Irreverent Mama

Sunday, August 31, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of honesty. Yes, I believe it's a virtue, but I do not believe it's "always the best policy". Does anyone, really?

"Does this dress make me look fat?"

If the question is asked in the changing room, you can be honest, and thereby prevent your friend from buying something that makes her look like a ship in a tent. If the question is asked moments before stepping onto the stage of an awards banquet, you lie, lie, lie. What could possibly be the value of perfect honesty at such a moment?

People don't consider that principles/values can and do come into conflict: when honesty and kindness come into conflict -- and they often do -- which will you choose? Many would vigorously declare for "Honesty, of course!", as if honesty is the only path to integrity. Too frequently choosing kindness is seen as mere squeamishness, a lack of moral courage. Sometimes it is, of course, but...

Keeping something to yourself, refusing to expose person A to person B, allowing something to pass unremarked... all these various kindnesses can be harder to maintain that honesty. But at what cost honesty? Is honesty always worth the price?

And even then, when hard, clear honesty is the only way to proceed, must it be done without kindness? Must it simply be blurted out because "you need to know", or "you have a right to know", or "you need to get your shit together"? The gut-wrenching pain that honesty can cause needs to be approached with compassion, not blurted out, all the pain only the recipient's problem, because "it's for your own good."

How came knee-jerk, unreasoned honesty to be seen as a sign of integrity or purer virtue? That kind of honesty is the refuge of the simplistic. It's not high-mindedness, it's simply a lack of thought; it displays a certain shallowness of thinking. Why waste time and emotional energy weighing pros and cons when you can simply blurt out the callous facts -- and then claim the moral high ground for your insensitivity?

I can be very straight when need be; I rarely see good reason to be cruel with it. Clarity does not equate brutality, and when pressed, I'd rather err on the side of kindness.

I've often noted that people who dish out that kind of honesty are often outraged when they get a dose of it back... which shows a certain lack of integrity. Someone who weighs the pros and cons of honesty vs kindness, who knows the pain of honesty and deals it only when necessary and only to the degree required, that person will accept honesty when dealt similarly.

Those who dish it out willy-nilly, they don't like getting it back so much.

Methinks they deserve more than they're getting.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008


They say that a woman's sexual peak is in her mid-thirties. And lord only knows, newly single after a dozen years in a dreary marriage, I was feeling my oats, as the phrase goes. (And a very weird one it is; must be related to sowing the wild ones, but has always conjured up images of greasy men in trench coats for me. However, we're all agreed on a definition, and what I was up to in my early- to mid-thirties involved men of a grease-free variety, and the only trench coat in sight was one -- a London Fog, I think.)

So, I was quite willing to believe that was my sexual peak. And I was standing at the mountain-top, pounding my chest a bit. She smiles in fond remembrance.

After the oats were fondled, there followed a few years of the standard girl-meets-guy, guy-moves-in-with-girl, guy-and-girl settle in to happy domesticity ... well, mostly. It was happy, but there was a respectably non-standard mutually agree-upon foray into non-monogamy in there, too. (Enthusiastically embraced, and, later, contentedly set aside.) All very good for confirming my sexual peaked-ness.

Then the forties began, and the hormones, they seemed to recede a bit. Clearly, I was sliding down off that peak, and though the mental interest in the subject has never waned, the physical was a little sluggish, prompting some degree of internal consternation: I like sex! I've always liked sex! Why don't I hardly want it no more???

I've accepted the effects of aging in lots of ways with barely a murmur. The wrinkles (which, so far, I genuinely like), the shifting body parts, the gray hairs (after one foray into the natural look, tastefully coloured) ... all of these, if not embraced, at least accepted. I yam what I yam.

But this receding of the libido? Much harder to take. This did not fit in with the woman I've always perceived myself to be. I like the energy of eros, I like the sexy me. I like that it's often hidden under an ostensibly demure front; the libido flaring out comes as a doubly-erotic jolt. But now, the demure front was becoming less of a front, and I did not like it. I was not about to go gentle into that drab night.

My worries were needless. The hormones, they've shifted yet again. Realizing that there were less of them overall, they seem to have taken a "united-we-stand" approach. If they can't populate my body in equal measure every day of the month, if they can't maintain their former levels of potency at all times, they'll all band together for maximum impact for the mid-cycle week.

Good lord.

If this is what men experience all the time, the wonder is not that some of them wander, but that any of them manage monogamy at all.

For a week a month, I eat, sleep, breathe sex. I ooze pheromones. I eye men on the street. My mind wanders, my eyes wander. That's all that wanders, mind you. We're monogamous now, Matthew and I, and I am a woman who keeps my word.

It's taken some conscious effort. I don't go out with my male friends, a decent percentage of whom are former lovers, that week. Me, in that state, imbibing alcohol with a man not my husband? That's dancing drunk on a highwire over hungry lions. Can't be done.

Matthew, he's certainly reaping the benefits of the randy week. He has no complaints.

But, my god. If I had this to deal with every day of the month, monogamy would assuredly founder. I am reeling. Reeling even as I enjoy the ride.

Sexual peak in the thirties? Pfft.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Atoms are very, very weird.

I am no scientist, but I have always, for all my education in the Arts and Humanities, been fascinated by science of all sorts. I researched and wrote a report on bees when I was eight, made models of clouds when I was ten, devoured books on astronomy when I was eleven and twelve, designed simple circuits in my early teens.

It's probably sadly telling that absolutely none of this happened under the tutelage or with the encouragement of an actual science teacher. I did it all on my own, because it was interesting. Perhaps if I'd stumbled across the right teacher, I'd have charged down a totally different career path. Who knows?

Science classes were intermittently interesting, but thankfully by the time I reached high school I had long since perceived the distinction critical to the survival of intellectual curiosity: Education and schooling are not the same thing. If you're lucky, there's an overlap. If you're very lucky, there's a considerable overlap. A lot of the time, there's remarkably little, or at least there was for me.

The corollary to this distinction is the awareness that just because you don't like school, doesn't mean you don't like learning. You may hate your math class and still like math. To be bored witless in your physics class (which I was), does not mean that physics is boring. Thankfully I grasped this distinction young, so my love of learning proceeded unquashed by bored teachers and learning-hostile fellow students. (No, I didn't let my peers know I did all this stuff. Do I look stupid?)

So I suffered schooling, and I did my learning (well, a good portion of it) elsewhere. Which is marvellous, for now that I'm no longer in school, I'm still learning! Unimaginable purgatory to many of my adolescent peers. I hope they're very happy slinging hash 30 years later...

(Nyah, nyah, nyah.)

It is no surprise, then, that I'm reading "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson, and learning all sorts of stuff. It's the sort of book that annoys the crap out even the most long-suffering of spouses, as the person reading the book is forever calling out an excited...

"Listen to this!" (No, really. Listen!)

"For all their devoted attention, your atoms don't actually care about you--indeed, don't even know that you are there.... (It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.)"

Now, isn't that a thought to set you pondering?

And when you get to the bit of the book about atoms, your pondering achieves dizzying heights. If you think with Mr. Scott that "Ye canna change the laws of physics!", you haven't considered the atom. Because, oh! Listen to this!

On an atomic level, "electrons jump from one orbit to another without traveling across any intervening space" (teleportation?!?); certain atomic pairs work in instantaneous paralell, no matter how much distance lies between them (non-sentient telepathy?), and if that's not weird enough, "matter could pop into existence from nothing at all--'provided, ... it disappears again with sufficient haste.'"

It's not so much that you can't change the laws of physics as that the laws which apply to the larger reality are irrelevant to atomic reality. Which is a mind-boggler, right there.

Atoms are mostly empty space. Well, I knew that, from my (outrageously boring) grade eleven physics class. Have known it, therefore, for decades. But either I was never told, or never grasped, the implications of this. Implications, you ask? Well, just listen to THIS!

"When two objects come together in the real world...they don't actually strike each other. 'Rather,' as Timothy Ferris explains, 'the negatively charged fields of the two balls repel each other ... were it nor for their electrical charges they could, like galaxies, pass right through each other unscathed.' [Like GALAXIES?? I will be pursuing this later, you may be sure. Back to the quote now:] When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at a height of one angstrom (a hundred millionth of a centimeter), your electrons and its electrons implacably opposed to any closer intimacy."

Floating through a reality of repelling electrons. Too bad the angstrom doesn't prevent numb bum on hard office chairs...

Science is fascinating, I tell you. Utterly, utterly fascinating.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Why can't I get my eyeliner to look this good?