January 2009

I just completed a survey that my friend, Ethan, is conducting about the nature of consent. He is a radically smart and interesting guy, and a fellow Not Back to School Camp staffer. I never miss one of his workshops, or a chance for a conversation with him, if I can help it. His survey did not disappoint. He encouraged me to pass this on to anyone who I thought would be interested:

You are invited to participate in an online survey about the nature of consent. The survey was created by Ethan Mitchell, an independent scholar working in Vermont. Though consent is a central concept in politics, philosophy, and law, we have surprisingly little research about how people actually envision consent. This survey is an attempt to begin answering that question.

The survey is somewhat more complicated than a traditional multiple-choice poll. It takes about 5-10 minutes to learn the survey interface. Thereafter, the survey is designed so that you can continue taking it for a long time, or stop whenever you please. Most people find that completing the survey takes a good deal of focus and reflection. This is probably not something you want to casually breeze through on your coffee break.

Finally, you are encouraged to forward this invitation to anyone you think might be interested in taking the survey. Thanks very much for your time. I appreciate all the work everyone has put into this, and I hope you find the exercise thought-provoking.
Sincerely, Ethan Mitchell
The survey itself: www.zemita.net/ConsentSurvey.php
Comments: ConsentSurvey@gmail.com
(Ethan will make an effort to respond to all questions sent to this email, either directly or on the website.)

I am stuffed full of three giant, thick, crusty whole wheat and buttermilk pancakes, made from a recipe in the little zine, The House of Plenty Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Good Eating from Damian and Maya’s Joshua Tree Kitchen, by my sister in law, Maya, AKA Flavorgirl. They were, as promised, the best pancakes I have ever tasted, and I consider myself a pancake connoisseur.

Over New Years, I revisited my goals for the year and, deciding they were still pretty solid, made no changes. Here is my first addition: This year I will make at least one of each item in Maya’s cookbook. I’m excited to begin. I need a little food-shakeup. I love the food that I make, but I’ve been making it all for a long time. I can’t think of a better place to start. Maya is an excellent, creative cook. Funny, too: “As you may have noticed I almost never use regular sugar. But in this recipe, it works best. You can, of course, use sucanat if you are even more die-hard than me, but somehow I doubt that you are.” And she’s right, possibly unless you are, or are related to, Nicole Martin.

About ten years ago, my mom had me write a list of qualities I wanted in a romantic partner. I think she wanted me be more conscious about choosing partners, aware of both the qualities that I value highly, and “red flags,” as she calls them. Lately I’ve been considering the possibility of another romantic relationship, so I rewrote the list (without referring to the old one) as part of my end-of-year brainstorming.

I’m also going to introduce the voice of my good friend and editor, Grace Llewellyn. I decided to include her in this post mostly because of her response to list #2—she wanted me to toot my own horn more than I was comfortable, even though I like to think she was right. I’ll put her in italics. Here was part of her initial response to these lists, in October: “I love your lists! Well, also I think in moments they are a little neurotic, and attempting to control life in a way we probably can’t, but they are pretty much like all my lists I’ve ever written of the same category, so when I pronounce my little judgment about neurotic and controlling it is with a light heart and a smile… And I also think, why not make lists? As long as they don’t block us from seeing some greater opportunity – if highly flawed and irregular – right in front of us.” In that spirit, she suggested the last item on this first list, which I agreed to with enthusiasm.

A few apology/explanations:

I’m embarrassed about some of what I’ve written here. I believe it and I’m embarrassed.

I use the word “confusion” in an unusual way, borrowed from co-counseling: When I say that I’m confused about myself or another person, I mean that I have been triggered emotionally in a way that makes me lose touch with how great I am or they are.

Items on the lists are more or less in the order they occurred to me, not in order of importance. Also, in response to criticism like Grace’s above, I don’t intend these to be demands on anyone or the universe. I understand that this stuff becomes a negotiation once I am in a relationship, and is a negotiation with reality even before that.

List #1—What I Need in a Relationship, as of Year 38

1) Smart enough to engage me fully and to love me for how I think—and how much I think—and not be afraid, disdainful, or confused by it.

2) Emotionally open and supportive. Her love and commitment are palpable. No guessing, no one-foot-out-the-door. None. Emotionally brave—shows me what’s going on, and can rely on my emotional strength for support. If I am having a hard time she can and wants to hear me, understand me, soothe me, in her arms.

3) I want to have babies with her. I have to think she’d be a great mother. We agree on childrearing stuff—attachment parenting, unschooling and the importance of the family in general. Also involvement of the grandparents. That last one probably means living in Joshua Tree a good part of the year once we have kids, with no sense of being put upon. Kinda begs the question—what about the other grandparents? Does she need to be an orphan? No, I’d love for her parents to be involved as well. I just don’t know them yet.

4) She has to love my family.

5) We are very attracted to each other, and sex is a source of joy and fun, not anxiety. No zoning out: present, joyful, intent on our bodies.

6) Athletic, healthy, eats well – and those things are just obvious, not a struggle. When we cook for each other we’re excited about it.

7) Not a fundamentalist. That includes true-believer atheists. Understands the difference between belief and truth.

8) Some form of creativity is a consistently big part of her life.

9) Happy. I don’t want to be a savior. (See List #3, Indications That I Am Not Ready For the Relationship I Want.)

10) Doesn’t have kids yet. (This one may belong on list #3 as well: It’s kept me out of a couple relationships in the past that probably would have been great. And as I get older it will get harder to pull off.) I want to have the whole experience with someone—being together without kids and then making them.

11) Does not rely on alcohol, or any other drugs, in any way.

12) Enthusiastically monogamous.

13) Money is not a big deal. Comfortable living a low-profile lifestyle.

14) Or something even better! (Thanks, Grace.)

When I wrote the original version of that list, ten years ago, my mom read it and her first reaction was something like, “Wow, this sounds like a great person. What do you have to offer her?” Meaning, I think, not that I didn’t deserve someone that cool, but that I should also consider my own development and how my qualities might line up with someone else’s list. Here’s my list of what I think my good qualities are, now:

List #2—What I Have to Offer to a Partner

1) A great community—close friends and family of really incredible, creative, loving people.

2) Really good listening attention and clear, responsive thinking.

3) Emotional and intellectual honesty and bravery.

4) Sensitivity. Say a little more? Hmm. That’s a good idea for a whole post sometime. I consider myself a highly sensitive person. What I mean by that here is mostly that I’m empathic and feel things deeply.

5) Strong, athletic body—healthy, good health habits.

6) I’m 37 and I haven’t peaked. My best is yet to come. Say a little more? Well, it seems like some people peak in a lot of ways in their 20s, or at least have this developmental plateau for the middle third of their lives. That’s not me. I can think of a couple ways that I seem to have peaked—brute strength, for example—but I continue to develop headlong in almost every other capacity. I’m smarter, more flexible, more open-minded, more compassionate, more creative, more self-confident, and more knowledgeable than I’ve ever been. I’m taking on more leadership. My ideas get more and more exciting.

7) I am loyal. I value long term connections.

8) I will be the best dad you have ever seen. Say more? What can I say? I was made to be a dad. I can feel it. I honestly don’t know if I will have kids, but I can say that it will be a too bad if I don’t, and not just for me.

9) Beautiful things make me cry.

10) I am not afraid of your emotions or thinking. And, when I am confused I can recognize and admit it.

11) Good conversations. You deserve a much punchier adjective than “good.” How about “Stimulating, exploratory conversations”? Sure!

12) Fun dancing. Ditto #11… “I’m a musical, connected, joyful, extremely fun dance partner…” That sounds good, too.

I totally concur with your list! Thanks, Grace!

List #3Indications That I Am Not Ready For the Relationship I Want

1) Financial—I’m in school, racking up debt, about $20,000, and that’s just for my Bachelor’s. And my career in the music industry has never made enough money to support a family. On the other hand … a few words about future financial possibilities... And on the other hand, if things go according to plan, I’ll have a Master’s in Couples and Family Therapy in two and a half years—not a huge money-maker (I didn’t choose the field because of the money), but respectable.

2) Everyone I’ve found myself interested in seems to fall into one of two categories: fully engaging to me but a heartbreaker, or true-loving and stable but somehow not fully engaging to me. “I am told I am not alone in this classic human dilemma.” I really think you can’t publish this one out without acknowledging that such is Life. For so many of us. You did not invent this little paradox.

3) I have two homes that I love. The idea of abandoning either is distasteful and adding a third is scary. That probably means that I need to find someone in Eugene who loves Joshua Tree or someone who lives in Joshua Tree who loves Eugene. Or someone who lives elsewhere but loves my towns more than theirs. Eh…. Not everybody is all attached to where they live. Honestly I don’t think this would get in the way of a lot of potential relationships… but, I’d still leave it on your list I suppose.

4) I think I’m not as happy as I’d like my partner to be. During my first mutual crush in years, before my birthday, I had this very nice but ultimately disturbing sense of being saved: “Ah, this makes everything OK!” That wasn’t a big part of the experience, but it was there. I don’t want to be a fixer-upper. I hope that you’re not too hard on yourself about this item… nor, either, about the level of your partner’s happiness pre-Nathen. I mean sure, it would be great if we were all nicely cooked before meeting each other and undertaking The Relationship, but I think we DO – and CAN – make each other happier. A lot happier. And I’m not sure there’s anything terribly wrong with that…. But that’s just me…. :)

List #4—Ways It Could Be Hard to Be In Relationship with Me

1) I tend to have a lot of projects going and I like to work on them. I think all of my past long-term girlfriends expressed some amount of dissatisfaction, a sense that they were having to fit into my schedule. The actual amount of time I spent with these women varied a lot between them. It may be that my tendency is to unconsciously figure out how much time would be completely satisfying to a partner, but then give just a little less than that.

2) I tend to take the things I’m involved in pretty seriously, and I get tense when I get the sense that they are not going well or I’m not doing a good job. I get confused about myself and I contract, especially in the period before I recognize that I’m confused. I have a pattern that makes me feel like the world is ending, and I can remember this pattern running me, from time to time, since I was pretty young—9 at least.

3) When I was 21, I swore with my four brothers that I would always be there with our parents on Christmas, and I always have. Thirty-eight times now. Partly as a result of that, our time in Joshua Tree around Christmas is great. It’s rich with traditions and reconnections—shows, jam sessions with old friends, hikes, Lester Family Entertainment Night, lounging by the fire late into the night, talking philosophy, sharing our new music…. It’s very close and affectionate and I love it. The only reason it’s on this list is that it would be really hard for me to miss it. Occasionally one of the brothers hasn’t been able to come and everyone feels them missing. It’s better when we’re all there. I know that my partner will very likely have a family with holiday traditions, too, and will want to share them with me, but it will be difficult to tear me away from the desert, that time of year.

4) If I have anything to say about it, my parents will never live in a convalescent hospital or old folks’ home of any kind, nor will they be taken care of by anyone who doesn’t love them like family. The understanding I have with my brothers is that we will take care of them, once they need it. It is also my strong preference that they are able to live and die comfortably in the home that they have made and love. I don’t know exactly how it will look, but I have 30 years to figure it out. I’m putting it on the list because I’m serious about it, and taking care of parents and grandparents seems like a radical idea these days. It doesn’t seem radical to me. It seems obvious.

Grandpa Bob on Tricycle

Grandpa Bob on Tricycle

Grandpa Bob & Preschoolers

Grandpa Bob & Preschoolers

All last summer, Grandpa Bob lived with Pamela, one of his brother’s daughters, in Haley, Idaho. She runs a cool preschool in her home, where everything is miniature: a kid sized climbing wall, a tiny loft called the owl’s nest, and a miniature toilet in the bathroom. And a lot of little kids, of course. My mom said that they love him and I bet they do. I had so much fun with him as a kid. He knew so much and was always up for a project of any scope. When my family lived in Indiana, he moved into a small trailer in our driveway so he could be near us. I was homeschooling, so I could go out there whenever I wanted and talk to him. It was great. He was always writing letters on an old manual typewriter (He has written several letters a day since I’ve known him.) but he’d stop and tell me about Carl Jung or flying small planes across the country or all the butterflies that lived in the Ozarks. We started a butterfly collection. We built a workshop and designed and made wooden toys, and my first desk (which I still have—my mom’s been using it the last few years). We built a high jump pit and he taught me and Ely to high jump. He had been a seriously competitive pole vaulter in high school.

High School Pole Vault

High School Pole Vault

Grandpa Bob & Me

Grandpa Bob & Me

He told my mom about a conversation he had with some of the kids at the preschool, who said he walked too slow. “I walk slow because I’m old,” he said. (He’ll be 90 on January 28.) “No,” they said. “It’s because you take too small of steps!” Then they tried to teach him how to take bigger steps.

This is funny to me, in a sad kind of way. Grandpa Bob was the fastest walker I ever knew. I practically had to run to keep up with him as a kid. He never seemed impatient, but he also didn’t want to waste time in transit. He liked doing the thing more than getting there. And he did so much in his life! Last year I read a draft of the biography my uncle Don is writing about Grandpa Bob’s life and I was amazed and humbled. I don’t mean to put myself down in any way when I say this, I think it’s just accurate: The story of my life is just a footnote to the story of his life.

It’s difficult to get across what I mean by that. I’ll give a few highlights here, off the top of my head, but it was really the scope and pace of it all that hit me. He was relentlessly adventurous and interested. He was an airline pilot in India during WWII. He trained glider pilots for D-Day. He built a house for his family. He taught classes on mythology and the Tarot. He hung out with Van Tassel and his UFO crowd out at Giant Rock. He is a really good ear-trained jazz pianist. One day in the early 70s, he gave away all of his possessions, including his house, and traveled around the country for a year with a group whose idea was living like Jesus—never have more than your clothes and up to $5 in your pocket, and have faith that you are taken care of. He says it worked and he never felt afraid after that. He delved deeply into topic after topic. My mom remembers one time going to the library with him as a kid and he pointed out the section of books he had just finished—the entire philosophy section. For fun. One of the many topics he delved into was pianos. He learned to play, learned the history, toured piano factories, learned to tune pianos. He loves to tell the story of the two years he spent in Phoenix in the mid-70s: He sold his car, bought a scooter, and scooted around to all the piano stores during the day, tuning their pianos. He would end his day in a downtown store with a beautiful piano in its big front window, and, after it closed, he played into the night for the people passing by. For fun. That was one of his favorite times of his life. I didn’t get the whole story, though, until I read Uncle Don’s book. When he got to Phoenix, he convinced someone to let him pitch a tent in a space in their trailer park, and that’s where he lived the entire two years. The tent eventually rotted and blew away, and he just slept on the ground in his sleeping bag. He never even bought a stove. He just ate his food raw. It’s such a poignant image for me—I cry, sometimes, thinking about it: Grandpa Bob, in his 50s, scooting with such energy and focus around Phoenix, tuning pianos and playing pianos and then falling asleep, under the stars, utterly content. This is what he was doing when he heard that Ely and I were going to homeschool. That was a pretty radical thing to do in the 70s, so he decided to see how it worked, and moved into a trailer in our driveway.

Grandpa Bob is in good health. He loved biking all around Haley on his adult-sized tricycle. His mind is still quite sharp and he’s still interested in things. I spent time with him over Christmas break, showing him how to use gmail, wikipedia, and ancestry.com. And, he’s slowing down. He can’t see as well as he used to and he’s a little dizzy all the time, so he’s fallen down a couple of times. I know he’s going to die one of these days. It might be ten years or so, but that doesn’t seem like very long anymore. I feel sad thinking about him dying. I feel sad thinking about him being old and no longer tearing around the country on one adventure after another. When I’m around him, though, I don’t feel sad. He’s kind of softened in his slowness. He seems to be enjoying the simple things more—family, food, stories. Maybe even transit, if it’s on a tricycle. He’s less interested in figuring things out, too. I asked him what he thought of some new theory and he said, “Well, I’ve decided to leave figuring stuff out to the young people.” There’s something in that for me. I’m like he was at my age. I like figuring things out. I’m compelled to. And there he is, relaxed and pleased, at the end of his life, having figured out that it doesn’t really matter if he figures out a few more things.

Grandpa Bob as a Kid

Grandpa Bob as a Kid

Grandpa Bob the Pilot

Grandpa Bob the Pilot

Grandpa Bob in His 50s

Grandpa Bob in His 50s

Grandpa Bob Performs with Damian, Lester Family Entertainment Night

Grandpa Bob Performs with Damian, Lester Family Entertainment Night

Is there anything like an established unit of anti-inflammatory power? How is the effect of anti-inflammatory substances measured? By looking at samples of more or less inflamed tissue after a dosage, or by asking, “So, on a scale of one to seven, how much does your head hurt now?” How much anti-inflammatory power, for example, does a teaspoon of ground ginger in my morning oatmeal have compared to 500 mg of aspirin? How about 900 mg of omega-3 fatty acids from a mix of anchovy, mackerel, and sardine oil?

If you know, please leave me a comment with the information or a link to where I can find out with a minimal amount of reading. I don’t doubt the existence of inflammation, or anti-inflammatory substances, or the importance of both. Most or all of what I’ve read and heard on the topic, though, has been marketing or parroting of marketing, so I wonder what we actually know.

Oh, and I have the same questions for anti-oxidents.

I write commas after every item in a list of three or more. I start sentences with conjunctions. I like writing that way, but when I do, I imagine all of my old English teachers shaking their heads in disappointment. And not just them, but everyone out there who paid attention in their high school English classes. I’ve been thinking for several days about a short entry here, early on in my blog, to justify my choices. As I highly doubt any of my high school teachers will happen across this blog, I’m probably writing more for the latter group, but thinking about my old teachers has inspired me to address them, as part of this post. The letter is the stronger part, so I’m going to start with my justifications. If you are not interested in grammar or punctuation, I suggest you skip the next two paragraphs, to “Dear Mr. James….”

I’m studying psychology, so everything I turn in has to be “in APA style,” and the American Psychological Association has strong opinions about commas in lists. When I make a list separated by commas, I must put a comma after the second-to-last item, before the “and.” For example, here is a list of some colors I can see from where I’m writing: white, cream, brown, turquoise, and blue. I feel a little embarrassment every time I do it, but I’ve grown to like it. It seemed unnatural at first, but I think that’s because it was unfamiliar; as I say that list out loud, I do pause before “and blue,” as if there was a comma there, whether I’ve written one or not. The convention clarifies word pairings, too. “Turquoise and blue” in a list indicates a pairing of those colors, where “…turquoise, and blue” means that those two colors are the last in a list of three or more.

Starting sentences with conjunctions is not APA style. In fact, I would never turn in a formal paper with a sentence that started with a conjunction. I was delighted to read, however, several years ago, in Fowler’s Modern English Usage (and later in some other fairly respectable books), that there is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with a conjunction. I like starting some sentences with “and,” and sometimes “but.” It feels like talking. The only thing I don’t like about it is imagining someone reading what I’ve written and judging me ignorant. As Tom Sawyer said, I know all what I’m talking about.

That said, I’m also interested in improving my writing. If you think I’ve posted bad writing accidentally, please let me know. I’ve been known, for example, to write sentences like, “I want to know whether or not you think my writing is bad or not.” That is not a stylistic choice. It’s just plain embarrassing.

This letter came to me in a moment of retrospective embarrassment, while doing some peer editing in a class last term.

Dear Mr. James, Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Hoagland, Mrs. Cheraz, Mr. Schag, and Mr. Tilson:

I am so sorry about all the boring, boring, boring crap of mine you had to read. Wow. That must have been a heroic effort, grading those terrible papers, pointing out all of those indefinite references and two sentence paragraphs, but most of all just reading that weak, uninspired junk. It is ironic that you, who probably appreciated good writing more than any of the adults in my life at the time, read my writing for a living. I hope the other kids in my class made your life easier than I did, but based on the grades you gave me, I doubt it.

In my defense, the writing assignments you gave me were mostly awful (with the exception of my sixth grade paper on Millard Fillmore, when Mr. James encouraged me to write about how he was our most boring president, and the story I wrote for Mrs. Taylor about the dog who had terrorized me when I was eight), and I never got the sense that you wanted me to write about my real experiences or what I was actually interested in. Huckleberry Finn, for example, was one of my favorite books. I loved it. I listened to dramatizations of it for fun. I had read it several times before I was assigned to read it in school. I just never cared about the symbolism in it. I could have written a moderately engaging paper about how hilarious it was, or how I related to Huck, but I was never going to write you anything interesting about the symbolism of the Mississippi River. Sure, there is symbolism in that book, but you have to admit that symbolism is not what makes it great, especially not to a fifteen year old.

On the other hand, I sure didn’t try very hard. I wrote just about everything I gave you the night before it was due, revising only slightly as I typed the final drafts. I could tell just how much effort it took to get a B+ on a paper, so that my test and homework scores could keep me floating in A territory. And I wasn’t embarrassed. It was almost a point of pride to me, how little I worked on that writing. Let’s just call all of it a joint effort—a collaboration between you and my teenaged self, all of that weak, last-minute, uninspired writing.

You did inspire me, too, just not about writing. The books that you had me read really were great—a heck of a lot better, in retrospect, than the fantasy novels I was into at the time. I also appreciate the ways that you (especially Mr. James, Mr. Schag, and Mr. Tilson) modeled open-minded, deep, critical, and flexible thinking. Thanks, too, for the way you seemed to like me. I think if I was to meet most of you today, I would want to be friends with you.


Nathen Lester