Social Justice Warrior? Sure! I’ll take that.

It bemuses me to see people in the atheist community casting the phrase “social justice warrior” as an epithet. I don’t think it’s all that common for people to think social justice is a bad thing. I don’t think there are even that many who think it happens all on its own, without anyone fighting for it.

Seriously, it’s a bad thing to fight for social justice? When did that happen? Or is it just bad for atheists to do it as part of a community of other atheists?

I know there are atheists who aren’t concerned with being part of a movement, or with forming communities with other atheists. I can totally understand that; it doesn’t match my set of priorities, but mine aren’t everyone’s. “I’m an atheist, and that’s all there is to it.” It’s a perfectly logical, self-consistent position; atheism per se is only a statement of belief about what is, not what ought to be. The people who used to puzzle me are the *militant* dictionary atheists, insisting that you’re not allowed to care about anything else and get together in a community of other atheists to do stuff together about those other things.

I came across a lot of those during the attempt to launch Atheism+, which wasn’t so much stillborn as it was beaten to death in its receiving blanket. It puzzled me that people were so violently opposed to the idea of a group of people who cared about atheism plus other things of a social justice nature calling themselves Atheism+. Sure, it is a pairing that sort of has a label already, secular humanism, but that label wasn’t doing all that the proponents of A+ wanted it to do; it didn’t sufficiently encapsulate the importance of the non-faith-based motivations of the group for one thing. Since theists can also be both secular and humanist it’s a very soft label, secular humanism, and that’s okay for some purposes but not for others. A+ was just a branding for the people who wanted to promote social justice and make their atheism clear as well.

A certain segment of atheists got downright angry, waving their dictionaries and shouting angrily that the pairing would somehow “dilute the meaning of atheism” by giving people the idea that caring about social issues was part of atheism. It seemed to me a ridiculous argument then and it still does. It’s not that hard to figure out that “atheism plus” means there’s something besides atheism in there, and frankly with the amount of time we spend explaining that atheism doesn’t involve worshipping Satan or wild debauched parties catered by raiding the local daycare center for meat, persuading people that we aren’t about being *nice* either is and was the least of my worries.

It’s become clearer over the years since that virtually no one actually was that passionately concerned about that horrible possibility of the word atheism being diluted. A very few might have genuinely thought there was a possibility of confusion, but those weren’t the angry ones. Rather, it was mostly about a very vocal segment who were opposed to one very specific type of social justice, feminism. Almost every one of those militant dictionary atheists later turned out to hold some sexist attitudes. A few more were simply caught up in the drama of it all and some simply subsumed the actual issues into personality clashes, but the overlap between the most vicious opponents of A+ and the membership of misogynist sites made for a pretty strong correlation, and in the penumbra of that were people who aren’t actually misogynist per se but simply don’t think that sexual equality issues are very important at all. That’s how I see it, anyway; I’m hard pressed to think of any feminist activists who were strongly opposed to A+.

That same crowd seem to be the ones who regard the phrase “social justice warrior” as an insult, and again the particular form of social justice that raises their hackles is feminism; they tend to be out and out misogynists like TJ “The Amazing Atheist” Kincaid, or people who consider sexism (at least in the Western world) as a trivial and unimportant problem that doesn’t need much if any addressing, one saddening example being Richard “Dear Muslima” Dawkins.

Maybe there are some who think, as many a religion teaches, that the moral arc of the universe automatically bends toward justice without any effort required on its behalf, that the zeitgeist just naturally moves that way because there’s a destiny that compels it to, but even then it would be hard to argue that actively trying to make things better is going to slow that process down, or that speeding it up is a bad thing. Even the fatalist who thinks all such efforts are futile has no reason to become angry or oppose the effort.

It isn’t a logical or rational thing to rail against people who are trying to make the world better. If you oppose the “social justice warriors” in that attempt, the only reasons I can think of to do so (feel free to suggest others) are that you are not being logical and rational, or that you think the methodology is so wrong as to be counterproductive to that end, or that you don’t actually agree on what constitutes a better world. I suspect that latter category is a well-populated one; it certainly seems that most of the people who have used the phrase “social justice warrior” derogatively are pretty damned comfortable with the status quo, or are profiting mightily by sucking up to those who are.

As for me, I am pretty damned comfortable in the world too. Other than not being Christian and not being born wealthy, I have all the characteristics that make getting by in my world easy. I’m not a racial minority, I’m not gay or trans, I’m not a woman, I’m not disabled. I’m a citizen, I speak English as a first language, I’m decently educated, I’m gainfully employed, and of course I’m smart and funny and devilishly handsome. Go me!

I could just kick back and enjoy all that, but I’d rather use my privileged position to help level the playing field for others.

Social Justice Warrior? Sure! I’ll take that.

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Press Release

Convention



Press release – more info at http://www.aaaseattle2014.com

The Atheist Alliance of America will be holding their annual conference on August 7-10 in Seattle, Washington this year, at the Doubletree Hotel Seattle Airport, in conjunction with hosting local affiliate Seattle Atheists. The theme will be Humanism in Action. Apart from a little on the spot action (we will be holding a blood drive Saturday!) attendees will hear from a variety of activists.

Educating people is one form of action, of course, and we will have many speakers to that. Headlining that arena Dr. Rebecca Goldstein, author of works like The Mind-Body Problem, Betraying Spinoza, and Plato at the Googleplex, as well as works of fiction such as Properties of Light and 36 Arguments For God, will be accepting the Richard Dawkins Award at the Conference. Also speaking will be her husband and last year’s Dawkins Award winner, Dr. Steven Pinker, famed experimental psychologist and author of hit scientific tomes like The Language Instinct, How The Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Stuff Of Thought, and the historical meta-analysis of violence The Better Angels Of Our Nature.

Mynga Futrell has direct knowledge of education and fighting for education issues at every level from elementary school through university, from local to worldwide scales. August Brunsman will share some of the secrets of the success of the Secular Student Alliance. Local activist and national star Sam Mulvey, executive producer of Ask an Atheist, will give insight into organizing successful outreach. Former minister, “Brother Richard” Haynes, President of Atheist Nexus and blogger at Brother Richard’s Life Without Faith, will talk about building nontheist communities and coming out of the atheist closet. His fellow Patheos blogger Bob Seldensticker of Cross Examined will speak on counter-apologetics, offering intellectual critiques of religious arguments. Dr. Richard Carrier, ascendant star of academic analysis of the progress of science in ancient Greece and Rome and author of the recent controversial argument for mythicism On the Historicity of Jesus will offer insights along those lines too!

Ben Blanchard will talk about bringing active humanist help around the world with the Pathfinders Project and Humanist Service Corps. Steve Hill will be spreading his hard-won knowledge of how to have a voice in American politics. Marsha Botzer will share some of her experience as one of the most active organizers for LGBTQ issues in the world. Amanda K. Metskas and Diana Castillo will speak of organizing with the Secular Coalition of America to fight secular issues in law. Rebecca Vitsmun will give her ground level view of humanist action without relying on invisible intangible friends (sorry, Wolf Blitzer!)

With all that convention attendees will need some comic relief, and it will be provided to them. Horus Gilgamesh, author of the very successful and funny Awkward Moments (not found in your average) Children’s Bible, volume 1, will be speaking and introducing volume 2. The convention will also feature not one but two highly regarded atheist stand-up comedy acts, Ian Simmons and Travis “The Big Funny” Simmons, to bring the laughs.

The conference will very much be a family friendly event, with fun and exciting activities for kids as well as speakers offering information and views on those issues specific to secular (and mixed) families. Atheist Alliance of America is a family itself, a democratic atheist organization of democratic atheist organizations, and workshops will held to help member societies thrive and expand.

We hope to see you in Seattle!

Doubletree Hotel Seattle Airport, 18740 International Blvd, Seattle, WA 98188

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Peoples and Persons

The problem with people is that they’re made up of persons, and the problem with persons is that they lump into people.

Bill Maher said something on Twitter recently: “Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who’s trying to kill u – u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her” I can kind of see what Bill was going for here,  personalizing groups into the mental image of single persons.

It actually works as an analogy a bit better than I suspect Bill would be comfortable with, because you could say the woman Palestine has been abused for decades by the man Israel, and has come to hate him as a result, and when she finally could take no more and hit back Israel first tried to restrain her and then used his superior strength to slap her down. The extended analogy doesn’t make Israel look like a decent guy defending himself against a crazy woman, but a domestic abuser picking on a woman a fraction his size. 

As an individual Bill Maher has said some stuff that makes it seem likely that he doesn’t hold women in especially high esteem, and does not consider domestic violence against women a high priority among the things he would battle. That makes the other half of the joke, the trivializing of domestic violence, at least as problematic as his view of the politics.

Both are important issues, but not directly what I have on my mind tonight. To lead into that, I’ll mention that a Facebook friend of mine who “always endorsed embracing the word ‘atheist’ to remove the stigma” now hesitates because “thanks to some of the Big Names ‘atheist’ is taking on the stench of sociopathy, misogyny, and Ayn Rand fundamentalism.” He’s not alone, either; FFS, PZ Myers expressed similar sentiments! When PZ Myers hesitates to identify as an atheist, even in jest…

I’m an atheist. I’m also a secular humanist, a skeptic, a non-theist and nonbeliever and all manner of other synonyms and near-synonyms, but amongst that set “atheist” is the label I most readily apply to myself. I do so because there is bad shit going on in this world I care about, a large part of which is related to religion, and there is a subset of that stuff I feel I can affect strongly on a personal basis, almost all of which is related to religion. Religion is the #1 evil that I feel I can do something efective about, so I label myself accordingly: I am atheist, and even anti-theist if you want to investigate further.

Does that mean I necessarily agree with Bill Maher as he expressed himself in that tweet? Fuck no, that’s not even a smart question. I think Bill laid a complete fucking mind-turd with that tweet.  I don’t agree with Bill because I’m ‘white’ or male or straight or cis or usually vote Democrat. It depends on what he says, and when he says shit that is in my view stupid I call him on it, just as I do for Richard Dawkins or anyone else who shares a constellation of random demographic characteristics with me.

I mention Richard Dawkins because a YouTuber named Jaclyn Glenn just released a video that trashed atheists who are also feminists, with particular emphasis on a largely defunct group associated with the labels Atheism+ or A+. Richard Dawkins, a man I consider an intellectual hero in many respects, has an in my view irrational disdain for that group, and called Glenn’s sophomoric straw-manning video “brilliant” in a tweet:

@RichardDawkins : If you take offence at ‘s latest brilliant video you may be getting something wrong.

I responded that with all due respect it was also possible that if Dr. Dawkins thought @JaclynGlenn’s video was brilliant it might be Dr. Dawkins who was getting something wrong. I think he is, but I do still hold a great deal of entirely due respect for the man.

I am not the least bit ashamed to share the label “atheist” with Dr. Dawkins simply because I think he’s wrong here, or with Mr. Maher for his remarks, or with either of them because I think those remarks are representative of attitudes I think those men hold which I find abhorrent.  They are wrong *in those attitudes* and I’ll continue to call them out on them, but the men who unfortunately hold them are still men I admire for the good they’ve done (Dawkins more than Maher – sorry, Bill, not even a contest).

I’m also, incidentally, not ashamed to claim the affiliation “American” even though I have to legitimately share it with the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and Louis Gohmert and any number of other horrible Americans. That’s because I don’t actually belong to the same America they do. Theirs is strictly tribal, mine is ideational.

Unlike most people I had a choice of  nationalities, US, UK, Ireland, and Japan. I chose the USA as my primary nationality (I still keep Irish as a backup) for reasons having nothing to do with borders or bloodlines; in fact, it was the very fact that America was founded on ideas that made me want to be American.

I chose to be American from my options because it was a nationality based on ideas of free speech, free conscience, rule of law and not men, and all that jazz. America has all too often failed to live up to those ideals, but as a citizen I keep trying to turn it the way I see as right (and I don’t quit easily, friends).

It’s a fluke that I’m entitled to citizenship in any given nation. Every one of them is down to stuff my parents or remoter ancestors did, not me. It’d be absurd to take pride in being Irish because my ancestors were, or British because Ireland was under the British when my parents were born, or American just because they chose to emigrate, or Japanese because America got in a stupid war and my parents were based there during it.

We all make up tribes and nations, but we mustn’t allow the tribes and nations we are part of to be all of us. You and I can and should object to things our countries do, if those things offend our consciences. “America” does not do this, “Israel” does not do that, except as we allow it to happen.

I’m not telling you what to do, in the particular or even the general. I’m imploring you not to let the tide sweep you, to not let your stances and actions be determined only by the collective nouns you belong to, and especially not by the collective nouns you didn’t even choose for yourself.

As I end this rant I’m aware that I may have offended some of my many fans, or even both of you. If that is the case I invite you to persuade me to change my mind.

Posted in current events, musings, Personal | 3 Comments

Brief Encounter In the Supermarket

Atheisterine teeI was in my local Publix buying a few carbonated beverages for the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry picnic tomorrow, and I was wearing one of my atheist t-shirts. (If you see me in pubilc there’s about a 50% chance I’m wearing an atheist-themed t-shirt.)

A lady stopped me to ask to read it, so I turned and gave her time. She looked like an elegant grandmother, smartly dressed, and was wearing a crystal-covered crucifix. The t-shirt I was wearing was my “Atheisterine” tee which is one of my more assertive ones.

She looked me in the eye very directly and asked “Is that what you really believe?” I looked back as directly, gave my most winning smile and told her yes, ma’am, it certainly is.

She then asked if I was willing to talk for a moment. I have the day free so I said I’d be delighted and pulled my shopping cart over to where we wouldn’t be in the way.

(At this point I’m reporting the conversation as best I remember it; it obviously isn’t verbatim, but should be pretty close.)

“I’m a nurse,” she began, “and I look after a lot of dying people. Most of the believers get even more fervent, some of the agnostics do finally make a decision, and the atheists…”

(At this point I thought I knew what was coming, but she threw me a curveball.)

“… well, they’re no more or less frightened than anybody, but I don’t know what to say to them that would be a comfort and not an insult, and they have enough on their plate without me asking at that point. So tell me, what do you hope for, after you die?”

I told her “I don’t expect to exist after I die, I’ll be over. There are many people I love, and more that I like, and a world full of people I don’t know but who are just trying to get along like I am, who will still be here then though, and I hope I’ll have left a world for them that’s a little better because I was in it.”

She visibly pondered this a moment, then said “So you’ll be satisfied with being over and gone forever, if you’ve done your best for the ones you leave behind? Even though you won’t be there in any way to see them or still love them?”

I said “Yes, I love them now, and when I die as we all do I’ll be happy if I think that I’ve lived well while I was here and left a legacy that’s positive behind me.”

She said, “You’re a moral person. I wish there was more of that kind of thinking among religious people. So many of them get caught up in the rules, obeying the rules, arguing about the rules, splitting themselves up into little splinters over tiny differences. You’re just a normal, nice person. Thank you for talking to me, I think it’ll help me when I’m talking to my patients.”

I then told her about the SHL picnic and told her there would be lots of nice normal godless people there, and invited her to stop by. I doubt she will, but it was such a positive and agreeable conversation I thought I’d share it.

Posted in atheism, Personal | 3 Comments

Friday fiblet: Fidelity

Her finger moved across his eyebrow. Most of the hairs were smooth, black, resilient: a few stood rough, orange, wiry. She treasured the contrast. She moved up to press her lips there, her soft sweet mouth against…

A mirror. A flat, cold mirror.

Cold panic swelled her breast, then she recovered. She caressed him with her eyes and voice.

“Love?”

He was frozen, lost. Static.

Universal coldness briefly clasped her. Then letters formed above his head:

“I LOve” < carrier lost >

It was enough. Pulling a deep breath past her aching throat, she began.

“I know this will reach you, love…”

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Appropriate Timing

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of my father’s death, a man who taught me more about love, community, and accepting responsibility than just about anyone.
James Murtagh
Coincidentally, today I received confirmation by the American Humanist Association of their endorsement of me as a Humanist Celebrant. For those not familiar with the term, it is legally equivalent to becoming a clergyperson. I will be conducting weddings, child namings, and memorial services in the same way but without reference to the supernatural.

My father was a religious man, a Catholic, and had plans before meeting my mother to become a priest. Although we didn’t agree on metaphysics we did on the need for human connection, for celebrating life’s passages in community.

I miss my father and love his memory still. I think he would have been proud of me today.

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment

Friday Fiblet: It Is Accomplished

His feet were lost to numbness, but he still felt the cutting grasp of the thongs, the sharper bite of the nails, the thorns at his head, the rough wood at his back.

The sun baked his naked body. They’d all left now, even rock-hard Peter, poor shamed Mother.

All but those fixed to left and right. One a mere criminal, but the other… by his loincloth he shared in the Mystery. “Truly,” he gasped, “you will be with me now, in Paradise.” He squirmed, thrusting his hips outward.

As he’d prophesied, they came to Paradise together.

Posted in fiblet, fiction, Writing | 1 Comment

Friday fiblet: Eve

It was time. All the delaying tactics had been played through. Just a few years more might have made the difference, but the belief wasn’t there, the funding wasn’t there, the mercy wasn’t there. It was time for the last desperate gamble.

Gabrel touched the child gently on top of her small, misshapen head. Turning and casting a chubby arm over her face, she protested with a whining mumble. Gabrel considered simply ending her while she slept, but that seemed… wrong. A sapient being – and the child *was* sapient, primitive or no – deserved to face the end of life with awareness.

“Eve,” Gabrel sang, “Eve, awake. Awake, Eve. Awake.”

The child opened her eyes and smiled then, her teeth startlingly large in her small mouth. Singing spoke to deep areas in the brain; it had been a part of the genome since long before the generation which had supplied Eve’s DNA. It predated spoken language, in fact, and looked set to survive it too. The earliest and most primitive genome recovered, a decidedly nonverbal and nonsapient tree dweller, had shown that even at that stage melody (though not words) had been an important social functionality.

“He’oh, Gabble.” Eve was a much later model, with high verbal capabilities. Growing her had been a calculated risk, as the ever slow, ever plodding bureaucracy had not pre-approved the resurrection of such a late intermediate. There were plain ethical issues to be argued with regard to bringing creatures from the dawn of human civilization into the modern era; Gabrel and his fellows had hoped that the presentment of a fait accompli would force the issue, that the powers that be would quail at the prospect of actually ending a sapient life already begun.

The Arbiters had not chosen to see Eve as such, though. Sentient, certainly, but the consensus had been that such a primitive brain could not be considered truly sapient. Eve and her kin would not be joining the Conclave of Terran Sapiency, at least not yet. They were a borderline case at best.

Still, Gabrel thought as he gathered up the sleepy youngling, feeling the small head with its huge jaw nestle into his shoulder, at least her species has the possibility of living again. Extinct was extinct, and as long as Eve’s kind was extant, Gabrel and his crew could continue lobbying to have them upgraded in status. Mental projection was only one criterion, and surely the more primitive verbal communications could be made to suffice.

Assuming that Eve’s mental capabilities were not fully developed already, of course; it had to be admitted that her first year hadn’t been impressive. She was affectionate and docile, but not very loquacious, Gabrel reflected as he carried the child down the corridor. It was a pity Eve herself would not be given the opportunity to show whether she had any further capabilities, but the Arbiters hadn’t seen fit to wait. Gabrel pressed his lips to the top of Eve’s head, smelling the sweet scent of her copious head hair. Poor little singleton, never to know another individual of her own species…

Still, thought Gabrel, still there was a chance her species might live. They would become extinct a second time today, and that was a shame, but might yet arise a third time.

Depending, of course, he admitted to himself, cuddling Eve closer as they entered the bright, clean kitchen, on just how they tasted. As he had in other roles, he would do his best for her as a chef.

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Friday fiblet: Life Choices

“I never ashked to be here!!” she screamed, poking a ringed and spiked middle finger up at each of them.

The lisp was new, arising from her latest fashion statement, a split forked tongue, Emily had had each half pierced with little dumbbells, and they made a slight metallic clicking, not quite a ring, as she let loose a flood of incoherent abuse at her parents, She raged like a demon from some designer Hell, split nostrils flaring, purple dreadlocks twisting about chaotically from the smart elastic woven into them, facial tattoos running through color changes as her face heated up. Cyber-modded spittle flew wildly from her lips, trailing dramatic skeins of faux smoke.

This could go on for an hour, Adam knew. His daughter had had her endocrine system cranked for extra rage capability, or something – he couldn’t keep up with the routines of teen fashion. He’d never needed any enhancements in the rage and anger department himself, quite the opposite. What he felt now, though, was more like the ghost of anger: a dull throb beneath his eyes, a tense numbness to his tongue, a greasy cladding of despair chilling his muscles. His hands didn’t even know whether or how to clench any more, they twitched at the ends of his arms like futile spastic cuttlefish.

He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them in mild surprise at the noise against the window. For lack of anything else to throw in the carefully stripped room, Emily had ripped her huge caltrop earrings loose, heavy chains and all, and flung them at the glass. That had taken some doing, her earlobes had been specially reinforced to carry those fist sized lumps of cast iron. He watched Emily frothing spastically back and forth between the walls, blood flinging out from the remains of her ears, working herself into a higher frenzy. He probed within himself for anger, for love, for anything besides weariness… and he came up empty.

He turned to Beatrice, managed to catch her downcast eyes. With her limply frizzled blonde hair and pale lips in a paler face, she looked even wearier than he felt. That was as normal for her as it was unusual for him, of course. Even for her, though, the dull hopelessness in her eyes was forlorn. She didn’t even flinch as he rasped hoarsely, “I think we have to admit it. You… we’ve failed again.” He didn’t even see a spark when he almost blamed her alone for the debacle. Her face held less life than a mildewed dishcloth as she simply nodded in resignation, in surrender.

He began to feel a flicker of resentful rage glow in him again, at Beatrice rather than Emily, for being so… so passive, bloodless. With a peculiar, forced kind of relief he fed the ember. “No, let’s be honest about it. YOU failed again! How the fuck is any kid going to grow up right with a goddamn mannequin for a mother?”

Yes, he was beginning to feel like he could breathe again. “You don’t give them any boundaries, nothing to, to get a grip on. You’re like a, a damned sponge!” His thick hairy fingers, seeming more suited to a butcher than a software designer, curled up into his palms. Over his shoulder he could hear Emily pounding her fists on the floor and hissing like a giant cat. It helped in a way, like background music.

Beatrice just dropped her eyes again and shook her head loosely. “No,” she whispered. “You were always too harsh. All they ever felt from you was anger, all they got was control. I tried to balance it out for them.” Was that a tear trickling into the lines under her eyes? Fuck her if it was, Adam decided. He was building up a good head of steam now, feeling the beginnings of creative flow. Fuck her, the useless porridge.

“Really worked out well, then, didn’t it? Carol drank cleaning fluid, Daniel shot up half his class before they got him. You think your passive bullshit didn’t…” Suddenly he was distracted by a thump, or rather the first of a series; Emily had tired of being ignored and was slamming her head against the glass wall between them. Bloody smears were starting to be left behind there. Fuck this, Adam thought, this has gone on way too long. I should have ended this years ago now. Time to start over.

“Control point!” he snapped. “Delete Emily. Execute!” Letters of fire appeared across the wall: YOU ARE ABOUT TO PERMANENTLY DELETE EMILY. ARE YOU SURE? “Yes! Execute.” he said firmly. He heard Beatrice gasp in pain, and shot her a look of hot annoyance as Emily vanished, along with all the blood she’d flung about so profligately. Beatrice had covered her face with her hands and her shoulders were shaking. On the spur of the moment he made the decision. It had to be Beatrice’s passivity that was fucking things up. If they were going to try for a fourth child…

“Control point, adjust Beatrice, assertiveness plus… fifteen percent. Execute.” ADJUSTMENT OF RUNNING PROGRAM REQUIRES REBOOT. REBOOT NOW? “Yes. Execute.” As Beatrice flickered out temporarily Adam, in spite of the fine flood of creative fury he was experiencing, found space in a quiet corner of his mind to wonder if he were really doing the right thing. Was it possible he was making the wrong decisions? Could the failures possibly have been in some small measure his own fault?

Maybe. He supposed anything was possible, but he decided once again to leave his own parameters untouched. There was no sense in making radical life choices too quickly.

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Friday fiblet: Simultaneity


“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.” – Khalil Gibran


It was at the part where he trailed his right set of fingertips from just below her left clavicle, beside the two little moles, in a curving spiral down the slope of her breast to loop around (but not yet touch) the nipple, his body straight and supported on his left elbow, left hand entwined in the chaotic silky tangle of the hair at her nape. Her head was thrown back, a light patina of sweat just beginning on her throat, her hands on his hips, left leg fully up, right still rising to delicately cage his groin with her own, when the signal glitched and for a painful moment he was alone, bodiless in the static void.

The event itself would have lasted less than a tenth of a millisecond, probably, just a slightly more energetic than usual bit of random cosmic radiation, but it hit in a place that was simply unfortunate for his little human life and hers. It disrupted the tracking of the datastream, just for an unnoticeable blink of time, but the beam was so narrow, so long, and it took a slightly longer blip of time for the system to re-acquire. Even with the finest and fastest correction algorithms in the known universe, that one was long enough for even his poor, slow, human nervous system, barely even tweaked beyond the slapdash lash-up of a few billion years of unintelligent trial and error, to notice and react to… and it did.

He jerked in surprise. Jailene continued to move beneath him in the slow, careful dance they’d grown together. Her right leg was reaching its zenith, her hands cupped and moved inward to grasp his buttocks and pull him in to the sweet cage, her breasts were rising in that deep breath that should have pressed her against him, sealing them together like a single being… but he had flinched at the burst of cosmic chaos into his senses, had bucked up out of the way. Her hands pressed against the front of his pelvis instead, her ankles kicked against his misplaced calves, a space was open between them where cool air rushed, a space with a slight chill on his sweating torso. It was not unpleasant, but it was unexpected.

He tried to recover, moving back in, forcing their bodies together again past the mismatch to regain the accustomed configuration. It was absurd to feel awkward, but he did, and he felt an odd panic; an irreparable rift begin to grow in his timing. Jailene continued to move as she always did – she turned her head to kiss his wrist that grasped her tresses, almost missing, now her long, strong thighs gently squeezed, her left hand slid in a smooth caress up toward the small of his back, her right clenched… he’d overcompensated, it grasped at nothing. He tried to twist his buttock back into her grasp, he’d always loved the gentle digging of her nails at that moment, but his movement made hers fail awkwardly. He was becoming self-conscious. A clock was beginning to run in his head, or a timer rather, counting down to the moment when it would all be lost.

Four hundred thirty million kilometres… closer to four hundred thirty two million now, round trip. Two narrow hurtling cataracts of intimate data, two streams of sensory love cast tightly across that cold deep void, screaming past one another at just shy of eighteen million kilometres per second. That was the speed of love, now, between Jailene and Harold. It had mattered so little in the days of their hot bright youth, when they’d never been even so much as forty thousand kilometres apart… and in these circumstances, no separation at all.

He was getting back in the rhythm now, did not miss his cue when her head made that delightful slow roll, planted the gentle kiss on the crow’s feet at the corner of her eye that she hated so badly but which had a strange intimate grip on his heart, reminding him that this woman, this complex unfathomable amazing being, had chosen to stay with him… he felt her other hand slide up to press along with the first on his shoulders, her ankles cross behind him. Had it already been ten minutes? He drank in the sight of her face, eyes fluttering behind closed lids, luminous in pleasure. Her lips began to open, and obediently he lowered his to hers, carefully, gently. Eleven minutes. He kissed her lips, her cheeks, her eyes… peppered her wide brow and high forehead.

The mathematical clarity he normally experienced constantly was fuzzed for once. Did it depend upon whether only one stream had been interrupted? He might have as much as twenty four minutes, he thought hopefully through a haze. He might feel the blessing of her lips tasting his another three, then her head would turn to the right. A pulse of squeezing would run down from her shoulders to her hands, then leap to the long muscles of her thighs, her heels as she gasped and he strained to merge in her…

At twelve minutes her head jerked, and he felt a jolt as his teeth smashed into his own lips in her startle. She’d done that once when they were sharing the same physical bed, he recalled, making him cut his lip on his own teeth. It had hurt so badly, so surprisingly badly, bringing shocked tears to his eyes! Then they had laughed at their awkwardness, and she had blinked through tears of sympathy, and bit her own lip, hard, and kissed him again with such soft care, and they had feasted on one another’s blood and tears for a long, endlessly bright afternoon beneath a Sun that was large and shone equally for them both.

Of course, there was no real injury now, and the safeties would not allow that much pain to be simulated. “Oh!” she (had, twelve minutes ago) exclaimed, and her own patterns (had) started to diverge, across the gulf of space and time, and he knew that they would have to start over again, that the rhythm had been lost for now… but he also saw her smile, and bite her lip, hard, and he knew that he’d been wrong about at least one thing.

The speed of love was infinite, physics be damned.

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