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Monthly Archives: May 2014

It would be an exaggeration to say my mother and I nearly came to blows over dinner tonight, but we definitely exchanged harsh words. At the end of the meal, I said that I was still hungry and that we hadn’t eaten nearly enough. She balked. Now, we’re not “counting calories,” but I do find looking at the calories can be something of a reality check. So far today, we’ve had yoghurt with berries, an omelette with some peppers and a green salad with some crabmeat. At one fifty for the yoghurt, another one fifty for the eggs and eighty for the crabmeat, I’d be surprised if we topped eight hundred calories today. She nearly went ballistic when I helped myself to half a matzoh and a handful of nuts. I had to remind her that she asked me to help her, not the other way around. I told her that this is exactly her problem. She’s been bellyaching all day about how she hasn’t lost any weight yet, although we’ve only been on the damn diet for a week. I explained that what she does is deprive herself and then binge. I find myself saying stupid motivational things like, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” We went to the gym earlier today and I increased the weight I’ve been using. I don’t think three balanced meals is excessive.

I’ve made references several times to my “beauty strike” which I gave up last fall but had lasted a couple of years. People in general, but especially women get really fucked up notions about their bodies, food, weight, beauty. I find that every so often I literally have to deprogram myself. These things start seeping into your mind whether you want them to or not. While I know that I am no longer what people would call “thin” I also know that what I see when I look in the mirror is not realistic. More accurately, I should say that what I think a normal, healthy person looks like is not realistic.

My mother, who considers herself a feminist, is and has always been obsessed with other women’s appearances. She would say constantly when I was growing up, “You look so much better with make-up on.” Despite being a die-hard feminist myself, I wore make-up every day of my life from the age of thirteen until about three or four years ago, with the exception of the years I was in college. I started shaving my legs at ten. I went on a diet for the first time at eleven or twelve. I’ve been working really hard for the past few years to divorce my self-esteem from my appearance, above all my weight. Intellectually, I know this is bad, but it’s so deeply embedded in my subconscious.

The other day, we were standing in the grocery store aisle. She took out one of those celebrity rags. It had pictures of movie stars in their bathing suits on the cover. She quickly thumbed to the article. “Look at that! Oh, my! Who’s that? She looks awful.” And so on. A long monologue critiquing other women’s bodies. Even if she didn’t say anything about me directly, I would still get the message.

All my mother wants to talk about is how other women look. Barbara, a woman with whom my mother used to work, has “legs like a racehorse,” the sort of legs my mother tells me she wishes she had. I have better legs than she does and my sister had better legs than either of us. I don’t, as she observed earlier today, have a “fat back.” Her former boss has a flat ass. “That’s terrible. I hate flat asses.” “Did you see the really fat women at the gym?”

Anyway, I just needed to look at this in a conscious fashion because if I don’t it is more likely to seep into my subconscious and simply start making me feel bad about myself. Actually, I should say worse. I’ve never felt good about myself. I’ve always felt ugly and since the only value I feel I have is in my appearance… ech, well it all just goes around in a circle. I’ve come to realize I’ll never be happy. Every day of my life is misery. I’m just garbage taking up space. I wish no one would look at me. I just want to go in my room and hide.

Damn. I hoped writing about this would make me feel better. It seems to have made me feel worse.

In some of my memories, I’ve mentioned a friend I call “Luscious.” When we first met, I was like my mother. I didn’t even realize it, but I also often critiqued women’s bodies. She would point it out to me and sometimes she’d get mad. She really broke me of the habit of judging other women by their appearances. Unfortunately, it never had a rebound effect on myself. I’ve tried to talk to therapsists about this, but they’re just not interested.

A few days ago, when I wrote that I was putting together a computer for my mother, I said that I’d put up photos. I’m sure many of you rolled your eyes and said to yourself, “I bet that’s going to go the same way as the posts about freedom of speech, the post about hate speech, the next installment of her autobiography….”  Aha! Well, here’s the pictures.

Conveniently for making me look like the world’s most wonderful daughter, I did this right before mother’s day.

First, box porn! Yay!

boxes of computer components

I originally planned to put this together for my sister. The requirements for my mother and my sister would have been a little bit different. My sister specifically wanted a quiet computer. We originally toyed with the idea of doing something like this completely silent computer shown on Tom’s Hardware, only a little less powerful, however the cost of a passively cooled power supply was a little too much. My mother probably would have gone in a more “budget” direction, so it’s just as well that we didn’t spend the money on that. Since my sister is a business person, I went with a fairly sober case, seen on the far right. Fortunately, that was good for my mother, too, although I probably would have gone with a smaller case for her. Although I felt that the case was a little expensive when I got it, it is nicely made and was very easy to work with.

 

solid state drive installed

I looked at the laptop my sister had been using and she had uses so little storage on her hard disk drive that I realized that we could get away with a single solid state drive making her computer super quiet. Again, my mother probably would have frowned at the expense, but it was more than enough storage for her, so that was good. Gosh, aren’t they small. We really could have gone with a smaller case without any problem.

 

motherboard

Here’s a birdseye view of the motherboard. Again, the fact that the motherboard came with bluetooth/wifi module would be good for my sister. For my mother, I could have saved a few bucks on the motherboard. Well, it’s there if she feels that she wants it.

socket

This is a close-up of the socket on the motherboard. I didn’t take a picture of the CPU. The central processing unit is the heart, or if you prefer the brains, of the computer. We went with an Intel CORE i3-3220. We decided on this so long ago, it’s hard for me to recall the reasoning. (It may have been on sale. I spent about a month or so watching for price drops on PC Part Picker, a very useful site, by the way.) The CPU goes into this socket.

 

cooler

Here’s the motherboard with the aftermarket cooler installed. The CPU is underneath all that. My main reason for getting this was on account of the noise. Most CPUs come with a little fan that you put on top to keep the chip cool. Gamers who are planning on pushing their computer to its limits or people with a fetish for silence like my sister might want an aftermarket cooler like this. In retrospect, I probably should have saved this for another project since my mother really didn’t need it.

The memory sticks go into the slots on right edge of the motherboard. This is what is called “volatile” memory. Unlike what you store on your hard drive, what is stored on these memory sticks disappears when you shut off the computer. It is “temporary storage and working space for the operating system and applications.” I already had the sticks of RAM, or I would have chosen something less expensive. Also, they didn’t fit well with the cooler. I took off one of the two fans. I’m going to check the temperature on the CPU, but the way my mother uses her computer I think it should be fine.

 

inside of case assembled

Here we’re almost done. The motherboard is populated and has been put inside the case. We just have to make sure it works, tidy the up the wire and close the case.

 

loading the operating system

Halle-fucking-lujah!

computer on desk

Here is the computer up and running on my mother’s desk.

I didn’t know if I should explain in detail or not, so please ask any questions if something wasn’t clear or you’re curious about something.

Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. and quite a few other countries, so I feel like I should put up a nice, light post. A photo of flowers would seem to be just the thing, or perhaps birds, but I am, unsurprisingly, at my mother’s and I have left the cord to connect my camera to my laptop at my place. As I mentioned the other day, we’ve been on a diet and exercise kick, so I just thought that maybe I’d report how that is going.

So, now we’ve exercised regularly for about two weeks and I’ve made most of the meals we’ve eaten for about one week. Part of the reason we started with this is because I realized that my mother seems to not know what’s in the food she eats. This became evident the other day when she suggested we have avocados as a snack. I said, “Let’s share one.” It turned out that she didn’t know that avocados are high in calories. She said, “I thought they were healthy.” This is a great example of the confusion between healthy and thin. I don’t think it is useful to talk about “good foods” and “bad foods” the way many people, including my mother, do. Avocados are certainly not “unhealthy”, however, they are high in calories.

Other things we’ve eaten lately:

Crab Salad Louis – This is one of my favorite meals. It’s something of an old-fashioned dish, and I don’t understand why it isn’t eaten more often. It’s a nice change of pace if you eat a lot of things like Salade Niçoise. I have a cookbook with a version of the Louis dressing which isn’t made with mayonnaise and is the version I prefer. It’s white wine vinegar or lemon juice, a small amount of chili sauce, mustard powder, salt and pepper, chives, olive oil and whatever other herbs you like. Obviously, if you’re on a reduction diet, go easy on the dressing.

As I mentioned the other day, I made Fish Veracruz style.

We had leftover crabmeat from the Louis Salad, so I made a recipe I got off of the internet. A boyfriend I had used to like making zucchini by taking a vegetable peeler and slicing off thin strips until there was no more zucchini left. I made strips of carrot the same way. I skipped the linguine mentioned in the recipe. I tossed the zucchini and carrots with lime juice, because I already had that in the ‘fridge. I blended that with the crab meat, parsley, basil cut into strips, and pepper. I skipped the salt. I forgot the pine nuts just because I’m forgetful, but they would probably be good. I had a little leftover Louis dressing, so I threw in a couple of tablespoons of that instead of the olive oil. Tossed everything to blend it. After putting it on the plate, I topped it with the grated cheese. It was pretty good. My mother said it would make a good buffet dish.

I also made a somewhat boring saute with diced chicken and some vegetables seasoned with some rosemary and lemon. That’s a typical meal for me when I’m at home alone because it’s quick and I only dirty one pan.

As I think is pretty self-evident, there’s no  special “diet” food. However, my mother is complaining about the expense, so I’ll have to look for more budget items in the future.

As far as exercising goes, I’ve mainly had my mother do gentle stretching exercises. She’s in her seventies, and has arthritis, so we’re not doing anything too extreme. We’ve gone to the gym and while I work out with weights she pedals the bicycle slowly.

Oh, yes, and her computer is up and running and she’s pretty happy with it. She still can’t read my blog, though, because she’s a former English teacher and I don’t want her to know about all the grammar mistakes I make. Ah, in my late forties and still afraid of my mother scolding me.

When I was a child, my parents had an eighteenth century English painting of an opium den. Here is a quick sketch I did on a tablet computer. It’s a bit like finger painting.opium den

The other night, a Mockingbird singing outside the window woke me up at 2 am. He’s sitting outside right now singing his little heart out. My mother’s apartment building has a lawn in front with several oak trees and it’s surrounded by hedges. An ideal spot for a Mockingbird family. Although both sexes sing, it’s the male who sing more songs more loudly, usually sitting in a prominent spot. This bird likes to perch towards the ends of the branches of the oak trees. I don’t know my birdsongs well enough to know exactly what he’s singing. I’ve recognized the distinctive Cardinal song in the mix, but he has quite a few others I can’t identify. Unmated males sing more and often into the night, which is why I suspect this fellow does not have a mate.

This blog might take some unusual turns over the next few weeks.

About a week ago, my mother asked me about when I was thirteen and put myself on a diet for the first time and lost weight. After that, I was thin my entire life until I moved to Baltimore. My mother has gone up and down her whole life and, after a period of being anorexic in high school and college, she has been heavier more than not and has sometimes been quite obese. When I went on a diet in junior high school, as my mother noted, I told no one nor did anyone notice until I started to lose weight. She asked me a few questions about that.

First, I said, that one thing I’d come to realize about being thin was that that and two fifty would get you on the subway. Sure, there was a small increase in the number of men who were interested in dating me, but the sort of men who will only date you when you’re at the low end of the doctor’s recommended weight range rather than the upper end tend to not be men I care to date. However, despite the fact that I have tried to care less about being as thin as I can without fainting regularly from low blood pressure, I’ve still been concerned about keeping my weight from spiraling out of control because diabetes runs very heavily in my family. So even now that I’ve tried to suppress my concern for my appearance, I still make an effort on account of health. I joking said to my mother, “The one thing I know how to do is to be thin.”

I’m not sure exactly how the conversation flowed after that, but I said, “Do you want to be thin? I can make you thin.”

She said, “No one has ever said that to me before.”

I said, “I can, but you have to do everything I tell you.”

So, now I’m staying at my mother’s place several days a week and we’re going to the gym and exercising. I’m planning and cooking all the meals. After chowing down last night on some fish prepared Veracruz style, she asked, “Am I really going to lose weight like this?” I told her that her problem was a cycle of dieting and bingeing. I said, “The trick is that we never stop eating like this.” I altered the recipe slightly because she has to limit salt.

Last night, over dinner, she said to me, “My computer is so slow, I get frustrated trying to do anything these days.” Her computer is about nine years old. She said that she did know if she should get a laptop or a tablet. I happened to have with me my portable laptop which converts to a tablet. I had her try to write emails to friends using it in each mode. She said the laptop keyboard was very difficult because of her arthritis. In tablet mode, it was less painful to use the on-screen keyboard, but she didn’t like how slow it was.

She said, “Why can’t I just get one that sits on my desk like I have now?”

As it happened, a few months ago, my sister was complaining about how her neck was hurting. I saw her working on her laptop one day all hunched over and I said, “How is your neck now?”

She said, “It’s killing.”

I said, that’s because you’re working all hunched over. A few years ago, I got a laptop and I’ve since switched back to a desktop. I offered to put one together for her. We came up with a budget and, with the help of the kind people on the buildapc subreddit, I picked out and purchased all the parts. By the time all the parts arrived, my sister seemed to have lost her enthusiasm and every time I say, “How about we put together your computer this weekend,” she says, “Aww, I’d rather do something else.”

Although it was a pretty modest build because my sister didn’t need anything too powerful, that’s still a few hundred dollars of computer parts sitting in her spare room going to waste. So, I called my sister and asked if she still wanted the computer. Anticipating my reason for calling, she said, “If Mom wants it, let her have it.”

So, later today, we’re going to go to my sister’s, pick up the parts and assemble it either today or tomorrow. I’ll have fun. My mother will probably curse a lot.

I try to remember to take some pictures this time.

The name Ayaan Hirsi Ali first entered my consciousness on Wednesday, November 3, 2004, however, at the time, I barely took note of it. The morning of the day before, Theo Van Gogh, a portly, forty-seven year old, Dutch filmmaker was riding his bicycle to work through a comfortable neighborhood in Amsterdam when a man shot him several times. Two bystanders were also hit. Now on foot, Van Gogh fled his attacker and collapsed on the other side of the street crying, “Mercy, mercy! We can talk about it, can’t we?”

The assassin, a twenty-six year old bearded man, Mohammed Bouyeri, walked up to the man lying on the ground and shot him several more times. He then cut the dying man’s throat and tried, unsuccessfully, to decapitate him. Then, with the thrust of a knife, pinned to his chest a note. The note long, rambling and barely coherent, begins with

Open letter to Hirshi Ali

In the name of Allah – the BeNeficent – the Merciful

Peace and Blessings from the head of the Holy Warriors

Then, a little later, it says,

This letter is Insha Allah (God willing) an attempt to stop your evil and silence you forever.These writings will Inshallah cause your mask to fall off.

It continues, with some antisemitic paranoia and apocalyptic language.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali had conceived of the film, Submission for which van Gogh had been killed, and was the writer. Submission Part 1 is a monologue in which a devout Muslim woman who is going through a difficult time personally seeks guidance from God. Hirsi Ali, at that time, was also a member of Parliament and a Somali immigrant.

I’m not sure when next again I heard of Hirsi Ali. She was soon in the newspapers again.

Checking the New York Times to find what it might have been, I found she was briefly mentioned in an article written in 2002 by none other than Salman Rushdie.

Finally, let’s not forget the horrifying story of the Dutch Muslim woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has had to flee the Netherlands because she said that Muslim men oppressed Muslim women, a vile idea that so outraged Muslim men that they issued death threats against her.

It seems that Hirsi Ali began receiving death threats before making Submission, before running for Parliament, when she was still a researcher and analyst affiliated with the Labor Party.

In April 2005, she was the subject of a lengthy profile in the New York Times Magazine. A year later, she was in the paper again when she the Dutch government threatened to revoke her citizenship. She “would resign from Parliament… and speed up her intended departure for the United States.” Whatever the reason, I became familiar with her name. As I mentioned in a previous post, difficulty reconciling various conflicts of interest arising from multiculturalism is a large part of what led me to a political view that could better be described as liberal rather than leftist, a view which emphasizes the individual rather than the group. Needless to say, in this context Ayaan Hirsi Ali held great interest for me. Shortly after her book came out, I headed over to the library to borrow it.

Infidel is an extremely well written autobiography and a great pleasure to read. Hirsi Ali is best known as a defender rights of women and girls, especially those from immigrant backgrounds. She is not, however, a white savior. The culture that she criticizes is the one in which she was raised. Some of the things against which she fights, like forced marriage and genital mutilation were done to her. Born in Somalia, she has lived in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, as well as the Netherlands, and is now a citizen of the United States.

Her description of her childhood and adolescence is vividly described and a large part of what makes the book so enjoyable, but it is the actions that take place in the Netherlands that have made her famous. Due to the various moves she made during her life, Hirsi Ali arrived in the Netherlands speaking five languages and would soon acquire Dutch as well.

She… worked as a translator for immigration and social-service agencies. She interviewed Muslim women married off to reprobate cousins because they had lost their honor (virginity) and no one outside the family would have them. She interviewed battered wives and women infected with the AIDS virus who were under the impression that Muslims could not contract it.

She eventually received a Master’s degree in Political Science. As a politician and a member of Parliament in the Netherlands, she referred to Muslim women as “my issue.”

Hirsi Ali’s legislative work on women’s issues has certainly been substantial. Last year, she drew up a plan to better enforce the law against genital mutilation, which passed the chamber. She has spent recent months trying to stiffen enforcement of laws against ”honor killings,” prevalent among certain Muslim immigrant groups, especially those from Turkey. She wrote a legislative paper on the economic integration of Muslim women and has urged closer scrutiny of new Muslim schools before they are accredited.

But she prefers to describe her legislative achievements in broad terms. ”I confront the European elite’s self-image as tolerant,” she says, ”while under their noses women are living like slaves.”

She has been cast by many as a conservative due to her work for the American Enterprise Institute, but it is worth noting that she applied for a job with the Brookings Institute as well. It was the American Enterprise Institute which offered her a job when it appeared that her Dutch citizenship would be revoked.

Over the years, Hirsi Ali has received many honors and awards. This year, Brandeis University offered Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree. According to theNew York Times:

At first, it was bloggers who noted and criticized the plan to honor Ms. Hirsi Ali, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Within a few days, a Brandeis student started an online petition against the decision at Change.org, drawing thousands of signatures. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group, took note, contacting its members though email and social media, and urging them to complain to the university.

Brandeis withdrew its offer, stating “We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.” One is left with one of two conclusions, either Brandeis does not know to whom it is giving honorary degrees or the school buckled to the pressure of people who would like to shield Islam from the same criticism that we make all the time of Christianity.

Although Brandeis did not speculate exactly which words of Hirsi Ali’s it had in mind, it has been widely speculated that it was from an interview in Reason, a magazine with a libertarian bent. Certainly what Hirsi Ali says is strong, but it should be read in context.

Reason: But do you feel at all uncomfortable with that heavy emphasis on religion in American public life?

Hirsi Ali: Yes. And the good thing is—and that’s what I’ve tried to tell all my European friends—I’m allowed to say so.

Keep in mind these are the words of someone who lives under a very, believable concrete death threat, who has lived in hiding and who has fled one country for speaking her mind on the subject of the abuse of Muslim women.

I accept that there are multitudes seeking God, seeking meaning, and so on, but if they reject atheism, I would rather they became modern-day Catholics or Jews than that they became Muslims. Because my Catholic and Jewish colleagues are fine. The concept of God in Jewish orthodoxy is one where you’re having constant quarrels with God. Where I come from, in Islam, the only concept of God is you submit to Him and you obey His commands, no quarreling allowed. Quarreling or even asking questions means you raise yourself to the same level as Him, and in Islam that’s the worst sin you can commit. Jews should be proselytizing about a God that you can quarrel with. Catholics should be proselytizing about a God who is love, who represents a hereafter where there’s no hell, who wants you to lead a life where you can confess your sins and feel much better afterwards. Those are lovely concepts of God. They can’t compare to the fire-breathing Allah who inspires jihadism and totalitarianism.

After reminding her of some positive statements she made about Islam in her autobiography,

Reason: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?

Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.

Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?

Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.

There’s an interesting note here which many people seem to have missed. She mentions mystical Islam and sees it as being something different.

There are subjects on which I do not agree with Hirsi Ali. I do not have a strong, well-developed opinion as to whether or not Islam can be compatible with modernity, which inherently includes a degree of secularism. However, I feel obligated to read her arguments, the arguments that have been called Islamophobic, in the context of the life of the woman who made them. We are talking about a woman who has lived under a death threat, a credible one made by people who took the life of someone she knew and sent her into hiding. Were I living under a death threat, I do not think I would feel complaisant towards the people who made it or anyone who fails to condemn it. To regard the event of Brandeis’ withdrawal of its honor without the context distorts it in a way that is entirely unfair to Hirsi Ali.

The oppression of women has hardly been unique to Muslim cultures. During the past couple of centuries there has been a great deal of change in the position of women in Western countries. Many of the people who have resisted that change have done so while citing religion, culture and tradition as their justification. Many of the people today who would like to drag us backwards come from the politicized Christian Right. I’m failing to find a quote right now, but Hirsi Ali should note that some Fundamentalist Christians have articulated a desire to undo the achievements of the Enlightenment. There are atheists in the West who wonder if Christianity will always revert to its harshest form or if our current secular government can be maintained with a large number of believers.

I also believe that she is too alarmed regarding the fate of Western culture in the face of Muslim immigration. Western culture is not as fragile as she believes. We must, however, continue to hold strong regarding our values of freedom of expression.

I wanted to get into the subject of freedom of speech, censorship and some related issues. However, this has already gotten rather long.

In closing, I would like to say that it is rarely, if ever, advisable for outsiders to try to change a culture. For this reason, critics of Islam who are or were adherents of the religion are invaluable. With this in mind, it’s concerning to see people try to cancel showings of the Honor Diaries, a film Hirsi Ali recently helped to produce. The women in the film are all from countries with Muslim majorities. Some are still practicing Muslims. They have a diversity of views. These are the people whose voices need to be heard. There is no progress without criticism. Ayaan Hirsi Ali may not be right about everything, but hers is an important voice to hear in the discussion. Certainly, dismissing her as an Islamophobe accomplishes nothing.

Silence Ayaan Hirsi Ali

About a week ago I started a series about nudity and sexuality in art. I published the first post which dealt primarily with nudity. Then, more recently, I tried to get to the second post, Sexuality in Art, but the WordPress editing software flaked on me and my text disappeared when I tried to save it. That was a real disappointment because, although I’d only written three paragraphs, it had taken quite a bit of time to organize my thoughts in a coherent and pleasantly readable manner. I was somewhat pleased with what I had written because it wasn’t one of the easier bits of writing that I’d done. I’d been hoping that I would remember pieces of it, but they simply have not come back to me. So, I’m just going to try to write what’s on my mind. Hopefully, it won’t be too incoherent.

Growing up, the aesthetic ideas of modernism still held sway in my little provincial world. Somewhere out there, the art world was already turning, or had already turned, to post modernism, but it hadn’t filtered down to my middle brow milieu. Art was mainly discussed in terms of formal or plastic properties, color, form, texture, line, composition and so on. It was received wisdom that only the unsophisticated thought much about the subject of a work of art. Nudes, consequently, were discussed in much the same way as a landscape or an abstraction. My own particular medium being painting, that is my main point of reference. A nude was considered more as a prompt for a formal composition than a subject itself. If nudes had any particular appeal, it was their very neutrality as a subject. No one ever expressed a particular interest in whether or not they painted or drew young models or old models, ugly models or pretty models. I always felt happy when a male model showed up, but that was only because most models in art classes are female and it was always nice to have a change.

In my last attempt to write this piece, I included a picture of a painting I had done thirty years ago. In my post on nudity, I described this painting.

One day, I happened to glance at myself in the bathroom mirror. The window was to one side and I found myself fascinated by the play of light across my torso, especially across my collar-bone. I painted it. It was an important moment for me because it was the beginning of the development of my own style. At the time, I was purely interested in formal aspects of painting, the color, the composition. The subject, my torso, was at the time beside the point. Eventually, however, the subject matter of my work would become more important.

At that time, I was still under the sway of the notion that what was important about a painting was its formal qualities. I left the head off of the torso for no reason other than it did not contain the elements that interested me. There was no particular message intended by that move. Eventually, though, I would rediscover an interest in subject matter.

Of course, throughout most of history, subject was far from irrelevant, although the artist might not always have much choice over what that subject might be.

Now, the subject of sexuality has always interested me. I’m almost tempted, with a wink and a jab to the rib, to ask who isn’t interested by it, but it seems to me that some of us have a broader and more general interest in it. Part of my interest, however, stems from the fact that most portrayals of female sexuality that I’ve seen have little to no resonance with me. Yet I don’t think I am inherently that odd. Sometimes, I suspect that it is due to a fortunate combination of circumstances. First of all, my parents were both atheists. My mother had been raised as a Catholic and she believe that the Catholic Church had taught her to be ashamed of her sexuality and her body. She consciously, because she has told us, did not want to pass those negative feelings onto me and my sister. At the same time, I came of age at the height of the sexual revolution. Somehow, all those received notions about how women were supposed to behave never filtered into my mind. I was never given an easy prescription about what was right or wrong. At the same time, I was a highly ethical person, even a bit of a prig, so I did spend a fair amount of time reflecting on what I believed to be right and wrong.

So, a great amount of what I see and read on the subject of female sexuality strikes me as simply wrong and I feel compelled to get my point of view out there. I know many people will think that I am wrong, which is why so often I write from a first person point of view.

Once it is accepted that the subject of art is important, then any aspect of human experience becomes a legitimate subject, and this includes sexuality.

One place where I can't show my work is right here on my own blog. WordPress does not allow images of genitalia. The left third of this painting has been cropped.

One place where I can’t show my work is right here on my own blog. WordPress does not allow images of genitalia. The left third of this painting has been cropped.

For me, if I have a coherent argument, I would rather write about something. I’m not personally fond of visual art which is too didactic. I tend to turn towards painting when words fail me. So, while I say that many of my paintings deal with sexuality, if you were to ask me specifically what a painting meant, I might not be able to tell you.

Sexuality has always been one of the many topics addressed by art. The beauty of the human body is another and that is not always sexual. There are many times that naked bodies appear in art. Sometimes they are sexual and sometimes they are not. It is not always easy to tell. However, historically, most artists have been men, as well as most art patrons, and a male perspective on sexuality has most certainly dominated. I think it is important to get my views out there. Yet, if my nudes in general are often barred from being displayed due to nudity alone, then my more sexual nudes are certainly unwelcome in many places. Quite of few of the exhibitions I have been in have been specifically exhibitions of erotic artwork.

This evening, I’m fighting several conflicting feelings at the same time. I’ve mentioned in some previous posts my depression, which seems to have suddenly gotten worse over the course of the past week. My usually volatile emotions now have a hair-trigger, at least the negative ones do. It’s gotten bad enough that a couple of days ago my mother asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. If I thought it would help, I would. I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation two years ago. So, I know what will happen if I’m hospitalized and it is, at best, a temporary fix. I take my medication. From inside a hospital, I can’t work on the things that are making me depressed in the first place, which is basically the loneliness. As I’ve mentioned before, I live in Baltimore but I know no one here. All the contact I have with people outside of my immediate family is via the internet, which is part of the reason that I go nuts when my connection goes down.  I didn’t get quite so bent out of shape when that happened when I lived in New York.

A few days ago, I read a blog post called “How To Be A Good Depressive Citizen.”

Depression is messy, and ugly, and sticky. You don’t take it out in public until it’s thoroughly sanitized, freeze-dried, and vacuum-packed – or you make yourself a reputation that you don’t want. It is okay to be depressed, even valorous, so long as you never actually demonstrate depression.

Right now, dressed in the blog-equivalent of a crisp business suit, some depressive is blogging as the Good Citizen, tears wiped off of blotched cheeks, a stiff upper lip, toeing the party line that we can all get through this if we just keep swimming. She is an inspiration.

You do not discuss your depression until you can be an inspiration, or you are just fucking crazy.

Nobody likes crazy.

Well, I’ve already discussed my feelings when I’ve been in the throes of a depressive episode, so I guess I’m not a Good Depressive Citizen. Worse yet, I am about to do so again.

Have you ever had that moment in the immediate wake of a highly emotional event and you feel like a little thing in your brain goes “ping?” That intense crisis that make your response to something suddenly switch? Something you liked, you now hate. Something you once could tolerate you can no longer tolerate. You say to yourself, “I will never again do x,” “I will never again love anyone,” “I will never again trust anyone…” Of course, I’ve had responses like this many times in my life and, somehow, by the next morning, I’ve usually gone back to my previous position, loving people, trusting people, or doing whatever it was that I thought I could never do again.

A song by Steely Dan that sometimes makes me feel better has the lines,

Any major dude with half a heart surely with tell you my friend
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again.
When the demon is at your door
In the morning it won’t be there no more.

That always seemed to sum up the feeling well. So I write what I’m writing tonight, knowing full well that tomorrow I might feel as I did this morning.

A few days ago, on someone else’s blog, a Christian brought up Thomas Paine and said that on his deathbed he regretted writing The Age of Reason. Being American and a bit of a francophile, it would be hard for me to avoid knowing a little bit about Paine who was active in both the American and French Revolutions and generally considered to have been a Deist. I never read specifically about Paine’s death, I only knew that he had been abandoned by most of his friends in his later years and few people attended his funeral. As someone who stood by his radical convictions through many trials in his life, it did not strike me as plausible that he changed his mind as he was dying. I attempted a quick search on the internet, but most of the websites which came up were Christian, which I didn’t trust. It seems that for plain old historians without an agenda this isn’t an interesting topic. Finally, I found this post on Ask.com.

There are twenty death-bed witnesses, Madame Bonneville, Dr. Romaine, Dr. Manley, Rev. Cunningham, Rev. Milledollar, Mr. Pigott, Mrs. Redden, Willet Hicks, Mrs. Cheeseman, Amasa Woodsworth, Thomas Nixon, Captain Pelton, Walter Morton, Thomas Addis Emmet, Mrs. Few, Albert Gallatin, Mr. Jarvis, B.F. Haskin, Colonel Fellows, and Judge Hertell, many of them Christians, all affirming or admitting that Thomas Paine did not recant.

It was one of those tiresome things that, even while I was doing it, I found myself asking myself, “Why do I care?” However, I know that the radical right has been fabricating a strange view of history and I think that’s unhealthy. For what it’s worth, I’ve never much liked Howard Zinn, seeing him more as a propagandist than an historian. The truth may be difficult to grasp and subject to interpretation, but in order to know where one stands on contemporary issues, it’s important to examine the past. On the other hand, time marches on. We seek to make the world a better place, which is not possible if we think the country should be frozen in amber in 1776 or 1789. It is probably more relevant to know the words and deeds of Thomas Paine in the course of his life and the effect he had on the politics of several countries than to know what his last words were. Still, I decided to make an effort to counter the lie the Christians tell.

Freethought Blogs is a website that hosts the blogs of a score of people. Until recently, Chris Rodda had a blog there. Today it was missing. I wondered what happened to it and I searched on the internet for her name. I had never before taken note of her book Liars for Jesus. She has the introduction and the first several pages of each chapter available on the related website. I drank some coffee and read a little bit. I only got as far as the second chapter before doing other things, however that second chapter was strangely relevant to what happened later that day. By a funny coincidence, the chapter is about the Northwest Ordinance. Before I go further, let me state that I keep on my bookshelf a book called The American Pageant. It is a high school text-book that has been used to teach U.S. History since 1983. I frequently turn to it, not because it is the best book on U.S. History every written, but because it can give me an idea of the “standard” narrative. This and other U.S. History books have been criticized by the left for ethnocentrism. The American Pageant is a broad survey and covers very little in depth. I can’t imagine a class that wouldn’t supplement it with many other items. However, here is what it has to say on the Northwest Ordinance.

While still British colonies, several states-to-be were given “sea to sea” charters, while others had much more limited lands. The states that had claims to lands far to the west were Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The states without Western claims were New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. At the end of the Revolution, the new States each found itself burdened with debt.

A major complaint was that the land-blessed states could sell their trans-Allegheny tracts, and thus pay off pensions and other debts incurred in the common cause. The states without such holdings would have to tax themselves heavily to defray these obligations. Why not turn the whole western area over to the central government?

Unanimous approval of the Articles of Confederation by the thirteen states was required , and landless Maryland stubbornly held out until March 1, 1781. She finally gave in when New York surrendered her western claims, and Virginia seemed about to do so. To sweeten the pill, Congress pledged itself to dispose of these vast areas for the “common benefit.” It further agreed to carve from the new public domain a number of “republican” states, which in time would be admitted to the Union on terms of complete equality with all the others. This pledge was later redeemed in the famed Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The book then goes on to talk ever so briefly of the weaknesses of the government under the Articles of Confederation. Then it notes two effective laws that were passed during that period, The Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

This law came to grips with the notion of how a nation should deal with its colonial peoples…. The solution provided by the Ordinance was a judicious compromise” temporary tutelage, then permanent equality.

The book as very little more to say on the subject beyond a celebratory line about the “unstinted praise” deserved by the “wisdom of Congress,” probably exactly the sort of language the gets the book a thumbs-down from the left.

Since Rodda only gives the first four pages of the chapter on the internet, I was not able to read her entire version, not that it mattered. I was just engaging in a little idle reading while waiting for the wash cycle to be done so I could transfer my laundry to the dryer.

In her introduction, which I basically skimmed because it bored me a little, she writes about how she came to decide to write the book Liars for Jesus. She writes how she followed a link in a story. “Little did I know that when I clicked on that link that I was about to discover a whole new version of American history.”

I haven’t had one watershed moment, but for the past year, since I’ve been blogging and engaging with people on the internet more frequently than in the past, I am beginning to realize the same thing.

Then I went back to the Freethought Blogs site, and I happened to see a post that mentioned that May 1 was the “National Day of Prayer,” something I had never heard of, nor had my mother when I brought it up to her this evening.

Earlier today, I put up a very short post noting that, although today was a “National Day of Prayer,” I wouldn’t be praying. I didn’t offer any opinion about whether or not the designation was constitutional or not. My laundry was in the dryer. As soon as it was out, I was going to jump in the shower, throw on my clothes and meet my mother for our workout at the gym. I went on to do other things, but checked my computer again because someone owes me an email. There was a comment from a Christian who frequents atheist blogs seeming to pick fights. I have learned to avoid him. He says strange things about U.S. History the source of which is unknown to me, but frequently is quite far afield from anything resembling what I learned in high school. It’s one thing to argue with someone about interpretation. It is quite tedious when the other person seems to possess their own private set of facts.

I guess it’s hard to argue with the statement, “I did not pray today.” Despite the fact that I never brought up whether or not the National Day of Prayer was constitutional, this commenter went on a strange rant about the Northwest Ordinance. I would have had no clue what he was talking about if I hadn’t by chance just read portions Rodda’s book earlier that day. I dislike this person. He is very aggressive and has said vulgar, unkind things to me in the past. I have countered with my own unkind statements, and now avoid him. I dislike him so much that I sometimes avoid commenting on blogs where he might show up because I don’t want to have an argument with him. He frequently cites U.S. History, but not any history I ever learned, but his own Alice through the Looking Glass version. I thought about going back to Rodda’s site and responding to his argument. One thing I do not like to do is to allow factual inaccuracies to go unchallenged in comments. Not because I want to have an argument, but because I do not want to lead people astray. I do not want my blog to be used to spread known falsehoods. Then the timer I had set for the dryer went off.

I ran down to the laundry room and came back unsure of what to do. My blood pressure mounting by the second. Feeling like I was going to have a stroke, I wanted to delete his comment, explain why I deleted it, but since he is very aggressive in his argument I wanted to block him from commenting. I’ve only done that once before and I couldn’t recall how to do that. My mind clouded by anger, I tried searching, but felt that the words were swimming before my eyes. My mother was waiting for me. I took down the post and wrote the “I Hate Christians.” Quite obviously, that is an outburst. I can’t decide whether or not to take it down, now that I’m calmer. Maybe it’s good for Christians to see what their inability to be civil reduces people to.

And this is where I feel like my mind went “ping.” I’ve never considered myself an anti-theist, just an atheist. I’ve always tried to be an atheist who gets along well with religious neighbors. But maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe we can’t “coexist.” Some people make the argument that religion will always lead down this path. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes along to blow-up a school.

And this is where I become a bad depressive citizen. All evening, the same subject has been swirling around in my mind. Why do I bother? I virtually ooze privilege.  I look white, I was raised middle class and have a middle class accent, I got a reasonably solid secondary education, I have a B.A., I’ve been enrolled in Master’s programs, I have a successful supportive sister who is married to a supportive man, my mother tries to be supportive in her own way, I grew up with a really nice father who is unfortunately now deceased, I’m able-bodied, highly intelligent, in good health and very pretty according to standard norms of beauty when I bother to fix myself up a bit. Except for the fact that I’m female, petite and now middle-aged, I really exist in a surprisingly comfortable world. Why should I care about anybody else? Let’s face it, it has absolutely no impact on me if someone in Oklahoma teaches their kids Creationism. Mainly, Christians want to hobble their own children. Why am I fighting?

Then I thought to myself, “You can still write what you think, just turn off the comments.” Then I remember how isolated I am here in this town and maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea.

I could only write about things that don’t bring contentious people to my blog and start avoiding other people’s blogs, something I’ve already started to do.

Then I have other moments when I think about the frustration I’ve felt the past few days and feel that I should instead make my blog about U.S. History to counter the falsehoods. Then I think again and I feel exhausted at the notion. If it were my job, that would be one thing, but it would be a full-time job to even make a dent in it.

Then I get angry at Christians again. Where are the moderate Christians? Where are the people who are always bothering atheists that we haven’t thought about sophisticated notions of theology? They’re always up for an argument when an atheist says, “I don’t believe in God.” Why do I rarely (not never, I should point out) see them arguing with their fundamentalist coreligionists.

Then we get the people who are just out to lunch, like my mother. Honestly, I don’t mean anything against my mother, but a couple of weeks ago she wanted to talk about that missing plane and yesterday she wanted to talk about the racist basketball team owner.

I feel exhausted, I feel defeated, I feel alone in this fight and I would rather not care. Now, if I can only succeed in not caring.

So maybe I should just cocoon myself in my privilege and keep in mind that all of this has comparatively little tangible effect on me.