Mass Literacy Can Be Lost in a Generation

I can’t remember a time I didn’t know how to read English. That makes it easy for me to take reading for granted. Learning to read Chinese as an adult helps me appreciate the process of becoming literacy… but it’s not the same. I already had the ‘neurological wiring’ for literacy before I learned Chinese.

I tutor a child in reading. Getting someone from ‘illiterate’ to ‘literate’ requires a ton of steps. English requires more steps to literacy than most European languages with our irregular spelling system.

Recently, I skimmed Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Deheane. Much of it made sense given my experiences. It details the neuroscience (as of 2009, I’m sure it’s dated) of reading. It gets complicated. Humans didn’t evolve to read text, so the brain has to repurpose visual processing ability to read. We have ‘shortcuts’ for recognizing certain shapes, such as a curve which marks something as a hill, or a line which marks a horizon. By recognizing specific types of lines, we can identify certain things in our natural environment faster. The lines we can use for rapid identification are the same types of lines used in every writing system. Without that specific visual-processing ability, reading would be impossible.

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Black & White Morality Blended with Cynicism: The Downfall of Abortion Rights in the United States

I’ve tried to understand the anti-abortion perspective in the United States, particularly the thinking behind ‘crisis pregnancy centers.’ Even in California, I’ve stumbled upon two (in small towns) without making any attempt to find them.

This is an excellent description of American grassroots anti-abortion activists:

For many of these women, supporting the Right to Life movement had become a means of defining and expressing their femininity. Giving to the baby center reinforced their beliefs and allowed them to put their faith into action. Acting on their beliefs demonstrated to others their love, generosity and kindness. Actively opposing abortion could not be separated from their sense of self as loving Christian women.

I came to realize that these true believers were embracing Christian values by giving to others, loving babies and publicly opposing what they saw as sin. Volunteering at the center enhanced their social standing in their church community. It was a public declaration of faith and was the quintessential statement of self-worth. It was ladylike and appropriate. How could I suggest anything to the contrary that might challenge or endanger that?

– Kathleen A. Coakley, Huffpost

Yes, the woman who wrote that supports abortion rights, but it’s consistent with what I’ve read on anti-abortion websites (no, I don’t want to link them).

The True Believers have a binary mindset in which babies are Good and abortionists are Evil. This makes it easy to decide what to do, figure out who are your allies and enemies, and feel like a hero in a Hollywood movie. It justifies lying to pregnant people about their options. It justifies bullying pregnant people. It justifies murdering abortion providers.

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If Nothing Bad Happened, How Can I Say My Childhood Wasn’t Happy?

I heard Rosendale’s newest song, “Just a Kid,” about how he wants to be a kid forever and I realized… I don’t want that.

Childhood wasn’t a happy time for me. Nor was it an unhappy time. It wasn’t about any external events which happened in my childhood—I was more fortunate than many, perhaps most children, in the circumstances I was born into. It was more about the internal experiences. (And yes, there were times when I felt happy as a kid, that’s just not the dominant mood when I recall my childhood).

One of my oldest memories is about trying to reach the sink and failing because I was too short. It was so awful that I do what I wanted. No authority figure stopped me from reaching that sink—I just lacked the ability. That’s what my childhood memories feel like—an inability to reach for my goals.

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“Are angles real”: Dealing with Sentimental Items

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up recommends putting all sentimental items together, and to deal with them as the very last category.

I am following that principle in my own way.

First of all, I disposed of quite a few sentimental items in my pre-KonMari sweeps because, as soon as I handled them, I knew I did not want to deal with them any more. Why fill up my sentimental item box with stuff I already wanted out of my life?

There were also quite a few sentimental items which I figured I probably would end up not keeping BUT I wanted to spend some time with them before I let them go, and spending time pondering sentimental items slows down the whole process. Thus, they went to sentimental items box.

I’ve reached the point where I’ve found almost every sentimental item I am going to find, so the number of items in the sentimental item box is no longer increasing. Considering how many ‘I know I want to let go but I want to spend some time on them first’ items there are in there, I dreaded the prospect of doing a clear-the-sentimental items marathon. Thus, even though I’m not finished with komono (i.e. the stuff that does not fit in any of the other categories) I’ve started the habit of pulling a few things out of the sentimental items box every day. That way, I can give myself as much time as I want to ponder them rather than rushing through them. Also, this way I do not get fatigued with going down memory lane – as soon as I’m tired of thinking about them, I put them away. When I am ready to let go of an item, I do so in the most appropriate way (usually via the recycling bin) and if I do not want to let go, even after I’ve had time to study and ponder the item, I either assign it a new home and move it there, or I put it back in the sentimental items box. Continue reading

My Dream Is to Fill the House

When my mother was a relatively young single woman, she bought a seven bedroom house in San Francisco. Given that she could not pay for the whole house upfront and therefore had taken out a mortgage, and that the money she made from her job was not sufficient for the mortgage payments, there was only way that this could make financial sense – rent out the extra space to tenants. Thus my mother’s career as a small-time landlady began.

It’s a career, I should point out, that she thouroughly hates. There are some cool moments which come out of being a small-time, living-on-the-premise landlady … but the cool moments are far, far outnumbered by the really bad moments (for example, the time that a tenant almost set the house on fire). She’s in a financially better position now then when she bought the house, so she can afford to be a bit more lax – she has fewer tenants than she did before, and fewer tenants = less stress. Nonetheless, she looks forward to the day when she can quit landladying for good. One way to quit would be to sell the house … but she doesn’t want to leave. The other way to quit would be for her to pass all of the responsibilities onto somebody else … moi.

The thing is, I don’t really want to be a landlady either. I’ve seen what it’s done to my mother, and while it definitely has some perks (such as excellent job security), I would rather … do something I don’t hate.

Instead, I see the house as an opportunity to form the tight, loving family that I dream of.

My mother has already partially filled the house with loved ones. My father now lives there too, and while he technically is a tenant (they have a contract, he pays rent every month), it’s a far more loving relationship than what my mother has had with any other tenant. And then my mother had me (though I don’t live in the house right now, and my room is now empty – something that my mother would not have let happen when she first bought the house).

When I return to San Francisco, I would like to finish filling the house with loved ones. With my parents and myself, there are four remaining bedrooms to be filled with loved ones (and even more people can come if the bigger bedrooms are shared). Ideally, I would like one of those people to be my own child, and the rest to be my friends/partners/etc. I know my parents would also be interested in getting another relative to move in, which I would like very much too. I’ve never been interested in forming a nuclear family, but to be able to live with about six people who I love would make me extremely happy.


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I Don’t Want to Be in a Couple

Recently, I’ve read a bit about ‘couple privilege’, specifically in the context of polyamory, but it definitely exists in society at large too.

This has set off a lightbulb in my head.

I don’t want to be in a couple.

I don’t completely reject the relationship escalator, but I want to be able to hop on an off at will, skip the steps I am not interested in, and be able to stay at a step as long as I want, or even go backwards.

I always known that I wasn’t interested in marriage, but my interest in joining any kind of couple has always been, at the very most, mild. And right now, I would strongly prefer never to be in a couple.

That isn’t to say I don’t want close, intimate relationships – I definitely do! – but I don’t to have one primary partner. While I’ll always prioritize some relationships over others, I want some fluidity in how those priorities evolve, and I feel entering the ‘couple’ mold would interfere with that.

But I think what rankles me most about being in a ‘couple’ is that I want to be perceived as a complete person on my own, not seen as completing/being completed by ‘my other half’. I am okay with being perceived as a part of a group, such as a club, or my family, etc.

This is why, in my ideal family structure, I would have two intimate partners, not just one. Maybe I’m lucky to be on the ace spectrum – I think I am more likely to form satisfying non-coupled close intimate relationships in the ace community than in society at large.

The big snag I see ahead is parenting. I am interested in, eventually, having a biological child, and I want to have a personal relationship with my biological co-parent. Yet having a biological child together is one of the most couple-ish things people can do, at least according to society at large. My parents are perceived as a couple primarily because they raised a child together (if they were not co-parents, they would seem much less like a couple). I don’t want to be in a ‘couple’ with my co-parent. Yet it seems that between having a child with a stranger (via sperm donation, for example), and forming a ‘couple’ with the co-parent, society does not offer much intermediate space. This is why sometimes I think it might be best to co-parent with a queer man in a primary relationship with someone who cannot get pregnant (most likely another queer man) – since he would already be in a couple, he wouldn’t want to get in a couple with me, and since a) they would be queer and b) his partner is not capable of being pregnant, I think it would be much easier to engineer a set of relationships which would be satisfying to all parties.

*sigh* This is complicated.


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Finding That Co-Parent…

When I found out that the theme for this month’s Carnival of Aces is “Dating and Significant Others”, at first I thought “but I have no experience whatsoever with dating, and I have little interest in dating or getting a romantic partner” (at most, I would be interested in spontaneous non-sexual romantic one-night stands).

Then I realized … I have written about this before.

If ‘significant other’ means ‘someone with whom I have a committed, intimate, romantic relationship’ then I am not too interested. But I am interested in ‘partnership’. Which is how my parents define their own relationship.

I like the idea of partnership more than the idea of having a ‘significant other’ because it seems a lot more flexible, which makes me think this kind of relationship would do a much better job of satisfying my social needs.

In fact, I want different kinds of partners. However, the partner that I want which I think I’ll have the hardest time finding is a ‘co-parent’.

In spite of everything, I would still like to have a child (in the future, not right now). And I would like my child to have a close relationship with hir biological father. What I want in this co-parent is, at a minimum:

– someone who would actually be a good parent (willing to actually take responsibility for the child, minimal competence in dealing with children, etc.)
– someone who would not require me to be a reliable romantic or sexual partner (I am open to compromise on this to some degree, but I think expecting me to satisfy all of the romantic or sexual needs of a sexual and/or romantic person would be unrealistic – this is why I think poly is an option to consider)
– someone who respects me (love is not required, respect is)
– someone who I like (again, I don’t think I need to ‘love’ this person, but since we would have to spend a lot of time together, I think I need to like this person)
– someone who actually wants to be a parent

The above criteria (well, mostly #2) go against the social norms of every society I have lived within. On the one hand, having to build such a relationship from scratch will make things harder than if I followed conventional formulas. On the other hand, I think I am much more likely to build a good relationship by making such an investment.

I don’t expect to find an asexual/aromantic co-parent because the population is so small. At the same time, I am daunted by the prospect of working this out with a sexual/romantic person because I would almost certainly have to teach asex 101, and since most people who make sperm are cis-male, I’d also have to deal with a lot of sexist/patriarchal baggage to boot.

This would be a lot of work. But probably still less work than raising a child.

At least I have a clear idea of what I’m looking for, which means I’ve already taken the first step.

Why We Blame the Parents

My mother tried to raise me bilingual.

I only started talking when I was 4-5 years old (my father jokes that I learned how to read before I learned how to speak, which might be true if by ‘read’ you mean ‘recognizes the 26 letters of the alphabet’).

My mother blamed herself, thinking that by trying to raise me bilingual she ‘confused’ me.

Many years later, I actually researched the matter. It turns out there is no evidence of a correlation, let alone a causal relationship between a bilingual upbringing and speech delay. It was just a coincidence.

Now, some people – very subtly – blame my mother for not raising me bilingual. Because if a child can’t do something, or has any kind of problem, it’s obviously the mother’s fault.

First of all, it’s worth noting that mothers get more blame than fathers in these matters. Mothers are supposed to single-handedly bring up perfect kids, whereas fathers are only expected to provide material needs and play with their kids once in a while. Well, my anecdotal evidence indicates that my father was much more involved in my upbringing than the majority of fathers in the United States, so if someone wants to criticize my upbringing, they ought to put as much blame on him as my mother (then again, I think it’s also fair to criticize fathers who choose to take less responsibility for their children, since they are, you know, choosing to take less responsibility).

But I think one reason why people blame parents so much for the outcomes for their children is that the idea that parents have near-absolute control over the outcomes of their children is less scary than the alternative. The alternative, of course, is that much of life is subjected to random chance, and that there might be no to stop the horrible things that bad luck might send one’s way.

I think, even to my mother, it might have been more comforting for her to believe that it was her fault that I had a speech delay than that to believe there was nothing she could have done to prevent it. While self-blame hurts, it still lets one believe one actually has power and agency.

(Actually, the situation with my speech delay was more complicated than I’m making it out to be … but I’m trying to make a point about blaming parents, not give the most accurate impression of what happened with my speech delay).

Sure, parents sometimes really are to blame – in cases of neglect and abuse. But without evidence of neglect or abuse, I don’t think people should assume that it’s the parents’ fault if something ‘wrong’ happens with a child. And the evidence indicates that parents have less power over how their children turn out than most people think they do.

The Lingering Stigma of Birth Out of Wedlock

This is a continuation of some of the thoughts expressed in “Birth Out of Mainstream”.

The stigma against *being* a child born out of wedlock in the United States has been erased by a great degree (though, based on my understanding of history and various societies, it is rare for a society to attach such a great stigma to birth-out-of-wedlock as was put on children out of wedlock in the United States from about, say, 1900-1965).

I, personally, have never experienced direct oppression as someone who was born out of wedlock. Then again, it might be because most people who encounter me don’t know that I was born out of wedlock. It’s not like I go around with a sign saying that my parents were never married.

Yet I still see traces of this stigma lying around.

People still often use the number of births out of wedlock as a sign of the health of a society, with more births out of wedlock being a bad sign. For example, the book How Cities Work classifies ‘illegitimacy’ as a ‘indicator of social disease’. Well, as someone who actually was born to never-married parents, I don’t get how it reflects on society in a negative way. Sure, changing rates of children born to married couples vs. children born in other arrangements indicates social change, but without a deeper analysis, I think it can only be considered a neutral change.

And let’s look at that word – ‘illegitimacy’. Sure, under some legal and social structures, children born out of wedlock have fewer rights and privileges than children born to married couples. While such legal discrimination is wrong, under such a system, the ‘illegitimate’ label would be accurate in a very narrow sense. However, the United States currently does not practice such legal, or even social, discrimination. How, exactly, are children born out of wedlock less ‘legitimate’ than children born to married parents?

And I do think some of the lingering vestiges of the stigma attached to birth out of wedlock are intertwined with classism and racism. If marriage was something primarily practised by poor black people, and most middle-class white people had kids without ever getting married, I think the stigma would be placed on birth in wedlock, not birth out of wedlock.

I think that the black people I’ve encountered generally have the most sensible views on birth out of wedlock precisely because they have encountered it more in practice. Even if they themselves were born in wedlock, they are more likely to know people born out of wedlock … and to know that, actually, it’s not really that bad. Sure, it’s correlated with poverty, minority-based oppression, and so forth … but the problem is the poverty and the minority-based oppression, not the birth-out-of-wedlock itself.

Language Learning and Perpetual Childhood

When people ask me why I’m learning Chinese, I usually offer superficial answers. I think I have never answered by explaining my deepest, truest reason – I want to grow up again. I want to grow up into a different person, using a different language.

This article in the Economist notes that being a foreigner (by choice) is a bit like returning to childhood – the world is new and fresh. This is true.

It has also been noted that when one takes up a new language, it’s like becoming a child again – not knowing how to speak or read, not being able to articulate mature thoughts, having to listen the adults/native-speakers/teachers tell you about what you did wrong. This is also true. However, in language learning circles I have usually seen this expressed as a frustration “Ahhh! I’m like a child again, I’ll never grow up, gahh!” I, on the other hand, think that this is part of why I find language learning so rewarding.

I have been able to articulate and decipher complex thoughts in the English language for a long, long time. The language is no longer fresh to me. Well, sometimes English feels just a little fresh to me when I’m with people learning English. To them, English is still a new way of expressing thoughts, and the feeling rubs off on me.

My own ‘real’ childhood was a mixed bag. There were times when I was happy, but there were also times I was very unhappy. Some of that unhappiness came from my lack of power over life. My ‘current’ childhood is much happier. I have a lot more freedom, and I am much more in control. Even learning Chinese is going much more smoothly than when I learned English (then again, I have expressive language disorder, which made learning how to speak English a bit tougher for me than most native speakers).

Sure, I didn’t particularly like being a beginner in Chinese – I actually do not find basic Chinese that interesting, and not being able to read a simple street sign is quite frustrating. But once my Chinese got to an intermediate level, I appreciated more and more of the language’s subtleties, and could start to feel a sense of wonder about it. And discovering Chinese language novels – particularly the wuxia genre – has brought back the feelings I had when I first discovered English language novels – particularly the fantasy genre. I’ve written a bit about this in my posts about Passionate Wastrel, Infatuated Hero.

Eventually, if I keep studying and praticing Chinese, I’ll grow up an function in the language like an educated adult. Then there are the other languages in the world … I could keep returning to childhood for centuries. Obviously, since I don’t have centuries, I have to be picky. Maybe I’ll find another way to return to childhood.

However I do it, I do intend to keep returning to childhood for as long as I live.