“Fur-Babies”: Please stop

Please stop using this

One of the things I am improving in my life is my use of language. So since I don’t swear and that seems the obvious place to start, where do I go from there? Well, believe me, swear words are not the only sloppy or offensive words we use. There’s also tone, too, of course. But I started working on my use of slang, for instance. I found out many, if not most, slang comes from horrible sources, questionable sources, and fleeting sources. So I’ve dropped most slang from my language as well. Then there are words that just serve in a kind of nickname kind of linguistic slot. One of these is the use of the word “fur-babies” to mean one’s pets. Why would I advocate against this? What right do I even have??

Well, I have the right of any English speaker to have my opinions. I can advocate for this behavior over that one. It’s not about my authority- I am just another English speaker. But in advocating, I do not demand that society immediately accept my opinion as fact and make PSAs or pass laws binding everyone to my chosen behavior. This word we’re talking about is rather a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of lives. We will simply call this one of my pet peeves. OK?

The question of ‘why’…let me give this a try.

The Family

I don’t think I’ve ever used the word ‘fur-babies’, but I’ve considered it. After all, my pets are loved, they have their place in our family dynamics, and the connections we have with them run deep. I was a bit tempted. However, I have these other creatures called children. It took a lot of effort to have those children. The infertility, the difficult and complicated pregnancies, the agonizing choices that have had to be made…this is part of parenthood and part of motherhood, some of the most glorious, divine, and world-maligned roles we embrace in this life. It is an essential attribute of any species to procreate and make more of the littler versions of themselves. It is also, in our place as children of a living God, one of our greatest blessings in this life.

So when someone refers to animals in a way that equates them with human children, I really do cringe. It’s not accurate. It may help contribute to other forms of language and thought that both intentionally and unintentionally muddy the word waters. If I refer to my dog as a fur-baby, is it cute, or just kind of childish? Does it demean the nature of my children? I didn’t say it changes the nature of my children. It demeans it. They are my daughters, and I can teach them so much. We can learn and grow together, laughing and crying, loving our ancestors, dreaming of the next generation, and they take such excellent care of me. What wonderful things my dog does simply do not compare.

The dog wags her tail, licks my face, is happy to see me, loves to nap with me, loves her walks, and enjoys other things. It’s all great. I can reach out and dig my fingers into her fur and my own heart is soothed. Humans can make wonderful homes for dogs and cats (and whatever else). Dogs and cats are a great blessing. They are not the blessing of children.

The family, the natural family, of our species, is under attack like no other species has ever encountered. Other species have been physically hunted to extinction, yes. Others have some protection. But the human family is under other kinds of attack as well. We’re supposed to feel bad for being naturally human families. Nobody guilted passenger pigeons into extinction, they just shot all of them because some people were stupid.

Yes, there do seem to be plenty of people who want to refer to human children with horrible slang terms. Sometimes they are the same people who want to call their pets fur-babies. I don’t know. However, motherhood, fatherhood, parenthood, childhood, even girl and boy, brother and sister, are all words that are under attack. The strategy is to redefine them into so many ways that 1- we don’t know what we’re even talking about and along with that we’re afraid to refer to our own reality, and 2- we become so incredibly disconnected from one another we lose the natural love of family, the protection of family, and the sense of humankind as a family. We lose the sense of what family can be! We split into factions who oppose each other and make all life more complicated and difficult.

I have a mother and a father, brothers, and a sister. I have some cousins, nephews, nieces. I have grandparents, great grandparents, and more, going back into the past. I assume I may yet have descendants who continue to build the same links.

Our pets are part of that. They are a precious part. They are not the actual links, however.

If you do not have children, that is OK. If you have pets instead, that is OK. In fact, if anyone were to use such a silly little word like fur-baby, perhaps you have the most right. Or at least the greatest opportunity. Which is OK. It’s just one word.

The Individual- human or animal

Too many aspects of our lives are being actively redefined in sloppier and sloppier ways. Accuracy fades as people try not to offend but still can’t understand the many new words usages that are demanded of them. Language change tends to be slower than that, because people need time. The only times word change is forced on a deadline are when a tyrant wants to grasp thought, language, and behavior control from the people they control.

Oh! See what I did there? “They” as a kind of indeterminate singular-possibly-plural individual or group.

I actually find the new and rising uses of ‘they’ kind of handy.

After raising animals to the level of children, and then to humanity in general, we now have people who want animals to have the same God-given rights that we humans have. It’s silly. It’s unnatural. It’s unfair to humans and animals alike. Using the word fur-babies may or may not contribute to this. I don’t think every use of it contributes, let’s put it that way. But I suspect that most uses of the word do contribute to the rise of inaccuracy in our conversations and legal matters and social mores.

And like I said, it’s not fair to anyone. Let’s look at it from the dog’s perspective: should my dog be expected to act like a human? Is she really just a fuzzy baby? NO! She needs to be allowed to be a dog. Hundreds of animal behavior problems stem from people treating their dogs like cartoon humans. The dog is only a puppy for months, not years. The dog can’t digest some of the foods we eat. The dog can not grasp legal matters. The dog has her own natural instincts as well as her experience as a dog and her judgments as a dog. The dog must not rule over the children, for everyone’s safety. The dog is not a fur-baby, not a not-a-dog. She is a dog. A wonderful and amazing creature that has, as a group, a long history of living with humans. But not a human.

Would we decide that baby impalas must grow up in the pride of lions, and expect them to behave as lions do? There are a few real cases where a lion has temporarily adopted a baby impala or other animal. Exceptions happen. But really, how can an impala ever be a lion? It can’t. Can a lion grow up as an impala? How about that?

It’s not fair to the impala or the lion. Whether you believe in evolution or God-designed creation, you see that most of nature follows a general set of natural rules.

Finally

Nature is a part of our world, and we are part of nature. When we remove ourselves from nature we lose wisdom and stability that we desperately need. In order to learn about the cosmos, we need bigger and better words than just calling the entities out there ‘twinkly things’, or even ‘stars’. Settling for cutesy language murks up our awesome and naturally occurring reasoning organs that we as humans have. As a word game, yeah, ‘fur-babies’ has its place…with things like ‘ring around the rosy’ and ‘mama, I gotta go pee’. Which reminds me of how when I was a kid, nobody over the age of three used the word ‘pee’. Baby talk, people.

Spiritually we belong to an amazing entity who is the most supreme and grand and loving parent one could ever have. We can’t grasp His nature any more than we can grasp the totality of the universe. He knows each human just as well as he knows each sparrow. His plan for each human is very different from the one he has for sparrows. And finally, he has asked in the scriptures that we use ‘yea for yea’ and ‘nay for nay’. Anything beyond or below that is less truthful, less accurate, and therefore thus more devilish. Did I know I was devilish? Not sure how much I thought about it, in years past. But now I recognize it in my behavior, in my words, and in my thoughts. I’m trying to eliminate the dross and devilish so that I can see myself as the shining purified work of God’s hands. Anyone can do this! Start with a word or a habit. See how much each of these things is related to other things. Clean up one and see what you see afterwards. Find good alternatives. And like I say to my kids whenever they go out: “Do good, be good, and have a good time.”

Advertisements

And Nobody Starves

I like recipes as much as the next person. I’ve also learned to set limits for myself. For instance, I usually limit myself to recipes with only five or six ingredients in them. This naturally reduces the number of steps involved as well. And Momma stays sane in the midst of yet another decade of cooking for people.

The way I write recipes is a little free and easy, too. I usually copy the one I borrowed from somewhere else, but sometimes I stumble on something myself. So today I’m offering my Baked Quesadilla recipe of cultural acquisition.

Baked Quesadillas

Ingredients:

*tortillas

*cottage cheese, or any delicious shredded cheese that cottage cheese is a humble substitute for at the end of the month

*meat of choice, cooked and shredded (not judgin’ y’all or anything)

*veggies of choice, and yeah, refried beans fall in that category, as well as rice, quinoa, corn, other beans, and green beans

*other stuff like garlic and salsa and so on

Directions:

  1. Mix meat, cheese, veggies, and other stuff.
  2. Place tortillas in lightly greased pan.
  3. Fill halfway with mix.
  4. Close tortillas and spray lightly on top, because you’ll want to flip them once while they bake.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 min. Alternatively, 400 degrees for about 20 min.
  6. Remove from oven, let cool, and serve with toppings.

It’s easy, it’s flexible, it’s lower fat than frying AND I don’t have to stand there watching it burn. AND it makes leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. AND not only that, but nobody starves.

Optional: once I came this close to making tuna fish and shredded carrots in the quesadillas. That makes the cottage cheese seem perfectly ordinary! And while I have not done this, yet does it lurk in the middle recesses of my brain lest I should encounter a longer month than this one has been. Because perception has its portion of influence along with the moon and the IRS upon calendar designations.

Add quesadilla recipes, comments, and awkward silences below!

 

 

Would Book Rating Systems Work?

So recently someone mentioned a topic that I’ve come across several times and so I decided to address it, which will enlighten the entire internet for now and all time, right? Hellooo? Anybody out there?

The idea is that having a book rating system similar to the one used for movies would help people looking for specific kinds of books while seeking to avoid other kinds of books.

The first thing to address is the potential hysterical attack on such an idea, because while everyone has to make choices in their reading, there sometimes arises certain parties who want the choice of discriminating in their reading (a necessary thing, I assure you) but who outright attack the attempts of others to make their own choices (which is also a necessary thing, I still assure you) in similar ways even if with different results.

It is stupid. There, got that out of the way.

So movie rating systems over the years in this country have had ratings like G, PG, PG-13, PG-17 (I think), R, X, and the unhelpful ‘unrated’, which can mean it is either two old to bother rating or it is calling itself unrated to lure in those who find R and X too tame for their addictions. Most people are pretty familiar with these ratings. They may not be aware of the changes that these ratings have undergone. For instance, G used to mean ‘general audiences’ or the entire family. Now it means ‘for toddlers’. PG-13 is a somewhat newer rating that confuses people, for this reason: some PG-13 are slightly more intense than a PG. Others might as well have an R rating. But, like too many people have assumed, since it states that PG-13 material is suitable for 13 yr olds and up, therefore all of the range of PG-13 is somehow suitable for all 13 yr olds. This is definitely the fault of the people who make such an assumption, but I can easily see how they could be deceived into making such an assumption. Personally, I do not trust ratings. Not only have the standards of the ratings sagged horribly off the side of the straighter road and into the pea green waters in the ditch alongside, but they have also become lame. Any G movie I watch is close to fifty years old. The newer ones from the last twenty years simply aim their short broad stick- like arrows at toddlers and preschoolers. Usually.

By the way, if someone does eventually require by law that preschoolers must attend preschool, will they still be pre-schoolers? Will it still be a pre-school? Or will someone come up with a magic sounding word like ‘kindergarten’ was in its heyday? Talk about advertising! Which I wasn’t, sort of.

Movie ratings are often a worm on a hook dangling out there to attract demographic groups. So they’ll make sure to add one harsh swear word so they can call themselves an R movie and get the edgy social status that those appear to have. Just try and remove that one word, however, for your own viewing pleasure, and howls of censorship rise greasily into the air. If our natural environment is so important, why is our emotional and social environment so dang polluted?

Anyway…

So, movie ratings aren’t terribly accurate, their standards shift, and they sometimes actively mislead. So how could this possibly work for books?

I’m pretty sure there are far more books published each year than there are movies released to the theaters. Far, far more books. Who’s going to read all those? Whose standards will apply in this day and age? How will those standards shift? And if nothing else, how will a comprehensive book rating system irritate the nasal passages of the ALA ? Because it would be nothing to sneeze at, I assure you.

There are simply too many variables in the world of book publishing. In fact, with more books crossing genres, that little classification system alone is having enough trouble as it is, let alone any classification that tried to assign ratings based on language, scenes, or intensity.

How would I even rate intensity? It depends on my hormones at any given time of month, for one thing. Am I in the monthly mood to cry? Then, yeah, it’s a cry worthy book of deep emotional intensity. One which wouldn’t stir me at all once I get past the last bit of the particular hormonal fluctuation I am in. What about other kinds of emotional intensity? Are the characters facing the end of the world and yelling at each other? Some days I will find this terribly stressful to read, and other days I will laugh at them in their predicament. So, intensity is out as a rating.

What about sexual scenes? How explicit is explicit, how detailed, what is its context, does it relate to the plot, is it between married people, is it some form of dominance, does it fade to black, is it something else? Who decides which get what rating?

Swear words might seem a clearer way to delineate books. But with the shifting standards already referenced, how many YA books now have F-bombs in them? Because, according to assumptions, ‘everybody swears, this is real life, etc etc’? And since YA no longer actually refers just to young adults who are out of high school, how many middle grade kids and elementary kids read YA? I mean, there is the de juro, and then there is the de facto situation. Publishers and writers are well aware of these issues.

So, swearing as a part of a rating system won’t work either. Again, too many variables, too much of a push to normalize swearing. Heck- publishers may impose upon their children’s lit section certain set vocabulary lists that rely on the latest educational curriculum, which can be bad enough, but the idea that they have to push the idea that everyone swears? How is that going to gum up any attempt to classify and rate literature? The difficulties involved simply multiply.

And finally, the people who sometimes wish there were a rating system have rather variable tastes, concerns, and standards. One person may want to avoid all swearing while another feels that any lifestyle depicted in a book needs to reflect certain belief systems. Don’t tell me this is censorship, or I will ask, why do you expect certain other lifestyles reflected in your reading? See? It is a matter of choice, based on beliefs and standards, personal life experiences, and so on. Some readers wish to avoid Christian literature expressly. Traumatized victims of crime wish to avoid specific scenes. It’s about choice, which can shift according to changing priorities of the reader. Don’t make a system out of this; let the individual work it out.

So book rating systems would have to be incredibly complicated to begin with, and then their standards would shift as soon as they became available.

So What To Do?

Trust Yourself.

1- I use the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to do some research before I choose which books to read, at least I do most of the time. Once in awhile I just admit to curiosity and pick up a book everyone is talking about because I am willing to read something a little out of my line, if its turns out to be good enough.

2- I pre-read most of the books my children are going to read, to either prepare them for a particular book, to avoid certain ones, or to have a new book to discuss. I do this as a duty, just as I decide what foods will nourish their bodies, which fun junk foods to enjoy and in what amount, etc etc. And, in fact, I rarely guide the reading of my adult child nowadays. Those are her choices to make. When she offers me books that I would not ordinarily read, I read them, so we can do a fun nerdy lit analysis and coo over characters or grouse about plot. My younger daughter I still preview for. Not for much longer!

Mistakes can be made. I read the reviews of a particular book that was targeted at my daughter’s age at the time. It seemed to fit her tastes, everyone mentioned how incredibly well written it was, and no on mentioned the rape in the first chapter of the main female character who was depicted as the same age of my daughter. There were other scenes as well, later in the book. I only found out because after letting her read the book before I read it, because I trusted the reviews of strangers, she walked around looking a little sick and disturbed for a few days before I finally found out what I had allowed to happen. I went and read the book and was horrified. Well, we used that as a growing and learning opportunity. We had to work through a series of negative feelings. Time and great literature have both helped those memories fade. The lessons remain.

3- I also look at the way a book begins: is this one of those insecure books that ‘grabs my attention’? That is a sign that the writer does not trust the reader, or has plans that will become clearer as the book goes on. How are characters described, especially the women? What level of language is used? How does it foreshadow explicit scenes or how does it signal that things might get gruesome? Does it try and infuse nihilism into every page? Books usually hint at you, they foreshadow if you can recognize it. Some also groom you, exposing you to increasingly difficult scenes to work through because boy, do they have plans for you!

4- Here is the most important aspect of judgement I use: I try and stay close to the teachings of our Savior, stay close to light and truth, and feel spiritual warnings if a book might be a bad one for me to read. Yes, I have sometimes plowed on and discovered for myself that I should have listened to the spiritual warning. Other times, no, I stop, try and listen, and then respond to the spirit and its guidance. Because I want that more than I want any particular book in my life.

5- The recommendations of friends influence me as long as I can gauge well which friends have tastes worth taking an active interest in.

6- I do not rely on Goodreads for recommendations. While the actual book reviews can be helpful, GR sometimes likes to ‘adjust’ those to help authors get better ratings. Then there are the recommendations GR makes based on computer algorithms. Since I read this clean uplifting classic historical fiction, then I will obviously enjoy this trashy bit of work just because it’s set within a couple hundred years of the first book.

So choosing books is like shopping for food. What’s on sale? Can I digest that? Will it taste good? Will it be good for my family? Does it truly feed the soul the nourishment it needs? Is it just some fluffy fun for a few laughs? Is it so processed and laden down with unhealthy chemical combinations that no one should consume it? How do I make sense of nutrition labels? That, at least, is a more reliable rating system. More reliable than the front of the food package, I’m sure!

A book rating system would not work, and it would especially not work for the very people who think that such a thing might be helpful for them in making difficult reading choices. I would also add that a book rating system would just make life more complicated. Complications in life just sprout up all by themselves, so I don’t like adding more. I want less government, uncluttered grocery stores, and comfortable clothing. I read mostly older literature to more easily avoid explicit scenes and I read newer stuff very carefully, when I do read some of it. Am I missing something? Not really. What if I can’t find an acceptable book that day? Maybe I can do something that doesn’t involve reading. Really.

 

 

 

Device Addiction and FoMO

Take Back Your Time

Something happened to me recently that had never happened before. I needed a nap, so I started towards the couch. Sure, I arranged the pillows and did inventory on the available blankets. And yeah, I had my nap poodle with me. She’s always ready for a nap.

But wait, what was this? My cell phone? My Kindle? What? WHY??

I had a few minutes of discomfort as I tried to pry my own phone from my own hand. And the Kindle, really, that was too much. I felt like I was in first grade again and had to put down the little toy animals I had bonded with during recess. I had to think- and feel- my way through my surprising dilemma. Was this what people were talking about? How had it happened to me, one who is often referred to as a Luddite? And WOW, that was quick. I had only owned my smartphone for a couple months.

So what did happen? I thought this was the thing: I had texted a couple people and was waiting for their response on issues that honestly weren’t terribly time sensitive. I felt I had to keep in touch. Well here was the real deal: I had become far too dependent on technology to be able to be comfortable with myself, by myself, and during a nap.

I made myself put down the devices on the desk and went to the couch, arranged the blankets, called the nap poodle to me, and for maybe one minute I fretted. Then I was asleep. Because that nap was necessary. Texting was not.

This isn’t my first foray into technological dependency. Facebook and Farmville taught me that lesson long ago. Remember Farmville? Oy, did that run too much of my real life at one time.

I timed myself recently on Facebook. How long would it take me to get through all the new posts? It took me about an hour and forty-five minutes. I unfriended about ten people, unfollowed another twenty or so, and have taken up the practice of scanning the posts. I focus on family first, then a couple communities I follow, and then jokes, animals, and whatnot. I have maybe 80 friends on there, as FB likes to remind me in some sort of disapproving nanny tone. I can’t imagine 500. I hope people are practicing boundaries.

So ever since I tried to take my phone to nap for a half hour because, you know, I might miss out, I’ve read some articles (online of course) and had some interesting discussions with family and friends. IRL, ya know.

Here are a few articles I kept for this post:

FoMO, also known as Fear of Missing Out

Smartphone Addiction

E-tox Today

I want to pause here and mention the importance of sleep. Sleep is as essential to our brains as water. Don’t even argue. Don’t tell me your life doesn’t allow enough sleep. That’s absolutely true for many people, and it’s something many more people can do much more about. Judge your own life, I got mine to deal with.

The fact is, we have an addictive culture around us already. My state has a liquor control board, a gambling commission, and some sort of state response team to the growing heroin crisis. Which I consider a crisis, not an epidemic. Our advertising tells us that such-n-such product is ‘crazy addictive’ as if that were a good thing. Our friends crow about how they must have their [fill in the blank] or they’ll die. Heck, I’ve said that about chocolate, and I probably will again. People want , they crave, and then they think they need. It gets us into all sorts of trouble, from wasting our health to wrecking our credit scores to breaking up families.

And honestly, how is our government going to ever give up its massive dependency upon addictions and vice? Our government may be in the business of promoting addictive behaviors because it brings in revenue. Think about that the next time someone mentions the cigarette tax, which nobody does. But it’s there, along with other taxes that are supposed to regulate our addictive behaviors…for the common coffers.

But enough of that.

How’d I get from FoMO to all that? Because any mental health issue needs its soil to grow in. A healthy perception of one’s body doesn’t just happen, it needs nurtured and trained and supported. Anorexia needs a different kind of soil, whether it is a mother’s obsession hurting her daughter, dependence upon media funhouse mirror reflections, or a complex chemical imbalance in the girl’s mind. So while we each and collectively adjust to the accelerating growth of technology in personal and public life, let’s just stop and take a breath once in awhile. Anyone who tells you that you must have it, and now, is trying to stop you from thinking. They only want to drive your behavior into knee jerk reactions. The kind that make them money.

So look into those articles above, especially the last one about doing e-tox for yourself. Accept that it will be uncomfortable, accept that you may have stewardship over children who need your guidance, and accept that there is hope. If you’re older than the internet, then you once had a different kind of life, and you can build on the good aspects of that in healthy ways for a new and better life today. If you’ve grown up with the internet, then maybe you have some gut level experiences that prepared you in ways we older folks don’t have. Maybe you have problems as well. Maybe you don’t even think it’s a problem. Just step away from your devices and check your initial response when you do. That will tell you what you need to know.

This is like a tunnel. The tunnel can turn into an endless blind cave of doom depending on how we approach the situation. It can also turn into a passageway through huge masses of heavy burdens, and as we strive to get through we start to see the light at the other end of the tunnel. Eventually we are through it and standing on the other side. That’s when we see that this tunnel was only one part of our amazing journey. That’s the message all recovering addicts can share: that you can get through, that there is an end to this, that there is another side, over there, beyond this thing that’s got our attention in its grip.

Finally, keeping it real here:

Yesterday I tried to nap. My phone blipped. I suddenly realized who it was, what it was about, and how time sensitive the communication was. I got up and got my phone, and lay down again, sending a text. Making a long story short: by the end of my half hour I had communicated with two separate people about the issue at hand, running maybe twenty texts and then going to phone call because one of them ran out of texts. I gave up on napping and started washing dishes and had to dry my hands and go answer the land line a couple times as well. Two phones, three people, dozens of texts: not a true and working definition of a nap.

My life is a work in progress.

Those links again:

FoMO

Smartphones

E-tox

Take Back Your Time

 

 

Modern Lessons from Ancient Lit

My guest post this week is offered by Aesop, that most ancient and underappreciated of wise men. Having spent much of his life as a slave, encountering many layers of repulsion due to his apparently ugly appearance and some form of disability, Aesop went on to prove time after time just how quick witted he was, how keen to observe, and how cunning to act. His fables stand the test of thousands of years, which I doubt will ever be said of many modern award winning publications. But then, when I think of it, how many popular, socially acceptable, government sanctioned ancient writings do we have today? How many have just gone the way of all the dust of time?

Enough. To Aesop!

“As a Wolf was lapping at the Head of a Fountain, he spy’d a Lamb paddling at the same time a good way off down the Stream. The Wolf had no sooner the Prey in his eye, but away he runs open-mouthed to’t.

Villain (says he) how dare you lie muddling the Water that I’m drinking?

Indeed, says the poor Lamb, I did not think that my drinking here below could have foul’d your Water so far above.

Nay, says t’other, you’ll never leave your chopping of Logick, till your Skin’s turn’d over your ears, as your Father’s was, a matter of six Months ago, for prating at this saucy rate; you remember it full well, Sirrah.

If you’ll believe me, Sir, (quoth the innocent Lamb, with fear and trembling) I was not come into the World then.

Why thou Impudence, cries the Wolf, hast thou neither Shame nor Conscience? but it runs in the Blood of your whole Race, Sirrah, to hate our Family; and therefore since Fortune has brought us together so conveniently, you shall e’en pay some of your Forefathers Scores before you and I part.

And so without any more ado, he leap’d at the Throat of the miserable helpless Lamb, and tore him immediately to pieces.”

Now gentle readers, what lessons can be learned here? Enter your answers below!

 

(excerpt taken from Aesop Fables Children Classics, Alfred A. Knopf, New York)

Can We Tolerate Clean Reads?

I’ve been an active member of Goodreads for several years now. I find it helpful for tracking books and finding more books and talking books and meeting book reading book lovers. Recently as I indulged my love of book reviews (both there and on Amazon), I have begun to sense a trend which I hope gets swallowed up in some other better trend. Not a worse trend, oh dear heavens, we don’t need anymore of those! It’s as if these days some sort of Bulk Discount Bin of Worse Trends had been upended over the continental United States!

The scenario is this: a new book comes out, or people rediscover an older book. The author may be heavily involved promoting it. Readers are enjoying discussing it. Then someone asks, quite innocently, “Is the book clean?” The author herself, and several other people who suddenly revert to their Mr. Edward Hyde personas, jump all over the very idea. They make fun of the questioner’s ‘purity’, calling such questions sheer vanity, useless, censorship, outdated, outrageous, not worthy of a response, that entire family deserves horrible Medieval ends, and much, much worse.

What is the word for the overreaction of a system to an otherwise perfectly normal and harmless irritant? An allergy attack? Antihistamine overdrive? Anaphylactic shock? Aren’t we trying to cure that sort of thing?

Because the question, while vague, has its purposes. There are growing numbers of people who acknowledge that much of our mainstream culture is slithering happily into the sewers of the world, and they don’t want to go with it. They may want to shield children. They may have sensitive history that makes them want to avoid sexual assault scenes in their reading. They may want to read about real problem solving and hopeful perspectives rather than gratuitous violence and nihilism. And why not? If a history museum fan wants to read about history, why not? I could even argue, with a bad taste in my mouth, that if a reader of gore and mayhem wants that, they need to be able to make their choice. But I ask this: if the history fan starts talking history, that’s not nearly the issue of a gore fan wanting to talk gore. And believe me, they often do. It works into every conversation. Ever have someone who wouldn’t shut up about the ‘Saw’ movies while at a picnic? Yeah. So why interfere with someone who is looking for ‘clean reads’? What’s this about choice? What did you just say about tolerance? Ok then.

The term ‘clean reads’ is vague, yes. It means various levels of clean to various people. It might mean absolutely no reference to sexual scenes, or it may mean a fade-to-black kind of approach to sex scenes. It may allow for a few of the milder swear words, or it may not. It may want to avoid the everything-is-the-same-so-nothing-really-matters philosophy that infuses so much literature with a kind of pre-soviet psychological grooming that leads to State control of culture and thought. But is it so hard to just ask: “What do you mean by ‘clean’?”

Can we suspend rash judgement anymore? Can we ask for clarification? Can we discuss?

The defensive maneuvers of those who cry- or shriek- censorship reminds me of Shakespeare: “Methinks he doth protest too much”. Censorship? Where were the cries of censorship when the publishers demanded changes? Where were the cries of outdated when the book refers to older literature forms? Why this pretense at moral superiority while trying to skewer the morality of another? Hypocrite much?

Thankfully, when I see these attacks, I am also seeing more and more responses of other bystanders who step forward and defend the simple question. Most simply see clean choices as that- choices. We all must discriminate or we would be required by circumstances to read all books in the world. Really! Just think about it: you have no choice. You can not pick one book over another. You must read them ALL.

Or: you must read the ones we demand you read. You are especially not allowed to read those ones over there.

Both are pretty ridiculous. One has been attempted at various times throughout the history of the world. (Hint: it’s the second one)

Why does this mean anything to me? because I have my own set of standards (LIKE EVERY OTHER READER) and mine happen to lean towards ‘clean’. How I define it can shift as I change as a person, because no one is still reading the books they read in first grade, or college, and only those. We all change. Nevertheless, my tendency towards ‘clean’ has stayed roughly about the same. Why do I choose that? Here’s why:

  1. I’m so tired of the sex scenes. They feel like this: the author is getting off on their own writing, and making me a voyeur; the spread of pornography with its attendant addiction, abuse, and cultural decline means we should be preventing it, not spreading it like verbal plague; and after avearge sex scenes become inadequate for an author, their readers, or their publishers, just how far are we going to go into the mire for that next fleeting jaded arousal? Or is that just a repeat of the addiction argument?
  2. I’m tired of the gore. So much of it feels, well, canned. Like extra juicy spam. You open it, it slops out, and you say, “Oh, cool! Gimme more!” Like movies that have jettisoned story for CGI gimmicks, many books have lost story for the sake of look-at-my-anatomy-research. It falls in a camp very close to just plain look-at-my-anatomy.
  3. The despair and intensity have become comical. Intense story telling that grabs you with the first paragraph and then demands your attention is an insecure kind of verbal assault. Not only does it get far too manipulative, but it’s like the guy who grabs your shirt as you try to end a conversation and he gets so in your face that you feel his spit on your cheek. He’s like “You see?? You know what I mean? Anyone who thinks differently is an idiot!!” And you just want to go have a life with not-this-man in it. Or at least, let-him-keep-some-distance.
  4. I think we’ve lost something when we lose the setting and descriptive abilities of past generations of writers. Plot heavy is more an aesthetic taste, but it often comes entangled in gore and explicit scenes of all types because so many of our generation have grown up with TV…or less than TV…I’m looking at you, video games. What if I find your ability to describe a woman’s anatomy a misplaced description when I have vague ideas of your setting?

Admittedly, that last point is not so much a moral point but it is affected by the others. So while I avoid certain kinds of books, I know everyone else avoid other kinds. I know there are books I think everyone should read, but I’m not going to get their cooperation with social pressure that involves humiliation, threats, and grotesqueries of verbal outrage. That’s not how I operate, anyway.

When people yell “JUST READ THE %^&$ BOOK!!” I wonder if they would also scream at me to “Just eat the cowpie we pried up out of this farmyard tire rut!” Because not all reading is the same, not all books have the same value, and actually, yes, what I read really needs to be as clean as the food that goes into my body. It needs to be good and clean, as wholesome as possible, and something my mind can use to build good thinking skills, healthy mind sets, and a hopefully long life of happiness and appreciation of beauty.

That doesn’t mean we never use our writing skills to address dark issues within our human experience, no, of course not. We can write about anything and still retain our humanity. Otherwise we risk descending to the level of predators or pushers who demand government support for their attempts to groom others into their hideous world. No thanks.

Not all books are the same. I repeat that. We’re not talking binary data streams here, we are talking the thoughts that influence actions which shape the character that builds or destroys civilizations. Yeah, many of those thoughts come from books. Read a book and just try not to think about it. I dare ya!

Released Again

I looked back and saw that it’s only been a little over a year since my last blog post. It’s probably the wildest excuse in the world, but like last time, things have been a blur and I can only surmise that the aliens have taken me yet again. I seem to have lost some weight, so yeah.

Image result for free clip art aliens

The fact is, I’ve been caught up in other parts of life. The parts that are just for me, like this blog, or sleep, or a chocolate bar, tend to get shuffled aside. It’s often necessary, and other times it’s often just wrong. Most of the time there is something I could have done to prevent it. In other matters, well, sometimes you just have to swallow yourself and take care of the needs around you. It’s the right thing to do.

So, wow, to catch up: among the many dramas of the last wearying year I have picked up work writing as a ghost. I can’t help it, I’ve always wanted to say that. “I’m a ghost!” Which means two things: 1- I am making money, and 2- I am less able to do other writing. Fortunately, I have found a little bit of balance and am now trying to do both.

That balance is difficult. It’s not so much that I am standing in the center of a see saw keeping it from swaying down on either side. It’s more like I am juggling and all the balls are actually staying in the air at the moment, while the ones in my hands are still going upwards rather than downwards. There’s a sense of motion, and perhaps a fear that things may change at any minute. Also the determination to recognize the good in what I do rather than focus like an electron microscope on the fact that one ball has a slight deformity to it or that the arc those balls follow does not represent a truly wonderous and beauteous circle.

Image result for free clip woman juggling

So much has changed in the world in one year. President Trump is turning things upside down yet again because hey, that’s apparently what presidents do. I take some comfort in the possible fact that some of what he does seems to support me rather than tear me down, and the sense of relief is a very strange and long lost sensation to experience.

The culturally intolerant are turning their flying monkeys loose as well, demanding acceptance and coerced celebration of their choices while trying to grind all other choices into the muck they have left behind after their shout-a-thons.

I became a caregiver to my elderly mother-in-law for a few months while she recovered from an accident. Still absorbing those lessons, though I can say this much: it was a blessing. Maybe it was a blessing I resented sometimes, and maybe I’m still recovering from such a blessing. But something ran deep through the experience for all of us in the family. Many times I found myself reflecting on the Children of Israel in the Old Testament, and learning more and more just how deeply and amazingly human they really were. They probably didn’t know whether to laugh or cry sometimes, just like me.

Finally, I look forward to my blog, a place where I can talk to myself and if people want to drop by and say something constructive, then hey, welcome and come again! I love having a good gab.

https://img.clipartfest.com/1fa15fcf5e73b892b909dc90189ec9b8_pin-classroom-clipart-woman-on-clipart-drinking-tea_550-492.jpeg

Sources of image: http://www.classroomclipart.com