WOW! The new E2 XP Leveling System Adjustments now in force is really, really changing this place. I made the comment in the Catbox the other night that under the previous system I was getting tired of voting for the sake of voting. For a while there I didn’t vote every day and my LF would slip even if my writeup list was static or if I didn’t receive any downvotes.

But it was tedious to vote. I had 65 daily votes and, after voting the New Writeups and any writeups on the Cool list that were not posted that day, I had to scrounge around for something to vote on. I seem to have already voted on half the nodes offered in Staff Picks. The Day Log lately has had fewer and fewer users compared to several years ago.

I eventually worked my way through all the old Day Logs, going back as far as the first postings in 1999. It is amazing how many people posted Day Logs in the early days.

Tonight there were 45 writeups posted in the 24 hours since I last voted. The Cool list had 56 new entries in the same period. Given that many writeups were the latest entry in a multi-writeup node, my 50 votes didn’t cover the New Writeups list, let alone allow me to take a stab at the Cool list.

When I had 65 votes to get rid of, I just upvoted everything except the really atrocious writeups. I downvoted vulgarities and anything that appeared to be relatively untouched by HTML. Now I can be discriminating. I have noticed that quoting sources for factual writing seems to be falling by the wayside. I also notice that less thought is being given to providing hardlinks. I can pick and choose between good and better and best writeups. Voting is going to be fun again.

A.P. (after posting) With a blush, I must confess that I have just now read the details of THE IRON NODER CHALLENGE - so that's where all the writeups are coming from! Nevertheless, I am still pleased to be working with a limited number of votes.

I'm confused, Emma - what does it mean
that you sent me, with your bland letter,
Hebrew song lyrics, a recipe for hummus,
and the page from your calendar for the month
we last slept together, with "gynecologist"
marked two days after the fact? Emma,
Emma, the only disease I have is you.

Well I just finally finished my application for National Geographic: Glimpse. A friend sent me a link to the correspondents program and I jumped on it. Apparently the magazine courts young students, or travelers who are living abroad. It seems like most of the writing is rather blog-like, and filled with the puppy love awe of kids leaving their home countries for the first time, but resume+National Geographic in any form can hardly be a bad thing.

Anyway, one of the last parts of the massive application was to answer the simple question of: Why do you want to write for National Geographic: Glimpse. Which is pretty much the same thing as asking, "Why do you want to write." So I thought the tiny essay I cooked up would be pertinent to the community. And without further ado:

I was going to write something dramatic and poetic to garner favor for myself in this selection process but instead I’m going to go for bluntness. I write for entirely selfish reasons. I have been traveling fairly extensively for the last five years or so. Throughout all of these incredible experiences the desire to find some meaning in the rich and varied experiences in the world forces me to write my thoughts down. When I spend any significant amount of time without producing some kind of story, or poem, or simple travelogue about the things I’ve seen and done, I get angry at myself. I have read about the altruistic nature of this magazine, but I do not write because I want to explain some foreign culture to people who often suffer from ethnocentric tunnel vision. I write about the places I see because I want to understand the way other people live, and apply it to my own personal vision of the human being I want to be in my brief existence in this world. I write because I pursue every sensual and existential experience I can find and I have learned how quickly the intensity of memory pours into the forgotten ether of the world. I write because I have learned to hate offices, and learned to love the freedom of blank pages. I want to write for this magazine because I will be writing whether I get this position or not, and I would love nothing more to have a baseline, an editor, a purpose to strive for as I traverse the hidden places between tourist destinations. I want to write for this magazine because a Hemingway complex and a bottle of whiskey just isn’t enough most days. I want to write for this magazine to dare editors to tell me I’m not good enough, just to be motivated enough to show them that I am. I want to impress women by name dropping and impress parents with bylines. I want to write for this magazine because the feeling of ink on paper will always resonate stronger than words tumbling through mouse clicks on a rambling blog. I want this position because most people never look past the surface tension of the world, and I when I pierce the invisible skin of an inscrutable culture, I want someone to read it, and I want to know that somewhere across an ocean synapses are firing in completely different directions on the road to new thoughts because of something I wrote.

Yesterday, two things happened: I said hello again to E2, and I wrote something.

When I signed onto E2 yesterday, my intent was to do as I usually do: read from the sidelines (I hadn't authored a write-up since 06 - I really don't write as much as I should, but more on that shortly). When I signed in, I noticed that I've now been a member of E2 for more than 5 years, and here's what keeps me coming around: this place has soul. The things I read here remind me that under all the decoration, fabric, skin, and defensiveness, we all have big, raw beating hearts and souls that compel us to yearn, love, and forever be reaching. When the press of the city fails me, E2 reminds me what is it to be human, and that's no small task given that lately, I find myself walking around, looking at people, and asking myself, can we really be the same species? To me, the heart and soul of this place are people's willingness to give of themselves, to outpour words that build bridges between us. I immersed myself gratefully, but soon a niggling frustration returned: I can't vote on this stuff.

Sad but true, 5 years as an E2 member and I still, somehow, have not hit level 2. So, love as I have the hundreds of graceful, bold, provocative, nodes I've read, I've been frustrated by the fact that there is no way for me to throw my support behind a piece of writing, regardless how much it uplifts me or opens my eyes. When I ran up against this yesterday, I said to myself, as I've done countless times before, I've got to get it together and get the next level. Recalling recently reading of changes to the level system, I went for a virtual wander to see what the current benchmark for vote-earning was. What I found: the XP Recalculator. Intrigued, I punched the little button to see what effect recalculation would have on me. My jaw hit the floor (well actually, my desk to be exact, but it's a figure of speech, right?). I saw the 400 odd XP my 16 WUs had earned jump to 1100 some. What's more, I saw that under the new system, I get to vote!

I've rarely had the experience of such immediate wish fulfillment, and was filled with a warm rush of E2 appreciation. It seems that that was what it took. See, unlike many of the brilliant writers around here, I'm not usually one of those "give generously of the self" type of writers. I have, er, issues with writing. One thing adds to another, keeping my writing safely on blank pages, away from the prying eyes of people who might wonder why, might look at me differently, might tell me I'm a hack. I have bona fide problems that keep my pen capped. For one, I can't do plot. Plot requires a problem. Problems have solutions. Watching someone suffer through a problem is painful, so why subject people to that? The result of writing fiction with that kind of an attitude, by the way, is not something you would want to subject yourself to voluntarily. It isn't plausible. And it's not just fiction either. In fact, I always preferred to write poetry, but that pursuit is fraught with its own difficulties.

I have been writing various kinds of poetry for as long as I can remember, since I learned to read at 4, but 22 years of practice hasn't quite cut it. I just don't think my poetry works, and I even think I know why. I think it's related to a childhood ended too soon, a super independent streak I developed when I was young: I have a really hard time showing weakness or pain. I'm not especially comfortable with sympathy or pity, so maybe that factors in too. And I've been working on getting better about it, really working. But my notebook gives shitty feedback. I have friends who are writers, but they have this habit of telling me I'm beautiful instead of telling me what they think of my writing, which I'm pretty sure is a bad sign. My mother, also a writer, tries, tells me my writing "lacks specifics" but it's harder than it looks, convincing oneself to twist the blade, milk the pain for art. Sadly, I need to write. Maybe it's some sort of condition, I don't know, but writing keeps me, well, sane.

This is how the pieces all come together then, coincidence, frustration, good timing. I needed to write, and more than that, I needed somewhere to write. The topic of my father had been burning a hole in my notebook for weeks, wailing to be let out. And here I was, stewed in prose after a solid afternoon of reading and voting, with so many more XP that I said screw it, and wrote what I wanted to. And then the magic started. I got messages. Votes. Feedback. I felt words bubbling up through the cracks, and went out on a limb. Maybe this winter, to escape my usual seasonal bout of becoming unfit for human company, I'll write my way through it. Buoyed by Dreamvirus's support, I signed up for the Iron Noder Challenge. It's about time I did some giving back around here. Will I be able to write 30 WUs in 30 days? My track record of 16 over 5 years says not bloody likely, but I'm trying a fresh page here. It's high time.

Today, Trinity Church on the Green, in New Haven held its first Church Without Walls, on New Haven Green. It was a much-heralded event, and one to which I looked forward: a lavish bag lunch was offered, and it was in the afternoon, when I had free time, the place was right. It promised to be an event of historic proportions: a return to the liberal Protestant social activism of the 60's and 70's, a reconciliation of the tribes and a chance to wrest the hearts and minds of the people from the narrow conservatism of the evangelicals.

The problem is that the service seemed to be synched to a preconceived notion of who the homeless are and what they want to see in a religious service: simple hymns, based on spirituals, but contemporary, The Serenity Prayer and other 12-step touches, the you've-heard-this-one-right? 23rd Psalm, lay your burdens on the Lord, we're going outside the walls, bilingualism...OK, so in Boston, it was a roaring success. But....

In some ways, being homeless makes you a lot like most of the Middle-Eastern nomads, street folks, and the like that populate the Bible. King Nebuchadnezzar, who is arguably the richest man who features personally in the Bible, had only a middle-class standard of living, in modern American terms: what working Americans lack in gold and silver on their tables (and, of course, slaves and real estate) are more than made up for in having pantries full of food, closets full of clothes, warmth in the winter, coolness in the summer, plumbing, messengers that bring our words to the ends of the earth, transportation, the written word, medicine, and of course the products of modern banking. OK, so that's not me. (I've never taken care of sheep, either.) Like many people throughout the Bible, and in New Haven's homeless community, I've had to endure hunger, cold, robbers, sleeping outdoors for lack of safe haven elsewhere, and often, the feeling that I was living as a stranger in my own country.

It wasn't just one factor that made me leave -- it was all of them. I was cold. I was tired.(I was also a minute late, my bad.) Let's dispense with seats, and all stand! (Sorry, the ground is wet...and don't mind those tall, blonde, orthodontically-corrected Yale Bobos-to-be, blocking your view, they mean so well.) I felt talked down to. Let's sing some traditional/ we-just-made-them-up hymns! (Make up your mind, folks...) Gee, aren't we good people! Eh, we're going to be out in the sleet for you, poor souls, because you might not feel comfortable in our dark and spooky church (with the Louis Comfort Tiffany windows, the well-padded pews, and some shelter from the elements)! Lay down your burdens on Jesus, his yoke is light! (After hauling 35 lbs. all day, gravity worked just the same, and I felt unwilling to be pressed into service as a draft animal.) Let's say the Serenity Prayer! (I loathe 12-step programs, and the rooms they're held in.) Let's say the 23rd Psalm! (Why does everyone seem to think this is an easy poem to understand but me? As I said, I'm hazy on animal husbandry, and now I'm an edible draft animal?) By the time they got to the let's-all-go-round-the-circle-and-say-a-prayer, I felt like grubbing up lunch elsewhere, and left. (Eighty percent of all people past the age of twelve feel dreadfully put on the spot at these things, and try to say, with painful pauses, the boring details of what they think everyone else wants to hear, while the twenty percent or so who are natural performers, disinhibited, or just plain 'inspired by still, small, inner voices' tend to make everyone else feel uncomfortable.) I'd love to have the circular I gave back for my scrapbook, but I really don't think I'll be back.

Yes, I realize I'm not typical, by any means: I'm white, well-read and well-spoken, don't smoke, and have a position, albeit precarious, as a housekeeper for someone with a spare room. I have more than a lively spiritual life, suspended between O.T.O. mysticism and membership in Christ Church New Haven (plus, as you can see, a healthy lashing of skepticism in the British tradition). I believe that empowerment means empowerment, not "Surrender to a Higher Power". I believe that sugar-coating religion as therapy (or vice-versa) is to cheapen both. And I believe in the power of faith to transport, to inspire, and to transform even such a life as my own.

I realize that to many of those Bobos, even my own cultivated self would seem to be a member of a strange Third World tribe, that cannot intellectually comprehend ritual, can only see precious objects as a painful reminder of my own poverty, and can only think in terms of my own immediate (psycho-spiritual) needs. Therefore, I need familiar surroundings, nursery-rhyme lyrics, humble stories about beggars and talk about 'healing' in order that I might take more than a casual interest in their message. But I don't see it that way.

For as long as humans have had culture, religion has traded on people's sense of wonder: the vastness of the skies, the depths of inner space, the glory of song and image and word. Chauvet Cave is larger than a cathedral: even when people only had dirt and bare rock with which to express their faith, they did so with bold strokes and monumental images, life-sized horses and rhinos and big cats. In this season, sliding into Advent, the readings are from Revelation, with its lapidary depiction of cities of glass and gold, gates of pearl, doorways of precious stones. This is the imagery that spoke to people in an age when scarcity, not plenty, was the rule -- the modern response to it is more an expression of guilt for upper-middle-class America's own preciosity, not any real "kindness to the downtrodden". If there is to be a ministry to the homeless, let them be given the most awe-inspiring services imaginable, readings from Isaiah and Revelation and the Song of Solomon, the most ravishing, emotionally gripping music from the choir.

And then, lunch. With waitstaff. And chairs.

I hear next week, they'll sing "Kumbaya". Oh, brother....

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