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I had new tires placed on my car yesterday and because I forgot to bring a book, I was stuck in the waiting room reading years-old magazines and listening to the radio. In the hour and a half I spent there, the 1984 charity anthem “Feed the World” played no less than 4 times. I’ve easily heard that song a dozen times a day for the last few weeks.

I think I may have this song on vinyl somewhere, but to hear it played in this new millenium always makes me cringe.

“Do they know its Christmas time at all?…..Feed the world/Let them know its Christmas time”. How very Western-centric that song is. How very Christian-centric. How very dated.

I can excuse the song for the time, but to continue playing this song every year grates the nerve in light of a new found realization that hey! there’s a lot of other religions out there! Granted, the song was targeting famine relief in Ethiopia which is 60% Christian…but it’s also 30% Muslim and 2% Animist…so, no, they don’t know it’s Christmas time and even if they did I’m sure they don’t give a damn…as would the 67% percent of the world that isn’t Christian either.

I’m thinking the Pagans, Wiccans, and Druids of the world need to stage a major Take Back the Night and reclaim the season’s true celebrations of Solstice. Maybe it would give me relief from well-intentioned albeit highly misguided Christmas diddies.

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The real suck-o part about being an atheist who goes to a Catholic college is all the damn religion…classes.

Actually, I don’t mind the so much as long as they are not Christian-based. So I am taking Buddhism to fulfill one of my “god” requirements. And I know it’s only the second week of class and a horde of religion scholars are bound to chew me out for this, but I am going to sum Buddhism, comparatively, in one sentence:

Buddhism is a cult of guilt that puts all Catholic and Jewish mothers to shame.

In short: life is a vicious cycle of guilt to be repeated over and over, and trust me, it’s a mother-effer.

With Catholics it’s a pretty straight up and down business deal: do something bad and confess, eff up bad enough and you go to Hell, do okay and you go to Heaven, get stuck in the in between and it’s Limbo or Purgatory.

Jews don’t believe in a heaven or a hell, so all your guilt is contained to this lifetime and, if you fast for one day and say your sorry, and you really, really mean it, your forgiven…beat that….

With Buddhists, however, it’s all in the intent. You desire something not kosher, you act on said non-kosher desire, and you get smacked something awful with karma whereby you go through all the horror that is adolescence again, and again, again, and again…that is, if you are lucky enough to return as something other than microbe on piece of dung.

Seriously, if I am going to be judged on intention alone, I might as well not even bother to leave the starting gate because I already know I’m coming back as a gnat.

Boy, I’d make one lousy ass Buddhist let me tell you. To become enlightened is to live without desire and to live without desire and how awful is that? It’s good to want. I wholly believe that. And desire? I’ll concede that some desire does cause suffering but all desire? Damn, how is a life without desire worth living? Desire is the reason I get out of bed in the morning.

Desire. Anticipation. Want. Craving. Hunger. Ravenousness.

Hell, wanting the cake, desiring the kiss, hunger for the man, craving coffee, anticipation of the result…if that is suffering, I’ll take it. I love those moments. When everything in your body becomes a live-wire. When everything in life hinges on that outcome. When waiting for the outcome becomes the still point of the turning world…love it. Maybe it’s hedonistic, maybe it is gluttonistic (aren’t those Christian terms anyway?).

And for the record, even though sometimes the cake sucks, the kiss is sloppy, the man is a douchebag, the coffee is cold, and the result you were waiting for crushes your soul and changes your life, the moment of the desire was still good. The desire did not disappoint me, just the outcome did….and you won’t convince me otherwise.

In looking for a graphic for the last entry, I came across rather interesting quiz. Yes, I’m sucker for online quizzes, so I took it and was rewarded with the information that I could reasonably expect to live in the 5th Circle of Hell.

That’s the place where the Wrathful and Sullen reside. Thinking back to the quiz, I’m sure my answering “yes” to the question of whether or not punching someone in the face who has it coming is a correct thing to do is what landed me there.

So, I passed the quiz around the lab at school and I was shocked that the little cretins with whom I work were only being sentenced: Circle One where supposedly the Unbaptized and the Virtuous Pagans party down.

This quiz maker clearly does not understand the hoi-polloi with whom I study. If Circle One is truly their fate, that is, assuming that the Christian-Judeo idea of Heaven or Hell even exists, and I’m damn sure they don’t, then the Circle One ought really be renamed for the Hooligans and the Unwashed.

Now, maybe this is an age thing. I’ve been around the block more times than these babes, hence, increasing my opportunities for hell-going experiences. Then again, maybe the little bastards lied on the quiz.

Either way, the quiz is junk. I took it twice and somehow managed to graduate a level. At present, should I believe in this ridiculous hoo-haa, I can now expect an upgrade to the 6th Level of Hell reserved especially for the Heretics.

Which now that I think about it, is probably more my crowd anyway.

lupo_mannaroA mere 40 arbitrary days after smearing oneself with burnt whatever and you get to celebrate the encore performance of a dead Nazarene on stick with pagan bunnies and psychedelic eggs whilst eating cocoa bean by-products from Central America! Top it off with multiple airings of the “Sound of Music” and you, my friend, have the fixins’ for a perfect weekend.

Dammit, I love Easter!!

I don’t know what it is about this holiday that makes me all crazy nut-so insane, but it does. And alas, Sailor Man is off to sea at present so I am wholly unable of yelling him to put some clothes on when he’s talking on the phone to my mother. Not that he walks around naked. And he certainly would never actually talk to my mother on the phone (best not to engage mom in that fashion…at all..took him years, years I tell you, to learn that lesson).

So I am denied my fun.

Seriously, I have got the trouble bug something fierce and that itch needs to be scratched, I tell you. It’s been many, many moons since I’ve gone out to a bar pretending to be a dyslexic stripper from Arkansas with a backwards tattoo on my ass….and I’m surrounded my college kids all day who truly do not know how to go out and create mischief.

Sigh…I really need to get out…something about this time of year makes me wanna howl at the moon…

“…dust thou art, to dust thou shalt return”

Of all the moveable feasts one must endure growing up in a Catholic household, I always found Ash Wednesday the least objectionable.  The idea of sporting schmootz on my forehead seemed so disjointed and out of place when compared to other church holidays, that it was a welcomed change. With the constant pageantry of bright colored flowing robes, getting a little dirty seemed naughty and fun. That, and since I grew up in Detroit, next to the polish enclave of Hamtramck, it also marked the annual arrival of Paczkis on Fat Tuesday.

hindu-gods-ganeshaI’m sure there are other reasons the holiday appealed to me. I think it was maybe the smell of the ashes. I’m partial to the smell of creosote. I like my popcorn almost but not quite burnt, like I like my toast. Extra cumin and cinnamon with a tablespoon of baking cocoa in my chili for an extra smokey, earthy flavor. And there’s probably something to do with the fact that as a child I also enjoyed making sandcastles and generally playing in the mud.

As with many holidays on the Christian calendar, it appears that Ash Wednesday, too, is a borrowed event from pagan origins introduced during the time of Constantine who was trying to blend the pagans and emerging Christians into a habitable unit.  It also appears that the practice of placing ashes on the face more than likely hails from the Hindu religion. The Romans, who incorporated the practice, had extensive contact with India during this period of time. Hindus believed marking the forehead between the eyes activated a third chakra. A third seeing eye.

There’s also some evidence of this practice existing in Egypt as well. Of course, Egyptians also burned red haired people alive so that their ashes could be spread in the fields to speed up the growth of seedlings. Hmmm, maybe this is also where early Christians cultivated their prejudice against redheads…

Now, I love all things pagan and the crazier the ritual, the better. I’ve been zig-zagging across town today on a variety of errands and decided to enjoy a coffee and jelly donut (no paczkis here in Erie that I’ve found) parked across a Catholic church where I watched the stream of worshippers exit the building appropriately sullied. And it’s as weird now as it was twenty years ago when I was still forced to endure this type of stuff under the rule of the parents. But still fascinating. Apparently the Eastern Rite churches don’t practice Ash Wednesday so no action is to be found there.

Tribal regions in the Middle East have a saying: “Every man must remember that every man must die”. Sounds familiar. They also have interesting predilections towards ashes in relation to purification. Even more familiar. Northern Europe isn’t excluded from this, fire, ashes, and purification is all over the damn place up there.

Curious that this is only seen as a Catholic holiday.

It’s Sunday morning and I’m watching my neighbor leave the house for church. She has on a costume of sorts. In the winter, she wears boots she doesn’t wear at any other time of the week. She has on a long skirt, a high neck top that peaks out past her coat collar, and she has a scarf tied around her head. Variations of this costume includes different colors of skirt and shirt, flats that replace the boots in the summer, and a different patterned scarf.

This costume is entirely different from what she wears to work. It is entirely different from what she’d wear to a nice evening out. This is her church wear through and through.

500110329_6c599b3a48_oI recognize this costume because my mother wears a similar one when she’s off for “praise and worship”. My mother has longed accepted my atheism. In fact, she and my father knew I was an atheist long before I was truly cognizant of it. This doesn’t prevent her from covering her own Sunday costume with her long winter coat before I can comment on the occasions I visit Detroit.

In another corner of my life, I have finally succumbed to FaceBook. I don’t trick out my profile with all sorts of non-sense. Really, it’s just a useful tool to spy on old acquaintances,  to see where they live, and what they look like if they have posted a profile picture.

d20_4067During the reconnection process, I have added as a friend a person I worked with  years ago. “D” is what you would refer to as a “Trekie”, a “Star Wars Nerd” or, in the more general term, a “Fantasy Geek”. He’s into it all: Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Ring, The Matrix, Zena Warrior Princes, and any and all comic books ad infinitum ad nauseum.

So D is heading out the other night for his weekly D&D game (not online but with books and die, he rocks it old school), and D posts a picture of himself on his FaceBook. He’s in full wizard regalia, book in hand and a small leather satchel more than likely filled with dice tied to his belt.

He posts the picture shyly. With self-deprecating humor. But I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of friends who graffiti funny comments on his wall. Mostly because I get it. I get it because of my mother. I get it because of my neighbor.

D is as equally serious about Comic-Con as my mother is about Easter Sunday which normally requires a whole different set of costuming…on both parts.

Anthropologically speaking, I place Fantasy Geeks in the same boat as religious believers. This is going to sound harsh to some religious friends, but you really have to look beyond the helmets and swords to see the common code of conduct and ritual that rules these various worlds of Fantasy. It’s not unlike most religions I know. D takes this all very seriously. It determines his own personal code of conduct. It makes him a better person, and actually, D is better than most people I know.

Mostly I see both religion and fantasy as varying degrees of silly. This doesn’t prevent me from appreciating an old fashioned D&D game nor does it mar my undying adoration of the LOTR trilogy. This also doesn’t prevent me from attending church from time to time to check in on what my mother is currently being indoctrinated with. Well, yes it does, because mom has banned me from attending with her after my last attendance where we debated the priest’s homily on the way home.

But in the end, I let it be. It’s a tough life and D, mom, and my neighbor are doing what they feel need to get through it. Like us all. I may not understand the drive D and my mother feels towards their respective pursuits, but I respect them for their views and they return to me the same courtesy.

Live and let live.

However, this doesn’t stop me from indulging in a perverse little fantasy where Comic-Con and the Catholic church come together in a crusade type extravaganza with horses, and wizards, and Templar Knights …it.would.be.awesome…

Atheists have an interesting gig come holiday season. Thanksgiving is okay and obviously New Years doesn’t bother me, but it is exceptionally tough to navigate Christmas.

I didn’t believe in a god from a very young age and this carried over into any secular sense of Christmas as well. If I didn’t believe in an Almighty traffic cop in the sky, you sure as hell weren’t going to get me to believe in a red-suited fat man popping down the chimney. I remember my dad having a talk with me when I was six asking me to keep my opinions to myself so as not to ruin the holiday for my older siblings.

And so it has gone. I suffer in silence every year through the holiday I hate the most.

Not that there weren’t parts of it I enjoyed. We used to sit around the Christmas tree with my dad listening to the Mormon Tabernacle choir on the stereo with the all the lights off just talking about whatever. I really could have done without the presents. Receiving them has always embarassed me.  Just sitting like that, around the tree, with the TV off, drinking mother’s lethal eggnog was enough and I looked forward to that every year.

winter_solstice_pivatoI liked walking around the neighborhood at night looking at the lighted houses. The tackier the decorations, the better I say. Bring me back the 1970’s anytime. And I love Solstice. Always have. Something about celebrating the sun standing still and the longest night of the year has always appealed to me. 

But as a married adult, I am more trapped by all this holiday hooplah than ever. Sailor and I don’t put up lights, we don’t have a tree, and we don’t send out cards. But Sailor’s family is all into this nonsense and they “tolerate” my atheism (although not a single damn one of them goes to church) so long as I play nice through what I believe is hipocritcal nonsense. I’m expected to give and receive the knick-knack junk I whole heartedly detest, to put in the time on Giftmas Eve and Day and to attend holiday parties with the same people I see week after week. And I do it. Every damn year. Because I love Sailor and these tribal rituals are deemed somehow necessary in his family’s life. 

But here’s the thing, I would actually play ball and cease being so pissy about all of this any of them actually believed in any of this either.

Sailor’s family do what they do only because it has been so deeply programmed into them as the socially appropriate response to the season. And that’s crap. I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about wanting to ignore it all for simply enabling their bad habit.

I forgive it in my own parents because they do go to church. They do actually believe in all of this. Wholeheartedly. And despite our differences in philosophy, their staunch belief makes all this activity easier to deal with.

But, for better or worse, I also belong to Sailor’s tribe now and, per usual, I am making nice.

I try to focus on the one year where I got to do what I wanted. December 25th, 2004, Sailor and I, back in Maine, out on the island. We watched all 13 hours of the Lord of the Rings extended dvd’s along with a quite few appendices. We stopped only for soup, eggnog, and the brief run with the puppy dog through snow in the cemetery next door.

Best day ever. My happy place. You can be sure I’ll be focusing on that during the next holiday party.

An oldie but exceptional goodie from the brilliant mind at Indexed

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If you want to explain the effed-up spectacle that is American Politics to a Viking, it is best explained via the Prose Edda, a collection of poetry about Norse Mythology.

In one particular understanding fo the world, there is the World Tree, Yggdrassil, which is inhabited by several beings: Veðrfölnir, a hawk residing at the top of the tree, and Níðhöggr, a dragon who resides at the bottom eating the roots.

The most interesting character residing there however, is Ratatosk, a red squirrel whose sole job is to ferry insults between Veðrfölnir and Níðhöggr and spread gossip.

So as we enter the final two weeks of this election season, and tempers flare hotter, and the attack ads get nastier, I think it is safe to assume that despite whomever one takes for being either the hawk or the dragon in this election, I think we can all agree who is Ratatosk.

I’ve never been more thankful to not have the TV hooked up.

My mom is a good Irish-Catholic, as such there are two rules every good Irish-Catholic lives by:

1. There’s no such thing as a good Irish-Catholic.

2. Good Irish-Catholics don’t talk about sex.

Let me first begin by stating that I am the youngest of 4 Irish twins and a 5 child family overall. No, I am not a quadruplet. Irish twins are siblings born less than a year apart. And my mother had 4 of them. And yes, she’s completely off her rocker.

That being said, my mother is also surprisingly liberal. A Kennedy Democrat of the old school. She believes in parity between the sexes and always encouraged me to “have my own life, make my own money, and depend on no man for no thing”. Only then, she taught me, can you be on equal footing in a relationship. And happy. And she is absolutely right (not that I would ever tell her that).

And she still has never spoken to me about sex.

My mom was too much of a prude to have the actual talk with any of us kids, but whenever the topic of teen pregnancy arose on the news, she was more than ready to mention what failed method of birth control we individually were: “Condom! Pill! Diaphragm! Rhythmmmmmmmm! IUD! And I still have no bloody idea how the hell that thing worked…which it didn’t! So what’s the moral of the story?”

“Just don’t do it”, we would reply in chorus.

Allow me to introduce myself: I am a Child of the Rhythm Method.

And it does no good to explain to my mother that most of those methods work perfectly well if you actually employ them. Needless to say, her liberalism only goes so far. But there is a fabulously scandalous story about how my mother had a nervous break down after I was born. Her doctor hospitalized her for two weeks under the diagnosis of “exhaustion”. Of course, to this day, she claims to have had her gallbladder out. Imagine the fun I had three years ago when she had it out again! I didn’t know they could grow back (I remark facetiously).

Oh, but the story gets better: After missing church for a good couple months, the parish priest, Fr. Scanlon, came to see my parents who were elbow deep in diapers, potty training, and sleep deprivation. He sat them down and, as gingerly as he could, asked them: “Jaysus! Margaret! Have you ever considered birth control?!”. Fr. Scanlon was a little on the liberal side himself.

All perfectly good stories to open up the conversation about the birds and the bees, the stork and what have you. But nope. Nothin’.

I thought my mom was going to give me the one-on-one sex talk when I turned 16. She was at her usual station, in the kitchen, baking for her own personal army, and I was at the table trying to do homework. She called out to me, I turned around, and she said we needed to have a talk. The dog picked up on something he didn’t like, and skeedaddled the hell outta there. I figured this was it, put down my pencil and gave her my attention.

“If there’s one thing you really need to know in life, this is it: always use real butter”.

My jaw hit the floor. Butter? For what? Sex?!

“Because I know they say margarine is better, but it just doesn’t have the same taste and texture, and if you want the God’s honest truth, lard is really the best thing for biscuits and pie crusts”.

So mom never did get around to the sex talk. Again, the ever good Catholic, she left it to the nuns. The women who practice virginity as a part of their profession. Not such a good place to learn sex about if you ask me. However, a friend’s older sister was quite outspoken on the topic and she told me pretty much everything I needed to know to at least get through high school.

As my friends and siblings have kids and the kids grow up, I have been placed in numerous situations where I have been asked The Dreaded Sex Questions. And I’m not at all comfortable speaking about such things, but I’m often considered a “safe adult” for the children in my life to go to, and I wouldn’t trade that relationship for anything, so I suck it up and answer the best I can. This is not something I learned from my mother but in spite of my mother. I’m determined not to be hobbled by religious-inspired neutering of my adult-figure responsibilities.

However, I did learn some pretty important lessons about relationships and sex from my mom:

1. You can go to bed angry. In fact, you should if you’re tired and you have a mouth like mine. It’s just safer that way.

2. Your lover also needs to also be your business partner. Marriage is a business. Two people devoted to the success of that business should do alright.

3. Precious few problems are truly insurmountable. Fight like hell for the relationship to work.

4. Always be honest, and brutally so, with young people when they ask you about sex. You give up the right to be a prude about the subject the minute you decide to be a parent.

5. I don’t know if there’s a #5, but the one thing I learned all by myself is that birth control works perfectly well if you properly employ it.