Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Well, my son has a decision to make. It is time for him to open up the “Donate” section of his Money Savvy Pig and make his first real charitable contribution. For someone his age, there’s a moderately significant amount of money in there, probably around $20. Whenever he actually manages to earn his allowance, at least $1 (usually 25-33% of what he gets, as he earns it on a sliding scale) has to be put aside for giving.

Now, as we reach the end of the year, it’s time for this money to go. There are plenty of options, and I’ve tried to narrow it down to a few that would appeal to a kid. The first in my mind is Child’s Play, the charity established by the guys from Penny Arcade. It helps provide toys and entertainment for children’s hospitals around the world. This thing keeps growing every year, and I think my son would be glad to help give sick kids with something to play with. In addition, Child’s Play is very efficient about translating donations to goods; in fact, thanks to their rather unique setup, I can’t think of many that get more bang for their buck.

My wife suggested letting him bundle up the money and go put it in a Salvation Army bucket. I have to say that I liked the suggestion; I hadn’t even considered it as an option. It’s something he’s done before, and putting a lot of money in there, piece by piece, will have a visceral impact. The ringer is likely to enjoy it (I know I would’ve back when I volunteered for it). I’m generally not enthused by religious charities; it’s part of the reason I’m not really considering Worldvision, and am suspicious of Heifer International until I find out more. While both those groups do good, essential work, I’m wary of any group that mixes proselytizing with charitable endeavor. Again, the Salvation Army has a decent record there; while still a religious sect (odd how most people don’t realize the Salvation Army is an actual church), the focus has long since shifted toward the charitable efforts. I’ve got a soft spot for the Salvation Army. I’ve done work for them before, and a Salvation Army officer married my parents, because the person originally scheduled to preside over their wedding could not make it. So, I’m really considering this.

I originally conceived of doing this whole giving thing through one of the “catalog charities”. I think it’s just cool to consider sitting down with a kid and scrolling through all the things your money could buy for someone in need. It let’s them know exactly where the money is going, which has a stronger impact. Will it be vaccines, a working animal, or a water purifier? Those questions are things that kids can learn about and decide to answer on their own. That said, I’m somewhat less enthused after doing my own research. Most of the big guns in the “catalog” game mix the giving with religious proselytizing; in particular, World Vision bugs me. Heifer International was founded as a religious organization, but unlike World Vision, they don’t seem to emphasize it anymore. However, I have other complaints about Heifer (and these apply to most of the catalog charities). When you read the fine print, what it says is, “We’re actually going to spend your money wherever we need it, regardless of what you said you wanted us to use it for.” That whole “choose what you are giving toward” riff is just the hook to get the money. That is bloody disappointing, and I don’t want to get a kid excited about giving to something they really aren’t giving to. Now, I can understand it, to an extent. You don’t want to be overloaded with 10,000 cute little lambs when what you really need is a well pump. I can especially see it from back in the day when it was an actual printed catalog that people were choosing from. These days, I think the web allows you to keep a decent tally and adjust the elements available for giving. Take a little off the top for administrative costs, and you can probably run it as advertised (Although, as I check my facts before I go on, it seems that Heifer has altered this somewhat, and only redistributes funds after the need you have designated in general has been met. That puts them back in the running, possibly the lead.). The only one of these groups that I’m still really considering is Oxfam. It’s a secular charity, and while it still distributes your money as it sees fit, Oxfam is at least up front about it. Instead of burying it deep in the legalese, Oxfam puts it right out there that your “purchase” is a symbolic representation. Although, politically, Oxfam has been getting a little extreme. It fits their mission, I guess, but I frankly don't want my money going toward a protests in front of the G8 summit. If anyone else knows of a similar charity that actually uses the money exactly how you tell it to, I’d be glad to hear about it.

Those are really the big options. I’m still hunting around, but I think those are the ones I’ll let him choose from. We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully, it’ll take on it’s own appeal, and he’ll put more than he’s required to into his bank over the next year. Maybe it'll also spur me on. I don't give enough, myself.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Not this again...

I hate idiots. In particular, I hate idiots who promote this “War on Christmas” crap. Admittedly, a lot of the target audience for that stuff aren’t stupid; they are just ignorant of the origins of all their “eternal traditions from the beginning of time,” and how young most of those traditions actually are. Most of the people actually advancing the culture war crap know all this stuff; they’re just playing to an audience that doesn’t.

We’ll set aside the whole “savior half-god born of a virgin signified by a star in the sky” thing, as that’s a whole other round of cultural theft. Suffice to say, Yeshua bin Yosef ain’t the first in line for that story by a couple of millennia. Anyway…

First off, solstice celebrations have been around since people realized that the seasons changed. I can’t point to many ancient cultures that didn’t have one. The ancients liked them a party, too. This was the “last bash before the long dark winter” sort of thing, when you had eat all the stuff that you couldn’t store and make all the religious observances that were needed to ensure the spring would come. Lots of our “modern” holiday traditions have their roots in old-school paganism. Hell, the Christian bible specifically prohibits bringing in trees for the solstice as a pagan observance.

And that’s just one example. Talking about "Yule" is all about sacrifices and hunts and about moving from one season to the next, and is a Northern European tradition. Holly and mistletoe are deeply significant in old Celtic and other pagan religions. While the exchanging of gifts actually follows from the Christian story, they are by far not the only solstice celebration with a similar tradition.

A second round of issues stems from the fact that the only reason the “Christ Mass” is located at the winter solstice was when the old Roman church tried to co-opt the other celebrations going on at the same time. The Roman celebration Saturnalia just happened to be at the solstice, and it was a real party, from all accounts. Wild bacchanals, orgies, massive parties of all types; without something to compete, the early church was at a disadvantage. So, in response, they basically said, “Oh, yeah, our god was born around now, too. Woohoo!” This, despite the fact that from their own descriptions, the birth time was likely somewhere in the spring. Until then, Christmas was a fairly minor event; it was just another named day in the church calendar, like Michaelmas. It got scaled up to compete with other prevalent religions, and in the process, co-opted some of their aspects. These aspects were much more evident in the middle ages. The holiday tradition of wassailing (precursor to modern caroling) was basically a bunch of revelers going from house to house demanding food and drink. That’s no so much what the Christmas Warriors would like us to think the holiday was about. Other pagan observances continued, as well.

As we approach the modern era, Christmas diminishes even further in importance, particularly for the Protestant denominations. In early colonial America, groups such as the Puritans repeatedly outlawed it as a thinly veiled pagan festival. By the Revolutionary period, it was virtually uncelebrated beyond a household level. This changed due to Queen Victoria’s choice of husband. Victoria married a member of the German royalty of the house of Saxe-Coburg, who brought with him to England a mass of holiday traditions. Christmas was still celebrated across continental Europe, but it looked a lot more like Saturnalia than Easter. Yes, the church was treating it as a pretty major holiday, but the populace still ended up treating it like any other solstice celebration. Traditions such as the Christmas tree, Yule log, and general holiday decoration carried into the British royalty; as Victoria was the standard for behavior in the Empire, these traditions spread as the fashionable thing to do, first among the nobles, then the upper classes, then to everyone else. Combined with the immensely popular work of Charles Dickens, the image of the modern Christmas celebration was born in Europe. This eventually carried over to the United States, the citizens of which were just as crazy about emulating Victoria as anyone else at the time. And, ultimately, because of that emulation, Christmas as it is understood in the English-speaking world is little more than a thin veneer of whitewash over much older pagan customs. Even at the point that the U.S. established it as a holiday in the mid-19th century, it was done so in purely secular terms. Once twentieth-century commerce and marketing got involved, the revels were in full swing, and they had nothing to do with religion.

So, knowing all that, it’s hard to take seriously anyone who thinks that Christ actually had much of anything to do with our modern understanding and celebration of Christmas. Admittedly, a lot of people don’t know this; I can’t blame the ignorant for having a different understanding (though I can blame them for not understanding the history of their own damned religion). The ones that get to me are the people who know this perfectly well, and ignore that knowledge in favor of exploiting the ignorance of the former group. That pisses me off. While I’m not a religious believer, I still get angry at the manipulation of those that do believe. What bug me are the con artists sidling up to the average believer and saying, “That guy over there? He’s trying to keep you from even mentioning Christmas. It’s because he’s afraid of Jesus, and wants to drive him out of the public square. That way the devil will win. By the way, I have a TV show and a book where I talk about all this, maybe you should check them out, if you love Jesus, that is.”

It’s that kind of thought that drives me buggy. Nowhere has anyone ever tried to legally stop anyone from saying “Merry Christmas”. Sure, the majority of people in the US (religious or not) celebrate Christmas, and it’s appropriate to greet them that way. However, a significant minority celebrates other holidays or none in the same period. Recognizing this, many businesses use the term “Happy Holidays” so as not to make an inappropriate greeting to a sizeable chunk of their customer base. Many individuals do the same out of common courtesy, because you don’t know the affiliation of everyone you speak to. Hell, I didn’t realize one of my friends in school was Jewish until he left out of a conference to go to his Bar Mitzvah. A sizable chunk of the people around here are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who don’t celebrate holidays in this manner. Throw in Muslims, adherents of the many varieties of Hindu faiths, Zoroastrians, etc, and there are frankly a lot of people to whom, “Merry Christmas” just doesn’t apply. And that, frankly, is great.

See, the United States is supposed to be a place for anyone who loves freedom, and wants a chance to be something. To facilitate that, we have a Constitution and Bill of Rights that guarantee equal protection under the law, regardless of extraneous factors like religion. Such guarantees are a protection of the minority from the tyranny of the majority (something many Jews and minority religionists can historically point to, given the history of state-sponsored pogroms and persecution throughout the nations of Europe that had official churches). While many may complain that this can result in a “tyranny of the minority,” I’ve never understood the idea. Ensuring that everyone has at least equal rights to belief and expression means that you can’t mandate or favor one over any other (or even none); that’s not a “tyranny”. The way we half-ass it in this country still barely makes it a “plurality”. However, many in a majority won’t see it that way. That’s where this “War on Christmas” comes in; rather than accommodate and be pleasant to a small minority, a chunk of the majority would rather act like jackasses. That’s what confuses me; no one has ever actually tried to legally stop someone from saying “Merry Christmas”. Sure, businesses may have a policy of using another phrase; that, however, is business, and most companies want to cover as many potential customer bases as possible. It’s the equivalent of being required to say, “Do you want fries with that?” It’s not a constitutional speech issue; it’s a company policy issue. An individual on their own time can “Merry Christmas” their ass off all over the public square.

A final place this comes up as a fight is where it actually becomes a Constitutional issue; government involvement. Usually, this takes the form of holiday displays on public ground, such as a public park or city office building. Since these places are recognized as representing the government, they can’t take a stance favoring or disfavoring a particular religion. That means that any public space allowing for holiday displays that are in any way non-secular (such as a crèche or menorah) must be open to all religions’ holiday displays, as well as secular displays. In effect, where they want to put religious speech, they have to allow all speech (I can’t believe the crapstorm that comes up every year when secularist and humanist groups put up signs essentially saying, “Be cool to each other” next to religious displays). This is, again, to prevent the tyranny of the majority. Even in a town that is 99.99% Christian, the government must not do anything indicating that it disfavors that .01% that isn’t; to do so could indicate that laws will be applied unequally due to religious discrimination. Coralius has a good post from back in the day as to why this is important. The ideal solution is for government functions and spaces to get out of the religious display business and get on with the work of governing. Some people just don’t seem to get that, though, and when you try to make them apply the law equally, cry about “persecution”. It’s not “persecution” to not get special treatment. However, people in the USA seem so ignorant of their own Constitution, laws, and history that they don’t understand what real persecution is. So to them, this is a “War on Christmas”. To everyone else, they just sort of look like idiots. It drives me nuts that people in such a diverse nation can be so provincial; this place is full of amazing and astounding people, and I really hope that the loud-mouthed and ignorant are actually a small minority. Extremists usually get the most press, in any case. The very fact that they have the right to yell about such things warms me. That’s what freedom is about; you have the right to act like an idiot, and I have the right to think you’re an asshole because of it.

Happy Holidays, y’all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yeah, I'm strange

I get sentimental about weird things. Songs are the biggest category, probably – there are more songs that can take me back than anything else. It’s not usually actual memories that come up, though; rather, it’s more likely a fantasy of myself singing that song at an appropriate point in my life. This happens all the time. It’s probably the biggest remaining way that I obsess about the past. I’ve gotten over the specifics of most of my awkwardness, social gaffes, and missed opportunities – I’m much happier in my own skin than I ever had hoped to be. Still, my fantasy life often revolves around having had some socially acceptable talent back in the day: singing, playing an instrument well (as compared to how I actually did it), the ability to communicate with my peers…the list goes on. Writing and singing music tops the list, though. I imagine performances of virtually every song I like, or what it would have been like to introduce that piece to the world. The fantasies I’ve constructed also feed my anxieties about actual performance (see this), though I’m getting very slightly better there.

In any case, this came up because “The Rainbow Connection” just popped up on my player while I was looking for something to write about. The first place my mind went was to put me in the place of the artist. I know, of course, that singing along and enjoying the music is part of what it’s all about, but I invest so much possibility and regret into songs this way that they sometimes drive me to tears for no good reason. The habit is so entrenched with some songs that I break at the opening chords because I wish so badly that the song had been mine. I barely have any conscious control over it, because the fantasy has been ingrained for years.

Again, I’m weird. Of course, were I normal, I wouldn’t be half as interesting.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"How do we make sure he stays dead?"

So, Oral Roberts died.

Good riddance.

While that’s the general sentiment throughout the skeptical web presence, it’s almost amusing to see the handful of responses that say, in essence, “Don’t say bad things about the dead man! It makes us look bad!”

Fuck them. He was an evil bigoted shit in life, and that doesn’t change because he’s in the ground. I’ll say the same when Robertson or Popoff finally kick the bucket, too. I always knew Roberts and his ilk were scam artists, even long before I discarded what little faith I had. Badly-coiffed ministers in thousand-dollar suits begging for money because a 900-foot Jesus threatened to kill them? How does anyone fall for that? I guess if you had an abiding faith that a minister wouldn’t lie, or that these people were doing good work, I could see it, but their pitch is just so absurd. I understand the idea behind a regular tithe to a church. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. Even as a kid, though, I knew the preachers on TV were weasels of the highest order. I guess that’s part of the reason that the majority of their donations came from the sick or elderly; these groups are looking for that desperate cure, or the “personal” attention from the mailing list.

I read Randi’s The Faith Healers a while back. It pissed me off in a way that little does. Oral Roberts was a prime example of everything that can be wrong with religion; he spent decades bilking the poor, sick, and desperate; he provided “healings” that at best did little more than waste the time of those involved; he used mass media to extort the faithful; and he passed on the apparatus to continue the scam on to his family.

I was discussing with a friend how these low-lifes could engage people so deeply, and I realized that they’re using the same tricks as any carnival barker. They speak in loud, attention-grabbing cadences; they promise wonders; they demand just a little sacrifice, not even really enough to cover costs, because they especially want you to have access. The analogy was close, but not quite there. Then, it hit me; these guys are wrestling managers, with a god as the client.

Managers in wrestling serve a couple of purposes; most often, though, they are charismatic mouthpieces for workers that have no skill on the microphone. They are there to make the threats, the boasts, the taunts, and the warnings for the silent worker behind them. You can take a basic wrestling promo, swap out some words, and get a standard TV sermon.

Manager: “Let me tell you something about Mad Max Blackman – he’s not here to make you feel good. He’s here to fulfill a promise, a promise made at WrestleSlam. Despite those who have opposed him, despite all the doubters, he’s still here. In fact, he’s more powerful than he’s ever been, and ready to take on all comers! When he arrives in the ring, all will know his power! He will bring down the wrath, his enemies will fall before him, and he will raise the WTW belt in victory! There are those who fear his return to the ring, as well they should! Those who have fought him, those who have conspired against him, even those who just stood aside and let the attacks on Max happen; these are the ones who have reason to fear the Madman! Only his faithful friends and allies will be spared when Max returns to the ring. But I’m here to let those others know that Max is a forgiving man; there is time to avoid his wrath. All you folks need to do is renounce any claim to the title belt that is rightfully his, and recognize that you are nothing before him. Do that, and Max will spare you when he remakes World Television Wrestling in his image! It doesn’t matter how you talked about him before, it doesn’t matter if you cheated him out of victory in the ring, it doesn’t matter how you may have worked against him in the past; Max will forgive all if you stand aside now. Don’t wait, because you never know when your name will be the next on Max’s list, and by then, it’ll be too late…

Do I even have to go through and substitute the words? It’s the exact same patter. Hell if you picture a big sweaty guy in a suit shouting those kinds of phrases into a microphone, it could be either a preacher or a manager at any given moment.

I think it’s just further evidence that the con artists of the televangelist game know exactly what they’re doing (aside from the mounds of documents, videotapes, investigations, and other proof showing that they are frauds, I mean). They know that they’re selling to the crowd. They are hunting the dollar in the kitty, a million times over. The new generation doesn’t seem to be as good at it; they didn’t hone their craft at the tent revivals and healings. They didn’t have the same competition for mailing lists, marks, and TV time; they aren’t the innovators. As such, they’re just as sleazy, but not quite as actively evil. There will always be someone in the healing and donation racket; it’s an easy way to turn a profit. Despite that, though, I’ll be happier when all of the old guard dies off. Those that didn’t have to fight for it aren’t as good at it; the selection is less strenuous.

In the end, I agree with someone over at Pharyngula that quoted Twain in reference to Roberts’s death: “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Skeptical news

So Phil Plait is stepping down from the JREF presidency, to be replaced by D.J. Grothe (not a bad choice for the job, in my mind). Phil is stepping down due to an in-process TV deal; does this mean that The Skeptologists may finally be getting off the ground? I hope so.

Favorite holiday songs

I’ll be the first to admit that my taste in music is what might be called “eclectic”. A thorough look at the Pandora widget over there could tell anyone as much. That varied taste extends to winter holiday music, too. I enjoy traditional religious carols and such, but few of those even come close to being my favorites. I tend toward songs that are both secular and less than mainstream. From top to bottom, here are the Christmas season favorites that I’ll always jump to the head of my queue:

Tie, 1st place:
Robert Earl Keen, “Merry Christmas From the Family”/ Mel Tormé, “The Christmas Song

Despite what I said above, the top spot is shared by the offbeat and the classic. Keen’s paean to the redneck in us all exhibits both a sense of fun and has elements that anyone from the country can recognize. This is the ultimate, “We ain’t like them city folks” song, but it conveys that without being insulting to the subjects. Tormé, on the other hand, penned a song aimed directly at the secular Christmas market. Conveying traditional images of winter, home, love, and good cheer, it plucks right at my heartstrings. I love the sincerity of the song, the mellow delivery, and the pure joy of it. No song makes me relive good feelings like this one.

Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano

A kitschy little novelty song, this one is just fun. There aren’t enough fun songs at Christmastime.

Little Drummer Boy” as performed by Bing Crosby and David Bowie

While this is an excellent arrangement between two spectacular vocal artists, the reason I like this one has more to do with the story behind it. Bowie was invited to appear on Bing’s Christmas special, discovering during taping that he was supposed to just sort of stand there smiling while Bing sang “Little Drummer Boy”. That didn’t sit well with Bowie, who expected to sing. One clash of egos later, we have this beautiful arrangement from two diametrically opposed artists.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town” as performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Again, this song is just fun. Springsteen brings an exuberant flair to the table that’s rarely seen in holiday music, along with a rocking arrangement.

I am Santa Claus” by Bob Rivers

A takeoff of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, this song helps bring the out the brutal of a holiday icon.

Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms

This one lands on the list for nostalgia reasons. For some reason, this song just made me go nuts as a kid. I’d listen to it on loop for hours. All year ‘round. It must have driven my parents totally nuts. I still enjoy it. Just not that much.

Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC

One of the first mainstream holiday rap songs, and one of the best, in my opinion. Kind of the urban cousin to the Robert Earl Keen song above.

There are other holiday songs that I like, such as the carol created when the Beach Boys cannibalized their own “Little Deuce Coupe” to make a song about Santa, but none of those rate enough to listen to over and over.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Something I like

I really enjoy when I walk into a place of business and get recognized. It’s even better when they say, “It’s not [Saturday, Tuesday, etc.]. What are you doing here?”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Vanity, thy name is Geek

It can be somewhat gratifying to find that something you’ve written or said has been memorable enough for other people to share. Geeky outcast though I was as a kid, I used to be greatly amused when I’d note other people picking up on some of my more idiosyncratic phrases or behaviors. I know for certain that this was sometimes just a coincidence; other times, I could trace how it moved from person to person.

Aside from this blog, I’ve participated in quite a few online forums and discussions (most of these have much higher traffic, as well). On rare occasions, I’ve said something that actually approached being unique or insightful, and I get some good responses. This feeds my deep-seated need for acceptance by people I consider peers (very ingrained thanks to not having it occur much in the past; thank you college and internet for allowing me to find others like “me”), and makes those writings particularly memorable for me.

Given that confluence of needs and ideas, I occasionally do some vanity Googling of things I’ve said that had some depth. Usually, I get nothing, as befitting an average schmuck on the interwebs. Sometimes, though, I find something quoted word for word in venues I’ve never visited (though often like-minded to where I originally made the statement). Even if it’s getting ripped apart, it gives me warm fuzzies to know that my thoughts made someone else think and respond. I don’t quite know what pathology that is, but I surely have it.

I guess that’s why I like forums or comment sections of large blogs for a lot of my online discussion. On the more intimate forums, I’m a well-known personality. On the larger ones, I’m a bit player. But, even a bit player can spark a discussion, and I’ve done that a few times.

I don’t know. In the end, I guess it’s one of the weird ways I have fun. I can handle that.


When you get as little traffic as I do (although it is much greater than, say, a year ago), you get to know your metrics. I can recognize the IPs and locations of most of my regulars. I know Coralius's visits. I can tell when my wife checks in from work; I know when one of my friends from Florida stops by. That makes it pretty clear when I'm getting traffic outside my normal readership. Usually, people search some weird term that I've managed to include in a post, or they venture over through a link in my signature from Scienceblogs or the Randi forums because I've managed to be mildly interesting in those venues.

All that, I can usually identify fairly easily. It's when I start seeing a pattern elsewhere that makes me wonder. I've apparently picked up two other local-ish readers, as well as a handful distributed elsewhere; given the number of folks who should generally know me as the owner of this blog, they shouldn't be people I know personally. They could be, obviously; a determined person with particular bits of information could sniff me out without much effort. I just don't know anyone likely to make the effort.

So, it makes me wonder about picking up new readers. I can understand how the one-timers flow in and out, but what makes someone come back? Who's the person in Redmond at Microsoft that drops by every once in a while? Not a bot, from my data. Who was it in California that actually Googled my blog name? Seriously. It's not a word you expect many people to come up with on their own. Hell, I still want to know how I interested some Scandinavians enough to keep them dropping by over the course of a year.

I wish some of this more diverse audience would comment. I would rather provoke a discussion rather than just blindly throw words at the wall. Admittedly, the wall serves it purpose as an outlet for things I don't know how to say otherwise, as well as honing my writing skills. Still, I’d prefer a discussion to a dissertation.

In any case, I'll keep looking at the numbers and wondering.


I can feel my skin tighten. It’s like it’s pulling taut and squeezing the sweat out of my pores. I flush, and can feel the heat on the surface of my skin. My throat tightens, and a wave of tension travels from my face down through my body and limbs. Any more, I can hold back the tears. It’s hard, though. I still get the catch in my voice, because of what’s happening with my throat, unless I use some iron self-control. Paranoia jumps in. My mind, so accustomed to racing ahead of me, begins figuring doomsday scenarios. I’ll lose everything: job, home, family. I’ve let everybody down. It’s all I can do to keep from collapsing in a heap and whimpering, like I used to do when I was younger.

Someone asked me a question earlier about something that got messed up 14 months ago, and not necessarily by me.

I consider myself in control of my anxiety, these days, because unless the stress is big, I can function. I may not function well, but I can function. When it’s big, though, I have to drive myself to do anything. I just want to collapse inward and let it take me, let the fear consume me. I almost want that fugue where I can’t eat, or recall where the last fifteen hours went, or whether I’ve moved. The fugue is better than the breakdown. The breakdown is what I get when I can’t just lock it all away; it’s uncontrollable paranoia and tears. Breakdowns, for me, are almost like seizures; I can’t control or stop them once they get started. It’s much more rare for them to happen, because virtually all of the coping mechanisms I’ve created over the years are geared toward preventing them. Collapse in front of a classroom full of kids a couple of times, and you’d work on it, too.

I’ve been thinking about it more lately, because my wife has been having some troubles with anxiety. I can empathize; for good or ill, my anxiety had a large hand in shaping who I am. I know that there isn’t much I can do for her other than offer support, and that kills me, because I know what kind of things she’s dealing with inside. She’s seen a doctor, and because the issue seems to be related to work stress that may eventually lift, she’s taking medication to help stabilize her until her environment stabilizes.

That’s one thing that I wonder if I could do. One of my biggest phobias has to do with brain function. I’m terrified of dementia altering who I am. While that doesn’t translate straight to “Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors are bad, mmkay?” it has been part of what drove me toward being as much of a teetotaler as I am. I can trace my original complete lack of alcohol or drug use to the idea that stuff like that affected my brain, and I felt that my brain was literally my only asset. Why would I do anything that could bugger up the only thing I had going for me? My reasons have evolved, but the idea of anything that could seriously affect my brain chemistry ranks right up there with an organic decline of brain function. What do I know, though? Quite a lot of the people I’m close to have really enhanced their lives and happiness by medically balancing their brain chemistry. I could probably use it myself; it’s not like there’s dearth of crazy in my family tree. Of course, I’d have to overcome my anxiety about brain chemistry to do something about my brain chemistry. Such is the Catch-22 of mental health.

Maybe I should just become a Scientologist and let a galvanometer solve all my problems. I doubt that would work, though. I may be a little crazy, but I’m not stupid.