Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My First Adventure into Lesbian Literature

A Review of Jane Fletcher's Shadow of the Knife

I'm not entirely sure what made me pick up this book in the first place. If memory serves me right, it was during my initiation into online dating a few years ago, when I was emailing one of numerous potential dates and complaining that I didn't know of any good fiction with lesbian protagonists. The woman heartily recommended Shadow of the Knife. To make sure I didn't forget the title, I put it on my Amazon wishlist, and a year later I ended up owning it.

I started reading Shadow early 2010, and after putting it down for several long spells, I finally managed to finish it in the beginning of December. So, in theory, I feel like this is a book I should like. There are lesbian protagonists and antagonists, action, murders, a bit of suspense, some romance, believable characters. With regard to the plot, the book is technically correct, all of the story elements fleshed out appropriately. The climax was pretty intense, and the book didn't end happily ever after. Those are all points in the book's favor, so why did I still feel so disinterested about the story in general?

**spoiler alert**
One of the immediate things you notice about the world Fletcher has created is that all the characters in this land are female. Not just female, but lesbian. Interesting. Okay, I figured, I'll play along provided you eventually explain this odd phenomenon later. And that became one of my major expectations. Women can't reproduce naturally by themselves, so it was difficult for me to suspend my disbelief and be comfortable with the fact that there are no men, and reproduction involves some type of outside intervention. Maybe this is explained in one of Fletcher's other books, for even though Shadow is marked Book 1 of the Celaeno Series and comes first on the timeline, it's not the first book published in the series, making it more of a prequel. Nonetheless, it's one of the only things I wish she could've resolved, and it doesn't get addressed.

The main conflict of the story -- stolen sheep and the murder of minor characters I don't care about -- never grabbed me that much. I even had a hard time caring a lot about the protagonist, Militia rookie Ellen Mittal. So for some reason I just couldn't get as interested in her life and drama as I should have been. I felt lukewarm about her attraction to Hal, and I had a strong suspicion right from the beginning that Hal wasn't who she claimed to be, thereby making any flirtatious scenes between the two of them a little boring and inconsequential. The sexy bits were nice, and eventually we learn that Hal does have true feelings for Ellen, despite her initial deceptions . . . but it wasn't enough to save the book overall. Things picked up a little in the end, and as twisted as this may sound, I got more interested during the torture scenes. Probably because this was the first time it felt like Ellen was in true danger, that she might not survive, and all the while Hal's betrayal was tormenting her mind.

On the writing itself: it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great, either. It's hard to put my finger on what would improve the prose, since like I said, the book is technically correct, but it seems to be missing that extra spark. Ultimately, for my own experience, I'd give it 2.5 out of 5 stars. But I also have to acknowledge that part of the reason why I didn't enjoy this book is because it wasn't quite the book I wanted to read, and to some degree I can't fault the author for that.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A New Wave of Piracy

Haven't had much time for blogging lately, but two weeks ago I did write a guest post for Greenleaf Literary Services about my thoughts on ebook piracy.

As I follow the increasingly digital trends of the book publishing world, I can't say I'm thrilled about the rising popularity of ebooks (I'll save that rant for a later post). But regardless of how we may feel about it, the industry is changing. The digitalization of books has brought with it a new wave of piracy, and in this post I discuss the problem, how it's being handled, and why we should (and shouldn't) be concerned.

What are your thoughts? Do we have something to learn from the music industry? Or is that a different plate of spaghetti altogether?

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Little Beef with NaNoWriMo

I know I'm going to get some flak for this, but every November I get this nagging urge to share my thoughts on NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month. My intent is not to sound snobbish or superior; I'm not a published novelist, so I wouldn't have a leg to stand on. I am, however, an editor and a lifelong literary enthusiast, and there's just something a little disquieting about the NaNoWriMo hype that I'd like to work through here.

In case you're unfamiliar, the premise of NaNoWriMo is that participants set out with the personal goal of writing an entire 50,000-word novel in one month. The focus is to get yourself to write as much as possible and not limit yourself with the burdens of tweaking and editing and over-thinking the story elements. As their website points out, "Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes." By midnight on November 30, you might end up with a publishable novel, or you might end up with a messy stream of consciousness, or something in between. The point is that you set a goal, you wrote your heart out with unrestricted passion, you participated in a huge event with thousands of other writers, you (hopefully) had fun, and you crossed the 50,000-word finish line with a complete novel.

At first glance this seems like a great idea. Why not? Free writing is an important exercise in an aspiring author's life. Even if your goal isn't to become a published novelist, it's still a fun event, right? Sometimes we over-analyze and over-plan a creative project so much that we stagnate, paralyzed by our relentless second-guessing. Sometimes we absolutely need to give ourselves permission to make mistakes in order to unfreeze our minds and let the creative juices flow. And when we're embarking on a journey to release these restraints and let the words pour out of us unhindered, it helps to know that we're not alone, that others are taking the same challenge. We find the motivation to write, no excuses. I don't have a problem with this.

. . . Well, not really. I'm talking about free-writing exercises, and that's not exactly what this event is about. NaNoWriMo entails cranking out a complete novel in 30 days. That's where I start to feel uncomfortable with the idea, and I have a harder time getting behind it. We're placing the value on quantity, not quality. Word count is the only standard we're using to determine success in this month-long endeavor.

Let me give you a little background. I've been editing manuscripts for the last five years. When I first started this job, I was a bit of an idealist. When I came across a manuscript that needed far more help than a mere edit, when a complete overhaul of the writing and the plot would be necessary to even make sense of the story, in my mind I tried to give the author a pat on the back for at least putting in all the time and effort to type out a few hundred pages of manuscript. I desperately wanted to find something positive about the story, and at least I could give them credit for that much: time and effort, and the courage to send it out into the world.

However, after years of evaluating and editing manuscripts, I have a more difficult time giving out credit for merely typing a story. Trust me, I want to say that it's a big accomplishment, but it's gotten harder to do so. Please realize that I'm not trying to pick on first-time writers; there almost always is something redeeming to find about a person's story (and the fact that they're contacting an editor means they're interested in improving their writing skills, so that's redeeming in itself). However, I can no longer look at a book's page count alone and call it a special accomplishment.

Technology plays an undeniable part of this. Word processors make it damn easy to sit down and crank out text. Hey, it's just a fact. In addition, most of our research is simply a Google query away. Let me emphasize that I don't think software is a bad thing . . . but it does make a word-count goal considerably easier to achieve. And with the changing book publishing industry, where e-books and self-publishing are becoming more and more popular, getting from idea to print (or e-print) is deceivingly simple.

Therefore, how does writing a novel in one month really improve your skills as a writer? I feel like this event is the first necessary step that gets writers in the habit of writing every day -- I will praise it for that. But my concern is that not nearly enough attention is being given to the critical stage of revision. To me, that's the part where you transform your writing into something extraordinary. It worries me when your ultimate goal is word count, and every day you're obsessively monitoring that number without giving thought to your novel's quality. I believe there's a valid concern here that people will have a false sense of accomplishment (and entitlement) once that counter reaches 50,000. No doubt that some authors are capable of cranking out a best-selling novel in one month, but the vast majority of new writers need to do significantly more work than simply typing out the words in such a short period of time. It's undeniable that too many people prematurely believe they're at the novel-writing finish line when really the work is just beginning. And I'd imagine the revision stage is possibly even more difficult, since in-progress planning and adjustments are discarded in favor of meeting the deadline. When the goal is quantity, a writer is in danger of believing that publication is right around the corner.

To reiterate, I applaud the free-writing aspect of this undertaking. But I believe the emphasis is misguided, disillusioning many of its participants into thinking they're Authors when there's more work to be done. In my line of work, I see so many people who think their novels are just a proofread away from the printing presses, when in reality they need help with plot, characterization, viewpoint, suspense, etc. Unfortunately, NaNoWriMo only seems to encourage the mentality that word count makes a novel.

Friday, November 5, 2010

4 out of 4!

SCAN TV, Seattle's Community Access Network, just had their awards ceremony tonight, and Ask an Atheist was nominated for four awards. And I'm so proud to announce, the show won all four: "Favorite New Program," "Favorite Local Show," "Favorite Studio or Live Production," and my absolute favorite, "Best Religious Program!"

Great job, everybody. You've all done very well!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Beast Is Dead

That is, my trusty (in retrospect, not so trusty) ginormous laptop bit the dust yesterday. No sputtering, no groaning or coughing or BSODs -- just a rather surprising shutdown while I was in the middle of proofreading a paper. At least it didn't suffer long? :\

The good news is that my data is intact, and a friend will likely be able to hook me up with a cheap laptop and all the software I lost. But I'm still mourning the loss of my bulky yet hardcore machine (complete with a wide screen and enough space for a full keyboard). That laptop was supposed to outlive my now five-year-old desktop, but it couldn't even make it to two and a half years. Disappointing.

Not nearly as disappointing as the elections outcome, but I can't even think about that right now. Seriously, I just can't.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Progressives and the System

Yes, it's Election Day, and before I even go into my little rant, let me stop and plea: Vote, if you haven't already. Please . . . just vote. You have a problem with "the system"? Could you just humor me for today, and we'll talk about it when you get back?

Did you do it? Well, chances are, if you haven't done it by now, nothing's going to convince you otherwise. But I still have to try.

In the days leading up the election, there's been a fascinating discussion taking place on one of the atheist email lists. Someone was taking a step outside the discussion about who or what to vote for and actually arguing that we do not have the authority to vote on what rights a person should have, using gay marriage as an example. Even though he was in favor of allowing any consensual couple to marry, he objected to the system that allows him to decide upon the rights that all human beings should have in the first place. For him, no one on the list can satisfactorily answer where this "right" comes from, and that the majority is simply imposing its will on the minority. Therefore, he chooses to abstain from elections.

My purpose isn't to pick on this one guy, but I know there are others like him. I commend his intellect and thoughtfulness, and I even agree with his points to a certain extent. It does seem wrong that we should be voting on other people's rights. What authority do we have to make such a decision? This system is rife with problems, and from that point of view, you could argue that not voting is voting.

Um . . . but this is the system we have, as unfair and disillusioned as it might be. Yes, you could say that by giving in and voting, when we have ethical issues with the very notion of voting, we're just perpetuating a broken set of rules, and no fundamental changes are going to take hold. I get that. But if we could take a step outside of that bubble, which I believe brings us back to our sorry reality, I'll get to my main point: Many liberals -- educated, progressive, caring folks -- are philosophizing too damn much! I hate to say that, because I crave to have my ideas challenged, to raise my level of consciousness, to encourage rational and thoughtful debate. But when it gets to the point that people are actually abstaining from voting, I need to remove my head from the philosophical haze and remember reality and the bigger picture.

The truth is, the fundamentalists, the tea-partiers, the conservatives, etc., are not sitting around intellectualizing about the voting system itself. Frankly, I don't see that ever happening. So when you choose to abstain -- regardless of your righteous reasons -- the reality is that you're not making a statement about the problems inherent with the system; you're just helping them win. Yes, I'm taking a lesser-of-two-evils position on this, but I think it's necessary. For the time being, I say we need to work with the system we have, and slowly improve it with the tools available to us. That means voting.

So please, please, please, vote. It frustrates me beyond belief when I hear about someone -- who holds the same ideals for progress and bettering this country that I do -- choosing not to vote. You're not doing us any favors. Please. Vote. Now.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sanity Restored?

So despite being in the grips of the plague that's been going around, I just had to force myself out of bed at 7:30 a.m. to attend Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity, Seattle edition (complete with cold and rain). I'm glad I did. The turnout for just Seattle surpassed my expectations (not to mention how many showed up in D.C.), and apparently there were satellite rallies happening all over the world. I needed this. It makes me feel hopeful again.

I love Stewart's comments at the end. If we ever hope to bring rationality back into political discourse, we need to look beyond party lines and work together. That is what America's supposed to be about. Pass it on.

And now for something slightly different...Even Beaker decided to make an appearance at the rally. Kudos to my friend Kyle for a superb costume, and Megan for being an awesome muppet model:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Farewell, Benoît Mandelbrot

Your work is an inspiration, and I especially cherish your explorations into the mathematical beauty of nature. You will be missed.

My little tribute to Mandelbrot
A Tribute to Benoît B. Mandelbrot, 1924 - 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Combining Efforts for Equality

As you all probably know, last Monday was National Coming Out Day. The outpouring of love and support for GLBT rights was both inspiring and heartwarming . . . and absolutely needed, given the number of gay teen suicides we’ve been hearing about. The fight for GLBT equality has been going strong for decades, and while we’ve made progress, it’s clear that we’re not out of the woods yet. That first step toward equality – coming out of the closet – is still necessary.

It’s no secret that I’m part of another minority group in this country: I don’t believe in god(s). I’m also a part of Seattle Atheists, a local nonprofit that strives to support and provide community for those who have no religion, educate people about atheism, and stand up against religious discrimination. As an activist movement, atheists haven’t had quite as much time to get the ball rolling. Again, that first step – coming out – is just as important for us. We can’t educate the public and fight for our rights if we’re invisible.

That of course led us to an interesting dilemma in the weeks preceding the GLBT Coming Out Day. Many of us considered the idea of making a joint effort to come out of the closet for both gays and atheists. Speaking for many (if not all) of the Northwest freethought groups, we largely support our family and friends in the gay community, and since a great deal of the discrimination against homosexuals originates from fundamentalist religion, it makes sense to work together. On the other hand, some atheists were already getting flak for the idea of piggybacking on a day that belongs to sexual equality. I understand where both sides are coming from, and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to get offended by a joint equality day. Ultimately, we (the atheists) let it be and chose another day to make a timid step out of the closet (Uh, I think it was Tuesday).

So, as the token lesbian on an atheist board, here’s my take on it: I don't have a problem combining the coming out days. But I admit I didn't always feel that way. When I first "came out" as an atheist, it was an intellectual decision more than anything, and it wasn't a particularly traumatic experience for me. At least I could still get married, right? :P Coming out gay, on other hand . . . well, some of you know how messed up that situation was for me. I was in my twenties and straight-married and I fell in love with an engaged woman and we all were mutual friends – needless to say, I was an emotional wreck. At that time, I was way more sensitive, so I admit I got angry at straight atheists trying to compare the two experiences. "Which was more upsetting – coming out atheist or coming out gay?" people commonly asked me. Dude, fuck you, I would think. Being gay turned my world upside down. Rejecting Christianity aggravated some people, particularly my parents, but it didn’t rock the boat the way being a lesbian did. Everything changed once I finally admitted, "I’m gay."

Then again, at both times I was thinking only of my own "coming out" stories, and not of the larger picture. Some people have completely different experiences with both. Some families and communities – and whole nations – have been ripped apart over theological differences, and some homosexuals are lucky enough to be born into families and communities that support their sexuality, right from the beginning and without years of therapy and justifications. The point is that we should be working together. I've talked about this extensively with my (Pagan) girlfriend, and we agree that there are too many similarities between our movements to continue trying to separate ourselves. I'm frustrated a little with minority groups arguing about who has it worse, or nitpicking on the few differences we have. I understand how it can rub people the wrong way to join efforts, but I feel like we need to move beyond that mentality. I used nontheist and GLBT rights as an example because I’m intimately connected to both, but it applies to any minority groups struggling for equal rights. Being sensitive to your own minority should raise your consciousness about other minorities. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot if we continue to work separately. The way things are going in this country, we need to stick together.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It ain't easy being green

Whenever I see companies taking little steps toward more sustainable living, I get a warm fuzzy. Like when an ice cream shop decides to use compostable dishes and spoons, or when I notice a grocery store offering reusable mesh bags for its produce. The first time I grabbed a bag of SunChips with its new compostable packaging, I thought it was pretty sweet. The noise was a loud surprise, but come on...they made biodegradable bags! Can't we just pour our chips in a bowl or on our sandwich wrapper and sacrifice the tiniest creature comfort for the sake of Mother Earth?

Apparently not: "Frito-Lay hopes to quiet complaints about its noisy SunChips bags by switching out the biodegradable bags for the old packaging on most flavors." Got to do what the consumer wants, right? Well, the consumers still have their heads in the clouds.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

And now for something completely different.

I just discovered this, and it is, in fact, quite amazing. Irish hand dancing--who knew? Enjoy:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Survey: Americans don't know much about religion

"A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions."

I wish I found this surprising. It's not that I wish to sound self-righteous or anything; I actually wish people would study the religions to which they devote their lives. As a friend of mine pointed out, religious texts are like end-user license agreements. People either skim or don't read them, scroll to the bottom, and click "I accept." You owe it to yourself to at least know the details of your own religion.


A few years ago, I was on vacation in Ohio, visiting my mother. It was the first time I'd been back to Ohio since moving to the West Coast, and it was also the first time I'd seen her face-to-face since coming out. We had several less-than-pleasant conversations about my sexuality, along with my participation in an atheist nonprofit. As you can imagine, god was used a reason to alter my behavior. I left feeling bitter and misunderstood.*

For her next birthday, I decided I'd get her something meaningful, rather than the standard assortment of mom gifts. So...I got her a copy of Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God" monologue. A bold move, for sure, but my point was to show her one woman's spiritual journey, and how it eventually led her away from god. This wasn't to change my own mother's mind, but simply to make her understand a bit of my worldview. And it's hard to get offended from Julia's story--she's funny, honest, but never rude or aggressive.

My mother called me one day after she'd started listening to it, and her major criticism was Julia's discussions of the Bible stories. She actually had no idea whether or not these (what I would consider common) stories were true, like Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac, or the story about Sodom and Gomorrah. It was interesting that I, the atheist, ended the conversation by seriously suggesting that she read the Bible. She's been a Christian for 60 years, and yet she's never actually read (much less studied in depth) the one book that supposedly means so much its followers. I don't mean to pick on her, but this mentality, this lack of education about one's own religion, is frightfully common in this country. If this is your belief system, you owe it to yourself and to others to learn everything there is to know about it. Especially if you're going to use that book as a justification for discrimination and moral decisions. Know what the whole thing says, not just the cherry-picked parts that are convenient for whatever statement you're trying to make.

*Since that time we've come to a better understanding about these topics, even if we still do disagree.

Everything does get better after high school.

Hats off to Dan and Terry. This is a beautiful, fantastic project, and I hope its message reaches those who need to hear it. There is hope--spread the word. It really does get better.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My History with Religion

Given my beliefs and worldview, it’s inevitable that someone will ask me how I came to them. And yes, atheism is a big part of that, and will undoubtedly pop up quite a bit in future posts. So here’s a bit of my history with religion.

I come from a suburb in northeast Ohio, where my family and peers were by and large of the Christian/Catholic variety. My family was Methodist, and besides of few church attendance spikes here and there, they mainly preferred making C & E (Christmas & Easter) appearances. As a young child, I dutifully memorized the Lord’s Prayer and recited it when my father tucked me in at night. I accepted God the way children accept many truths before they have the capability or motivation to question them. I was Christian in the same way I was an American or a carrier of my father’s last name. I was largely indifferent to my parents’ religion, but what can you expect from a child? I wasn’t asking the sorts of moral and existential questions that Christianity attempts to answer, so it didn’t really serve a purpose to me.

The way that God was presented to me, in church and by my parents, didn’t seem so bad on the surface. The idea of a loving God, watching over me and everyone else, seemed quite pleasant. The stories were entertaining and usually had a good lesson about morality. Heaven seemed . . . nice, though even as child, that was one notion I could never wrap my mind around. I remember trying to understand the concept of the afterlife, more than anything else, and I could never imagine Heaven. Every time I tried to feel that sensation of my spirit moving outside my body and into a kingdom free of pain and suffering, I was faced with frightening darkness, a void. It was the first time I recall trying to understand the things that I normally just accepted as true, and it didn’t go well; it scared me to the bone. Of all the things to try to understand, I picked the afterlife, and after failing to grasp any hopeful glimpse of God’s Heaven, my seven- or eight-year-old brain was left to contemplate mortality for the first time. I stumbled upon something I wasn’t ready for, and I remember crying myself to sleep for many nights as I tried to accept my inevitable non-existence.

It was an episode that stuck out in my mind, but I eventually stopped dwelling on it. I found a way to compartmentalize my strange experience and went on with my prayers and my unquestioned belief in God. At the time, there wasn’t an alternative to belief, so I didn’t even entertain the notion.

To become a confirmed Methodist (at our church, at least), one needs to take Sunday school classes during one’s seventh and eighth grade years, along with participating more in church and youth group activities. My parents must have forgotten this requirement, but they remembered by the time I was about to enter eighth grade, so I was allowed into the program as long as I had very good attendance. I wasn’t ignorant of the Bible by this point, and I can’t say I learned that much during Sunday school, but it was a time when I took religion quite seriously. I wanted to “get” God, and I wanted my prayers to be more than recited words at night.

By the end of that year, I probably had more questions than answers, but it was time for confirmation, and despite my confusion, I wasn’t about to rebel against my parents and community when it came to religion. I wasn’t yet at a point where I doubted the existence of God, yet I didn’t feel the powerful certainty and faith that I thought I should on such an important milestone in my religious maturity. As a residual part of my confirmation, I continued to go to church into my high school years, if only to serve my occasional obligations as an acolyte.

In a nutshell, that’s my blasé, mostly passive background with Christianity. Unlike those who come from more severe fundamentalist religions, I had no particularly bad personal experiences with it, and one could rightly say I was never a “true” Christian to begin with. In some ways, I probably took the study of religion more seriously than my peers, since my forced attendance at the church prompted me to start thinking about religious belief systems, the meaning of life, death, faith, values, consciousness, the supernatural, good versus evil . . . mind you, I wasn’t finding a lot of answers, but it was the start of a journey that would take me in a direction I hadn’t quite anticipated.

Enter high school. Different people, more subjects, expanded ideas, a few classes that promoted critical thinking . . . I remember my high school days as the period when I finally started waking up and taking an active part in my education. Without a lot of fanfare, my epiphany struck while I was reading a 1985 National Geographic series of articles about human evolution. It just made sense, and it was the tipping point that allowed me to seriously evaluate the implication that maybe God’s not in charge after all. Maybe, just possibly, he doesn’t exist at all.

Well, if you were expecting an explosive period of shouting and shaking my fists as I grappled with the idea of God and cursed everyone who wanted me to continue down that path, I’m sorry to disappoint. It wasn’t an easy realization by any means, nor did it go over well with the few religious friends and family who knew. Sure, I had my hot-headed moments of frustration, like many who feel they’ve been blindfolded for a long time and can finally see things clearly, but it wasn’t traumatic, either. I simply realized that Christianity didn’t satisfactorily answer the questions I was asking. I wanted to know about history, culture, biology – how we came to exist – and I felt that religion didn’t encourage the type of rigorous investigation I craved. I was on an honest knowledge quest, and using the tools of rationality and the scientific method made more sense to me. I had no need of religion, so I abandoned my days of banging my head against the wall in favor of something that worked better for me.

So those were the early years of my quest and the beginnings of my, er, atheism, if you will, which has since been refined and continues to mature. There’s so much more to add, but I’ll save those for future posts. ;)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mission Statement

So why am I here? What's my purpose? I think it's taken me half a year to write another post because I want so badly to explain, specifically, my intent for putting yet another blog into the web. But what I realize is that I'm trying too hard to box myself in, which is stunting my ability to hit "publish" on any of my ideas.

The truth is, I don't have it all worked out, and I'm going to force myself to be comfortable with the blurry lines. It's not a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but rather an ongoing discussion, and I'm allowing it evolve into whatever it needs to be. I want to understand myself better, and where I fit into this marvelous and terrifying and beautiful planet. I want to share the way I see what's happening in this world, through my own unique filter, for whatever that may be worth. It's about culture, personal development, politics, art, religion, music, science, crocheted anatomy, monsters made of spaghetti...these are just a few of the nodes in my web of life, and while it may seem broad, perhaps it has to be.

This will be the sounding board for my ideas, and maybe you'll take part of the conversation, too. So let's do this already.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Year(s) in Review

It’s the beginning of a new year, and the beginning of a new blog, so it seems fitting to review the trials and triumphs of the previous year.

The beginning of 2009 found me in a suburban town called Kirkland, Washington, living with my dear friend Randy and our recently adopted black bundle of fuzz, Slinky. I continued working from home as a book editor and amateur webmaster for my boss, and I was still spending my spare time volunteering with Seattle Atheists. I’d landed in Randy’s house in April ’07 after a complicated mess of falling in love with a woman (who was engaged to a mutual friend of ours), coming out as a lesbian, and divorcing my high school sweetheart (yes, in that order). Kirkland wasn’t the place I imagined I’d be living after coming out, but it seemed fine as a temporary solution while my girlfriend (same woman) got a place of her own for a while to sort out her head. That in and of itself should have been a red flag, but I had my own issues, too, and I desperately held out hope for that relationship for another nine months.

Without delving further into that bit of drama, let’s just say it didn’t end as I wanted (at the time), and I got stuck in Kirkland for a little longer than I’d imagined. Despite the heartache, I still (rather unbelievably) scored my very first real date with a girl by the end of January ’08, thus starting my belated, yet premature journey into the dating world. After half a year of dating women who were all flavors of wrong for me, I decided to slam on the brakes and take a break from the madness. I still had some healing to do.

So that’s where I was as I brought in the new year. Single, working from home, lamenting my residence in an unremarkable (and rather hetero) suburb, and spending my spare time on the board of an atheist nonprofit. And honestly, I have no complaints about any of it. Fifteen minutes before the ball dropped, I was reviewing my list of resolutions for 2009 and decided to get a head start by writing to a black-sheep (i.e., interesting) relative of mine who I’ve never met before and complimenting him on his book of poetry. I’m not sure if that was really Resolution-worthy, especially since I’ve failed to keep in touch with him, but it felt like a good way to transition into the new year.

January brought a HUGE surprise that knocked me to the floor: I finally found – and contacted – my birth mother. I had always known I was adopted, and I always wanted to uncover my biological history, but I didn’t find the motivation to begin my search until my own life was upended in Seattle. So I’d been searching for her off and on since 2006, and just when I was losing hope, I got a call from the wonderful woman who was helping me with my search, saying she was almost certain she found a match. (I couldn’t have done it without you, Trish!) It was a bit surreal to suddenly find myself connected to my biological family, and though I haven’t been able to afford to fly to Pennsylvania and meet my mother (and brothers!) in person, I’m thankful that we’ve been able to talk and email each another.

So I had to admit that things were going well, despite my itch to move back into the city (you know, where gay people supposedly live). Even months before the big reunion, I’d stumbled upon a little epiphany that had me literally crying with joy. I finally understood that happiness was a choice, that it came from within, and I approached 2009 with this simple, precious knowledge and the determination to bring more optimism into my life. Granted, it’s an epiphany that will be tested like all others, but I planted the seed, and it’s been growing ever since (and in ways I never expected). Moreover, it’s kept my depression-prone mind from falling into the dark abyss, as it’s wont to do under stress and transition, and I felt for the first time in my life like a whole person.

Ahem. Getting back to 2009, I had discovered a new meetup through a friend and fellow Kirkland-hater that was all about women going through transitions. Jobs, moving, sexuality, injuries, new relationships, divorce – whatever you were going through, it was a place to tell your story and find support, and to my delight, the organizer held the meeting in my (well, Randy’s) basement. It was a healing and fun experience, and I befriended a bunch of wonderful women . . . on the Eastside, of course. The very place I was trying to escape. But that’s usually how Life works, eh?

After many weekends of racquetball and Women in Transition and Kirkland-bashing and even a trip to Portland, said friend proposed that we get out of Kirkland together, and while I was distraught over the idea of leaving Randy and Slinky, I knew I should seize the opportunity to move on. The friend first proposed Bellevue (a city, granted, but still on the Eastside), though thankfully I convinced her to look across the water. I met a friend of hers (Decia), and the three of us decided to try to find a house to rent in Seattle. My first choice, of course, was the Capitol Hill area, and as it turned out, we found a cute little bungalow about a mile away from the Hill. Decia and I moved in a little early (April, exactly two years after my divorce and moving *away* from Seattle), and we hit it off well, despite a three-decade-plus age gap. It was a bonus that her 11-year-old black cat came along with us. Gomez is no Slinky, but it was good to have a feline in the house, especially considering that our downstairs housemate had two dogs.

Then a little drama ensued, because an easy move wouldn’t have been any fun. A week after Decia and I moved in, the washing machine broke and flooded the basement, so I had a wonderful, back-breaking time sucking up water and trying to negotiate with a landlord who was new to the landlording business (and none too keen about dealing with an immediate crisis after his brand-new tenants arrived). Unbelievably, we managed to take care of everything before the third housemate moved in, so that was a relief . . . but not for long. Two weeks after moving in, said housemate (you know, the one who essentially organized this whole move and *wanted* housemates) decided to move out, so Decia and I had a month to find someone to fill the basement suite, else we’d never be able to afford the rent. This brings us to May/June, the same time that I was working on building a Flying Spaghetti Monster in our garage with my friends Megan and Kyle.

Ah yes, the FSM. Seattle Atheists decided to build a bigger and better float this year for the Fremont and Gay Pride parades, and the three of us were its main constructors, with preliminary help from Randy and the Heydemanns in Kirkland. There was a lot of work to be done, and even though it seemed like we could use some extra help, we figured it would be easier to do everything ourselves without having to manage other bodies. And as it turned out, it was a good thing that Basement Housemate moved out, since it gave us the entire bottom floor to sew our gigantic noodles. We sure gave our sewing machines a workout.

June was intense. I was trying to juggle moving in, finishing the FSM, finding a new housemate, participating in said parades, and squeezing in enough work to pay most of my bills. June was also my birthday month, and I had originally hoped to make it my month. I wanted to come out of my year-long dating hiatus, and I had planned to end the month with a bang at Pride. However, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

The good news is that we found a housemate – two, in fact. A young married couple eager to find a good location in Madrona Park. What a relief! Jeremy works at the Seattle Young People’s Project – a mere two blocks from our house – and Glendi teaches Spanish at home. We couldn’t have asked for better housemates.

The bad news is that I completely burned out on the FSM and Seattle Atheists in general. Don’t get me wrong – loved working on this project, and it brought me so much joy to see how excited people got as they saw our creation rolling down the street – but my emotions were strained for a number of reasons. After the Pride Parade, I tried to enjoy the rest of the festival, and goodness knows Kyle did his best to cheer me up, but I wasn’t feeling it. I stared at the people dancing their hearts out in the fountain, laughing and having a blast, but even after all my revelations about happiness, I still felt like an outsider around them. Even with the support of my friends, coming out wasn’t easy, and connecting with the gay community had been a serious challenge for me (I won’t even go into Pride ’08). I was disappointed that I couldn’t get into the spirit, and the exhaustion I felt from the FSM didn’t help. Eventually I decided to leave early and drive to Tacoma with Kyle to drop off the float in a board member’s garage.

I was absolutely beat, and even a little angry. I had wanted to be selfish in June, especially with my purposely neglected love life. I felt ready to move on. I did have a date set up in the middle of the month, but I was essentially stood up (she called hours later and asked me if I wanted to still meet up, but I told her no thanks). And anyway, what was I even thinking when I agreed, yet again, to go out on a date with another married poly girl? I have absolutely nothing against married poly girls, but I know from experience that they’re not something I want to get romantically involved with. As strained as my emotions were by the end of the month, I was ready to throw my dating hopes out the window and extend my celibacy contract another year. Honestly, I was so worn out that I didn’t even want to think about it. I had figured by this point I’d be spending several nights a week living it up on Capitol Hill, but that wasn’t happening, either. I didn’t have the energy. Maybe the timing just wasn’t right.

But transitions were on the horizon. I went through a little funk, but July was a brand-new month with brand-new opportunities. I decided to do something crazy and join a choir. It had been nearly a decade since I last sang in a choir, so I decided to put in my audition at the last possible minute . . . with the Center for Spiritual Living. A little odd for an active atheist, you might think, and I’m sure I’ll discuss my reasons in greater detail later, but suffice it to say it’s been a good experience thus far. I’m glad to be singing again.

As of July 1, it seemed that I was suddenly on the dating map, and something happened that honestly freaked me out a bit: women were contacting me. When I started dating, I had just accepted that I would always be in the “pursuer” role, but the tables turned last summer. Love always comes when you least expect it, right? Maybe so. In retrospect I hate to even mention that, since there was a woman who was very focused on me, and I was still trying to recover from my first few months of Seattle Part II while also trying to figure out how I wanted to treat this whole dating thing again. It made me disappear a lot.

Well, after a few dates and subsequent disappearances (not to mention driving Kai nuts), I finally lowered my defenses and gave it a chance. During a notorious three-week absence, I went camping for the first time, and that helped to put things in perspective for me. Yes, I was afraid, and I was even more afraid of hurting someone else. But I knew I liked her – a lot – and it was time to stop chickening on my own happiness.

Now, six months later, she’s a wonderful, cherished part of my life. It’s the kind of relationship that keeps getting better every time we’re around each other. We share many of the same interests, and our differences only add to that bond. Being with her feels healthy. I can actually see a bright future with this woman, which is something I’ve never felt before. I can grow with her, and . . . goodness, I’m gushing.

There have been growing hardships in my life. The separation of home life and love life is becoming difficult to bear. I find myself in a situation where one of my housemates is particularly dependent on the use of my car to get around, to the point where she wouldn’t be able to live in this location without a vehicle, and that makes me nervous. We’re friends and I want to help her out as much as possible, but without financial help on the car payments and/or insurance, I’m having a hard time carrying this responsibility. Times are tough enough as it is, and then business slowed down to practically nothing in October and November, so I really had to be creative with my bill-paying (i.e., going into debt to pay my debt). On top of my normal financial burdens, I also got a painful pinched nerve in October, and a trip to the chiropractor made it clear that I needed to pay some serious attention to my spine. So I’ve been stretching and trying to be more conscious of my posture and getting regular chiropractic appointments, which have made a noticeable improvement, though I still wince when I think about how I had to put the payments on my credit card.

Kai and I spent two intense weeks in December crafting up a storm for the holidays. We decided to make gift bags of goodies for our friends and family. Jarred soup and drink mixes, candles made from recycled wax, sewed catnip toys, cookies, candied citrus peels, home-made bread, hand-made cards. On Solstice and the day after, we drove around and played Santa. It was exhausting, but very satisfying! I felt reinvigorated, ready to bring more creativity into my life again. We ended the year with a trip to the symphony, and at midnight celebrated our six-month anniversary with good music and lots of dancing.

All in all, what an amazing year! My feelings on Thanksgiving Day sum it up pretty well.

Gratitudes: Finding love rather unexpectedly; falling for that love more every day (Kai, you rock my world); reuniting (electronically, at least) with my birth family; my life in Kirkland; moving to Seattle and ALL the ups and downs that followed; my wonderful housemates; being an active part of Seattle Atheists for the past four years; singing in a choir for the first time in the nearly a decade; all my amazing, supportive friends; having the courage and support to say yes more; the people who’ve hurt me; having suffered more financially than I ever have; being able to find gratitude in hardship.