Some stupid religious pseudo-philosophy I read today

While cataloging a cart of religious fiction:

If you use an axe with a dull edge, the energy you expend and the power you apply will be spread out and dissipated over a dull edge. The axe becomes ineffecient and ineffective. You need to put in more time, energy, or force to accomplish the same amount of work . . .
“I’ll remember that,” I said, “when I cut down my next tree.”
“You won’t cut down trees,” he said. “But you’ll still need to remember it.”
“Because it can change the way you live.”
“Replace the word “axe” with the words “your life.” If your life is dull, and you don’t sharpen its edge, then more strength must be exerted. A dull edge is one that is less focused. It doesn’t converge to a single point. The same with your life. If your life isn’t focused, if your life doesn’t have a single focus, if it’s spread out in many directions or with unclear purpose, then it will have a dull edge.

What an absurd assumption, that a person’s life should be as single-purpose as a tool for chopping wood.

This is what’s so ridiculous about believing that someone else is in charge. I would much rather have experiences just to have them, learn things just to learn them, go into the world asking every question I can think of instead of believing I already know the answers. That is one of the many things I hate about religion, the way it makes people fit their lives into a template.

How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live

The world is such an upsetting place.

I’ve been reading a book about the billionaires who control American politics, and I just read about the case in 1996 when a Koch Industries pipeline exploded and burned two teenagers to death. I was thinking about the parents, and the unbelievable amount that was awarded to them$296 million, almost three times the $100 million the family had sued for—and I thought about what I would do if I were in their place.

They hadn’t done it for the money, of course; the Koch assholes had offered them money to settle, as Koch always does, because it was cheaper to just pay off lawsuits than it was to follow the environmental regulations they flat-out ignored. But the family wasn’t in it for the money—they were in it because it is wrong for a company to blow up teenagers, and the company had known what it was doing and just didn’t fucking care how it would hurt others, and the family wanted the company to be punished for murdering their daughter. That’s how I would feel, too. And because $296 million is such a mind-blowingly absurd amount of money, I couldn’t resist thinking about what I would do with it.

Because the thing is, I can’t imagine what you would even do with more than one million. If I had that amount of money, I would give $295 million to the best charities I could think of, and keep one for myself. And that would be more than I’d ever need.

With $50,000 I would pay off the rest of my student loan debt, the albatross around my neck that has completely ruined my 20s and kept my husband and me trapped and barely surviving for the ten years since we got married ($50,000 is what’s left after ten years of paying it down).

With $20,000 I would buy a car for myself, probably a Camry.

With $30,000 I would buy Mike the huge-ass truck he dreams about, even though a little part of me would die every time he drove it.

With $400,000 I would buy a house somewhere on the west coast.

With $30,000 I would finish my fucking bachelor’s degree and get my Masters in Library Science.

I would give $100,000 to his and my familyabout $10,000 each.

I would put $100,000 into a travel fund, so that I never again have to worry that I won’t be able to afford seeing any of the world besides the middle United States.

I would put $200,000 into a savings account, and the last $80,000 would just be for spendingbuying new wardrobes that actually fit us, getting new laptops that actually work, furnishing the house with bath mats and a bed frame and all the things we haven’t been able to afford in our one-bedroom apartment.

And that would be it.

I would finally have my degree, so I’d be able to get a job with health insurance and a livable wage.

We would have two cars, so Mike would be free to get a job wherever he can find one instead of having to stay with one he hates that lets him drive a work truck.

We would own a house, so we wouldn’t have to spend a third of our income renting a tiny box to live in.

And we would have health insurance, so I could finally see a neurologist about my headaches, and we could both get the therapy and probable medication that will make our lives more than just bearable.

What else could a person possibly need? What could you do with any more than that?

And yet: We live in a world where people have not just one million, not just two or three, but thousands of millions of dollars. And they are never satisfied, and they think it is their right to have so much, though there are countless others on the planet who don’t have enough to survive.

And because they have so much, they can pay to have governments skew the laws in their favor, as though they didn’t have enough of an advantage already. Because they have so much, they can afford propagandathey can spend decades and millions of dollars indoctrinating everyone’s libertarian uncles, teaching them that as white men such wealth is their birthright, too, that it is virtuous to protect it; and that if they have not yet personally received their birthright it’s only because of the evil liberal government that literally steals money from the pockets of wholesome, honest, hard-working, freedom-defending, totally self-made billionaires to let the lazy, entitled poor people spend their food stamps on iPhones and manicures.

Of course, these billionaires could buy thousands of iPhones and manicures with just the taxes they don’t pay. But that is not the point. The pointthe only one that matters in the United Statesis that it is immoral to stand in the way of a person making money (especially if that person is already rich). This is literally something they believe.

The more I see, the more I hate this fucking country. I probably hate most of the world, really, and just haven’t had the chance to develop it, not having lived there. But the worst part is that I actually love it so much, and that’s why I hate it (the world, not the U.S.—that I really do hate). It seems so clear to me, so incredibly simple, how everything should be. Do what makes you happy; don’t hurt anyone else on purpose; do what you can to fix it if you hurt someone accidentally. Don’t let anyone else decide things for you; most of all, keep your own damn mouth shut and don’t try to decide things for others. Know that you are neither any more nor any less important than anyone else. Care.

Why is that so hard?

Looking Up Through the Leaves

I just had the most beautiful flash of a memory from childhoodthat time around sixth or seventh grade, before you’ve totally grown out of your actual child-ness and into a teenager. I was in the backyard of the house we lived in when we first moved to Texas. Our backyard was an acre, the front half just grass and a trampoline, the back half our own little forest of oak and pecan trees, and for just a little while, there was a time when we had a hammock. I remember a day in the fall, the sharp white rope digging into my skin, looking up through the leaves with a book in my hands.


(Not fall, but you can see the hammock.)

Adults like to romanticize childhood as free from responsibility, based on the fact that kids don’t have to pay bills, but if you think about itchildhood is nothing but adults making you do things you don’t want to do. Actually, there’s a good chance I was supposed to be doing something else, probably mowing the lawn or cleaning my room with my sisters. But I wouldn’t have been thinking about that. Back then, when I read a book, I was in it. I could sit in the living room with my five siblings running around chasing each other, shouting, fighting, and watching Power Rangersbut I’d be aware of none of it. I miss that, almost as much as I miss the trees.


(For perspective.)

I really miss those trees.

Matilda, Mara Wilson, and Me

I started out writing this as a review for my book blog, but it turned into (1) a pretty personal post that is also (2) not at all a review. I know I have severe anxiety, but I hadn’t realized how many specific things I would have in common with Wilson. Not being in a great place lately, I am much less articulate than usual, and I’ve had this draft sitting for close to two weeks while I figure out what to say; so I decided the best way to express what I felt is just to quote everything that stuck out to me while I was reading.

Thoughts would pop into my head sometimes, and I didn’t understand why. They were bad thoughts, about people getting hurt or embarrassed . . .

Out of nowhere I would think of something horrific, and it would be so intense and detailed, so much scarier than the horror movies I was too scared to watch, it would leave me shaking. These waking nightmares always seemed to be about the people I loved most.

I don’t know how far back it started, but the first time I remember sobbing alone in my bedroom because I couldn’t stop imagining my youngest brother (seven at the time) getting hit by a car was in ninth grade. I often get freaked out walking down stairs, because I’ll imagine myself falling and snapping my neck. I can’t delete even the most mundane voicemails from Mike because I worry that I wouldn’t have any recordings of his voice if he died. Etc. I am actually not a worrier, usually, and I’m a germophobe’s nightmare. This is a very specific kind of fear that should be unusual for me.

The first time I got an answer wrong on a spelling test, I started to cry, and [my teacher] pulled me aside. “You know,” she said gently, “it’s okay to make a mistake.” I nodded until the encounter was over, then shook my head. I knew it wasn’t.

I had the same encounter in fourth grade.

“You don’t need to write so hard,” [my tutor] said once, noticing I already had a writer’s callus on my middle finger at age seven.

I’ve always had one. I didn’t know until reading this that it was a thing (although of course, since I’m not a K-12 student in the 90s anymore, I do much less writing and the callus has gotten much smaller).

My friends would talk about getting songs stuck in their heads, and I knew what they meant; I had “It’s Raining Men” stuck in my head for most of my preteen years. It wasn’t just songs in mine, though: words, phrases, names, and quotes all seemed to get stuck, too . . . They didn’t bother me so much, just stuck around like background noise that would come to my attention now and then, like when you suddenly notice a clock ticking.

This is a really big one for me, and I’ve never known that this was a problem other people deal with. I react really aggressively when I hear a song that gets stuck in my head, because it is so impossibly difficult to get rid of it once it’s in there. Even just mentioning Sara Bareilles, while listening to other music as I type, I am struggling not to let my brain start hearing the song that plagued me absolutely incessantly after I heard it once on the radio. I wouldn’t even let Mike listen to the similar-sounding Katy Perry song for over a year, because the risk was just too great.

It happens with words and phrases, too. Today I checked out a book called They May Not Mean To, But They Do, and walking out to my car after work, I found myself repeating the title over and over in time with my footsteps. Words can get stuck in my head even without a tune, particularly if they have a catchy rhythm.

Possibly worst in this category is the fact that certain conversations from various points in my past are just frozen in my head, popping up randomly or whenever I think of something related to it. It’s like there are thought grooves dug in my brain, and whenever I touch one of those ideas, my thoughts can’t help but fall into the same groove. Specific childhood arguments with my parents, a particular criticism I received from a teacher, a fight I had with my sister; and no matter how many years it’s been, I feel the emotions again almost as strongly as when it happened.

A few years ago, for a slightly silly example, I told someone at workthe head of a different departmentabout how messy the library shelves were, because we’d been so busy all summer long we hadn’t had time to shelf read. She responded a little condescendingly, “That’s why you’re supposed to do it as you go.” I was still relatively new to the library at that time, and I don’t do well with even that minor level of conflict, so I didn’t say anything. But now practically every time I shelve, I replay that conversation in my head, frustrated that I hadn’t pointed out how we were severely understaffed and so far behind that it was all we could do to get books out of the workroom—or at least just said, childishly, “That’s easy for you to say.”

I would tap out syllables of songs or quotes on my fingers repeatedly, until the last one landed on my pinkie, but it wouldn’t make me physically uncomfortable if I couldn’t.

Ever since my keyboarding class in junior high, I’ve done a thing where I tap, in the air or on a table, whatever I’m hearing. If I’m having a conversation, I tap out the words on an invisible keyboard. If I’m listening to music, I play the tune on an invisible piano. I don’t do it on purpose, or for funit’s a subconscious thing, and the only time I really notice it is if the music doesn’t line up properly to end on my pinkie; then it bothers me and I try to redo it so it works.

In sixth grade I spent a lot of time alone, racked with panic, crying in bathroom stalls.

It was eighth grade for me, because that’s when I started having orthodontist appointments during the day. If it was early enough that I had to go back to school afterward, I couldn’t bear to walk into my classroom and have everyone look at me, so I would sit in the bathroom instead until the class ended, trying to work up the courage. I think this is different from Mara Wilson’s issue, but spending a lot of time holed up in bathroom stalls is definitely something I understand. Also, in elementary school, I was almost always late to class. I was so mortified about walking in late that I would wait outside the door until they did the pledge of allegiance, then walk in, stoop to “tie my shoe” until they were done, and then sit down with the rest of them. I tried to believe that no one noticed me doing this.

I hadn’t been a good student for years. I got distracted by my own thoughts, and gave up too readily. Being smart felt like all I had, and if I couldn’t get something right the first time, everyone would know I wasn’t. If I couldn’t do it perfectly, I didn’t see the point of doing it at all.

I actually wasn’t a good student in high school or college, though I got decent grades because I was smart. I was in Gifted and Talented programs from second grade through high school, and all my friends in high school were the “smart kids.” Math was traumatizing for me then, because we were in the same AP classes in every other subject, but when they were taking calculus, I was struggling with pre-algebra. I was mortified anytime math class came up, so embarrassed for them to know that I wasn’t as smart as they were. Being smart was the only thing I had going for me, and I had impostor syndrome hardcore.

The kind of headache that comes from crying too much can’t be helped by Advil.

I have had chronic headaches my entire life, and I found out only a few years ago that I also have migraines. I know many types of headaches, and this is one of the worst.

[Mara] means ‘of eternal beauty’ in Gaelic, but my parents named me the Hebrew one, which means ‘bitter.’ Being bitter was my birthright.

My first name is Miri, also Hebrew, also meaning “bitter.” My siblings all have Hebrew names, and theirs are lovely and significant. Bitter was my birthright, too, and I did not appreciate it.

The ones who scared me, who still scare me, are the girls who see all other girls as competition, who see themselves as the persecuted ones, the ones whom the pretty and popular girls hate. When you believe you’re persecuted, you will believe anything you do is justified.

That last line! This quote doesn’t fit with any of the others; it’s just such an astute observation that I think applies to all humanity. In the United States in particular, this is an issue, with Christians and “Men’s Rights Activists” abusing everyone who dares to suggest that they stop dominating the rest of us. It’s the same with religious fanaticism; no one is as terrifying as a person who believes God is directing them.