Things I love everyday that I live

I love Peggy. On the wall over my monitor is something she wrote on yellow scrap paper 20 years ago, which is but half as long as we've been married. It’s as true for how I see her as for how she sees me.

“I love Lowell 100 million billion trillion times over. I love him sooooooooooooo much. He is the best man, and I love him.
Love Love Love Love Love”

I love plants. I feel more life emanating from plants than from people. My delusion probably comes from the fact that plants are fully here and fully now. They are blessedly free from even as the possibility of deception. Rocks are also our superiors in that regard. So it is with nearly every being that our species looks down upon (which is to say every being but ourselves). If Peggy loved them too, I would fill the house with plants. I’m especially drawn to potted plants during the winter when most outdoor plants are homely, and when it’s too wet and cold to enjoy sitting on the ground. It’s as if I inhale their essence when I’m among plants and, unlike mine, their essence is pure.

I love to dig holes. I love the beauty of the tools; the changing colors and textures of the earth; the feel of the work inside my body; the odors and the coolness; my unusual vantage point of the world; the occasional pebble, fossil, earthworm, or human artifact; and the knowledge that I might unearth a treasure of one kind or another. When I lie in bed at night and fantasize that my pain is gone, the first thing I want to do is to dig a hole.

I love habanero peppers, which are the hottest peppers I can find (sixty times hotter than jalapenos). They’re so hot that they make the top of my head sweat, and my hands hurt all night and into the next day if I don’t wear gloves while cutting them. I started eating habaneros years ago as a treatment for Raynaud’s Disease, overcame the agony of the heat enough to enjoy the high—they go especially well with marijuana—and found that they helped the Raynaud’s so much that I’m rarely bothered by it.

I love caps. Hats look better, but they don’t shade the eyes as well; you can’t pull a hood over them; most of them can’t take rough handling; they’re a nuisance when it’s windy; and, last but not least, the brim hits the headrests in cars. The only thing caps don’t do well is to keep rain from running down my neck, but it only rains here in the winter, so I just raise my hood over my cap, and the cap keeps it from coming down over my eyes.

I love rocks for their beauty, their stories, and their antiquity. Even here in the geologically young Willamette Valley, it’s possible to find rocks that go back 40-million years. These youngsters are 400,000 times older than a 100-year-old person. I study the strata in cliff faces; I dig charred wood from pyroclastic flows; I pry globe-like concretions from roadcuts; I try to feel the story of the fossils that lie buried in my backyard. Sometimes, I even sleep with rocks because—in my imagination anyway—they emanate a force. I had once hoped that force would heal me, but it couldn’t, although, as with plants, rocks can bring the joy and comfort that allows me to live despite the pain.

I love shopping at Goodwill. Half of me goes nuts over secondhand bric-a-brac, but the other half hates a cluttered house, so it’s an anguished love, but an inextinguishable love nonetheless. Besides, everything is so cheap that I figure I can always buy something to replace something I already have, and then pass on what I replaced. I can also buy things for other people, enabling me to enjoy Goodwill while dumping the curse of clutter onto them, but also giving them something that I love, that I hope they will love, and that I purchased with thought and affection.

I love my room—see photo. The walls are pink, and I have lots of plants, though not so many as I want.

I love marijuana. One-fourth of a small sugar cookie, and my world is born anew. Music and language swim in the periphery of my vision; colors assume such depth that I become disoriented. I feel thoughts well up as if from depths unimagined. I am overcome by the knowledge that trees, dogs, cats, potted plants—all the things I love—have an immediacy and an intensity that is beyond expression. I become so enamored of the history and creativity behind the fifty-year-old kitsch at Goodwill that I want to buy it all in honor of the people who made it and loved it all those years ago. I become more patient and tolerant; I see my worries from a realistic perspective, and they’re always less scary than I imagined.

I love writing. I live through the written word just as a photographer lives through a viewfinder. This makes it very hard for me to be close to anyone who really and truly has no interest in what I write because what I write is the deepest part of me, at least the deepest part of me that I can touch.

I love reading because it teaches me things and it allows me to visit other people’s worlds. I read about plants, geology, and home repair. I also like biographies, Westerns and books of cartoons—especially Gary Larson. My taste in biography tends to run to people who were hated like Benedict Arnold or Bonnie and Clyde. My only problem with reading is that I never seem to do it as much as I would like.

You might think that I’ve expressed a few surprising thoughts for an atheist, yet I couldn’t love these things nearly so much if I believed—like many do—that they are flawed forms of a once perfect reality. If I have a religion, it lies in nature because nature is all there is, and we’re each a part of it, and therefore a part of one another, and of everything else too.

An old Negro preacher prophesied that I would preach someday. This is that day.

First, I want to thank you religious/spiritual people who read this blog because, ironically, it has primarily been your emotional support that has enabled me to go ever deeper into what it is about religion—specifically Christianity—that has led me to hate it so much. In enabling me to do this, you have touched me more deeply than you can know. What little regard I have for your religion, I have because of you. I’ve long heard that the journey is just as important as the destination, and this is what I’m feeling right now because of my gratitude for the kindness of my readers.

I’m not looking to bite anyone’s head off—after all, only a very few of you have ever tried to bite my head off—but I have a question that I really would like your thoughts on. I’m going to refer you to two fairly common stories, those of: Jessica and Damon. Pick one or both, and tell me, where are the good religious people when nonbelievers are being abused for standing up for what they believe? By “good,” I mean the ones who: (a) obey the laws regarding religious observances and displays, (b) believe vicious behavior in the name of God is reprehensible, and (c) consider it their duty to defend their religion against those who use it as a weapon to attack science and violate human rights. I’ll tell you in advance what I think, and then you can let me know if I’m close.

I grew up white in Mississippi during the 50s and 60s. My area was notorious for its racial oppression, yet very few of us got up in the morning with a smile on our faces as we anticipated another day oppressing black people. When the Freedom Riders came, it took relatively few racists to burn the crosses, blow-up the churches, murder people, and so forth while the rest of us sat home watching banana-juggling monkeys on The Ed Sullivan Show. So, why didn’t we protest the violence? Two reasons. One was that the Klan scared us too (I mean, hell, they killed people), and the other was that we saw them at a gut level as our protectors against those who were trying to force change upon us—sort of like junkyard dogs, a bit over the top but good boys nonetheless. Because we could neither embrace the Klan nor reject it, we became a silent party to its evil. This is how I see the good people among Christians and Moslems, in particular, today.

Do I feel anger toward you silent believers? Yes, if I think about it, but I mostly think about other things, the things I see in you that I respect. I just wish you could find the courage to do something about the forces that have co-opted your religions. At the very least, you could speak out for people who are persecuted, even when you disagree with them. You could also oppose oppressive laws as well as the governmental neglect of laws that protect people from oppression, and you could write letters to the newspaper reminding other religious people that they claim to worship a God of love rather than a God of spit, threats, slanders, assaults, and vandalism. To outsiders, it appears that the only religious people who have any real influence in this country are the ones who, if they had their way, would swiftly enact punitive laws against all kinds of people, nonbelievers being just one of them.

As for those among you who have your heads so far in the sand as to consider religion a personal matter, I would say that as long as:

churches are harboring molestors;

nonbelievers are being run out of their homes;

children are being threatened with hellfire and disowned by their families;

school science classes are being supplemented with mythology under the pretense of presenting “all sides of the issues”;

school administrators are ignoring the law by distributing Gideon Bibles, putting religious plaques on walls, and holding prayers at ball games, graduations, and other school ceremonies;

and teachers are giving out religious tracts, leading prayers before tests, and assigning Christian specific projects, all in America, and all in the name of Christ, Christianity, at least, is not a personal matter. (In point of fact, I don’t think any religion that’s worth a damn is a personal matter. If your religion/spirituality doesn’t inspire you to act from an advanced level of enlightenment OUT IN THE WORLD, how is it anything more than an indulgence—or an evil?)

You and I are both under assault. You’re just further down the religious right’s hit list than I. Militant Christians interpret your mainstream Protestantism, your Buddhist meditation retreats, your seasonally-based Wiccanism, your New Age centers of spiritual power, your Kumbaya Catholic masses, and your Native American beliefs about animism, as a weakness if not the work of Satan. Your existence depends upon preventing them from obtaining ever more political power, so where are you, and why don’t you speak out? You know that the oppressors don’t represent you. At best, they represent your fear, and, atheist though I am, I must say that fear is most unworthy of you.

If none of what I’ve written rings a bell, and you’re not about to read articles from infidel magazines, then I pity you because your religion is but a comforting escape, and if this is the case, how can you have any confidence that Christ—or whomever—is going to prefer you to me at the Day of Judgment? Do you really think it’s as easy as crying out, “Oh, Lord, forgive me my sins for I accept you as my Savior,” and letting the rest of the Bible go? Is that what you read in II Timothy 3:12, and is that what those first Christians did; you know, the ones who were burned, boiled, stoned, flayed, crucified, mutilated, thrown over cliffs, and eaten by lions? Are you going to stand alongside them someday and tell Christ that you’re his follower too despite the fact that the only thing you ever did to show it was to go to church on Sunday and buy gifts for a poor family at Christmas?

P.S. I spoke the truth in the title of this post. Truly Westbrook knew me better than I knew myself, but he wouldn’t have guessed in a million years what it was that I would someday preach.

Another month, another death

Joan and I had been casual friends for twenty years. Her funeral today was at Wesley where she served as lay minister. We never talked about religion, so she didn’t know of my antipathy for it (I’m truthful with anyone who asks, but I rarely initiate such conversations). Joan and I shared a bond because she had been in chronic pain since being hit by a school bus in 1964. We also shared a dark and wacky sense of humor and a better than average knowledge of literature. She had a smile that could make me glad I got out of bed even on a bad day, and if she ever met a person who didn’t like her, I can but assume that there was something wrong with that person.

The last time I visited Joan, her doctors had given up on treating the cancer that had spread from someplace unknown and settled in her bones and lungs. I had never seen her despondent, and I was curious about whether she would be now. I was surprised to find her in good spirits and seemingly full of energy. She told me almost casually that, thanks to the prayers of people from around the world, God had cured her of her cancer, and she was feeling better than she had felt in years. I glanced at her husband, expecting to see him looking at the floor and shaking his head, but he simply nodded matter of factly as if the cure was a done deal and hardly worth discussing. A few weeks later, Joan appeared on the local TV news, and told people for a hundred miles around about about her healing. Two weeks after that, she was dead.

“The prayer of faith shall heal the sick…” James 5:15

So, what happened—despite giving his word, God said no to her prayers, yet remained silent as she trusted in his promise and praised his mercy to thousands?

The TV news didn’t report the death of their ”faith-healed” cancer victim, and the newspaper obituary made no mention of her misplaced trust. Nor did Pastor Anne allude to it during the funeral, although if Joan had really gone into remission and died ten years from now of unrelated causes, Anne might have considered her “miraculous healing” of 2012 worthy of mention.

I can think of three reasons for going to a funeral: to show respect for the dead, to comfort the family, and to be comforted oneself. I do what I can with the first two, but since I believe that everything I’m hearing about God is a fabulous fiction, I’m not only un-comforted, I’m downright annoyed that every non-Christian in the audience is being excluded from the community of mourners with every sentence spoken. Does one funeral really need five hymns, five prayers, three lengthy Bible readings, and one sermon about God’s comforting presence, plus a eulogy? It’s not the presence of religious references that’s hard for me—after all, Joan was a committed Christian—but the fact that that’s all there is, and everyone is expected to participate. Imagine that you’re sitting in an audience for a good ninety minutes, and nearly everything you hear—and are told to do (“Let us now stand as we join in prayer,” “Let us now recite from the Word of God,” etc.)—represents to you a belief system that, in the name of The Prince of Peace, has inspired two millennia of violence, oppression, and genocide.

Okay, so none of the scores—if not hundreds—of religious funerals I’ve attended were held in my honor, so I’m understandably stuck with other people’s choices unless I prefer to stay home. I accept that at the level of action (that is, I still attend religious funerals), but atheists are like everyone else in that they want to feel a sense of belonging when they’re grieving instead of being reminded that they live in a society that holds them in the same contempt that it holds child molesters.

I must admit though that my regard for religious faith—though not every religious person—isn’t much better, because as I sat in that audience today with those hundreds of other people, most of them from Joan’s church, I felt like I was in an asylum. I knew that most of the people I was among were probably quite reasonable in other areas of their lives, but as for what they were participating in right then, I considered it dishonest for some, delusional for others, and downright monomaniacal for a few. Despite the fact that I spent a great deal of my life in just such a setting, I was as overwhelmed by the irrationality of it all—especially in light of Joan’s misplaced faith—as if I was witnessing some barbaric ritual for the first time.

For many years after I left the church, I would feel nostalgic for those same hymns we sang today (I probably hadn’t heard “Wonderful Words of Life” since I was a teenager) along with all kinds of other things such as dinners-on-the-ground, being asked to preach short sermons, helping to serve “The Lord’s Supper,” and the smell of a new red-letter Bible with finger tabs and linen pages edged with gold. Maybe I’m done with that now because all I felt today was repugnance. Yet, I can truly say that it’s not religious people I’m against (there are too many good ones, and I absolutely adore those among them who continue to read this blog); it’s the mean things that their belief in that which is rationally indefensible causes millions of them to do. Once proof and logic is deemed inferior to faith, anything can happen.

My experience with marijuana versus narcotics for chronic pain

Oxycodone is at least a little useful for relieving my pain, plus it makes me very, very happy. Some people say that narcotic happiness isn’t real happiness, but the only difference I can see in how drug happiness feels versus how natural happiness feels is that drug happiness is usually deeper, mellower, and disconnected from the events of one’s life. The problem with oxycodone—and all narcotics—is that if five milligrams will take you to heaven today, you’ll need 25 the day after tomorrow if you keep taking it. I think of the drug as like a Siren that—thanks to my genetics—has been unable to pull me beneath the waves. As an example of people who weren’t so blessed, I’ll mention two addicts who held up local pharmacies at gunpoint but didn’t take money, just oxycodone, Percocet and Oxycontin (the last two being products that contain oxycodone).

Marijuana interests me more than narcotics and works as well for pain, but I never become accustomed to losing what little control I have over my thoughts as they are cycled rapidly from happy absorption in almost anything, to befuddlement, to extreme anxiety, and back again. Despite such feelings—if not because of them—I enjoy the drug (god help you if you're ever in chronic pain and sincerely despise psychoactive drugs), and I’ve enjoyed learning to carry on a normal life while using it. I do handyman projects; go to doctors’ appointments; conduct business on the phone and the Internet; cook, shop, do housework, and take care of the yard. If marijuana took away my considerable desire to be active, I wouldn’t like it nearly so well. Oxycodone does make it all but impossible to carry on a normal life plus it leaves me feeling groggy, which is why I only take it at night, and never more than twice a week. The rest of the time, I either take marijuana alone or I mix it with Neurontin, Dalmane, Ambien, Requip, or sometimes Dilaudid, which is a bit stronger than oxycodone. Ironically, I’m able to live more like a normal person when I’m drugged than when I’m straight because drugs are less distracting than pain and sleeplessness.

Many users believe that marijuana has made them better people. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I doubt that there’s anything to it. I get along more harmoniously with others—including Peggy—when I’m high because I’m more patient, tolerant, and sociable, but I have no confidence that this would continue if I stopped the marijuana. On the downside, the longer I use marijuana, the harder it becomes to express myself through my writing. I discard post after post, and when I do put something online after days of editing, I continue the editing even after most of the responses have come in. Other downsides are temporary memory loss, a feeling of floating out of reality, and the impossibility of accurately judging time and speed. As with many useful drugs, medical marijuana is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

During my adult years in Mississippi—in the seventies and eighties—I only had two friends who weren’t pot smokers, them being alcoholics only, but I never saw anyone too stoned to stand. Now, it happens to a lot of people, not because they want it but because sophisticated growers have succeeded in making marijuana so strong (just ¼ of one of my little marijuana cookies packs quite a punch) that you can get in over your head before you know it, especially if you’ve been away from the drug for years. Marijuana’s strength combined with its inability to kill me (well over 100,000 Americans die from legal narcotics each year) are two of its most attractive attributes. I have every confidence that, however bad marijuana’s long-term effects might prove to be, I won’t die from it, and when you take as many drugs as I do, that’s a significant recommendation. With this as with many things, our national policy is the opposite of what makes sense to anyone who is looking at the issue from the inside.

...I hate smoking anything, so I cook my marijuana. First, I run the dried leaves though a blender until they look like green flour. I put two ounces of this flour (twice the suggested amount) into a crock-pot with a pound of butter, and cook it on low for about eight hours. I then double the amount of butter in a Betty Crocker sugar cookie recipe, being careful to weigh the dough so that each unbaked cookie contains exactly one ounce. The main challenge to eating marijuana is simply getting the amount right, which is why I only use the one recipe. I wrote about the results of eating too much in my entry of August 8, 2011.

As for cost, I get my marijuana free from a generous and idealistic grower, but if I had to pay for it, it would run $5 to $8 a gram on the legal market (to be legal, you have to register with the state, and you can’t make a profit). One ounce contains 28 grams, so this comes to $140 to $224 per ounce. Again, this is on the legal market, so it should be relatively cheap. I have no idea what the black market would charge. Critics of the Oregon law argue that every Oregon drug addict and his cat are trying to get a medical marijuana card just so they can buy pot cheap—or grow it themselves—and not worry about getting busted. In this scenario, a druggie would learn what he needed to say to a marijuana doctor (a doctor who spends her days recommending patients to the state of Oregon for billfold-size marijuana permits) to qualify for a card, pay the doctor a few hundred dollars for the consultation, mail another $100 to the state of Oregon, and, voilà, get a permit. I’m sure this happens, but it doesn't justify scrapping a program that is vital to the welfare of thousands of people. When you hear the government claim that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical uses that can’t be better served by a prescription drug, you can rest assured that it's lying.

He’d better be glad he’s good-looking

What is it with a cat that he would run up behind his adopted mother night after night, bite her gently on the calf, hold his teeth there for a moment, and then run away as if he had achieved a notable triumph?

I’m a dog person. I’ve spent decades telling generations of dogs how to behave, and having them say, Yes, sir, right away, sir!” so I make a real effort to cut Brewsky a lot of slack due to his unfortunate catliness, but honor requires that I uphold a few reasonable standards. For instance, “Unless thou art home alone, thou shalt not miaow nonstop for thine supper starting two hours ahead of time. Disobedience to this standard will result in one squirt of water upon the offender’s person per offense.”

Brewsky gets squirted A LOT, but being a passive-aggressive little bastard, he knows how to get back at me. His eyes fixed upon mine, he will suddenly stand silent for a long moment while water drips from his fur, and I hold my weapon a foot from his nose. He will then walk right up to the nozzle, look me straight in the eye, and move his mouth as if he is miaowing but without making a sound. When he does this, I’m just screwed. All that’s left is for one of us to tire of the standoff and walk away so the game can start again.

Each night, the disharmony of the day is forgotten, and he jumps into bed for his massage. Some nights, I might talk to him a little, but the only word he reacts to is his name, it being the word that precedes meals and treats.

The effect of marijuana on my writing

It stimulates thoughts and feelings that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and takes me deeper into myself than I could otherwise go. It makes the commonplace profound, and the profound intense. It also takes me to the edge of panic. Sometimes, it makes my hands shake and my fingers tremble across the keyboard. I sweat and shiver at once; sometimes, I cry. My monitor recedes into another dimension. I have left the outside world for an encounter with my essence.

Marijuana is changing me. It’s too strong, and I use it too much for this to be otherwise. My belief is that I’m becoming more at peace and that I’m going deeper with my writing, but drugs are notorious for their deceptiveness, and their effects are rarely permanent. It’s also true that I’ve known few, if any, people who became wiser or more insightful for using marijuana. However, the same can be said about the influence of art, music, nature, literature, heroism, and other laudatory influences. No good thing can propel a person beyond his potential.