Updated: Wed Jun 10, 2020
Updated: Sun Sep 29, 2019
Updated: Tue Jul 30, 2019
I mean, the news is a trash fire pretty much every day these days. But today, there was also a rainbow by my house. So I went out and got a picture of it. Figured it would be a nice change of pace for everyone. Please enjoy, and I hope the rest of your day is a little better because of it.
Over the course of 20 years, I’ve had seven cats, roughly grouped into three generations.
The first generation of cats was a single cat: Rex, who I acquired in 1991 from my sister Heather. Heather and her children came to live with me for about a year when she was getting a divorce from her then-husband and needed a place to live; Rex, a kitten, came along as part of that package. Rex was not stupid and apparently realized that I was the one paying for his kibble, and also, my room in the apartment was entirely toddler-free, so he glommed onto me. When Heather and her children departed, he stayed.
By 1998, when for the purposes of this exercise our story begins, Rex had gotten quite comfortable living with me and Krissy, and had also gotten rather chunky — something like 30 pounds. When he got a urinary tract infection our vet ordered him on a low-fat, low-ash diet with no more than half a cup of kibble a day. That lasted until Rex tried to kill me in the night by climbing up on my bed and suffocating me with his furry bulk as a protest for the diet cat food. I took the hint, fed him what he liked, and expected him to expire in a year or two. Possibly out of spite, he stuck around through 2005.
By that time, two members of the second generation of cats, Lopsided Cat and Ghlaghghee, had joined the menagerie at the Scalzi Compound in Ohio. Lopsided Cat we acquired when he walked into the yard while Krissy and three-year-old Athena were tending the garden; he walked over to Athena and when she knelt down to pet him he hopped on her back, and that was pretty much that. He had been someone else’s cat (he had been neutered) but I suppose either he had been abandoned or he had decided to trade up. Ghlaghghee (whose name was pronounced “fluffy”) came to us when a neighbor knocked on the door, said “here’s that kitten your wife wanted,” presented me with a small handful of fluff, and then walked away. In fact Krissy had not said she’d wanted a kitten, but inasmuch as I had taken receipt of the thing, it was too late for takebacks.
The second generation of cats got its final member when Zeus showed up at our garage door on the coldest night of 2008, mewling piteously for food and warmth. We’re suckers and we took him in. Zeus, Lopsided Cat and Ghlaghghee formed a fairly stable trio for the better part of the decade, with well-defined roles: Lopsided Cat was the Cat’s Cat, sort of the platonic ideal of a cat, who kept the house largely vermin free (we’re surrounded on three sides by agricultural fields, and without cats the field critters eventually head indoors). Ghlaghghee was a pretty princess who ruled the house with an iron paw. Zeus was the adolescent comedy relief. Ghlaghghee became world-famous when I taped bacon to her; she was written up in the New York Times and the Washington Post among other places. The other two cats did not seem to mind her fame.
Of the second generation of cats, Ghlaghghee was the first to leave us and did not meet any of the third and current generation, and Lopsided Cat passed away within the same week of us acquiring the first two members of that new generation, Sugar and Spice, sister kittens who we famously dubbed The Scamperbeasts. Zeus, now the sole surviving member of the second generation, rather grumpily took on the role of the elder cat, first schooling the Scamperbeasts and now lately acting like an exasperated grandfather to Smudge, the (we think!) final member of the third generation of Scalzi cats, a kitten who very like Zeus came to us out of a nearby field looking to be rescued, accurately figuring we were too soft-hearted not to take him in.
It means we currently have four cats at the Scalzi Compound, which to my mind is one more than we absolutely need. Three seems to me to be the ideal number. But then I look at Zeus, now the elder cat, and I realize that all-too-sooner than later that “problem” will take care of itself. Maybe in the meantime I should enjoy these furry folks while we have them.
Which is of course the problem with cats, and pets in general: They don’t last. If you’re lucky you get a decade and a half with them, give or take a couple of years. Then they pass along and you have a cat-shaped hole in your heart for a little while. New kittens and cats can help that heal, but you still miss the ones who are gone.
As it happens, Rex and Ghlaghghee and Lopsided Cat are still here with us, in their way. Rex’s cremated remains are in a lovely urn that a Whatever reader made for him, and the other two are buried beneath the oak tree in the back yard, which is appropriate inasmuch as the spent nearly their whole lives in sight of that tree. They’re home. I find that I miss these cats of mine as much as (and in some cases more than) humans I’ve known in my life. They’re all people. And these people lived with me and were part of my family.
Here in 2018, it’s interesting watching the four cats we have configure themselves into their own sort of family unit. Zeus is the cranky elder, Sugar is the standoffish queen, Spice has taken up the mantle of the great hunter, and Smudge… well, he’s still figuring out what he wants to be when he grows up, and in the meantime he runs about with fearless and some would suggest heedless kitten energy, running head first into the other cats whether they want that or not. It’s fun to watch them tolerate him, until they don’t. He doesn’t seem to mind.
The configurations of the cats at the Scalzi Compound over the years, and the dynamic of the generations, have helped to give shape to their time with us, and ours with them. Over the course of these 20 years, we’ve never not had cats, but the cats are not interchangeable. They’re all their own people and have their own personalities. I would never confuse Rex with Zeus, or Ghlaghghee for Spice. I miss the ones that are gone, and am glad for the ones that are here now. Even when one of them is, as Smudge is literally doing right now, attempting to dismantle the chair I’m sitting in with his teeth. It’s not going to work. But it’s fun to watch him try.
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Adam-Troy Castro has a post up called “Writers: The Long-Term Benefits of Not Being An Ass,” which I encourage you to read, with the awareness that the advice has works equally as well when you substitute any other profession for “Writer” (or indeed, you can also substitute “human” and it works just as well).
Also, let me just second nearly all of what Adam-Troy is saying there. Folks, the fact is that people’s tolerance for working with complete assholes is pretty low. In the field of writing, in my experience, being an asshole is generally neither here nor there in terms of how an audience sees you (they’re focused on your output, not your personality), but it has a lot to do with how much slack those who have to work with you will cut you. And when no one wants to work with you, it makes it harder for your audience to find you.
And yes, if you sell millions of books, then you probably get to be as big of an asshole as you want to be and people still have to put up with you. But not many people sell that much. The list probably doesn’t include you (sorry. It doesn’t include me, either). It’s been interesting recently to watch writers who sell relatively little who have nevertheless decided being a complete asshole to other people in the industry was a winning move. They are either extraordinarily confident they will never be dropped by their current publisher (which is not a smart thing to assume when you sell relatively little), or they hope self-publishing will save them (also not smart).
(Or they’re simply convinced that it’s not them who’s an asshole, it’s everyone else. In the latter case, well, you can believe that, but if everyone else outside your tightly-sealed little group disagrees with you, then you still have a problem.)
Or, and this has been suggested to me before, there’s the theory that being a complete asshole is a marketing strategy to build an audience. My thought on this is, well, okay, but the sort of person who gets off on watching you be an asshole is probably an asshole themselves. And while I suppose that an asshole’s money spends just as well as anyone else’s, I’d still be uncomfortable actively cultivating that particular market. Again, generally your audience doesn’t care about your personality, but if you make being an asshole a selling point, to the particular market of assholes, then that’s the market you’ll be stuck with, you know? Then you’ll always have to be an asshole. And, you know. I can be an asshole just like anyone else. But I try to limit the total time I am one. It’s tiring. I can’t imagine having to do it all the time.
So, yes. Listen to Adam-Troy. Try to be a decent person, to the people you work with and even the people you don’t; Remember how you treat people on the way up is how they treat you on the way down; Maybe you can be an asshole if you sell millions, but you probably don’t and even if you do, you should still try not to be one. People remember. And people talk. And people choose who they want to do business with, and who they want to help.
Film director Richard Linklater's latest movie, Boyhood, was shot over 12 years. NPR's Tamara Keith speaks with the star of the film, Ellar Coltrane, who spent over a decade shooting the movie.
He stands out from the other lambs on the farm.
Batlam was born with two identical black patches around the eyes.
The first few days of Batlam's life have involved mainly drinking milk and staying close to his mother.
This last week out at the prison bible study I led the inmates through an unlikely advent meditation. Our focus was on Piss Christ, the controversial photograph by Andres Serrano.
As I describe in my book Unclean, in 1987 the photographer Andres Serrano unveiled his controversial work Piss Christ. Piss Christ was a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a mixture of blood and urine. The work broke into public consciousness in 1989 when members of the US Senate expressed outrage that Serrano had received $15,000 from the American National Endowment for the Arts. Senators called the work “filth,” “blasphemous,” and “abhorrent.” One Senator said, “In naming it, [Serrano] was taunting the American people. He was seeking to create indignation. That is all right for him to be a jerk but let him be a jerk on his own time and with his own resources. Do not dishonor our Lord.” Later, in 1997, the National Gallery in Melbourne, Australia was closed when members of a Christian group attacked and damaged Piss Christ.
Beyond the content of the photograph what really offends is the name, the juxtaposition of the word "piss" with "Christ." What is blasphemous is the contact between something holy and something defiling.
Piss contaminates the Christ.
This is an example of the attribution called negativity dominance in judgments of contamination. That is, when the pure comes in contact with the contaminant the pure becomes polluted. The negative dominates over the positive. The power is not with the pure but sits with the pollutant.
This is why the Pharisees see Jesus becoming defiled when he eats with tax collectors and sinners. The pollutant--the tax collectors and sinners--defiles Jesus, the pure. The negative dominates over the positive. The pollutant is the stronger force. Thus it never occurs to the Pharisees, because it is psychologically counter-intuitive, that Jesus's presence might sanctify or purify those sinners he is eating with. Because pollution doesn't work that way.
Thus, in the contact between urine and Jesus in Piss Christ we instinctively judge the negative to be stronger than the positive. Thus the shock. Thus the blasphemy.
But the real blasphemy just might be this: That we think urine is stronger than Christ. That we instinctively--and blasphemously--believe that the defilement of our lives is the strongest force in the universe. Stronger even than God.
It never occurs to us that Christ is stronger than the "piss" of our lives.
I looked at the men in the study and said, This is the scandal of the Incarnation. This is the scandal of Christmas. That God descended into the piss, shit and darkness of your life. And the piss, shit and darkness did not overcome it.
I know, I told the men, that this is so very hard to believe. That Jesus goes into the darkest. most disgusting, most defiling corners of our lives. This, all by itself, is hard to believe. But even harder to believe is that Jesus is stronger than that polluting, shameful, defiling darkness.
That is the scandal of Christmas.
John 1.14a, 5I have no idea what Serrano was trying to do with Piss Christ. He was, most likely, trying to piss off Christians. If so, he succeeded in that.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
But the story of the incarnation is more subversive than the most subversive art. It's hard to be more transgressive than Christmas. Consider Beth Williamson's analysis of Piss Christ:
What are we to make of this work: what are we to understand by it, and how can we interpret it?God had a body. That is about as transgressive as you can get. So transgressive that many Christians, now and throughout history, have passionately resisted and banished the thought. It's the same impulse that will cause many to denounce this post.
Most obviously were enraged by the combination of the most iconic image of Christianity—the Crucified Christ—with human bodily fluid, and felt that this work set out deliberately to provoke viewers to outrage. The artist almost certainly aimed to provoke a reaction, but what reaction?
The fact that urine is involved is crucial here. But was the use of urine simply intended, as some of Serrano’s detractors have claimed, to cause offense? Had the artist deliberately set out to show disrespect to this religious image, by placing it in urine? Some felt this was tantamount to urinating on the crucifix.
I would suggest that, even if some viewers and commentators feel that it was the artist’s intention, or part of his intention, to be offensive, there are also other ways to interpret this work...
The process of viewing the Crucified Christ through the filter of human bodily fluids requires the observer to consider all the ways in which Christ, as both fully divine and full human, really shared in the base physicality of human beings. As a real human being Christ took on all the characteristics of the human body, including its fluids and secretions. The use of urine here can therefore force the viewer to rethink what it meant for Christ to be really and fully human.
Christmas is so hard to believe that most Christians don't believe it.
But the Word became flesh. God dwelt among us. And still does. Even in the piss. Especially in the piss.
I looked at the men in the prison and paused. I wanted them to hear this. Because there is some real darkness in their lives. Darkness we rarely speak about.
I looked at them and said:
The meaning of the Incarnation is that God has descended into the piss and shit of your lives. And that God is stronger than that darkness.
Do you believe this? Because I know it is so very, very hard to believe.
You want to believe that your foulness, all the shit in your life, is the strongest thing there is. The greatest and final truth about your life.
It's so hard to believe what I'm telling you because it feels like blasphemy.
But it's not. It is not blasphemy.
It is the story of the Incarnation. It is the Word becoming flesh. It is the story of God's love for you.
It is Christmas.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Boston Globe included a discussion of the pink ribbon campaign and cause-related marketing (products marketed with a promise of a donation to a social cause) more generally. It, like books by sociologists — including Samantha King’s Pink Ribbon Inc. and Gayle Sulik’s Pink Ribbon Blues — paints a pretty depressing picture of cause-related marketing.
As the article discusses, this approach to raising money for a cause is suspect for a number of reasons. In many instances, the percent of profit that goes to charity is very small. For example, one woman bought a candy bar being sold door-to-door under the auspices of a breast cancer donation, only to discover that she was invited to spent .42 cents to mail in a coupon (story here). The company would then donate one cent to breast cancer research! (And the chocolate was bad, too.)
In other instances, companies have a cap on how much they’ll donate. But consumers may or may not know that the cap is exceeded when they are in a position to buy the product. This is the case with New Balance.
In addition, companies that participate in cause-based marketing may do so without thinking through and altering their own practices that may be contributing to rates of breast cancer. Yoplait, for example, “pinked” their yogurt for breast cancer, even as it contained milk from cows given recombinant bovine growth hormone, a substance correlated with breast cancer rates. After pressure from Breast Cancer Action, Yoplait changed its practices (Dannon followed).
This suggests that companies participating in cause-related marketing may not really be behind the cause, but may instead simply be interested in the profits. However, cause-related marketing does give advocacy organizations a wedge. If Yoplait hadn’t pinked its product, it’s unclear whether it would have felt compelled to change its ingredients. In this sense, the hypocrisy was an opportunity.
The article also introduces Jeanne Sather, who blogs about “the most egregious, tasteless examples of pink-ribbon products.” The winner of her most recent contest for the most tasteless product: Jingle Jugs, “plastic breasts mounted taxidermy-style on wood” that jiggle and bounce in response to music. They are, as you might imagine, marketed largely to frat boys (and the like) and the breast cancer edition allowed fraternities to merge their philanthropic and misogynistic tendencies seamlessly:
Jingle Jugs’ slogan: “Partnering with our nation’s youth to save our loved ones.”
Nice double entendre there.
This type of objectification of women’s bodies in breast cancer awareness advertising is common. Renée Y. sent in this advertisement for a breast cancer research fundraiser. Again, note that it says “Save a breast,” not “Save a woman’s life.”
Corina C. sent in this image of a t-shirt (I found a lot with the same catchphrase here):
Opponents of cause-based marketing argue that it is fraught with ethical problems and, at its worst, is deceiving and offensive. While it does result in money for the cause, it may also reduce the amount of money people donate directly because they think that by buying the breast cancer cookies, cream cheese, combination locks, cat food, cookware, chewing gum, limo rides, and golf accessories, they’ve already done their part.
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Matthew 20.25-28 (NLT)I find a lot about the gender roles debates to be distracting and off-topic. What does it mean to be a man or a woman? What are our proper "gender roles"? Can a man stay at home and a woman be the bread-winner? And so on and so on.
But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
To be sure, these are important questions and important debates. But for me, they are often beside the point.
The problem, as I see it, is less about what men and woman can or can't do than with a group of men in the church exerting power over another group--women. In short, men are "lording over" women in the church, exercising top-down power via a hierarchy. More, this group of men is prohibiting another group (women) from having access and input into the very power structure that is being used against them and excluding them. That's lording over. And gender aside, that sort of lording over is prohibited by Jesus. "But among you it shall be different."
For example, what rankles in my own local church context is that women have to ask men for permission. Women have to be allowed to do things. And it is this concentration, use and gatekeeping of power that is sinful.
The issue isn't really, fundamentally, about what "roles" men are equipped for versus women. The whole debate about "gender roles" is often beside the point and, I think, often a manipulation to keep our eye off the ball. Because the only role in the church is the role Jesus took upon himself. The only role in the church is being a servant.
So when you see a group in the church using and then excluding others from power--rather than eschewing power the way Jesus did--you move about as far away from Jesus as you can get. This is importing into the Kingdom satanic, worldly manifestations of power, bringing sin into the very heart and life of the church.
Dear brothers, repent. Repent and believe the gospel. The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Among us it shall be different.