Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Have a Merry Christmas!

I have no memory of this photo being taken, but I look adorable!  And Santa looks tired and cranky.

Tomorrow early in the morning Greg and I will set off for north Georgia to stay in the guest room at mom's retirement home for three nights and spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with mom.  I probably won't see any other family members while I'm there, which is too bad.  My sister goes every year to spend Christmas in Michigan with her husband's family, and my niece (my brother's daughter) has a big party at her house that basically lasts most of Christmas day, so my brother and sister-in-law will be there.  It's a bit too far away for mom to go, it's just too difficult for her.  So it'll be me and my sweetie and my mom, which is just fine.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How Things I Like Wear Me Down

I've always kind of been drawn to the easy promise of self-help books, as if trading some cash for a pretty book with an empty promise would automatically fix something in my life.  A few years ago I found this book, which, miraculously, did exactly that on a scale so grand it changed the way I look at myself and my place in this world:  The Introvert Advantage. Also, I pretty much stopped reading self-help books, since clearly this one was THE one for me.

I had really never understood that there was a difference between being shy and being introverted (although, horribly, I am both).  Now I know that there is a reason why I love spending so much time alone, why I am exhausted by being around people -- even people I like being around.  Why I have to force myself to leave my nice cozy house to go to the mall, or a party, or an event.  I really had spent my whole life beating myself up for being lazy, or crazy, or just weird.  Since reading this book and understanding that that's just who I am and who I always will be, and I can either fight it (which really had not been working at all) or go with it and learn to take care of myself and plan ahead for things that will be hard.

So, I have been.  I always plan to have time at home to recharge, and I give myself room to be alone.  It has made a giant positive difference in my life.  But yesterday I really underestimated how difficult our company's Christmas celebration would be.

Our little department, which is about a dozen people in a relatively isolated area of the office, is always decorated beyond any amount of reason for holidays.  It's overdone and awesome, and I love it.  We have a couple of people who probably should have been decorators for a living, and they make our area look joyful and fun.  But this year someone from outside our department noticed how pretty it was and asked us to open up our area to the whole company to walk through and enjoy.  Great idea, right?  We all wore red shirts and Santa hats and got candy canes to hand out.

Unfortunately, I had a giant project that I absolutely had to do before leaving at 5:30, and the open house was 3-5.  People kept coming by in groups of 3 or 4 up to a dozen, and a co-worker would give them a tour, stopping at each adorable animated figure and playing the song.  Did I mention that a big part of our decor included an animatronic Frosty singing the whole song, a saxophone-playing Santa wearing sunglasses, and a Christmas tree singing O Christmas Tree, and a snowglobe that played Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, and another half-dozen more dogs and candy canes and reindeer that all sing or play music?

For two hours, while I was making phone calls and rushing to get my project done.  Several times people would be playing with the different toys in different areas, with multiple songs going at once, and it was truly a cacophony.  I was trying so hard to smile and wave at every visitor, my head sweaty under my Santa hat, and say Merry Christmas.  And the truly horrible part is that I really do love Christmas, and I love all our decorations and animated stuff, I really do.

One woman brought her sweet little daughter, she was around 2, who really seemed to take a liking to me.  She was adorable, she had little pigtails and clutched her candy cane, and had ignored everyone else cooing at her.  Clearly she was in tune with my innate awesomeness, but having a whole roomful of people all standing there staring at me and this toddler is exactly the kind of thing that makes me vastly uncomfortable.

The guests were trooping through and staring into our cubicles as though we ourselves were part of the holiday decorations.  Several people leaned in and made comments about things on my desk.  One woman asked about my photo of my Siamese cat, saying she preferred dogs; another complimented my purple hair troll.

Though they were all extremely friendly and nice and everyone was happy and having a great time, I began to feel pecked at, just by their very presence.

I did manage to get my project done, and with huge relief, drove home listening to Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses and Oh Santa by Mariah Carey.  Whew.

Now, I was aware that this day was difficult for me, but all of the useful knowledge from the awesomest self-help book of all fell right out of my head when I got home.  My husband, happy to be home on Friday night and ready to celebrate the beginning of the weekend, wanted to hang out and make dinner together in our tiny kitchen.  I, thinking that my hard day was over and behind me, jumped into signing and addressing Christmas cards (which I was extremely behind on) and making dinner and straightening up.  Before I knew it I was cranky and stressed and getting angry, and my poor husband was making me dinner and trying to cheer me up without knowing what was wrong.

It was just too much, after being massively overstimulated all day.  Like I said, the confusing thing is that I LIKE all this stuff... it was just too much.

Then, I looked at the calendar and realized my period is due in one week, which means yesterday is my single worst day of PMS, which always makes me cranky and impatient.  Gah!  Why hadn't I noticed that before?

I should have come home and been quiet and alone for a few minutes, and I'll remember that next time.  Or at least I'll try to.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Godless Heathen

All right, here it is, just in time for Christmas:  I am an atheist.

Reasons why I ought to be a Christian:
  • I was raised in a Christian household, and though he died when I was small and I never really knew him, my maternal grandfather was a minister
  • I grew up attending a small rural church that perfectly embodied what most people would think of as the churchy ideal -- it was basically a cross between the church on Little House On The Prairie and the one on The Waltons, but with more modern plumbing
  • In that church, I spent a large number of happy hours eating fried chicken and oven-baked macaroni and cheese during potluck lunches in our little Fellowship Hall; wearing a dress made out of a white sheet and a ring of gold tinsel on my head to be a part of the "multitude of heavenly host" in our Christmas pageant (or, when a little older, wearing my father's plaid wool bathrobe to be a "shepherd in the field"); and singing hymns (Love Lifted Me was my favorite)
  • My father, when dictating his obituary to me a few years ago, chose to deliberately leave out his long military career, including serving in the Army during World War II, hoping to highlight his lifetime of devoted service to the church
  • My mother and sister are both dedicated Christians who are happy in their faith (and unaware of my godless heathen status, although they do know that I don't attend church)
Calling myself an atheist is not a thing that I say lightly.  I have tried to believe in God, to have faith.  And part of why I have hesitated to write about this is that I have no easy explanation for why I don't; all I have is my mind, and my heart, telling me that it just isn't true.  It's not right.  And when I was finally able to let go of trying to force myself, all of a sudden everything made sense.  It was such a relief.

I am reluctant to tell people because almost universally people hear atheist and they think amoral. Is the wrath of a higher power and the threat of eternal damnation the only reason to decide not to do bad things?  I am a very moral person, I try hard to be compassionate and honest, and though I have my selfish and impatient moments, I would never deliberately hurt anyone. I don't dislike or think less of people who are religious, and I would never think of trying to talk anyone out of their faith. I know several people whose faith clearly brings them joy, and I am happy for them. Obviously, within any group of people there are kind and awesome individuals, mean and nasty individuals, and everything in between.

You know who I have trouble with, though?  Those people, and this actually may be the majority of people, who don't take the time to really think about it.  In our society, a belief in God is like the default setting, it's just what you are supposed to do.  I am afraid that a lot of people who say they are Christian say it as though they think it equals "good person", and to not believe in God means "bad person", but they don't ever actually go to church, or pray, or read the Bible.  I know multiple people who identify themselves as Christian, are impressed with a person/business/politician who makes their Christianity known, genuinely think of themselves as religious, and yet they never go to church and don't even own a Bible.  Somehow I don't think putting up a false, insincere front will get anyone on the fast track to Heaven.  I am sympathetic, though, because stopping to really think about it, about how the world was created and where we go when we die and what our lives actually mean, is overwhelming.  But what is life if you never stop to think about it?

I don't believe in God, in any God, and I am a good person. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The History of the existence: An Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary to my blog!

Here is my very first blog post, on December 9, 2005:  MY HUSBAND ALMOST DIED TODAY!!.  How's that for a catchy title?  Spoiler:  He didn't, really.

Even though I have imported this entry here onto Blogger, it was originally written on MySpace.  Remember MySpace?  One of the things I liked about it (compared to Facebook) was the option to write and share a blog.  I had seen several friends write occasional blog entries and on that particular day, since something exciting had happened, I decided to do one myself.  It was quick and easy, and unlike setting up an actual blog, you didn't feel any kind of obligation to keep up with it.  A lot of friends posted one single entry and then stopped, a lot posted just two or three times to communicate specific things going on.  MySpace was the casual hookup of the blog world.

Back then I wrote blog entries once or twice a month with personal updates; writing about looking for a house to buy, or turning 40.  Then I started write entries just to be silly or funny.  Then I started sharing my photos.  A lot of my friends would leave me witty and sweet comments, which unfortunately are mostly lost now that people have jumped ship on MySpace.

I started this Blogger blog in early 2007 and imported all my MySpace entries (some of which the formatting went slightly wonky).  My title on MySpace was The Story of e, which I quite liked, but it wasn't available here so I settled for existence of ellen.  For a while I was posting blog entries both here and on MySpace, but as time went on, fewer and fewer people used MySpace, so at some point I bailed on MySpace too and just posted here.

So.  Five freakin' years!  I am simulaneously impressed and appalled with myself.  In the past half decade, blogs have gone from being a fairly unique way to keep a public journal to being practially obligatory.  Corporations use blogs as marketing tools, news organizations use blogs as legitimate sources, blogs are trendy and fashionable.  

Well, MINE is not trendy or fashionable.  A lot of the people who read my blog on MySpace did not make the leap to Blogger with me, and though I do have a few loyal readers, some of whom never leave comments *waves at Jacki* and some of whom leave comments that are sometimes better than my actual blog entry *waves at Angella*, I don't have a whole lot.  I feel like I started on a whim and just kept going, with no real focus.

Five years is a long time, and it makes me think.  Why did I start writing a blog, really?  I missed writing, and I wasn't writing anything.  Writing this blog made me remember how much I love to write, and I think was instrumental in leading me back to a life of writing.  Why do I keep writing it now that I have begun writing fiction?  I do like keeping a web journal, and I do like the friends I've made in the bloggy world, and I do like writing things other than my novel (especially right now, as I am revising and not really writing). 

However, I think I've fallen into a bad habit of only writing about what's easy, and not really being true to myself.  I have been, sometimes unconsciously, afraid to be honest.  I don't want to make anyone feel bad, or piss anyone off, or lose any of the small amount of readers that I do have.

Well, fuck that.  I am almost 45 years old, time is a-wastin', so my new attitude about this blog is NO FEAR.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Down With Slacktivism!

I have a new favorite word: Slacktivist.  Behold the wonder of the awesome word!  A combination of slacker and activist, isn't it lovely?

The definition from Wikipedia: The word is considered a pejorative term that describes "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts also tend to dilute awareness campaigns and require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist.  Examples of activities labeled as "slacktivist" include signing internet petitions, the wearing of awareness ribbons or awareness bracelets with political messages, putting a ribbon magnet on a vehicle, joining a Facebook group, posting issue-oriented YouTube videos, altering one's personal data or avatar on social network services, or taking part in short-term boycotts such as Buy Nothing Day or Earth Hour.

I found this out when I was doing research about the whole deal this past weekend on Facebook where so many were encouraging people to change their profile pic to a cartoon character to, as many of their copy and pasted status updates implored, "raise awareness of child abuse".  Because people are unaware, currently?  Anyway, I thought the cartoon characters were cute.  Then on Sunday evening a new message started appearing on people's status updates warning that it was in fact an insidious plot by those pesky pedophiles, and for authenticity, the copy/pasted messages said that the story had just been on 60 Minutes.  (I had actually watched 60 Minutes, and there was nothing.) 

The idea of what should be a charitable action being not only selfish but actually detrimental is kind of hilarious, though.  And I have to admit this twinges me, too, as I have eagerly signed internet petitions and worn awareness ribbons and posted issue-oriented YouTube videos in the vague hopes of somehow being helpful.  But how, really, does "raising awereness" help anything if it is an issue (like AIDS, or breast cancer, or child abuse, etc) that people are certain to be already aware of?

Dagnabbit, I kind of liked being a slacktivist. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010


We went to Gatorland again a couple of weeks ago, and I just love it there.  We went with great friends, the weather was beautiful, and we all had a great time.

It's actually a bird sanctuary, so I always take a lot of photos of pretty birds.

I always take this exact same picture when I go to Gatorland.  I just love the way the white bird's reflection looks in the muddy water.

The white birds -- what kind of bird is that, anyway? -- ride around on the back of the gators like they are huge, scaly surfboards.

I don't know what this is, but it's rusty and interesting.

Our friend's two year old daughter was having a "sad" day, and despite the beautiful scenery and the petting zoo and the train ride, she was positively melancholy.  Attempts to cheer her up were such a burden to her!  :)