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I was wandering around my neighborhood today after meeting a friend for coffee, and I found the greatest sign in the world.  This masterwork is a mere four blocks from my house!  And it works on two levels!

Thank you, Providence for being full of hipster artists who are sometimes amazingly clever.  This is the greatest discovery I’ve ever made.  I feel like Magellan.

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Since I’m a librarian, I spend a lot of time each day pondering the death of the public library and how necessary librarians will be once everything in the world is available online, etc.  My former boss was a techie nerd despite his advanced years and he once described to me “being able to have every book you could think of delivered instantaneously to your computer screen and you’d never have to go anywhere!”  His eyes were lit up in a way that was both alarming and unexpected and I knew that it was best to just smile and nod rather than say what I was actually thinking.

Which was, exactly why the hell would I want every book delivered instantaneously to my computer screen?  I hate reading on the computer, and having to do it for more than a couple hours at a time, makes me go all buggy-eyed.  Sure that’s an awfully convenient idea, but it’s far from desirable.

When I got my first desktop computer that I didn’t have to share with anyone else, it was the age of dial-up and the age of Napster.  I spent four full days in my apartment, alone, “sharing” music.  I spoke to no one, because none of my friends (or I) had any kind of chat capabilities; my cell phone was for emergency use only, weighed about a pound and was in my car 1/2 a block away; and since I had dial-up, no one could contact me without coming over to my house.  Frankly, looking back, I kind of wonder why no one came over to check on me.

My apartment was garden-level with very little natural light, so the passing of time meant nothing to me, and I didn’t even realize how long I had been holed up in my hovel until I noticed a new episode of Friends was on, which tipped me off that it was Thursday.

Once I finally emerged, I had a harddrive full of crappy music that I never listened to, and a desire to never sink to those depths again.  Yes, on a winter’s day, I often don’t want to leave the house, but I never want to not have to leave the house at some point.  Why would anyone want that?

I’m still recovering.

I also spend a lot of time thinking about manners and social graces.  Perhaps this is a result of working in customer service for most of my life, perhaps this is a desire to move in social circles higher than those I was born into, or perhaps this is just further manifestation of Minnesota Nice (which I think is a myth because my dad treats waitstaff appallingly bad, though others have pointed out that a side-effect of Minnesota Nice is a tendency to be passive-aggressive).  The point is, since this is something I think about frequently, I also really notice when other people are rude and awkward.  I can say with the confidence of a public librarian– a lot of people are rude or awkward–usually both.

People learn manners and social graces from their parents mostly, and then secondarily from school and interactions with other people.  There’s not really any such thing as charm school anymore (except that Vh1 show) to teach people how to act in certain social settings, so there’s really no way to learn to interact with people except by observation. Plus there’s huge difference between the way you interact in school versus the way your act in real life. Pair this with the anonymous and semi-anonymous online interactions on facebook etc, where you can tell someone exactly what you think of them with few-to-no consequences, and I think it’s safe to say we’re all doomed.

Yes, having any book delivered to your screen instantly is a very convenient thing, but even without that, I sometimes have a hard time finding reasons to leave the house.  This is why I’m in no rush to make things more convenient.  Even though I hate doing things like going to the mall, it’s nice to leave the damn house once in a while and see other faces–no matter how unattractive.  I hope I’m not the only person who feels this way.

I’ve been an atheist since age fourteen.  Actually, if I’m being completely honest, I’ve been an atheist since I started pondering religion (probably right around the time my mother told me to put away my coloring book and start paying attention), but I was fourteen when I first heard the word.  Prior to that, I would go to church with my parents, and sit there thinking things like I’m not sure about this, does no one else realize that a lot of this doesn’t make logical sense and I can’t wait until I’m a grown up and I don’t have to go to church anymore.

When I first heard the word atheist, it was possibly the only moment of clarity I’ve ever experienced.  It was a so that’s what’s up with methere’s a name for it, moment.  It was really great to have a handy label, but at no point did I ever want to seek out other atheists for existential chats, or find people like me, or organize in any way.

The way I see it is, religion is an organization of people who believe the same thing getting together to discuss and learn about their beliefs.  Since I do not believe in a god of any kind and am perfectly content with that, why would I need to get together and talk about it?  How do you talk about a non-belief?  I’m fine with groups like the American Atheists just as much as I am with any religious group until people start proselytizing at me, but religion is no part of my life the same way non-religion is.  It seems like organizing in this way is just the same except the conversation is different.

Recently The Pew Research Center did a study on religion & public life, which has been getting quite a bit of press for turning up some interesting facts namely that atheists and agnostics did better on a basic religion test than most Christians. That makes perfect sense to me because learning about what people believe and why from a purely clinical researchy standpoint is fascinating.  I’m intrigued by religion and ritual because it’s intriguing, not because I buy into it in any way.  Though if I was spending an hour a week doing an activity, I would probably try to learn a few of the basic facts.

This study then led to a group of atheists, agnostics and humanists to get together and discuss the future of their movement, which went badly because they couldn’t agree on anything (it’s a bit tricky when your movement is based on non-belief rather than a set of rules and ideas).  Of course, I don’t want the Religious Right to somehow get prayer into public schools, but I also don’t want to go to meetings and pay dues to yet another organization where we sit around talking for hours and accomplish (probably) very little.

Since Religion is a man-made idea, why can I not seem to opt out?  Why does everyone have to be something? I mean, yes, I’m an atheist, but I’m not an emphatic atheist, it’s just that I don’t believe in god and it’s a handy word to bandy about because people know what it means.  I could just as easily call myself a non-theist (which is closer to my non-beliefs, I guess) or a secular humanist, or an evolution fan–who cares?  Why talk about something you don’t believe in?  Do you really have that much to say about it?

Often when I tell people I’m an atheist, they say something like, “what were you, what are your parents?”  Then I say Lutheran, and whoever I’m talking to seems to unclench.  A friend who slipped more and more into crazy strident religious territory over the course of our friendship once told me that since I had once, when I was like six, parroted back the words “I accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior” I was ok— not going to hell.  My protestations that I didn’t actually believe what I had said, and that I have since rescinded that statement, didn’t seem to register with her.  I’d said it once, was not going to hell, let’s have some onion rings.

I won’t be signing up with any organized atheist group anytime soon, and perhaps this is just a further manifestation of my non-joiner personality, but I don’t think so.  I do like those bus ads though.

…just wish it didn’t say probably.

I took piano lessons for about five years, and really liked them.  I only gave it up because I didn’t like my teacher, and I had reached the point where they weren’t so much lessons as her giving me new and increasingly difficult music.  so I figured I could continue on my own just fine.

Then my parents sold the piano with the logic that since I wasn’t taking lessons anymore, why keep that huge thing around.  Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed, but not disappointed enough to pay them their asking price, and so the piano was taken away.

Throughout junior high and high school, I was in band (flute) and I had bought myself a recorder for those times when I wanted to mix it up at home.  I never really wanted for pianos, they were always just around, and so I didn’t mind too much that the parents had sold ours.  I bought a guitar after quitting band, which I never learned to play, but still moved from apartment to apartment as it slowly became warped from improper storage.

Finally I realized a couple years ago, that I no longer know how to read music at all.  Even though I can look at a piano, find C position and still play the song from my very first recital, if someone were to ask me if I could play piano, I’d be forced to say no.  I never thought you could forget how to read music–it seemed as impossible as forgetting how to read words, but I guess if I didn’t read daily, maybe that would fade away too.  Also, as someone who has always secretly yearned to be a musician, you can see why this is problematic.  Sure, plenty of rock stars don’t know how to read music, but they do know how to play an instrument other than the flute (which I’m not sure I could still play and certainly don’t want to find out).  Lacking both of these skills is a huge setback, and I intend to rectify it.

I borrowed a few basic piano books from a friend, certain that once I got in front of a keyboard, all the knowledge would come flooding back.  Turns out, not so much.  I mean I can still play that recital song, but lacking a basic music chart, I’m left guessing which notes are which, and nothing I’ve produced so far sounds good at all.  Also, I take umbrage with the fact that Alfred’s Basic Piano insists on inserting a ton of unfamiliar songs.  If I was  attempting to play songs that I was already familiar with, I could learn the notes that way.  Instead, I’m flying completely blind.  Damn you, Alfred!

So, in my quest for hobbies, I’ve basically unearthed an old one, but I’m not down about it because this is going to leave me with a huge sense of accomplishment, and tangible results– for free.  Plus, it might make me smarter.  Remember all those Save the Music, Music=Brainpower commercials?  I could always use more brainpower.