Sunday, March 29, 2015

Six things parents say to child-free people (that are actually about themselves)

A while ago, I saw this post about common things religious people say to atheists, which can easily be turned right back at the person saying them:

Shortly after reading it, I realized the very same phenomenon occurs between parents and child-free people.

Actually, I'd realized it to some degree earlier, as readers of my "Abby and Norma" comic are aware. But only after seeing that article about religious hypocrisy did I become aware of how many pro-parenting arguments are easily redirected at parents.

For many years, reproduction (like religion) has been seen as the norm, and people who do not practice it have been the object of constant efforts to change their minds. Only very recently has the tide turned a little, with a few people becoming outspoken in their efforts to convince others of the value of the child-free lifestyle.

Both evangelical atheists and evangelical non-reproducers can get pretty annoying, just like their mainstream counterparts, so in person I usually try to keep my opinions to myself. But it's hard to stay quiet when the criticism foisted on you is so obviously true of the people doing the criticizing.

So, here are a few things parents say to non-parents, which they could just as well be saying to themselves.

1. Who is going to support you when you get old?

A common argument against remaining childless is that children could support you later on. Not only is there no guarantee of this, but it's pretty insulting to your children if the only reason you bred them was to serve you in your old age.

My answer: I am the one who's actually putting my money in a retirement account. You're the one who is gambling it away by spending it on supporting other people-- in the vague hope that these people will someday have enough money left over from raising their own children to support you. Did you know that the bare minimum for raising one kid to age 18 is somewhere around $100,000? Try putting that amount in savings instead, if you actually want to be supported when you get old.

2. You'll change your mind.

Some people seem convinced that I can't possibly have no desire to reproduce; either I'm lying, or my urge for children is buried shallowly below the surface and will burst out any moment. Their argument is that "nature wouldn't make anyone without that instinct; otherwise the species wouldn't go on." (They don't seem to realize that nature routinely makes people who are physically infertile, incompetent at finding a mate, or even incapable of living beyond childhood themselves.)

My answer: No parent would openly admit to regretting their decision, but more than one mother has told me, off the record, that she would not have had kids if she'd known what it was like. And which is worse? Suffering because you missed your chance to have children and regretted it? Or making both you AND your children suffer because you regretted having them?

3. You're being selfish.

According to some parents, the ultimate act of selfishness is refusing to bring a kid into the world.... even though, in reality, you can do much more good for others by not focusing your money and effort on your own reproduction.

My answer: Over the course of 18 years, you are going to spend at least $100,000 on caring for one person, just because that person is your biological offspring... even though that amount of money could save literally hundreds of lives if donated to charity. You are the one who thinks passing on your own genes is worth hundreds of people's deaths. How dare you call anyone else selfish.

4. You have to perpetuate the species! Do you want humanity to go extinct?

Some people seem to live in the Stone Age, thinking that every human must keep the genetic line going, or the human race will vanish from the earth. But seriously? In a world where the population grows by a billion every few years?

My answer: If there is any chance of humanity NOT going extinct in the next few centuries, it will be because the population shrinks to the point that we can actually sustain all the humans without creating enough waste and destruction to make the planet totally uninhabitable. Spoilers: You're not the one helping with this.

5. It's unfair to your husband to deny him children.

It seems hard for some people to believe that my husband and I agree we don't want children. If he suddenly declared that he actually wanted them, and that he'd divorce me if I didn't have any, I would accept that this marriage was not meant to be. But if that was likely to happen, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have been together 10 years already.

My answer: If you expect my husband to be harboring hidden resentment about our childlessness, and lying to me when he says he agrees with my choice, then your own experiences with marriage must involve a lot less honesty and communication than mine. I'm not taking marriage advice from you. Especially since a screaming infant that stops you from sleeping, saps your finances, and adds immense stress seems like the WORST thing to add to a marriage if you want both partners to be happy.

6. Don't you want to pass on your genes so there's something left of you after you die?

We all have a desire for immortality in some form. For many people, it takes the form of children, because somehow they have the idea that a person who shares random pieces of their DNA means they are living on after death.

My answer: Yes, I want some part of me to keep existing after I die. I don't want that part to be an assortment of flesh grown from my genetic material, because that's not what I consider "me." My identity is made of the things I know, the things I like, the ideas I have, and so on. The way to preserve these things is by being such a devoted writer that I have no time for kids. By having a kid, you're ensuring that those parts of you will be mostly lost, because child care leaves you no time to write them all down, and so the only parts of your personality that will survive are the parts that your kid happens to remember.

All these thoughts have gone through my head when I've seen a parent criticizing non-parents, in family, work, or online settings. Usually I keep my mouth shut and my hands off the keyboard, because people's business is their own. When I do rant about it, I usually take the precaution of putting my words in a comic character's mouth, so anyone who doesn't want to see my rants can just avoid my comic.

But if pro-parenting proselytizers aren't going to give others the same respect, and they're going to bombard them with such obviously hypocritical arguments... then I suppose they deserve what they get.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What am I doing next month? BACK-TO-BACK ART FAIRS!

Four weekends from now, I am going to have the most crazy and creative weekend ever! SpringCon and the Linden Hills Festival are happening the same weekend. I will have Abby and Norma comics at the former on May 18th, and jewelry at the latter on May 19th. Here are some pictures to prove I'm not making all this stuff up!

This is the suitcase that my jewelry table and all accessories fold up to fit in (shown with a baby pterodactyl for size comparison). It also fits in my bike trailer, which I plan to use as a mode of transport (the baby pterodactyl is still too young to be used as transport).

This is my jewelry table, set up in my kitchen. The kitchen is for demonstration purposes only; it will not be in my kitchen during the festival. The Linden Hills Festival will take place in Linden Hills Park at 3100 W 43rd St, Minneapolis, MN, because that is a larger and more convenient venue than my kitchen. More details at

This is the postcard I was sent by the organizers of SpringCon, the comic fair where I will have a table for stuff related to my nerdy webcomic "Abby and Norma." As you can see, the card emphasizes promoting the event, so I am doing so. It takes place on the State Fairgrounds from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 18th and 19th. (I will only be there on the 18th, but I will be sharing a table with Aaron Poliwoda, who also does cool comics about autism, and he will be there both days, so check him out too!) Admission is $12.00, which will get you in all day both days. More info at

These are some of the items I will have at my table at SpringCon. They include the Abby and Norma comic collection "Everything Happens for a Reason (but Nothing Happens for a Good Reason)," and shirts proclaiming that vowels are odd, and that humans, hermit crabs and caddisfly larvae are three deviant species of clothes-wearers on a planetwide nudist colony.

So yeah! Be there if you can!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Thoughts on feeling proud

To those who ask "Why isn't it okay to have white pride, or straight pride?"

My own answer:

I am not proud of being white, or straight. But I'm also not proud of being a woman, or having Asperger's Syndrome, per se, because I did not choose those things. What I do feel pride in is the accomplishments I have made despite those traits and the way society reacts to them.

I feel that pride is for things you accomplish, not things you have no control over. So, to me, gay pride or black pride or women's pride is real and laudable, but it's not about feeling proud of a characteristic you can't control. It's about feeling proud of the things you've accomplished in the face of prejudice. And that's why there is no sense in being proud of an uncontrollable trait for which you have never experienced discrimination.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Good times-- and a new speech coming up

2012 was an unusually good year for us. We made many new friends. I started working in the Target pharmacy, which I enjoy quite a bit more than the backroom.

And we bought a condo!

Because of the economy, plus some circumstances surrounding this particular property, it was amazingly affordable. There were some complications, though, and even though we qualified for a loan, we somehow couldn't get a bank loan for this condo (something about the building not having enough occupants). So my wonderful parents helped out-- they bought it and we're buying it from them through a contract for deed.

All in all, it ended up costing us about the same per month as our old apartment, which was not nearly as nice. This place is amazing. It has a kitchen where we actually have room to cook, it has its own washer and dryer, and it has nice windows and balconies where I'm going to start growing lots of plants.

In other news: we're giving a speech for Laura Baker Services in Northfield, MN, this March 26th! (Which coincidentally happens to be the anniversary of when we got engaged, which also coincidentally happened to be Leonard Nimoy's birthday. I have good feelings about this day.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Creepy midnight memory

I've been having strange experiences with dreaming lately.

In the spring, when I was a few seasons into watching the Tenth-Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, I had a dream about being his companion. Up until then, I had had a totally asexual appreciation of the show. But somehow that dream triggered something akin to my teenage obsession with Mr Spock-- I realized with a sort of blinding flash that David Tennant was sexy (something every other geek girl had noticed long ago) and spent the next few months with a very intense crush on him, much to my husband's irritation.

Then, recently and perhaps unrelatedly, I had a much stranger and more morbid midnight epiphany.

I woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm, with something in my mind that felt like a memory. As far as I could tell, it had nothing to do with the dream I'd been having, which was sexy and Doctor-Who-related. It was vague, but it felt like a memory from real life, not a piece of a dream.

It seemed to be a memory of a time in my childhood or teens, when I was living at my parents' house. It was composed of images of me going through boxes that belonged to my parents, and finding a box that had been sent to them or given to them by some acquaintance. I don't specifically remember a name on the box, or any papers inside it-- there's just a feeling associated with it, a feeling that I knew it came from someone who lived somewhere else.

And inside the box were some bones and dried tissues that appeared to be human remains.

I don't remember what part of the body they appeared to be, or how many pieces there were. I don't remember what I did with them. But there was another strong feeling associated with the memory-- a feeling that I did the wrong thing, that I hid them or buried them or threw them away, without talking to my parents about it. I don't clearly remember why, but there was a feeling of fear, maybe fear that my parents would get in trouble for having them around. I vaguely remember wrapping them up in several layers of paper and tape, or some other sort of covering, before putting them wherever I put them.

Despite how vague this whole thing was, it stuck with me very strongly for at least a few days after it happened. I was thinking about it at work, for most of the next day.

I still don't know what it was. It could very easily have been a memory of a dream after all-- maybe a scary dream I had as a child, so long ago that the memory of it is no more vague than my memories of reality at that time. It felt real, but I know that under certain circumstances the brain can sometimes get confused between dreams and reality.

If it was real, I suppose there are quite a few possible explanations. It wouldn't be the only time there were human remains in my parents' house. They're doctors; they had a real human skull on a shelf in the living room for much of my childhood. I'm not sure why someone else would send them parts of a dead person, but given their professions and widely varied interests, it could have been anything from a medical sample to an archaeological specimen.

Anyway, I find it a very interesting example of how the brain can work so very differently in the middle of the night. When waking up from a dream, people can get so many inspirations, realizations, and new perspectives on the world, even ones unrelated to the dream itself. It must be something about the state of the brain as it shifts from dreaming to waking-- maybe it's overactive at that moment, in prime condition for dredging things up from the subconscious.

I don't know if my what I dredged up was a false memory, or a repressed memory of a long-ago dream or reality. But another interesting thing: putting together this blog post has changed the quality of what I remember. As I put it into words, it began to feel less vivid as a real memory, and more as if it could have been a dream.

This is actually something I've noticed before: putting my memories into words reduces their clarity as memories. It's as if my brain realizes that describing a memory in words is a way of compressing it to save space in my brain-- not lossless compression, but like resizing a family photo to a lower resolution. Actually, more like replacing the family photo with a text file saying "Christmas party, 2009. Left to right: Grandma Ruth, Aunt Carol, Mom, me."

My brain realizes that once I've summarized a memory in words, I don't need the visual, sensory and emotional detail of the memory anymore, and so it fades. I've hears that the people most likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder are the people who think about their traumatic experiences in pictures instead of words. I'm a strange type of person-- someone who does much of her thinking in pictures and abstract concepts, but frequently puts them into words later.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Definitions and sexual politics (trigger warning)

I feel somewhat out of my element writing this post. It's a more volatile subject than I usually address. I'm almost considering not posting it. I'm a shy and docile language nerd, exploring a highly controversial social issue from the perspective of language, and I'm afraid I may get in over my head.

Reading articles and blog entries on controversial subjects often depresses me. Especially when I read the comments on the article. And most especially when it's an article relating to gender issues of any kind. Everyone seems to have a very specific, individual view of what "sexist" means, and everyone seems all too ready to label anyone who doesn't agree as a crazy extremist or a bigoted chauvinist or even both.

Whenever I read any discussion about a rape trial, for instance, I feel overwhelmed by the volatile war of opinions on what constitutes rape, how it should be prosecuted, and who should be blamed. I'm not even sure of my own opinion, because it is a very difficult crime to prove, and there doesn't seem to be any way to ensure that there won't be a lot of unjust convictions or unjust acquittals. The majority of people debating it, however, seem absolutely convinced that there must be a simple, straightforward solution, and that anyone who sees shades of gray is insane or evil.

But there's one thing that always seems to cloud the debate more than anything else: the definition of rape as "sex with someone who doesn't want it."

Now, at first glance, most people see that definition as clearly accurate. But both the law and common sense define it differently: as "sex with someone who does not consent."

There's a distinct difference between these two concepts. You can want sex without consenting, and you can consent to sex without wanting it. Consent-- saying "yes" instead of "no"-- is what gives another person the information that you are willing to have sex, regardless of whether you actually want it.

I think that some rapists actually do not believe that they have committed a rape, because they have been taught that rape is "unwanted sex" as opposed to "unconsenting sex." A while ago I read a description of a sex act (quoted second-or-third-hand) that had supposedly been written on the blog of a famous sports player or musician or something. He told the story of sleeping with a woman who afterwards accused him of raping her. He described her as seeming to enjoy the experience, although she "whispered 'no' a few times." He said he was shocked to hear that she considered it rape.

I don't think this celebrity would have posted such a story online if he was actually aware that he had committed rape in the eyes of the law. I can't find it on Google now, which might mean it's been taken down. I think he believed that his experience with the woman was perfectly legal, because he thought he could tell that she wanted it, even though she was not consenting. I think many men who commit rape actually think their victims want the experience despite saying "no," and they don't understand that the act of saying "no" is what matters legally, not the perceived desire. Other people can't always tell accurately what you want-- and even if they could, you can physically desire sex and still have a good reason to say no to it.

On the other side of the field, you can hate the idea of sex and still say yes to it. I once spoke with a woman who claimed to have been raped, and then went on to describe something that sounded not like a rape, but like her boyfriend begging her for sex until she reluctantly consented. I think she was confused because she defined rape as unwanted sex, and she did not realize that her consent made the act legal even if she didn't actually desire it.

For an educated person, it may be hard to imagine being unclear on whether a rape is happening, but many people involved in rapes do not have a high level of education or intellect. Logical thought will tell you that the law can't actually work with nebulous concepts like whether someone wanted something, and that it has to rely on distinct information like whether someone said "no"-- but people often don't give these things logical thought until after the fact.

I'm definitely not saying that such lack of clarity explains all or even most rapes. Of course a huge number of rapes happen with full awareness on both sides that the act is both unwanted and unconsenting. But I think that explaining the definition clearly to young people, instead of leaving it inaccurate or indistinct, would prevent some of the gray-area encounters that are at least partially caused by misunderstanding. I think there is genuine value in teaching teenagers and young adults that "no" means "no."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why we gave up our parrot after seven years

This is an extremely hard story to write. I grew up around parrots, waking to the call of macaws, chatting back and forth with the Amazons all afternoon, reading Bird Talk magazine in my room with a green-cheeked conure on one shoulder and a sun conure on the other.

My mother, who adopted so many problem parrots during my teens, knows all too well how difficult it is for them to find long-term homes, and I absorbed that knowledge from her. I was painfully aware of the phenomenon of ignorant first-time parrot-owners who realize they've gotten in over their heads. I never expected to be that sort of person.

And I wasn't, really. It was more complicated than that.

Rain Man, our blue-fronted Amazon parrot, was my mom's worst-behaved foundling before John and I got together. He had been found on the street in the rain, and he avoided people whenever possible, biting if they got too friendly with him. John was the first human he didn't hate, and after they met, he became our parrot.

In the seven years we had him, constant and diligent kindness brought him out of his shell. He became a parrot who would step up, who could even be carefully stroked on the neck if he was in the right mood. He never became cuddly, but he began to be capable of affection.

And then a few things happened, which combined to change our life with him.

One: we finally made human friends in our area. After years of trying to make contact with other local nerds, we managed at last to establish a group to hang out with. For once in our lives, John and Rain Man and I weren't living in an isolated bubble. There were guests at our home, and trips to visit friends.

Two: we started being invited to more speeches outside our home town. Within the first two months of spring this year, we spoke once for a college in Duluth and once for a conference in Iowa. We were away from home for days at a time, more often than ever before.

Three: the change in Rain Man himself. Not only had he grown to accept our attention, he had grown to crave it. He screamed endlessly if we weren't with him every moment. He bit us if we came home from a long outing. John's hands were covered with open wounds all the time, making it hard for him to handle chemicals at work. Once during a party at our apartment, the bird even flew across the room to attack John's face.

And we realized that our life didn't fit Rain Man anymore. We no longer had enough time and energy to give him the endless attention he needed. Other people and other projects had filled our world, and Rain Man could not accept that there was no longer a huge chunk of it left for him.We were no longer people who had enough time to keep such a needy creature happy. Our full-time jobs plus friends plus speeches plus Rain Man added up to more than we could give.

And we made a choice. It was a hard choice, one that not all parrot lovers would agree with. We chose our blossoming connections with other human beings over our failing connection with Rain Man.

Through, we got to know a parrot lover in Wisconsin. Like us, she had Asperger's Syndrome-- but unlike us, had little desire for a social life, and had physical disabilities that kept her at home most of the time. Her parrots were her life. She was one of the few people in this world whose living situations are actually suited to having a bird.

She'd grown up with parrots; her mother raised them for a living, and she helped out with the business, even though she was personally more interested in rescuing parrots than breeding them. She had run a parrot rescue organization for a while, and her current pet birds were rescued. One had recently passed away, and she was looking for another. She'd made a post asking if anyone had a parrot they needed to give up, and she specifically stated she was willing to take in a problem parrot.

So, after several conversations with her, we packed up Rain Man's cage and toys. We took him to the vet for one last check-up. And then we took our bird on a trip to Wisconsin, and gave him a new home.

We hope we did the right thing. It has been a lot to get used to, for us as well as him. John has woken up in the night a few times, missing the bird. I still sometimes say "Goodbye, Rain Man!" when leaving home, out of force of habit.

Soon we are planning to go on another trip to Wisconsin and visit him, to make sure he's still doing okay. I think both we and the bird will come out of this better off, but it has been a very, very hard choice.

I don't think our years with Rain Man were meaningless or a failure. We made immense progress with him. He is a better and happier bird than he was, and we are more patient and wiser people. But it is time for both us and him to move on.

We may have another pet some day, but we're going to give ourselves time to figure out just what we can handle. We don't want to get ourselves into something we're not ready for. It can happen to anyone... even people who know better.

So... I'm 31.

My birthday was last month. Thirty-one. The prime of life.

Last year was a multiple of ten, year before that was also prime, year before that was perfect, year before that was a cube. I'm in a wonderful streak of cool numbers. Next year's a power of two, then comes a palindrome.

My next birthday party will probably be binary-themed: "Welcome to Erika's 100,000th b-day! Let's all get to second base!" or something. I dunno. I have almost a year to plan it.

This one was a great party. It was Doctor Who themed: Jelly Babies and Jammy Dodgers and fish sticks and custard and a TARDIS cake and five pizzas-- two cheese, one pepperoni, one sausage, and one "Dalek Supreme," which was a pepperoni-and-sausage pizza shaped like a Dalek, with the pepperoni arranged like Dalek bumps. (They weren't as visible as I might have liked; baking the pizza resulted in the cheese and the pepperoni becoming almost the same color. I'll have to experiment with different kinds of bumps next time I try making a Dalek pizza.)

Latest non-ridiculous news in our lives: we're buying a condo! Next party will probably be in a much nicer place than this one. But I'll add more updates when I know all the details.

A Global Warning

Seriously, Republicans! Seriously, Democrats! Stop arguing about global warming for just a second.

We are missing one of the most important points here.

It doesn't MATTER whether global warming is caused by humans or not.

If it's just part of Earth's natural cycle, *that doesn't mean it's safe.* Earth's natural cycle included the friggin' Ice Age. Nature can kill us just as easily as we can.

If it is caused by humans, *that doesn't mean we can stop it.* We are probably too late. Turning global warming around at this point would require everyone in every developed country to make big personal sacrifices that we can't realistically expect them to make, no matter how much we believe they should.

Global warming is definitely happening. The weather is setting records all over the place. Anyone who tells you that the climate has gone a decade without changing, or has actually cooled, is cherry-picking a decade when there were a lot of volcanoes releasing ash into the atmosphere, or some such. The overall trend is unquestionably a change, and a frightening one.

WE NEED TO PREPARE FOR THE WORST. Why is nobody building self-sufficient underground shelters to save us from the weather? Why is nobody planning how we'll grow crops and livestock when it gets too hot for the species we have?

Why in the world are we not getting off our asses and resolving to try, try again at that old Biosphere 2 project-- not for living in space, this time, but for living on our own planet?

Are we just accepting that global warming is going to kill us if we can't stop it? Are we betting our lives on the tiny, tiny chance that we can get through mountains of government bureaucracy and human stubbornness in time to turn it around? WHERE IS OUR PLAN B?

Okay, you can all go back to arguing now. I've said my piece.