Depression and Novelty

The word new

Content note: depression, obviously. If you discuss this in your own space, please be careful not to give unsolicited advice about mental illness to mentally ill people. (I’m no longer hosting comments on my blog, mostly because monitoring them had become a stressful time-suck.)

My depression is back with a vengeance. It was bad even before the election, and it’s worse now. So I’ve been more vigilant than usual about what helps and what doesn’t. And I’ve noticed something that helps, something I’d never noticed before:

Novelty.

New places. New TV shows. New music. New clothes. New food. New games. New cafes to work in. New varieties of all these things: new combinations of my existing wardrobe, new flavors in old recipes. As long as it’s reasonably pleasant (or at least not actively unpleasant), novelty of almost any kind knocks me out of my self-perpetuating spirals, fairly reliably, at least for a while.

I don’t know why this is. I’m writing this, to a great extent, to help figure that out. Part of it, I think, is that learning and adapting are pleasures for me (as long as my learning curve on the thing isn’t too steep). Part of it is that my depression is highly self-perpetuating: my brain gets set into self-destructive grooves, and novelty knocks me out of those. Part of it is that novelty wakes me up and grabs my consciousness. I’m working to really savor my pleasurable and satisfying experiences, so I can remember them more fully the next time I’m deep in the grip of hopeless and despair. With more familiar pleasures, it’s easier to tune them out: new experiences shake me, and make me pay closer attention.

And my depression often takes the form of thinking that things have always been terrible and always will be, that I’ve always felt terrible and always will. It does this revisionist ret-con time distortion, where it goes back and overwrites my memories to make me think I’ve always felt this way. Novelty interrupts that, and is a reality check against it. Depressed jerkbrain: “The world is awful. Humanity is awful, in ways that are not fixable. My depression is self-perpetuating, which means I’ve always had it and always will. There is no hope, and I will never experience pleasure again — ooo, rosemary chocolate pie!”

The break is only temporary. This isn’t long-term self-care, like exercise or meditation or leaving the house every day. But temporary alleviations are important right now. When I’m in the grip of despair, the memory of these moments is something to hang onto, reminding me that despair isn’t actually permanent. Even if I don’t immediately feel that, even if pleasure and meaning seem a thousand miles away, I can abstractly believe it — and sometimes, that’s enough. It’s not enough to make me feel better right that moment, but it’s enough to motivate me to be patient, to keep doing self-care, to just keep putting one foot in front of the other with the trust that it will take me to someplace better. So I take it back. This is long-term self-care.

There are exceptions. I’m still resistant to new tech stuff, new apps and programs and whatnot: I’m good with tech things once I get the hang of them, but my learning curve with tech is often steep and frustrating. What’s more, when I’m getting too much novelty and unfamiliarity, that’s exhausting, overwhelming, and ultimately numbing — none of which is good for depression. (Travel is like this, which is one of the reasons I limit it.) Old familiar things do help as well, in a different way. Familiar experiences are soothing. They make me feel safe. They give me a sense of continuity, which can help when I’m feeling like the world is breaking apart under my feet.

But when everything I’m doing is familiar, that’s a recipe for making my depression spiral. That’s a recipe for keeping my brain in the same old shitty groove. So I need to keep a balance between familiarity and novelty, between comfort and excitement. And knowing that this balance makes a difference — well, it makes a difference. It’s one more tool in my toolbox. And it’s a new one!

Depression and Novelty
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Variations on Chocolate Pie

chocolate pies

I’m committing to blogging every weekday in January: sometimes about big important topics, sometimes about small everyday ones. Today I’m blogging about chocolate pie.

Every year, usually during the holidays, people write or comment to tell me they’re making my chocolate pie. I can’t argue: my chocolate pie is ridiculously delicious and ridiculously easy. This holiday season, I did some new variations on the classic recipe. One of the nicer things about this recipe is that it’s easy to adjust for extra flavorings: the unbaked filling is yummy, you can eat it with a spoon if you don’t mind a bit of raw egg, so you can just keep tasting it until the pepper or cardamom or whatever is to your taste. (The basic recipe is at the end of this post: you can also find it here.)

rosmarinus-officinalis-botanical-drawing-by-francisco-manuel-blanco
Rosemary Almond Chocolate Pie. This was a big risk — I wasn’t at all sure how it would turn out, and it’s not adjustable the way the other variants are — but it’s been a big hit. The flavors are unexpected but delicious, and the rosemary makes it both sophisticated and Christmassy. (I don’t know why I think of rosemary as Christmassy, it grows like a weed in our backyard year-round, but there you have it.) Continue reading “Variations on Chocolate Pie”

Variations on Chocolate Pie

Blogging Every Day

blurry hands on keyboard 600

I hereby commit to blogging every weekday in January.

I haven’t been blogging much lately. Everything seems either too big or too small. The big things — the rise of fascism in the United States, and all the forms that’s taking — seem too big. It’s like playing Whack-A-Mole, in a battlefield of thousands of homicidal moles. And writing about the smaller things — movies, cats, arguments for why God doesn’t exist — seems like denial, normalizing, even gaslighting. How can I write about that stuff when fascism is rising?

I know, I know. You don’t need to tell me the reasons this is ridiculous. I know the reasons it’s ridiculous. I know that thousands of people all playing Whack-A-Mole is a big part of how we defeat fascism. I also know that writing is a major anti-depressant for me, and fighting my depression will make it easier to fight fascism. And I know that small things matter. I know that self-care is not selfish, and that pleasure is resistance.

I know this is ridiculous. But it’s still been hard, and the longer I go without blogging, the harder it is to start up again. Hence, this commitment. I got the idea from Alex Gabriel, who has also been struggling with perfectionism in his writing and committed to daily posting for a time as a remedy. My hope is that this commitment breaks the cycle and gets the juices flowing again. It’s good to be back!

Blogging Every Day

What I Want For My Birthday

birthday  photo

My birthday is today, December 31. Happy birthday to me!

If you’d like to get me something for my birthday, of course it would be nice if you’d buy one of my books. I’m author of five books: The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More. (All my books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook: all the audiobooks are read by me.)

all five books

But the main thing you could get me for my birthday would be to support one of the organizations I care about.

foundation beyond belief logo
Foundation Beyond Belief is the humanist charitable organization that channels donations and volunteering from secular people into on-the-ground projects doing good work. Among other things, we’ve funded Transgender Law Center, Center for Reproductive Rights, Ocean Conservancy, Innocence Project of Texas, Rainforest Foundation US, The Greening of Detroit — you get the idea. I’m on the board of directors, and I’m really proud of the work we do. It would mean a lot to me if you’d support us. Even small donations make a difference — they really do add up.

If that’s not up your alley, you could also donate in my honor to the Transgender Law Center, Red Light Legal, St. James Infirmary, Black Nonbelievers, or Black Lives Matter.

If you do this, please make a note with your donation if you can, saying “Happy Birthday Greta.” It will make them and me happy.

What I really want for my birthday, of course, is to stop the rise of fascism in the U.S. No one person can give me that, of course — but all of us acting together can make a dent. Please take a look at this list of things we can do to resist fascism, and do what you can. It’ll make this a very happy birthday for me, and a marginally less awful New Year for all of us. Thanks!

What I Want For My Birthday

How ACT UP Fought Back: Direct Action and Civil Disobedience (Workshop, January 7)

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Since the 2016 election, many of us have been looking at how to build a resistance movement. ACT UP was one of the most effective resistance movements in recent history. In this workshop, former ACT UP SF members Rebecca Hensler, Crystal Mason, and Ingrid Nelson share some of their personal stories about how they came to be involved in direct action, how they got organized, what their strategies and values were, their successes and challenges with intersectionality, and what current resistance movements can learn from their experiences.

This is not a civil disobedience training: come to learn some history and get inspired to take action. Co-sponsored by Godless Perverts and the GLBT Historical Society.

The event is on Saturday, January 7, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm, at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St. in San Francisco (between 9th and 10th Streets, near Civic Center BART). We’re asking for donations of $5-$20 at the door to cover our costs, but no-one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Godless Perverts presents and promotes a positive view of sexuality without religion, by and for sex-positive atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers, through performance events, panel discussions, social gatherings, media productions, and other appropriate outlets. Our events and media productions present depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities — including positive, traumatic, and complex experiences — focusing on the intersections of sexuality with atheism, materialism, skepticism, and science, as well as critical, questioning, mocking, or blasphemous views of sex and religion.

Godless Perverts is committed to feminism, diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. We seek to create safe and welcoming environments for all non-believers and believing allies who are respectful of the mission, and are committed to taking positive action to achieve this. Please let the moderators or other people in charge of any event know if you encounter harassment, racism, misogyny, transphobia, or other problems at our events.

If you want to be notified about all our Godless Perverts events, sign up for our email mailing list, follow us on Twitter at @GodlessPerverts, or follow us on Facebook. You can also sign up for the Bay Area Atheists/ Agnostics/ Humanists/ Freethinkers/ Skeptics Meetup page, and be notified of all sorts of godless Bay Area events — including many Godless Perverts events. And of course, you can always visit our Website to find out what we’re up to, godlessperverts.com. Hope to see you soon!

How ACT UP Fought Back: Direct Action and Civil Disobedience (Workshop, January 7)

Why I Support Foundation Beyond Belief — Now More than Ever

foundation beyond belief banner

You know about Foundation Beyond Belief, right? It’s the humanist charity that channels money and volunteering from humanists, atheists, and other non-believers, into on-the-ground projects that improve this world and this life. As you may know, I’m on their board of directors. So when I ask you to support the organization, and tell you about the exciting $10,000 matching donation we have through December 20, I’m obviously biased. But I’m on their board for a reason.

A bunch of us in the atheist movement keep saying that it isn’t enough to just not believe in gods. Organized atheism needs to provide some of what religion provides — including outlets for organized charitable, philanthropic, and social justice work. There are millions of nonbelievers who haven’t traditionally been involved in the movement because they don’t see it as being about them: we need to do work they care about, and channel their energy. And now more than ever, we need to take action that reflects our values. Non-belief has implications — and one of those implications is that since there’s no gods and no afterlife, this life is the only one we have, and it’s up to us to make it better for everyone.

Foundation Beyond Belief is actually doing this. We’re walking the walk. And we’re asking for your support.

Here are some of the organizations and projects FBB has supported:

transgender law center logo
Transgender Law Center, running one-on-one legal clinics for transgender and gender nonconforming people.

Center for Reproductive Rights, using the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.

Community Change, Inc., approaching racism, racial relations, and racial responsibility from the perspective that racial inequalities are a white problem.

Global Village Project, an innovative special purpose school for refugee girls and young women with interrupted schooling.

Prison University Project, providing higher education programs to people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison.

Pure Earth, bringing a scientific approach to pollution reduction meant to benefit extremely poor communities abroad.

DC Central Kitchen, tackling food distribution availability in Washington, DC.

Men Can Stop Rape, mobilizing men to create cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women.

Akili Dada, a full-service developmental program aimed at helping Kenyan girls and women build leadership skills.

Modest Needs Foundation, working to meet the needs of the hardworking, low income members of society, who are often left without a safety net when unexpected expenses occur.

innocence project of texas logo
Innocence Project of Texas, securing the release of those wrongfully convicted of crimes in Texas, and educating the public about the causes and effects of wrongful convictions.

You see what I’m getting at?

A lot of us are saying, and have been saying for some time, that organized atheism needs to do this sort of work. Foundation Beyond Belief is doing it. And we need your support.

We’re doing a big year-end fundraising drive — and your donations will be matched up to $10,000! Our year-end fundraising drive is what enables us to run FBB, which means it pays for hours of careful vetting by our staff to choose the most effective and efficient charities for our grants; the costs of doing business: website hosting charges, accounting expenses; government registration fees; and our dedicated and hardworking part-time staff. Foundation Beyond Belief has raised $21,000 for our Giving Together Campaign, but our work is far from finished – we still have $29,000 to raise before the end of the year.

To help us meet our goal, one of our amazing donors has just reached out with a special message. After donating his usual year-end gift, he told us he would like to give an ADDITIONAL gift of $10,000 in the form of a match! Between today and December 20, he will match EVERY donation dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000. So any donation you make will automatically be doubled. Even small donations help — they really do add up. You can also help by telling your friends and family, and spreading the word on social media.

Foundation Beyond Belief is walking the walk. Please join us, and help pave the way. Thanks.

Why I Support Foundation Beyond Belief — Now More than Ever

The Invisible Naked City, or, The Dirty Story I Wish Calvino Had Written

invisible naked city illustration by Toeken
illustration by Toeken

Traveling south, you arrive at the city of Sex. Your road into the city is lined with cypress trees, their branches weaving together in a fragrant tunnel over your head; the ground is soft beneath your feet. Your road converges with others, thousands of them, and on your way to the marketplace you talk with the other travelers about how they arrived: the boulevard lit with hanging lanterns, the narrow trail through the forest, the caravan of traders and traveling musicians, the shimmering red bridge, the tunnel they clawed from out of the prison.

In the marketplace there are storytellers on every corner. Cut velvet is sold there, and rhinestones, and old photographs, and spices of every variety: cardamom, sweet basil, anise, vanilla, pepper in white and red and black. The spice vendors make proprietary blends, and argue hotly over them. Nothing essential is sold in the city: you can find spun sugar here, and chocolates dusted with gold, but must go elsewhere for bread. And yet its visitors find themselves sickening, withering, without the perfume they find here; the jeweled sandals; the jeweled collar; the mulled wine; the crimson sash embroidered with silver thread; the blend of spices from their favored vendor, the one under the silk canopy of cobalt blue. Even the absence of hunger is hunger here, and travelers drug themselves with pastilles and creams, not to stave off hunger, but to spark it. They will save their earnings for months for a visit to the city, and go without bread, and consider it a bargain.

*****

Thus begins my story for Persistent Visions magazine, The Invisible Naked City, or, The Dirty Story I Wish Calvino Had Written. To read more, read the rest of the story. Enjoy! (Illustration by Toeken for Persistent Visions. Content note: explicit sex, including kinky sex; brief passing mentions of suicide and murder.)

The Invisible Naked City, or, The Dirty Story I Wish Calvino Had Written

Blood Family, Chosen Family

greta-at-edwardian-ball
I have blood family — in-laws, actually — and my wife and I almost always spend holidays with them. I love my in-laws and I like them, and most of the time when we visit them, I dress how I usually dress. I put together outfits that are quirky, comfortable, and stylish in a relaxed and fun way: strong prints, jewel tones, boots unless it’s boiling hot.

But on big holiday dinners with them, I dress like I’m going to a work conference. Dressy, cheerful-but-tasteful, almost entirely non-sexual. I’m festive, don’t get me wrong: it’s just a very respectful version of festive.

I also have chosen family. I do holiday things with them every year, too. And when I dress for the holidays with my chosen family, I dress, not to put too fine a point on it, like a hussy.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for Femme Feminism, Blood Family, Chosen Family. I explore how, in the symbolic language of fashion, there are lots of different ways to say “family holiday celebration” — because there are different holidays, different families, different ways to celebrate, and different ways to feel about all of it. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Blood Family, Chosen Family

Greta Speaking in Minneapolis Sunday, December 18!

Minnesota Atheists logo
I’m speaking in Minneapolis on Sunday, December 18, as part of the Minnesota Atheists Winter Solstice festivities! They’re having their annual winter banquet: you can attend the banquet, or just sign up for the entertainment (that’s me). They’ll be selling copies of my newest book, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life, and I’ll be signing them and everything.

This event has filled up in years past, so they recommend that get your reservation now. If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

DATE: Sunday, December 18
TIME: Social hour 5:00 pm; dinner 6:00; entertainment 7:00
LOCATION: Embassy Suites by Hilton Minneapolis North, 6300 Earle Brown Drive, Brooklyn Center, MN 55430
TOPIC: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life
SUMMARY: So you don’t believe in God. Now what? The way we deal with life can change dramatically when we stop believing in gods, souls, and afterlives. When we leave religion — or if we never had it in the first place — where do we go? How do we deal with love and sex, pleasure and death, reality and making stuff up? How do we decide on our values, and how do we live them
COST: $15 for entertainment only; $50 for dinner and entertainment, with a $5 discount for MA members
HOSTS: Minnesota Atheists
URL: http://mnatheists.org/events/winter-solstice-banquet

Greta Speaking in Minneapolis Sunday, December 18!

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time Sat. Dec. 10 – Benefit for St. James Infirmary! EDIT: Now at Center for Sex and Culture!

godless-perverts-holiday-fun-time-csc

LOCATION CHANGE! The Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time party is now at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St. in San Francisco, between 9th and 10th Streets, near the Civic Center BART station.

Godless Perverts is throwing our annual Holiday Fun Time party on Saturday, December 10, 8-11 pm! Who says the holidays are only for the believers? Just as families don’t stop giving presents after the kids realize that Santa is a fake, the godless can have a great time during the holidays even without any gods, deities, angels, or spirits watching over them. And Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time is just the place to do it! It’s at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St. in San Francisco, between 9th and 10th Streets, near the Civic Center BART station. (Yes, the location has changed! This is the new, correct location.) And this year, we’re making it a fundraiser for St. James Infirmary, the health clinic for sex workers in San Francisco!

We’ll have:

Festive food and drink! It’s a potluck: we’ll provide food, but we’d love to add your holiday treats to the buffet.
Adorably ridiculous icebreaker games!
Atheist holiday songs, celebrating the improper, twisted, and just plain silly!
Door prizes, including books and DVDs that are godless, pervy, or both!

And this year, Donna will be doing debaptisms! In fact, she’ll undo any religious initiation ceremony you like. Baptisms, confirmations, Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, Wiccanings — you name it, she’ll undo it! Donna is a fully certified Humanist celebrant, so when you’re debaptised, you stay that way.

Blasphemous costumes, sexy costumes, awesome combinations of the above, and other festive garb are encouraged, but by no means required.

This year’s party is a benefit for St. James Infirmary. St. James is a unique healthcare resource, even in San Francisco. Founded by and for sex workers, they provide free, compassionate and nonjudgmental healthcare and social services for current and former sex workers of all genders and sexual orientations. We wholeheartedly support the organization, and we want to help them out. So all donations collected at the party will go directly to St. James Infirmary.

We’re asking for donations of $10-$20 at the door — but please just donate what you can, whether that’s less than $10, or more than $20. (We’re also collecting funds now to cover the costs of throwing the party — please help make it happen if you can!)

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time is at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St. in San Francisco, between 9th and 10th Streets, near the Civic Center BART station. (Please note the new, correct location!) Saturday, December 10, 8:00 to 11:00 pm. We hope to see you there!

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time Sat. Dec. 10 – Benefit for St. James Infirmary! EDIT: Now at Center for Sex and Culture!