Friday, January 26, 2007

Car Thoughts

When we first moved to Illinois, I remember being intrigued by all the personalized license plates. Easily one out of every ten plates was an expression of the driver's personality. I always wondered why so many people there chose to invest in vanity plates. I'm sure that the fact that it was only twenty dollars more than the regular $78 license fee was a factor.

Here in Tennessee, I see very few personalized license plates. Perhaps this is because a twenty dollar premium would nearly double the price of your plates. Instead it seems that many people here use their rear windshields to memorialize dead loved ones. I've seen several memorials to children whose lives were tragically shortened, perhaps by illness or even a drunk driver. Until I moved here I had never seen such a thing. Is this a local phenomenon?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

PSA from the Department of Yuck

Don't check inside the leg of your baby's diaper by pulling it with the digit with an extra long nail, lest you accidentally scoop up some of what you were checking for with your long fingernail.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

On Overachievement

On Tuesday, Jeff took Vinny to the pediatrician for a follow-up for his ear infection. When they were there, the doctor confirmed our fears: our three-month-old baby is teething!

Usually a baby doesn't begin teething until six months of age. But our little overachiever is getting a head start!

Speaking of overachievement, most people probably think that I am an overachiever. After all, I have a Ph.D. from a prestigious institution of higher learning and I work at a well-known national lab. I was the salutatorian of my high school (a math/science magnet school) and I graduated from college summa cum laude with Honors and Phi Beta Kappa.

But my self-image is the opposite: I see myself as a slacker. Growing up, I was the family slacker. I used to drive my mother crazy. "I wouldn't say you're lazy," she would declare. "But you'll never die of overwork."

I may have had a 4.0 grade-point average in high school, but it was a slacker's 4.0. You see, I did just enough work to get the lowest possible A in my difficult classes. My sisters never realized that they could work less, get a 92%, and still earn an A. They overworked and got higher percentages, which still showed up the same as mine on the transcript. But because the end does not justify the means, my 4.0 was worth less than theirs.

The statement that I would never die of overwork was meant derisively, and that is how I internalized this slacker self-image. Of course, now I ask myself, who in the world would want to die of overwork?

Workaholics, of course! Workaholism is a major issue in our family, passed down from both sides, but in particular along the maternal line. My maternal grandfather was a workaholic and so is my mother.

Laura and I were discussing workaholism when she was here visiting earlier this week. She struggles with workaholism too, and has been reading up on it recently. She shared with me the formula for workaholism: equal parts low self-esteem and megalomania.

We were instilled with the belief that we were elite people, given special gifts or talents, and that it was our duty to use them to save the world. Through these good works we would prove ourselves worthwhile. You can see the elements of megalomania (elite, special talents, saving the world) and low self-esteem (prove worthwhile). This combination of convictions is a recipe for workaholism.

Fortunately (?) I did not become a workaholic. Somehow I ended up with a generous helping of low self-esteem, but only a spoonful of megalomania. So while I feel that I need to prove myself, I don't think that I am superior to anyone, nor do I think I will ever be able to save the world. But I am stuck with the fear that others are judging me on a scale it is impossible for me to live up to.

For example, if I had just worked harder at it, I could have breastfed Vinny. If I paid more attention, I wouldn't make so many mistakes. If I had tried harder, I could have mended an irreparable family rift. If I were a more worthwhile person, I would be treated with more respect by those who (supposedly) know me best.

I am petrified that my boss will finally realize that I am not worth the money he pays me. I'm just sure that he's judging me by these standards that are impossible for me to satisfy. Fortunately for me, my boss understands that I'm human, even though I don't always understand that myself.

I would like for my son to live a full and happy life. This is the wish of almost all parents, and my own were no exceptions. The difference is that I don't want to do to him what was done to me. I would like for him to feel free to do whatever he wants to do with his life. At the same time, I would like to encourage him to behave ethically and responsibly. I was emotionally blackmailed into overachieving, and I don't want to do that to him. On the other hand, I want him to realize his potential and I don't want him to think I don't care how he does. So I need to figure out how to strike a balance.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Coming out to Play

I blame my sister for this post. Rachel commanded it, so I must do it.

I am an atheist. I do not believe in any gods.

You may believe I am completely misguided, and you are welcome to your belief. But understand that your experience, point of view, and mode of thinking differ from mine, and therefore you come to different conclusions than I do. I am not writing this post to convince anyone of anything. I'm writing simply to share my experience, and to explain the origin of my conclusions.

Likewise, this post is not a request for your convincing argument for the existence of your deity. I attended church for many years, I am reasonably well-versed in the Bible (ha! pun intended!), and I have come across nearly every argument for the existence of god and found them all insufficient.

I have not believed in any higher powers since I was quite young, although I did not admit it aloud until I was 18. As Rachel quite accurately expressed, in our family, belief in a deity was not optional. The particulars of said deity were negotiable, but belief in a god was mandatory if we expected to be a fulfilled individual. (Looking back, I realize that our family put the "fun" in "dysfunctional," and no member of our family, believer or otherwise, was fulfilled.)

I tried really hard to believe, but I found that I could not. Just like some people feel compelled to believe, I feel compelled to disbelieve. It is not a choice. I say with complete honesty that I do not and cannot believe in the existence of any gods.

In every other way, I am just like the majority of Americans. I feel love. I enjoy life. I want to feel accepted. I get angry sometimes. I obey the law (most of the time). I feel no compulsion to murder, cheat, or steal. I don't have horns or a tail. I try to be a responsible citizen of the world. The only difference is that I believe in one fewer god.

I am a scientist by nature, so I find myself questioning everything. Even as a child, I did not always believe what my elders told me. When things did not make sense, I was quick to notice.

One of the first things I noticed was that there are many religions that purport to be the One True Way. They can't all be the One True Way, since they are mutually contradictory. But how is one to know which one is true? After all, there are well-meaning, honest adherents of each religion. So it's not obvious that one way is truer than another.

But maybe all that means is that there is not One True Way. So why do I reject all religions? They don't make sense to me; they don't adequately explain life's mysteries and inconsistencies.

Social justice has always been important to me. One time when I was a pre-schooler, they had to call my mother out of the church service to calm me down. Why? Because we were playing Musical Chairs in Sunday School, and I thought the game was unfair, because there weren't enough chairs for everyone. So I threw a tantrum and refused to participate. My sense of justice has been refined since then, but fairness is still very important to me. I see all the suffering in the world, and it makes me angry.

No religion provides a convincing explanation for the existence of suffering. Why do children in impoverished countries starve to death? The best (and most just) explanation is that there is no omniscient, all-powerful, all-benevolent god. If there is no god, then the inequities in life are a product of chance. Chance is equally unfair to everyone, and I can handle that. I can't stand the idea that some people are somehow more deserving than others, or that some are made to suffer in order to learn some lesson. How morally perverse is it to believe that some people don't deserve food as much as others? And what kind of lesson does a child learn by starving to death? No, that innocent child is starving to death because chance placed her into that situation.

The fact that a given person suffers by chance does not absolve the rest of us of responsibility, however. While it is true that any given person's suffering is due to chance, the existence of suffering people is decidedly non-random. The inequitable situation leading to the child's death by starvation exists because of human activity. Since there is no higher power, it is up to us to right wrongs.

People often wonder why I should care about the other inhabitants of the earth. Is God the only reason that you care about others? I seriously doubt that most people would go on a killing spree if the existence of their deity were once and for all disproved, because love is part of what makes us human. Ultimately, love is a product of the chemicals in our brains, and its existence can be explained from an evolutionary perspective, but I don't think that the existence of a scientific explanation makes it any less powerful.

I find that a world unconstrained by higher powers instills me with hope. We are not pawns of a higher power. Real human beings can work together to find solutions to some of the world's most difficult problems. It frees us to think creatively, and use our diverse perspectives to everyone's advantage.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Quality of My Life

(as seen at Rants of a Feminist Engineer)

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