Monday, August 30, 2010

The Changeling Child

If anyone is wondering why there is a big picture of candles at the top of today's blog, yesterday afternoon shots were fired around the site of the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro while members and reporters were looking over the destruction from the weekend's arson. The group I belong to, Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom is having a candlelight vigil at the courthouse in town tonight in protest of these terrorist acts. Since I'm still contagious from my chicken pox (out of quarantine tomorrow though, happy day), I can't go, so I'm making a suggestion that anyone who believes in religious freedom (including freedom from religion) and thinks that terrorist acts should not be acceptable against any religion should change their profile pictures on Facebook to that of a candle.

That being said, here comes today's blog:

First off, thanks to my cousin Gabriel for talking people into reading this; it makes me feel all warm and squishy. Or that could also be the face it's way too hot in Tennessee in August and that warm, squishy feeling is me starting to melt. All things are possible.

One thing about having chicken pox is that the antihistamine I've been taking three times a day to stop itching is making me dream like crazy. I'm not normally a person who dreams a whole lot, but I've noticed before when I take antihistamines I have some pretty wild dreams. (Now that I think about it, probably the only good thing about being too sick to work the last several months is that my skin allergies haven't bothered me, since I haven't been around cardboard and metal polish, and I don't have to worry about people brushing against me with weird soaps, detergents, or lotions. It's so weird being allergic to cardboard.) So, tangent over and back on track, the other night I had a really great dream that inspired me to work on a new story, which in and of its self is rather inconvenient considering how many other stories I have to work on at the moment, especially my "baby" which is languishing mid-chapter page 160-something on my flash drive because I can't figure out how three people cross a tundra (it's more complicated than that, but said subject is a whole blog on its own).

Most authors whose work I enjoy usually say something about doing all your research and massive outlines before starting to write the "meat" of a book, but I've always hated outlining, and I'm more of a research-as-I-go type person (exception being character names... but that's something else that requires it's own blog). More important than any of that, I think, is deciding what questions you want to address in a story. "Good" books ask one question, usually a what-if (i.e. what if animals rode in a dump truck - don't laugh, that was my favorite book when I was two), which tends to be simplistic and easily answered by the text with no outside though processes required. "Better" books have the what-if, some moral / religious / ethical questions, and a what-you-should-think explanation on the second set of questions, usually the author's opinion, though "mediocre" and "better" books are often decided by whether said author is going to try and beat their opinion home with a baseball bat. Religious fiction - pick your religion, I like Wiccan / Pagan fantasy and certain Christian sci-fi - tends to be the worst; there are times when I feel like shouting at the author "okay, point made, your religion is perfect and you're wonderful because you believe in it, I'm slime because I don't. Can we get back to the story now?"

The best books, however, are those that not only present questions, but also present the questions in such a way that the reader afterward is questioning them self. When finished reading, you look at the world with new eyes, wondering about your own life, about the person next to you, about justice, about faith, about eternity...

The best books change us from the inside out.

Now, I'm not the great American novelist, but I know what I like, and I know what moves me, so usually the stories I'm working on are inspired by the questions which are bothering me the most when working on said story. My "baby" has many questions fueling it - does memory determine reality? What is fate; does it exist or is it shaped by choice? Is it better to do evil honestly or to cloak it in the name of religion? Should a person live with the ones they love always in danger, or die so those they love are safe - and thus have no time to be loved at all? I'm still sorting out my newest story, but one question that I know I have to include in it hit me rather hard: what does it mean to be human, and how is one determined to be human?

My muse / best friend / non-biological twin (we're not related but our birthdays are so close together we might as well be twins) Chris and I had this discussion last night (pity him greatly, he's the one who usually gets to listen to me rant and rage when what I'm writing is not going the way I want it to), and his opinion is that it is choice and the availability of choice that determines whether or not someone is human. Let me explain this better, the premise I am moving from is that one of the characters is a "changeling", or non-human who replaced a human infant. Their DNA is identical to human, they were raised as human, they don't remember ever being anything but human. Said character is decidedly, however, not human. Chris believes that as said character has the option at any point to choose to no longer be human, but rather revert to their non-human state, they are not human. At the same time, he also considers that any human who as the ability to change forms (his example was a man with a ring of invisibility) is also no longer human, as a regular human has no ability to choose what form they take.

While he makes a good point, I'm just not sure how much I agree with it. Anyone who has ever seen someone who has undergone far too much plastic surgery knows that just because you are born looking one way doesn't mean you will die in the same form. So since people who undergo plastic surgery choose to change their appearance, are they no longer human? What about people with tattoos, or piercings, or ritual scars as used by some tribes in various countries. Humans are not born with tattoos, piercings, or ritual scars, but am I less human because I have pierced ears, or because I had to have a tendon in my knee removed because of a birth defect? I chose both things, the knee surgery especially not something that most humans have to choose to do, but I don't feel it makes me any less human.

So, then, what is it that makes me human? It's not an ability to think, any animal that decides to chase after prey instead of staying inside when it rains can think. Language? Apes (most notably Koko the gorilla) are fully capable of communicating with humans when taught sign language that humans can understand (which leads me to the conclusion that it is incorrect to think of animals as being unable to speak, but better to think of humans as being unable to hear). Koko has also been recorded mourning for another gorilla after it died, even putting flowers on the corpse, so feeling emotion is not a purely human ability either. One of my mom's dogs is so loyal that at times she is neurotic; when my mom and her husband went to Hawaii for two weeks last year, Breeze became so upset that she almost chewed her foot off, and the vet was threatening to give her Prozac unless she calmed down. After my dog Norlis died, Breeze became so afraid that anyone who left would never come back that when she could tell someone was leaving, she would shake so badly that the chair she was in moved. Loyalty, connection, a sense of family; watching the dogs that I've been around for the last 14 years, I'm fairly certain at times they love deeper and longer than most people I know. Insects can build, and orangutans use tools, so it isn't either of those.

This brings me to an even bigger question, one that I think is more important out of a book than in it: if it's this hard to decide what it is to be human, why is it to easy to say one human is not as good as another? Why is on religion better than the next, why is one race superior, why is one sexual preference preferable? I am human, but I don't know what it is that makes me human. All I know is that I am no better a human than anyone else. But then again maybe I'm not human, maybe my choices have just made me a changeling child.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I will survive

Well, yesterday is over and, thank heavens, today is better. The hate-mongering anti-ICM site of Facebook has been taken down after they were contacted by a lawyer concerning the threats made towards the people in MTRF (Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom), those of us in MTRF have all put up posts about how we won't be intimidated and won't return hate for hate, and better than that someone who used to spread Islamaphobia has come to us all, begging for forgiveness and saying she was wrong. She just became my personal hero of the day.

My chest is still hurting from being so angry yesterday though, and now I'm trying to decide if it's residual anger, tightness from the cough I have from my bout of chicken pox (yay for me, at 25 having chicken pox for the 2nd or 3rd time depending on which family member you talk to, I don't remember having them before at all), or if it's the same problem with my heart that my neurologist noted the last time I was there. Not that it really matters, any of the above it hurts.

But chicken pox, heart problems, and brain diseases aside, I find myself looking at today and wondering exactly what the future brings, thinking about people and the passions that drive them, and knowing no matter what, I will survive.

I'm not saying I'm going to live forever, let's not be stupid here, but what matters is the ideas that make me up will never go away. Any idea, no matter how ignorant or how inspired, must be shared in order for it to survive. Call it intellectual Darwinism if you will, those ideas that touch the most are the ones that make it to the next generation, and, on occasion, the generation after that. So as long as my ideas are being shared, as long as there are people who will remember what I said, even if it's stupid, as long as there are people who feel the way I do about doing what is right in the face of the many who tell you to do what is wrong, I will survive.

My background is in Anthropology, the study of humans and human culture, a field based almost entirely on Darwinian ideas; I've often said that the only place that Darwinism and religion overlap (other than the idea that we are human and we are here, now) is where the Bible says "be fruitful and multiply", and the Survival of the Fittest says that the being with the best evolved advantage of surviving a certain climate is the one who will share the most DNA via its descendants, and thus increase the evolution of the species. In other words, the only purpose of life is to create more life.

Now, will my medical problems, it's almost impossible for me to have kids, and what's more, I'm not sure I want kids. Set aside the fact that I'm someone who enjoys being on their own (with the exclusion of a few people) and I want time for my thoughts to solidify in my mind (time that usually involves silence or relative quite), the fact of the matter is I'm pretty sure I'm someone who shouldn't have children. All things being equal (which of course they aren't), unless there is a miracle in curing what ails me, I wouldn't be a good mother. Some days I'm angry for no reason, some days I can barely move because of how much it hurts to breathe; there are days that I feel fine, and days I can't get out of bed at all. Beyond the fact that most, if not all, of what I have is genetic in origin and very likely to be passed down (which is entirely unacceptable in my mind), no kid deserves a mother who can only be a mother part of the time.

And, all respect to Darwin and DNA, the fact of the matter is how much of our DNA actually decides who we are? Okay, so mine has decided I'm going to suffer quite a bit apparently, but when did DNA decide that even when I can barely walk straight from dizziness and my heart feels like a giant stone trying to shove its way through my chest, that I will still be worried about things like religious freedom and science fiction stories? Does DNA decide who becomes a Hitler, or who becomes a Gandhi? Does DNA decide that my favorite color will be purple, or that I think the changing of the seasons, leaves gold and red on the hillsides south of town are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen?

Experience determines who we are more than DNA, experience and the ideas that we gather and form as experience refines a person from who they once were to who they are and who they can be. So while I probably won't ever leave my genetic imprint on the world, at least I can hope, as long as I'm typing things like this, talking to others, and putting my ideas where people can see them, that I will survive.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I have a dream...

Today is the 47th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speach. The Civil Rights movment of Dr. King's time was marked by terrorism commited against people just because of the color of their skin.

Today, here in the small Tennessee town where I live, someone went to the lot where the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, doused the equipment there in gasoline, and lit it on fire.

Times change, apparently bigotry doesn't.

What's interesting if you read the original text of "I Have a Dream", Dr. King makes a statement that "if America is to be a great nation, this must become true... Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York... Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee...  From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Let's add to that list shall we? Let's speed up the day when all people - no matter the color of their skin, no matter who they worship or don't worship, no matter who they love - same sex, different sex, no matter their politics, anyone who wants to live their life the way they like it without harming anyone else - can stand together in brotherhood, not even aware of what makes us different. Just aware of what makes us the same.

I have a dream that one day no one will have to hide who they are because someone else thinks what they believe is more important than that person's freedom to be alive.

I have a dream that one day I will not read about another person comming home to find a swatstika burned in their yard, racist slurs carved on their door, or a noose hanging from their tree

I have a dream one day there will be no more bigotry, no matter the cause, no matter the cost.

I have a dream that one day no one will ever have to dream about freedom, because, finally, we will all be free at last.