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May. 3rd, 2016

Collie muse

Diss blues in a cheerful key!

Woo! Just finished my first interview for my dissertation research — and it went swimmingly, I think! Feeling much relief here, as well as some amusement at myself for needlessly stressing so much. Hopefully my participant enjoyed herself as well! Now, a couple of notes for future interviews:

  • zoom.us works great! Very clear directions, very easy to connect to for everyone, very simple controls, and it saves beautifully — in both video and audio format, which will make it far easier for me to do a text transcript. I'm sold! I'll be sticking with zoom instead of skype from now on. Thanks, Sam, for the invaluable recommendation!
  • Note to myself: before the interview starts, turn on a light in the room! I didn't realize it was getting dark because I was so focused on my participant… so when I finally looked at my side of the screen again, I realized I was almost completely darked out — almost menacing looking! Totally not the perception I want to give… ;)
  • I should let my participant's words lead the discussion more, I think, rather than worrying so much about the questions. When my participant was most animated and, I think, most enjoying herself was when I let her just tell things in the way and the order she wanted.
  • Sounds silly but of critical importance: use the restroom before the interview starts! Very embarrassing… ;-p
  • Another note to myself: have fun! This doesn't mean I can't be serious or focused as well, of course, but I think when I was enjoying myself was when my participant was having the most fun as well. I'm so very grateful to both her and the lovely person who connected us! Though I can't mention any names for the sake of confidentiality, you know who you are — and you're amazingly good folks!

That's it! The first of, I hope, many fascinating interviews with many wonderful women. To infinity… and beyond! :-D

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 18th, 2016

Collie muse

Women & STEM

I'm starting to become somewhat unhappy with a current trend I'm seeing on-line: increasingly indignant or strident calls for women to "step up" and start more enthusiastically participating in STEM (or the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)… purportedly so as to give women more of a voice in society, so as to change it for the better. I have a number of issues with this assertion:

  1. It presents lack of women in STEM as a woman's problem — they need to get off their dead butts and get with it!
  2. It assumes the arts are pretty much valueless to the true running of society; and…
  3. It presents men's desires/fields/whatever as the goal and source of power, which does nothing to alleviate society's misogyny — which means that will doubtless carry over into the STEM jobs just as it has in every other previously male-dominated field.

At some point I may write more about #3, but right now I'm just going to give a perspective on issues #1 (since I personally lived what I'll be relating below) & 2… because I've felt great sympathy and admiration for Ada Lovelace since I first heard about her.

So… issue #1: the idea that lack of women in STEM is a women's issue because they just need to get with the program.

Several years ago I originally returned to college so as to get a major in computer science and a minor in anthropology. I remember my computer classes painfully well. The first computer classes were wonderfully fascinating — I so loved the ingenious puzzle that coding was, to me! Plus I had a professor who was actually working in the field, rather than simply being an ivory tower recluse. In that first elective class there were no more than 20 of us students, and the prof was quiet but very smart — to the point that he rapidly figured out that asking, "Does everyone get this?" would get him a silent (even if confused) class… but asking, "Would anyone like me to repeat this?" would get relieved and enthusiastic nods from the confused.

Then I attended a required class — what I now refer to as a "cattle-call" class of something like 200+ students. It was held in an auditorium where the chairs sloped down to the stage. The first few classes everyone was participating as enthusiastically as that first class I'd taken. However, right in the center, at about the professor's eye level, was a small group of 3 to 5 young white guys who would always shout out the answers — even when the professor had only asked for a volunteer to reply.

It didn't take long, of course, for the professor to start deferring to those guys, and everyone else in the class just started falling silent — because they never got a chance to answer, or even ask questions. The prof would run through a problem, turn to the class and say, "Everyone got that?" and the guys in the front would say, "Yeah!" and the professor would look pleased and go on to the next problem. He would do this… even when I could see others looking as confused as I often was myself.

To be fair, there were other white males in the class who didn't get it, along with all the rest of us… but they too tended to be quiet in the face of the aggressively shouted competence of the "favored sons." Unfortunately the class was on a critical subject in computer programming, but because I didn't get it at all and was too embarrassed to ask questions in class, I did very poorly. That subsequently affected both my self-confidence and my ability to actually do the coding — because I still didn't understand this subject. Eventually that lack of understanding undermined my intended degree, and I ended up majoring in anthropology (with honors) and minoring in sociology instead.

In retrospect, if I was too intimidated to object in class (I was) then I really should have gone and complained to the professor during his office hours. But again, it's much easier to realize this with a decade or two of hindsight and self-confidence under my belt. Speaking just for myself, it was a small step from a perplexed, "why is no one else objecting? It must be just me — clearly I'm just imagining other folks' confusion," to the self-imposed isolation of, "everyone else but me must be getting this — maybe I'm not smart enough to do this," to it becoming a self-shaming and self-fulfilling prophecy reflected in my grades.

So if a clueless old white male professor favoring a handful of loud young white men over everyone else in his class is defined as a "woman's problem"… then yes, under that strikingly twisted definition, the lack of women in STEM is indeed solely a "woman's problem."

Next, issue #2: the arts being perceived as pretty much valueless to the true running of society.

On this I deeply sympathize with the Lady Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace (1815-1852), the first computer programmer. Ada's mother had her child rigorously schooled in mathematics and logic in an attempt to protect Ada — the only legitimate child of the wildly notorious and flamboyant romantic poet Lord Byron — from what she perceived as his insanity. Despite Ada's interest in those subjects, she was also fascinated by both her father and poetry — which her mother stringently discouraged. At one point Ada exasperatedly wrote in a letter to her mother, "You will not concede me philosophical poetry. Invert the order! Will you give me poetical philosophy, poetical science?"

The separation of knowledge into the strongly estranged "arts" and "sciences" is, to me as well as to the Lady Lovelace, as artificial as separating mind and body or logic and emotion. I've always believed, for example, that justice should be tempered with mercy, or that ethics should be the bedrock of scientific inquiry. Ada herself commented: "The intellectual, the moral, the religious seem to me all naturally bound up and interlinked together in one great and harmonious whole." She expanded that statement by explaining:

Imagination is the Discovering Faculty, pre-eminently… It is that which feels & discovers what is, the REAL which we see not, which exists not for our senses… Mathematical science shows what is. It is the language of unseen relations between things… Imagination too shows what is… Hence she is or should be especially cultivated by the truly Scientific, those who wish to enter into the worlds around us!

Unfortunately Ada's poetical science and philosophy still resides more in imagination rather than enriching both those male-dominated fields. As a consequence of our insisting on these enforced, artificial binaries, I believe we as a society lose much richness and beauty in our lives, as well as a fuller understanding of the glorious complexity of our universe. Honestly, though, the fruitful intermingling of science, the arts, and philosophy is a subject so deep and wide as to merit an entire book, rather than just my idle speculations. Oh, wait… there's already a book on the subject. It's both brilliant and heavy going — much like Ada's writings on Babbage's proposed Analytical Machine. You're welcome! ;)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 15th, 2016

Collie muse

Trigger warnings

I've had some fascinating discussions recently with a few friends about things like privilege and trigger warnings and such. I'm writing my thoughts down because not only was it really interesting seeing someone else's perspective on this, but I also want to be sure I've thought this through as best I can… and writing stuff like this down helps me organize my thoughts.

When I stop and think about it, trigger warnings make a lot of sense to me. If something I'm writing or lecturing on could cause a terrible physical and/or emotional reaction in someone else, I'd much rather not do that to them. It seems only basic courtesy to me, like not randomly kicking or spitting on someone else, you know? Yet on-line I've noticed a great many Very Serious Missives by Very Grave Men about how an insistence on trigger warnings is the first step in a slippery slope leading to denial of everyone's basic human right to free speech.

I don't see this, actually. In fact, what I think things like this boil down to — and this is just my musing aloud here — is a conflict of conscience between feeling uncomfortable and guilty… and lashing out at whatever it was that made the person feel that way. In the US, however, it doesn't seem to be acceptable to simply say, "Dude, you're making me feel really bad about this. Can we pause a moment while I process these feelings?" In fact, it doesn't seem to be acceptable to even admit that one has such feelings. From what I can tell, it seems to emotionally translate approximately as "guilty feeling = (possibly non-conscious) admission of culpability," and so the guilty-feeling person quickly lashes out in anger, in an effort to deny both the guilt/bad feelings and the self-perceived culpability. Anger as an emotion does seem to pretty much obliterate most others, after all.

Of course, admitting feelings is still socially a "not done" thing even if it's just anger, and so the entire issue gets recast as something like: "You're infringing on my right to free speech!" But… I still don't see this. If anything, in my experience trigger warnings do not call for less speech — they call for more. Every time I've seen or listened to trigger warnings, they did not prevent speech so much as they warned of an upcoming and particular type of speech.

In a way, this is what most confuses me when I think about this issue. Most of the people who're upset with being asked to use trigger warnings seem to be older white guys. So let's think about this logically: in a society where, on average, white men are the most privileged social group — the most protected physically and legally, and financially most powerful — is it really that incredibly personally damaging to take less than a single minute… to be kinder to someone who is weaker than they? How is this not an emotional win all around?

I found it faintly amusing that one friend professed to dislike trigger warnings because he thought they were a total waste of time. since he'd never noticed anyone reacting to them when he'd heard them given. Fortunately he also seemed to instantly grasp the concept of a warning giving people a moment to brace so no harm will be done. Perhaps it was my example that helped him get it: I pointed out that signs warning of bumps in the road didn't cause drivers to scream in terror or anything — but it did give them a moment to slow down so the bump was bearable and no one got hurt. I feel that giving a well-done trigger warning is unlikely to cause people to either faint or storm out of the room — it's just a courteous warning that unpleasant subjects may come up, and that it is perfectly acceptable to leave the room if you feel the need, in order to maintain personal emotional health. It's curious — we find someone having to go to the restroom in the middle of a talk to be a no-brainer… but I've seen people shamefacedly admit that they don't feel right leaving due to overwhelming emotional pain if they've not been given tacit permission (such as by a trigger warning) to do so. That being the case… why on earth would a decent person not take the minuscule amount of time required to grant such permission?

I think, in some ways, I heard the "real secret truth" of the dislike for trigger warnings while talking to some of my friends. From what I can tell, the reason the tired old "free speech" argument is being trotted out yet again is not because of having to give trigger warnings — so much as because those arguing against them don't know how to give trigger warnings. In that emotional minefield, and being afraid of accusation of insensitivity, they feel nervous about speaking at all. In their heads, I believe, a perceived demand for trigger warnings doesn't mean simply that they need to learn how to give trigger warnings — it means they are being silenced. Thus the fall-back on the accusation of denial of free speech.

The really sad thing — at least to me — is that trigger warnings are so very easy to give! As a single example, at one point I decided I was going to have to use them in order to be a courteous forum participant, but I still had no idea how to do them "correctly." So I waited until I had something to post which I thought might be potentially triggering for others, and prefaced my post with a comment that went something like this: "I am sorry, but I don't really know how to do trigger warnings yet… and I want to make a comment that will discuss issues re possible domestic violence and rape. If this isn't a proper warning, could someone please gently let me know how to do it better, and I'll be happy to fix it? Thank you for your patience."

That's all it took. No one complained or told me I'd done it wrong. Even if they had, though, I would have just edited the comment so it included their requests. My musings are just my opinions, after all; they are not — by any stretch of the imagination! — the sum total of my worth. If you attack them, I may not like it… but I'm also not going to take it personally.

And if this little bit of musing helps someone through that nervous moment where they decide to accept change and try to be a better person through using trigger warnings… then we all win!

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 3rd, 2016

Collie muse

Moar diss bluuuuz! (e.g.: cultural ritual change)

Up to this point in my life, when I wrote papers for school I could usually hold the whole thing in my head as a sort of conceptual template. I'd write that down, then look up actual quotes I had in mind from specific books, so as to prove my points. This works fine for me as long as my papers — or individual chapters — were no more than, say, 25 to 30 pages. I started to struggle a little with holding the entire framework in my head while writing when I had to do my thesis, and later my comps exams. However,  most of the "standard" chapters — the Introduction, Acknowledgements, Preface, etc. — were written individually for various classes ahead of time. Also the largest chapter in the thesis was not quite 40 pages, and had a very clear-cut point throughout… so despite being almost 70 pages total, I could still manage to hold the entire conceptual thing in my head while writing.

For the comps it was even easier, though oddly enough I've been told by other students (in both Women's Spirituality and in a variety of other fields) that comprehensives were incredibly difficult and wrenching to write. They have all my sympathies! For myself, the comps were only one per semester, and the conceptual points I was supposed to be making felt pretty straightforward to me. Both profs really liked my work too, so I guess I did fine there. :)

Now I'm working on my dissertation, though… and it's supposed to be something like five rather closely related chapters. In those I have to interview some folks, explain and develop several related concepts that must be established first, and try to stay under 200 pages. Eep! Oh, plus I suspect my three-member diss committee's going to be quite a bit more stringent than my thesis committee of two. :)

One of the problems I'm having right now is that I'll read a book, realize it's really pertinent to what I'm going to be writing about, and save off the related portions. Then, sometimes months later, I'll come back to it and not quite remember why I felt it was so important. In an effort to address that, I'm going to try doing something similar to what I tried to do for my comps: I'll write up a review of the parts of the book that I thought most important, then post it here on my blog. That way, when I'm later ready to weave the info into my diss, I can come here and re-read exactly what I was thinking at the time. I've noticed that… intellectual liveliness, that excitement is much easier to bring back when I wrote down the why right away. I have, in fact, referred back to my blog frequently for various books for my comps that I particularly admired.

I think also that there are sections of my diss that will review a concept, rather than just a book, with which I should be able to do the same. I'm going to try it out here, with the caveat that these are very rough beginnings on explaining these concepts. This one is about how cultures change via their shared rituals.

[Note to self: this can go in the Lit Review, where I'm discussing cultural drift & patriarchy]

Ordinarily cultures and their associated powerful rituals change slowly and with great reluctance; rapid change usually occurs only during times of turmoil. Intriguingly, it appears the same category of gathering can potentially perform both (a) the standard re-creative function, where the group primarily renews communal bonds and reaffirms collective representations; or (b) a re-creative function from which change and something new emerges.[1] Pickering describes this type of intentional gathering, where the requisite collective effervescence occurs, as an "effervescent assembly."[2]

It was while searching for that form of "collective action… [which] arouses the sensation of sacredness"[3] that Durkheim first came up with the notion of collective effervescence as the source of religious vitality, and possibly of religion itself. His belief is that rituals promoting collective effervescence involve the suspension of social norms, allowing new concepts and beliefs to emerge in both religion and society: "There are some periods in history when, under the influence of some great collective shock, social interactions have become much more frequent and active…. That general effervescence results which is characteristic of revolutions or creative epochs."[4] Thus should a symbol or a ritual become exhausted — should they become culturally irrelevant, or no longer generate the desired emotional effervescence for their participants — then they will either be reconstituted into newer and more pertinent versions, or discarded entirely for something fresh which answers the culture's updated needs. When new rituals are created in such a fashion they are most often successful due to the participants sharing a high degree of focused emotion and desire (which grants them all heightened emotional energy and collective effervescence), a sense of their identities being either affirmed or changed within their group solidarity, and a shared respect for the group's symbols.[5]

R. Collins refers to such creations as "natural rituals" which "build up mutual focus and emotional entrainment without formally stereotyped procedures," and notes that it is in such situations that new cultural symbols are created.[6] He loosely defines symbols as both "particularized memories as well as generalized ideas or emblems,"[7] and notes that collective cultural symbols are created, shared, and invested with emotional power through interactional rituals, both formal and informal. These rituals engender, through their intensity, collective effervescence or emotional energy, moral solidarity, and a sense of community connection for their participants.[8] Further, the emotional, spiritual, and physical pleasure of the collective effervescence attached to these symbols is a significant part of the unconscious inspiration to create and/or enact social ceremonies or relationships using the symbols.[9] This can be easily noted in the joy on the faces of those participating in, say, a graduation ceremony or a wedding: both rituals publicly announce a change in social status through expected, structured actions and recitations as well as heavily symbolic and significant clothing. In an oversimplified nutshell, performing these powerful, shared cultural rituals makes us feel good about ourselves and our communities.

[1] Arthur Buehler, "The Twenty-first Century Study of Collective Effervescence: Expanding the Context of Fieldwork," Fieldwork in Religion vol 7.1 (2012): 70-97.

[2] William S. F. Pickering, Durkheim's Sociology of Religion: Themes & Theories (London: Routledge Kegan & Paul, 1984), 385.

[3] Durkheim, Elementary Forms, 245.

[4] Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Joseph Ward Swain (New York: The Free Press, 1965), 241.

[5] R. Collins, 51.

[6] R. Collins, 50.

[7] R. Collins, 119.

[8] Randall Collins, Interactional Ritual Chains (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 155-156.

[9] R. Collins, 119.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Mar. 20th, 2016

Collie muse

Scarcity mindsets

Most of the time in my life I don't have to deal directly with the social effects of living in a culture based on a scarcity mindset. During the presidential elections, though, it's a constant, in-your-face irritation: sort of a "if you're not for me & mine then you're the enemy & must die!" attitude. I do have friends I care about deeply, whose opinions differ from mine on important topics. Most of the time we can discuss these issues thoughtfully, calmly hear where we believe different things, change our minds if we feel so inclined, and if not, courteously agree to disagree.

There are certain topics, though, which seem to be really knee-jerk reactions for many people. Politics is one… just off the top of my head, patriarchal male privilege seems to be another. The heated defenses I sometimes hear for such subjects is so virulent, so furiously denying any validity to any position but their own, that I can only believe they've woven those beliefs into part of their personal mindset. It almost appears that if you disagree with them on those issues then apparently they feel you're also saying they themselves are bad people… I think? I admit I'm not entirely sure how this works. Sadly, because we have this scarcity mindset there also seems to be a linked attitude that if you are to promote your belief or candidate… you must therefore trash the other side's beliefs or candidates. This can cause some really ugly situations. Trump's disgusting promotion of ignorance, bigotry, racism, sexism, and violence is just the most visible result of this unfortunate meme.

I find this meme enormously frustrating for the simple reason that, as far as I can tell, this path leads to nothing more than anger, unproductive shouting matches, and broken friendships. I would far rather you tell me why your belief/candidate is good, than why mine is supposedly stupid and irrational, you know? I can then take that data, do a bit of research on it if I so wish, and integrate it into my worldview. I may not change my mind, but you have actually enriched my understanding by sharing so with me.

Communicating this belief to others, however, seems to be problematic at best for me. I've had people nod in emphatic agreement with my suggesting that building up those you believe in is better than trashing those you disagree with — and then the next day do the very same thing again that we were just discussing not doing the day before! I'm not entirely sure how this works yet either… so for the nonce I'm quietly blocking certain friends on FB and not discussing certain subjects with certain folks. Once the political season is over — and assuming we do not have a Trump presidency, which I would account an utter disaster for the country — perhaps we can make a bit more progress on learning how to truly and productively share ideas. I'm certainly open to suggestions.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Feb. 26th, 2016

Collie muse

Things that make me smile

I'm currently struggling with stress headaches caused by my accidentally pinching a nerve in my neck or head — which, according to my doctor, are alleviated daily by taking Advil, and will go away on their own in about three weeks. The headaches (sans the painkiller) are bad enough that they wake me in the middle of the night, so I'm being religious about the Advil, and working hard to surround myself with things that make me happy, as I really don't like being either a downer or unpleasant to the people around me. To that end, here are a few things that make me really happy:

Flowers! As a teen I lived in Texas with my family on a 7+ acre plot of land, which bloomed each year with daffodils, apple trees, a plum tree, one of the last virgin groves of pecans in the state, myriad colors of iris, an easter lily, a rose bush, one red tulip, and more that I'm probably forgetting. Flowers make me ridiculously happy, and I'm always delighted to see them blooming now as I walk Goldie. Here are a few from our walk: bird of paradise flowers

bird of paradise flower

bird of paradise flower

I don't know what these (below) are, but they're a lovely cream, gold, and pastel purple. Anyone know their name? Later edit: turns out these are industrial irises — thanks, Shannon & John!

Industrial iris

Industrial iris

…and here's one of my favorite flowers — for their beautiful golden sunshiny glow: daffo-down-dillies! ;)

daffodilly sunshine

daffodilly sunshine

Also happy-making, even though taken last year: pale gold little apples on our apple tree:

Apples on our tree

Apples on our tree

Finally: I don't know what this succulent is either, though I love the richness of its deep purples. Later edit: my florist friend thinks this is echeveria — thanks, Shannon!

Echeveria Succulent

Echeveria Succulent?

Let's see, what else makes me happy… ah! Well organized kitties that know Mandelbrot comes before Tesseract in the alphabet! ;)

Shelved & organized kitties

Shelved & organized kitties

…and seeing deer along our road! Last year there was a doe with twin fawns that hung around on the hillside behind our house. We saw her and the fawns repeatedly during the summer — I'm a sucker for those lovely, awkward, leggy, spotty little fawns! They remind me of how adorably surprised by life foals are. I'm hoping to see more fawns this year, in fact. I'll probably see the twins as well, though I don't know how to recognize them now they're adults and likely wandered off from their mother.

Deer nibbler

Deer nibbler

Best of all: tired happy Goldie in the shade, flopped out after running her li'l paws off chasing her (disgustingly dirty!) favorite squeaky-ball! ;)

Tired happy Goldie!

Tired happy Goldie!

Oh, that reminds me! Goldie has helped me figure out the source of Celtic knotwork! If you don't know what that is, here's an example:

Knotted Celtic hounds

Knotted Celtic hounds

See how the three hounds are all intertwined, with their legs all tangled with each other, and their tails in the mouth of the following hound? When I was in the SCA I used to tease my friends with Celtic personas that their artwork was a sign of the doubtless disturbed minds of Celtic seamstresses. :) But Goldie has taught me otherwise, which the following photos demonstrate — though I must apologize for how dark they are. Her sleeping cushion is under my desk, which means I had to adjust the brightness and contrast for clarity:

Modern Celtic knotwork 01

Modern Celtic knotwork 01

Modern Celtic knotwork 02

Modern Celtic knotwork 02

I don't even know how she can tangle her paws like that, and still sleep so peacefully! So yeah… to all my Celtic SCA friends of that time: I was wrong — sorry! :)

Let's see, what else makes me happy… shared dinners with people I love! Went to Red Lobster with my housemates the other day and had an amazingly delicious dinner! Mmmm… their cheesy rolls are a guilty pleasure of mine — SO yum! Also, I'd forgotten how long it had been since I'd had really good mussels, shrimp, scallops, and lobster tail — and this plate had it all. Reminded me nostalgically of my Mom's absolutely amazing paella when we lived in Spain — wow, I would so love to have that again! Barring importing my Mom here for a meal, this plate was a lovely substitute.

Delish Red Lobster dish

Delish Red Lobster dish

Oh! We also ordered the shrimp cocktail, which I absolutely love and which was served as usual on the edge of a sturdy glass of ice. I had to laugh because some time ago when we ordered the shrimp cocktail we got this… marvelously suggestive creation!

Naughty shrimp

Naughty shrimp

I suspect my amusement, along with that of many other patrons, is part of the reason they went back to serving the shrimp on a glass again. :)

One last thing to share that makes me smile: we've added solar lights to the entryway to our house! Ever since seeing something similar on another house I've really wanted something like that… and now we have them! They're a lovely, not too glaring, icy blue in the darkness when it's just them, as you can see here:

Iceblue solar faerie lights

Iceblue solar faerie lights

…but when you add the regular light outside the house, the effect becomes a beautiful warm gold which I find very inviting.

Golden runway faerie lights

Golden runway faerie lights

One of the housemates refers to them as the solar fairy-landing-lights strip, which makes me laugh as well.

So happy about how nicely our house is coming along! Now, just got to keep that in mind for the next week… and then hopefully the nerve pinch headaches will have resolved themselves. Wish me luck with that!

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Dec. 28th, 2015

Collie muse

Musings

I'm reading my email & letting my brain wander idly in a train-of-consciousness writing… and it occurs to me that the question one of my correspondents asks is a good one:

Why do I want to be good?

That is, actually, easy to answer for me: I want to be good because being good makes me feel good. Plus I get the added bennie of helping to make the world a little bit better every time I'm good — and that makes me feel good too. Pleasure feedback loop for the win. ;)

I know there've been studies that show this, curiously enough: given the option of doing something nice for ourselves or doing something nice for others, those who chose to do something nice for others had a slower endorphin rush — but it lasted much longer. Up to three months later, when the researchers asked the study participants what they chose to do, those who did something nice just for themselves had difficulty remembering what it was, and were somewhat indifferent to it in retrospect. Those who did something good for others, however, remembered it quickly and easily, and had a repeat of the endorphin glow they'd initially felt! That sounds like a win to me, as well as good proof that we really are a social species — we're even chemically hardwired to feel better when we help each other!

I'm sitting on the Bridge (what we call our computer room) and admiring the sky outside as I type. There's a big old pine right outside the second-story window, its branches wet and black from the rain, and its needles a mix of bright green and the tan-brown of fallen dead needles. The sky behind it is cloudy slate gray from the rainclouds, but every once in a while the sun peeks through and gilds the old pine, brightening its colors and warming the view. It's a lovely mix of visual/emotional reaction, because while the grays are duller visually, they mean rain — which we desperately need here in drought-stricken California… and I love the sound of falling rain pattering lightly on the skylights as I sit warm and safe and dry in our new (as of about a year now, wow!) house. But the sun's return is a joy as well — we're past the Solstice by a few days now, and each day there's about three and a half more minutes of sunlight as this great, wonderful, ancient Gaia continues on her whirling dance through space. I am so very lucky to live here and now.

Dignified kitty is dignified

Dignified kitty is dignified! Yeah, tough to be too serious with this relaxed silly girl on my lap as I type! :)

I try to remember that in life: they grays may seem dull, but they're the preface to renewed beauty and life. Scholastically, I've officially advanced to Candidacy now — I have the school's permission to do my dissertation — and I suspect there will be several "grays" in my dissertation process, as well as both disappointments and delights in the interviewing. I'm working to keep the cyclical nature of life in mind as I start on this round of my journey. I have to remember both to keep a thoughtful, constant eye on myself as well as to give caring and compassion to those who don't want to be self-reflective.

I'll freely admit that confuses me, actually. How can you not be intrigued by your very Self? What mystery is greater? Yet I know several people who've told me, either indirectly or flat-out, that they don't want to "know" themselves. The reasons range from an impatient, "I'm too busy for that stuff!" (which sounds like a somewhat fearful excuse to me — I've made that one myself, after all) through to what I suspect is a far more honest, "I’m afraid of what I'll find." What perplexes me — and what my friend couldn't answer — is that if there's something they don't like within themselves… how can they change it until they know that? I've made quite a few changes in my life due to small and/or unpleasant self-realizations, after all. I find being alone with myself far more comfortable as a result, in fact. Admittedly, complacency is one of the stumbling blocks I have to keep watch for, but I do try. It's one of the (more non-conscious) reasons I chose to drive across the country, in fact, a few years ago: I wanted to know if I actually liked myself enough to spend an extended period of time alone with me. I was actually rather pleased to discover it was a pleasure to do so.

Another thing I need to remember is kindness, both to others and to myself. I've seen the results of projecting self-disgust or self-hate onto others. It's not pretty — or healthy. So I try to recall that imperfections I see in others — unwitting/embarrassing errors in dress, say, or uncontrollable bodily reactions — are just part of being human… and I’m human too. It's easier to deliberately forgive that in myself, I've found — rather than simply ignoring it or blaming it on the dog or someone else or whatever — when I'm willing to forgive it in others as well. That also means that just because I take fascinated joy in the never-ending voyage of self-discovery doesn't mean all my friends will as well — and it also means pushing them to do so when they're not ready is not the answer! If anything, it retards their slow-growing willingness to even entertain the idea. They'll get there in their own good time… not in mine.

I may believe that the world is best healed by those who've taken the time to first work on healing themselves… but I'm not the arbiter of righteousness that decides who gets to play and who doesn't. If we all waited until we were all healed to work on healing the world, it's a good bet there'd be little world left for healing, after all. So I try to do my bit, both for the world and for myself, and to help those I can, and to be kind to both myself and those around me. That's part of why I came up with the thought I'm going to try to implement in this New Year:

My body is a temple worthy of respect.

To me, that says I am holy and worthy of respect… and therefore I should treat myself accordingly. I will be (continuing to) exercising more in the new year, both mentally and physically, and attempting to share the fruits of that labor with others as well. If I can bring more joy into my life, why not share it with others? Joy shared is, to my way of thinking, magnified — and I really like bringing joy to others as well as sharing in theirs.

The pine tree outside is grayish again. No worries… the sky behind it is slowly starting to turn blue as the clouds begin to break up. There will be more rain, and the sun will be out again… and there will be more gilding and growth and beauty.

A very wonderful, prosperous, and fortunate new year to you all… with much shared joy and compassion.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Dec. 24th, 2015

Collie muse

Holiday joy and greetings to all! :)

It's three days after Solstice and Christmas Eve and well after Hannukah… and I have a ton of things to be thankful for. First and foremost for me: I have officially advanced to candidacy!

Halleluia! :)

Halleluia! :)

In case I didn't make it clear just how unutterably happy & relieved that makes me:


…yeah, THAT excited. :)

So, also inexpressibly delighted that we have a tree! :)  If I can figure out what google's done with my phone photos I'll add in the picture here later.

Finally, in the spirit of Solstices past, I'm including a few URLs that I much enjoyed, to share with friends. First something nifty about the origins of the season: Doe, A Deer — A Female Deer: The Spirit of Mother Christmas which I knew already due to my studies, but apparently many of my friends don't! Let's rectify this…

-and then let's have something silly and fun! As a very aspiring — as opposed to wildly successful — cook myself, this made me laugh so hard I cried! We'd Rather Eat Coal: A disturbing evening spent preparing vintage Christmas recipes.

Enjoy, and a very merry and blessed holidays to you all! :)

Later edit: Oooh, figured it out! Here's Goldie at the tree, & the tree from a different angle:

yay, treee!

yay, treee!

Goldie & c-mas tree! :)

Goldie & c-mas tree! :)

Aren't the reflections on the wooden floor pretty? I'm really thrilled too because this is the first full-sized tree we've had in something like two and a half decades — yay! It just feels more christmassy to me than the tiny tree I had to work with previous to this. Plus this tree is artificial, so sturdier when the cats decide to see if it's climbable (it is, though I didn't get any photos of the little monsters! :), and also the lights are both cool AND already wired in! Totally awesome, in my book — this way we get all the joy of a tree but don't have to kill one! Oh, and I absolutely love how beautifully colorful decorations are:

Many colors of the season

Many colors of the season

Handmade Polish hedgie ornament

Handmade Polish hedgie ornament

Handmade gold lace shooting star

Handmade gold lace shooting star

…and also how much fun it was to make some of my own decorations this year! The red and white exploding star is made of paper — they're surprisingly easy to make, too! They're a traditional Polish decoration, and their proper name (which I've forgotten & will have to look up later) translates as "hedgehog" — which I love! The little shooting star is a lace weave from gold thread, and also surprisingly easy to do — with the right pattern and tools, of course! I wouldn't want to try it from scratch. ;) But apparently lacework, like the hedgie-star, is effectively time-consuming but simple to do once you know how. Very cool! :)

I also wanted to mention one not-so-successful holiday attempt, mostly because it made me giggle so much when I pulled it out of the microwave. It was supposed to be a little brownie-cake in a mug. I call it the chocosplosion! ;)

Chocosplosion!

Chocosplosion!

Finally, because "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is my favorite holiday show, I have the following, filched from FB… as a happy reminder that it's not the loot — it's the sharing and joy that really make the season. :)

True meaning of Christmas :)

True meaning of Christmas :)

A very merry, blessed, and prosperous holidays and new year to you all!

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Dec. 8th, 2015

Collie muse

A Love Letter to Dickens Faire

(Author's note: according to the website, Dickens Fair is "A Victorian Christmas Card Come to Life!" Located just south of San Francisco, Dickens Fair runs for approximately each weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. It's a truly wonderful and Christmassy recreation of Dickens' London, which I greatly enjoy visiting on a yearly basis. Personal favorites are waltzing at Fezziwig's, the delightful shows and shops, the delicious scent of the candied almonds… oh, and Charles Dickens giving wonderful readings from his beloved book A Christmas Carol!

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair!

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair!

Thus this blog entry: an attempt to communicate how wonderful Dickens Fair is, but perhaps in a more Victorian-era style of writing. The Fair is a fantastic way to start your Christmas season — check it out, and let me know what you thought of it in the comments!)

Dearest Mamá & Papá;

O! but it has been too long since I have written you, and there is so much to say! I must beg your forgiveness for my tardiness; I have been a most recalcitrant daughter in that respect, though I trust my news will inspire delight in me once more.

The Grand Concourse

The Grand Concourse

O my dear family, London has been such a wondrous adventure! I cannot tell you how delightful it has been for a young woman of the former Colonies to visit the bustling capital city of the far-spread United Kingdom. The delicious and mouth-watering scent of cinnamon-roasted almonds sweetens the air, and spirits everywhere are elevated by the joyous singing of carolers and troubadours wandering the streets. Also entrancing are the many and beautiful Christmas decorations which adorn every shop window and brighten the very air itself, it seems! Further, early in the morning it is possible to collect a daguerreotype of the Grand Concourse before it is thronged with passersby, which allows me to share with you its delightful nature.

Papá, Fezziwig's was just as delightful as you described, for despite the Mr. and Mrs. themselves being constantly surrounded by well-wishers, such that I shall have to present your letters later, I was most kindly treated. Many were the gentlemen who gladly swept me up into yet another delightful Roger de Coverly or Strip the Willow, and when those delightful country dances were not in performance, the various gentlemen present escorted both myself and the other ladies present in many quite dreamy waltzes! Mamá, you need have no fear: I sat out the rowdy polkas as per your excellent advice, and I assure you we were most genially chaperoned at all times.

Her Majesty"s honour guard

Her Majesty's honour guard

Indeed, I was most grateful for the steadying presence of both my dear B_ and the various gentlemen present, for you shall never guess who I spotted there as he departed the premises! It was none other than that dreadful villain Bill Sykes – I declare, upon realization of his identity, for a moment I found myself quite faint! I had just marked him to B_ as a most striking-looking gentleman, were it not for the formidable scowl upon his unshaven countenance — and it was his surly grunt of reply to the doorman's cheerful greeting of, "Happy Christmas, Mr. Sykes!" which caused us providentially to pause. Considering the fellow's ill-bred rudeness, I was not surprised in the least to hear him later, in a less savory section of town, to be quite fierce and growling while calling out for some poor lass named Nancy to emerge and show herself to "her Bill"! Indeed, I found myself in instant sympathy with the young woman in ragged clothes who, upon spotting Mr. Sykes, hid her countenance from him only long enough for him to pass – then shrilly cried out warning to this Nancy to hide herself safely away (though do not fear for me, Mamá – my sturdy B_ was a most dependable and reputable escort throughout all my perambulations!).

There were a few other curious incidents which occurred while we strolled the streets of Merry Olde London, though I hesitate to mention them for fear I cause you doubt of my faculties. Nevertheless I assure you both most earnestly, Mamá and Papá, that I had not been tippling in the least! And yet, twice I could swear I saw… a ghost! The first one seemed a most lugubrious gentleman, laden with great and heavy chains and with its face drawn into a perpetual frown of dissatisfaction. At first I commented in puzzlement upon it to dear B_, though I became most trepidatious upon realization that B_ could not spot it in the least! I watched with great concern as two laughing children ran unsuspectingly past the ghost – yet it merely paused in its slow, steady perambulation only long enough to allow passage of the heedless and high-spirited children… and then it continued on out of sight.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

The Ghost of Christmas Present

That caused quite the cold shiver of fear down my spine, I must say! Fortunately the second viewing was of a far less oppressive nature. Indeed, at least one of the two spirits present seemed a most remarkable and jovial personage, laughing and merry and full of Christmas cheer. Further, it seemed to my startled gaze that the spirit's very presence brightened the pleasure of those unwitting partiers nearby – which consequently made perfect sense in the context of how he was addressed by the second spirit there: as the Ghost of Christmas Present! Most odd and marvelous, I declare. However, the second and less appetizing ghost appeared to be some poor soul who'd died in his sleep, for it appeared to be a much older gentleman sporting naught but a nightcap, slippers, and a dressing gown! Were they both other than spirits I should have been quite flushed in embarrassment for the poor fellow's indecent state of public dishabille. They too were present but for mere moments – and before I could remark upon them to my dear B_ … they too had departed.

Her Majesty Queen Victoria

Her Majesty Queen Victoria

But enough of such dour subjects! Let me tell you of the most marvelous occurrence, dear family: I actually spotted Queen Victoria herself!! Can you believe such?! I was quite breathless with excitement! It initially appeared but a parade of the gallant redcoats processing along the street, with accompanying gentlemen of rank sternly calling out that the passersby make way — but then I was sure I heard them mention the Queen! Dearest B_ was so patient — for I was simply beside myself with excitement as I urged us both into a corner from which we might have an excellent view — and sure enough, there she was! Such a gracious lady — and I declare, so young! — yet also clearly beloved by her people.

Mr. Dickens in full storytelling mode!

Mr. Dickens in full storytelling mode!

Yet this was not the only delightful shock I was to receive, for much to my surprise: I was privileged to be present during one of Mr. Charles Dickens' readings! We were strolling along the street and enjoying the colorful and delightful decorations, cheerful shopkeepers, and happily chattering passers-by, and I happened to glance in through the window of a charming little pub called "The Green Man" – and who should I espy there holding forth most enthusiastically, but Mr. Dickens himself?! Well, I tell you! I slipped in quick as a wink — and at the barmaid's pleasant, "C'n I he'p ye, mum?" I inquired as to the propriety of settling quietly nearby the gentleman, but to listen. I was most delighted at her acquiescence, and soon thereafter had crept as close as I could, settling into an available chair as quiet as a mouse.

His eyes - how they twinkled!

His eyes – how they twinkled!

O! Mamá, Papá, I so dearly wished you both to be at my side just then – since, as it transpired, Mr. Dickens was reading from his book "A Christmas Carol"! Such a flood of happy memories were released as I listened: of all of us curled up by the crackling fireside, cozy and warm as we shared reading one chapter a night of that lovely little story, culminating on Christmas Eve! Mr. Dickens himself was a joy as well: such merrily twinkling eyes behind those wire-rimmed spectacles! Such delighted laughter as he shared in the excitement and joviality within the chapter which first endeared the Fezziwigs to us! Why, listening to him I could scarce believe the pair of spirits which troubled me earlier could be any other but Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge himself and his companion the joyous spirit of Christmas Present!

Alas, my inkwell runs dry so I must close for the nonce, that I may pop round to the stationer's for more paper and ink to write more of the gay and celebratory holiday marvels which we encountered. I await with great joy the opportunity to escort you both around this merry old city in a year or two; I trust your delight will be as great as mine.

Until then believe me, Mamá and Papá:

Your affectionate daughter.

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Nov. 10th, 2015

Collie muse

WOOHOOOO! :)

Just got the news: after a month more deliberation than required by my actual dissertation committee, the HRRC Committee (that is the committee that determines if my research will be ethical towards those whom I will be researching) has finally belatedly given their approval to my dissertation proposal! This means after nearly a year and a half of my writing, researching, engaging in random required effort, more writing, angsting and panicking, even more writing, leaping through flaming hoops of paperwork, and yet more writing… I am now officially ABD (All But Dissertation) — and allowed to actually start work on my dissertation!!

Hallelujah!

Halle-freakin'-lujah!

Break out the confetti — it's a miracle! :-D

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

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