October 23rd, 2006


Weekend Link Rescue

Here's a few things from the lj you might have missed if you were working your way into or out of a drunken stupor or otherwise not loitering on lj all weekend like some of us.

Freedom of religion means freedom from religion

Ask me no more questions, I'll tell you no more lies

The Jack in the Box sex survey

Parenting and other people's kids

Plus, don't forget the bounty on photos of Trial of Flowers in the wild.

Calling all toast

Here in my secret underground bunker at Rancho Lake, I am already preparing for my gig as Toastmaster at Westercon 60 next July. To that effect, I am interested in accumulating as many toasters as possible, though not to large economic impact. So if you happen to run across any garage sale or junk store toasters, especially interesting-looking ones, in the $10 or less sort of price range, let me know. I'd like to wind up with a quantity of toasters in the San Jose area next July.

More to come...

(Also, I need a toast icon for lj, if anyone's got one handy for me to misappropriate.)

A bit more on religion, politics and me

I've been thinking a lot about religion lately. Some of that stems from my recent spate of political discussions -- religion is inextricable entwined in contemporary American politics, in some very unpleasant ways. Some that stems from the fact that both Mainspring and Stemwinder have fairly strong religious dimensions to them. Stemwinder asks a lot more questions than Mainspring, but both novels are set in a fantasy environment where the literal reality of divine creation is unmistakeable, something that runs pretty much directly counter to the available empirical evidence in our world for divine creation (zilch) and to my personal beliefs on that subject (to misquote one of my characters, "arrant wish fulfilment").

There's a cognitive dissonance going on here, though. I'm thinking on three levels.

First is my personal, internal worldview. I am deeply suspicious of the religious impulse, and doubtful of public expressions of piety. My negative reactions to religion descend to the level of prejudice, sadly, which is something I have to carefully ward against. My reasons for this are complex. For one, a severe overdose of hardcore evangelical Christianity in early childhood, followed by some years in missionary schools overseas. When I finally developed critical thinking skills, my initial reaction was big giant "WTF? They were brainwashing me!"

To continue this theme, coming of age politically and societally during the Reagan years in Texas meant enduring the endless smug triumphalism of the Moral Majority and its various successors, which would pretty much sicken any thoughtful person who wasn't already bought into the agenda. I missed the Civil Rights era, for example, where churches and their leaders played a huge role in advancing progressive causes -- during my adult life the pulpit has almost exclusive stood for regressive politics of various sorts. I realize the Christian left has not vanished from this earth, but you'd be hard pressed to notice that in the general public discourse since about 1980.

A final note on my personal worldview is that I've been exposed to far too much messaging, especially from evangelical quarters, that seems to equate religious belief with an abdication or evasion of personal responsibility. "Give your life over to Jesus" sounds to me like an excuse not to have to deal with the tough parts of being an adult, a citizen and a moral actor.

Now, my second level of thinking is wrapped my political beliefs. That's where I overcome my reflexive atheism to say, and firmly believe, in freedom of worship. Just because I have rejected organized, formal spirituality doesn't mean I think it should be barred to others. Freedom of thought includes ideas not popular with me personally -- to claim otherwise would be rankest hypocrisy on my part. Where I get bent, badly, is when this same freedom of thought, and freedom of belief, is not extended back to me.

I've put this political belief in action in some very specific ways. One thing Mother of the Child and I spent a lot of time on when were in the process of that the_child was the question of spirituality. I didn't feel like it was appropriate for me to deny the_child a spiritual life simply because I'd rejected that part of my existence. We considered a number of angles, including Unitarianism, low church Espicopalianism and Reform Judaism, before settling on a Buddhist temple for her to attend. It seemed culturally appropriate to the_child's ethnic background, and didn't give me heartburn over the sorts of messaging she would receive at temple.

I like to think I put my money where my mouth is, and offered my daughter freedom to worship, or not, as she pleased, without co-opting her decision. I expect you can see the cognitive dissonance here already, though.

My third level of thinking is fictional. I write about religion a lot. Sometimes sympathetically, sometimes not. One of my most explicitly religious stories ever is "Jack's House", and it's also one of my favorite short stories ever to see print. (Well, maybe "Jesus and the Cowboys" is more explicit, but it's not available online.) Gods feature pretty heavily in Trial of Flowers, though more as actors in the story than as spiritual elements analogous to our contemporary American concepts of divinity.

Mainspring and Stemwinder, however, deal with this a lot more directly. I don't normally feel moved to analyze my own fiction -- as many of you know, I firmly believe stories belong to the reader, not the writer -- but I'm really playing hard with ideas about how one should believe, what one should believe, and what that means to life. The assumptions aren't questioned in Mainspring, rather, they simply inform the story. I'm asking a lot of questions in Stemwinder. None of the answers conform to my personal views, not in any direct way. I'm granting my characters, and my world, the integrity of their beliefs, then working within that structure. Just a bit more cognitive dissonance for the old noggin.

No great point, really -- I just felt moved to comment on the multi-layered structure of my recent thought processes in this regard.


In my hotel in Omaha. As is customary, I have something to kvetch about the travel system, but this one's reaching pretty far, I have to admit. The luggage carts at Eppley Field in Omaha have flat beds, without the slightly reversed angle commonly found on such appurtenances. They also lack a front stop. This means when one navigates a full-laden luggage cart through the curb cut at the crosswalks to reach the rental car counter, it's always a case of luggage roulette to see which bag will tumble forward onto the pavement. If one is really lucky, one's computer bag can do this.

In other news, Hertz rented me a car I'd never heard of -- a 2006 Hyundai Azera. It appears to be a badge-engineered version (or knock-off) of about a 2003 Honda Accord, but is a perfectly acceptable rental sedan.

More later once I unpack my hideously overburdened luggage and sort myself out.

Newsflash: lillypond reports the AWOL chef jacket is in her hall closet. I'm still jacketless for WFC, but no longer utterly bereft.

What it takes to be great

The 10-year rule and deliberate practice. (Can you say "a million bad words"?) An interesting article on greatness that fell out of one of my mailing lists today.

I will say that pretty much any pro writer I've ever talked to about this aspect of craft has been able to tell me what they're trying to improve, right now. Some can tell me what they'll be working on next, and even two or three steps after that. That's deliberate practice. Writing consistently, be that daily or weekly -- the productivity meme I'm always hitting on -- is deliberate practice, not to mention the only way to power through the 10-year rule.

Ghu, I love my muse, but writing is a lot of hard work both before and after it's inspiration.

Slightly more travel fu

A bit more on travel. I managed to leave my cell phone charger on the airplane. However, it was the small, cheap USB charging cable, and I have already ordered a replacement. Canny fellow that I am, my wall-charger was in my luggage. (I lost a prior version of the USB cable on a prior trip, which was when I adopted the two-charger strategy.) So take that as a hint from Heloise.

Also, travel hack-ette. I accidentally learned today how to get three checked bags onto an American flight without paying an overage fee.

Prayer in school

Prayer in school got some play in comments on my religion post this morning, specifically from ellameena (who does a marvelous job of being patient and thoughtful even when I am getting up her nose), and joshenglish (also patient and thoughtful, in addition to singing in a church choir with my mother, and therefore I have to be extranice to him). I've been noodling this over in a larger context, about which more later, but I'm just curious to ask them, and anyone else who thinks prayer in school is a good idea, how that squares with Matthew 6:5-6

"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."

I'm not being snarky here. For one, I'm not nearly well-informed enough about NT guidance on prayer to hold a sensible position on theological grounds -- my objections stand outside the internal discussions of faith. Nonetheless, this seems significant to me, because this passage is the lead-in to the Lord's Prayer, which is precisely the prayer that was recited in my elementary school classrooms of a morning, back in the day.

WFC Schedule

Wednesday6:30 onwardDinner at the Salt Lick

Thursday5:00 - 5:30Reading

Friday10:00 - 11:00Panel: Regional Differences in Fantasy

Saturday6:30 - 9:30WFA Banquet
Saturday10:00 onwardThree Tor-eaders Party

Sunday3:00 pmHeading out...

I can otherwise be found in the bar, dealers' room, or on the party circuit, depending on the time of day.