Saturday, September 20, 2008
Voting ended, the winners stand revealed:
Poetry: Kylyssa Shay, Grind
Fiction: a tie between Ben Sloan's An Exercise in Class and Everett Marx's Revelation Sneeze
Nonfiction: a tie between Ruth Dickson's 2009 Geriatric Olympic Games and Everett Marx's Taking Flight
Congratulations to the winners, and thanks again to everyone who entered work, everyone who read it, and everyone who voted.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
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Thursday, September 4, 2008
Sometime last year, I wrote a piece suggesting some new events for the
1) Indoor Mumbling. Skills will include tongue twisting, denture adhesion and controlled drooling. Medals will be awarded according to degree of comprehension difficulty.
2) Downhill HoveRound relay. Teams will be divided by gender and severity of digital arthritis. Skills include middle-of-the-road U-turning and crosswalk stalling. Points will be awarded for number of oncoming cars caused to collide. Pit crews will be available for emergency battery recharge and toggle replacement.
3) Cross Country Depends Dash. Finish line will be located in the handicap-accessible stall at the newly designed restroom complex. Silver and bronze medalists will gain entry to adjoining stalls. Non-medal winners will form a line outside the building.
4) Pole vault (sponsored by Viagra). Speed and endurance of erection will be measured in tenths of a second. Medals will be awarded to the first three contestants whose pole enters the vault. At this time, the Italian team is favored to come first, although the Ethiopians may be a dark horse in this race. This is considered the most dangerous event in the Games.
5) Senile scramble. Teams of five engage in a modified version of “telephone”. Team leaders are given a phrase to shout into the ear of the next in line who repeats it to the next person, etc. Winner is determined by the most distorted version of the original phrase. Points are deducted for each "Hah?” overheard by judges.
6) Menopause Medley. (Pairs) Heats are comprised of breast stroke rejection, forced dismount, rapid mood swing, synchronized night sweats and freestyle farting. Last partner to burst into tears wins.
7) Fallen and can’t get off the floor exercise. Medals awarded for grace and agility in activation of LifeAlert pendant. Bonus points for multiple hip fractures.
8) 500 meter grump-off. Elements include cane-brandishing, ball and Frisbee hoarding and decibel level reached when shouting, “Get off my lawn!” while stomping on the front porch.
Suggestions for other events are both encouraged and solicited.
I saw your name.
It was a late night errand, nothing that really needed doing then, but I knew the next day I would have no time. So I perched on the edge of the chair, pen in hand, planner in the other and the little book open on the desk. Hardback and blue, with teddies on the front, from the ‘Old Bear’ stories; remember those?
I turned the pages, noting birthdays, taking the planner right up to the end of this year. I should input them on my phone, my life is run by appointments not so important lately, and the phone is full of them, may as well make it complete.
That’s when I saw your name.
The air turned cold, and my skin goosebumped like it does when the night wind sweeps in and you close the back door, locking up for the night. The tears surprised me, one moment I was fine, the next they were there, falling on the page and smearing ink like felt pen on blotting paper, that science trick you do in school.
How long has it been now? Three years? Nearly, her birthday isn’t until October and you died the week before she came, a solemn herald of her arrival. I remember crying on the bed, labour pains clenching my spine, knowing you’d never see the baby’s face. I’d like to say that if she’d been a boy her middle name would have been yours.
But I’m not a traditionalist, and your name suited you, not her.
It was curious really, how I couldn’t stop the tears and I wondered at myself even as they continued to flow. It was just your name. Not a photo, not the broken fairies that still sit on my shelf, nor a letter nor the rainbows that remind me of you. The same name is on my phone, I haven’t deleted it. I couldn’t bear to at first and then later I forgot, it’s not on my quick dial and I don’t know anyone else beginning with ‘J’.
It was a better death than the one you faced, so I shouldn’t be greedy and expect you back, I shouldn’t want that, but I do. Just to see her face and say that you were loved, just to have you live the life you were cheated of, even it was only for a little while. I think it was a mercy, a blessing in disguise.
But it could have waited.
Many would ask, without the promise of heaven or the threat of hell, where does morality come from?
I believe that morality in its most basic sense, empathy, is not just a social construct but also a product of evolution. In extended families or tribal clusters as our ancestors must have lived co-operation would have been paramount to survival. Feeling a desire for your tribal members' survival and well-being was a survival trait of itself.
Millions of years ago our ancestors started walking upright at first moving a bit more slowly than other primates until the Achilles tendon came into the picture. Imagine you are a slow-moving, meter high person with very little defensive equipment in the way of sharp teeth, strong jaws or razor sharp claws. You aren't even strong enough to kneecap a lion even if you were large enough to pick up a big enough club. Your children are born quite helpless, unable to cling to their mothers' upright backs. While standing tall allows you to see predators from great distances away you really aren't as great at climbing trees as your distant ancestors may have been. You could probably yank loose a prickly branch from a thorn bush and wave it in a big cat's face but she or her family could easily circle behind you and your mama's contribution to the gene pool would end up as a light meal.
So how did something this frail and dare I say paw lickin' good survive or even evolve in the first place? Team work. The little fellows learned to look out for each other both from a budding advancement in empathy and blatant self-interest. A lone pre-human (even a sturdy and healthy male massing perhaps as much as a young German shepherd dog) would not do so well on the African plains amidst large predators. Every man for himself just doesn't work when every man is three feet tall and delicious.
Those little mothers also had to be very delicate with their large-headed, weak infants. Big brains made early hominids feeble, floppy fetuses even after birth. Those proto-human women had to coddle and cuddle their immature infants or they would have lost them soon after giving birth. Everybody knows dead babies don't pass on their genes. Even early hominids likely had a long childhood requiring extra protection and help acquiring food long after most animals would have been self-sufficient. Thus empathy and even love were survival traits. Survival, enlightened self interest, and love of family - even distant family - these are the roots of morality, conscience and civilization. They are part of our evolutionary makeup both from a social and biological sense. I believe evolutionary psychology explains the origin of morality quite well.
Love really is all you need.
Have you ever born false witness? Stolen something? Coveted your neighbor’s spouse? Indulged in adultery? Defrauded somebody? Some other bona fide sin? Well, if so, how does that compare to eating a fruit from the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”? Isn’t any of these sins just as great, or greater, than eating an apple? If all sins are the same to God and all sin is disobedience to God, then eating the apple was, by God's own terms, a pedestrian sin.
Yet God condemned all of us to death because of a single sin by a pair of humans who had zero experience with life. Are you guilty of Eve’s sin? Of course not! No more so than for Hillary Clinton’s sins or for mine. Right off the bat, common sense tells us that the Bible, in Genesis, is preaching a twisted morality. It puts us in opposition to ourselves by claiming our nature is sinful. Biblical sin is a tool to manipulate and control us via fear and guilt. I reject that neurosis: I believe our nature is basically good but we sometimes make mistakes. If we live life believing we’re no good, then we probably won’t be.
Do you know somebody who has led an exemplary life? If not, I hope you know at least a few ethical, moral, people. This is not to say that they haven’t made mistakes: only that they set a better example than most. On the scales of justice, most people are basically good. If there’s an afterlife, many people deserve free admission. And many people don’t.
But that’s definitely not what the Bible preaches, is it? We’re ALL unworthy sinners.
The Bible says God created the universe, including Adam and Eve. He did this in 6 days; executing his perfect plan on schedule and without a hitch. Adam and Eve were pure and sinless: they had all eternity, in
Unless they pissed him off, of course.
And it doesn’t take much to piss off God. No sir! And second chances? Forget about it. One mistake and you’re history. By the way, all of your offspring, forever, will also be cursed with death. How do you like them apples?
Because of Adam and Eve, we’re all born guilty of “Original Sin”. So much for God’s perfect plan (let’s call it, “plan A”). In fact, Original Sin made the human condition so intractably degenerate that God had to wipe out all life (human or not) with a catastrophic flood so that Noah’s family could start humanity anew, from scratch. This was God’s idea of plan B.
Well guess what? God’s plan B was all for naught. A few thousand years later, humanity had repopulated itself from Noah’s incestuous
Time for plan C.
This time, instead of genocide, God chose suicide. He came to Earth personally, as Jesus, to act out a script he divinely inspired, in biblical prophesy, that ended with his own trial, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension back home to heaven.
Why did God do this? Original Sin. Because of Original Sin, we can never be innocent enough for eternal life. We must be forgiven before heaven’s gates will open for us. If you know your dogma, you know Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross so that we may be redeemed from sin (and have everlasting life). Because God cursed Adam and Eve AND all their descendants – in perpetuity – with death, he had to provide some means for our redemption. The alternative was to abandon us. Quite a conundrum God put himself in, no?
Basically, God had to “save” us from the curse he imputed upon us to begin with. I’m amazed that so many people don’t see through this preposterous charade. Perhaps the pretzel logic is too tangled for most to unravel. The Bible would have us believe – and doctrine upholds – that we are all miserable wretches who will be granted eternal life only if we love Jesus. Of course, this assumes we can trust God not to resort to a plan D or E or whatever. After all, God is all-powerful and a perfectionist: who’s going to stop him from tossing out plan C if he decides, yet again, that he still hasn’t gotten creation right?
God must regret cursing mankind with death. If God is perfect, we can’t say he makes mistakes; so I prefer to say he has regrets. Anyway, I suppose God was hot-headed in his youth; the Old Testament clearly depicts him with a short fuse. So once he imputed death upon us, he couldn’t “un-impute” it. I mean, he’s God! Right? His word is law and immutable. What kind of self-respecting God would change his mind? If God is love, then I guess it’s true that, “love means never having to say you’re sorry”.
Eventually, God found a loophole in his own immutable law: leave mankind cursed but offer individuals an exemption by redemption. Yeah, that’s the ticket! For Christ’s sake – why didn’t God think of plan C before plan B? After all, if redemption is a workable plan, God flooded the Earth and wiped-out humanity for nothing. I hate when that happens!
You know, the more I think about it, the more I think that the Supreme Being should be an elected position. Surely we can put somebody with more foresight onto the throne of the Ruler of the Universe. At least, if we elect poorly, we can vote for a replacement next time.
I always knew that I could fly. Not that I ever learned how, mind you; I would never have left the grip of ground if I had taken the desperate route of study, practice, and fevered comparison with the success of others. No, I just flew the way I could not avoid knowing how.
Picture a long, narrow, rectangular front yard, a football field with personality wedged between a small house and the gravel road. Along one side of the yard ran a row of thick hedge. I could sit in its scratchy shadows hugging my knees for hours while pondering whether “hedge” referred to this particular species of branched greenness itself or the way it had been seeded in a neat row, like children, then watered and watched and clipped until it could fend for itself, a grown-up wall.
Jutting out from the secluded hedge was a maple tree. The way it interrupted the hedge had complicated more than one football game, as a panicked runner cornered nearby invariably sought its protection from would-be tacklers, feigning left and right in the hope of luring his pursuers the wrong way round the trunk, leaving himself to squirt free to the goal line. I judged this tactic deeply immoral, an insult to the game. I thought it an insult to the maple too, perhaps because of the tree’s secret service as the watcher of my flights.
There I would stand alone, but it was not normal standing. I only flew when there was a gathering breeze, a sibilant swirl that seemed to be leaking out of a secret fold of the earth itself. I knew that all direction had shifted into reverse whenever this hidden but wholly natural spring of air encircled me as I walked alone, shoulder-first into the headwind of night, overseen only by cold, mute, beautiful stars. This was my invitation upward. To now probe the thick, glazed grass with my heels would surely stake me for good to the ground. However, the gift of flight was here gained by pulling my warm red weight up slowly through my ankles, yes, past the dip of my knees, yes, through the looping whirl of my dizzy stomach, yes, hell yes, into my chest, a chest suddenly cloven wide with sweet breath, past the cheeks prickled with the ecstasy of a rose abloom with thorns and out into the thick glazed grass of my head and finally up beyond me, where I followed.
I seized this momentary gravity through abandonment. I did nothing to spoil it, and by nothing I mean not even the thought of doing nothing, for that is just the jamming of another set of heels into another plot of earth and that can never end in flight.
It has been suggested in some quarters that what I then managed amounted to gliding, to bumbling into some freakish slipstream, for it lacked the ‘self-fueled velocity and direction of true flight.’ This pale rationalization is of the same stripe as the cowardice that rings a boy round a tree trunk to avoid a cathartic tackle. No, my friends, I have always known I could fly, and what I have always known has been true. I have always flown over swirls of moonlit green ground and veins of crystal blue creek.
But also, and sadly, I know this. Unless you have lain alone in the stream of midair pondering the glitter of stars upon a stretch of gravel and wished to sleepily plop into that smooth pocket of distinctness, thereafter to be carried happily home and shown by the gravel road to its dutifully impressed mother, unless you too have done this, you are unfit to discuss the nature of flight, and it might even be dangerous for you to hear about it.
The origin of my Atheism or deconversion, as I like to refer it, goes back to my formative years.
I was baptized at the tender age of six. This marked my indoctrination and allegiance to an organization and doctrine, that at the age of six I had neither the knowledge nor maturity to understand and decide if I wanted to be part of. However, I did not begin to see the light until a couple of years later.
I began my journey on the road of Atheism at about the age of nine in a church in which my grandfather was the Pastor. I can remember walking into the church and looking up and seeing a painting of what was supposed to be Jesus, which depicted a Caucasian male with long dirty blonde hair and blue eyes and a radiant glow around his head. I asked myself, how would we know how he looked?
The church in which this painting was housed was home to an African-American congregation, which in large part, was comprised of the poor and downtrodden of a Southern California African-American community. These congregants prayed fervently to their Jesus, danced and gyrated around the church, sweating and moaning with the occasional outburst of an “yes lord,” “Amen” and “thank you Jesus” while my grandmother banged away on an old slightly out of tune piano, my grandfather stood in the pulpit intensely beating and rattling a tambourine and I rocked out on the drums.
All of this occurred during what is called the devotional portion of the church service and it went on until it reached a climax or fever pitch. Now as I reflect on the emotional intensity of the congregants during the devotion, I realize that the devotion possessed what I think is the emotion that one would have for a lover. That is, the outpouring of emotion had, what I realized after my first sexual encounter, produced the type of loyalty and attachment that one would have for a lover. Please understand, I am not doubting the sincerity of the congregants or my grandfather, they all were certain that they were doing the work of the “Lord.”
After the devotion period, began the fleecing of the congregants, that is, the tithes and offering were taken up. My grandfather would open by saying something to the effect, “the Lord is good and has been good to us. It’s time now that we show our appreciation to the Lord by doing what he commands us to do, ten percent of our income is to go to the Lord.” I began to ponder, if God created the earth and the entire universe, what would such a powerful being need with some measly pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents printed on them? It was always during the fleecing of the congregants that I began to wonder and doubt. For why would an omniscient, omnipotent, and loving being want to obtain the money that his poor and down trodden children so desperately needed to acquire the bare necessities to survive on this earth?
Another point of contention I had with the Christian doctrine at the age of six was the idea of the Trinity. I could not wrap my brain around the idea of there being three persons, beings, or “spirits” in one. I can remember sitting in the church pew during a sermon in which the preacher explain the concept of the Trinity. To say the least, his elucidation of the concept was inadequate. I attempted to mentally visualize the concept but could not. The preacher explained that God sent his son Jesus to the earth to be the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of humanity and he ascended into heaven three days after his death and took his rightful place on the right side of God. The Holy Spirit is God’s spirit and God is the head of the Trinity. But God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one. During his elucidation of this the preacher explained that God came down to the earth in the flesh to experience the trials and tribulations of humanity. This is difficult an adult to comprehend and even more difficult for a child to understand. This left me with three questions: 1.) If god is omniscient, why would he have to come to earth to understand the hardships and difficulties of humanity? 2.) When Jesus was on the cross dying, why did he say “my god why have thou forsaken me? Was he talking to himself, as god, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus are one? 3.) God being omnipotent, would it not be very easy for him just to forgive the sins of humanity? I left that sermon being more confused than I was before I heard it.
My reading and attempting to understand the Bible led to even more doubts and confusion. I asked myself many times during my childhood, why is God so confusing and mysterious? Why does he not reveal himself to the faithful? Why is Revelations the most gloomy and depressing portion of the Bible, but God loves all humanity? I never took any consolation in the Book of Revelations. In fact, I take even less consolation from the Bible as a whole being an African-American and reading that God supposedly cursed the darker nations of the world through the curse of Ham (son of Noah). This god is not as just as his worshipers boast. What is even more absurd is the reason why this god cursed Ham, for seeing his father (Noah) naked. Naked!!! Even at nine years old, I found the propositions in the Bible absurd and the people around me in church credulous. Nonetheless, I feigned belief through cognitive dissonance and for fear that I would be shunned by society and my family.
However, around age 15 I began rebelling and told my father that I did not want to go to church anymore which resulted in my being kicked out of my father’s house. And no, I was not the prodigal’s son; I did not return to my father’s house, I went to live with my mother. At that point, I rarely if ever attended church again.
At the age 18 I entered the Marine Corps and found many people which held faith an important part of their lives. However, of all the people in the world, I think it is the combat soldier that needs something to hold on to during perilous times. In any event, it was during my enlistment in the Marines that I began to seriously call into question the existence of a god. In August of 1990, my unit received orders to deploy to
What solidified my deconversion or atheism was my study of Philosophy and Political Science at the
One thing that I have become conscious of is the day that I admitted quietly in my mind that it is plausible that there is no omnipotent being who intervenes in human affairs, which was around December 2002, is the day I began to take charge of my own life and take responsibilities for my own actions. It is this realization that led me to go back to college which ultimately resulted in my attending the
Nonetheless, the most heart wrenching tragedy of all is not my struggle with religion but my grandparent’s dependence on it. Like some religious people, I am almost certain my grandparents had some doubts. They have since past, and for the most part, lived their entire lives in fear, never reaching, I think, their full potential. They died in a state of poverty, just as poor and ignorant as the day they were born. My grandparents never realized the importance of educating their descendants and how important the acquisition of knowledge for each individual is for the well being and advancement of humanity. If they would have only looked at the world through a rational lens, I am certain, I would be the first to graduate from a University.
In John Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice,” Rawls develops a process known as reflective equilibrium (RE), which is supposed to lead to the proper principles of justice. Rawls begins by setting up a purely hypothetical situation, in which a group of individuals in the original position (those who are the beginners of a society, or the original contract-makers) are placed under a veil of ignorance that is meant to deprive the individuals of “…knowledge of those contingencies which sets men at odds and allows them to be guided by their prejudices.” (Rawls, p. 19) These include their social standing, economic status, physical characteristics, and any other differentiating aspects of the individuals. The veil allows for all other knowledge, including sociological, psychological, economical, and historical, and any other knowledge which universally applies to all people at all times. These specific restrictions are meant to make the contract “…generally acceptable [by all who will be affected by said contract, and] that no one should be advantaged or disadvantaged by natural fortune or social circumstances…” (Rawls, p. 18)
As Rawls says, “There is, however, another side to justifying a particular description of the original position. This is to see if the principles which would be chosen match our considered convictions of justice or extend them in an acceptable way.” From this comes RE. While under the veil of ignorance, the people in the original position would chose principles of justice. Then they would be brought out from under the veil of ignorance, and would be able to match those principles with their considered convictions (which are our beliefs that have been consciously decided upon and scrutinized more closely than some sort of steady feeling that has not been scrutinized). If it turns out that the principles of justice chosen under the veil of ignorance do not match their considered convictions, then they can either revise their principles or revise their considered convictions, or even a little of both. “We can either modify the account of the initial situation or we can revise our existing judgments, for even the judgments we take provisionally as fixed points are liable to revision.” (Rawls, p. 20) Through the repetition of this process, reflecting on chosen principles and considered convictions and revision of one or the other, an equilibrium is to be achieved by having the correct balance between the principles and their considered convictions.
RE can be divided (roughly) into two sorts: wide and narrow. Narrow RE (nRE) is where only the principles that already match one’s intuitions and personal beliefs are considered, whereas in wide RE (wRE), all possible conceptions of justice that one might agree with are presented as options. “For the notion varies depending upon whether one is to be presented with only those descriptions which more or less match one’s existing judgments except for minor discrepancies (nRE), or whether one is to be presented with all possible descriptions to which one might plausibly conform one’s judgments together with all relevant philosophical arguments for them (wRE).” (Rawls, p. 49) In the original position, the contract-makers undergo wRE, because the hypothetical situation is supposed to give those principles of justice that do not simply conform to our already accepted notions of judgment, but to those that are chosen without bias and with all possible options.
In an article entitled “Nature and Soundness of the Contract and Coherence Arguments,” David Lyons argues that the principles decided upon through a process of RE (which from now on will refer to wide RE unless otherwise specified) rely on a coherentist theory of justification (which states that there are no non-inferentially justified beliefs; all justified beliefs are inferentially justified from other inferentially justified beliefs. In this view, you end up with a “web “of beliefs, in which all beliefs are connected to and justified by other beliefs in the web.). This would be great, claims
In a more colloquial, and perhaps explicit way, the main concern of Lyons and others with coherentist theories is expressed by the “garbage in, garbage out” problem. The idea behind this is that if, in a theory where beliefs are inferentially justified from other beliefs, some belief P that is used to justify other beliefs is arbitrary or untrue (in other words “garbage”), then all beliefs inferred and therefore justified by that belief P will be arbitrary or untrue (they will also turn out to be “garbage“). If there is garbage going into a theory of justification, and further beliefs are said to be justified and inferred by said garbage, then those further beliefs will also be garbage. One solution offered to this problem is found in a foundational theory of justification.
In a foundational theory of justification, there is a linear line of beliefs with a base belief(s) that is noninferentially justified. All further beliefs are based on the original one. Though the additional beliefs along the foundational chain can gain extra justification from coherence with other beliefs in the chain that are perhaps not the original noninferentially justified beliefs, they are all traceable back to and dependent for full justification on the noninferentially justified belief. This is said to solve the problem of “garbage” by not relying on intuitive beliefs (unless the “intuition” it is dependent on is the Kantian sort of space and time, but those are not the type of belief intuitions that are under consideration; those intuitions are epistemically necessary and are not “believed in” as some sort of moral precept, but apparently this is a digression, though I think these kind of intuitions could solve the entire dilemma and lend credence to certain forms of RE),which as Lyons argues, could be arbitrary. Noninferentially justified beliefs are said to be less likely arbitrary because they do not rely on inference from other beliefs.
One variant of foundationalism that gives an explanation as to why some noninferential beliefs are less likely to be arbitrary is called reliablism. In reliablism, beliefs are said to be justified because they are based on some sort of reliable process, one that has been performed previously and that has a tendency to lead to the correct results (or beliefs). Unfortunately, there are a few problems with foundationalism. One, called the epistemic ascent argument, may show that foundationalism is nothing more than coherentism in drag. This argument claims that, in such cases as reliablism, it is inferred that beliefs are likely true, so the foundational beliefs would actually be inferential, which is what foundationalism claims and wishes to avoid. The second problem is that foundationalism invites dogmatism. By this, I mean that since the base beliefs in foundationalism don’t require any inferential justification, and are sometimes claimed to be self-evident, and therefore exempt from the burden of proof, it is easy to accept certain beliefs as true without justification. The third problem, which goes along with the dogmatism charge, is that a noninferential and justified belief does not equal a noninferentially justified belief. This means that a belief could be noninferential, but have justification, say from other beliefs (as was said earlier, that beliefs in a foundational chain can gain some justification from other beliefs, but that they are only fully justified when they are derived from a noninferential belief). This is, I think, how dogmatism occurs. A belief is believed noninferentially without any justification, and is therefore unjustified, but a dogmatist may claim that since it is noninferential, that it is justified, maybe through something like self-evidence. With these comments about coherentism and foundationalism in mind, we can consider another argument concerning RE that supports the principles that come from it through a coherentist theory.
Norman Daniels disagrees with
Daniels, by putting restrictions on the inferences and principles, such as “We should require that the background theories…be more than reformulations of the same set of considered moral judgments involved when the principles are matched to moral judgments.” avoids the simple inference that
Lyons, David. “Nature and Soundness of the Contract and Coherence Arguments.”
Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice.
I'm sure you've heard people say these lines: "I wish he would stop texting her. I'm his girlfriend!" “I don't like the way all her guy friends drool over her like she's single." "Can you believe those two? They always eat lunch together at work, even though they're both married to other people."
Male-female friendships are usually a source of discomfort and controversy. I'm sure you've heard plenty of reasons against it, so I'll just summarize a few for you.
1. Men and women have a strong biological drive to procreate with someone they fancy.
2. Feelings of jealousy can arise in a significant other, and drive a wedge in the relationship.
3. Pretty much any other combination of the first two.
The situation looks awfully grim, doesn't it? Well, there are several things wrong with this hypothesis, and I'll address each point:
1. Just because someone is attracted to a friend, doesn't mean he/she must act on those feelings, or even voice them. People are more than just the sum of our emotions—we’re logical, rational beings! To claim that attraction is a deal-breaker in a friendship is frankly an insult to humanity. Yes, I may be attracted to a friend, but I calmly acknowledge it to myself, take a deep breath, and go on with my life. At that point, my lust has been completely stripped of its power over me.
2. A partnership must be built upon mutual trust and commitment. If a simple friendship can drive a wedge between two people, their relationship was doomed anyway. How do I know this? Because I've had jealousy happen to me, and plenty of other people have too. We got through it by talking calmly and honestly about it. Again, people have the ability to choose their paths in life beyond being slaves to emotions. When I'm jealous, I remind myself of all I have to offer my husband that this other woman doesn't, and I think of all the things we have built up together, and I let my feelings go.
3. WTF are bisexuals, chopped liver? According to this whole hypothesis, I would never be allowed to have friends again, because there's the potential for lust or jealousy in each and every friendship I may ever have. That is absolutely outrageous. I am not going to be a shut-in simply because I decided to love one person above all others. No, instead I am going to live a life that is centered around friendship and community with people of both genders.
I refuse to reduce people to the shape of their genitals and the ratio of their hormone levels. There are not just two kinds of people out there: those I could possibly be attracted to, and those I couldn't. Instead, there is a rich diversity of people with different thoughts and feelings, intelligence and creativity, skills and imagination. I don't have to limit myself to a certain crowd because I am afraid of my potential feelings. I can embrace what everyone has to offer, and offer of my own heart in return.
Yes, men and women can be friends. The more friendships we have to share, the better this world will be.
This wide category--ranging from philosophy to memoir--received the same number of entries as did fiction, though the word count is over 3000 less.
- Andrea Semler, Why Women and Men CAN be Friends
- Courtney Flatt, Are Principles of Justice from Reflective Equilibrium Coherent?
- Derone Pugh, The Road to My Deconversion
Marx, Taking Flight Everett
- Jim Ashby, God is Flawed
- Kylyyssa Shay, Where Morality Comes From
- Literary Dead Kittens (LDK), Your Name
- Ruth Dickson, 2009 Geriatric Olympic Games
Max shook his head to dispel the bleak mood that had dominated his evening, but strange daydreams lingered and his dark mood deepened. He glanced at his glow-in-the-dark watch. It told him that over half an hour had passed since he had begun to stare at the meaningless images on the computer screen. Now it was nearly , and he had accomplished nothing but to increase his already high level of anxiety and self-pity.
He pushed back his chair and stood quivering in the center of the room.
Mom should be home soon, he thought with desperate hope.
He crept to the bedroom window and pulled up the dusty blinds. It hardly mattered that he was nearly naked, wearing only dingy pajama bottoms, because the room was dark and no one was on the street. The only illumination came from a single streetlamp, which threw a sickly pool of amber light onto to the empty sidewalk. A blanket of crusty snow carpeted the landscape, and the air had that special crystalline quality that signaled the onset of an extremely cold night. The thermometer outside the window read minus 12o F.
Max hoped his mom wasn’t going to have trouble starting the car. After all, in
Feeling dejected, Max crawled into bed under a heavy quilt, leaving the blinds open so he could watch for his mom’s headlights.
Just as he had finished snuggling down he saw something moving outside the window, a shadowy figure that was creeping toward his front door. It paused at the top of the porch and looked cautiously down the street. Apparently satisfied that there were no witnesses, it rapped on the door.
Max gasped and rolled out of bed away from the window, bouncing with a thud onto the cold wooden floor. He waited expectantly, naked and exposed, his heart hammering. He hoped that the intruder wouldn’t peek through the window; that the stranger would go away.
A key rattled in the lock.
Terrified, Max scuttled crab-like under the bed, his sweaty skin squeaking against the cold wooden planks. Breathless, he waited for what seemed an eternity. Above the deafening roar of his own heart, he detected the distinctive creaking of the front door’s hinges. The intruder had entered!
“Are you there my dears?” came the hoarse and malicious voice of his landlady, Mrs. Mungus.
Mrs. Mungus, whom everyone called Mrs. Fungus, was the bane of Max’s existence. He would rather eat cow pies than talk to her. Unfortunately, she lived right next door. She never let his family forget that she owned the property and that they had to do whatever she demanded. She was the most horrible woman Max had ever met.
All day long Mrs. Fungus sat perched in her recliner like a great spider, pointing her bulbous nose and bulging eyes toward a large picture window, monitoring the activities of her neighbors and waiting to pounce. And pounce she did. Whenever Max tried to sneak into the house after school, Mrs. Fungus stormed out the front door, with her frowzy hair flying in all directions, demanding that he get moving on some highly important chore.
“Cut the grass.”
“Trim the hedges.”
“Clean those rocks off the sidewalk, you horrible, lazy boy.”
One year, Max had shoveled the snow from Mrs. Fungus’s driveway for the whole winter but had never received a word of thanks. Come springtime, all she had said was, “It’s about time you did something useful, you awful child!”
And now Mrs. Fungus was in his house…in the dark…with him…alone! She had obviously decided that no one was home and that a little reconnaissance mission was in order. Max could hear her heavy footsteps treading across the living room carpet. He could hear her muttering.
“What a bunch of slobs. Look at this mess.”
It was true. Max’s house was a bit disorganized, but his mom worked full time instead of sitting on her butt all day.
Max could now detect Mrs. Fungus’s presence near the bathroom, just outside the room where he lay cowering under the bed.
She grumbled in disgust, “Don’t they ever close their shower curtain?”
Max wondered how she was able to see into the dark bathroom, but then he noticed a circle of white light randomly traversing the floor. Mrs. Fungus had obviously brought a flashlight so she could accomplish her mission in absolute secrecy.
This was breaking and entering! This was a felony!
Undeterred, Mrs. Fungus continued her investigation, this time at Max’s computer desk. Max forced his head from the floor and twisted it around. He could see Mrs. Fungus’s greasy black boots dripping slush onto the floor, and he could smell her aroma of moldy, wet wool.
A teeny tiny voice in his head chanted, “Evil be gone, evil be gone.”
He wished he could do something – anything – but he simply remained curled up and cringing, a scared, gutless mouse.
“What a wasteful boy to leave his infernal machine on day and night,” Mrs. Fungus said. “Wretched child. If he were my boy, I wouldn’t spare the strap.”
She wandered around for several more minutes, handling and poking Max’s personal belongings with distaste. Finally, she harrumphed loudly and left the room. Several seconds later, the front door opened then closed with a click. Mrs. Fungus was gone.
Max remained unmoving for fifteen more minutes, attempting to calm his wildly thumping heart and to slow his frantic breathing. Only when he heard the sound of his mom’s car did he venture forth into the new and dangerous world of his own bedroom and brave a speedy dive beneath his quilt.
When his mom peeked into the room and said “Good night honey,” Max replied as cheerfully as possible, “G’night Mom.”
Afterward, an awful thought occurred to him. He had forgotten to close the window blinds. Now he would have to hide under the covers, completely smothered in blankets until morning. He wasn’t going to risk looking out the window into the dark, frigid night. He would wait until morning, when things looked better.
Things sure couldn’t look any worse.
# # #
As Max lay in bed, still wide-awake after several hours, he cursed himself for his cowardice and blamed himself for the horrid condition of his life. Bleary eyed, he checked his watch for the hundredth time, but only ten minutes had passed since he had last checked it. He was feverish and was pestered by a constant urge to toss and turn. The air was stale beneath the quilt, making it hard to breathe, and his cheek was numb on the rock-hard pillow.
Try as he might, Max had been unable to clear his head. Troubling images kept rolling around like billiard balls, endlessly bumping and rebounding. Max just couldn’t erase the image Mrs. Fungus’s greasy, black boots. He couldn’t erase the image of his schoolmates’ taunting faces. Worst of all, he couldn’t erase the image of his window. The blinds were still open. With sudden and dreadful clarity, Max knew that in order to shut the blinds he would have to jump out of bed, pull the cord, and jump back into bed – tasks that should be easy, but he couldn’t do them.
Once again, Max flipped in bed, remaining completely swathed in quilts. The heat was intense. He felt suffocated, boiled. Even so, he was unable to poke a toe from under the blanket.
He again checked his watch, which now read It was going to be a long night.
The clock slowly ticked to
Max’s eyes few open.
“What was that?” he said. He had heard something.
It was the rumble of far-away thunder.
“Oh, just thunder.”
With great relief Max slumped against his pillow. He was not afraid. Instead of provoking fear the sound released a flood of warm memories. As a child, he had loved thunderstorms and had spent countless summer nights in the garage watching them with his parents. While nature’s fury raged above, he and his family had remained safe under the garage’s protective roof, where they had munched on buttered popcorn and had cried “oooh” and “aaah” after the most beautiful lightning displays. Those were safe and happy times for Max.
The thunder he had just heard, however, was different.
“Wait a minute,” Max said. “It doesn’t thunder in February.”
Max was fully awake now. He strained to hear the thunder again but couldn’t. Instead, he heard a different sort of rumble, one that sounded more like the whoosh of wind or maybe like the howl of a bonfire sucking air to feed its greedy flames. The whoosh grew louder and louder, nearly bursting Max’s eardrums.
Max’s quilt, which normally provided safety and comfort, suddenly began puffing upward like a crazy floating parachute. Max quickly yanked it back into its proper position, but his hands were now trembling, and his mind was racing with confused terror.
A zap of hot electricity whizzed through his body, making his hair bristle and his skin prickle. He heard the sound of fluttering papers. He heard the sound of his desk chair rolling toward the bed, eventually tipping over and dragging across the floor. And he heard another sound, an even stranger one, a deep throbbing hum that reminded him of a heart monitor turned to full volume.
Max remained stone-cold still under the blanket, absolutely petrified. At first he thought the throbbing was coming from his own heart. Finally, however, he realized that it was coming from the wall next to his bed, a mere three feet away. His muscles clenched, and his tongue glued itself to the roof of his mouth. Despite the paralysis, Max made a valiant attempt to call for help. Unfortunately, the only word he managed to utter was a raspy croak, which even he could barely hear.
He tried again.
The words were a mere squeak.
After that, no words came. In his terror, Max had forgotten how to speak. The only thing he could do now was curl into a ball and wait for death.
Two minutes later, death had still not overtaken him, but the throbbing hum continued. It resonated all the way to the Earth’s core.
Above the hum, Max began to hear odd chattering noises, as though someone had released a cage-full of chipmunks. The animals seemed to be right in his room, beside his bed. For a moment, Max believed he had gone crazy; either that or he was having an incredibly realistic nightmare.
After a few more minutes of total paralysis Max managed to gather some courage. He tested his muscles and found he could move them again. He twisted his arms and flexed his legs, preparing them for a panicky sprint toward the bedroom door. Next, he tested his breathing and realized that, although he had been holding his breath, his lungs still worked. Gingerly, he grabbed the edge of the quilt and readied himself to take a quick peak. If everything looked okay, he planned to run like mad to his mother’s bedroom.
Now or never, he thought.
He took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three…”
With the flaming teeth of terror biting at his heart, Max lifted the corner of the quilt and glared bug-eyed at the wall.
What he saw was unbelievable.
“There's darkness in those trees, boy.” The old man whispered, looking towards the shadows but not gesturing.
“There's darkness everywhere.” came the reply, and the boy knew immediately that he had phrased it wrong. His grandfather was not one to speak without reason, and if the boy had just thought for a few seconds before speaking, he would have realized that there was nothing he needed to say. He did not correct himself though, he just waited silently for the old man to continue.
“The darkness in there is not from a lack of light, its dark in there at .” The grandfather continued, “That is one grove of trees you avoid, no matter what, you mind me now.”
The boy nodded, as dark as this night was, he knew his grandfather had seen the movement of his head because he started walking again. They always walked before dinner when they camped. Grandfather always told him that he needed to know how to move through nature at night.
This was the first time they went camping on this part of the old mans property. They usually went south, across the road that cut through the land on its way to town. This time they were north, in the hills. Grandfather had waited until the boy was older, with ten years behind him before they went this way, it was more difficult to camp up there, easier to lose footing and go rolling if you weren't careful.
The boy knew where they were at, he knew they walked straight north up into the hills, and then cut east for about half of a mile. The were walking downhill now, southwest and back to camp. The boy put the grove out of his mind, it was off limits and didn't bear thinking about. He paid attention to his grandfathers movements, watched every step as the old man skillfully moved down the hillside, and mimicked him as they went. The wind had picked up as they moved away from the grove, coming up the hills towards them. He loved the smell that the wind carried on it, a crisp odor that you could almost taste. As small as the town he lived in with his parents was, and as close in proximity, the buildings and groupings of people spoiled the wind before it could get to his house.
He had shot a rabbit earlier in the day, and with some potatoes and carrots that they brought from grandfathers garden, they had a good stew bubbling in a pot over the fire in camp. He believed he could smell that on the wind as well.
This was his first time in the hills but he knew this was a spot grandfather came to often. The stones were already circled in the fire ring and charred wood and ashes lay in the center. The fire was already going when he saw the rabbit at the tree line and loaded a round into his .22 rifle. It was a close shot and he made it with ease, his grandfather had taught him much in his ten years. The early kill made for an even more relaxing evening, he did not have to go hunting for dinner, it came to him.
He skinned the rabbit himself while his grandfather watched, this was only his second rabbit that he did by himself and was still a little unsure. But soon, with a trip to the creek they soon had everything simmering in a pot over the fire. The boy spoke about nothing in particular and the old man listened as they watched the sun sink away and finally dip below the land. As darkness gathered around them, they began the slow trek through the hills, the boy listening as grandfather pointed things out.
When they arrived back, they sat at the fire, each consuming two bowls of stew with half of loaf of home made bread that his mother sent with him. Bellies full and tired from the walk in the hills, they rolled out their bedrolls and were both very quickly asleep.
The boy dreamed about the grove, but in his dream it was daylight, his grandfather was walking into it smiling. He wondered why he was forbidden when it made his grandfather smile so going into it. It had to be harmless he thought, the wind moving the trees almost seemed to make the branches wave him in.
He awoke abruptly from the dream, hearing his grandfather snore softly a few feet away he laid his head back down and tried to go back to sleep, but the more the tried, the more he thought about the grove, and how safe it made him feel in the dream. He threw the blanket back before he realized he was going to do it, and began lacing his boots. He stood and started back up the hill, going back the way they had just hours before descended the hill. He didn't know why, but something was telling him he had to get a look at the grove once more tonight, it would not wait for daylight.
As he arrived he saw it a little better now that the moon had risen and was at its peak. It still had the foreboding feel that he had received when grandfather turned his attention towards it earlier. He looked from one end to the other, noticing how it grew from a considerably flatter area than anywhere else on the hill, as he looked to the right, he noticed what seemed to be something glowing in the left side of his peripheral. He glanced back quickly and lost it. He slowly turned his head to the right and it appeared again, soft and barely discernible. He moved his eyes slowly towards it and thought he actually got a look at it dead on before it faded. It seemed to him to be coming from the center of the grove, light where grandfather said there was only darkness. It beckoned him, called him to look closer, to find the light. He stepped closer to the edge than he would have thought possible with the fear growing inside him. So close in fact that he could reach out and touch the lower branches of the outer ring of trees.
It was then he finally saw the light as more than an illusion dancing in the corner of his eye. It was a faded blue glow, flickering like a flame. He stared at it, the edges of his vision darkening and lightening as he focused deeper on the light. A sleepy feeling crept into his head and he felt himself fall forward, only to catch himself with a quick step. This continued until he realized he was at the light, so close he could touch it. He blinked the trance-like feeling away and shook his head. Horror caved in on him as it dawned on him that he was in the circle, he turned to run and heard the sounds. Sounds of wood against wood, fluttering sounds as branches reached down to block off the gaps between them, he darted from the clearing into branches, trying to break through, He felt them swing away from him, then hammer back into him with a heavy force. It knocked him back, small green branches of the limb bringing welts on his skin. He screamed for his grandfather trying to push through again, feeling two limbs pummel him for his efforts.
The sound came during his fighting with the branches, he had heard it soft and in the background, but didn't acknowledge it until it had grown into a very distinct noise. As the limbs knocked him back a final time he did not get back up, he lay quiet listening. The sound was surrounding him, he could not find its direction. A breathy rushed cacophony rising in pith and volume, nearing him. He realized that he wasn't hearing it as much as feeling it, so strong that it had fooled his ears into thinking it was sound. Something was coming for him, and it seemed to be coming from inside his head. He stood to run at the natural barricade and wobbled, this thing was upon him, within him. Darkness crept into his vision punctuated by strobes of blue-white light. He realized the ground was rushing up at him, and blackness took over.
The old man awoke, a strange feeling washing over him. He sat up and saw that he was alone by the fire. He stood straight up and turned in place, looking for his grandson. It was then that he thought he heard him, far away, calling for him. The calls were coming from the hills.
He headed up the slope in his stocking feet, running harder than he had in years, calling out his grandsons name. The boy was silent now, but he knew where to go, there wasn't a doubt in his mind, though he wished there was. He crested the hill at the grove and stopped, heart pounding dangerously fast, his entire body bobbing with every rasping breath.
He saw the boy stumble from the grove, and limped over to him, catching him as he fell forward. They fell to the ground together, the boy a dead weight in his arms. Shallow breaths passed over the boys lips, which were forming words with no sound, thick blood drained from his ears and nose. The lips stopped moving in a position as if they were making an “o” sound and his last breath slid silently over them. The muscles in his face relaxed as his grandfathers clenched in a scowl. Tears welled in his eyes as he lifted his only grandson, turning to begin back down out of the hills.
He laid the boy out on his bedroll, stripping off his own t-shirt to wipe the blood from his face and neck, and covered him with a blanket. Tears were flowing freely in a mix of mourning and anger. He stood and chose a branch from the small pile of firewood. He used it to write “I'M SORRY” in the dirt by the still body of his grandson. His son would come looking for them by days end and he couldn't think of anything else. He was a man of few words. He looked at the blanket over the boy and said it out loud. “I'm sorry.” He wrapped the blood stained t-shirt around the branch and poured fuel from the lantern on it. He reached in the small pack he always camped with and found a box of wooden matches. Slipping them into the pocket of his trousers he began his last trip into the hills.
At the ring of trees he silently struck flame to the torch and began walking around the perimeter of the grove, touching flame to the underbrush and hanging branches as he went. As he arrived at his starting point, he strode into the center, trailing the torch through the underbrush as he went, the fire from the outer ring spreading quickly inside. This man of few words scanned around the grove and made his last statement. “You had to have him. Well come get me too you son of a bitch.” He threw the torch away as he felt something coming, rushing fast towards him. As it came to him, he walked into the flames.