Wednesday, June 27, 2018

On the Trichotomy of Control

In life, when presented with a problem, ask yourself this question: To what degree is this within my control? The answer to that question will point to the way you ought to engage. Three answers are possible.

1. This is within my control.
2. This is partially, but not totally, within my control.
3. This is outside of my control.

Let's say that you're having a bad day because of the tweets from a politician. To what degree is that within your control?

It is wholly outside of your control. You have no impact on the decisions of other people; therefore, say to yourself, "it is nothing." And move on.

Let's say you are out of eggs. To what degree is that within your control? That is entirely within your control. Solution: Go to the store and buy eggs.

Let's say you have a tennis match coming up this weekend. To what degree is that within your control? Partially, but not totally. You control how hard you practice. You control how hard you chase down those tennis balls. But ultimately, whether you win or lose is only partially within your control. So, focus on the part you can control, and to all else, the skill of your opponent, the lucky or unlucky breaks, say to yourself, it is nothing.

Focus on what you can control, and to all else, say to yourself, it is nothing. I've found this formula has increased the tranquility I experience in my life, and I wanted to share it.

On Trump Derangement Syndrome

People may not universally love Donald Trump, but they know they want nothing to do with the insanity on the left.

In early November of 2016, a few days before the historic presidential election in which Donald Trump scored an electoral college victory over Hillary Clinton, as I drove my daughters to school, one of them asked me who I was voting for, and so a quick talk about the electoral college ensued. For many years, since the election of George W. Bush, I'd viewed the electoral college as a problem, as a filter between the majority and the election of the president that never made sense. Since I didn't believe in Hillary Clinton and saw her as just another in a long-line of corporatist stooges, and since I saw Donald Trump as a deeply un-serious buffoon, this year, the first time in my life, I sat out the election as a one-man protest against the electoral college. Regularly, I posted about it on my social media accounts, that I wasn't voting and that electoral college was nonsensical. I had no way of knowing that the electoral college's utility would become the biggest lesson I learned, nor that President Trump would turn out to be the first president in my lifetime to break the standard mold of the corporatist yes-man president. My one vote, in the state of Mississippi, which was going to break for Trump no matter what I did, didn't matter, and that was the point, that my vote didn't matter, that I might as well write-in Flannery O'Connor. That hasn't changed.

What the electoral college did this time around, though, was express the will of middle America, or heartland America, all those people living in the places that aren't Los Angeles or New York. It was an amazing thing to witness, especially given the context. All of the exit polls on election day gave it to Hillary Clinton in a landslide. I was watching the results roll in, only half interested at first, but at some point, I don't know, around 10 pm, it became clear that something strange was happening. Then, by midnight, it became clear that Donald Trump had won the electoral college and therefore the presidency.

I've said many times that the ever-widening gap between the liberal elites and the working man and woman was growing ever wider, which continues today. The left, for whatever reason, had long since abandoned the working man and woman in American politics, and of course the right never represented those people, and so, no one was representing those interests. For me, the biggest betrayal came in Barrack Obama's Affordable Care Act, something that is barely discussed anymore, and that's a shame. The left put its full support behind an expansion of the for-profit insurance industry's stranglehold on American health care, something that I still can't really digest. Again, the left, led by its Jesus Christ Barrack Obama, shifted any debate about single-payer health care to an expansion of the insurance-based health care system. To me, there could be no clearer indicator that the American left had completely lost its identity. And health care remains the biggest social issue facing working-class men and women, who are one cancer diagnosis from bankruptcy. That hasn't changed, and I'm sure it won't change in my lifetime. Barrack Obama set the terms of the debate back by at least fifty years. Hillary Clinton, I'm sure, would have been an extension of Barrack Obama, the liberal who really wasn't liberal at all. Bernie Sanders, Hillary's primary contender and legitimate socialist? For my money, he was every bit the buffoon that Donald Trump appeared to be, a deeply un-serious and unqualified candidate, promising pie-in-the-sky nonsense every bit as silly as the wall. 

This was apparent to me when I noticed the caliber of people who supported Bernie Sanders, some truly deranged identitarians who have turned leftist politics into a competition to see who is the most oppressed. In an honors English class, I was teaching a class on political rhetoric and I showed two stump speeches, one from Ted Cruz, and one from Hillary Clinton, and I showed them neutrally without picking a side (but if I had picked a side, it would have been Hillary Clinton), and I had a couple of Bernie supporters in that class complain  to my department head (never to me directly because above all, these sorts are cowards) because I didn't show Bernie Sanders. And my department head dismissed them, rightly so, but that didn't stop them, so that they began taking notes about anything I taught in that course over the rest of the semester, and weekly they lodged a new complaint about anything I said they could spin into a weapon. When I showed a video from PBS about the trans movement that became I was anti-trans people, that sort of thing. You see, I'd seen these sorts of antics online, but never in real life, and here is was, in Mississippi of all places, and these lunatics surfaced. No one is safe, and if you think you are, you ought to rethink that. In my entire career, I've never seen anything like it. Maybe an article about how to teach these sorts of students is forthcoming. I'm not sure. (Spoiler alert: people who already know everything can't be taught). But suffice it to say, these students wanted me fired. I learned that these radical identity liberals are cowardly, ruthless, dishonest, and merciless. If they take the notion, they will come after you, after your job, after your family. They will try to make your life hell. They do not care, and they show no compassion nor empathy, which is interesting because they talk about those things incessantly. It was during that surreal semester that I first began to see the ugly side of what the left was becoming. And I knew I wanted no part of it.

That was three years ago, and today it has only gotten worse, to the point that liberals are now openly calling for violence against not only people who support Donald Trump, but against people who are in the middle and just want to live their lives. To not take a side, to go about one's business, is to be declared the enemy. Articles about an impending civil war have been published more and more. Think about that. The left is calling for civil war, not because it is choosing to die on the single-payer health care hill, but because of what it calls creeping fascism, but it really boils down to that the left has a collective Trump Derangement Syndrome, a perception of the President that is quite divorced from reality, and I think today represents a real problem that cannot be dismissed. It is a real national health issue that is only going to get worse, especially after republicans sweep the mid-term elections in November, especially after Trump wins a second term. I predict these things will happen because most normal people on Main Street see these malicious radicals as just that, and want no part of it. Because people like me, who have always been on the left, cannot in good conscience vote identity-politics democrats anymore, cannot align myself with unscrupulous and dishonest people.

So, the stage was set for me to just watch more of the same from President Trump. The TDSers act like any of this is new, and I ask myself, have they been asleep during their life spans in which every single president was interchangeable? Corporate shills, to a person. The R or D beside the name made no difference, and I expected the same from a President Trump, but to my surprise, that's not what I am seeing. I'm seeing something that is truly different. Trump is foregrounding the concerns of his base in a way that I've never seen before. His base is working class America, and he speaks directly to them, and as far as I can tell, he's putting their interests high on his priorities. Essentially, we're seeing an ostensibly republican president speak more to the working man and woman than any president since FDR. That's remarkable. That's new. And the leftist elites are deranged by it; that he holds this mirror up to them and shows them how ugly they've become, how far they've fallen. They've become deranged by it. This is not how it is supposed to be. And the beauty of this is that those very same working-class people that the left has abandoned have now, to the deranged leftists, become the outright enemy. They are fascists, now. Previously, they were just misinformed dolts clinging to guns and family. Then, Hillary Clinton made them "deplorables." The genius of Trump is that he's used their derangement against them, so a significant portion of the left has revealed itself as anti-American worker to its core. It will not end well for them, and they must in some way be aware of this because they are now calling for all-out domestic terrorism in extreme cases, and outright revolt in others. Remember, these people are cowards, so it won't be direct confrontation. Which sort of gives me a smirking giggle deep in my soul. The wet-dreaming about a revolt against the most armed segment of the population.

I am, for once in my adult life, optimistic about the United States, because a lot of deeply un-American people are exposing themselves for what they are, and also, because North Korea is taking down its nuclear arms program, and also, because there are a lot of good working people out there, and you can see them because they look so different than the unhinged TDSers. They are the people going to work and are thankful that the economy is doing so well. They are the people who make this country work. And indeed, when I step outside, things look good. My own hometown is doing some cool renovations to its downtown, expanding its water park, and things like that that boost the quality of life around here. In short, while the TDSers are screeching about fascism, I see no evidence of any such thing in reality. For a significant portion of the left, the problems are purely fictions in their own imaginations.  But, this can't go on forever, because America needs a vibrant and sane left, for health care, and unions, and things that put the American worker first. A one-party state is the last thing we need, but here's the thing the left has forgotten in its fit of madness: It has been one-party all of my lifetime. One president just the same as the next, so pardon me if I take in this historical moment in which the President isn't a corporatist clone of the previous version. Donald Trump could turn out to be the best thing that's ever happened to the American left because maybe after this madness has resolved itself it will remember what it for in the first place. That's my most optimistic take on this situation, but I think it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better, with a President Trump continuing to expose the madness of American left.

And that's not a dig at them. I think these people are legitimately ill, and they need help. How to help them is far beyond my expertise, but first, I think, they have to admit that there is a problem, and I see no evidence that this is close to happening. So, until it does, I expect the left to continue to personify everything it claims to hate, and I hope I am wrong about this, but I expect to see violence from them. Let's hope that doesn't happen, if, for no other reason, it won't work out well for them, and ultimately, I think the left abandoning its reason is a long-term disaster for America. My recommendation, though, for anyone reading this who recognizes that they have TDS is to disconnect from social media for at least a couple of weeks and do some intense personal reflection about the quality of life they are experiencing, and my guess is (unless you're going bankrupt from a cancer diagnosis) that life is a good bit better than you're letting on. Get out into your local community and do something good because I can promise you, it needs you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

On Calibrating the Reality Tuner

The first idea to nail down is that human beings do not perceive "reality", a word which has all the substance of the neighborhood band of unicorns living under the crawlspace of my apartment. For our purposes, the idea that there is a uniform and stable reality is useful only as a yardstick we can use to measure the validity of our cognitive filters. Put another way, people are limited by the perceptual apparatuses they've evolved over the millennia, our sight, hearing, etc., and all of these are mitigated by our mental filters. Inevitably, I share this idea with my students at some point, that we don't really see with our eyes, or hear with our ears. Our brains do all of that, because the brain's function is to take all of that analog information and decode into something useful. Some information gets through, but most of it gets filtered out. The TV tuner chip in my television picks up the signals from the broadcast towers and filters out all the other signals swirling through the air. Brains do a lot of filtering, so it matters how one's tuner is configured, and the best tuners re-calibrate continually so that they are getting a better and better sense about "reality", and I'd argue that the calibration process has to involve the tuner's predictive power. 

President Trump provides us with a strong signal we can use to calibrate our tuners.  On the left-hand of the political spectrum, I've been seeing a steady rise in the use of Nazi imagery in social media, something that to this point I'd dismissed as purely rhetorical (and ill-conceived. The left has always been terrible with its rhetoric), until this week in response to the parent/child separation issue that has somehow just now become an important issue for the left (despite the fact that border jumping has been going on for years and years), a dear friend of mine whom I know to be an honest man started posting a steady stream of Nazi imagery to his social media.  This caused me to take it seriously, because my friend is honest, but his tuner is all out of whack. With this Nazi tuner activated, detention centers become concentration camps. Donald Trump becomes Adolph Hitler, and ICE border agents become jack-booted storm troopers. This movie is horrifying, and I'm glad it's not the movie I'm watching.

An old professor of mine once offered me coffee when I was in his office soliciting advice about my dissertation, and he had some organic half and half, and as I was pouring a little in my coffee he lectured me about how I should only buy the organic stuff because the cows were treated humanely. And sure, cows ought to be treated humanely, but if they aren't, I don't really care. I can pretend to care, but in truth, I can't give a damn about cows. I told him so. I've got a baby daughter at home, and I'm trying to earn a Ph.D., and cows are the last thing that can occupy my mental space. Leftists are always moralizing about things and telling other people they ought to give a damn about things over which they have no control. It's a bad way to live, a sure recipe for depression and angst.  I know. Believe me. I know. I used to be a leftist. I used to care about things about which I had no control. Not any more. Life becomes a lot more tolerable once I learned to let dairy farmers worry about the cows. 

All of the sudden, and I do mean all of the sudden, because two weeks ago kids and parents weren't being separated at all, and all the sudden, they are . . . and I'm supposed to care about this even though I have no control over it. These are people, sure, not cows, but the principle is the same. I have no control over it, yet I'm supposed to rend my garments in agony about the poor immigrants. No thanks. I've got two daughters now, and a tenure profile to put together, and bills to pay, and further, when I go outside, my tomato plants are coming along nicely but only if I regularly water them, and my daughter needed to get some new inoculations so I can register her for school, and she got them for a reasonable fee at the local health department which had all of them on hand, and my retirement account, which had been depleted when I suffered divorce, is rebuilding at a tremendous clip because the economy is doing so well under President Trump's put America first policies.

I'm neither liberal nor conservative, neither republican nor democrat, so I can say with some impartiality that republicans and democrats have been kicking the immigration can down the road for at least 30 years, and here's a President who is doing something about it, something different, and I know that this particular filter is working because it is in the news in a new way. The shit is hitting the fan. The shit needed to hit the fan. Shit hitting the fan is good, sometimes. The issue isn't kids being separated from parents, and it never was. The issue is a system of contradictory and sloppily constructed laws about how people become American. It is a congressional issue, and can only be fixed by congress, democrat and republican alike, who could fix it in a split second, and the President has called on them to do so, and has said that he will sign into law these fixes. Working within our system of checks and balances does not a Nazi make. Clinton, Bush, Obama, did nothing but kick the can down the road, and Donald Trump has stopped kicking it.

I read an article about how illegal immigrants are driving unlicensed and uninsured, so when they get into wrecks, your insurance company eats it, which means you eat, which means Americans eat it. I had a close and brilliant friend who had to be shipped back to her home country when her working visa ran out. I want lower insurance payments and I do not want to share the road with unlicensed drivers, nor do I want my daughters, when they become drivers, to bear such a risk. I want brilliant people who want to be productive Americans to find the red-tape easier to cut through. Right now, the backlog of immigrants and asylum seekers is so huge that it will take years to process them all. Congress can fix all of this. Republicans and democrats can fix it.

The president-as-Nazi filter doesn't fix anything, and doesn't lead to useful insights, and it doesn't make accurate predictions. President Trump has made it possible to remove nuclear weapons from North Korea, another can that was kicked down the road for decades. A pattern emerges, that this guy doesn't much care for can-kicking. What sort of self-respecting Nazi removes nukes? What president since Eisenhower has removed nukes? Applying the Nazi filter, I'd expect these immigrants to march straight to the gas chambers that are being secretly built, and if you find that idea even a little plausible, your filter is broken, and you need a new one. So, try this one: President Trump is the most liberal president I've seen in my lifetime. The President is attacking persistent problems in such a way that the political pressure to fix them has become unbearable.

That's a pretty good filter. No filter is perfect, but this one is far more predictive. Every president I've  seen in my lifetime spouts the politically correct jargon like someone had a gun to his head. President Trump just speaks, sans gun. It's remarkable, and if he continues to push, he is going to fix a great many problems, because he's an awful can-kicker.  So, using this filter, here's my prediction: At the latest, in 2024 when the president leaves office, immigration will be improved, and no gas chambers will exist.

And, by the way, if the left continues its poor rhetorical choice to employ Nazi imagery, it will almost certainly guarantee a second Trump term. That's because most people just want a good economy and decent insurance rates and a fair price for their half and half, and this unhinged rhetoric diverges from their perception of reality so much that no one can't take seriously the leftist who uses it. To my honest and well-meaning friend, I'd say again, calibrate your tuner, because the one you're using is working the for opposite of your stated intention.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book Review: McGuire, Saundra Yancy. Teach Yourself How to Learn: Strategies You Can Use to Ace a Course at Any Level.

McGuire’s Teach Yourself How to Learn serves an extension of her well-received Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation, which was published in 2015. While the latter’s target audience is teachers, the former aims at students, taking much of the same material and repackaging it in an easygoing and accessible style well-suited to college freshmen who are making the transition from high school to college. McGuire emphasizes strategies that students can use to improve their academic performance, employing theory, especially ideas about metacognition and Bloom's taxonomy, only insofar as it can help freshmen understand why these strategies work.
The dominant theme of the book is that of changing mindsets, that students must change the way they think about school.  If most students approach their studies like Aesop's Hare, McGuire argues they ought to emulate the tortoise; slow and steady wins the race. She opens the book with the statistic that 72% of high school students estimate their intelligence and academic skills are higher than those of their peers, a perception which, of course, doesn't reflect reality, but, she argues, it shows that high school is less-than-challenging for many students. She insists that most high school students don’t have to try very hard to earn As and Bs; they can succeed by cramming for their exams and regurgitating facts on their multiple choice tests. She calls this mindset "study mode". For students adept at cramming in their approach to academic study, college can be a rude awakening when their As and Bs turn into Fs and Ds. In college, Students often find that professors are more concerned with students' ability to apply the material, which McGuire calls "learning mode". This distinction between studying and learning is key to the entirety of the book. While students come out of high school able to cram, very little in their high school experience has prepared them to learn. 
In study mode, students cram so that they can earn a good grade on a test, and once that test has been taken, engagement with that material is over. The shift in mindset students must make to improve their college performance begins with one question: Could you teach this material to someone? The answer to this question reveals McGuire's overarching recommendation to students, the strategy that she claims will shift the mindset from studying to learning: Students ought to approach course materials like a teacher. With this strategy established, McGuire then goes into specifics about how teachers prepare to teach their courses, which includes note-taking, active reading, and paraphrasing. And in a particularly deft turn, she cites anecdotes from students who shifted to the learning mindset, making the case that this slow and steady approach to course materials is more efficient than the often chaotic bursts of cramming that are done the night before the test. Don't focus on the grade, she advises. Focus on teaching the material to someone, and good grades will follow.
One of the book's weaknesses lies in its oversimplifications and over-reliance on dichotomies. Though the target audience is students and a certain amount of simplification is certainly warranted to approach that audience, at more than one point I expected her to at least give a nod to the complexity of these ideas. For instance, in addition to the mindset change from studying to learning, McGuire discusses a mindset change with regard to how students envision intelligence, moving from a "fixed intelligence mindset" to a "growth mindset". She claims that, from their earliest educational experiences in primary school, students believe that intelligence is fixed and unchangeable, which she claims is an erroneous belief that leads to fatalism. In other words, students learn early on that they either smart or they aren't. She pleads with students to expel that all-or-nothing mentality and embrace the idea that intelligence can be expanded, but currently the data about that is far from clear.  Intelligence researchers are engaged in ongoing dialogues about how much of human intelligence is inherited and how much is influenced by environment.
Certainly, while I agree with her that students would do well to embrace the idea that they can grow, McGuire would have done well to clarify and define what she means by intelligence, or perhaps instead discuss growth in ability, knowledge, or skill. Her declaration that "all students are capable of excelling," reveals that she places a great deal of weight on environment, yet, while I read, I thought to myself, I could study calculus using all of her strategies, prepare like a teacher, but the chances of my being an effective math teacher or of earning an A in a calculus course are somewhere between slim and none. There's a reason I am an English professor instead of a computer engineer. My highest intelligence is linguistic in nature. Put simply, intelligence is much more complicated than McGuire demonstrates.
Nevertheless, McGuire's question . . . can you teach the material? . . strikes me as a powerful tool for helping students recognize that the cramming approach to their courses limits their ability to excel. As a professor of English who specializes in composition and who teaches composition courses with regularity, a large portion of the content of my composition courses focuses on writing as a practice and a process. To write well takes time, planning, and the writing of multiple drafts. Certainly I would love to see more of my students employing the slow and steady approach to their essays instead of writing them the night before the day of the deadline.
Long have I argued that freshman composition is a unique site at the university because almost all students take those courses, and for me they are spaces in which life and literacy intersect. In my courses, I often use journal writing to expand the scope of my composition courses into realms of personal growth for students, and I am always looking for journal prompts that speak to students' needs and concerns. McGuire's advice that students ought to go to their professor's office hours, read the syllabus, buy their textbooks, and understand that criticism is intended not as an insult, but as a prompt toward improvement, can to professors seem like common sense, but McGuire is clear that freshmen coming from high school are often unaware of these basics. If I want students to be good college students, I have to teach them what good college students do, and I could use journal writing to teach these ideas. Certainly, I'd recommend this book to any student looking to improve his or her performance, and I'd recommend it to my colleagues looking to reconnect with the needs and concerns of their students. This is for me where McGuire's book really shines. It served as a reminder that we are all people playing the roles of teachers and students, struggling to manage our time, to get plenty of sleep, to eat right, and to just generally manage ourselves more effectively, and that compassion and understanding ought to form the foundation of our interactions.

Friday, March 23, 2018

On The Grandmother's Last-Minute Redemption

In Mystery and Manners, a collection of Flannery O'Connor's essays, O'Connor discusses what I think about as the dumb versus the smart reading of what is her most anthologized story "A Good Man is Hard to Find." In this story, we have the Grandmother, who can never seem to shut her mouth, and like so many Southern grandmothers, she has no second-thoughts about placing herself on a pedestal from which to judge the world. It's a typical sentiment among the older and wizened, that the current generation is carrying the world to Hell in a hand basket, that times used to be simpler, safer. The dumb reading ends there; O'Connor wants the reader to judge the Grandmother as a hypocrite, as someone who picks on the mote in her brother's eye while ignoring the beam in her own, and as such, when the Misfit, the story's villain, shoots her chest full of slugs, she deserved this violent end. She would have been a good woman, says the Misfit, if someone had been there to shoot her every minute of her life.  Done and done.

O'Connor insisted in her essay that this reading missed or glossed over a crucial piece of evidence, that seconds before the Misfit recoiled like he'd been snake bit, the Grandmother placed a hand on his shoulder and said, why, you're one of mine. You're one of my babies. In that moment, O'Connor says, the Grandmother earned her redemption, her salvation. This is what I'll call the smart reading, the reading that aligns the story with O'Connor's Christian moral vision.

American readers, I argue, don't know quite what to do with O'Connor's characters in this Christian moral context. I've said to students, there's something about O'Connor's work that sets it apart from the Christian literature that one is likely to find on the shelves at Wal-Mart or Barnes & Noble, that forces the reader to take O'Connor's Christianity seriously, and that starts with how O'Connor's characters are all, more or less, compromised. I'm reminded of a typical trope in lesser works of Christian literature, such as the film God's Not Dead. This film takes all of the Christian-lit stock characters, the atheist professor,  the pure-at-heart Christian youth who challenges him, and presents a tidy package about the faith of the child versus the cynical professor who had all the Jesus educated out of him, but who, in his heart, longs for this Jesus to return, he being so broken by the loss of faith and his reliance on stone-cold facts and reason. You know this story. It's a a popular parable in contemporary Christian circles. O'Connor would find this film embarrassing.

The Grandmother is a Christian, or at least fancies herself one, but she has never earned the mantle. It's one thing to be good when it is easy to do so, when nothing forces a choice, when one has never confronted the devil living inside her. It's quite another to be good when one is presented with choices about pathways. Jesus said in the Gospels that the Christian path was undeniably the more difficult, that to live as a Christian was difficult, and that one had to freely choose to take this thorny trail. The Grandmother, to this point in her life, never made that choice.

Jesus, when he wrestled with the devil in the desert and managed to resist temptation, was offered what he could have already had, which is why the temptation is so powerful, something that hadn't really clicked with me until recently. To be tempted is to be presented with a choice that is already right in front of us. The Devil offers Jesus the world, the role of the tyrant. He could have it all, and of course, Jesus already knew this. He is God. But it seems God has to make this choice, too, to take the harder path. God, the being of pure love, has this one choice. He could reorder the world to eliminate pain and sin and suffering, but surely in doing so He deprives humankind of not its free will (an argument too often made by otherwise well-meaning Christians) but of the hard path that will harden them and strengthen them and make them worthy of the divine. Christ's task is to deny himself what he most wants . . . everyone to be happy and free from suffering, because he knows that suffering, and indeed the acceptance of that burden, is the only pathway to salvation. Christ's task then, having rejected the Devil's offer, is to take the sins of the world onto his shoulders and be crucified with them. Following Jesus' example, Christians must do likewise. They must put aside their desire for life to be easy, and instead pick up the sins of the world, and against all odds, find a way to carry them. That's a central task of the Christian. Jesus said, first, love God, and second, love everyone else. And everyone else is looking for the easy path, the shortcut. They'll lie, cheat, and steal, because that's easier. The world is full of death, destruction, torture, murder . . . suffering. The Christian must look at this ugliness, accept it, pick it up, and carry it.

In the Grandmother's final moment, she sees this. Her family has been murdered, and she's pleading for her life, and I argue she realizes at that moment that her life is not the thing of most value.  It is her soul, and the soul of the Misfit, that are at stake, and so, against all odds, against the very face of evil, she accepts that the Misfit is one of her own, one of her babies, and she picks him up; she finds the hard path, and in that moment, she finds Jesus. The Misfit, who has embraced the easy path of murder and violence, realizes, too, that he has unwittingly served as the Grandmother's crossroads, as the agent of Jesus Christ, and from that he recoils, again, as if a snake had bit him.

Salvation must be earned, and it is earned by taking the harder path, the path that forces one to look the Devil square in the eye and say, no. I will not follow you.  I will carry this burden of sin and death and despair. I will love my neighbor, and I will love my enemy. Jesus was clear about this: loving one's family and friends is easy, but loving one's enemies is hard. That is the only way one can learn how to love, and that is as close as one can get to God's love, the perfect love. This rather difficult lesson is seldom presented in contemporary Christian literature, which, quite in opposition to Christ's teachings, sells the message that Christianity is easy, that its better to be the innocent lamb than the rapacious lion.  (Sells is the word, because that is precisely where the materialist thrust of contemporary life has eroded American Christianity into something Jesus would scarcely recognize.) All of us are that predator, looking for that easy path. All of us are Misfits, and only by choosing to carry the same burden Jesus carried can we ever hope to earn wholeness.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Dad, Nominally

The last time I saw my daughters, at Christmas, I did what I always do, get them into the bathtub or the shower to wash the stink off of them, because they always come to me smelling awful, like a musty old house.  I put my youngest, my seven-year-old, into the bath, and noticed that she had dirt, streaks of black dirt, stuck in the creases of her arm pits.  She hadn't washed under there in what looked like weeks, judging by the dirt buildup.  I scrubbed her, got her clean, and asked about her bathing habits at home.  As I suspected, her mother doesn't check and make sure she gets clean, and so I was witnessing negligence, and I took pictures.  Not that it will do any good.  Their mother, thoroughly negligent, still gets to keep them, because she hasn't yet gone on a meth bender and ended up in jail.  I keep my fingers crossed. 

I tried for months and months to "co-parent" with my babymama, but she would have none of it.  I'd reach out, try to communicate with her, but I'd get nothing back.  Months ago, I was on the phone with my oldest daughter, and I asked her if she'd had a bath for school the next day, and she said no.  And I told her, go take a quick shower and get clean, and then call me back.  She said okay, and we hung up.  Next thing I know my mother calls me and tells me that I'd really upset my babymama by asking my daughter to take a shower.  It was a major blow-up, apparently.  And that was the straw that broke the camel's back for me.  I learned, right then and there, that I have no say in the upbringing of my daughters.  None at all.  I can't even tell my daughter to go take a bath.  Somehow, that was controversial.  I have no input in how my daughters are being raised, and if my youngest's dirty stinking arm pits are any indication, they need my input.  They can't seem to get clean in a sea of negligence. 

I have no input, no say, in how my daughters are being raised.  None.  I get them just rarely, when they are out of school, and the few days I have them, I'm not raising them, but entertaining them.  I do have them bathe every day, and I make sure they are clean. 

Such is no uncommon, and I know this.  I wanted to say, to all Dad's out there who aren't raising their children, who have given them up to the incompetent and negligent women, I know how you feel, and it is compounded, I know, by the realization that though everyone tells you it is going to be okay, it is not going to be okay.  Your children are being damaged by your absence, and by the negligence of the woman in their lives.   And your central task is to stop caring what happens to your own children. 

Impossible.  Right.  Completely impossible.  Welcome to living the impossible life.  Welcome to fatherhood post-marriage.  Your children will keep the psychologists in business when they are old enough to experience depression.  And, I'm so sorry.  Nothing you can do.  It is out of your hands.  You are a dad, but only nominally, like me. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Pattern Recognition

Two years has passed since I found out my now ex-partner, Jennifer Christine Wester (nee Dickey) was cheating on me with not one man, but two.  Her physical therapist, Joe Elmer of Tupelo Mississippi, and her student, Chuck Baughman, the most mentally challenged human being I've ever known.  I name names because all three of these people can die for all I care, and certainly, their reputations deserve to take a hit.  Two years later, I can say that I've grown, and I've grieved, and I've become glad that such a faithless woman is no longer weighing down my life.  I moved.  Got an improved job.  Started over.

Despite her being an essentially ugly person, a non-person, a person with no aspirations nor an original thought in her head, I do, from time to time, miss her . . . well, not her as in, her, the non-person, but the wife, the partner.  At this point, I can't even remember what she looks like.  Her face is smeared and nebulous.  I can't see her clearly anymore.

It took two years to get to this point, and I'm not fully recovered just yet.  They say it takes three years to begin to feel okay with things, and I'm hopeful that by this time next year, I can write about this with much more wisdom than I'm displaying today.  Nevertheless, I don't miss her, as in her, but the idea of her, but it took me two years to get here, and I had an insight I wanted to share about divorce, or it could be the death of a loved one.  It's about what happens when someone we know, we are used to, departs from our company forever.

The brain is a sophisticated pattern recognition engine.  People see patterns in split seconds, and in fact they see patterns where none exist, which demonstrates how central pattern recognition is to our thinking.

In our split and divorce, I could predict with high accuracy what she was doing, what she was going to do, and that scared me, that I knew her that well, but I didn't know her as such.  I knew her pattern, as it was hard wired into my brain after 18 years of marriage.  Then, all of the sudden, she's gone, physically gone, but her pattern lives on, and the brain can't make sense of it.  The brain panics.  Where is the familiar pattern?  I thought about her all the time.  I cried all the time.  I'd yell out, quite to myself, where are you, baby?  My brain ached for her.  My dreams were about her, recurring, every single time the same dream: That I pleaded with her to stay, but she wouldn't listen.  She'd made up her mind.

This went on for at least a year and a half.  I was miserable.  Then, somewhere at the 18 month mark, the dreams changed.  I no longer was with her; she was just someone I knew.  And today, I don't dream about her at all, except maybe once in a blue moon.  And what has happened, or my theory at least, is that my brain has finally rewired and deleted her pattern.  I no longer wonder what she's doing, or think about her at all.  The only thing left is a sick feeling when thoughts about the past inevitably arise, and it is a terrible feeling, but it passes.  It's a hard pill to swallow that I spent 18 years with a woman, only to have all of that time corrupted so that not one memory that has her in it is good.  I'd erase all of it if I could.  I'd do it in a heartbeat.

I haven't written about this on the blog, not explicity like this, but maybe I ought to do more of it, because maybe it could help someone.  If you know that you're not going crazy, that you're brain is having fits to rewire and delete a pattern, and that it takes time, that could help, and it certainly would have helped me.  People say, when you're struggling, to move on, but you can't move on until your brain rewires.