Despite all of the folks who just can’t quite seem to understand that harassment is a real issue, that it’s bad, and that steps need to be taken to reduce it, whilst still ensuring people get to have fun and be flirty if with other people who also want to be fun and flirty, The Conversation is resulting in some real progress.
And it’s moving in large part because so many of the people who blog here at FreethoughtBlogs are ensuring it doesn’t stop.
I just wanted to take this opportunity to mention how much I love the folks I blog alongside of, and how very proud of them I am. This conversation isn’t easy. But they’re keeping it going, and because of them and other hard-working people who know The Conversation is worth having, conventions will be a hell of a lot safer and happier for everybody, abusers excepted.
You guys are amazing.
(Standard reminder for posts on sensitive subjects: First-time comments go automatically to moderation. Swearing and disagreement are fine, but keep it within bounds. Gendered epithets, misogyny, abuse of other commenters, and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated. You might wish toreview the cantina’s comment policy before you comment.
ETEV has, so far, had nothing but good people having good talks in the threads, even when disagreements spring up. And I want to thank my regulars and my newbies, who have all ensured that the discussions we have are thoughtful, productive, and quite often fun. You, my darlings, are the best!)
Leaving religion can be soul-crushing, at first. The memory of all that pain has faded for me, and it wasn’t as if I’d spent my life immersed in faith. I’d just been raised to believe God was out there, somewhere, and had a fleeting flirtation with Pentecostalism, before a years-long seeking after something. Something huge, something magical, something that would make this world have meaning. I did have the crisis: if there’s nothing but us, isn’t this all futile? Doesn’t that mean it’s meaningless?
I found no gods, no magic, no higher powers, nothing: in nothing, found everything I ever needed or wanted. Paradox? Perhaps. Truth is, I don’t miss the supernatural. I don’t yearn for it anymore. Nothing is full of everything. This universe, physicists think, may just possibly have come from “nothing.” Nothing’s really something! But it’s not really that sort of nothing I’m talking about, but the absence of supernatural somethings. Nothing supernatural exists turns out to be a fantastic universe to live in.
It’s just that when you’ve been taught to see the supernatural as the only thing that gives life meaning, that’s a hard nothing to swallow.
I was reminded of that reading Lisa’s blog, Broken Daughters, over the weekend. In October 2011, there’s this soul cry:
I really admire the way atheists can deal with life. Life is a journey, there is no judgement, enjoy it while you can cause once the light is out, it’s really out. Nothingness. Darkness. The end. And the audience gets up, wipes the last pieces of popcorn off their clothes and leaves. That was a nice movie, they’ll say. What was it about? Forgotten before we reach home. Who cares, there’s many other movies to watch.
If that is true then I have wasted my life. Or at least parts of it. There is nobody who wants my best, who makes sure I do all the things I need to do before I die. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and that’s that.
Yup. Absolutely true. Hell, you don’t even have to leave the house: choke on a chicken bone, slip in the shower, and the curtain goes down on your life. Over and done. There was a time when that terrified me, back when I needed to believe. Utterly paralyzed me. To the point where I had a crisis every time I had to travel. There was me, going down the checklist as I packed: toothbrush, underwear, legacy? If I didn’t leave a legacy behind, what good was I? What good was my life? I’d be so upset if I died without finishing my books! So useless!
And then, one day after becoming an atheist, going into that panic mode, I stopped and laughed. Heartily laughed. What did it matter if I died? I wouldn’t know about it. There’s no me left to care. No soul up in Heaven, looking down (or, if you believe some, in Hell looking up) mourning all of those things I haven’t finished. So what am I doing here worrying about it when I could be enjoying the journey instead?
Some people may believe that’s nihilistic, that joy in nothing. But I don’t see it that way. It’s freed me. I no longer spend major portions of my day fretting over death. I don’t mourn my life before it’s over. I used to. Don’t now. I just plunge in to the things I love to do: my geology and my writing and movies and teevee and music and adventures with friends and cuddles with kitteh and, even, on occasion, quality time with family. I eat food I really like. I read books I enjoy. I don’t live each day as if it were my last, because that’s stupid advice: do you really think I’d be going to work in the morning if this were my last day on earth? But no matter how shitty the day is, I seek out a little joy in it. Every single day, there’s something wonderful, no matter how dismal everything else is. Every single day, I can say if I check out now, the people I leave behind don’t have to worry if I’d feel any regrets. For one thing, I can’t feel a damn thing. I’m dead. For another, it’s been a good ol’ life, on the whole, and I got to do quite a bit of what I wanted, and I did the best I could. Not everything. We’ve already established it’ll take immortality to achieve that, and even then, I doubt infinity will be quite long enough. But there’s very little I’d change. And don’t feel bad for me, dying with so much to look forward to, all those things I wanted to do and never got the chance. I got to look forward to them. That’s a joy all to itself, that anticipation.
I wasn’t so sanguine before I became an atheist. I always had shoulds and gonna regrets if I don’t dos hanging over my head. Now, I don’t. And that has made living all the sweeter. Especially since I’m determined to live, as fully and productively as possible.
But let me revisit this bit:
There is nobody who wants my best, who makes sure I do all the things I need to do before I die.
Oh, my dear. Oh, Lisa. I nearly cried right there, I did, because sweetheart, it’s not true.
No god wants your best. But you’ve got friends who love you, root for you, absolutely want your best. You’ve got readers. You’ve got family (your aunt, at the very least). Can we make sure you “do all the things” before you die? No. No one can. Even God, if one existed, couldn’t. All you can do is what everyone else does: enough. You’ll leave unfinished business behind. That’s inevitable. But you’ll have accomplished plenty, as long as you keep on keeping on. Keep doing stuff. Love and life and adventure and ordinary things and the occasional bit of extraordinary, if you’re able. In the end, no one needs to say you did it all. Just that you did. Just that you lived, as best you could, as fully as you could.
And Lisa: you can already say that. Trust me. I read your entire blog. I know you’ve touched lives. I know you’ve done extraordinary things. You’ll do more in the time you’ve got left. You’ll do all you can, and that’s enough.
And we, your friends, your readers, wanted your best. You know what? We got it.
That’s my criteria these days. When those moments come when I step out of the house and know I may never see it again, because shit happens – the Cascadia subduction zone could slip today, and the building at work may not be quite as earthquake-resistant as they believe it is. In those moments, I know I haven’t done all. My novels aren’t finished, my non-fiction books aren’t written, I haven’t seen Series 7 of Doctor Who or heard the new Epica album. I haven’t figured out New England’s bizarre geology, or learned how to cook chicken tikka masala. All of that’s okay. I wrote this blog, touched lives, sometimes changed them. I had a hell of a lot of fun. I did as much as I could without driving myself insane by driving myself too hard. People wanted my best: they got the best I could give, and they’ve appreciated it, will remember it. Hopefully, if the cat survives me, they will also remember to feed her, despite her evil disposition.
All that I have is a bunch of memories in my brain, and once my time is over they’ll rot away with the rest. Forgotten for eternity. Who will remember me? …. Vanishing as if they’d never been there. That is my fate, and yours too, if there is no God.
Oh, yes. that terrified me, too. That need for some sort of immortality drove me, nearly drove me insane, made me mourn every birthday because I hadn’t published my magnum opus yet and I’d be totes forgotten. I don’t know where that comes from. I don’t know why we need this eternal memory so very much. I don’t need it now. Oh, surely, it would be nice: have my name echo down through the ages like Sappho and Shakespeare. I’d very much love my words to matter that long. It’s a goal. But. But. This isn’t bad, this temporary immortality. A generation, perhaps two, friends and family who have fond living memories of me. Another generation or two, perhaps, that will hear of Dana Hunter, before she quietly fades away, and the world goes on without her. That’s not bad. That’s the least we can expect, and it’s not bad at all. Meanwhile, our molecules and atoms will go cheerfully on. Whether they know it or not, a little bit of Dana, which once was a little bit of a star and who knows what else on its way to being me, will be a little bit of someone or something else. Do I need a god to remember me, to validate my existence? Do I need a god to trace all those atoms that were once Dana? No. I’ve had friends and family and readers. I’ve had my cat. I’ve had strangers who never knew my name, but know a delightful new fact because of me. I’ve had enough. Not all, but enough. And part of me marches on, to become someone else, who perhaps will never be forgotten. Who knows?
I certainly won’t. Dead, remember? What’s fame to the no-longer-existent? No worries! So why waste time worrying about it now?
Speaking of waste:
I might seem like a calm person but I’m constantly afraid. Where’d I put my time? It’s running through my fingers like water, dripping on thirsty ground. There’s nothing I can do to get it back. Sometimes I want to scream, at my family, my friends, at my readers, at random people on the street: “DO SOMETHING! Time is short! Do something with it! You’re wasting!”
But every life has its “wasted” moments. Moments we could’ve spent doing something else, something “important,” something different. Every single life ever lived is full of wasted time. But every single one of those moments went in to making you who and what you are. Useful or useless, they’re all part of the package. So, you’re not rich, famous, a saint. You haven’t cured cancer, you haven’t written deathless prose (although you can’t know the prose you wrote is terminal, not until long after you’re gone, so the jury’s still out on that one). You haven’t done it all. What is this “all?” What is it compared to the things you have done? Those wasted moments and wasted opportunities are a necessary part of you. Without them, you wouldn’t be you.
And you have used them to touch the lives around you. Who says that’s a waste? By whose criteria? Certainly not by mine. I “wasted” a lot of time reading your blog when I should have been reading papers on Mount St. Helens and East Coast geology, or working on my books, or blogging. I “waste” my time with a lot of people that way. And you know what? I do not feel that time was wasted at all. You’ve become a part of me, part of my strength and understanding and love for this world. You’ve become an inspiration, and someone I’m rooting for, and someone who helps me become more compassionate.
Yes, our time is a finite resource. We do not have eternity. We can’t completely piss our time away. But those idle moments, those moments spent doing something other than what we’re “supposed” to, those moments headed in the “wrong” direction, they’re an important and necessary part of us. The only time I’d advise you to stop wasting is the time spent regretting them, although not altogether, because that regret isn’t always wasted either, now, is it? Every moment makes us who we are.
The point is this: your life matters, and matters intensely, with or without enduring memory. It matters now. It matters very much right now, to you and to those who love you. It will have mattered very much while there are still those alive who remember you. And it will have mattered just as much in a future you’re long forgotten in, because for this time, you mattered. That doesn’t go away. Not ever. Not just because a god isn’t there to remember. This universe might have been similar, but not exactly the same, without you. Just because, in some future you’re not even conscious of, someone doesn’t remember it was precisely you who existed and mattered intensely in that long-ago fragment of time, doesn’t make your life right now any less important.
There is a poem by Basho. It’s a poem that started running in a continuous loop through my mind as I read your post. Here is is:
An autumn night. Don’t think your life Didn’t matter.
How often has that poem floated through my mind! In moments when some small thing has happened that has made me delighted to be alive. I’ve thought of it when viewing ephemeral cherry blossoms, and hearing bird song, and reading words of interesting but not quite famous people. What a gift that little haiku is! What a centering, calming triplet of lines, those three, reminding me to slow down and breathe and exist and cease worrying about Meaning with a capital M, but enjoy the little-m meanings that fill a life.
Basho didn’t need a god to write those lines. We don’t need a god to appreciate them. We don’t need religion to give them impact. They are very human lines. They’ve survived for over three centuries now, and I will not be surprised if, should time travel be invented and I ever visit a far-flung future, they should be found thousands of years hence, reminding another generation of humans who stumble across them that a life matters.
By a human, for humans, inspired by a human. Basho wrote them for his niece-by-marriage, Jutei, a Buddhist nun. His nephew, her husband, died of tuberculosis; he began taking care of her and his grand-nieces and nephews; she herself died, not long after; he wrote those three lines for her.
An autumn night. Don’t think your life Didn’t matter.
Without Basho, his nephew, his nephew’s wife, all of the people who had existed before them who had made their birth possible, all of the people around them who had made these people who they were, those three lines wouldn’t exist. Without all of them, no simple yet profound little haiku. No three lines popping up all over the place, meaning something to people over three hundred years later, losing none of their beauty and poignancy even if you didn’t know their story (which I didn’t, until tonight).
Those lives mattered. Most of them had no idea just how much. We will never know just how much our lives matter. There are no gods who know. Perhaps people in the future will never know. But just because there’s this don’t-know, that doesn’t make us matter any less.
This is still kinda secret, because magic buttons haven’t been pressed in order to make her appear on the front page, but Taslima Nasreen has joined us, and she’s come out of the gate roaring. I’ll admit that I read her first post at work. I very nearly told the person who called in while I was in the middle of it to hold a minute while I finished, or at least let me read her post aloud to them so we could finish it together.
I feel like reading the whole thing to you, but you’re old and wise enough to go read it yourself. I’ll just give you a taste:
A recurrent question that is often raised claims that I have hurt religious sentiments of people. Feminism has long opposed religion; whoever has even the slightest knowledge of women’s rights knows this. Religion is patriarchal through and through. I shall follow a religion and I shall acknowledge women’s rights – this stance is akin to saying I shall drink poison along with honey. Whenever religion-motivated abuse of women has been challenged in order to wrest women’s rights, immediately the slogan “Religious sentiments must not be hurt” has been raised by those that are anti-democracy, anti-free speech, and opposed to women’s freedom. I, however, don’t refer to any kind of barbarism as culture.
Hells to the fucking yes! I wish she’d been writing when I was in college. I wish I’d had these words, from someone who is there, to give to the well-meaning folks who were all about the respecting other cultures and not judging because that’s like totes imperialistic. I think my Women’s Studies teacher might have got it. Quite a few of the rest of them might have, too. Respecting different ways of living is all lovely, and diverse cultures welcome, but respect for those differences does not and should never extend to shrugging off oppression and violence by saying, “Well, it’s their culture, and we’re wrong to judge.” I wish I’d understood that back in my early twenties.
Thanks to amazing and courageous people like Taslima, I’m starting to get it.
And maybe also this interview, in which so much territory is covered that I can’t really sum it up, but includes this bit on exile that has haunted me since I read it:
People ask why I don’t stay in Europe. In India, I am in a familiar place. (Points to a tree outside the window) I know the trees; I have grown up watching the same trees in Bangladesh. People won’t understand this… For someone who has lost her home, it means a lot. That’s why I feel at home in Kolkata.
With Taslima Nasreen, FtB has just leapt a megaparsec forward in awesomeness.
There’s this thing that happens, sometimes, when a blogger’s busier than an overstocked daycare center whose charges have gotten into the coffee supply and disregarded the decaf. You post a little throwaway something: a video, some photos, a few thoughts. You think nothing of it. You were just filling a gap, sharing something of passing interest that tickled your fancy, and made you think a bit, but didn’t take you more than an hour to slap together, even with having to dig through an external drive for old photos from your craptastic former camera and trying to wrestle something presentable out of them.
Once my parents were visiting the proprietor of an antique shop in New England. He said; “You want something old? Pick up a rock; that’s old.” And in fact science has revealed just how old, and the resulting figure beggars our evolved imagination.
Pick up a rock. Hold a few million years, perhaps even a few billion, in the palm of your hand. I love an antiques dealer saying that. I love George remembering it, all these years later.
Go read “Our place in time.” It’s just nine short paragraphs, but those few grafs encompass life, the universe, and everything.
I think you’ll see why I always open the links to his posts with the same sensation I got as a kid, tearing the wrapping off the most intriguing present under the tree. George is, in objective fact, a fantastic writer. This one proves it beyond reasonable doubt.
And when you lot see me posting more videos with extras, it’ll be for two reasons: because I’m bloody insanely busy, and because I can’t wait to see what catches your fancy next.
Oh, I know, some folks will tell you it was physics. Yes, there was that, too. And there might be a few who argue for chemistry, and we’ll grant them chemistry. Of course those things were there. Can’t have a universe without them. Not a universe like ours, anyway.
But geology was hiding within those things. As stars came together, as they began forging elements, as those elements exploded out into the universe and gravity gathered them together again, geology, like life, looked at all that lovely physics and chemistry and said, “Yum! I can do something interesting with that.” And oh, it did.
People think of geology as an earth science, and yes, earth’s where humans figured it out. Right there in the name, geo, planet earth. But other planets have rocks. And the elements that formed the earth were, like the elements that form us, born in the stars. Biology will still be biology when it’s applied to aliens. Geology is still geology when applied to other worlds, and we’ve beaten life twice now: there were rocks before critters, and we’ve gotten our hands on space rocks before space critters. So there.
You don’t have to give up the stars to study the earth.
You wanna be a geologist but study outer space? You can do that. Absolutely, you can. What are the inner planets called? Rocky planets, thankyouverymuch. What are asteroids? Rocks. Big ol’ space rocks. Moon’s got rocks. There’s rocks everywhere, all over solar systems, and sometimes, those rocks land on us. Sometimes, we land on them.
So yes, you can have your geology and whatever else you like. You can have your geology, and your astronomy, and your physics, and your chemistry, and your biology, too. You can have it all. Why do you think I love geology so very, very much? Because it’s got everything.
Here we are, then: the first in the series of user-generated topics. Glacial Till writes:
I think a post on your blogging history would be cool. What led you to blogging? Who are your inspirations and such.
Oh, my. Let’s see if I can remember back that far…
Got me start on LiveJournal, actually, many years ago, babbling about writing with and for some excellent writerly friends. Started me own (now-defunct) website after a bit, still writing on writing, but this was the height of the Bush regime and so some political rants crept in as my liberal tendencies were unleashed. Because friends had forced me to sign up for a MySpace account and because it was easier to blog there, I migrated for a bit – you can still see it here, if you’re that bored.
And those, you might say, are the prequels to ETEV. So why did this blog start?
Because I couldn’t take it any more.
The rampant political stupidity that made me want to howl from the rooftops. The rampant IDiots, running about mucking up biology education and making hideous movies like Expelled. Not to mention all of the other rank stupidity stampeding through the world. MySpace wasn’t a good platform for the full-throated rants necessary to counter it.
PZ’s the one who inspired me to start this blog, and to celebrate science upon it despite the fact I’m no more than an interested layperson. This post, right here, is one you should go read right now, because it explains everything this blog became.
Well, nearly. Getting adopted by the rock stars of geology set ETEV on a whole new course. Somehow, it had evolved from a foul-mouthed baby blog focused on political stupidity with a smattering of science into something that geobloggers recognized as one of their own, even if I couldn’t see that. But they inspired me to work me arse off delivering the goods. And that’s fostered my interest in science, which feeds back into my writing, and ever onward in an endless circle.
This is still very much an amateur effort. Someday, maybe even sooner than I expect, I’ll make the leap into full-time professional writing. And I’ll get there because of the bloggers like PZ and Bora who showed me the importance of this medium, and the geobloggers and other science bloggers who showed me that all it takes is hard work and passion to write something worthy of reading. But they’re only part of the equation. I’ll get there because of the inspiration provided by my favorite authors and fellow fiction writers/bloggers like Nicole.
I’ll get there because of my readers. Yes, you – the one sitting there reading this post right now. Without you, do you think any of this would be possible? Do you think I’d still be dedicating so much time and effort to these pages, if it wasn’t for you? Without you, I’d spend that time in front of the teevee, or tucked in bed with an improving book, or practicing karate with the cat, when I wasn’t struggling on alone with a very difficult fiction novel. And I’d be less of a writer because of it. Not to mention, I wouldn’t have half the motivation to go out and have adventures and take the very best pictures I can.
So, dear reader, when you ask where my inspiration comes from, the very first thing you should do is go find a mirror.
And now I shall take the opportunity to give a special shout-out to my geoblogging inspirations. I read more geoblogs than I list here, but these are the folks who, combined, form the star I revolve around. In no particular order, then:
I want to mention four bloggers in particular who have provided more support, encouragement, and food for thought over the years than I ever expected. They’re fantastic bloggers and even more fantastic friends:
A special shout-out to the man who made me believe in bloggers, and who got me thinking and writing about politics so many years ago: Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly. Before him, I didn’t really take blogs seriously. He’s an incredible talent, a wonderful human being, and still the one political blog I turn to when I haven’t got time for more.
And, finally, a very special shout-out to Karen, whose comments have so often given me that much needed prod in the arse necessary to keep me going. How I wish you’d start a blog!
So, there’s this thing I’ve been struggling with for a while, now. Stephanie Zvan left me this comment:
Please do me a favor. Take your Sunset Crater post and another one that you love, and go promote yourself at Ed’s. His pool needs widening, and it’ll be good practice for you. :)
At Ed’s? This Ed’s? Holy impossible missions, Batwoman!
I went there. I looked at some posts and some comments, and then I fled like a right bloody coward. I mean, you are talking to the woman who freaked out when the geobloggers claimed me for their own. I spent days going to ScienceSeeker.org when they called for blog submissions, reading down the list of member blogs every night, trying to picture myself there and failing miserably. You know why ETEV’s up there now? It’s because Chris Rowan submitted the All-geo feed, which for some inexplicable reason I am on. It sure as shit wasn’t because I took my courage in my hand. Couldn’t find it. Maybe never would have.
You see, I’m a layperson. I troubleshoot phones for a living, people. I’m not in college, and when I was, I was a bloody history major. I don’t have undergrad or grad student creds, I’m not a scientist, not a professional science writer, and I got my start on the intertoobz as a potty-mouthed political blogger. So when people consider me part of the science blogging universe, I get this feeling like I’m a miniature pony trying to run in the Kentucky Derby.
Couple that with a native dislike of promoting myself to anyone at all for any reason, and you can see why it’s a bit difficult for me to do anything so bold as to saunter over to Ed’s and say, “Oy, I’m leaving links to two of my totally awesome posts.”
What it comes right down to, I think, is that I’ve got this feeling that it’s not for me to judge. I could strut about believing myself to be the greatest writer evah, I could shout from the rooftops how incredibly awesome I am, but that wouldn’t make it so. It’s not for me to judge. It’s up to my readers. They’re the only ones qualified to judge the worthiness of my words. And when they deem something of mine worthy of their time and attention, I’m so shocked by it that I just sit paralyzed, wondering “How the fuck did that happen?” It doesn’t occur to me to then go forth and shout from the rooftops, “Oy – my readers have deemed me a decent read! Y’all are missing out!”
Then again, if I fall to the ground wailing, “I’m not worthy!” when the geoblogging superstars decide that, despite short legs and a silly-looking forelock, I’m welcome to run with them, that’s rather an insult to them, innit? When incredible bloggers like Stephanie Zvan tell me I should go strut some stuff, isn’t it a little rude to say, “Um, no”? What a dilemma!
(Makes me worry about what shall happen should I achieve fame and fortune as an SF writer. I’m afraid I’ll be hunched down behind the table at book signings suffering from terminal embarrassment.)
And I put this out there not because I’m looking for sympathy and assurance – I’m not that neurotic, and you don’t owe me a damned thing. I’m spilling my guts because I know I’m not the only one. I’ve run into plenty of people suffering Impostor Syndrome, and I know it’s desperately difficult to overcome. I haven’t done it yet. But the road to recovery begins with listening to your readers. When I, as a reader, leave a comment telling a blogger that something they’ve written has moved me, I’m not doing it because I’m trying to bolster their self-esteem. I’m saying it because I mean it. When I link to something, it’s because I felt it worth linking. And I have to face facts: you guys are probably saying nice things about my writing for the same reason.
So when Stephanie Zvan tells me to go out and do the impossible, when she says “please do me a favor,” despite the fact I’m a bloody coward when it comes to self-promotion, there’s nothing for it but to sneak over to Ed’s and quietly drop in a line saying, “Stephanie Zvan made me do it.” Then flee for my life.
And that, for any of you, my darlings, who are suffering the same uncertainty, is what you must do as well. Trust your readers. Trust their judgment, even when you can’t bring yourself to believe you are what they say you are. The readers are the final judge of the writer.
Apart from technology (software instead of talking/handwriting/printing), speed (microseconds instead of days and weeks by stagecoach, railroad or Pony Express, see image above) and the number of people reached (potentially – but rarely – millions simultaneously instead of one person or small group at a time), blogging, social networking and other forms of online writing are nothing new – this is how people have always communicated. Like Montaigne. And the Republic of Letters in the 18th century. And Charles Darwin in the 19th century.
The whole thing’s well worth your time. So I won’t detain you here any longer. Go. Read. Enlighten!
You geo-types will like to know that the monument’s built from the sandstones of the Moenkopi Formation and the limestones of the Kaibab Formation, if I’m remembering my strata correctly. Sometime after the new year, I plan to start an Arizona series at long last, so we’ll discuss it in detail then. Perhaps One Fly will send us a photo of a nice rock or two.
Crap in a hat. Now I’m homesick… but it’s a good kind of homesick. Arizona’s got some of the shittiest politicians and most nauseating laws in the country, but as far as her ruins and her geology, you’ll hear no complaints from me.