexual encounters between the hero and heroine are fantasies. These are soul mates who know how to please each other or very rapidly will be learning how. The sex is idyllic.

I never write about sex that is not voluntary on the part of both. They used to have a category of romance (maybe still do) called bodice rippers where the hero was likely to rape the heroine their first time because the heroine would say no when she wanted to say yes.  I find that revolting. Sex, to me, should be a choice that both make; and if someone says no, they should mean it; and the other person should respect that decision. If the one saying no has been a tease, something my father told me was not good to do when I was just a girl, it might mean the relationship ends right there. I am not interested in writing about such women-- unless they'd be villains.

Not long ago I watched a German film about sex between seniors-- Cloud Nine. The three people in it ranged from late 60s to late 70s and looked their ages. It is a story about an affair and the consequences. It was not in the fantasy category for the sex it portrayed, but it was pretty graphic and honest about sexuality. It could not have been made in the United States as here, if two old people are going to have sex, they better look like Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren!

So maybe someday I'll write a story about older people and romance.  I mostly have kept my characters close to my own age, which means a future story could be about an older woman; and if that happens, sex would be part of the story and the characters would not have perfect bodies but rather ones appropriate to their ages. The very idea of an old woman being obsessed with keeping her body youthful through surgery, rigid diet or radical exercise programs is abhorrent to me and not a character I'd be interested in spending much time with as is required in developing a story.

It can be complex for me to write about sex, to feel comfortable with what I have the characters doing. I don't add it without thought. In my stories, it will be there when I think it's what would have happened and where I feel it is important to the story to take these characters and the reader through the experience as part of the character development. I admit, I enjoy writing about it and trying to make it beautiful. Romance after all is about fantasy, in my opinion. and should be satisfying, making the reader feel mmmmm that was nice, not ack!

The photos of heat and steam are from the Yellowstone Geyser Basin and taken last September.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Religion questions

Warning: even though I don't write about partisan issues here, I do write about cultural ones. Religion is as negative for some to discuss as politics-- the two no-nos of polite conversation. Well you cannot discuss religion in this country today without it getting political. So a smattering of politics will follow. I want to add-- I don't like writing about this anymore than some of you will like reading it. I am concerned about our country and sometimes you can't ignore what you see. You have to take a stand and speak your piece... as the cowboys say :).

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."     Mahatma Gandhi

I don't know if any of my readers can help me with a couple of questions but they have been bothering me regarding the religion calling itself Christianity today.

The first is hard for me to even write about because it's filled with contradictions but I'm going to give it a shot. When I pass some churches, I almost always read the little signs they have outside, you know the ones that come out a book of such quotes (yes, when I used to go to Christian bookstores, I saw the books). The message of the average such sign is (like the one I saw driving home from town the other day) that God/church can solve their problems and more importantly if the reader has problems, it's because God isn't ruling their lives and they are.

It's about me is presented as a problem when you consider the meaning of that message. Down with ME.

And yet, the big push by the religious right today, which has become a political movement, is that government (which in the United States is all of us together) is the problem. Their big quote is-- you can manage your money better than the government (don't ask how you build bridges with that view as this is not about logic).

In short what they are saying is-- It's about me is the solution. Way to go ME power!

I get it why a secularist might say such a thing. I get it for someone who is into an independence movement or those who believe in the Western mythology of individualism. I get it how someone who followed a very conservative view of life that some people are profligate and if they worked harder, it'd have gone better.   

But a Christian? Isn't it kind of a contradiction to the Christian who is taught by Christ that we are all ONE in God and we owe not just our religious brothers but all brothers (check out story of the Good Samaritan in New Testament) whatever help we can give because when we do it for the least of us, we do it for God.

Confusing the issue, for me, is one of the political arms of the religious right where I see things like this: FAMiLY means the family takes precedent over the individual. This movement is pressuring politicians to sign away their future autonomy in voting in order to receive the support of the FAMiLY movement to get elected.

FAMiLY clearly is taking ME out of the picture... It's all about them and what they consider important.

How does that fit into the government the religious right wants? Or perhaps don't want and really just prefer that the church gains power and every other group loses it?

After I had been thinking about writing this, I saw the following article in a right wing newspaper column about how Democrats are inciting fear of people like Perry and Bachmann but that their fear is foolishness. So let me get this right. It's okay for candidates to emphasize their religious values to get votes but not okay for someone else to emphasize what those religious values mean practically speaking to block votes.

 It doesn't take any left wing group mandating feeling that we are in a religious conflict. It just takes listening to Richard Perry or Michelle Bachmann for awhile-- as you try to avoid having your head explode. It takes understanding that the only 'thinking' conservative running for the Republican nomination is Jon Hunstman and he's not religious or radical enough to suit this right wing movement.

So what is it for this bunch? Me is the problem or Me is the answer?

Here's the second question. Why do so many Christians feel they are being abused as though they have forgotten where they live and what their freedoms are in this country, forgotten that they are the dominant religion? If you criticize what is passing for Christianity* today, the righteous scream persecution.

Let's look at that concern. No candidate for the presidency could possibly win if they didn't proclaim themselves to be a Christian-- this is true right or left wing. In the Republican party of today, they have to be a fundamentalist Christian to boot. There are churches in every town and they all are tax free. The donations to the church all count as a tax deduction. And with all of that, they feel put upon. Does it go with the territory?
* What someone says they are, doesn't mean it's what they are. Words are cheap and actions not so much. I believe there is a movement in this country calling itself Christian; but if you look at the teachings, the actions, and know the Gospels, you shake your head. Gandhi would like Christians who followed Christ's teachings; so it's not about true Christianity that he was speaking but something that's been with us a long time where it comes to that religion. Andrew Sullivan calls this movement christianists and I think for good reason.

Third question doesn't really relate to Christianity specifically. Would people value human life more if they were agnostics or atheists? I mean let's consider how many wars are encouraged by religious leaders and their teaching of a reward in heaven and life after death-- not just the Crusades, not just the religious right permeating our military with requirements to attend religious meetings, not just the current Islamic terrorist movement--but all of them.

Does war end up happening mostly because people believe there is an afterlife or they will come back again? What if they thought-- this is it for all of us? Dust to dust. One precious chance for life. Would anyone believing that way be so quick to throw away lives-- those of others or their own?

The photos are of my blooming rose of sharon, a plant I love, which is symbolically taken to mean Christ in the Bible. I have three of them and always love the late summer when they bloom. It can also be called a hibiscus.  I used it for the title in one of my manuscripts because of the way pioneer women would bring the cutting with them to Oregon and from a narrow little stick would come this beautiful flowering bush. In symbolism, it's rich.