Friday, August 26, 2011

Quick Takes

1. In one of the many inflight magazines I have perused over the last year, I read a story about a computer game writer who lives in New Mexico somewhere with his family.  He doesn't earn much and he doesn't want to, although his games are very successful.  Something about being an artist and putting them online for free.  Anyway, I think about his family a lot because they have three or four kids and they manage to live off of $14,000 a year.  They don't own a car, they grow their own vegetables, maybe they turn their waste into cooking gas, who the heck knows.  How do they do that?

2.  Usually, I think about that family as I hang up our laundry on our line.  I also think about how it used to be that only poor people line-dry and how having a dryer is still somewhat of a status symbol.  However: more and more folks are doing it now to be "eco-friendly" and so now it is the smart thing to do and not just the poor thing to do. 

3. A facebook friend listed "Faith, Family, Exercise and Beer" as her main interests.  All I have to do is write a post on beer and that would sum up the content of this blog.

4. Saw a sad bumper sticker today: "Someone I Loved Was Murdered."  Yikes.

5. I like this headline from the Navajo Times from July 28th, my birthday. 

6.  It's been a very busy week and I feel like I have barely had a chance to sit down.  In the middle of it all, on Wednesday, we decided to paint the dining room.  I wore shorts and an old t-shirt and, at one point when I looked down, I remembered a fleeting thought from my shower earlier in the day about how there was no time to shave both legs.  "I'll just do one today and one tomorrow," I thought and then I must've gone ahead with that plan because sure enough, there to the East was a dense and fertile forest, and to the West it was clear and pure, like the still surface of a mountain lake. 
Jeremy almost died laughing.  Hey, I'm just glad I got a shower, ok?

7 For the last few weeks, I've ended up at the laundromat right when the show, "The Doctors" is airing.  Good grief, she's still talking about laundry.  No, I'm not!  I want to talk about fertility symptoms!  Apparently, there are some Apps. out there that help you keep track of your menstrual cycle.  There are even "his" and "hers" Apps, where "his" warns him of the onset of PMS and makes helpful--though maybe a little condescending--suggestions (like, "today would be a good day to compliment her outfit or appearance").  
Anyway, it bugs me a little that this software was only mentioned in the context of sex because I can think of about a hundred reasons why it is helpful for any woman, sexually active or not, to chart her fertility symptoms.  I guess it's still a good thing that folks are out there talking openly about women's cycles, and encouraging men and women to get in touch with Mother Nature a little bit more. 

more takes at Jen's and hers are as hilarious as ever.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

who wants to join a cult? (part II)

You may have noticed that in the preceding post I did not address the issue of theological/doctrinal error within abusive and high-control religious groups.*   There are several reasons for that:

1.  First of all, because groups vary.  In some, there is some very obvious distortions of faith concepts and outsiders can clearly pinpoint them, even if a member has bought into the belief system.  But when a group is still in the recruiting phase, there may not be.  Or it may be so understated that it would be hard to prove. 

2. Secondly, because convincing people that there is serious error is usually not an effective way to steer them away from potentially harmful groups.  Their mind is becoming more and more confused and the leader(s) like it that way.  Besides, there are all kinds of minor theological disagreements out there so perhaps this is just one of them? (thinks the brainwashed member...)
It is much easier to spot other kinds of dysfunctions—unhealthy group dynamics, an overbearing or all-knowing leader, the absence of the usual (and healthy) disagreements and compromises among members, and other tell-tale pattern of  thought control programs.  It is often sufficient to focus on the social psychology of a movement or group, to try to make a decision about whether to join up or, alternatively, to run for the hills.  "How cult leaders and other clever operators get people to do their bidding seems arcane and mysterious to most persons, but I find there is nothing esoteric about it at all," writes cult experet Margaret T. Singer.  "There are no secret drugs or potions.  It is just words and group pressures, put together in packaged forms." 
Words, you say?  So for a literature-based cult, this ought to be pretty simple, then?   Maybe so.
Still, when you have a controlling leader who is geographically removed from his/her followers, the dynamic is not going to be exactly the same as it has traditionally been with other high-pressure groups of its kind.  It can't be; if you are trying to influence people from afar (or in some way to acquire some power over them), a leader will necessarily have to be more cautious and more cunning in their methods because small mistakes will show more easily.  On the other hand, the agenda will be "packed into" those reading materials for maximum effectiveness.  The Internet makes such groups possible because of instantaneous flow of information, but perhaps they will be less successful because of it. 
There is no way to predict exactly what will happen next with this particular group, but, based on what other swindlers and egomaniac leaders have done in the past, we can make some educated guesses.  Besides, if the agenda is to control people, there should already be evidence available in the written materials.  The hierarchy needs certain conditions in order to function effectively, and it would be working toward certain goals (if it is indeed a cult or high pressure group).  In Part I, we listed some of the the methods that cults use to create an environment of change and control (to shape the personalities of members into their most agreeable and non-resistant form).  Singer believes all the tactics of thought reform are encompassed within this list of three:
1.  they destabilize a person's sense of self: they create a person who has lost confidence and independence through a slow and imperceptible (though well coordinated) program.  They have undermined their consciousness of reality, their belief system and beaten down their defense mechanisms.  Again, not by force because words, suggestions and environment are usually enough. 
2. they get a person to reinterpret their own life history and accept a new version of reality and causality
3.  they develop a person's dependence on the organization and transform them into a deployable agent
From what I could tell in the small group I attended in June, this group is still somewhat in the early phases of development.  It all seems very harmless because there are (seemingly) no specific demands on members and besides, they are "volunteering" their time in recruiting others!  No one told them to do anything, right?  And it's not like the leaders are breathing down their neck because, they are thousands of miles away!
At that meeting, as these (very devout and well-intentioned people) studied the materials and discussed the content, I remember that several people present agreed (in response to an encouragement to "say Yes to God more willingly and frequently") that they did indeed need to do that and to be less fearful.  In itself, this is not a scary statement from a Catholic as we all admire the Virgin Mary's unquestioning "Fiat" to the Angel.  The problem was that these very sincere Catholics had already accepted that the message of these texts was divine in origin.  They no longer questioned the messenger's words—they had already made up their minds to believe that they were the words of Jesus Himself.  The parish priest directed them to a book, a bishop has given his Okay, and that was enough. 
This is, in my view, one of the real dangers of groups like these—the fact that everything seems so innocent and pure and harmless.  The people I met who are taking these materials seriously all seemed to be sweet, well-meaning and trusting.  They just want to understand God and their faith better.  But they were not waiting for a final verdict from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the content of the book was unquestioned.
Brainwashing is a loaded word and I hate to use it because it conjures up the extremes: the Mason family and David Koresh and all that.  This is what is really scary about it: brainwashing starts as soon as someone has accepted someone else's authority over their thinking.  In the case of an alleged visionary—who is speaking the words of Jesus or Mary, after all—it's all over.  Anything "Jesus" wants them to do, they'll do.  That's how cults get started, when people stop asking questions.  

In Cialdini's book on the mechanics of influence, he used salespeople as an example, but in my experience, it applies to church people, too.  Not the woman in the church narthex, that's not what I mean.  I mean the leader of this group, the person who is claiming some extra special spiritual knowledge and encouraging others (like the narthex woman) to flock to them for guidance.  That's one of the warning signs that stood out from our brief conversation: the promise of an extra special anything.  The question ought to be, Why, if there is nothing substantially different from Sacred Scripture, should I bother with someone's books or ideas about a supernatural revelation they claim to have had?
There is a Church document from 1978, the NORMS OF THE SACRED CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH ON THE MANNER OF PROCEEDING IN JUDGING ALLEGED APPARITIONS AND REVELATIONS" that speaks directly to this issue (it has been translated into English at this website):
"4. In uncertain cases that make little difference to the good of the Church, let the competent ecclesiastical Authority abstain from any judgment and direct action (it may even happen that, with the passage of time, the event said to be supernatural may fall into oblivion); nonetheless he should not leave off vigilance, so that if necessary, he can intervene promptly and prudently."
As I understand it, when a priest or bishop grants an Imprimatur, it doesn't necessarily mean that a private revelation has been authenticated.  It simply means that there is nothing in the published materials that has been found to contradict established doctrine.  There's a big difference.  In fact, that was pointed out in #2 on that same list:
2. If the faithful are legitimately requesting it (that is, in communion with the Pastors and not driven by a sectarian spirit), the competent ecclesiastical Authority can intervene, to permit and promote some forms of veneration and devotion, if, according to the Criteria as noted above, there is no obstacle to them. Nevertheless, there should be caution lest the faithful take this manner of acting as an approval on the part of the Church for the supernatural character of the event (cf. Prefatory note, under c).

How could it be bad when the fruit is good?  The woman in the narthex asked.  What harm can it do? 
Plenty.  Have you ever been betrayed by someone you trusted about the deepest matters of your faith or life?  Have you ever suffered through the anguish of not knowing who, if anyone, to trust ever again.  Have you ever lost your ability to trust yourself?  Well, I'll tell you: it's awful, and dark.  Most of us can't handle that sort of messing with our minds.  It is easy to become confused, and depressed, maybe suicidal.  It's that serious.  
In the meantime, I think we should do the same thing that Robert Cialdini advised in his example of the salesperson: just sleep on it.  Keep praying the way you always have, move on with your life and ignore the "new stuff" for, oh, a good decade or so.  Belief in private revelation is not mandated by the church and it usually takes awhile to authenticate a revelation (remember St. Faustina?).  So just relax, we'll know if it's legitimate soon enough and do you really want to take the risk, just to be able to brag that you "knew [of this movement] when"?

Go from the gut and steer clear of groups that seem too good to be true because they most likely are.  Ignore it because it will probably fade away on its own anyway and just disappear into the mist.  The same people who are good at manipulating can also be really good at hiding the traces of their misdeeds; they might just disappear after awhile and (hopefully) move to some island far, far away.

Maybe you're getting depressed just reading about this, but I try not to get too discouraged about the whole business.  Sooner or later, if the group is in fact a cult, it will start to show.  Members will realize it and some of them will walk away.  Sooner or later, the desire for power or money will eventually override the leader's sense of self-preservation.  They will make mistakes and their real agenda will peek through.  They will become less cautious and their real motives will start to show.  They will not realize it, or they won't care (once again: think, Warren Jeffs).  Pastors who are really in it for the money get busted by the IRS all the time.  Or whatever, that's just an example.  At this point, it will no longer be a matter of convincing new recruits to join, but of helping current members get out.
On the other hand, though, the deceit might just be outright and in the open all along.  A monthly urgent message from God about how members of the group need to work harder, pray more and sacrifice more of their time and money—all passed along by a messenger who won't reveal their real name or anything about their past?  Well, that's so obvious, it just might work.
* I am focusing on religious cults in this series because that's what I know about, but there are many, many different kinds: commercial or political ones, cults that offer techniques in self-improvement or enlightenment, cults based on outer-space phenomena, psychological cults, etc. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

7 Quick Takes--Navajo Southwest Edition (with photos)

1. On Thursday there was a very long line of people with grocery carts lined up in the parking lot of a local supermarket. I couldn't figure it out at first so I got closer: a couple of guys had big barrels and would roast your chiles for you if you wanted to wait your turn.

2. I hear that devout Navajo will not visit local ruins because they want to prevent the spirits of their ancestors coming along with them when it's time to go home.

3.  The Annual Inter Tribal Indian Ceremonial was held close by last week.  My camera's battery died and it was sunset so none of my pictures began to capture how spectacular it was.  Not only are there Navajo, but Zuni, Hopi, Cheyenne, Taos and even Aztec Indians (and plenty more I haven't listed here).

4. Jeremy learned at work that at the time of burial, the Navajo need to have all of their parts buried with them.  Lost or extracted teeth, missing fingers or limbs, etc.  At the birth of a new baby, a Navajo grandmother requests to take the placenta home.

5. A bunch of guys with guns are having lunch in a reserved room at the coffee shop today.  Holstered guns, I mean.  The gun laws here take some getting used to.

6. My kids' school is 80% Navajo.  They kind of stand out a little.

7. At the laundromat they play country music and folks selling food in coolers wander around.  At the Annual Ceremonial Parades the number of snack food hawkers was completely out of control.  Folks backed their pickups up so they could sell from the backs of trucks, or they set up tables, or they loaded their coolers into grocery carts and did laps up and down the streets. 

more takes over at Jen's (her #3 is particularly hilarious)

Monday, August 15, 2011

who wants to join a cult? (Part I)

You know that thing when you open up the church bulletin after Sunday Mass and there's a plug for a new cult?  "Come and join our cult-group!  We pray a lot, we lie even more, AND you're guaranteed to become a mental health case after a short couple of years!"
Yeah, me neither. 
If only obsessive-compulsive narcissists would introduce themselves as such right from the start, it would save the rest of us a lot of trouble.  "Hi, I'm crazy and really really power hungry and I would love to manipulate you and a bunch of other people and then ruin some lives!"   Is that really asking too much?  At the very least, it would give everyone a chance to make a decision based on all the facts and then walk away laughing and not crying.
Unfortunately, this is what is more likely to happen:  say it's June, on a Sunday.  In the church bulletin there is a notice advertising "free summer reading" and promoting the publications of a certain Christian group.  There is even a local group that had begun to meet on the church grounds to discuss the book and to pray.  You are familiar with this group and know enough that you have been keeping your distance, and then enough more to know that others probably might want to, as well.  But then you find out that the local pastor is really into these publications and is spreading the word far and wide.  There's even a rumor that the local bishop has endorsed the materials.
If you hear about all of this on a Sunday in June, and if, a long time ago, you happen to have joined up with a similar group that was "just for prayer" and that one turned out to be a big huge mess, then you might do what I did.  I walked over to the display table to have a closer look and try to figure out why in the world someone thought it was a good idea.  There was a woman who was very obviously excited to share about the changes in her life that had occurred since she came across this new literature.  So instead of pretending I had a real interest in the books, I decided to be frank.  I told her about the online search I had conducted on the group and its leader and that I had come across some troubling allegations.  She seemed a little confused, but not at all defensive and replied that she had heard nothing the least bit negative about the movement, and in fact, the parish priest had been the one to introduce her to the books. 

 "They have changed my life!  I feel closer to God than ever!  Anyway, there is nothing in these books that isn't already in the Bible.  So how can it be bad?" 
Well, yes, that would be why.  Four reasons, right there.  Thanks for helping me make my case. 
Back in my college days, I joined a prayer group too.  It sounded good and harmless (how could prayer be bad?) and I told my friends who expressed reservations that I would keep my eyes wide open to look for warning signals.  They said that the group seemed "cult-like" and that the leader seemed "strange."  And I said, Thanks but I will be on the watch for anything suspicious.  Maybe that made them feel better and maybe it didn't, I don't know, but at the time it gave me a feeling of security.  As long as I could remain objective, keep my mind and eyes wide open, I wouldn't be "taken in," right? 
Turns out, that's the whole brainwashing deal; it happens without you realizing it.  Doh. 
Besides, what is suspicious?  What exactly was I supposed to be looking for?  I made a huge mistake in thinking that I didn't have to do any homework.  I didn't even research "signs of a cult" until months and months later.  By then, I was in very, very deep.  Looking back, though, the signs were already there.  (If you have to justify going to a prayer group, the problem is probably not the prayer, but the group so it makes no sense to sit around throwing arguments back and forth about the legitimacy of different kinds of prayer.)   
So what kinds of groups should we avoid from the get-go?  What traits in a leader are evident red flags?  Well, I've got all the answers so read on. 
Okay, that was a joke.  The truth is, I only wish that my experience in a high-pressure—and extremely dysfunctional—group had provided some failsafe technique for identifying similar groups or scary and dangerous leaders.  In reality, no two groups or leaders are exactly alike and manipulation is often very subtle.  New leaders learn from the mistakes of past ones and, if they're any good, they'll avoid the obvious pitfalls.  But I still believe that this is exactly where cult experts and cult survivors have a lot to contribute to the conversation.  Of course not all religious groups that are a little wacky are cults, and not all alleged visionaries are narcissistic or abusive (even the false ones), but those of us with some experience of how cults get started, then fuel themselves, and then eventually implode (because eventually, they all do) might just have an idea of what signs to look for.  

Manipulators are out to create a climate--an atmosphere where the pressure is understood without being explicit; no one has to even say anything at all because the expectations are clear to the members.  They know what's going on even if an outsider doesn't; the problem is that they're okay with it.  In fact, they think the mission and practices of the group are great!  These signs are perhaps easier to spot if you've seen it up close, because early on, before things really get started, those signs will already be there, only they'll be quieter and harder to pinpoint.
Probably one of the very first things to be on guard against is over-enthusiasm.  If the group is young, their leader unknown but prominent and a hotshot within the group and if there is already a sizable following, that makes it a little fishy already.  In his book Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini advises people to be suspicious if, very shortly after becoming acquainted with someone, you feel a closer bond than you probably should.  For example, if, only fifteen minutes after meeting a salesperson, you are ready to purchase the product they are promoting, that ought to be a red flag right there.  You don't have to be able to pinpoint their tactics, he clarifies, but be assured that they are somehow calculating a response from you.  In some way, they have been able to exert a degree of power over your thinking without you noticing it.  Perhaps your enthusiasm about being associated with someone so "exciting" or "special" has caused you to ignore your better judgment.
So let's start a list. 

#1 is get online.  Google the group, the leader.  What have former members said about the group?  If anyone has every linked this group with the word "cult," you should probably go ahead and google that, too, because chances are, you'll be surprised at how many shapes and forms cults and cult-like groups will take.  No one joins up for a cult.  No one decides to join a group because the group philosophy is dangerous and crazy.  They are not thinking that down the road they might want to poison themselves and their families.  Obviously.  Cults are groups that start out as good causes, and then go wrong.  We sign up to improve the environment, or to better society, to deepen our personal spirituality, or to improve ourselves and increase our happiness.  It all has to sound good from the outset, or no one would even take a second look, right? 
That's #2 and #3, then: Do not expect that to find anything obviously wrong within a successful group (that you suspect might be cult-like).  You may or may not.  If they have survived for a few years, or even a few decades, and if they are still recruiting, then they are probably good at what they do.  It will be subtle and it will probably sound really, really good.  And then, #3 is to realize that high-pressure groups and cult-like groups evolve.  They start out one way, and end up another.  (My personal opinion, however, is that in hindsight, we can always look back and see signs from the very beginning, some of them very obvious though they may be couched in gushing and over-religious language.)
Here are some more things to watch out for but will be harder to gauge as a non-member (this information is not usually shared explicitly by the highest levels of the hierarchy and it will take even members awhile to recognize patterns)
4. There is usually a single person at the top who calls the shots; this person is never wrong and should never be challenged.  They are secretive about themselves and like to maintain an aura of mystery about their past and their personal life.  This doesn't mean that they won't laugh at their own expense at times (if only to prove that they aren't "one of those Crazy Power Hungry Cult Leaders Who Can't Take A Joke, ha ha!").  But beware if you cross that line; there is always an understanding among members that the leader will get the last say and should never be criticized.
5. There is pressure, whether stated outright or not, whether subtle or overt.  Members are progressively cut off (psychologically or physically or financially) from their support networks of friends and family or colleagues and the group begins to take center-stage.  Or, stated differently, members will become so personally invested in the group, they cannot function independently anymore.   Simultaneously, nothing they do can ever be good enough for the group/leader.
6. There is an atmosphere of exclusivism/elitism: everyone within the group is superior (or in the Right) and everyone else is inferior (just plain wrong, lazy or possibly evil).  If you really want to get things done, or if you really want to be sure to get to heaven (or whatever), you know what to do: everything the leader/group says to do, of course!
7. In a high-pressure group, there is never a legitimate reason to leave. 
8. There is a defensive or paranoid attitude toward people on the outside: "they can't handle the truth; they're just upset because we're showing them up for how unholy/lazy/selfish they are" or "See?  We're not crazy or boring or uptight.  If we were, would we play frisbee once a year, huh? Huh?"
9.  As good at the manipulation game as a leader might be, there will be some troubling patterns that have emerged or that are beginning to emerge.  Like:
 – they have begun to solicit money/sex/some other currency, whether subtly or overtly. 
– there is a change in the teaching/theology or message.  Over time, to retain the members, the doctrine of the group will morph and the focus will change from recruitment of new members, to the retention of the ones they have.   Here's an example: once a climate of control has been established and members are trying hard to fit in or to comply with the expectations of the group, a leader can "back off" and appear to be more lenient and gracious in what they say because an undercurrent of inadequacy is always there anyway, as far as members are concerned.  If leaders talk about generosity or gentleness or kindness then their followers might just become convinced that they are kind and generous and gentle.
(to be continued...Part II, click here)

Friday, August 12, 2011

7 Quick Takes

Now that we are officially "moved in," I have been spending entirely too much time thinking about decorating the place.  For one, it's a very, very old house and kind of ugly (read: extremely hideous) so we need to make it a little more pleasant.  But then, after a few days of fretting about the expense of new sofa slipcovers and paint and all that, I get depressed about wasting money.  On the other hand, according to some mommy blogs, my Christian duty is to make a beautiful and organized home for my family.  On the other hand, maybe I am just too cheap and lazy to do that.

Whatever.  All I know is, my crumbling and abused house--and my healthy hooligan offspring--are in good company.


Unpacking is actually very time-consuming.  That might seem obvious, but every time I estimate how long it will take to pack or unpack our belongings, I consistently fail to factor in how much emotional energy (and extra time) required to sift and sort items of sentimental value.  Maybe it is also the fact that we haven't seen any of this stuff for over a year.  

On top of this, there was only one week between the time that the moving truck arrived and the kids start school.  That's right, kids plural.  My littlest girl is going to start Kindergarten on Monday.  Phew.  Hopefully this will be easier on the mama the second time through and I won't be having the month-long cryfest I had two years ago, geez.


The 90th Annual Intertribal Indian Ceremonial is taking place right now.  A neighbor told us that Indians from all over the Americas attend (like, even the Andes).  So far, I have only gone to see the night parade in downtown Gallup and a violent monsoon interrupted that one and we all had to flee.  Actually, it was pretty cool to be part of the drenching, squealing mob running for cover in a desert town at night, with all the terrifying lightning and thunder chasing us down.  I'd do it again.


I am about a dozen chapters into Jane Smiley's One Thousand Acres.  Anyone read it?  She is a true artist and I want to keep going, but I worry that I am being infected too much with The Melancholy and lord knows I don't need more of that.


Yesterday was St. Clare day and I forget it every year.  You'd think I'd remember that one. 

But earlier this week we celebrated the feast of St. Edith Stein and I even got to go to Mass.  An elderly neighbor has taken a liking to me and we walk part of the way home from church together.


Jer and I both have colds and I decided to try to sleep mine off with a little nap earlier this afternoon.  A. joined me in my bed (my almost-Kindergartner) and before she drifted off, she rolled over to ask: "Which is faster, a steamroller or a regular ole' bicycle?" 
Can't she please stay five forever?


It's about a gazillion degrees in my house and even with the fan on, I am sweltering.  The over-heated laptop is on my lap and I sweat and I sweat, but still I type.  This is dedication, folks.  Maybe I will actually get around to writing up one of those promised posts sometime soon.  My brain will have to come back to re-visit me for that to happen, though.  It seems to have gotten lost in the mounds of bubble wrap and boxes. 

(more takes over at Jen's)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

at 3 or 30,000 feet--it's all the same anyway

A few mom friends have asked me how did I do it?  All the travel and jetlag and the packing beforehand--with three little kids?  How did I keep everyone entertained and out of mischief?  Especially when I am also tired of travel.

We've shed a lot of weight from the suitcases over the second half of this year, chucking out used-up toys and bribes along the way.  I don't bring along loads of sticker books or glow sticks anymore, and not because having surprises tucked inside my purse has grown stale for the kids.  I doubt they'll ever get tired of those old tricks.  It's for a more practical reason: I am bored of sneaking out to the dollar store to collect rubbish.  Anyway the kids can be expected to take charge of their own entertainment by now, can't they?  At least some of the time. 

I have gotten in the habit of picking up a book early on, hoping they'll take the hint.  I hope for ten minutes of quiet, maybe even twenty.

My son always steals the window seat and when he interferes with my reading I try to direct his attention to his opposite side.  "Look out there, you can, clouds!  Wow, right?"  as if all of us aren't bored with clouds and more clouds for hours on end.  The view is not novel after the third or fourth time, and our count is well past that. 

Over two months of living in Seattle and I am sick and tired of clouds.  Jeremy flew in and out of Washington State about eight times while "commuting" from New York and just once he landed on a clear day and could see each of the three tallest peaks: Mt. Baker, Mt. Hood and of course Mt. Rainier.  He was thrilled and I was grouchy because it wasn't fair.  On most days, I could completely forget about the mountains; as far as I was concerned, they might as well not have existed because of the stupid cloud cover!

Taking off from Seattle one last time after living there for weeks and weeks, I hoped for--really, I was owed--a spectacular view.  I wanted to see, from high up, the water of the lakes and the Sound and the snow on the mountains and all of that, and instead here we are, bumping our way up through the Stupid Clouds.  Everything is gray, gray and gray out the windows and nothing else until finally we are above and looking down on that white barrier between the Green and the Great Blue. 

And then, for the first time I thought about being in the clouds, and then above them and how those also are views.  They are not the same as being underneath.  Not everyone gets to lift off and see only wet gray outside because they are at 5,000 or 11,000 or 25,000 feet off the ground and inside clouds.

Next to me is the squirmy boy who is bored, bored, bored and just past him, on the outside is gray and gray and then shining bright yellow and blue.  He and I, we are both bored being inside clouds, and then we are bored being above them and looking down.  We are bored because the view is so boring.

At 30,000 feet, the airt outside is thinner and we can see only blue and brightness and sometimes we get a peek underneath the clouds where they are thinner.  In Texas, our layover is in Houston and it is hazy there and the air is thick and it looks sticky even from so high up.  In North Carolina, we finally leave the airport and shops are closing and it is already evening and in the West everything is turning pink because we have just spent a full day flying across the sky. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Sometimes, if I haven't posted in awhile, it means I am considering shutting down (the blog, I mean, not me).  Not this time around, though.  We've just been traveling a lot, and visiting with friends and family, and making jam and quilts, taking long drives through some Soutwestern Reservations and, more recently, scrubbing the walls of our new rental because the previous tenant's kid wiped boogers on them. 

That is gross and my kids would never do that.

Meanwhile, I have ideas for about twelve posts, and I even have a drafts of a few of them, but I am having trouble starting back up.  When I do, what would my (five) faithful readers like to read about first?

  • a full-length post about the wonders of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers knock-offs and how well they dissolve booger residue off walls?  (that was a joke. I don't like scrubbing walls and writing about scrubbing walls sounds like a terrible idea.)
  • reflections on flight and air travel and the views from 25,000 feet up.
  • cults and how misunderstood they are (alternate title: why everyone should be wary of religious groups that make big claims, but keep insisting they don't and that you've got nothing to lose by just giving them a try because anyway, you can leave any time...)
  • I don't want to read anything; what I really want is to see photos of Navajo land!
  • what's it like to have a spouse in medical school and residency?  what if you have kids while you're doing it? 
  • how dull and monotonous work and being a nobody can actually sharpen the mind and spirit (the long-overdue follow-up to this post).
  • none of the above: I just want to see clip of a guy running backwards in his underwear set to music?

What's your vote?  Speak up, I or I might just have to write that booger post...