Monday, May 27, 2013

The Unsexiest Topic of All

            Thoughts on Chapter 6 of The Artist's Way.  Part six of twelve on creativity.

            I just titled this post, thinking about money (the topic of Chapter 6).  Then I thought, "Hey, maybe poop is even unsexier?"
            No.  I'm pretty sure money still wins.
            In re-reading the chapter, and thinking about money both in terms of my own experiences and the complicated conversations around it with friends and old boyfriends, I realized it's a difficult subject to make simple, prescriptive statements about.  If I argue that we shouldn't be too stingy with ourselves, that we should "take care of ourselves," this claim easily gets co-opted by any- and everyone with more money than creative vision.  Suddenly, the very real need to love and try to be good to one's self gets turned into a guilt-evasion tactic around absurdities like shopping or manicures or expensive nights out or [insert your preferred indulgence].  Though actually, it might be an interesting experiment for Americans to pick one indulgence to just keep giving themselves if only to see how little it supports their creativity and happiness.
            On the other hand, if I argue that we should ignore money and the things it can do — or more subtly, if I pretend that we can talk about material abundance without discussing money — I'm denying the reality that anyone like me lives in.  In the developed world, and now most of the so-called developing world, monetary stuffs are ubiquitous.
            So in an attempt to avoid prescriptions, I'll blab about my own experiences with money for awhile.  Since I've both been on my own (i.e., left the protection and financial stability of my parents' home), and known I wanted to be a writer, I suppose I've had one iron-clad rule:  trust no one who speaks of "being practical."  Thus far, that phrase seems only to be uttered by people who either don't get that you absolutely can NOT have a full-time, 40-hour/week job, and a family, and have time to make art — or by people who want you to be as unhappy as they are. 
            There were many, many well-meaning grown-ups* who tried to tell me — an idealistic 20-something poet — that there were things I was going to have to think about in the future that would require more money than could be made working part-time in a dead-end job.  And on the one hand, they had a point.  Even though I don't want to do the "American dream" of working myself to the point of exhaustion until I'm in my sixties so I can suddenly stop working altogether and either be bored and waste American taxpayer dollars on my health problems, or go on long cruises to look at brown-skinned people (God, doesn't it sound glamorous!!??), I do realize that someday I will be old.  I will be old, and I will have more health problems than I have now, and I probably won't want to work as much as I do now.  So yes, saving money for the future is something I do, and those well-meaning grown-ups had at least that tiny little point.  However, they did grossly overestimate how much money is required.  In point of fact, I do not need to own a house with a yard, have a car, go on vacations, and throw money at children who could use healthy communities far more than new plastic or babyGap designed by...oh, whoever they use, I've lost track.
            The latter category, however — people who want you to be as unhappy as they are — is probably far larger and more insidious.  Because of course, they've spent a LOT of money convincing themselves that they're happy, and it's hard to call someone on this particular deception when they look so damned jovial.  (Americans go for happy/jovial; Europeans go for bored/cool.  I'm not one who thinks Europeans are doing any better than we are in terms of materialism.)  The truth is, being a consumer is antithetical to what we evolved to be.  It's also antithetical to what we were created in one day to be, so at least evolutionary science and seven-day creationism could agree on this.  Either way, Americans, and increasingly Europeans as well, define themselves by what they buy.  We feel an itch, we scratch it with money.  We feel a pain, we pay money to make it go away.  We want something, we agonize over how to get the money to buy it and rail at the universe if we can't have it.
            I'm not saying anything people don't already know, but I'm pointing it out because when I was younger and actively refusing to get in line for a grown-up job, a lot of the supposedly well-meaning grown-ups would get almost angry at me.  It wasn't that they were concerned for my welfare; frankly, I think they were pissed at the prospect of knowing they could have done any differently.  After all, they caved and got a misery-making job in order to support a family; how dare I suggest other things were possible?!  Several women I've known who were also raised in conservative Christian homes ran into the same thing regarding sex.  Their mothers weren't just worried about all the dangers — physical and emotional — attached to sex, many of which are pretty damn valid concerns for parents to have.  Their mothers were clearly angry to see young women having sex with multiple partners**, enjoying it, and not suffering all the dire consequences, the fears of which had kept them virgins until their wedding nights.
            This is all to say that so far, I'm sticking to my thoughts as above:  trust no one who speaks of being practical.  Typically, practicality is one of my own pet concerns in philosophical arenas, but not when it comes to money.  I live in a world that evaluates human beings — possibly created in the image of God, and at least the highest form of consciousness we know to exist — based on a number system in electronic devices run by a group of very, very smart and soul-less men.  And if anyone wants to argue with me about them being soul-less, go for it:  you try to have a soul while working — working for someone else, in a building not your own, from which you could be cast out at any given time — a 40-hour workweek.

*grown-ups:  I am thirty-three years old as of this writing, and I still count myself among the not grown-ups.  It's a tricky definition, but I specifically think of it as an acceptance of consumerism.  Thus, I know many people well into their fifties and sixties, some with families and homes, that have blessedly escaped grown-up-dom.

**sex with multiple partners:  Though not necessarily at the same time.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


            Moons!  Around Mars, Jupiter, Neptune...
            Moon.  Lovely lady.
            Growing less so now?

s m a i s m r m i l m e p o e t a l e u m i b u n e n u g t t a u i r a s
                                                                    - Galileo Galilei

            The astronomers of the flying island of Laputa have advanced that most venerable science considerably further than those natural philosophers of Lemuel Gulliver's home, England.  The technology of their telescopes is more advanced; using them, the Laputan astronomers "have made a catalogue of ten thousand fixed stars, whereas the largest of ours do not contain above one third part of that number" (Swift 155).
            The known universe expands.  And in so doing, do we and our world shrink?
            Does a scientific understanding of life reduce its mystery?  Does the removal of the spiritual dimension/world reduce the beauty of the world?
            The idea of the God of the gaps implies that, to the theist, science threatens to remove something desirable from the world.  As soon as scientists give a material explanation for an observed phenomenon, theists effectively say, "Okay, okay, you can have that one over there.  But this unexplained phenomenon over here?  Totally God!"  The theological insistence that qualia present evidence of unexplainable phenomena continues to feel downright pathetic (and, as a quasi-theist, embarrassing).
            The theist who responds to science with, "Okay, you can have that, but we're keeping this," clearly implies that something has been lost.  I never hear of them responding with, "Yeah, you're right, neurons firing are the cause of conscious thought.  Still God."  Such a response wouldn't deal with all the accusations that anti-theistic philosophers level (often rightly) at people of faith.  But my point is, the response of those who believe in the spiritual demonstrates their anxiety.  There is a grasping quality to the God of the gaps, which feels much like a drowning man searching for a lifeboat.

            They have likewise discovered two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve around Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the centre of the primary planet exactly three of the diameters, and the outermost five; the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty one and an half; so that the squares of their periodical times are very near in the same proportion with the cubes of their distance from the centre of Mars, which evidently shows them to be governed by the same law of gravitation, that influences the other heavenly bodies (Swift 155-156).

            Jonathan Swift tells of two moons, orbiting Mars, 150 years before their actual discovery.  According to Wikipedia, their orbits are reasonably accurately described.

Salue umbistineum geminatum Martia proles. “Hail, twin companionship, children of Mars”, or “I greet you, double knob, children of Mars.”
                      - 1610: Johannes Kepler makes a valiant attempt at decoding Galileo Galilei's anagram.

            So did Swift read Kepler's mistake, which turned out in a weird way to be true?
            Or did Swift receive divine inspiration?  (See the very bottom of the page.)
            And how far have we come from the Moon (our moon mind you) as the celestial egg laid by the Goddess and her Serpent lover?
            Very, very far if you listen to either the atheists or the theists.  According to the atheists, we have come far, far away from untruth, and we daily approach closer to truth by means of science.
            And the theists...well, their version of events is quite far-removed from the picture painted by the scriptures of any known religion.  Most of what we call religion doesn't appear to have a drop of mystery or power or spirit anywhere in its obsessively defended and materialistic midst.

            Saturn, of which Galileo really said:

Altissimum planetam tergeminum observavi. “I have observed the highest (most distant) planet [Saturn] to have a triple form.”  
                      (Click on the link to see Saturn as Galileo would have seen it:  a giant Spirit Princess Leia ready to...well, sleep with Hans Solo.)

            Yes, yes.  I have to acknowledge that the world is full of reasonable, well-informed people just waiting to dispel any and all romance.  Hence Steven Novella of the New England Skeptical Society:

"It is also possible that Swift followed the basic logic that Mercury and Venus have no moons, the Earth has one, and Jupiter and Saturn have many. Mars is between Earth and Jupiter, so maybe it has two. There is some sense to this logic as it is probable that the farther away a planet is from the sun the more likely it is to hold moons. Too close, and the sun will grab them. The Earth’s moon is likely the result of a chance collision. While Mars is far enough away, and close enough to the asteroid belt, to have picked up a couple of moons."

            *sigh*  Fine.

            And the Moon itself?
            I take great comfort in the fact that the Moon is there, clouds or no, and takes no notice of any of this.  Though I think it might wonder why the hell did Galileo have to write his findings as a bloody anagram?

Swift, Jonathan.  Gulliver's Travels.  New York:  Penguin Books, 2010.  Print.