Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Robot Elf on the Shelf

Today my kid came home from our babysitter's house begging for an "Elf to sit on our shelf."

My sphincter puckered up when she said it. 

I'd just been gloating to the Mr. last night about how lucky we were to have dodged that particular bullet early on, since roughly 3/4 of my parent friends who have started the Elf thing in previous years had taken to my Facebook feed over the last couple of weeks to bemoan the existence of their elves and the added holiday pressure that moving them around caused them.  

I had also recently read this  article, which points out that the Elves are conditioning our kids to live under constant surveillance... which I'd honestly never considered before, but now that I have read it there is simply no way to click the "ignore" button on the concept in my mind.  Of course, this mass-surveillance concept is not logic that makes sense to a 6-year-old.  And I didn't want to just tell her the Elves were fake, since that would both kill the fun for her friends, and lead to more questions about whether or not Santa was real.  

I didn't want the entire Christmas "gig" to be up.  

So this is roughly the conversation that transpired at bedtime tonight when she brought it up again:

Kiddo:  Mom, why can't we get an Elf for our Shelf?
Me: Well, honey, the grown ups in a house have to sign a paper saying that it's ok for the Elf to come in and watch us all the time.  And mommy and daddy don't want to do that.
K:  Why not?
M:  Because we think it's kinda creepy.  Santa can already see us all to know if we're good, right?  
K:  Yes, with his magic eyeballs.  But the elf isn't creepy! He's cute he just... smiles a lot and stares at you!  *Does impression of elf face*  
M:  Well, I think that's creepy.  Besides, why would Santa need an Elf to live with us?
K:  I dunno, just to, like, help him and make it easy for Santa and things like that.  
M:  I don't think Santa really needs their help though...
K:  Yes, he does!  Elves work to make the toys and stuff, mom!  Gosh, we just watched that movie, remember?
(She had me there: We've watched Elf twice this year already.)
M:  Yeah, I know he needs them to help with toys.  But why would he need extra elves around the world like that?  And, *lowers voice to a whisper* have you ever noticed how all the elves on the shelves look exactly the same? 
K:  Yeah....
M:  Well, why do you think that is?
K:  *thinks for a while* Maybe they're actually robots?
M:  Oh yeah?  Robots?  Like robots pretending to be elves?
K:  Yes.  Like, the real elves make the pretend elves at Santa's toy shop and then make them robots and give the to people to try to make it easier for Santa to use his magic on people who don't have the shelf elves.  
M:  I bet that's exactly right!
K:  But maybe the parents just move the elves?
M:  Uh, maybe.  But if they were robots, couldn't they move if someone controlled them?
K:  YES!  So maybe someone is controlling them!
M:  See?  NOW do you think it's kind of creepy?
K:  Yeah, I think you're right.  That is SUPER creepy.  
M:  Yeah.  So if other people have elves, that's their decision.  But we don't want a creepy robot elf here, do we?
K:  No way!

And that, my friends, is how my daughter reasoned her way out an Elf on our shelf.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

OK, so I Can't Scapegoat Mental Illness. NOW WHAT?

It was brought to my attention today that my previous post about the need for mental healthcare in our country was based on bad assumptions on my part: Apparently mass shooters are more likely to be adolescent or young adult males who are poor, have easy access to guns, and are abusing alcohol or drugs than they are to be mentally ill. This baffles me, honestly, since I cannot imagine a sane, rational person committing such horrible acts of violence... but then again, most people aren't rational a lot of the time.

Since I am a grown-up who can admit when I'm wrong, that's what I'm doing here.  

But now I'm also left with this uncomfortable chasm of uncertainty and sadness.  I have a very human need to blame SOMETHING when I feel that I've been narrowly avoiding violence these past 15 years since I moved out of my parents' house.  

I also work in the public with a LOT of young adult males who are impoverished, and their use of drugs and alcohol is something I've learned to detect pretty quickly.  For a public librarian, hearing about the trifecta of causes that go along with a mass shooter is just horribly scary.  

It would be nice to blame guns in all this, it really would.  I am not a fan of guns myself, and I fervently wish that they had never been created, let alone necessary in our past to resolve conflicts worldwide.  Guns are designed to bring death to others: that is their ultimate purpose. But it really does come down to the choices that a person makes behind the weapons they hold, and it's people, not guns, who are pulling those triggers and choosing to kill others.  

We're at least 100 years too late in realizing that a gun (or 5) in every house is a bad idea.  There's no backing out of the 2nd Amendment at this point, and even I would object to a country-wide seizing of all weapons from the hands of citizens.  Our police forces use militarized weapons, sometimes against our citizens, and I am not comfortable enough with The Man to think that the powers that be will always know best or act in our best interests.   

Of course, I'm a big believer in universal background checks for firearms, but even with strict regulations in place that deal with firearm purchases, you still can't predict when someone might choose to use that weapon against others.  

Without an ability to read people's minds, we're left to find problems with our society and decry them, without being able to DO anything about them.  
How do you get the angry loner to become less angry?  
How do you create a world where poverty isn't a problem for anyone?
How do you get people to understand that kindness and selflessness help make us all better?   We WORSHIP selfish assholes who squander their wealth on shit they don't need!  We give them television shows and follow their lives on social media... hell, we even let one of the biggest, most selfish assholes in our country run for president!  
Where are our shows about good-hearted do-gooders who want to make our planet a better world?  Where are our shows that teach compassion an empathy?

Oh wait, we lose those when we stop watching Sesame Street.  
Instead, we get a media full of rich jerks flaunting their wealth, news of gunmen getting famous for killing, and of everyone acting outraged that these shootings happened in the first place.  

So you know what?  I give up.  I'm not going to solve this problem.  I don't even know enough about it to write an accurate blog post when I'm mad.  

All I can do it show kindness and give help to those who come into my library and into my life.  And raise my kid to do the same.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Everywhere I Live Gets Shot Up by Psychos... er, by Gunmen Likely Suffering From Psychosis

Does anyone else mentally check off a city they have once lived or worked in when they hear about a mass shooting?  Or is that just me?

I grew up in the Mountains above San Bernardino, and worked in San Berdoo's main mall for years while putting myself through college.  There was a LOT of gang violence in San Bernardino for many years, but I remember it mostly being gang-on-gang violence with limited numbers of casualties each time.
The mountains I once called home also had that fun Christopher Dorner manhunt and police slaying incident happen in them, and the final cop that that guy killed was my childhood next-door-neighbor.

I attended college at UC Santa Barbara, which, you probably know, had a horrible mass-shooting from a chauvenist nut-job a few years after my family and I left the area.  Some of my best friends from college had previously lived on the same street that asshat started the shootings on.

We moved to Marysville, WA after we left Santa Barbara, then to Lake Stevens, WA a year later.   I worked at the Marysville Library when a clinically depressed guy  drove around shooting at police officers both in Marysville and our new hometown of Lake Stevens.  A few weeks later, the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shootings occurred and our library staff had to help distraught parents without cell phones try to get a hold of their children while the school was on lock-down.  

I am EXTREMELY lucky to be able to say that I have not personally lost anyone in any of these attacks.  

(Technically I have lived and worked in two smaller towns that have not yet had the misfortune of having a mass-shooting... but I'm not about to publish their whereabouts because even though I don't believe in superstitions, I still refuse to jinx them.)

I'm not going to use this blog to take a stand for gun control or against the media for their roles in glorifying and over-hyping gunmen.  
I'm just a librarian who is FUCKING SICK OF THIS SHIT.  

You know what I am going to take a stand for?  Kindness.  Compassion.  And working to reduce the stigma of mental heath disorders.  
Without kindness, we have intolerance, meanness and mercilessness.  
Without compassion we are jaded, self-centered assholes whose focus on our selves as individuals makes it impossible to make the world better for our future generations.  
And without our country actively working together to help those who need mental health services, we get armed gunmen whose anger and desperation leaves them thinking that shooting a bunch of innocent people is the best way to get what they want.  

Gun control only works when you have pre-cognition and can accurately predict when gun violence will occur... and guess what?  That's NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN, folks.  
The media will only get its shit together when we stop watching them constantly and take a stand against their ludicrous sensationalization... and guess what?  That's ALSO NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN, folks, because the instant we all hear about a shooting we immediately start tweeting and blogging and yelling about how sad it is, thus adding our own voices to the neverending OUTRAGE that circulates without any solutions.  

So, to the presedential candidates out there jumping toward gun control stances I say this:  Focus on making our stand not against guns, but against cutting funding toward mental health facitilites.  Overturn Reagan's bad and short-sighted policies and OPEN more long-term mental healthcare facilities.  Work to staff them with people who are adequately trained how to deal with these kinds of violent patients that cost us millions each year.   Create a campaign blitz that empowers those with mental health needs to seek out treatment and not hide in the shadows.
The easy way is not the best way for us.  Rhetoric needs to MEAN something, so, for the love of all things sane, DO SOMETHING THAT IS ACTUALLY HELPFUL THIS YEAR.  

EDIT: Yes, I should probably not call people "psychos" in my title if I want to reduce stigmas. I would never call any person seeking help or even exhibiting signs of mental illness "psycho" in a million years.  But if a person goes around killing innocent people because their mental illness makes them think that's a good idea, that likely falls under the DSM-V's definitions of a person suffering from a psychotic disorder or psychotic break and, thus, are very likely "psychos."  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

On Sportsing

So this funny thing happened to me last year:  I watched football.  On PURPOSE.

As someone who grew up in Southern California where there was no major NFL football team that everyone cheered for, I don't remember a single time before I moved northward to Washington where someone I knew said, "Oh, that's Sunday - I watch football that day."
Basketball, sure - I mean, the Lakers were kind of a big deal there for a bit.  But I was jaded by years of forced basketball participation at my religious elementary school (who combined P.E. with "team practice" so you literally had no other option but to be on the team) and could never get into it. 

I dabbled in baseball for a while in my "tweens" when I was so awkward at softball that I began to question my devotion to swinging bats at balls... I have an uncle who is also a ridiculously huge Dodgers fan (we're talking full-car emblems taking up both sides of the Dodger-Blue car AND at least one tattoo) and it was hard not to be enthusiastic about the team when he was around.  
But, I found out a secret about baseball while I went through this baseball experimentation phase... now this is tough to admit, so brace yourselves:

Baseball is pretty boring to watch. You get about two minutes of excitement for every hour of play if you're lucky.

So naturally, after finding this out, I gave it up and never looked back.

So, in summary: sports just weren't a thing that people who didn't play them ever really got into when I was growing up.  My dad didn't "sports," therefore neither did my brother, and since I generally only dated music elitists (or, as their kind is currently known: hipsters) at my high school I never had anyone share the passion for sports teams before.

But then I got to Washington.
And everyone is wildly into this Seahawks team.
(Which is putting it mildly.)
And I started to understand what makes people want to "sports."

First of all, when it's rainy up here... oh man is it hard to make yourself go out of the house and do things sometimes.  You really have to find things to do inside that make you happy.  And you always need a reason to hang out with your friends - sports is an excellent way to bring food, booze, and camaraderie into your afternoon without really any effort on your part.

But you know what else also helps?
Football is pretty damned entertaining.
The NFC championship game this year was crazy intense.
And unlike baseball, you're constantly marveling at how these players get into the kind of shape where they can do these crazy tackles repeatedly and still be able to form coherent sentences afterward.
It took 30 years for me to actually try watching football, and even though I'm lost with a lot of the rules and terminology, I'm lucky enough to have friends who are into football who don't mind my asking them mid-game, "Where's the pocket, anyway?"

Will I ever become the kind of person who watches all of a team's football games in a season?  Meh, probably not.  But chances are next year I'll watch more than just two.
One thing is sure, though: I'm never going to be the kind of person who makes enemies out of random strangers - or friends - over sports teams.  Those people who mock each other in public for wearing another team's colors?  Yeah, that's not really my thing.

I never want to be SO into a sport that I find my emotions totally controlled by random strangers playing a game hundreds of miles away from me. I'll never know stats on players or the names of all the players.  But I will get excited when my team wins and I will probably get swept up in all the madness after the superbowl, too.
Am I a fairweather fan?  Nah, I'm more of a tag-along, but I'll probably tag-along no matter how well the team is doing.  At least I imagine that I will...  I don't really know, though, since the Seahawks have kind of kicked ass since we moved up here.  ;)

So, in short, this fangirl book nerd has gotten into sports a bit, and would appreciate it if her hipster friends would pretend they're not rolling their eyes about it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On Being Devoutly Agnostic

“I wanted all things to seem to make some sense,
So we could all be happy, yes, instead of tense.
And I made up lies, so
they all fit nice,
and I made this sad world
a paradise”

-Kurt Vonnegut

I can't tell you how long I've wanted to write this post but have failed to ever finish it or post it out of fear that I might offend someone I care about.  And even though it's especially risky to talk about this subject during the holidays, it's the time of the year where the subject of religion weighs most heavily on my mind.  And when I think of religion, I'm always reminded of Mister Vonnegut's words, for they embody many things about what I believe - namely that people believe the stories they want to in the world to make their lives seem better.

Having been raised in a Christian household, Christmas was a time for church and worship and carols about Jesus being born.  As an agnostic parent (with leanings toward Hinduism) I now find that the things I grew up with are more difficult to share with my child without having to explain a whole lot of really intense concepts to her.  (Why, oh why do so many of the religious Christmas songs I know have to bring up that Mary was a virgin?  Yeah, virginity is not an egg I'm ready to crack with my 4-year-old.)  In fact, I've realized this year that the only carols I actually know the words to are religious ones - I literally don't know a whole verse of Frosty the Snowman because he was a pagan idol when I was growing up (magical hat, after all!) and wasn't ever allowed to watch the movie about him.

But that's not the point of this blog.  The point of this blog is to talk about freedom of religion and the concept of having respect for others' personal beliefs.

There is one major guiding principle that I have in my life:
There is no one right, universal way to live as a human being.  

I believe that:
There is no one right way to eat.
There is no one right way to have a family.
There is no one right way to run a country.
There is no one right way to read books, nor is there one genre that appeals to everyone.
There is no one right way to find personal, spiritual fulfillment.  (And yes, this concept is one of the main reasons I identify with Hinduism more than any other belief system.)

This is the essence of what it means to be agnostic: I do not subscribe to any one religion, but I see the beauty in the stories told by each of them, and I accept that they may be right for other people.  I firmly believe that everyone should make informed decisions about their beliefs and should seek to find the kinds of spiritual stories that make them feel happy, that give them purpose, and that make them want to be kind, loving people who help the world around them.

What is religion, after all, if not a series of stories that we choose to either believe or disbelieve?  The religion that speaks most to you may be the one you are raised with, it may be the one that your friend introduces you to later in life, or the one you discover on your own during a college course on world religions (as I did).

Sure there are ways to live that are better than others - don't mistake my open-mindedness for ignorance or condoning of murder or bestiality or __X__ other-awful-thing-that-liberals-must-believe-in - and I feel it's pretty clear to 99.9% of the population that believers like the Westboro Baptists are not really happy people inside. But just as it's clear that a diet of only fast food is bad for your body, there are beliefs and actions that people have that can be just as negative for themselves and the world around them. I find that too many people in the world use their religion as an excuse to be mean-hearted, to hold grudges, or to turn other people into "Them" or "Others."  Rather than trying to be compassionate, caring, and forgiving, they hide behind their holy books and use them to associate only with people who share their exact beliefs and to broadcast their hatred for these "others."

It is the actions that people take that speak to me most - you can talk until you're blue in the face about how great Jesus is, but then if you try to tell me that he would deny poor people welfare because they aren't trying hard enough to work for a living I have no choice but to decide that you must not have read the parts of the Bible where Jesus instructed his followers to give the poor the shirts of their backs.  (And, as a side-note: Major kudos to the new Pope, who seems to be the first head of the Catholic church who actually gets what Jesus was all about on that particular subject.)

I have some friends who are extremely wonderful, caring, proud Christians, and I am always so happy to see them working in their communities and teaching their children the principles that make them good people. These people do not seek out religious combat with their non-believer friends (like me), but instead let the world see how strong their faith is by their actions and the way that they treat others.  They let their lights shine brightly without using them to start flame-wars.  And I guarantee you, their influence over my opinions of religion is much greater than anyone screaming at me from a soapbox about how "god" hates homosexuals and that the political unrest in the Middle East is a sign of the end times.

And for me, the thing is: If you are happy with your beliefs and I see it having a positive effect on the way you conduct yourself as a person, then I am happy for you!!  You have found a way to bring meaning to your life and found a belief that makes you feel fulfilled, and to that I say YAY!  CONGRATULATIONS!  GO FORTH AND DO GOOD!  I will never seek to tear down your faith, I will never seek to tell you that you are wrong.  But I find that I am seldom afforded the reciprocal courtesy of their understanding of my beliefs.

If you ask my opinion I will give an honest answer in the most polite way I know how, for my conviction that everyone's religious beliefs are their own means that I do not like to tell Christians why I don't believe as they do because they often see it as an attack on their own beliefs.  (I wouldn't like to tell anyone that, actually, but I've only ever had Christians in my life challenge me on this topic.)  It's incredibly hard for me to say, "I don't believe that basing your life off of one text, written over 1700 years ago, that was translated multiple times and edited repeatedly at the whim of kings and other political leaders throughout the centuries, is logical" without offending the person who does take the Bible literally.  Or to explain that the four "omnis" of the Christian God - omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipresence - are impossible given the presence of evil in this world.  And honestly, I am quite tempted to take those two examples out of this blog so that I do not have to deal with anyone trying to refute these concepts or telling me that "God isn't logical" or things like that to try and convince me to join their belief system.  But I'm leaving them in there because this is my blog and I shouldn't have to feel ashamed for my beliefs.  NO ONE SHOULD.  That is my whole point in writing this.  I should be able to tell my friends or family "Hey, I respect your beliefs and I'd appreciate it if you would respect mine too" and then let that be the end of it.  Which doesn't mean that I expect them not to talk to me about their church activities or their Bible studies - all it means is that I want them to stop trying to convince me that their way is THE way to believe and to accept the fact that I am informed about Christianity and have made the choice not to follow it.
That's it.
That's all I want.

(Just like I'd really, really like my Paleo-diet friends to do, I might add!  Sorry, folks, I tried it and I know my liver is not cut out for that diet. And the next person who tells me "if you just gave up grains and legumes for good you'd feel much better" is going to a good, solid... laugh in the face.)

Instead, sadly, I've lost friends and been cut off from family members because of our differences of religious opinion. One of the people I cared most about in my entire life no longer speaks to me because I was not willing to join his family's new-found fire for Jesus. And even though I've done my best to stay respectful and neutral on the subject of religion, some people are just not able to do the same.

And you know, I get that they care about me and feel that this is the reason they need to "save" me.  Because they genuinely believe that I am going to hell when I die if they don't show me The Right Way.  But their good intentions get lost when every conversation is a sermon that turns into an argument and especially gets lost when they tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about.  Because I do.

I spent years taking religious studies classes because I knew that the beliefs I was raised with were not all there was in the world and I wanted to understand Christianity in a global context, rather than in the context of the small community and church I grew up in. I could write a book about my personal journey to find a faith that resonated with me (and I might, someday, because it's loaded with awesome stories about exorcisms and proving to someone that Satan didn't answer prayers by winning a video game), but I spent a lot of time doing research and making certain that my choices of belief were ones that I felt were most right.  Not everyone needs to do this, but I have always been a curious person who wants to be well-informed about life. (Gee, I wonder why I found a calling in librarianship?)

So when I eventually introduce my child to the spiritual ideas of Christmas, I will tell her about Jesus.  I will tell her about Yule.  I will show her how to spin a Dreidel and tell her about Hanukkah. I will tell her about how people around the year seek to make the darkest day of the year bright by cooking good food, lighting extra lights, and getting together with their families and friends. And if she decides to join a faith, I will be happy for her too, because I know she will have found what is right for her and I don't want her growing up with the same fear that I did: the fear of seeking knowledge and being yourself.  I want her to be free to find what calls out to her, and to learn that no matter what rhetoric she may hear around her, the holidays are about more than one religion's claim to own them.

Aaaaand on that note, after this extremely heavy post, here's my favorite Christmas song ever from my favorite episode of Community.  I hope you enjoy and, with all my heart, Happy Holidays, friends.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Finish Line

“Follow your bliss.  If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.  When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you.  I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.  If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else.” 
- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (Interview with Bill Moyers)

Monday, July 8, 2013

One F*$%ing Upbeat Piece of Blogging

It's awesome to finally be blogging about happy stuff again.
I looked back at my old blogs are realized something recently: I write a lot when I'm upset, and when I'm happy I just go about life being happy and only writing snippets of things in my mind.  
(Someday these snippets will erupt into a children's book of epic awesomeness. Someday.)

A couple of things have happened recently that have made life extra awesome.  
1- The clouds finally lost the battle and let the sun come out for about a week straight.  It was glorious.  I wore short sleeves.  I took Sadie for a small hike and only hit like 3 muddy patches. Which is awesome for up here.
2- During that sunny week, I got a job!  As you probably know by now since, let's face it, the people who read this are pretty much my friends who regularly see my posts on Facebook.
But yeah, I've landed an internship working 20 hours a week as a teen librarian for the summer at a rural public library, and I couldn't be happier about it.  
My approximate reaction in the car after landing the job.
And then I called my mom, of course.

It's a bit like combining the two major career paths that I've had in my life, since I'm doing a similar kind of reader's advisory work that I did when I worked at Barnes & Noble but I'm also combining library database and procedure knowledge that I've gleaned in my studies and my work at the UCSB Library.  

I'm also more intensely aware of the gaps in my knowledge base that I want to fill in, though.  I really want to be able to incorporate a lot of of Web 2.0 tools in my summer reading program, but I lack the programming skills to actually do the website work to make it happen the way my brain has it envisioned and it's a bit frustrating to not be able to make my own dreams come true.  I fully intend to continue this aspect of my education after I'm done with my MLIS, but if I'm going to finish this degree by the end of the year I really need to not let myself get distracted with dreams of CCS and HTML programming classes in the near future.  Apparently my 14-year-old cousin knows Javascript programming, though, so maybe I'll just ask him for help...
(Knowledge tidbits like that only serve to make me feel a competitive sense of "Oh yeah, youngin'?!?!" reactions in me lately.  Who knew I had a competitive bone in my body? Not me, that's for sure!)

The timing on the job is really perfect since I need to jam out four more classes by the end of December if I want to graduate, and this way I can do one class during the Summer and then three in the Fall and be done.  And since the job contract only goes through the end of August. I can realistically think of finishing those three classes all at once.  Maybe.  Hopefully.  One of them could be a thesis class, which is actually something I might welcome since I've had a lot of library-and-literacy-related stuff bubbling around in my brain for the last three years and I'd love a chance to just spew it all out somewhere.  
(Although the whole "organize and cite references" portion of it is admittedly less fun. But somehow it's not un-fun either... usually when I'm reading about the stuff I'm interested in it just inspires me further!  
It's really just the actually formatting of the citations that isn't fun for me. 
Because I'm a nerd like that.
A nerd that is in deep student loan debt because I did as Joseph Campbell suggested and followed my bliss. And the fact that I know I followed my book-bliss in the best way I could means that I will make payments on those student loans until I die and I won't regret a thing.)

(Longest parenthetical TO DATE!)

The kiddo also got to start going back to preschool three days a week now thanks to my job, which is really good for her.  I've loved ever minute of getting to just hang out and bond with her these last 6 months, but it's clear from her interactions with other kids at playgrounds and such that she really needs time to be with her peers right now too.  And now she gets to do just that.

Now, this post has been sitting idle in my "drafts" folder since April and it's July, so I'm just going to hit publish on it and start a new one now.  :)