Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Love with strings attached

Right now, I am angry beyond belief at my family. I’m of an age where it is infantile to try to guilt trip me into behaving as they want. It sends me in the opposite direction which I must admit is reactionary but I just want nothing to do with them rather than play their games.

It’s a dilemma...I want family contact and affection but it comes with judgment and expectations. I suppose like any relationship but this is one in which I will always be the subordinate reacting to those who wish to influence my behavior. I accept them as they are, why do they seek to manipulate me, using my weak points (namely, money) along with guilt to, basically, control my life?

It’s all in my “best interests”, of course. But it is painful to think that the little love you have in your life is conditional, based on performance in whatever area--having kids, finishing a degree, getting a promotion, pulling one’s life together, etc.--that they are unhappy with. It would be nice to just be accepted and, occasionally, appreciated simply for who you are, blemishes and all.

This is not a “poor me” thing. It’s a “can I have one person in my life who doesn’t place conditions on their love” thing. If I were evangelical, at this point I’d point out that one can find that kind of love from God. But that is intangible, abstract, and intellectual, not emotional and physical. I feel God’s love but there is no warmth to it...it is like a benevolent, nonemotional, silent approval. Which is great and all but there’s little you can hold to your heart, there is no feeling in it or, if there is, in is all going in one direction (me>God), into this airless, endless, limitless vacuum (if such a thing is imaginable).

As spacey as us Aquarians are, all human beings need physical love and affection, whether it is friendship or romantic in nature, to feel secure and healthy. Maybe not earthshattering, knee-knocking passion but some reassurance that we are not alone and unknown. I tend to just take it for granted because I have family who are still alive and then something happens and the castle of cards crashes to the floor.

Thank god for pets. I’m not a cat lady, it is just nice to have some creature in your life who needs you and is glad you are around. Ideally, that would be a family but when they put all sorts of conditions on their love, it is nice to have a warm, furry, loving backup. Pets are more than substitutes for human affection, they have their own personalities. I’m just grateful for the company.

Monday, November 12, 2007


I’ve spent a fair portion of my life avoiding reality. We all do it. We find a distraction--love, work, a hobby, a preoccupation, sex, drinking, computer games, gambling, our kids—-and throw ourselves into that person or activity which allows us to forget, for a few moments or hours, some dysfunction or unhappiness or regret in our lives.

And most of us—-if we allow ourselves to think about it (and we’re over 21)-—have things we regret, choices we’ve made or not made that, in hindsight, might not have been the best course of action to take.

If you think of the seven deadly sins, I think I would have to claim “sloth”, at least in those activities that I don’t find pleasure in. Probably like most people, I have difficulty doing those tasks that aren’t satisfying or that highlight some personal weakness or blind spot.

This is the most mundane of problems but one that has had a tremendous impact on the way my life has unfolded. I’m one of those people who slowly pull a band-aid off and the world rewards the yankers in life that act. I’m always kind of hoping that the wound will heal and the bandage fall off by itself.

My father called it “being lazy”. Having been raised in California, I thought of it more as “going with the flow of the universe”. It seemed dangerous to make a decision that wasn’t right and then have to suffer the consequences...better to let the universe/God show you the way than trying to fight the tide. It seems very passive, I know, but what I most abhor in life is frustration. And, unfortunately, to succeed at anything, you have to have a tolerance for a certain amount of frustration because most things are not immediately successful, there is a certain amount of trial and error involved. And when you grow up with a lot of judgment surrounding you, you try to avoid error at all costs.

This leads one to “play it safe”, avoid risk and injury, and have a less adventurous life than one might have had. Still, we manage to survive, we just live lives of little significance except to our immediate circle of family and friends. And maybe that is just fine. Surely billions of people have lived and died without making any discernible impact on the world except to procreate the next generation. But if you don’t have this kind of immortality, what evidence can you leave when you die that you ever even walked the streets, loved, were loved, or simply breathed? I still don’t know the answer.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I now pronounce you Wife and Life Enhancement Device...

Just saw this news story that made my stomach turn:

Sex and marriage with robots? It could happen

This "news" story is about a Ph.D. candidate (who else) in the Netherlands who does "work on the subject of human-robot relationships, covering many of the privileges and practices that generally come with marriage as well as outside of it". His thesis is called
"Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners".

The story goes on as the researcher tries to convincingly argue that there is nothing wrong with these "intimate relationships". But how does a programmable machine give "consent" to sex or marriage? Robots do whatever they are programmed to. Artificial intelligence aside, in this generation we haven't created human-like machines that have independent will and volition. So, if you are going to consider a robot a "person" (and so far marriage and the majority of sex is between two adult people), unless a machine can say "no", isn't that rape?

This kind of thinking depersonalizes sex and intimate relationships and what is additionally appalling is that the researcher suggests that robot sex/marriage will decrease prostitution. Well, what is the creation of a robot that exists just for the purpose of easing one person's sexual urges? If you are going to consider a robot a "person" who can engage in a relationship, isn't this just an even more warped form of prostitution? I mean, this guy suggests that it is preferable to have sex with a thing, an object one can control, than an actual person with genuine and spontaneous feelings as well as their own needs. Sex and marriage are just about fulfilling one person's desires and treating the other party as a means to an end...if that is not prostitution, I'm not sure what is.

This isn't even just submission this is slavery. And what is most disturbing is that the Charles Choi, the reporter who wrote this piece, just gives the scholar free rein to make his argument without even bringing up the possibility that there is something wrong with this picture. He only questions whether society will "accept" a robot as a sexual/marriage partner not the effect this could have upon what we consider healthy human relationships. Society will accept a wide variety of things but that doesn't make them good. It is pretty spineless reporting to not even counter this controversial suggestion with the possibility that this proposal might not be the best thing for humanity and just encourages a self-centered narcissism.

Something is seriously wrong with a person when they can only intimately relate to objects and not other people. Along with that comes a lack of empathy and when people lack empathy (seeing life from another person's view), the downfall of humanity is not far behind. A lack of empathy is a common psychological diagnosis when doctors look at persistent antisocial behavior.

I'm not being speciescentric. It's just that in sex and marriage, robots are like children and animals in that they can not legally or morally consent to an act here. And if a robot could say, "No, thanks, I don't feel like sex right now", I think the entire motivation to have a sex robot slave would disappear.

By the way, I can rag on Ph.D. candidates because I am one myself and have been surrounded by other Ph.D. candidates for more years than I'm willing to admit. I'm not surprised a doctoral candidate came up with this theory (many lack basic social skills) but I'm astonished that a thesis committee would grant him a degree. I mean, this student gets his degree on October 11th and on October 12th there is a news story about his thesis? C'mon, he must have sent out his press release when he scheduled his defense and they held the story until he passed his defense. Not surprisingly low quality standards for Internet journalism but I hope if this story gets circulated in the respected media, I hope they will raise some questions and not just be a public forum for this man's warped views on healthy relationships.

The best thing about my friends is that they can tell me when I'm full of myself. They call me when I'm being self-centered, judgmental, insensitive. And I listen to them because they ARE my friends and they don't want me to look like or be an ass. I can't imagine some computer programmer is going to program a robot that will give it's "owner" a second look and say, "I think you're full of shit. And by the way, I'm going home with Ramon." When that day comes, maybe I'll rethink my stance on human-robot relationships.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Funk, and not the good kind

It’s been quite a while since I wrote in this blog. It’s been a rough couple of weeks, during which I’ve been mentally lost in a fuzzy world of crime dramas. I’ve seen so many of these shows by now that I swear I could do an autopsy myself, use Luminol to test for blood at the scene of the crime, analyze splatter patterns, look at surveillance tapes, check ballistics on the murder weapon, and run fingerprints through CODIS, and compare DNA markers on blood and sweat samples.

Do these shows have a basis in reality? I doubt the average police department has the resources to spend this amount of time and money on crime-solving. Some of these tests alone cost hundreds of dollars and on TV they do them without even a thought to an actual budget.

I mean, there must be dozens of murders on TV any hour of the day. People bludgeoned, knifed, shot, garroted, pushed from buildings, skinned and gutted, drowned, drugged, strangled, decapitated, hit by a train, hung from the rafters, poisoned, throat cut, drill through the skull, dowsed with lye, set on fire…there was even one show where the killer stuck his gun in this obese man’s rectum and fired the gun so there wouldn’t be an obvious entry wound. Enough to make even a jaded TV viewer ill.

Even though the killers are caught and convicted in 90% of these shows on TV--they have to let a few villains fall through the cracks so they can run on about alleged judicial “technicalities” everyone rails about--, these shows, if you watch them in reruns (which means once or twice a night) paint a very dismal, depressing view of the world.

Take CSI. I can’t believe as many people die in a year in Las Vegas as die on this show in one season. They’ve had so many serial killers on that show, any one of which would have made the national news. But, no, we don't hear about serial killers running rampant through the countryside. Or the bio-hazards, terrorist plots, natural disasters, or city-wide epidemics they feature on these shows. Don’t remember hearing about these every night on the news.

Yes, it’s only TV, it’s a fictional construct but watching these shows can’t help affect one’s view of the world as a dangerous, deadly place where, any minute, you could be sitting in a restaurant when a car comes barreling through a plate glass window, mowing down diners. Or your child goes to the grocery store and gets shot in a drive-by. Or someone knocks on your door to deliver pizza and ends up throwing you off the balcony.

The assault of images and twisted motivations (don’t get me started on the “Ponyboy” episode of Bones the other night) of seemingly ordinary people just leaves me feeling depressed at the state of the world. I use to think this attitude was just being a “realist” about human nature but the writers of these shows are challenged to come up with even more bizarre and creative plotlines to distinguish themselves from their almost identical rivals (teams of cops, DAs, and scientists solving crimes). They don’t want to seem like they are recycling other show’s plotlines so everything gets ramped up to “10”. More sexual deviation, more unexplained bloodthirstyness, more complete disregard for the consequences of random violence. Dead bodies litter the streets, alleys, and playground in this fictional world.

I let myself get pulled into these shows because they have a comforting, absolutely predictable pattern:

1) Initial crime (usually before the credits). We know little or nothing about the victim, sometimes see the crime from the criminal’s POV and sometimes the scene jumps right past the actual crime itself, from before the crime to police surrounding a corpse on the ground.

2) Analysis of crime scene by cops and/or scientists. Hawkeye vision distinguishes a multitude of irrelevant items at the crime scene and they obsess about something that seems insignificant to the audience (a bit of glass smaller than a fingernail, a bottle cap, a piece of lint) to the exclusion of everything else that seems like it might be equally if not more important. How do they know? They just do, they're omniscient.

3) First theory of the crime proposed. First possible suspects interrogated. The cops/scientists are wrong about the first suspect 99% of the time because it’s an hour-long show so they have to stretch out the mystery and there is only so much that the audience can take of watching people make phone calls in a squad room or analyzing tool marks in a lab. If the first suspect was actually guilty, the show would be over in 15 minutes. Through the discussion with suspect #1 and other red herring suspects, we learn more about the victim(s) and possible motives for the crime.

4) Almost at the very end of the show (last 5-8 minutes) the final theory (always the correct one) is proposed and the killer is usually apprehended. This coming together of evidence could happen in the middle of a trial or in the lab or the field. Frequently, in the newer shows, there is a faux reenactment of the crime which just reinforces the infallibleness of the investigative team. They might miss something but they never, ever makes mistakes in the final interpretation.

5) Despite their unbelievable success rate in solving crimes (which can not be repeated in the real world), the investigators are in general unhappy people, either single or divorced workaholics. It’s rare to find a happily married man or woman on one of these shows. It’s like they are martyrs, sentenced by God to redeem their sins (whatever these might be) by righting the wrongs of the world but not experiencing any satisfaction or happiness themselves. They get their only satisfaction in life from figuring out the puzzles in other people's lives instead of their own.

These shows are very addictive. Everyone loves a good story and here they are with clear beginnings, middles, and endings complete with commercial breaks. We have troubled souls as heroes (whom we can identify with) and kinky, perverted, amoral villains whom we can also live vicariously through. The shows both celebrate violence—by making it the theme of every episode—and also condemn it in moralistic terms which can make the viewer feel superior because there is the thrill of sex and violence (frequently entangled) but we watch violence perpetrated by others instead of indulging in it ourselves.

I was procrastinating the other day when I should have been working (like right now) and watched part of a “marathon” of episodes of one of these shows and before I knew it hours had passed. I had terrible thoughts and images filling my head when I tried to fall asleep that night and I’ve noticed it happening more and more after an evening of watching these shows. I’m not personally afraid of being a victim, it’s just that they've twisted my view of the world to one of an unpredictable, dangerous place full of sexual predators and random acts of violence.

I think that this worldview is enhanced by the heroes’ nonchalance about the dark side of human nature, like they expect the worst from people and can no longer be surprised by even the most deviant acts. One could call it “noir-ish” but I find it just makes me feel dismal about the human race. And that, along with recent setbacks, has me in a complete funk.

Hopefully, writing will help me exorcise some of these demons. I’m not looking for a Disneyfied view of humanity, just to hold the possibility in my heart once again that people are basically good and not opportunists waiting to take advantage of the weak and disadvantaged in our society. After I get a little of that point of view back, maybe I can work on my total mistrust of corporate America next.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Scholarship is the Enemy of Romance

This line used to be my email signature until I began to think it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here is where I took it from:

Scholarship is the enemy of romance
Where does that leave me? Alone in the rain again
What happened to the weekend I planned with you?
We didn't even get upstairs this time

I never missed that end-of-term kiss
But where did it go, miss? I don't know, miss

Take me to the fair and hold me close as we fly
through the air
Then suddenly on Sunday, it all just melted away
And when it had gone, between patches of yellowing grass
I found a coin and lost what I was looking for

I never took the advice in that book
Oh you should look, sir, you might learn, sir,
You might learn, sir
--Billy Bragg, Reaching to the Converted (1999)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lucca, all growed up

Going through all of these old posts over the weekend, I noticed the posts of Lucca when my brother and sister-in-law got him last year. Well, he's no longer a furry puppy any more, he's a full-grown dog and so here is a more recent photo of him with my brother Mike at the beach. Lucca is a lot more mellow than Sunny, his predecessor, also a bit smaller. But he's a good dog, friendly like most Golden Retrievers are, and it looks like I'll do some dogsitting later on in the fall if I can find someone to look after Serena while I'm away.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Getting comfortable again?

So, I write this nice entry about embracing discomfort and I get this email horoscope message in my Inbox this morning. I think the universe is working against me!

Romance could be awkward -- but that's almost always a good sign! If you feel more exposed than you like, that means you're moving in the right direction. Find a way to get more comfortable.

Romance is always awkward, isn't it? At least at the beginning. But is discomfort a sign of growth or that something is wrong? Are obstacles "omens" that you are going in the wrong direction and you should try doing something else or are they merely barriers in your path that you need to overcome? It's a question that has haunted me for quite some time and I'm still not sure of whether there exists an answer to this question.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Show or tell?

I can't believe it but it turns out that I've spent most of the day working on this blog, fine-tuning the template so that all entries look standardized. It isn't a complete success...the font is larger in Internet Explorer than Mozilla Firefox which is the browser I always use. So it has been a lot of small adjustments on each entry, altering spacing, italics and the like. I hope no one has this blog on a feed or their probably got a hundred entries as I published and republished each entry.

I have mixed feelings about all of this. It's been fun to have a place I can go, write and experiment but I can't imagine the amount of hours someone with an active blog would need to invest in maintaining their site. Maybe they get contributors to provide them with content and the
blogmaster just handles the formatting and uploading of pictures and such.

I'm trying to add some functionality to this blog (why? don't know) which has led me to some blog directories and I can't quite fathom the range of stuff that is out there on the Internet, the level of sexuality on display. Everyone from young girls to old men, mostly white folk though. And the people don't seem to be making money off of it, it's just exposure for exposure's sake. Do the individuals think that no one they know will ever see the photos? That there is something called privacy on the Internet? I have a terrible feeling that these are private photos that some ex-boyfriend decided to share with the world. But I guess the alternative--that these people want to flash their private parts--isn't much better.

Oddly enough, you see enough body parts and they start looking generic, like drawings in an anatomy book or like you're looking at farm animals. I feel curious about the people who are posing more than aroused by their bodies. The volume of what's out there is just so overwhelming that any individuality is completely erased. I guess that's why I'm a sociologist and not a pornographer. Well, one reason.

No one would ever accuse me of being an exhibitionist. That might seem odd for someone who writes down their thoughts for anyone to see but this forum seems relatively anonymous and I have yet to pass on the URL to anyone know in my real life. I think I'm afraid that I'll let their opinion (which WILL be expressed) to influence the content of the blog and right now it's free to be whatever it is....in other words, a blank page where I can reveal as little or as much as I want. In that regard, I guess I'm a verbal exhibitionist.

Embrace discomfort...sez who?

I was looking around the house for something to inspire me to write and I found a Word document I had created by cutting and pasting an article from the Internet...here is the section that grabbed me initially when I saw the article in a magazine:

Embrace discomfort—at least temporarily.
Change is hard, but perpetual dissatisfaction is no picnic either. "You won't make any real progress unless you're willing to be temporarily uncomfortable," says Robert Leahy, PhD, a clinical professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and author of The Worry Cure. "Taking one step backward from your easy life is the first step forward." You may even learn that what you thought would be excruciating (putting your house up for sale, having a one-on-one with your boss or partner) isn't nearly as unpleasant as you thought.

This is so true of me--I try to avoid anxiety by delaying uncomfortable activities or decisions--but writing a simple blog entry became this early morning quest to find the authorship of this quote. I didn't identify the source on my Word document so I did a Google and Yahoo search for "embrace discomfort", looked through 250 options they listed; went on to at least a dozen quotation websites, searching for any quotes using the words "embrace" and "discomfort"; I even went to some Bible sites after thinking it might be some quote from Paul but no luck.

No one takes credit for putting these two words together but it was interesting to see who uses the expression:

  1. Self-help websites
  2. Yoga websites
  3. Business/Motivational websites
  4. Exercise/Sport websites
  5. Health websites
  6. Ecological websites
  7. Christian websites

So, the expression has expanded to beyond what how I initially understood the term to now include all forms of change in ones physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual life, ones business practices or ones lifestyle. It now refers to any aspect of our life that we are seeking to change whether it is altering ones corporate culture or sales methods, changing how or where we shop, losing weight, getting in shape to run a marathon, learning to love our neighbor, pushing through the pain to achieve a yoga position, or starting to date again after a divorce.

It's fascinating to me that somewhere, at some point, some unknown minister, self-help guru, or motivational speaker put these two words together and created an entire philosophy that covers all aspects of ones personal and professional life. How does that happen? It's refreshing in this day and age that a phrase can be popularized like that without someone "branding" or trademarking it.

I never did find the source of this quote listed above until I went back to my original document and did a search for a more obscure term (the last name of one of the authors cited). It turns out that the original piece was from Prevention magazine at the beginning of the year and came from a series of articles about making changes in ones life (link included).

My search for inspiration ended up becoming a futile search for an author and it is somehow comforting to me that there are some newer expressions or sayings that we can still say were written by "Anonymous".

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Every day, I dye a little

I heard an interesting interview yesterday with Anne Kreamer who wrote a book called Going Gray, What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Matters. In the interview she mentions that thirty or so years ago, 7% of American women dyed their hair and now, almost two thirds (65%) do. It seems to be a psychological fixation that U.S. women have about not wanting to grow older or at least not wanting to appear to be older than we feel.

I'm a dyer right now and it's because I'm trying to enter a field and I don't want to highlight the fact that I'm older than the typical job applicant. If I could go gray all over, I think I'd just let it be because it is flattering. But, if my mother is any indication, when I'm over 50 my gray will appear in patches...along my brow and temples, a spot of the back of my head. It's not all over and it's not salt-and-pepper, it looks more like bleach splashed on portions of my head. That's not a look that I would choose. Damn nature!

I'm a pretty recent dyer (last 3 or 4 years) so it was a surprise to me that so many women (and men?) dye their hair. I guess it shouldn't since there is usually a long aisle in drug stores completely devoted to hair color but I never see anyone lingering around that area of the store, contemplating their choices...people must surreptitiously pick up a box and put it in their cart, like they are buying a dirty magazine. So, they are ashamed of looking older but also of doing something to stop looking older unless they decide to cough up the money to go to a salon and have it done professionally. Kind of a no win situation unless you've got oodles of disposable money to play around with how you look.

What was most surprising was that Kreamer said men flirted with her more once she allowed herself to go gray. Who would've guessed that?

There's a great short article on the book and Kreamer from the
New York Times and a piece she wrote for Time magazine...just click on the links.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What a long, restless nap

Finally returned to posting. I enjoyed keeping up with this blog when I started it but it began to feel like an obligation...to post something interesting but not too revealing, something original but not incomprehensible, and to post it all regularly. What started out as fun became a chore. So, I just stopped writing and actually thought my account had been deleted.

So, here I am, over a year later, writing these long-ass messages on discussion boards, putting my heart and soul into them and, as Al Green says, it occurs to me, "Why aren't I doing this on my blog? Sure, no one knows it exists. But at least my thoughts don't slip off the page in a day! They'll be there for at least a week!"

All to say, I'm going to give it a shot, again. Less profundity but maybe I'll make up for my shallowness with being more conversational and they will sound less like journal entries. Or maybe I won't. It's all just an experiment any way. Until later.