My New Music Page!

Hey, all!

So, I've decided to expand my blog. This part, of course, is dedicated to my life (and what I choose to post, haha), and I also have other pages (one for a memoir regarding my experiences with Teach For America, and the other devoted to feminism and pro-choice arguments). There have been some recent, exciting developments recently concerning my writing, as well as my academic future, but it's a bit too early to write about those things. So, for now, I've decided to add a new page to my blog detailing my work in another passion of mine -- singing!

I occasionally do community shows, but (mostly due to a demanding schedule), most of my singing happens in private recordings. Most of these recordings are done on Audacity, and I then transfer those audio files to a video file with an accompanying picture. What I want to do is post those videos to my new blog section, "Life's a Stage."

In the last few months, I've been experimenting with new equipment, so I've begun realizing the benefit of quality microphones and such. My first recordings, then, are pretty low quality; however, the quality does improve with each new recording, and my goal is to continue improving that quality each time I record.

Most of this is for fun, and I love sharing my passions with others! So enjoy! My music is all posted now in "Life's a Stage," my new blog section!

My Love/Hate Relationship With Disneyland

For Christmas this year, I went in together with my dad and my boyfriend and bought my sister and her family a 3-day vacation to Disneyland. My sister, for her part, is hugely excited, so we've been talking about Disneyland (where she'll be in exactly one week, as of writing this piece) quite a bit. It's really got me thinking, though, about my own, personal feelings about Disneyland.
People who know me well know that I absolutely love Disneyland ... but I've also come to dislike many aspects of it. I think that there are many people in this world who fall on one end of the Disney spectrum or the other -- they're either diehard Disney fans who can't get enough, or else they absolutely loathe the parks and probably couldn't be paid to spend time there. I've met both types of people, and honestly, I sympathize with both sides.
My conflicting views about Disneyland were created throughout the span of my lifetime. As a child, I thought there was very little that was better in this world than a trip to Disneyland. I spent many birthdays at Disneyland, and my parents knew that the most delightful surprise for me would be to find out that we were taking a trip to Disneyland. Growing up, I could have conversations about Disneyland for hours, and my dream job was to one day play a princess at Disneyland. As I matured into adulthood, my feelings didn't really change. I've still made many trips out to Disneyland with friends, significant others, my son, and even on my own. Although I understand that much of the draw for me is about nostalgia and reminiscing about wonderful times in my past, there is a draw about Disneyland that has never disappeared for me. Even to this day, as a 30-something, I feel the Disney pull now and again and still feel lots of anticipation and excitement in the days leading up to a trip.
But in recent years, I've noticed something else as well. As excited as I get for these trips, and as much as I keep going back again and again, when I'm actually at Disneyland I don't always have as much fun as I think I'm going to have. And it's this change in perception and experience that I want to analyze and talk about.
When I was very young, the Disneyland experience was quite a bit different than the experience now, I think. As residents of Southern California, my family and I would sometimes wake up and just decide to spend the day at Disneyland. We'd have a fun, leisurely day there, making a circle around the park and riding all of the rides in turn, until we made it back to the entrance. After that, we'd have time to go back and do our favorites again. We'd bring sandwiches from Subway or Togos and go eat in the now-extinct picnic area, and not feel like we were losing any valuable time. Each visit would be marked with time spent browsing the stores at the end of the day so that each of us children could choose a souvenir (one of my old souvenirs, a plush Thumper toy, is still in my possession, passed down now to my own son after more than twenty years). I have many, many fond memories of these magical days with my family.
Things are a bit different now. These days, the experience always feels much more frenzied, with rushed hopping all over the park to collect Fast Pass tickets (I'll explain those in a moment if you aren't familiar with them) and fit in as much as you can fit in a single day (or more, depending on how many days you're staying). I find myself stressed and anxious in regards to timing everything, and by the end of the day I'm beyond exhausted -- physically and mentally.
I think there are a few reasons why this is the case for me, and they boil down to two main issues that have risen within the last 10 - 20 years. First, overcrowding is a huge problem at Disneyland (there's really no such thing as an "off-season" anymore -- whenever you go, you're likely to face huge crowds), and second, the prices have skyrocketed beyond what feels like a fair price for what you often get.
See, the reason I think I get so stressed out is because you have to pay top dollar to go to Disneyland -- the price of a single day at only one of the parks (no park hopping allowed) is up to $100 a person (which means that a family of four is looking at $400 right off the bat just to get in the gates). I get why they have been raising prices so much, and I'll get into that in just a bit, but my point here is that when you pay so much money and then find out that you're going to spend all day fighting huge crowds of other people and waiting in tremendously long lines for damn near everything, you start to feel a little ripped off.
Disneyland knows overcrowding is a problem, too. The park was not built to handle the current number of daily guests that it now accommodates, and you can truly feel that when you go. Of course, there are times that are more crowded than others -- holiday weekends, for instance, or the last few weeks of December (I went once a few days after Christmas, and will never subject myself to such a nightmare again) -- but you have to expect that there are going to be crowds no matter when you go. The days of choosing to visit on a Tuesday in early February so that you can "walk on" everything (the term that we theme park geeks use to refer to not having to wait longer than 5 minutes or so for an attraction) are long gone. You can't even avoid crowds on rainy days anymore. Disney fanatics don't give a shit -- they'll wrap themselves in plastic raincoats and flood the parks anyway, because rain doesn't deter Disney fans anymore.
Part of the reason I think this is happening is because Disneyland has not been able to figure out whether they want to be a community theme park that caters to locals or a large resort that caters to out-of-towners and people traveling long distances. When I was growing up, Disneyland was small. There was one park, and it was very easy to see and do everything in a single day. Locals loved that they could make day trips to Disneyland, and this fondness among them is still there to this day. Lots of locals still buy season passes and head on over to Disneyland for a single day or afternoon, or even treat the park like a community "hang out" location where they and their friends can just chill for a few hours.
This is in stark contrast to the types of guests who come from afar to experience the continuing expansion that is Disneyland. Over the years, Disneyland, much like its sister park Walt Disney World in Florida, has grown tremendously, taking on the name of "resort" (rather than simply "park"), with two theme parks, three overpriced hotels (seriously ... it can be upwards of $300 - $800 a night to stay in one of them), and an extensive shopping and dining district called Downtown Disney. Guests can now book dining reservations for expensive character meals or in viewing points for shows like Fantasmic! months in advance. If you don't have such reservations, you're usually out of luck, too (gone are the days of just showing up to the Blue Bayou, looking out over the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and getting seated, as we used to do when I was growing up).
I'm not saying that expanding into a resort isn't a good thing. I enjoy walking around Downtown Disney, and I like the overall resort "feel" of Disneyland these days. I like the second park, Disney's California Adventure, and its incorporation of thrill rides and Pixar-themed attractions. But Disney needs to figure out how to balance the ever-growing out-of-state and out-of-country demand with the local demand. Because when you combine lots of out-of-towners and lots of in-towners frequenting the same parks all the time, the result is a ridiculous level of overcrowding.
Disneyland started to address this issue back in the 90's with the introduction of the Fast Pass system, which they invented to help combat extremely long lines (it was becoming common during this time for popular rides to have lines two or more hours long). The idea of the Fast Pass is that everyone has to wait the same amount of time to ride ... but you don't necessarily have to wait in line. It's like a reservation. You use your admission ticket to retrieve a Fast Pass ticket for a certain attraction, and the Fast Pass will give you a time to come back and essentially skip the line. So while you're "waiting" for your turn to ride, you can go do something else -- ride something with a shorter line, get something to eat, see a character, or do whatever.
My family was pretty resistant to this idea at first, as the Fast Pass system slows down the standby line considerably. When you're in standby, your line is consistently stopped to allow for Fast Pass holders to come through and bypass you, so it was kind of frustrating at first. But when we learned how to utilize the passes ourselves, we realized that they do allow you to save lots of time in the parks and do many more things ... if you know how to use them correctly.
Locals -- such as myself -- quickly learned how to manipulate the system. We would bounce all over the park, collecting as many Fast Passes as we could, before finally using some of them. This put others, who did not necessarily know that you could obtain more than one pass at a time, at a distinct disadvantage. The Fast Pass system is based on times, you see, with only a certain amount of passes being distributed for a certain time frame. When all of the passes for all of the time frames (in hour-long increments, such as 1:20 - 2:20, or 5:45 - 6:45) are gone, then they're gone for the entire day. How quickly all of the Fast Passes go depends on how popular the attraction is, and how many people are at the park that day to collect them.
This, anyway, created a situation in which locals who knew the system were essentially hoarding so many Fast Passes that others were missing out. Disney remedied this situation by changing the Fast Pass system so that you could only hold one Fast Pass at a time. So then, locals (again, such as myself) began saving up old admission tickets and bringing them in so that they could cheat the new system and still collect many Fast Passes at once. Disney found out about this, too, and fixed this situation as well, making sure that only tickets used for admission that day could be used to obtain a Fast Pass -- old tickets would generate a non-usable Fast Pass.
The final "trick" of the so-called "trade" that locals would do to save time was save up their Fast Passes throughout the day and only use them when lines were particularly long. So, for example, a person would get a Fast Pass ticket for Space Mountain that would tell them to come back between 1:00 and 2:00, but they'd actually come back at, say, 5:00 (and by this time, they may have accumulated multiple tickets). And this was allowed -- you couldn't use a Fast Pass before its scheduled time, but you could certainly use it anytime after. This eventually resulted, though, in long lines even for Fast Pass holders because too many people were coming back at the same time, so Disney put a stop to this, too. Now, if your Fast Pass says to come back to the ride between 1:00 and 2:00, you have to come back between 1:00 and 2:00, or else your pass will expire and you won't be allowed to use it (trust me, I've tried).
What this means is that now, jumping around all over Disneyland in an anxious frenzy is almost a requirement if you want to get everything in. You jump somewhere to get a Fast Pass for something, then bounce somewhere else to try to get other things in, and then jump back to the original ride when the Fast Pass time has arrived because you don't want your pass to expire. And, to top it all off, you usually want to bounce to another popular ride before heading over to the one you're about to go on so that you can grab another Fast Pass, just to make sure you're using every minute of the day wisely. If you decide to forgo the Fast Pass system altogether in order to avoid this anxiety-ridden nonsense, then you will inevitably be waiting in long-ass lines all day long, and definitely won't be able to get everything in ... and this results, of course, in the depressing realization that you've spent a shitload of money on a day at Disneyland, only to spend the majority of it waiting around in huge lines.
To put this in perspective, imagine that you spend $100 for a day at Disneyland and you're able to fit in about 10 rides (which is actually a lot when the park is crowded and you aren't using Fast Passes). This would mean, essentially, that you have spent $10 per ride (also taking into account the ambiance and shit that people pay for). When you think about it this way, you want to make sure you get in as much as possible, and the only way to do that is to utilize the Fast Pass system. But ever since Disney cracked down on the various ways people were taking advantage of the system, you also must submit to a fast-paced, jumping all over the park type of visit.
Really, it's come down to whether you prefer high levels of stress so that you can fit lots of things in (in which you face the possibility of just trying to get through each ride to make it to the next instead of enjoying everything fully) or slow down, wait in long lines all day, and get very little in.
In an attempt to get around this, some locals started pulling some pretty awful shit (because, apparently, they wanted to make sure that if they didn't get nice things, nobody got nice things). Somebody found out that Disneyland issued a disability pass to guests who were unable to stand in long lines for long periods of time (people with severe physical disabilities, or autistic children whose days could be ruined by standing around in lines). These passes enabled guests with disabilities to enter a ride through its exit, and they wouldn't have to wait. Well, locals started to realize this was a thing, and someone caught wind of the fact that it's illegal for Disney to inquire about a person's disability, or ask for proof of it. So people started getting themselves disability passes when they weren't disabled so that they wouldn't have to wait in lines.
Honestly, there is a certain breed of Disneyland local, usually season pass holders who frequent the parks throughout the year, who act quite entitled when it comes to these things. They don't think they should have to wait in lines like everyone else. A part of this, I think, stems from the fact that many of them remember times when a ride on the Matterhorn wasn't a guaranteed 40 minute wait (or more), and they're kind of resentful that they don't really get to experience that anymore. But, for whatever reason, some of them thought they were so entitled to skip lines that they pretended to be disabled. And then, those fuckers actually spread this as a "tip" or "trick" or "life hack" at Disneyland all over social media. So, suddenly, huge groups of people were running around with disability passes, bypassing lines and ruining the experience for those who were actually disabled (as well as those who were not, as such behavior increases waiting times for everyone else).
So Disneyland was faced with a dilemma. How could they accommodate their guests with disabilities while, at the same time, nipping the exploitation of disability passes in the bud? They decided to refine the disability pass just a bit. Instead of allowing guests to enter a ride through the exit, the disability pass was treated like more of a Fast Pass, in that guests were given a time to return to a ride, and at that time they could go bypass the line. The new disability pass differed from Fast Passes, though, in that the time never expired and guests could use it on any ride they wanted (unlike a true Fast Pass, which could only be used on certain, popular rides). Disneyland hoped that this new pass would be less desirable to its non-disabled visitors and help alleviate the stress on the system.
It didn't work. Essentially, having "Fast Passes" that never expired and could be used on any ride in the park was still tempting enough to cause guests to abuse the system. Non-disabled guests still came in droves for these passes, and sometimes every single person in a large group of people would get one of their own so that they could accumulate dozens of passes at the same time. So Disney eliminated the disability pass altogether, and does its best to accommodate severely restricted people without the pass, on a case-by-case basis. It's a shame, really, that some people who face real challenges can no longer experience the park in ways that work for them because other guests thought it was acceptable to exploit their accommodations.
Disneyland has begun to realize that this type of (usually local) customer, as well as other locals, presents very specific problems in terms of crowd control. Back in the 1980's, Disneyland began to sell annual passes so that those in the area could pay one lump sum and visit the park again and again. They thought that this would help keep attendance up even during the off-season. Throughout the years, there have been various deals for Southern California residents, too. A few years ago, Disneyland liked to promote "2-fer" tickets, in which Southern California residents could buy a day at both parks for the price of one. There has always been a special Southern California annual pass, too, which featured many blackout dates (dates when these pass holders were blocked from admission to the parks), but the price was very reasonable. As a result of these deals, as well as local infatuation with Disneyland, the number of Southern Californians with annual passes has grown exponentially within the last 10 years.
The result of this, as I mentioned before, is that Disneyland now has to balance hoards of locals who show up all the time for day trips, with guests who view the experience as a full-on vacation. These guests buy rooms at the hotels (or the adjacent "good neighbor" hotels within walking distance), buy multi-day tickets, and are usually determined to get as much out of their visit as they can (because they know they won't be back for a while). There have been more and more of these vacationing guests at Disneyland in recent years, and, quite honestly, they're the guests that Disney wants there. They're more likely, after all, to spend lots of money on food in the park and souvenirs such as Mickey Mouse ears or a $50 stuffed animal. But the problem is that more and more vacationers are reporting shitty experiences on their trips mainly due to one thing and one thing alone: the huge crowds that no one wants to deal with.
So, it's become a problem. And while Disney doesn't want to piss off its local customers, who have been a steady source of reliable income for the last 30 years or so, it also doesn't want to deter out-of-town vacationers from choosing Disneyland as their destination.
Which brings us to the second source of contention that I mentioned earlier: The huge expense of Disneyland. Prices have been going up for years, but they've spiked sharply in recent years. Again, just to spend one day at one of the parks, a person has to shell out $100 a person. If they want park-hopping privileges (the ability to go from one park to another in a single day), it's up to $155 a person. If you want to go to the park for multiple days, you're looking at hundreds of dollars per person (although it's really a better deal because the price-per-day actually decreases the more days you buy). No matter how you look at it, though, that's a lot of money just to get through the gates of a theme park. If you want to buy snacks or meals in the park, or any kind of souvenir, you're looking at even more.
Very recently, though, Disney made a few changes, one of which includes varied admission prices depending on when you go. So the prices I listed above are only good if you choose to go on less popular days -- if you go during any of Disneyland's busy seasons, you pay even more. But the biggest change, I think, occurred within the realm of Disneyland's annual pass system. Disney decided, you see, to eliminate the special, discounted annual pass that was specifically for Southern Californians. There are only a couple of options now if you want to buy an annual pass -- the Disney Deluxe Passport (which features black out dates for every holiday season as well as every Saturday during the summer months) for $599 a person, the Disney Signature Passport (which also features black out dates, but far fewer of them) for $849 a person, or the Disney Signature Plus Passport (which has no black out dates, as well as other benefits) for $1,049 a person. And Disney also removed the option (which they used to have) of purchasing a half-priced ticket to enter the park if it's one of your black out dates. The only extra benefit that Southern Californians now get that others don't is the ability to finance their annual passes, making monthly payments rather than a lump sum (and in all honesty, I can't even imagine dropping over $4000, for a family of four to go to Disneyland all year long). Nobody else but those in Southern California can finance their passes this way.
In my opinion, Disneyland realized that there were huge issues with the overcrowding of their parks and knew they had to do something about it. And although it seems like an easy solution to simply lower the capacity and turn more people away at the gates, such a thing is easier said than done. For example, what if people planned a vacation, flew all the way from wherever, and were turned away at the gate because the park had already reached its limited capacity? Also, Disney is, first and foremost, a company -- a very successful company at that -- and whatever decisions they make for their customers needs to be in line with the decisions they make concerning their profit margin. Cutting off the number of people who are able to enter the parks and undoubtedly angering people is probably not the best way to ensure they're making money.
So they decided to hike prices. This, I think, is a win-win for Disneyland because the number of guests will decrease (even if people want to go, they'll be priced out because they simply can't afford to go), but they won't be losing money because the people who do still go will be paying so much more. This does, of course, leave some people feeling disgruntled because they've been priced out, but the truth of the matter is that Disneyland is deciding, it seems, to move away from the community park that caters to locals and fully taking on the resort label that caters to vacationers. This is hard for locals such as myself, who remember going to Disneyland quite often at, like, $30 a person. But things change, and this is the path Disneyland has chosen for its future. Disneyland is a vacation now, not a day trip like it used to be. And I guess time will tell whether or not this new strategy will work for Disneyland.
Because, in all honesty, I think there will eventually reach a point where the prices get too high, when Disney experiences a loss in revenue because the price has become too steep for most people, and the product simply isn't worth it to them. But until that point, Disney will continue to raise its prices because they can and they know people will continue to come. For now.
As for me, I supposed I've reached that point already. $100 for one day at one park is no longer worth it because the crowds have become so heavy that it's often not enjoyable anymore. I miss Disneyland, and I will always love Disneyland ... but I also hate it. I hate that it's become this. I hate that many times I feel like I am paying a huge sum of money for the "privilege" of standing around in the heat, with numerous other people, doing very little except waiting in lines. No matter what you want to do -- a ride, a show, see a character, get some food -- you will likely be waiting a long time because the crowds have gotten that out of control. I still find Disneyland to be magical, and I think their attractions are still top-notch -- but for what I'm actually getting when I go to the park, the price has finally become unreasonable.
Until, you know, I go again. Because (who am I kidding) we all know that I fucking will. And that, I suppose is exactly what Disney relies on.




























525,600 Minutes

The song "Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent explores the ways in which we measure a year. 365 days or, as they put it, 525,600 minutes can be measured "in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee; in inches, in miles, in laughter and strife." Measuring the small, day to day moments as well as the large monumental ones has become so important to me, and this song is a favorite of mine in terms of summarizing that. The song, though, also mentions that another way to measure a year is through love, and that's what I want to do in this post. There are, of course, many different forms of love in my life -- love toward and from my son, myself, my friends, and my family, for instance -- but here I want to write about romantic love (something I'm not entirely used to writing about).

One year ago, one of the last places I ever thought I'd find myself was in a monogamous relationship. Back then, I was happily polyamorous and didn't see myself entering into a partnership with any one person at any point in my life. Life is a funny thing, though, and sometimes the paths we never expect to travel are the ones we wind up exploring anyway. I entered my partnership with Matt about a year ago now, and I call it a partnership because that's how we've approached this idea of a relationship ... that is, while recognizing and respecting each other's differences and individual natures, we've decided to experience life as friends, allies, and lovers. And this approach to our relationship, I think, is why it works for me.

Having jumped, earlier in my life, from extremely strict parents to an extremely controlling marriage, I chose to spend the majority of my young adult life single (after said marriage ended in divorce). The freedom that came from living as a single person who called my own shots, made my own decisions, and answered to no one was intoxicating and exactly what I needed to grow as a person. Sure, I dated around during this time, and entered a few very brief relationships, but the majority of the time I was single -- happily single. There were times when, I think, I wanted to enter a relationship with someone I was dating, but usually didn't because of an overwhelming fear of losing the freedom I'd fought so hard to attain. So my polyamorous lifestyle -- in which there were a few people I was casually dating and a few other people whom I did refer to as boyfriends -- centered mostly around maintaining my freedom and independence at the center of it all.

It was a cool lifestyle, one that I was very happy in, and one that I know many others are very happy in. So entering monogamy with Matt wasn't a decision made out of necessity, because I wasn't even sure, at the time, that such a relationship could even be possible while maintaining personal freedom and independence.

My past being what it was, I knew exactly what I didn't want. I did not want someone believing they had any sort of say in where I went, who my friends were, how long I was out, what I did with my free time, and so on -- I didn't want to answer to anyone. I did not want to be with a jealous person who was constantly worried that I was cheating on them or that I would leave them for the next best thing the second the opportunity hit me -- I didn't want a significant other who felt the need to break my self-esteem down to such a low degree that I would thank my lucky stars every day that I was with them (because, surely, no one else would want me). I did not want to be with an angry person who acted like a ticking time bomb, leaving me in a constant state of dancing on nails to try and avoid the next blow up about who knows what. I didn't want to have to, once again, come up with lie after lie for everyone else about why this or that thing was broken. I did not want to be with someone who thought it their duty, or even their right, to judge my likes and dislikes, my choices in clothing, my parenting, my hair length or color, or any other such thing. I did not want to be with someone who wanted to take control of my health choices, including what I ate and when I ate it, how much I ate, how much I weighed, and such, as though I were a dependent rather than a partner.

And, yes, I've experienced all of the above. And I was never, ever, ever going to go back to living that way again, hence the reason I avoided most monogamous relationships.

Learning to trust has not been an easy road, but the approach that Matt and I have taken has been different than any other relationship I've ever been a part of, and it's been wonderful for me. For starters, we've never looked at ourselves as "halves" seeking a "whole" -- both of us see ourselves as whole beings, full and complete in ourselves, who seek to complement each other's lives. Though we have quite a bit in common (we both love video games, roller coasters, reading, travel, and the same classic films, such as Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure), we're also very different. He's the extrovert to my introvert; he loves sports and the outdoors and dogs while I, on the other hand, love politics and staying in and cats. He likes going to baseball games and I like attending the live theater. He likes skiing and snowboarding while I enjoy studying voice and dance. He's a beer guy; I'm a wine gal.

And the thing is, a huge part of our approach has been respecting that both of us will have lives outside of the other. When he wants to go play baseball with friends, or go to laser tag, or go for a weekend snowboarding getaway, there are times he does those things without me because I have no interest in those things. And when I do shows or debates or go out for coffee with my own friends, there are times I do those things without him because he'd rather be doing other things. And, because we respect each other's individual lives and privacy, it doesn't bother either of us that the other has a full and complete life outside of us.

Along with this, we've also been building a life together. We do things together that we both enjoy, such as theme parks, and sometimes we'll go to ball games or the live theater together, so that we can experience each other's passions, even if they're not our own. And this is why the relationship works for me. I have been able to maintain an individual, free life while, at the same time, building a partnership with someone else (and so has he).

In this way, we've had some awesome experiences together. So today, on this kinda, somewhere-close-to one-year anniversary of us being together, I wanted to highlight some of those experiences to honor the year I've been with Matt.

1) Disneyland/Disney's California Adventure

As some of my previous partners can tell you, it's pretty hard to be in a relationship with me and not find yourself at Disneyland once in a while.

Despite my love/hate relationship with all things Disney, it's still one of my favorite places to go.

We've been to Disneyland a few times, having ditched out on work and school to make it happen, and Matt and I went to California Adventure once on our own. We were on an impromptu trip to California and decided to make it happen (which turned out to be really cool, because Matt had never been to DCA before.) We found out on that day that you can drink beer at DCA. The capacity to enjoy adult beverages at Disneyland was foreign to me, so we go to each experience our first Disney beer together. (In case you're wondering, it was cheap piss-beer, but beer nonetheless.) We stayed all day, right until closing, eating soup in bread bowls for dinner while watching World of Color. (Unlike the beer, the soup at Disneyland is actually really good -- Matt had tortilla soup and I had clam chowder, and both were outstanding.)

Also on this trip to DCA (which seems worth mentioning), we experienced the onslaught rush of a high school grad night. We realized this was happening when, a couple of hours before the park closed, we got in line for another ride on the Tower of Terror and realized that we were surrounded by loud, excited teenagers. Being around such a group of people who are about to embark on their grad night was more annoying than anything, but the reactions from the employees was nothing short of amusing. The ride attendants were changing shifts while we were in line, and those who were leaving were wishing their grumpy colleagues, "Good luck." After we actually boarded the ride, the teenagers were being so loud and obnoxious that the woman giving her safety speech had to break character and snap at everyone to shut up, after which she quickly delivered her spiel and slammed the doors. Quite a different experience for a Disney trip.

Fun times.

2) Filming Twisted Colossus

Matt and I are on the Six Flags Magic Mountain website (the picture in which you can see us is the one I've posted right here -- you can see me on the right train, wearing bright pink, my long hair flying wildly behind me. Matt is next to me, wearing purple).

And just why are we on the Magic Mountain website? Well, back in May of 2015, I managed to book us a gig where we were invited to Magic Mountain to be a part of the promotional filming for the brand new Twisted Colossus. This was the coaster that premiered at Magic Mountain in 2015 as a replacement for the classic coaster, Colossus. This was a huge deal for two roller coaster fans!

The morning of, we went backstage and filled out paperwork and had our photos taken, along with everyone else who would be a part of filming. It's important to note that there were two distinct groups of people -- the professional models and actors who were hired to sit in the fronts of the trains during the filming, and everyone else. The actors would be used primarily for the on-ride filming, and after they left everyone else would stay for off-ride filming and still photos of the ride.

But something really cool happened. As they were filming the actors in what we (Matt and I and two pretty awesome guys we met while standing around) called the "pretty train," the crew plucked us out of the crowd to fill in seats in the very back of the train. So, if you watch the actual Twisted Colossus promotional video, you won't see the four of us, but we were there in the back of the train. What this meant for us was that we got to ride again and again while they got the filming right.

See, the thing about Twisted Colossus is that it's got two tracks with a distinctly different ride on each track. The ride is almost 4 minutes long because, once your train finishes up on the first track, you get to go through again on the second track. But, part of the big deal about this roller coaster, is that the trains are supposed to be in sync with one another.

So, in other words, while your train is getting ready to start its second run-through, the train at the station must be dispatched at just the right moment so that, while the ride is happening, the trains are twisting over and around each other. It's a pretty cool experience ... when it works out.

On this day, it wasn't working out correctly. They couldn't get the shots they wanted because the trains weren't synced properly. They tried all sorts of things while we were breaking for lunch, but, in the end, this meant that after all of the actors had gone home, we rode through Twisted Colossus an additional 8 consecutive times while they tried to get the syncing right. Finally, when they did, it was like magic and everyone cheered and we all had some great rides. It was a wonderful, unique experience altogether.

3) Adopting a Kitten

When we met, I already had a grey tabby cat (Auryn Baby Girlface) and Matt already had a large, brown dog (Bodi). But during the summer of 2015, we found ourselves with another pet that we adopted together: a small orange kitten that we decided to call Gavroche (due to his mangy, alley-cat look and orphan status that he possessed when we first adopted him).

My vocal coach, Madelene Capelle, had a stray female cat living on or around her property who had a few litters of kittens in 2015. Madelene, being the awesome person that she is, systematically caught all of the kittens and got them spayed and neutered at Heaven Can Wait. She released most of them back outside, with two exceptions: first, there was a very tiny black female that she kept and named Mimi Meow, and second, there was a very tiny orange male that she asked me to help find a home for because he seemed to be happier inside than outside.

Gavroche has a story. While Madelene was in the midst of catching these kittens, the little orange one was actually found, by her neighbor, in a shed. He'd accidentally gotten locked inside. If you know anything about Las Vegas in the summertime, you know just what that meant for this kitten, too. When they found Gavroche, nobody thought he was still alive. But Madelene wrapped him up in a cold, wet towel and took him to her vet, who essentially brought him back.

He was timid when we first brought him home, but you'll be happy to hear that now, almost a year later, he's grown into a very large, rough-and-tumble cat with more quirks and nuances than I think I've ever seen in a pet.

4) Canada

Matt and I got to go to Canada for a week in 2015, and it was such an awesome pleasure to get to do so. We were there primarily because I was singing the national anthem at a Toronto Argonauts football game, but while we were there we got to do so much else -- wine tasting, live theater, Toronto island, Canada's Wonderland, and so much else.

We stayed with my dad in his condo overlooking the city. Our first day there, we went down to Niagara on the Lake to do wine tasting (my dad has a particular preference for sweet wines and ice wines, which I don't care for, but tried nonetheless), and then we went to a football game in neighboring Hamilton. On Tuesday, Matt and I got to go to Canada's Wonderland, where we both got to experience a giga coaster (a coaster which features an initial drop of over 300 feet) for the first time. After Wonderland, we got cleaned up and Dad took us "appetizer hopping" -- a favorite past time of his, in which you visit 4-5 high-end restaurants in a single evening, just to sample appetizers and wine.

On Wednesday, after a day out, we all went and saw Newsies (which I absolutely loved). On Thursday, Matt and I wandered downtown Toronto, including a venture onto Toronto island, and then went to see Kinky Boots in the evening (which I also loved). On Friday, we went down to Niagara Falls, where we both rode a Maid of the Mist boat for the first time (despite having lived near the falls for years, I never did take one of those boats down near the falls until this day). We all ate a steak dinner overlooking the falls before driving back to Toronto. And on Saturday, we attended the football game in which I sang the national anthem for over 20,000 people (and I was happy Matt could be there for that event). On Sunday, we came home again.

It was a busy week that went by quickly, but an awesome experience.

5) The Color Run

I'm not, by nature, a runner. When I was a teenager I did gymnastics and the flying trapeze, and I used the treadmill on a daily basis, but that was over half my life ago. I'm not in the same shape I was when I was a teenager, so joining athletic events always makes me a bit apprehensive.

Matt insisted that The Color Run was fun, so I agreed to do it. And I have to admit, it was fun. We kinda walked, kinda ran through the 5K, getting blasted with color along the way, and I realized that such things aren't as scary or intimidating as I thought they were. And, best of all, it served as momentum for me to start exercising like I used to.

And, again, it was another first that we got to experience together.

Every relationship has its series of ups and downs. I, however, have never had a relationship like the one I'm currently in, which respects both the ups and downs as legitimate, necessary aspects of growth, and honors the ways in which the both of us continue to grow on our own.

I can't wait to see what the future holds.

Me. At Midnight. Running Through the Rio in My Batman Pajamas With My Cats.

On a school night, even.

This is actually quite a story. And I'm going to tell it despite the fact that there is a certain level of judgment that usually accompanies the situation I'm about to reveal. Those of you who know me well understand that the number of fucks I usually reserve for judgment associated with misunderstandings about said situation is, like, zero.

Interested yet? All right, buckle up.

This all started over the MLK holiday weekend. We had lots going on -- I was attending multiple auditions, Brendan was having multiple sleepovers, and we were just generally busy. The fact, though, that Brendan was having sleepovers (time spent at others' homes, and others spending time at ours) is important to note. This entire experience all boils down to that one fact.

You're about to see where this is going.

Because, you see, toward the end of the weekend, as we were getting ready to head back to school and work, Brendan began complaining of sores on his arms. To me, these sores looked like spider bites -- an obvious red welt surrounded by a halo of pink skin. When he first pointed these out to me, he had one on his elbow and one on his leg, and I assumed that he'd been bitten by something (again, likely a spider) but that it would eventually go away and he'd be fine.

I'm sure you've already guessed that they didn't just go away. Each day he complained of new bites, and they were appearing all over his body. By Wednesday, he was so uncomfortable with painful, dreadfully itchy bites that Matt suggested I take him to the doctor. I agreed, too -- this didn't seem like spider bites anymore, and I began to wonder if he was exhibiting an allergic reaction to something (either a new food or a new laundry detergent or something). I gave him Benadryl just so he could sleep at night. I was pretty mystified (although, honestly, I really shouldn't have been).

The next day, Thursday, I spent the majority of my prep hour and lunch time trying to contact Teachers Health Trust so that I could set up an appointment for Brendan. One of my fellow teachers, Ken Witty, asked what was wrong, and I told him. I gave him a detailed description of what I was experiencing with Brendan, and he responded with raised eyebrows.

"You know what that sounds like?" he asked.

I knew where he was going with this, and it made me stop, pretty much frozen with anxiety. See, a couple of years ago Ken dealt with a bed bug infestation that he'd picked up at Hickey Elementary School, where we both used to work. And he told me that what I was describing in Brendan was nearly identical to what he and his wife had experienced. I insisted that I didn't think we had bed bugs, but when he pulled up pictures on his phone of what those bites look like, I couldn't deny that they were very similar to what I'd seen on Brendan.

"I would recommend that you go home and search his room," Ken told me. He instructed me in how to do this -- stripping the bed of sheets, lifting the mattress, looking for telltale signs of these awful, vampiric insects.

I rushed home, filled with anxiety, telling myself over and over again that it probably wasn't bed bugs and that I needed to calm down. But I was also very well aware of what a nightmare bed bug infestations can be, and knowing that the notion of one in my home made perfect sense was nothing less than terrifying. Bed bugs are an extremely successful species and, much like cockroaches and head lice, can be extremely difficult to control. They hide well, they survive most pesticides well, and, most importantly, they breed well. A small infestation can turn into an out-of-control problem very quickly. And a bed bug can survive for up to 18 months without eating -- for real. So you can't even go away for a week or two and starve them out. I've heard of people spending thousands of dollars to deal with bed bug problems, people buying all new furniture to eradicate them completely, and people moving because they couldn't win the battle with the bed bugs. This was not something that I wanted to deal with. At all.

I arrived home just minutes after Matt and told him that I needed to inspect Brendan's room.

"Just to confirm that it's not bed bugs," I told him.

The two of us went together upstairs and I tore all of Brendan's sheets off of his bed. His mattress was clean -- pure white, with no signs that I could see of bed bugs. I inspected closely in the crevices, but found nothing. I lifted the mattress and investigated the underside, as well as the box springs. I looked at all four corners, as closely as my eyes would allow.

Nothing. Everything looked clean.

I was about ready to give up the search, pretty convinced that bed bugs were not the problem, after all. But then, I saw it.

A tiny, rust-colored bug, with a wide, flat body. Just a single bug, standing on the edge of the box springs.

"Oh, shit," I said. "I see one."

"Where?" Matt asked.

I pointed. "Quick, get me something to catch it with. We'll need it for identification."

Matt ran downstairs and brought me a small tupperware container, which I used to trap the bug. With it contained, I had a closer look, and I was 100% positive now that we were dealing with bed bugs. The question now was what to do about it.

I told Matt to go immediately to our property manager, which he did. She understood what an awful problem bed bugs could be, and was absolutely as interested in getting them eradicated as we were. So she immediately called pest control and gave us specific directions as to how to prepare for their visit.

We spent the next many hours, well into the night, essentially moving "out" of our house. Pillows, sheets, and clothing were washed in hot water and dried on high heat. Stuffed animals were bagged and set outside (to be put in the drier later). We emptied drawers and closets and moved furniture away from the walls. Everything had to be washed and dried before being moved out, lest we accidentally move live bed bugs out of the house and then, inevitably, back in.

At this point, I did something I probably shouldn't have done. I emptied a can of bug spray all over Brendan's bed area, hoping to at least contain the problem until pest control arrived. I closed the door so that the cats couldn't get in, and hoped that it would kill some of the bugs and at least contain the others. I realized later that such a move could cause the bugs to spread to places they hadn't previously been, in an attempt to escape the poison, but my hope at that point was that there was enough to kill them before they could leave the room.

As midnight approached, Matt told me that pest control was going to try and come by the next day (Friday). If everything wasn't ready, including our two cats not being on the premises, they wouldn't be able to treat the problem, and they'd have to come back the following week. We didn't want that to happen.

The problem was that we both had work the following day, and it was going to be nearly impossible to leave work, go get the cats, and get them somewhere else once we knew when they were going to be arriving. So I suggested that we get a hotel that very night and stay away until after we were given the clear from pest control. Matt agreed, and jumped on Hotwire to find us a place.

"You know," I told him, "we could probably take the edge off of this whole situation if we turned this into an adventure and stayed somewhere on the Strip. Want to?"

He did -- he agreed that this could add an element of fun to an otherwise nightmarish situation. So we investigated various hotels that were not too overpriced, and also accepted pets. We found what we were looking for in The Rio, and I booked us a room for Thursday and Friday night. I assumed that the cats could stay in the room (with a "do not disturb" sign on the door) while we were all out at work and school, and then we could all return home once we were given the clear. The Rio, I noticed, was also only a few minutes from Brendan's school, which added to the benefits of staying there.

We loaded the car with freshly laundered clothes, some bathroom essentials, and the cats. My sister happened to be in possession of my cat carrier because she recently adopted a kitten, so the cats got to free roam the car. Gavroche drove with Matt, and Auryn drove with me and Brendan (we had to take separate vehicles so that we could each get to work the next day). We had to stop at Wal Mart because, in the fiasco that had been our night, I forgot to pack any cat food or cat litter, or even a litter box. So we picked those things up, along with a small container that the cats could ride in from the car to our hotel room.

We arrived at the Rio, and Brendan waited in the car with Auryn (and watched Gavroche through the window) while Matt and I checked in. Then, we made multiple trips to the car to get the things we needed.

And that's how I wound up rushing through the casino at The Rio, on my way to a hotel room, in Batman pajamas and day-old makeup, with a container full of cats, giving no fucks about what that must have looked like. I had spent all of my fucks earlier in the day, and I really had no more left to give to this particular situation.

Our room was nice. I set up cat food and water, and put the new littler box in the bathroom. Now after midnight, we all pretty much collapsed with exhaustion. We all went to sleep, knowing that, for the first time in days, Brendan wasn't about to be eaten alive while he slept.

I drove Brendan to school the following day and went to work, quite exhausted. Matt picked Brendan up after school, and we all met at the hotel room. The following day we were allowed to move back into our house, and spent the majority of the day completing laundering, putting casings over the mattresses, and inspecting everything for bugs before bringing it back in the house. But we're pretty much done now. Pest control left a note stating that the only signs of bed bugs appeared in Brendan's room -- they hadn't spread yet -- and the infestation was small enough that they didn't see any of the actual bugs, only the signs. They did a thorough treatment, and they're coming back in two weeks to examine the situation again, do a follow up treatment, and make sure that everything remains under control.

Last night we slept in our own beds. And Brendan woke up with no new bites. And so I'm hopeful.

But really, though ... down the road, we'll always be able to say, "Remember that time we took a stay-cation at The Rio because of bed bugs, in our pajamas, and with a container full of cats?" Hopefully, we'll be able to laugh.

10 Responses to 10 (Very Refutable) Reasons God Exists

Not that this is anything new, really, but (somewhat) recently BJ Cope published an article called 10 Reasons God Exists in order to point to some of the more, in his opinion, plausible reasons why a god is likely to exist. To be fair, this was a 2-sided article in which 10 Reasons God Does Not Exist appeared alongside the first one. As an atheist, I appreciate these investigations into both sides of the issue. My reason for responding to the first, however, is simply because I find the arguments to be rather elementary in terms of theological reasoning, and worthy of refute. So let's do this.

1. EVERYTHING IS CREATED: "Everything is created. There is nothing that didn't have a beginning, and whatever is in motion was originally put into motion. Thus, there must be a thing that is perennial and doesn't need a creator - God."

We don't know that there is nothing that didn't have a "beginning." As human beings, we have a very rudimentary understanding of our universe and how it works, and to apply our limited knowledge to the vast expanse of it is presumptuous, at best. For all we know, there is plenty that exists which did not have a "beginning" as we define the term. The fact that we do not understand something, or cannot comprehend something, only means that we don't currently understand it. It does not mean that we should assume a god, or anything supernatural, as a default answer.

But beyond that, this argument really begs the question: If everything must have a beginning, then what was God's beginning? If everything must have been created, then who or what created God? And if the answer to these questions is that God alone doesn't have to have a beginning, then you are special pleading (a logical fallacy) for your own particular belief structure. Why is it acceptable that a god may have always existed, but not possible that the matter of the universe may have always existed?

2. THE ARGUMENT OF DESIRE: "C.S. Lewis revived interest in this one. The main premise is as follows: Everything a human desires has an object in this world. In other words, hunger has food, lust has sex, thirst has water and so on. We have another desire, for we know not what or for a creator, a deity, and thus its object must be God, whom in fact exists."

I don't think that it's fair to categorize the unknown facets of human want into a "want for God." There are different types of human needs and desires, and they include both physical needs (such as food, water, shelter, etc.) and emotional and mental needs (such as love, acceptance, belonging, etc.). Throughout the journey of the human experience, we go through times in which we feel fulfilled in most areas, and times in which we feel unfulfilled. Sometimes, we cannot place why we feel unfulfilled.

But all of this is a byproduct of the human experience. There is so much to see and do, and our daily human interactions leave us in constantly shifting states of fulfillment. None of this means that we're longing for any kind of deity. We may be longing for answers within our personal stories, or justifications and validations for ourselves and those around us, but an all-powerful deity does not have to figure into that mix. This is why atheists go through periods of extreme fulfillment and unfulfillment alike, and religious people (Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, etc.) all go through the same. Nobody is ever 100% fulfilled and happy simply because they are religious, and nobody is ever 100% unfulfilled and unhappy simply because they are nonreligious. We all have ups and downs and various coping strategies.

The idea of a creator that we're seeking after makes sense only if you don't think about it very deeply. After all, any god that is omnipresent, omnipotent, and all-powerful already has a plan in place, which would mean that we are no more than cogs in a machine. Either we truly have free will in this world to carve our own destines, or there is a god who has a plan that has been laid out since day 1. If the latter is true, then nothing we do matters very much ... everything is scripted, anyway. And while the idea of this kind of deity seems comforting on the surface, it's not a reality that I would at all desire.

3. THE ARGUMENT OF WATCHMAKER: "You find a watch washed up on the beach, on a deserted island. Though you know not by who or when, you know this watch has a creator, because it is not a naturally occurring object but rather one assembled deliberately with naturally occurring materials. We are watches, and God is the watchmaker."

This argument fails so heavily that I don't even know where to begin.

Yes, when we see a watch we know that it was created by a watchmaker. When we see a painting, we know that there was a painter. When we see a house, we know that there was a builder. And on, and on.

But why do we know that these things have a creator? It's not because of any special attributes that magically spell out "creator." It's because we have a basis through which to gauge things that are created: a comparison to that which is not created.

We know which things happen naturally and which things don't. Watches, paintings, and buildings all arise from parts of nature, which human beings put together to create something new. No watchmaker simply created watch parts. No painter simply snapped her fingers and created paints or canvases. And so on. They used tools which already existed in order to create something new, and thus I'm not sure why an analogy to a divine creator that magically snapped everything into existence holds any water. Perhaps this one goes back to my first refutation here.

Again, if everything was created, we would have no basis in which to know what was created and what was not. But we do happen to understand the process of differentiating between created and non-created materials because we know, instinctively, what is not created, but occurs naturally.

And, again ... if everything was created, then where did God come from? Don't go special pleading on me.

4. NDE (Near Death Experiences): "Many people, whose brains are proven to be effectively dead - far more "off" than when you're passed out or asleep - claim they experience similar phenomenon, and often know things that transpired in other buildings or that they couldn't possibly have known beforehand. These are called NDEs or Near Death Experiences and many believe they prove God and Heaven's existence."

The brain is an interesting thing. As such, there have been a number of scientific explanations of near-death experiences, some of which are outlined here.

But beyond this, I'll also point out that scientists have tried to document studies of near death experiences and out of body experiences multiple times. But whenever anyone is placed within a controlled environment, nothing seems to happen. Evidence for near death experiences is dubious.

Further, people's claims about near-death experiences are not universal. We're used to hearing about the bright light and such, but around the world people's experiences tend to mimic what they've been socialized to believe about the afterlife. Here in the west, people claim to see loved ones who have passed, and some Christians claim to have visited heaven or hell. But in other parts of the world, near death experiences can include glimpses of past lives, or any number of other things. Again, experiences that take place in the brain tend to mimic what we've learned as individuals.

Not too long ago, I read Amy Silverstein's memoir about being a heart transplant recipient. In this book, she detailed a number of close calls and even one time when she literally died during a procedure and was brought back. According to current medical knowledge, she was dead for a very short time. And she claims to have experienced nothing. There was no consciousness during this time as her brain had shut down, and she experienced absolutely nothing. Why should her experience as someone who actually died be taken into less consideration than those who claim to have had a near death experience?

5. MIRACLES: "Obviously early history is riddled with miracles, and many detractors point to the lack thereof with the advent of photography and modern journalism however, it is worth noting some serious exceptions including Saint Padre Pio, who passed in the middle of the 20th century, and the miracle of the sun in 1917. Links to both are below: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_Sun; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Padre_Pio"

I don't have much to say on this, except that no "miracle" has ever been documented.

How does one classify a miracle? Is it just something that's highly unlikely? If a person's cancer goes into remission, is that a miracle? If someone gets shot in the head and survives, is that a miracle? Or does it have to be something deemed scientifically and medically impossible? Does a person's lost limb need to grow back? Or, perhaps, does a permanently brain damaged person need to experience full recovery? Because nothing within the latter category has ever happened within documented history. All "miracles" that we know of have scientific explanations.

However, you'd think that if God did exist, there would be plenty s/he could do in terms of miracle workings in the lives of humanity. On close inspection, we don't see that happening.

Further, what does a "miracle" actually say about anything? A person recovering from terminal illness is no more proof of a god than someone dropping dead unexpectedly being proof of no god.

6. THE ARGUMENT OF HISTORY: "Jesus almost certainly existed, even atheist historians don't dispute this, but that's where similarities end. However, many believers rhetorically ask how a single man, killed in his early thirties, could rise from obscurity, preach a philosophy, and literally see that faith adopted by the entire known (at the time) Western world in the course of 100 years. Bear in mind, there was no internet, telegraph or even daily periodical. Obviously, something pretty fantastic happened. It would be akin to a no-one preaching a brand new outlook on life in the United States, being sentenced to death, and posthumously seeing his world view endorsed en masse only a few decades later."

Um ... the above account is probably the same reason why Muhammad is still being followed. And Buddha. And the multitude of other people worshiped and respected around the world, justifiably or not.

Also, it's pretty disputed whether Jesus existed, and certainly disputed whether Jesus-as-portrayed-in-the-Bible existed. Read up on this. There is a huge discrepancy between a man named Jesus having existed, and a man named Jesus who brought people back from the dead, walked on water, and healed blindness having existed. There is zero evidence for the latter (no, the Bible is not evidence, any more than the Koran is evidence that Muhammad disappeared into the heavens on a winged chariot).

It's worth pointing out that there are absolutely no contemporary documentations of Jesus Christ (no, Josephus was not a contemporary, and was likely a forgery). All writings about him were written years and years later, which is highly suspicious. If someone truly healed and cured people the way he did, fed and taught people the way he did, and rose from the damned dead into heaven the way he did, you'd think that there would be plenty of contemporary writings about him. We have found exactly none.

Richard Carrier has written multiple books on the historicity of Jesus, and I recommend them if you'd like to learn more. His extensive research has been based in ancient history, and he makes a compelling case that Jesus as a man may have never even existed.

7. THE ARGUMENT OF INTELLIGENCE: "While it's of course evolutionarily advantageous to be intelligent, our level of intelligence doesn't seem to necessarily make sense. In other words, how is it that humans so rapidly outstripped the other members of the animal kingdom, and is ours a level of smarts that actually has benefits? For instance, while knowing what is and isn't a predator, or how to sew shut your own wounds is helpful, does a brain with room for existential crises and daydreaming really assist your reproduction and survival? Why does capacity for this level of thought exist?"

Why do we even place such a heavy importance on intelligence?

If we were to gauge all the animals on the planet on speed, we'd lose. If we were to gauge on the ability to fly, climb trees, or burrow, we'd lose. If we were to gauge the ability to swim, we'd lose. If we were to gauge the ability to hunt as a predator using only our natural abilities, we'd lose. Head to head against a bear, we'd lose. There are a great many talents and abilities that the animals on this planet claim, and we happen to claim a high level of intelligence. So what?

The writer above commented that our intelligence doesn't seem to have a natural purpose in this world. This writer seems to be under the misunderstanding that evolution has a cause, or an end-game. It doesn't. It doesn't even necessarily serve us well. Evolution happens to cater to whatever genes survive against others. It doesn't matter if this writer cannot see any "natural" benefits to our intelligence; it happens to be a part of our species. I fail to see any proof of god in that.

8. THE ARGUMENT OF TIME AND CONTINGENCY: "Things exist, then they cease to exist. We observe this in nature all day long. However, nothing can come from nothing. Thus, there must be something that has and always will exist. This is God."

This seems to be a rehashing of argument #1. Yes, everything has a natural lifespan. That's not proof of god.

Again, how do we know that "nothing can come from nothing?" We have scientific studies that demonstrate life springing from non-life, albeit simple forms of life. And, once again, you cannot just claim that "nothing can come from nothing," but then plead a special case that god did just that. If you think there is no reasonable justification for the universe to have always existed, then you need to come up with a damn good reason why God could always have existed, and it needs to extend beyond magic.

9. ULTIMATELY, BAD THINGS GET WHAT'S COMING TO THEM: "Gandhi hit on this one, when he said (and I paraphrase) "Whenever I despair, I remember that good ultimately wins out." It's true, while bad things happen every day and very horrible things happen every so often, the perpetrators (ultimately) are brought to justice or see their wrongs for what they are. It may take one or one hundred years, but this observation is proven correct time and time again."

Um, no. This is simply not true. We live in a world in which bad things happen to good people, and bad people get away with murder and beyond. We live in a world in which young children are raped and tortured and killed, and sometimes the perpetrators never face a consequence. We live in a world in which the rich and powerful gain at the expense of the poor and weak, and never have to answer for it. People die every day without justification, and are sometimes never remembered let alone avenged. We live in a world where lives are cut short -- at times, severely short -- because of disease or other elements from the world around us. The idea that there is some kind of natural balance in which everything works out in the end is a pipe dream, and a slightly offensive one.

But that's part of what makes religion so popular -- the idea that the bad will pay, and the good will be rewarded. Never mind the fact that things considered "good" by some are considered "bad" by others. What I'll stick to here is a common Christian belief that throws #9 on its head.

Many Christians, see, believe that all you need is belief in Jesus and you will be rewarded. That is, you'll go to heaven. This means that it doesn't matter what you do or don't do in life. If you're a rapist and murderer who kills themselves -- but believes in the grace of Jesus -- then you're good to go for heaven. If you've lived a good life and helped others, but die without believing in Jesus ... well, you're doomed for hell. This is based on a presumption that the most basic "sins" (as they call these slices of humanity) such as lying and lust are the exact same level of evil as murder, rape, and torture. So it doesn't matter what you do -- all that matters is whether you believe.

For these Christians, at least, #9 is meaningless. The game has nothing to do with whether you are "good" or "bad." It's all about making yourself accept a claim as true.

10. DEATH: "Death is a necessity, and the editing mechanism of Natural Selection, but that refers to possibility of death - not it's inevitability. So is it a God-created denouement to our lives? It seems that humans are programmed to die after no more than, at very most, about 120 years of life. However, by the laws of nature, a species is most fit when it has the best chance of survival and thus reproduction. One would think, after such a rapid intelligence explosion among humans, that we would also extend our lifespans equally as fast. After all, the longer we live, the more children we can have (well, at least in the case of men procreating) and thus the more environmentally "fit" we become. Yet, this doesn't appear to be happening. Is death a God - devised expiration date, forcing us to live as we will before being judged as He/She/It will? Or, is it just a natural phenomenon?"

This premise makes as much sense as asking why we cannot keep produce from rotting, or why we cannot keep bread from growing mold. Our human bodies, like the above examples, are organic and begin to wither away and expire with age.

We have certainly come a long way in terms of food preservation, just as we have also come a long way in terms of extending human lives. Our lifespans are longer now than at many points throughout history. We have a better understanding as to how to take care of ourselves. We can cure or treat diseases that, in years past, were death sentences (I know -- I live with one such disease). We've used our intelligence to preserve multiple things, humans included.

But everything organic does die eventually. The fact that we haven't been able to use our intelligence to grant ourselves immortality is certainly not evidence of any gods.

In conclusion, many arguments for god's existence rely on application of our own limited understanding of the world (and the universe) to everything. Many people believe that because we don't understand something, the supernatural must be a default answer. Because a specific person cannot think of "anything coming from nothing," the idea of a supernatural creator must, therefore, be plausible. But keep in mind that humans have thought this way since the beginning of documented time. Throughout the years, we have begun to understand more of the world around us, and the need for god explanations has begun to wither. Even though there is still much we don't understand, is it so illogical to assume that there are perfectly natural answers out there to satisfy our deepest questions, just as we've been experiencing with ancient questions in recent years? My consensus is that this premise is far less illogical than a reliance on the supernatural.

On Atheism and Death

Throughout the last year of my life, I have experienced a few heartbreaking losses: my mother passed away last June, and I lost a beloved cat last Sunday evening. Both of them died rather young, my mother being 57 and Nero, my kitty, being only 2. Both deaths were sudden and shocking sacks of bricks that knocked me unexpectedly into the icy cold pool that is the reality of the biological life cycle.

So, naturally, both deaths created in me a pensive contemplation about the very idea of death.

As an atheist, you see, death is a permanent experience, which invites some not-so-subtle indications. Namely, being an atheist makes it impossible to ignore the "big" question: how do you cope with death?

After my mom died, my aunt asked me where I thought my mom was now. My answer, of course, is that I don't think my mom "is" anywhere. I think that she died, and, like other biological organisms who die, no longer exists. This thought is incomprehensible to many people -- how could I believe that my mom is really gone forever? How do I cope without the belief that I'll see her again someday in a glorified version of her former self? I understand that dealing with death is difficult no matter what you happen to believe in ... but I also realize that one coping mechanism among the religious is the notion that a person is not really gone forever.

It's not that I don't understand these sentiments. I get it, on some level. After my son found out that Nero wasn't going to make it last Sunday, he curled into a ball on the floor and called out our cat's name again and again. And after we'd said goodbye to our kitty and stepped out of the room, he collapsed again and cried out, "Why, why?" Again and again. There was a part of me that wanted to tell him that Nero was going to a better place. That he'd be free of pain and happy again, playing with other spirit kitties for the rest of eternity. A part of me wanted to tell him that he'd see Nero again. Someday.

But the simple fact of the matter is that I don't believe any of that. I don't believe that Nero's spirit is happy and free and waiting for us in heaven. I believe that Nero's body stopped working and that he died, and that he therefore no longer exists outside of our wonderful memories of him. And the same thing goes for my mom.

Let me explain something about my atheism. There are some interesting hypotheses that the religious have developed about us atheists as to why we embrace the worldviews that we do. But let me set the record straight by saying that I am not an atheist because it's hip. I'm not an atheist because I hate god. I'm not an atheist because I want to "sin" all the time and not be held accountable. I'm not an atheist because I'm closed-minded.

I am an atheist because I have explored and studied the idea of deities and religion, and all claims that I've come across do not stand up to scrutiny and evidence any more than other fantastical claims, such as Bigfoot or garden fairies, do. I happen to care very much about whether what I believe is true (and I care very much that my son grows up to be a critical thinker, whatever he winds up believing in a religious sense), and I therefore hold extraordinary claims up to an extraordinary burden of proof. I don't believe in gods for the same reason that I don't believe in garden fairies. There simply isn't enough evidence to justify it. (If you disagree, then good for you -- I'm not trying to demean you, but am simply explaining my feelings through my own experience.)

So, when I was sitting in that veterinary clinic with Brendan, I pondered what was truly important: the truths I hold about the world, or the easiest way to comfort my son. And I held, as I always do, that the former is more important. I did not tell Brendan that Nero was in a better place, or that we'd play with him again someday. Instead, I hugged him very tightly and told him to cry as much as he needed to. I told him that I knew how much it hurt, and that he needed to feel and acknowledge that hurt until, eventually, the flow of time would dull it.

I did very much the same thing when my mom, his "Nana," died last summer. But the question remains for many people, both theists and atheists alike -- how do you get over a death?

I've spent a great deal of time thinking about this very question. I've come to the conclusion that we don't ever "get over it." We move on, but there are parts of us that are forever marked by the deaths of loved ones. We are changed, both positively and negatively, by those who touch our lives and then leave us forever. All of us mourn the passing of others from our lives ... but atheists do not have the luxury of dulling that pain by telling ourselves that we'll see those people again. For us, death is a very permanent part of life. With this, we are also faced with the unsettling reality of our own nonexistence sometime in the not-so-distant future. I know. These thoughts, at first, seem unbearable. I know.

And for a while, it is unbearable. I'm not going to deny that. The reality of never seeing someone again is hard. At first, memories sting with pain because all they do is remind you that those good times, along with that unique person you loved so much for all their uniqueness, are gone forever. If you happened to be on bad terms with a loved one when they died, you are faced with the paralyzing reality that you will never, ever, have a chance to make it right again. You begin to notice TV shows that you'll never watch with that person again, songs you'll never listen to with that person again, and inside jokes that will never be shared between you again. Not now, not in heaven. Not ever. Believe me, at first this can be absolutely devastating.

But here's what it comes down to: although accepting the finality of death can be excruciatingly painful, it also makes the recognition of life exceedingly beautiful. No, we atheists do not comfort ourselves with thoughts of seeing our loved ones after we die, but through this we realize the importance of being with our loved ones before any of us dies. We recognize that we don't get a second chance with anybody. And when you don't have eternity to "get it right," the urgency for love, fulfillment, and connection in this life becomes very real. The importance of not letting minutes, hours, days, or even years slip by because of petty differences, because we cannot make anything right after death, is very real. And when we do lose those we love, we are forced to put this worldview that much more into perspective.

So, no, I do not believe that my mom is looking down on me from heaven. I don't think that Nero is happy up in kitty heaven. And I'm okay with that. Because I know that they both had such a profound impact on me and how I will forever view my future relationships, I can let go of them while still holding onto their memories.

It isn't easy. But life isn't easy. It is, however, profound and amazing ... particularly for me once I realized that the sometimes numbing sentiments of permanent loss eventually serve to illuminate the joys of life while we do have them.

This post is, of course, dedicated to Mom and Nero, and all of the ways in which they both touched my life.

Urban Exploring

I don't think I've ever actually considered doing something illegal simply for the sake of travel, art, and the wonder of the human experience. However, I have recently added an illegal activity to my proverbial bucket list for precisely those reasons: urban exploring, particularly in the area of abandoned theme parks.

I didn't know these actually existed until quite recently. But there are apparently quite a few theme parks in the world that still stand, but have been abandoned to the elements. They haven't been torn down or relocated ... they simply exist in a haunting shadow of former glory, slowly being reclaimed by nature. Nara Dreamland in Japan is one such theme park; a Disneyland ripoff, it closed in 2006 but has not been demolished. Six Flags New Orleans is another one; after Hurricane Katrina, this Six Flags was damaged beyond repair, but its skeletal remains still grace Louisiana. These places seriously exist all over the world. And I have decided that I must visit them because they are haunting and beautiful and the sheer epitome of the human realization that, as time moves forward, all things are left behind -- even us and our wonderful creations.

I am honestly excited about this. I want to wander and take photographs and sit and think and write and experience. But here's the problem: stepping foot into one of these places is considered trespassing, and is highly illegal. People have gotten arrested for participating in urban exploring, and so I'm not quite sure how I'm going to pull this off. Much research and preparation will be necessary, I'm sure. But before I leap too far into that aspect of my proposed journey, let me share more details about these places I want so badly to visit, courtesy of images from explorers who have already ventured out.

The first place I want to go is Six Flags New Orleans. I mean, honestly, do we really need much of a reason to visit New Orleans? It's jazz and the bayou; it's amazing food and drink; it's vampire culture and voodoo folklore; it's the historical South at its absolute best and worst. And it has an abandoned theme park.

Like I said before, Hurricane Katrina destroyed this place years ago. It was covered in water, and when said water retreated everything was left in rusty disrepair. The photographs already taken of this place are truly some of the most haunting images I've seen of an abandoned theme park. The cost of fixing everything up would have been too much for Six Flags ... but, the thing is, it was also going to cost them too much to take everything down (due to the lease they had on the land). So their cheapest, most viable option was to leave it alone. This is my first choice of abandoned places to visit, by far. It has so much potential.

I also previously mentioned Nara Dreamland. Again, it was a Disneyland ripoff built in Japan in 1961 as a response to Walt Disney's success in California. It has all of the token visual representations of Disneyland, including the pink fairy tale castle and the Matterhorn mountain. But, unlike Disneyland, it did not experience immense success, and ultimately closed its doors in 2006. Much like what happened with Six Flags in New Orleans, those who owned the park didn't think that the time and money it would take to remove the park was worth investing in, and so it was simply abandoned.

Photos reveal that you can still climb the hills of the roller coaster, and the queue areas are completely overgrown with moss and plant life. The once-beautiful fountains are now exposed and decrepit, and its "Main Street" looks like a scene right out of the next zombie film to hit theaters.

I'm not opposed to traveling to Japan to see it, though, obviously, that will be farther in the future than New Orleans.

Honestly, I'd like to try my hand at urban exploring at various places around the world ... Who knows, I may even be crazy enough to venture into Chernobyl one day. Not that I necessarily want to make a habit out of illegally entering premises, but I do think that abandoned places, like ghost towns, carry so much potential for human reflection and discovery. It could be fun. So ... who's game? :)