The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Cheryl and I

I increased my H2H kettlebell "juggling" to 120 second rounds with 1 minute rest. Needless to say, nine rounds of this is pretty murderous, even at low intensity. Two days later, I'm waking up pitifully grateful that I stretched the night before. I would be TRASHED otherwise. Even so, I can feel that my body wants me to back off a bit today. No problem: today is using the S.H.O.T protocol created by Jeff Martone. Jeeze, that guy is an animal. Woof.


"To know oneself is to know everything"--this is a thought extracted from the Bagahvad Gita. I agree. If you go to Musashi "Know one thing, know ten thousand things" or even Jerry Pournelles "If you master anything, you have the key to mastering anything else" or the "it takes 10,000 hours to master a discipline" and take these comments as a cluster, it seems pretty clear that they all point in the same direction. Then in the Art of War we are warned that someone who knows neither his opponent or himself will lose every time. One who knows himself but not his opponent will win some and lose some. And one who knows both his opponent and himself will never lose.

I look at these things, and come to the conclusion that, indeed, our primary task is to know ourselves, and that when we do that, we open the doorway to all other knowledge. The road I've taken for this is the assumption that, until proven otherwise, everyone wants a relationship, a healthy fit body, and to make a good income doing something they enjoy. Three measurable standards that point to the person within. The only missteps I've made in my life have to do with lying to myself about something connected with one of these arenas. Frankly, most of the mistakes I've ever seen others make are connected here too.

It's clear that not everyone wants these things...but that really seems the way to bet.


So in looking at something like "A woman's right to choose" it makes sense to look at my own experiences, and my reactions to them, to help me understand other people's reactions better. And no, I don't accept that men can't understand women's reactions in this arena, any more than I accept that white people can't write about black people. You have to listen to what women say, that's for sure. But unless they're all liars, it should be very possible indeed to grasp the situation.

In my own past, I was involved in two abortions with a former girlfriend we'll call "Cheryl." It was a horrible decision to make. Best case scenario is that abortion is the worst #$%ing form of birth control you can possibly imagine. There were no direct health issues--frankly, it was just massively inconvenient. We weren't ready to get married, and our life situation would have made a child a gigantic drain of time and energy.

Anyone who reads this blog knows my commitment to my children. I would NEVER have kids were I not ready to make that commitment: to sacrifice career, dreams, or even life itself to provide for them. Period. To use my children to force myself to become more mature. To let them inspire me to become healed at deeper and deeper levels. I look around myself at the world, and realize that most people begin to abandon their dreams by the age of 20 or so. They pass on to their children a message that life is a constant, draining endurance event with death the finish line.

I don't believe that, at all. But it was easy to see the trap. Not just for me, but for my children, and theirs as well. Those were my thoughts.

On the part of "Cheryl", I think that if I had said "let's get married" she might well have said "yes." After all, what she had as a role model was a mother who had sacrificed her own dreams to have children, even when her marriage was confining and sometimes painful. Cheryl had her own hopes and dreams, and the hours we lay in bed talking about what we wanted for ourselves, and each other, were among the happiest of my life. Trust me, Cheryl was devastated by her decision to have the abortions. Yes, I could probably have talked her out of them. No, I'm not sorry I didn't.

I saw that, later, when Cheryl became a mother she fell right into her mother's pattern, sacrificing and giving everything for her children. And while she seems somewhat satisfied with the choices she made, there is also a sense of sorrow. We probably all feel that at time.

And I think that she wounded herself with those medical actions. Yeah, I do. I remember that several times Cheryl and her girlfriends took over our house, banished me to a movie to perform a Menstrual Extraction--a kind of abortion--on a woman who couldn't get a medical appointment. There was absolutely nothing jolly or casual about this. It was as solemn as a church service. This was a space in which I was not welcome, although they appreciated that I did not criticize.

What is the precise feeling of having life blossom in your body? I don't have it exactly, but I've listened to hundreds of women speak of it, and there are enough parallels to other human experience in those words to, I think, give me a glimmering. And I've never, ever felt anything casual, even if there were, on the surface, the appearance of casual emotions. No: I saw a wrenching, tragic decision made by people just trying to make their way through a confusing world.

I've never seen anything, anything at all to convince me that women have LESS empathy, LESS regard for life than men. In fact, I am tempted to believe the opposite.

Because I cannot say with certainty when life begins (I just have an opinion), it would seem invalid to try to tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies in this regard. I see hypocrisy on both sides. The manipulation of language into "Pro-Choice" bothers me, but then the language war is one of the major battlefields of human experience. "Pro-Life" bothers me just as much, if not more.

As I've said, it seems to me that the major difference between the Left and the Right is the question of whether Essence precedes Existence, or Existence precedes Essence--a debate that simply can't be answered conclusively. To demand that a woman adhere to some standard of behavior decided by men, when the very basis of those standards cannot be decisively clarified, when that basis is in essence Faith rather than science...I just can't go there. I can't.

Ultimately, it feels like a choice that has to be between a woman and her sense of the ultimate ethical structure of the universe. With God, if you will. There are few instances where women get to control what men do with their bodies. I know that it bothers the hell out of me that the fact that men die more violently and often than women simply isn't reckoned into the equation of "who's got it better" during explorations of sexual politics.

When Queens rule, and have declared war, they've sent all-male armies off to die. On the occasions when women have power, not one of them, to my knowledge, has disbanded their male military and put women in their place (it would be insane). I accept that, but it hurts me that the terror and pain of those countless men simply isn't figured into anyone's equation of "who's in control." I don't believe that, in general, anyone is in control, regardless of the illusions so many buy into.

And if we're going to get out of this trap, a trap that was designed to produce maximum children so that a people would flourish, we have to give individuals freedom over their own lives and souls. I see no real alternative.

After all--take a look at the spread of opinions about "when life begins." The Spartans exposed children who were actually already born--and we revere the Greeks. Late-term abortions are supported by some, reviled by others. First-term abortions are probably supported (given medical reasons) by the majority, but still reviled by some.

The "morning after" pill has similar controversy. And it doesn't stop there: there are those who feel that any form of birth control at all is sinful. And worse, there are some who feel that masturbation is wrong, on the basis that it is a sort of pre-emptive birth control. And others who feel that it is our sacred obligation to have sex and procreate.

There simply is no "line" everyone agrees on, and there would have to be before we can agree on what to do with that line. What I DO see is that men, statistically more violent and murderous, have little claim to being MORE compassionate and respectful of life than women. But most of the most strident anti-abortionists are men. Which leads me to think that the primary thing is not respect for life. What then? Control? Well, sure. Everyone wants control. I do think that men tend to control with fear, while women control with guilt. But that's just an opinion.

How about fear? At the base of every negative emotion, I believe fear is lurking, using other masks to distract us from its primacy. And if that is true, it is quite clear the things that men would have to be afraid of, if women have complete (or more) control over their reproductive systems. That impacts on so many other aspects of life that I couldn't begin to address it casually.

I like fear as an answer. Fear of women's power (as women are fearful of men's power). Fear of being made irrelevant. Fear of a future in which Paternal Power is no longer driving the overt structures of authority, commerce, and politics. Of course, respect for life is there. But as someone noted, if people REALLY believed, really, deeply believed that abortion was murder, I would expect a far larger percentage of anti-abortionists to resort to violence--just as I probably would if I knew my next-door neighbor was murdering his children, and no authorities would stop it.

But that doesn't happen. So I think that that is partially just inflammatory rhetoric. This subject is so painful, and so charged with mistrust and fear on both sides, and there is just no way to come to any absolute conclusions about that "when does life begin" question. Slide the line too far in one direction, and most of us would agree that children are at terrible risk. Slide it too far in the other direction, and women are biologically enslaved.

This is the reason why I would be perfectly happy to just let women work it out. They have as much empathy and respect for life, morality and wisdom as men. Different proportions, perhaps. I see no way that they would not come to useful and appropriate conclusions. Men have the problem of trying to hold onto the power structures as they have existed in their, and their father's lifetimes. That feels just a little like Southerners trying to hold onto segregation, using Biblical justifications to prop up a power structure that just happens to be to their advantage in every way. Can't go there.

But I really do empathize with both sides. But because I believe that there is more to life than biology and physics, I think that the answers human beings cannot ultimately resolve will all balance out, in the end. And unless I am willing to take responsibility for a woman's soul--let alone financial and emotional responsibility for her child--I will not presume to tell a woman what to do in this regard. I just cannot. I would have to be divine to see what really needed to be done, and I am not.

I have to admit that men who would NOT be willing to allow women to vote amongst themselves on this issue make me nervous. I trust my daughter, my mother, my wife...and Cheryl. I tasted her tears.


Dave said...

There's no question the male and female polarities are important, but we should keep in mind that level of development is also important. What I'm saying is all men and all women don't believe the same way. Using the Spiral Dynamics model of development as Scott Sonnon mapped out at , we can see that Red women believe one way, which is different from how Blue women believe, and that's different from how Orange women believe. No question we should look at the general differences of male and female orientations, but let's remember that that's one dimension of the whole. A multi-dimensional approach is a more complete map. :) -Dave in Anaheim.

Dan Moran said...

I don't believe that, in general, anyone is in control, regardless of the illusions so many buy into.

I think things are much closer to being on an even keel these days, but not yet there. In days past, women (and children) were chattel -- many were fortunate enough to have good masters, men who could see that it was in their own best interests to treat them well. But there wasn't much to stop those who didn't see it that way.

If this is an illusion, it's been a damned persistent one over the course of time.

Marty S said...

Steve: Here are a few of the problems I have with your analysis. First lets start with the question of when life begins. Pick up a dictionary and look up the definition of life. If it matches the ones I have looked at it will list metabolism, growth and reproduction as the qualities that define life. The only one of these a fetus does not preform is reproduction. Now if the criteria is at some point in in a lifeform's development it must be able to reproduce the fetus develops into the child, develops into the adult which can reproduce so it is life. If being able to reproduce at the current stage is required for life to be present then children who have not reached puberty are not life. So Susan Smith didn't kill her children because they weren't alive.
Now lets look at the survival criteria. A woman gives birth to a child. A month later she has begun to feel recuperated from the physical ordeal of pregnancy, but needs to get away from it all to psychologically recover. So she goes to the Bahamas for a vacation leaving the one month old alone in its crib. Can the one month old survive with no one to feed or care for it? No it can't so how different is a baby's survivability than a fetuses? Enough to justify killing the fetus, which by any reasonable definition is alive.

Anonymous said...

"how different is a baby's survivability than a fetuses?"

1) Anyone other than the mother can care for it. You can't leave a fetus with a wetnurse. Yet, anyway.

2) Authority over the baby can be claimed without simultaneously claiming the same authority over the mother. We're either all sovreign in our own skin, or we're headed for a future of tracking chips and organ collection buses.

tubal reversal said...

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Marty S said...

One more time.
Here are the Miriam Webster online dictionary definitions of fetus and embryo.


an unborn or unhatched vertebrate especially after attaining the basic structural plan of its kind ; specifically : a developing human from usually two months after conception to birth


1 aarchaic : a vertebrate at any stage of development prior to birth or hatching b: an animal in the early stages of growth and differentiation that are characterized by cleavage, the laying down of fundamental tissues, and the formation of primitive organs and organ systems ; especially : the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception
2: the young sporophyte of a seed plant usually comprising a rudimentary plant with plumule, radicle, and cotyledons

3 a: something as yet undeveloped b: a beginning or undeveloped state of something.

Notice the definition of fetus uses the term developing human not potential and that both the definitions refer to them as states or stages of the adult.

The dictionary therefore supports that human embryos and fetuses are alive and that they represent a stage of human life. If you want to believe that a human being in some stages of its life is less precious and less deserving of protection okay, but what's next "Logan's Run"

Scott said...


If your wife missed her period one month, and the next month had a really heavy flow, would you mourn the death of that fertilized egg as greatly as the loss of one of your children?

Scott said...

Rich people live longer than poor people.
Whites live longer than blacks.
Women live longer than men.

No, I don't think it's genetics.

Steven Barnes said...

Dave: the differences between human beings are open to an infinity of distinctions. I find it useful to find broad ones, so long as it is understood that they are very general principles.
I grasp that you have made up your mind. That's fine. And others use other criteria. Unless I had some reason to believe that everyone who saw things "A" way was smarter and better than those who see it "B" way, I'm afraid I have to look at it as one of those things where there is honest disagreement between otherwise good and discerning people. I won't tell women what to do with their bodies based on that.
Damned persistent illusion. Unless you factor in mortality, and agree with Maslow that almost everyone wants life more than anything else. Then the situation looks different. But none of my thinking on this is the slightest excuse for dominating or controlling women in any way.

Marty S said...

"I'm afraid I have to look at it as one of those things where there is honest disagreement between otherwise good and discerning people."

Exactly my point. I'm not trying to convince people to change their mind on the issue, all I have been trying to do is convince people that everybody who disagrees with the pro choice movement is not an irrational religious zealot, but may be a quite rational person who's moral compass has after examination of the facts led to a different conclusion.

Steven Barnes said...


Did you notice that you aren't actually accepting the dictionary definition? You are accepting PART of it, and then deleting the "capable of reproduction" part. So, in essence, while you seem to be implying that reasonable people would accept a dictionary definition, what you are actually asking us to accept YOUR definition, which is different from that found in Webster's. Note that this is the problem we have: there is simply no definition that everyone agrees upon. I'm not sure there's a definition that even a simple majority agrees upon. Without that consensus, all we can do is ask: in case of a lack of consensus, does responsibility default to the individual, or to society? My opinion is that, at least here, it defaults to the individual. You would seem to be saying that it defaults to society.

Marty S said...

Steve: Actually the Steve the ability to reproduce is in virtually all the definitions of life I have looked at. So one can't exclude it. What I was speculating about is since most lifeforms including humans can only reproduce at certain stages whether the definition neglects the phrase "at some stage",simply because it is assumed as obvious.

Anonymous said...

"There are few instances where women get to control what men do with their bodies..."

I care very little whether it is a man or a woman trying to tell me what to do with my body, I only care that it is someone who is not me. I had an incident where I had run ins with the local Morality Police when I had an accident with a birth control device and needed the Plan B pills. In the end, I had to go to the emergency room and announce quite loudly that I needed the Plan B and I needed a doctor without a god complex who didn't mind that I be the only person with the authority to decide whether or not I became impregnated. I'm glad that put a fire under someone to locate such a doctor. It would have been a shame to have to commandeer the hospital's PA system. And YES, I was totally ready to do it, and to file very public lawsuits against ANYONE who interfered should I have not gotten what I needed. I was really fired up by that point and ready to eat me some arrogant A-holes for dinner.

Forrest Hunter Wood said...

Marty: Your dictionary definition is a red herring. Here's the disconnect:

Pro-life-- "We will control a woman's personal choices that have to do with a woman's body."

Pro-choice-- No one but the woman and those personally involved should have any say over a woman's body.

Monotheistic religious nuts are against a woman's right to lay claim to any decision involving their bodies; and, in the same breath, love war, everyone outside their religion is the enemy, claims god and guns is the American way and threaten bodily harm to any who disagree, and want anyone assassinated who disagrees with their individual interpretations of their human-written holy book.

Which leads me to ponder this: If the Monotheistic religious nuts believe those people who have different views than they are truly infidels, and if it is ONLY the infidels who get abortions, why the sudden empathy for a seedling of an infidel, who, in all likelihood, would grow up to become an infidel; or, at the very least, an opposing faction of their religious beliefs? Has America's Monotheistic top religion become as divisive and extremism-leaning as those overseas? Is America's top monotheistic religion seeking to forever chain and disregard anything done or said by women, from any culture, in an effort to ensure white male dominance and a male dominated religion; from the divine to its ministries to its worshipers? Pat Buchanan's stance would lead one to believe so; who is daily crying reverse discrimination against white males and white males' diminishing returns.

Marty S said...

Forest: What your doing is defining the pro life position from the pro choice point of view. If it were all about controlling a woman's choices about her body then in addition to deciding whether she was allowed an abortion they would be trying to control other decisions a woman makes about her body. The pro life position isn't about controlling women. Its all about the child the woman is carrying. The pro life position is that my right to make personal decisions is curtailed when it affects the survival of another human.

bud said...

Since I'm a carnivore... ok, an omnivore... but not a cannibal, I don't think that the definition of "life" should be controlling; rather the definition of *human* life. I also don't agree that "consensus" means anything in this case -except for the ability of society/government to punish- so I take the following stand:

Humanity is distinguished by the ability to think.
Normal level brain pattern activity can be detected in fetuses at some point in their development.
Prior to that detection, abortion is a "medical procedure".
After that detection, abortion is somewhere between manslaughter and murder 1.

Marty S said...

" Humanity is distinguished by the ability to think."

Tell that to these researchers on chimpanzees.

Robin James Burchett said...

Q: How many philosophers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Define light bulb.

This is the root of the abortion debate, and why it may never be settled.

Q: When does life begin?
A: Define life.

There is no objective truth about when bits of tissue become human. And yet we must proceed as if there were. We must make laws, medical guidelines, and personal choices. For our laws, we have to make due with social consensus and – as you’ve all noticed – there isn’t one. Hence the widespread discontent with any and all laws on the subject.

While I appreciate your enthusiasm, your tone is getting a bit past the zone of rationality and civility that makes this site so distinctive. In describing the interior life of ‘Monotheistic religious nuts’, you are so far into the realm of pure imagination that I don’t quite know what to say.

You have no idea what people who oppose abortion believe and why. I put it to you that you have no solid concept of what you believe and why. Your beliefs are a confused and contradictory jumble of random impressions made on your soft, impressionable mind when it was forming. God knows mine are. For the most part, when someone asks you why you did a certain thing, you make up a plausible story on the spot. Start to notice this, and it’s freaky – and funny as hell once you get the joke. It’s just what we do. But when you start believing your own press releases, you’re in serious trouble.

suzanne said...

you'll note
an anti-abortion group - ALL -
is holding protests today
"the pill kills"
stating that all forms of birth control used by women
e.g., pills IUD's
are "killers"

tell me it isn't about
controlling women!

Marty S said...

Once again you are tar and feathering millions of people by citing the actions of a few people on the fringe. This is about as logical as observing that the top face of a doe is a one and concluding that the other five faces must be ones also.
The true situation here is fairly simple from a mathematicians point of view. In mathematics we start with a set of axioms we take as true without any proof. All the rest of our mathematics is developed based upon those fundamental axioms. If you subtract or add to a set of axioms you get a new mathematics where things that were true in the first mathematics are no longer true and new things are true. Neither pro choicers nor the pro lifers are crazy or evil. They simply start with a different set axiom/beliefs and so arrive at different conclusions.

Forrest Hunter Wood said...

Marty: I am defining the pro life position from what I have heard on the news papers and news programs since the 70's; what I have heard from people's mouth's in reality (and being I was in the Air Force and have been stationed overseas, I have been given the opportunity to hear ideas/opinions expressed from a cross-section of America); I have talked to women who at one time had an abortion, years later having second thoughts, then becoming rabid anti-abortion mouth-pieces who raged against future use of a program they themselves had access to and used; I have family members, from marriage and my own, who are a part of the religious right whose fallback is, "it says so in my bible and what my god tells is that abortion is wrong." I have met and talked to non-related religious people who maintained the same fallback position. I have talked to more people against abortion due to religious reasons than those against abortion who don't use religion as their club.

The pro-choice crowd I have talked to has always maintained this: it is the woman's right to choose. Pro-choicers isn't picketing churches and handing out leaflets which read, "Come get your abortion today. First is half off; coupons for further treatments will later be mailed." It is choice; to do it or not to do it; in as safe of an environment as possible. Just because the option is there does not mean you have to use it. Period.

I don't see pro-choicers arming themselves against picketing pro-lifers and advocating a jihad against those pro-lifers in the same manner that some pro-lifers (although I haven't heard any pro-choicers saying it was a bad thing) have in the past armed themselves and killed or bombed an establishment to get their point across. Unless I missed something.

Robin: First off, thank you for the ad hominid attack; not once did you touch the issues, instead veering off into a poorly constructed character attack; which, I might add, I've heard worse. (yawn) Show me where I am delusional and show me where my "tone" is outside the bounds of civility (so unlike yours?). Answer me and I'll debate you. Seems the monotheistic religion thing got your fruit-of-the-looms in a bunch, huh?

Forrest Hunter Wood said...

oops. I made a mistake. Ad hominem, I meant.

Robin James Burchett said...


Please pardon my verbally vomiting on you. It was intended as an ad homo sapiens rather than an ad hominem. Zappa said it best: we is dumb all over.

Actually, my impressions of the religious right were well summarized by your earlier post. But the way you put it reminded me of a left wing Rush Limbaugh, which just pissed me off. How can the forces of goodness and reason triumph over dark-ages ignorance if we sound like Rush Limbaugh? (Mostly, I think it was just that I was painfully bored at work. My apologies.)

Check out Bill Maher’s Religious if you haven’t already.

Robin James Burchett said...

And to be fair, at least your post had an obious point, whereas mine sounded like freshman psych student who'd take too much acid, so who am I to judge...

Forrest Hunter Wood said...

Robin: No problem. I was trying to be as neutral as I could with the wording so that I wouldn't inflame Christians by coming right out and saying Christians. It may have been a mite convoluted because of my attempt at using neutral language, but I sure didn't think it would be read as worse.

You did make me say, "Huh?" though.