Come see me speak at Town Hall Seattle this Monday!

Come see me speak at Town Hall Seattle this Monday!

I know I’ve been in a blog/speaking hibernation for a while – grad school can do that to you. But I’m happy to announce that I’ll be coming out of my cave to give a talk about my research at Town Hall Seattle this Monday, May 11. This talk is...
The Role of Genetics in Civilization: Beyond Earth - Interview with Co-Lead Designers

The Role of Genetics in Civilization: Beyond Earth – Interview with Co-Lead Designers

It’s not often that my day job as a geneticist overlaps with my love for video games, but that’s exactly what’s happening in the new Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth. In early interviews about this sci-fi edition of the Civ series, it seemed like genetic engineering would play a large part in...
Pokébiology 101: "Evolution" and the enigma of Eevee

Pokébiology 101: “Evolution” and the enigma of Eevee

(Click here for the introductory post to Pokébiology 101) You know I had to start my Pokébiology 101 series with the most famously scientifically inaccurate part of Pokémon: evolution. In the Pokémon world, “evolution” means something different from what you might have learned in your biology classes. …Well, what you should...
Honoring my mom through art

Honoring my mom through art

Since my mom passed away in April, I’ve been constantly reminded by how many lives she touched as an art teacher. So many students considered her a major influence on their life, even if they didn’t end up going to art school. I wanted to share an example of one...
Welcome to The Jenome!

Welcome to The Jenome!

Hello, former Blag Hag readers. Welcome to my new home. The Jenome was created as a sort of rebirth, even though it still falls victim to my curse of only being able to come up with pun titles. I’d like to compare it to a phoenix rising from the ashes,...
Three Ninja's new album, Alcohol & Isolation

Three Ninja’s new album, Alcohol & Isolation

With artwork by yours truly. I’ve always been one of those people who hated country, but damn do I like this. You can get the album here.
Latest entries
Juneau

Juneau

Oil on canvas by Jennifer McCreight, December 2013. This was done as a Christmas gift to my boyfriend’s family, who lost their dog Juneau that summer. They said I definitely captured his spirit, which is one of the best compliments an artist can get.

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Eulogy for my mother

Hundreds of people showed up to my mother’s funeral. We were lucky the room adjacent to ours wasn’t also booked for a funeral, because we filled the seats in that room in addition to ours. In addition to that, about 40 people had to stand, and that doesn’t count the 50 or so people who came to visitation but didn’t stay for the memorial. My mother was much loved, and we lost her too soon.

I wanted to share the eulogy I gave for my mother yesterday. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write and definitely not the most eloquent, and it was extra intimidating giving it in front of all my former English teachers (her colleagues), but it still means a lot to me.

“My mother was the kindest, most self-sacrificing person I knew. When she was going through chemo the first time, she came back to work early because she didn’t want to miss the joy of teaching her Honors Art students. Some of the students and teachers didn’t even realize she had cancer until months later, because she was always putting on a happy face because she didn’t want to make others worry. She even scheduled her chemotherapy around my senior year golf matches because it meant the world to her to see me play. Even when we were playing at Wicker Park, which wouldn’t allow any spectators to ride carts to follow matches, she would still walk around the perimeter of the park to watch every shot despite the chemo and her bad back. She loved every minute of golf she got to play with me, and we made quite the team when she would invite me for Guest Day. She always joked she brought me to be a ringer, but she really just wanted any excuse to be on the course with me.

My mother was also one of the most creative people I knew. She taught me how to paint before I could even write, and her art room always felt like my second home. I was lucky enough to have her as my art teacher for three years, even though at the time I always complained that she graded me extra hard compared to the other students. Some of my fondest memories are helping her in the art room before and after school, and helping her set up her art shows at the Performing Arts Center, and of course our traditional trips to Dairy Queen afterward. She took me to the Art Institute so many times that now I could give tours, and once she even scheduled a field trip on Take Your Daughter to Work Day just so I could come with a class I wasn’t even in. I loved playing Pictionary with her, even though no one ever let us be us on the same team because they wanted to split up the artists.

Related to her creativity, I always loved her willingness to be a little silly and dance to the beat of her own drummer. Sometimes it was literal dancing, like when every Christmas we would dance around the house with our very confused cat to Nutcracker music, or when I was little and she would chase me around the house humming the Illini fight song faster and faster as I screamed and laughed. She also had a unique vocabulary that I could never tell was Greek or made up gibberish – saklamathes, stadabamba, ohmanoshevitz – which I’m pretty sure is a Jewish wine – hazi, hazos, hazenglitha, hachimanga, yaxamou. Regardless if any of these words are “real,” they’ll always be real to me.

But most of all, my mom knew how to appreciate the little things, even if she had already experienced them a thousand times before. She was always captivated by every firework and plane taking off that she saw. She never got sick of going to a Huey Lewis concert despite effectively seeing him once a year. He was actually the first concert I had ever been to, which isn’t exactly typical for a 13 year old girl. But we listened to him in the car every day when she drove me to and from school, and I’ll always associate him with those happy memories.

It’s difficult to summarize all of the wonderful memories I have of my mom in a small amount of time. But I know her kindness, her creativity, her silliness and her joy will live on in me and everyone else whose lives she touched. And I know I’ll think of her every time I see a firework, hear a Huey Lewis song, hit a golf ball, create art, play pinball, eat Greek food, or drink a margarita. And that’s why she’ll never truly be gone.”

Goodbye, Mommy

I’m sorry to tell you all that my mother Elena McCreight passed away today after a yearlong fight with ovarian cancer. If you are friends with the family, please email me at blaghagblog at gmail dot com for funeral information. In lieu of donations and flowers, please donate to the cancer charity of your choice.

I will miss her more than I can put into words at the moment, but I’m glad she’s no longer suffering. I know her kindness, passion, and creativity will live on in me and my family.

I love you and will miss you, Mommy.

Happy Halloween!

Listen, all magic is scientific principals presented like “mystical hoodoo” which is fun, but it’s sort of irresponsible. I got your magic right here, okay? Haaaan-hazzle dazzle! Flubby-doo! Slama-blama-foo!

IMG_1973

Blag Hag Grab Bag 9/10/13

Today’s theme is how elated I am to not be officially involved with the atheist movement anymore:

A milestone worth celebrating

Today was my mom’s final chemotherapy session!!!!!!!!!!! Fuck you, cancer! Love you, mom!

I’m not really sure there’s much more to say.

Why are you calling my texting device?

I have massive phone anxiety.

I feel a bit silly saying that, since using a telephone seems like the simplest task possible. But thanks to my brain cranking my anxiety up to 11, a phone call can be pretty daunting. I’ve tried to encourage people in my life not to randomly call me, but most quickly go back to their own telephone habits and my phone is ringing soon enough. They think I’m just part of a younger generation who prefers texting and email, and a little phone call won’t hurt. Part of the problem is this particular anxiety makes me feel fairly pathetic due to how simple and universal the task is, so I’ve never wanted to explain precisely why I’d prefer texts or emails. But I’m trying to be more open about mental illness, including anxiety, so I want to explain exactly why I hate the phone so much.

What my anxiety boils down to is basically this: Social situations terrify me because I’m certain I’ll be rejected or mocked for saying something embarrassing or foolish. I’m overly concerned with how others judge me (thanks childhood bullies and overly demanding adults!). Phone calls are a particular source of anxiety for a couple of reasons:

  • I have a difficult time understanding what someone is saying from their voice alone (which is the same reason why I tend to hate podcasts). I think it’s partially not having the greatest hearing, and partially relying on some lip reading to fully understand people. Add the usual static and terrible reception of my cellphone, and I feel like an idiot. I feel like a burden asking people to constantly repeat themselves, and like a fool when I reply with a non sequitur because I thought someone said something totally different.
  • I prefer written communication because it gives me time to think about what I want to say, and to digest what others are saying. A phone call has the pressure of instantly responding to what you just heard. I can never fully understand and process what I’m hearing, and I’m never eloquent about what I’m saying. It makes me feel ignorant and like I’m bumbling through a conversation. The anxiety is even worse when I’m talking to someone who knows I’m a writer, because all I can do is wonder if they’re thinking “This person is actually a dumbass, maybe they’re a fraud.”
  • When the option of writing is taken away from me, I will try to imagine the conversation ahead of time, scripting out all the potential things that may be said. This is a neurotic waste of energy, since I can rarely predict what will actually be said and will just feel anxious anyway. The only reason I can order take out is because I mentally practice “I would like the carne asada tacos” a dozen times before dialing the number. Most conversations are not so simple. And even with the simple ones, an unexpected “flour or corn tortillas” is enough to fluster me for a moment, and then I’ll hang up stewing over how stupid I sounded stumbling over a simple question.
  • Most people prefer phone calls to discuss more detailed, difficult, or involved topics, but to me that is the very worst time to use the phone. Everything I said about preferring writing is multiplied here: I need time to process and think. I also find it extremely irritating to use for organizational stuff, since then you’re left with no written record of what everyone said and it’s easy for details to fall by the wayside. Board meetings with the SSA were especially stressful for me. A dozen or more voices speaking at the same time is like phone hell, as is the need to vote on stuff that you’ve only had a half hour of phone debate to think about. But the absolute worst situation is when someone wants to call me to aggressively discuss something we disagree about (I’m sure you can imagine how often that happens to this blogger). Putting a hostile situation over my baseline anxiety has literally given me panic attacks and will leave me feeling miserable all day as I wait for the angry call. I don’t feel like I can articulate my views well in a quick, verbal argument, which leaves me feeling totally unable to defend myself.
  • As an anxious introvert (no, that’s not redundant) I usually have to psyche myself up for any sort of social interaction. From going out to dinner with friends to giving a talk where I know I’ll be expected to mingle afterward, it takes mental preparation for me not to totally stress out or feel immediately drained. Getting an unexpected phone call is like someone saying “Drop whatever you’re doing – you must interact with me right now.” I don’t know what that person is about to talk about, and that lack of preparation makes me panic, not answer the phone, and then wait for a voice mail to see what they wanted to talk about. That voice mail has four main options:
    1. Specific message about what they wanted to talk about. Now that I’m prepared for the discussion I’m about to have and I can think ahead about some of the things I will probably say, I call back fairly quickly.
    2. Vague message saying to call them back. It may take me days or a week to psyche myself up enough to call back, or I may forget to do it before I gather the mental energy.
    3. Vague message saying they’ll call me back. I stare at my phone in terror every time they call and wish they would just leave a goddamn message.
    4. No message. I obsessively wonder why they called in the first place if it wasn’t worth leaving a message, and wonder what I have yet again missed out on because of my stupid irrational anxiety.
  • And that’s all talking about phone calls from people I actually know. Unknown number? Yeah, I’m never answering those.

Now, I do think there are times where a phone call is way more useful than a text or email. Emergencies are obvious exceptions. It’s also way more convenient to call someone when you’re trying to meet them or find them somewhere, but those situations don’t trigger my anxiety because I’m prepared for the brief calls in that context. Surprisingly, I’m slightly less anxious doing interviews, mainly because I know the topic beforehand and the questions are either known to me or highly predictable. At this point I have canned responses for most questions, so there’s no fear in thinking up something on the spot.

I wanted to write about this because I want people to better understand where I’m coming from. This anxiety does interfere with certain aspects of my life, and it’s extra frustrating when alternative tools (text, email) are super common but some people refuse to use them. Ironically, this anxiety is the reason why it took me so long to find a therapist. Most therapists require you to call them as the very first step, which felt like an unconquerable step. The only reason I was able to meet with my current therapist was because he allowed email inquiries. Phone anxiety was also one of the reasons I stepped down from the SSA board: they had a new requirement that all board members would have to call a certain number of donors, and I just couldn’t do it. The board meetings were hard enough. Calling strangers and asking them for money? Even thinking about it made me feel like puking.

I fear that I often come off as unreliable when I’m ignoring or putting off phone calls, but in reality I’m fearful or trying to psyche myself up. I’m worried that my friends think I’m avoidant or just don’t like them when the truth is it’s the phone call I’m scared of. I feel annoying constantly asking for the conversation to be switched to text or email. I wonder how weird people think I am when I reply with a text to a missed call. And then there’s a whole layer of meta-anxiety where I feel bad that I have this problem at all, even though I know I shouldn’t be ashamed of symptoms of mental illness and that I’m probably not the only one with this problem.

I hope writing this will encourage my friends to stop calling my texting device by helping them understand where I’m coming from. And I suspect this will resonate with some of my readers who also deal with anxiety. If you relate, I hope you’ll share your stories in the comments so people can better understand living with anxiety.

PAX prime approaches!

One of my favorite events of the year is next weekend – the Penny Arcade Expo. It’s a blast every year, but it’s pretty much impossible for a nerd like me to not love it. I love being able to demo upcoming games, especially the indie games that I’ve never heard of but end up loving. My favorite part is all the rooms where you can basically rent and play any video game or board game you can think of, including old and obscure ones. Not to mention the room full of free arcade and pinball games. And the cosplaying. And the tournaments. And and and

Okay, I’m kind of excited.

This year PAX is 4 days instead of 3, so I may actually attend more than one panel thanks to the extra time. I see that there’s an interesting looking one on Videogames in Medicine run by a UW professor, so I may have to check that out. There are a TON of panels on gender, sexuality, diversity, not being an asshole on the internet…but honestly I’m pretty burnt out on those topics, so I doubt I’ll go. But I’m glad they still exist for anyone else who is interested. Even though the people who need to hear it the most probably aren’t the ones who go…

And of course I’m excited about the tournaments too, which are really just an excuse to play more games with random people. But the competitive aspect makes it extra fun. I may try the 7 Wonders board game tournament, but expect to get my ass kicked. I’ll definitely try the Mario Kart Wii tournament, which is one of the few games I actually feel confident in.

I would say I’m excited to be able to rent my favorite old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game…but an arcade right by my house just got the arcade version! So much for stockpiling all of those extra quarters for laundry.

Is anyone else going to PAX? What are you looking forward to most?

Blag Hag Grab Bag 8/22/2013

I woke up in a pretty bad mood, but thankfully I have Pixel who knows just the way to distract me: puking all over the carpet. Thanks, kitty.

Mandisa Thomas adds some pertinent information

I want to highlight this comment by Mandisa Thomas left on my post “On silencing anger to silence minority voices”:

Greetings,

Mandisa Thomas here – the person to whom the Black on Black crime question was directed.

My talk on the day in question was about how the Freethought community can learn from the Hospitality Industry – which was well received by the audience. I touched on my organization briefly, and I did not speak on the problems in the Black community that particular day. So for this woman to come out of left field and ask a question that wasn’t related to the subject at hand was not only rude, but it also implied that just because we are an orgainzation that focuses on Blacks that we are supposed to take on such a gigantic problem on our own. It also seemed to imply that I should ONLY be speaking on issues relating to the Black community. She may not have been meaning to come across as insidious or oblivious, but I also don’t think she was paying attention to my presentation, or even cared much about the issue at hand. She certainly did not speak with me afterwards to either clarify, or even offer assistance on such efforts. I certainly did not go off on her, but she receives no sympathy from me either.

Bria has my full support with this matter. I also think there should have been a better effort to involve the primary organizer of the convention if JT, Mark, and this woman were truly concerned. This obviously didn’t happen, and it is disappointing.

Funny how JT didn’t think to mention that in his post. It makes the whole situation even more blatantly racist, and his reaction even more problematic. But seeing that he has already doubled down and is painting my mere disagreement with him as a toxic evil attempt to destroy him, I expect this revelation won’t change much either.

It’s a sad day when you have the blinders of friendship ripped off.

I think we could all use a cute cat video about now

Here’s one of Pixel playing with her favorite string toy and fetching it out of her tower. Forgive the shoddy left handed iPhone camera skills.

On silencing anger to silence minority voices

My favorite thing to wake up to in the morning is white straight cis men insisting they get to decide who your allies are and that you should not ever get angry, but rather calmly explain basic topics to hostile questions from every person that wanders across your path as if it were your personal duty on this earth.

Thanks for that wonderful way to start the day, JT!

If that wasn’t his intended take home message from his post on Bria Crutchfield’s “outburst” at the Great Lakes Atheist Convention, that’s the message he actually accomplished. But intent is not magic – innocently writing something out of the goodness of your heart doesn’t wash away the problematic message of that post. Which ironically started with failing to understand that intent it not magic.

The problems all started when, during the Q&A of Mandisa Thomas’s talk, a woman asked her what black people were doing to fight black on black crime.  Was the woman’s question naive?  Yes.  Very.  And the naivety resulted in her asking a question that certainly had racist undertones, even if the woman was not intentionally being racist.  Mandisa handled it well.

But then, during the Q&A of Darrel C. Smith’s talk, Bria Crutchfield stood up and proceeded to give the woman an angry tongue lashing.  This went on for about five minutes (or maybe it just seemed like that long).  While Bria did answer the woman’s question, it was very embarrassing to the woman and trailed off into a number of red herrings such as “I’m here, get over it” as if anybody was suggesting that Bria or black atheists were unwelcome at the conference or silently sneered at by…anybody.

I, and several others wound up leaving the room during Bria’s monologue.  It just seemed so unnecessary to me.  The questioner was ignorant of what would make her question offensive, and this could’ve been solved without Bria embarrassing her (and herself) by usurping another speaker’s Q&A.  The woman merely needed information, not to be screamed at, and certainly not to be screamed at through a long diatribe in the middle of a conference when the floor was not hers.

So let’s recap what has happened so far:

JT’s psychic powers allow him to know that the woman asking the question on black on black crime is naive and not racist. This is despite that particular question being one of the most common, racist, debunked talking points from the far right. Even if 99% of the time that question is thrown out precisely to be hostile as a racism “gotcha”, we’re to assume this case is different for no good reason. He has downgraded the offense of that question to simply having “racist undertones,” despite playing up Bria’s response with value-laden terms like “outburst,” “angry tongue lashing,” “unnecessary,” and “diatribe.” His psychic powers also make him certain that Bria’s intent was to humiliate and embarrass, and he dismisses that Bria or other black atheists have any good reason to feel unwelcome at the conference. Because he gets to decide if they should feel unwelcome or not?

A commenter who also attended the event had a different take on the events:

Seeing that you stated that you left the room during Bria’s “outburst” I assume you did not hear her breakdown into tears at the end. I also assume that you were not present at the beginning of Bria’s talk where she apologized and clarified a few points.

If you would have witnessed the entirety of the “event” I don’t think you would have seen it as anything other than Bria’s frustration in having to educate people in a place that she hoped was already beyond that. It is often our “allies” that we get the most frustrated with, since for better or worse, we hold them to a higher standard because we hold them in higher regard.

After all this, JT has the gall to pull Bria aside and explain how he thinks she should have handled the situation – aka, be more nice and calm, and keep your disagreements to private discussions with the individual. This is so condescending it blows my mind. It is incredibly problematic for a white man to tell a black woman to not get angry about issues of racism that affect her on a daily basis. JT might not get mad, but it’s not because he’s achieved some higher, moral zen state that gives him infinite patience to deal with ignorance and hatred – it’s because these issues don’t fucking affect him. Of course you can stay calm when you either don’t care or don’t have to care.

He claims to understand how she feels – which is self evidently false from the article he just wrote. When you’re a member of a minority group, it is infuriating to hear the same offensive, dehumanizing, and ignorant questions over and over again. It is even more infuriating for people in a position of privilege to insist that it is your duty to personally and calmly educate every person that crosses your path. Even if 99% of the people asking these questions are assholes with no inkling to ever change their mind, you’re to treat each new one as a special snowflake. THIS one is just asking questions, guys!

Newsflash: If someone is parroting racist, sexist, or transphobic talking points, calmly explaining why they’re wrong doesn’t tend to work because they’re not looking to have their minds changed. You’d think someone who frequently deals with religious apologists would understand this. If someone came into an evolution conference saying “if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” would JT argue that they’re simply naive, not informed, and want an explanation? Or would he think they’re informed enough to be parroting a creationist talking point that’s, to steal the perfect phrase from Crommunist, “an ideological attack disguised as ‘just asking questions.'”

Insisting that minorities quell their anger is insisting that minorities stay silent. Asking for public ignorant statements to be responded to in private sweeps the problems under the rug. Observers hear the problematic statement but no response, which reinforces the status quo and sends a message that no one found that statement problematic. It also puts all of the burden of educating one person, who most of the time don’t actually want to be educated, on individuals who already feel drained and exhausted from having to explain the same basic 101 crap over and over again.

And this call for calmness and personal explanations is even more infuriating coming from JT. I have calmly and privately explained social justice issues to JT for years, over email, texts, phone calls, in person conversations. So has Greta. So has Crommunist, who points out the last time he did so he was ignored, so he’s not going to try again. And also feel like all of these attempts have been ignored because no progress at all has been made. So when a person I consider a friend doesn’t even listen to these calm private explanations, why is he insisting it will work on strangers? To quote Crommunist via twitter:

If the tone of voice someone uses is enough to make you discount their argument, then you didn’t care about the issue to begin with. And the repeated demand to have things ‘calmly’ explained to you simply means you’re looking for an excuse not to listen. This goes double for people who demand calm explanations, and then IGNORE those explanations when they are given. You. Just. Don’t. Care. And while it may make you feel good to SAY you care, your actions shine through the bullshit veneer of “but I want to learn!” So if you don’t care, at least be honest with yourself and with others. You don’t have to care about every issue, but don’t lie. It’s boring.

When I started college, I labeled myself as a feminist. Like, woo, equality, who wouldn’t be behind that?! I started to read feminist blogs and I disagreed with a lot, if not most, of what they were saying. It was incredibly tempting to spew forth my uneducated opinion, and that desire did not come from wanting someone to calmly explain it to me – it came from thinking I was right and they were wrong. I’m sure I did that occasionally because no one is perfect, but you know what I ultimately decided to do? I shut up and listened. I read more and more and attempted to educate myself before partaking in any discussions. And now after a lot of time and work and thought, I understand.

Do I fully understand? Of course not. It’s a never-ending process, but it begins with listening and educating yourself first. And I fully admit I am at different stages of this process for different topics. I grew up in an overwhelmingly white Midwestern suburb, so I haven’t been aware of a lot of racial issues until recently. But instead of parroting things I may have heard from older relatives, I’ve been listening intently to better myself. I also fully admit there are still some trans issues I don’t “get,” but my response to that is to keep reading and thinking about it. To subscribe to blogs that sometimes make me uncomfortable and challenge my ideas. To do some motherfucking Googling.

But this was the cherry on top from JT’s post:

Lately there’s been a lot of this attitude in the atheist movement, that every misstep out of naivety or ignorance, even if it’s insulting, makes someone a prime target for a shout down in a “public room” – as if humiliation and shame, while sometimes the proper tools, are always the proper tools.  When did we forget that people in the atheist movement are our friends and allies?

I must steal this response from Jadehawk: We didn’t forget. We realized it wasn’t true.

look-kitten-plain

Just because you label yourself as an ally doesn’t make you one. Your actions make you one.  I want to close with one last quote from an article by Crommunist that’s a must read companion to this post:

Labels are accurate right up until the moment they are not. That is, you are an ally right up until the moment you stop acting like one, at which point you’re not an ally anymore. Having once been an ally doesn’t change your oppressive behaviour into non-oppressive behaviour any more than having had an accident-free record makes you not at fault for rear-ending that bus.

Being a good ally doesn’t involve silencing the people you claim to be allies with by policing their emotions and behavior.