Monday, December 03, 2007

Moving to Wordpress

Hi Folks!

I've finally decided to move this blog over to Wordpress. It was a tough decision, but I feel it is the right one. Please click on this link to visit the new blog site!

Also, I would very much appreciate it if you would update your blog rolls with my new link:

Thank you!

Paul Sunstone

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Fatherless Girls

I've noticed for sometime now a steady stream of traffic to this blog because of a brief post I made back in May on fatherless girls. So, tonight, I was trying to count all the fatherless girls I've known in this town.

I would count a few, think I'd finished, then remembered another one or two. In the end, I simply gave up. It's overwhelming. Not the numbers, but the faces. Overwhelming.

I wonder if we will ever again be a society in which it is unusual to grow up without a father. My own father died when I was two years old. At the small school I attended, I was the only child in my class of about 100 students without a dad at home. What are the numbers today?

When I came to Colorado at midlife, I landed in a coffee shop that was a hang out for an eclectic crowd that included everyone from the mayor of the city to a group of homeless gentlemen. The coffee shop was also two blocks from the city's largest high school, and it attracted very many mildly disaffected youth who enjoyed its eclectic atmosphere as much as I did. Most of the first 200 or so people I met in this town were mildly disaffected kids.

Some of those kids attached themselves to me. When I look back it strikes me that the boys who attached themselves to me usually had fathers. But the girls who did were usually fatherless.

I wonder why most of the boys had fathers, while most of the girls didn't?

Growing up a male myself, I knew the boys at that age are not usually looking for a father figure when they attach themselves to an older man. Instead, they are most likely looking for help in entering the adult world. That is, at that age, they want to work out how to relate to adults who are not their father. I suppose the girls wanted pretty much the same thing.

Yet, I don't know. I don't know why most of the boys who wanted to associate with me had fathers while most of the girls who wanted to associate with me didn't have fathers. Nor do I know whether there was any difference between the boys and the girls in why they wanted to associate with me. Some things seem bound to remain a mystery.

At any rate, my experience of fatherless children -- or more precisely, my experience of fatherless girls -- has convinced me they are especially vulnerable, they are often overlooked, and that we all could do more by them. So, I've decided to make my own small contribution to their cause by blogging from time to time about some of the fatherless girls I've known, what kinds of problems they've faced, how they met those challenges, and what wonderful people they are. I hope you'll be interested.

Seventeen: The Age of First Sex in the West

How old, on average, is a person in the West before they first have sex?

Well, according to Julien O. Teitler, the median age for first sex among people living in Western industrial nations dropped steadily from 1960 to 1995, before stabilizing at around age 17.

(Damn! If I'd only known that sooner, I wouldn't have held out until 50.)

Although the median age for first sex has declined, the median age for marriage has risen in those same countries. Clearly, it is now normative in Western industrialized countries to have sex before marriage. In America, for instance, fully nine out of ten people have sex before marriage.

(Damn! If I'd only known that sooner, I would never have promised my latex love doll a wedding ring after our first night together.)

The problem is our ideals have not kept pace with our actual morals. So many people in the West still act as if it is reasonable to expect kids to hold out until marriage, even when they themselves failed to do it! Instead of merely expecting kids to hold out until marriage -- something only one in ten of them will do -- we should be teaching kids how to deal with premarital sex.

Teaching kids how to deal with premarital sex involves much more than merely teaching them to use a condom. Among other things, it involves teaching them a whole morality, a whole sexual ethics, and even a sexual etiquette.

A few years ago, when I was hanging out with dozens of kids here in town, I was often asked questions about ending relationships. Naturally, if you are going to start having sex years before you get married, you are almost certainly going to face the prospect of ending one or a few relationships. But when and how is it best to break up? Kids need to be taught a practical morality that addresses those issues.

That's only one example. There are many more moral, ethical, and etiquette issues that are not being adequately addressed in part because we still hold to the ideal of waiting for marriage to have sex.

Our failure to adequately address those issues goes beyond idle interest. Morality, ethics, and etiquette are ideally ways in which generations pass down what they've learned of life. When all we pass down are failed ideals, we are relinquishing our responsibility to the next generation to share what real wisdom and learning we have to share.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Jeff's Abuse of Suzanne

I've heard models described as vacuous airheads, but that doesn't describe Suzanne unless someone can be both a vacuous airhead and an intelligent, creative, buoyant, and artistic woman.

I believe she was all of 14 years old when she first modeled lingerie for Victoria's Secrets, the catalog and store company. She couldn't have been much older because I met her when she was 16 and she was no longer modeling by then.

Over the years, Suzanne has revealed a persistent talent for getting fired from employments, so I strongly suspect she was no longer modeling by the time we met because Secrets had refused anything more to do with her. She's not a vacuous airhead, but she is dysfunctional.

The story I'm prepared to tell you today concerns Suzanne, Victoria's Secrets, and her abusive boyfriend. I've already introduced Suzanne and Victoria's Secrets, so I'll turn now to the boyfriend.

Meet Jeff.

He's one of those males who prey on women much younger than themselves. Jeff is 20 years older than Suzanne, and very few women his own age have ever sustained an interest in him. Jeff can be charming. He can be witty. He can be exciting. He can sweep a naive and inexperienced girl off her feet. Yet, most women see the looser in him. So Jeff has learned to specialize in the young, naive and inexperienced women he has some chance of getting.

Once he gets them, he doesn't know what to do with them. He turns the affair into a drama, the drama into a tragedy, the tragedy into a nightmare. When you take some fish out of the water, their colors at first fascinate, then fade. Latter, the fish begin to stink. Any girl who lands Jeff sooner or later learns that in a relationship, he's a fish out of water.

Young people almost invariably overestimate the odds in their favor of significantly changing someone, and especially they overestimate their odds of changing a lover. Maybe that's because they are always being told by their parents, preachers, and teachers to change themselves, and so they assume it actually works when you tell people to change themselves.

In truth, the only person likely to change someone is the person themselves. And even then, seldom, if ever, is a person capable of a fundamental change: It's not in the nature of water to become stone, nor of stone to become air.

In the few years Jeff and Suzanne were together, Suzanne wanted two things, both absurd. She wanted to change Jeff against his nature. And she wanted her own nature to bloom. The latter was absurd because Jeff had her under his thumb and was abusing her emotionally, psychologically, and physically. No one blooms under those conditions. At best, they merely endure.

If you yourself have seen a few abusive relationships, you know they are all alike, except for the details. The only detail of the relationship between Jeff and Suzanne that surprised me was that Jeff apparently never tried to keep Suzanne from seeing me.

I'm clueless why he didn't. It's a classic pattern of abuse that the abuser tries to prevent his victim from having any friends who are outside of his influence or control. But through out the time she was with Jeff, Suzanne saw me almost daily. It's true she seldom associated with me in Jeff's presence, but we spent hours together while he was at work or off somewhere else. That sort of thing normally doesn't happen in an abusive relationship.

Suzanne would look me up almost every day. We'd then go to a coffee shop, a movie, the mall, "The Well" -- which was her favorite nudist resort -- or we'd go hiking, or drive around Colorado for a few hours. Whatever amused us.

Once, we even went to Victoria's Secrets. That was three or so years into Suzanne's relationship with Jeff. That day, we'd gone to the mall.

When we were passing the Victoria's Secrets store, Suzanne wanted to go in. The racks, of course, were full of lingerie, and Suzanne excitedly asked me to choose three sets for her to try on. She then took me back to a dressing room where she stripped and modeled the sets for me.

Christmas was a month off, so I asked her a lot of questions about each of the three sets, including which one felt the most comfortable -- if I'm going to give lingerie to a woman, it damn well better be comfortable, especially at Victoria's prices.

Looking at a young nude woman is at least as fascinating to me as watching a beautiful sunrise. Yet, I'm not attracted to most young women's sexuality, and especially not to Suzanne's. Their sexuality is more likely to depress me than to stimulate me, although I'm not quite sure why. At any rate, I certainly do not make a point of telling young women they aren't sexy -- I have my life to protect! So that day I told Suzanne, "This is a lot of fun for me -- watching you model that sexy lingerie. If I'm having so much fun, think of how much fun it would be for Jeff! Why don't you bring him out here?"

Suzanne didn't answer immediately. When she did answer, her voice had gone strange. There was a tone in it I'd never heard before. In a way, it was a little girl's voice. But perhaps it only sounded like a little girl's voice because she was having difficulty controlling it. She said, "Jeff wouldn't like it. If I did this with him, he'd call me a slut."

We fell into silence. Then she began taking off the last set of lingerie in order to get back into her own clothes, but she was trembling.

When you abuse a woman, you prevent her from being true to herself. At it's core, that's what abuse really is -- it's preventing someone from being true to themselves.

Sometimes it comes out in ways that are large enough and important enough to easily describe. Like the woman whose husband prevents her from developing her musical genius so that the world looses a classical pianist. But much more often, abuse comes out in ways that are harder to see, such as when a woman trembles in a dressing room because her lover will not, or cannot, accept her sexuality whole and complete, just as it is, without condemning it.

Those harder to see ways are as criminal as the other. You don't need to beat a woman to abuse her. You can just as well kill a person's sense of themselves, their self-esteem, their self direction -- by a thousand tiny cuts.

By the time I met Suzanne I was too old and had seen too much wickedness to harbor any fantasy that I could reason with her into leaving Jeff. I knew she was confused beyond reason, frightened into uncertainty, blinded by her feelings, and emotionally dependent on him. So, I did the only things I thought I could do, which were never that great nor enough.

For the most part, that amounted to just accepting her for herself.

Monday, November 26, 2007

An Amazingly Bad Movie Review!

It's got to be the worse movie review of the decade to date. If there's one that's worse than it, I don't want to read it for fear my eyeballs will explode.

The review is of Beowulf and here's a sample insight from the review: "Beowulf the movie, based on the epic poem of the same name, is quite probably the most heinous culprit for stealing childhood from children ever made."

The review is done by a professed Christian who actually goes so far as to make up facts about the Bible in order to damn the movie for its nudity. Are you feeling up to full strength this morning? Then you can read the review here. There's also a lively commentary on the review itself here.

Many thanks to DOF for alerting me to this atrocity.

The 11th Humanist Symposium is Up!

The 11th Humanist Symposium is up at Greenbelt and it looks like a good one. Check it out here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Stanislaw Lec on Youth

"Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art."

- Stanislaw Lec

Three Lessons From My Mother on Youth

I blame my mother for teaching me three truths about youth.

The first of her truths is that all girls are pretty and all boys are handsome. I used to hate being taught that one by her.

She taught it to me throughout my childhood and adolescence. She did it simply: Merely by praising the beauty of myself and my young friends. I hated it when she did that because it sounded false to my naive ears. Especially during adolescence, I couldn't believe she was anything but a lunatic when it came to beauty, because I had a markedly different standard of beauty than hers.

I had internalized the standards of my peers. Among ourselves, we had no sense of the universal beauty of youth. We didn't see that truth. One of us might be beautiful, but certainly not all of us. Certainly not our classes' ugliest girl nor most homely boy. So I would shrink in fright each time my mother pronounced that one or another of my classes' "less attractive" boys or girls was beautiful. I'd think, "Has anyone overheard her besides me? I'll die if they discover my Mom is an idiot! "

Roughly around 40, I discovered for myself the universal beauty of youth. That is, I finally saw what my mother had been talking about all those years. The beauty of youth transcends whatever happens to be fashionable beauty. It is timeless and universal.

The second truth my mother taught me was how transparent a youth is to an adult.

Mostly she did that by instantly seeing through my every pretension. Many times when we're growing up, we want to put on a front, we want to have pretensions, and we especially do not want our mothers to see through those pretensions. Instead, we want the sense of privacy that comes with imagining no one else knows we're bluffing.

Yet, just as a six year old is transparent to a 16 year old, so is a 16 year old transparent to a full adult. To this day, I have mixed feelings about that truth.

On the one hand, I've learned over the years that it is basic human nature to play at being something before one becomes something. Like all mammals, humans in most cases learn best through play. If you want to be a charitable person, first "play pretend" you are a charitable person. If you want to be a good lover, first "play pretend" you are a good lover. Playing/pretending kicks in whatever gears there are in our brains that allow us to learn very complex behaviors. So, to the extent we put on fronts as part of that learning process, it's not all that helpful when your mother tells you to "quit pretending to be something you're not."

On the other hand, when your mother tells you to "quit pretending", it can be a great lesson in the futility of living inauthentically. The trick is whether your mother knows you well enough to steer you away from trying to become something untrue to your nature, and instead tries to steer you towards becoming things true to your nature. That's largely what my mother did, and today I'm grateful to her for it.

She allowed and even encouraged me to play pretend at things that developed my natural talents into skills. She discouraged me from playing pretending at things I had little or no natural talent for, or which were anti-social. She was able to do that because she was some 39 years older than me and my own true nature was transparent to her.

At 37, I moved to Colorado. Through a strange set of circumstances it happened the first 200 or so people I met here were mostly kids. Some of them attached themselves to me, and I used to wonder why they willingly attached themselves to a man two decades their senior.

One day the answer came to me: I was doing for them what my mother had done for me. I was encouraging them to be true to themselves in the same persistent and often subtle ways my mother had encouraged me to be true to myself. That's what they wanted and even needed from a man two decades their senior -- someone who could see through their insecure fronts, and encourage their true selves.

The final truth my mother taught me about youth is the tragedy of wasted potential. This was something she taught through her comments on people. As I was growing up, she would occasionally point out how this or that person had wasted their talents. She never made a big deal of it, and her comments were always more or less in passing, but her point nevertheless sank in.

Is some part of youth's universal beauty the almost tangible sense of potential that young people exude? I don't know. But I know potential is thick on youth. I know that youth is a time when crucial steps are taken -- or at least should be taken -- to realize that potential. And I know that a thousand pitfalls await youth which will prevent all but a minority of them from ever fully realizing their genuine potential. That last strikes me as an especially poignant tragedy, and I think the reason the tragedy of wasted potential affects me as deeply as it does is in part because of my mother's teachings.

Again, this is something I saw most clearly in my late 30s and 40s, and if you have kindly read this essay, you will know by now that's a pattern with how I've absorbed my mother's teachings about youth. In each case, she pointed me to look. But in each case, I either didn't look, or perhaps couldn't look, at what she pointed until I was middle-aged. Yet, once I looked, I saw clearly what she had been all those years talking about.

Now, if I add all three of those lessons together to make a sum, then I get something like this: My mother prepared me through her teachings to clearly see, once I was older, how beautiful youth is, how important it is that youth learns to be true to itself, and how tragic it is when it doesn't.

All in all, I think those are some pretty profound lessons.

Suzanne's Gift to Me

Yesterday, Thanksgiving, I had a pleasant surprise. A friend I hadn't seen in over two years showed up on my doorstep, healthy and happy.

The healthy and happy bit was very much part of the surprise. Suzanne has suffered over many of her 28 years from a nearly debilitating emotional disorder. But yesterday she was quite happy and seemed healthier than I remember as being usual for her.

So far as I know, Suzanne is the world's only former Victoria Secrets model to join a traveling circus.

She lasted a year in the circus job, which is a long time for her to last in any job. She's energetic, exceptionally intelligent, and hard working. But then there's that emotional disorder thing. It impairs her judgment, and she tends to screw things up with the result that she's had very little stability in her life.

She was 16, I was 39, when we first met at a coffee shop. It's been a dozen years now, and that circus stint is still the longest she's held onto a job. She says she's known me longer than nearly anyone else in her life outside of family, and I believe her. I've lost count of the number of apartments and rental homes she's had. It's as if Suzanne repels stability.

Like so many people with an emotional disorder, Suzanne has been in a protracted abusive relationship. He was twenty years her senior and the sort of man who habitually preyed on much younger women. Quite charming at first.

She had two sons by him. She finally left him when he began to abuse her sons, too.

I've always admired Suzanne's buoyancy. No matter what else that emotional disorder has done to her, it hasn't taken her resilience. She always bounces back. And maybe her buoyancy has something to do with the fact she and I can laugh together at even the worse of her misadventures. Yesterday, during her visit, we laughed so hard recalling her miscalculations and misjudgments that I had to wipe my eyes -- several times.

I don't recall who started it, but there's a running joke between us. It's a bit crude, and she's a bit more likely to express herself crudely than I am, so maybe she started it. At any rate, each time I bail her out of some distress she's gotten herself into, she swears she owes me a blow job for it. In return, I tell her that I'm not feeling like one at the moment, and so I'll put it on her tab. Yesterday, she reminded me that she now "owes" me 53 blow jobs for the number of times I've bailed her out of some mess since we started that joke years ago.

In truth, Suzanne has taught me a great deal about giving. Even before I met her, I had learned to give without most strings attached, without most expectation, or most hope, of gaining anything in return. But there was something I hadn't yet learned. There was something I still expected to come from my generosity.

I expected improvement.

Without being consciously aware of my expectations, I hoped when giving to someone that they would learn from their mistake -- from whatever mistake put them in a position to need a hand out -- and that they would improve themselves. I even unconsciously considered a gift wasted if the person did not learn from their mistakes.

Someone once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. That's a pretty good insight into what a severe emotional disorder can do to a person's judgment. Suzanne is like that.

Suzanne will repeat a mistake again and again, without being aware that she is doing the same thing over and over with only insignificant variations. Her disorder is a cruel one.

At first that frustrated me. When I examined my frustration, I saw it was because I expected her to improve. When I thought about my hope she would improve, I discovered my hope for her was a string I was attaching to my gifts to her. And then I was struck by how unrealistic and unfair to her it was of me to do that.

It was through giving to her I learned to give without even that expectation of any reward for my generosity.

If you yourself make a practice of giving without strings, then you know how liberating it is to do so. And because I myself know that feeling of liberation, and value it, I am grateful to Suzanne for helping me realize it. Perhaps that's her greatest gift to me. If so, it's a good one.

She has many fine qualities, and there's nothing genuinely evil or humanly indecent about her. If life were a child's fantasies of life, then life would be fair; and if life were fair, the Suzannes of this world would never be afflicted with cruel emotional disorders. For someone with her talents and abilities could accomplish a lot of good, both for herself and others -- if only she were healthy and not such an habitual screw up.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

May your day be blessed with happiness.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Undiscovered and Unsuspected Door

D.H. Lawrence somewhere says that youth should not be misled into believing that it must rebel against authority and tradition in order to achieve freedom. Lawrence asserts that those battles have already been fought and won. Youth is largely free to do as it pleases today, and so it is misleading youth to tell them that they should be battling against authority and tradition.

On the other hand, Lawrence points out that the real revolution youth must accomplish is "to find the undiscovered and unsuspected door." That is, to find and exploit the aspects of life that youth does not even as yet suspect are part of life. Doing so will bring about a greater revolution in youth than will battling against authority and tradition.

What do you think of this? Is the real job of youth to find the undiscovered and unsuspected door, or is it to battle against tradition and authority? Which brings greater freedom? Which is more revolutionary?