Friday, November 25, 2005

Who Will Be My Friend?

When I was small, I had a book called Who Will Be My Friend?. It was, predictably, a story of a kid going to kindergarten who was scared about his first day and his mother described for him all of the wonderful things that he would do there. I can still picture the play dough cookie that he made with a bite out of it that looked like a crescent moon. I assume that at some point the mother assured the boy that there would be plenty of kids that would be his friend and, in the end, he found at least one.

This book has been a bit of a touchstone in my life. I've always felt so much better when I've known what to expect ahead of time. When I was in the third grade, I remember freaking out about going to camp, crying in the dark of my room before I went to bed. My mom came in, held me while sitting in my chair with the lights still off and described some of the things I would do. I also wanted to know who would be my friend then. Oddly, camp that year is one of the few experiences of my childhood where I ended up in a "popular" group, simply because of the way our cabin assignments worked out.

My first semester at college was extremely tough because it seemed like everyone made their best-friend-forever in the first weekend and since I don't make friends very quickly (I'm pretty bossy and sarcastic and it takes people awhile to decide if they like me, plus I'm a little judgmental and have to wait until time overcomes my first impressions of people, which are not
usually generous, much to my shame), I missed that opportunity to pair up. By then, there was no room in all those couples for a third. Meals were especially hard because for some reason I had a huge block about walking into the dining hall by myself and either sitting down at someone else's table or sitting by myself. I guess I thought that if I gave the impression that I had no friends, it would be like a self-fulfilling prophecy and no one would want to be friends with the girl who had no friends. So, if I couldn't find someone to walk with me to meals, like my roommate, any of the girls on the floor, or a classmate from a class right before lunch, I stayed in and ate macaroni and cheese that I made in my hot pot. Puh-theh-tick. I met Susan when she confronted me in the bathroom, both of us wearing our robes and she with a towel on her head, demanding to know if I had done Dramatic Duet Acting in high school and when I confirmed her suspicions, going on to tell me that she competed against me and how much she loved my Holocaust survivor character and how it made her cry. (I was later to learn that a lot of things made Susan cry in a very charming way, but this did not lessen my feeling of being appreciated.) So, when I met Susan, who actually lived in the room next to mine, in the second semester, things got easier. I had my best-friend-forever. But Susan lives in Geneseo , so I don't have her to hang around with all that often.

This idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy actually had quite a history in my life before I went to college. The lunchroom fear, in particular, was always there on the first day of school. However, I don't think I was alone because I remember lots of people asking excitedly which lunch everyone else had. However, before college, this fear was a one-day only affair, since adolescent socialization requires that after the first day of school, certain groups of friends can be found in the same place at the same time every day. I had routine to fall back on. But the idea that if I arrived by myself somewhere I would be giving off a message that I must not be worth befriending since no one had bothered to do it yet reaered it ugly head in other parts of my life. I remember freaking out in the fifth grade because I didn't have anyone to go to the Fun Fair with. My mother argued with me in bewilderment because she couldn't see where this frenzy of worry was coming from. I'd been dropped off at Fun Fairs before. In reality, I guess that I had started hearing that kids were going together, maybe even in pre-date kind of setups and maybe someone asked me who I was going with. But I could never express these kinds of social pressures to my mom. I just felt them. So, finally, we called my friend Alina, which was a little odd, because I think we were in a stage in our long friendship where we weren't talking. But I had someone with whom to appear at the Fun Fair and I would not be alone.

When my friend Tiffanie had a coming-out party when she was 16, again I could not simply be dropped off at the hall by one of my parents. Tiffanie was the only person to have a coming-out party so I had no idea what to expect. This time, there was no rocking me in the dark and explaining what to expect. My mother didn't know either. So, if I was going to walk into this blind, I wanted to be in the company of others, so I could observe their behavior and mimic it. Since I didn't have a best-friend-forever that was going to this party, I had to repeat the earlier Fun Fair Fiasco and call around to various acquaintances to see if I could get a ride. I procured one with a guy named Steve, who was a senior and in the choir I was in. He was also giving a ride to at least two other people. The combination of these variables - acquaintance, older boy, other people - meant that it was almost inevitable that he would be late, but at 15 years old, I didn't know that. So now you must picture the pathetic sight of a young, awkward girl with long, straight, dark hair, dressed in a white lace formal dress, her first formal dress. She is sitting on an old church pew, looking out the window for any sign on a beat up old station wagon to pull into the driveway. Every once in awhile she gets up to make sure the front light is on and to catch a surreptitious look at the clock. Her mom kind of hovers without hovering because every time she asks if I'm all right or if I'd like it if she just took me, I bite her head off and although she probably knows that it's not her, it's my state of mind, she thinks that she's just making it worse but she doesn't know what else to do. It was pretty awful, on the adolescent scale. Finally, Steve shows up and we go to the party and everything is fine. I don't let on to the people in the car that I was upset or even waiting very long because that would imply that I was reliant upon them and if you show neediness, that's another huge sign that you're not really worth befriending. Scoff at the silliness, but how many times have you complained to a good friend about another friend or acquaintance who was just too demanding, clingy or persistent?

I am happy to report that one of the huge benefits that I gained from my time on the island was a complete sense of self-assurance and confidence. In a conversation with Faith once, I described this sensation of finally sitting down into the chair that was myself. She asked me how old I was and when I told her I was 27, she sat back in her chair, looked across the table at me and smiled. She explained that astrology has a phenomena called Saturn Returns. It happens every 28 years or so and it is marked by sense of self-knowing and new decision-making that sets us back on the right path. Now, I certainly didn't get here all at once. I felt a similar sense of comfort with myself when Dennis loved me and I had him for a partner. Then, I didn't need to prove or pretend that I was friend-worthy; having Dennis caused me to know I was and so I could go into new situations by myself because even if I self-destructed in that situation and nobody liked me, I was coming home to Dennis. Why I didn't feel that same kind of assurance coming home to family, I don't know. I certainly knew that they loved me no matter what, but I guess I took them for granted. Because their love was unconditional, it didn't really count in terms of making me feel like a worthwhile person. I was always the best singer in the choir to my father, despite the fact that he couldn't actually hear me over everyone else and even if he could, he's pretty much tone-deaf. His approval was no gauge for how well I actually did. But once Dennis left, I was back to, well, not square one, but at least square ten. Being on the island gave me the time to heal and to open me up for Saturn's Return. Jeff's love and the easy friendship of so many people there helped tremendously. But because we parted on good terms, I was able to take that assurance with me when I left instead of having to let Dennis take it with him. I also experienced a huge upwelling of God's presence, which reminded me that He also loved me no matter what.

So, in starting out this new adventure, I am confident that I will be able to walk into new situations and make friends. If there is a concert I want to go to or a restaurant I want to try, I will go try it, even if there is no one to go with me. The problem is that there is nothing I want to do. So, I've been worrying a little bit about how I am going to make friends, which is why I started writing this post in the first place. I won't make friends other than my brother and my roommate if I don't stop watching The West Wing and leave the apartment. But I have no desire to go.

Some of this reluctance is adjusting to the amount of energy that my job needs. Some of it is that I'm applying to grad school and need to start studying for the GREs. But the fact remains that I'm a little worried that I am coming back to my old fears of Who Will Be My Friend.

I started thinking about this because as I have begun looking for a church, one has been recommended to me that is just down the street. It's new and aimed at people my age. I met the pastor while I was at the conference last weekend and it was recommended by someone I work with. A family friend who is my age goes there. I would probably make a lot of friends. But, I realize that I'm reluctant to go. One reason for this is that my whole family has attended a service at this church and no one was impressed. They found it simple and with the goofy "contemporary Christian" worship rituals. I like traditional services. I like old hymns. I like semons that take scripture, study its historical context and apply that lesson to our modern lives. I also like elders. This church has no elders. But, mostly, I'm a little hesitant because right now, if I started attending this church, it would be my only outlet for finding friends. And, frankly, I'm not sure that I want to be friends with other Christians.

I know, I know, that sounds awful. But I've gotten used to being the only Christian in my group of friends. I like having conversations with them about their concepts of the church and Christianity and knowing that they will actually listen and be interested in what I believe because they respect me, my experience and my intelligence and know that because of that intelligence I'm probably not just parroting lifestyle beliefs dictated from a pulpit. When I talk about my faith with other Christians, my unorthodox beliefs label me in their minds and I almost always feel a palpable shift in the relationship as I become, in their minds, one of the lost sheep as opposed to being part of the fold. Although most of them will continue to be nice to me because Jesus says we should be nice to everyone, my experience is that I'm not really enjoyed. And, if I'm not really enjoyed by someone, I don't tend to be able to really enjoy him or her and real friendship can't be created.

As I write this, I realize that I made these decisions about other Christians years ago and in closing myself off, I am allowing myself to be prejudiced. I have created my own personal stereotype and being my own kind of bigoted. If everything else in my perspective has changed over the years, why wouldn't I test the waters on this one and see if the water hasn't, in fact, warmed up a little? Ugh. Self-reflection sucks sometimes.

I guess I'll go to this church. Maybe not this Sunday, though. I have a lunch date with a friend this Sunday and this service doesn't start until 11:00. Since I started thinking about how I would make friends, I've talked with my little brother about it a little. He was very nice and assured me that I would, in fact, make friends. He would tell me if I wouldn't, so it's actually comforting to hear him say that. I mentioned that at some point here, I would probably start reading the Chicago Reader so that events actually had a chance to spark my interest. He also recommended finding a coffeehouse that I liked to spend a couple hours at when I have days off. He said if I created a routine of being at the same place, people would actually start to talk to me. He also, reluctantly, said that he would probably start bringing me around his friends a little more, too. That's pretty nice of him.

I want to conclude this post by saying that my mother always did the right thing when I was freaking out about friends. She let me see that she was bewildered. She liked me so much and she just didn't understand why the other kids didn't see what she saw. She never left me completely to my own devices. She backed off enough that I was allowed to experince these crazy emotions by myself, but she was always close enough that I didn't feel like I had to cross a great divide to go to her for comfort. She let me yell at her and held me when I was done. I guess that I don't and never did completely take hers or my father's unconditional love for granted. The fact that I'm here, engaged in this act of self-reflection, rather than being trapped in an unbalanced morass of uncontrollable emotional reactions is proof that the emotional foundation that they built for me is about as stable as any mortal can build for another. Only God can build a stronger one and we messed that up in Eden so I'll have to wait for the afterlife to experience that. So, even though it's not Mother's Day, thanks Mom.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Truth & Beauty: Belief

Truth & Beauty: Belief

I found this post on a blog that I have been reading lately. I have not given in to the current trend (a good one, though) of Christians and even secular Westerners learning about all things Muslim because I was never hooked by anything that interested me beyond E.M Forster's A Passage to India. Every course, lecture or discussion that I have been offered has been a listing of facts: something to file away until I need the information to understand context in a new situation. Not something to study because it is interesting.

This blog has been that hook and is the medium that I chosen to learn from. Baraka writes with beauty, insight and candor. I am interested because she is interested. Like your best professor in college, who was the best because he/she loved the topic. I am also interested because she seems to share a process for thinking about the world with me. It always helps to feel a kinship.

I link to this post because most of my readers are from Judeo-Christian backgrounds, just like me. She has written an essay that is believable in its sincerity and is almost identical to other essays that I've read from Christian writers. However, she did not write this because she wanted to prove that beliefs across faiths feel the same. She is writing for an almsot entirely Muslim audience, if the people that respond to her blog could be considered a cross-section. She didn't have an agenda in writing this post other than to simply sort out her own feelings and that makes it even more powerful.

In addition to this blog, I have been reading Don Miller's book Searching for God Knows What. Although I do not normally read Christian literature, I really liked his other book, Blue Like Jazz, so thought I'd give this a try. It's different from the first, but I like it. He is basically arguing that our faiths should be less about the formulas that we should follow to be saved or the lessons of Jesus that can be followed step by step to make our difficult lives feel better. He says that when Adam and Eve betrayed God (and most of us know what real betrayal feels like and it cannot compare to what God must have felt), they lost the crucial ingredient for happiness: total knowledge of the identity that God had been giving them. Since they were so close to God, they had no choice but to know that He loved them, like they knew that water tasted good when they were thirsty. But when they sinned, they lost that absolute knowledge and since we were created to be creatures who needed to be told that they are loved, we've been searching for that ever since. We want our parents to love us as completely as God loves us, we want friends and lovers and the mailman and our bosses and the dog to replace that sense of knowledge that we used to get from God. This explains almost every bad behavior that we commit. It's a pretty comprehensive personality theory and I'm not doing it justice here. It's worth reading.

But I bring this up because this is at the end of Baraka's essay on belief:

"And that’s ok, for as humans we are ultimately alone. We can never fully reveal ourselves to or fully know another. If satiation was possible in this world it would quench the restlessness that keeps us questioning, seeking & striving, that keeps us engaged in the lifelong search for the ultimate Unity."

Another inadvertent powerful statement for its universal message. She and Don Miller agree.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


The people at work think that I'm crazy to take the train to work. At least three people have given me that look when I've brought it up. And I've only brought it up reluctantly after the first time. Their reasons for this disdain/concern are probably varied. There's a certain amount of concern since I'm a woman walking through the neighborhood, although my boss says that's unfounded.

Mostly, I think it's a difference in perspective. I've grown up mostly privileged and with a transportation culture that revolved around cars. It's a relief to me not to have to drive and I'm a little bit of an earth-muffin so I like that I use less fuel and pollute less by riding public transportation. Also, I feel a little less like I'm trying to be the Great White Hope if I approach this community on foot. However, a lot of the people that I work with come from this neighborhood or a neighborhood like the one I'm trying to help rebuild by working in it. Some of them grew up without reliable transportation and could not choose not to stand in the cold, if that makes sense. The difference in experience makes them offer me rides home and try to insist that I should drive on nights I'm going to be there past 4:30.

So, today was a classic cold snap. Yesterday it was 55 degrees and today it was 22 degrees with blowing snow. Since I do not consume much media, I was totally unprepared. So there I stood, waiting on an elevated platform for my train for 10 minutes. Then, I had to walk 4 blocks on the other side of the train ride to work. As I walked that second outdoor leg without gloves or a hat, I realized that I was defending myself to my co-workers in my head, "It uses less fuel and pollutes less when I take the train." "It's good for my soul to know what it's like, even a little bit, to be the only person of my race in a situation." "The walking is good for my health." I laughed at myself but kept up the mantra.

Because these things are true. I was convincing myself that I shouldn't drive for the rest of the winter without even realizing that that was what I wanted to do.

We'll see.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Are you ready to talk derby?




Roller Derby.

That's right. Roller Derby.

I knew living in the city was going to pay off. Sunday night, Daniel invited me to join him and his friends to go see Roller Derby at the nearby Congress Theater. But, he added, I need to get my own friends eventually.

But let's get back to the Roller Derby. Four teams of 14 women in matching outfits on old-fashioned roller skates with names like Hell's Belles, The Manic Atackers, The Double Crossers and The Fury. That right, folks, these are theme teams. The Manic Attackers wore skimpy mental institution dresses, the Hell's Belles wore red and black spandex devil dresses. When I say dresses, be sure to picture the girls in A League of Their Own and then add a little tough-chick punky goth to the mix. And, make sure to picture quite a few Rosie O'Donnels. Some of those girls were big girls. But they were big girls with beautiful curves and not afraid to simply sit on a girl to keep her from getting up and scoring points.

Here. See for yourself.

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The girls also had names like Garbage Pail Kids: Tex Ann, Tequila Mockingbird, Ann Putation, Val Capone, Kami Sutra and Ivana Krushya.

I won't try to explain all the rules of Roller Derby. You can find them here. It was fun to watch the chaos and attempt to figure them out for myself, though. It turns out that there actually are some rules and some of these girls are fantastic at what they do. Take, for instance, Quiet Storm, one of the only black girls in the league. She had a fantastic black-girl butt and it altered her center of gravity perfectly for roller skating since she was able to lean way forward. She was a beautiful thing to watch, slipping past her blockers to pass the pivot to become lead jammer every time.

These were the finals after a long season. The first match was billed as a "grudge match" and was filled with random mascots, fantastic fights and the aforementioned Quiet Storm.

Here. Look.

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It was kind of a joke match. At various points, the girls would break into an obviously choreographed gag: everyone producing a whistle to blow at the officials or big brawls (the little ones seemed pretty real). In the end, the judges eliminated all points for both teams leaving them with a 0-0 score. A good fun time was had by all.

But can I tell you what an odd sensation it was to actually care about who was winning the championship match? Before the second match, they played a little video introducing the girls on the Double Crossers and The Fury. I don't know, something about those Fury girls appealed to me and I started rooting for them purely for their image. But then they started losing, right off the bat and so I started rooting for them as the underdogs. So, they were consistently losing through the first half and continued this trend into the second. Then - like all good sports movies - they started to catch up. Tension built until we were in the last 2 minutes and they were only four points behind. By this time, I had learned enough about the sport to know that you can only really score four points in a 2 minute jam, so were standing on tip-toes with the idea that they could actually pull it off. And sure enough, after a few false starts and some pretty amazing skating, they scored all four points! The score was 33 to 33 and the clock ran out! They went into five minutes of overtime for the first time all season. I'm telling you folks, I do not bleieve this was choreographed. There is a certain intensity present in really good sports and it was absolutely there in that theater. So, of course, in those five minutes of overtime, tension builds,control of the jam goes back and forth between the teams, there's a fear that Hurrican Charlie is hurt and they'll have to play the secondary jammer but then she takes one for the team and goes out there for the final two minutes anyway. It was fantastic. And, in the last seconds, The Fury pulled ahead and won. We cheered and cheered. I was slightly ashamed of myself and having a glorious time all at once. Confetti shot out of the lighting rig and they walked Ivy King out into the middle of the rink to give the girls their trophy. Ivy King was a small, white-haired lady who looked to be in her late 80s or young 90s. They introduced her as the skating sensation, Poision Ivy, the first time Roller Derby was a national pasttime 70 years ago. Ivy got the biggest cheer of the evening. They showed her picture from then and named the cup after her. She's buried in this crowd of girls.

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All in all, a totally satisfying evening. We went back to Michael's house and ate really good meatloaf and mac and cheese and watched Rome, which they had Tivoed. I like these folk. They're my kind of people. Too bad I have to find my own friends. :-)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

I just got back from my inaugural voyage as a new resident on the elevated train system here in Chicago. I took the Blue line, which is right next to my house all the way to Oak Park to see my friend Jennifer and her extremely charming baby, Noah.

The Blue line actually splits as it gets south of the city, so I had to let one train go by me and waited for the train that I actually needed. Because of the unique nature of this line, I saw a slightly odd thing. When the train to 54/Cermak pulled up, a guy got off and sat down on the bench near me. He was a basically normal-looking guy. A little dorky, a little plump. Shaggy dark hair, Caucasian, olive jacket of some sort, jeans and black boots. Oddly, he smelled of frat boy cologne, which clashed with his non-participator image. I noticed that he sat down rather than leaving the station for the street because we're so far north that people aren't normally worried about transferring from one Blue Line train to the other yet if they got onto the wrong train. Still, his body language was languid and relaxed so he seemed harmless and I didn't think much of it. He got onto my car when I got on and, interestingly, got off at the next stop. So, he got off one train, got on the next one and got off that one again, maybe to wait for the next train?

So, I thought about that for a little while as the train continued on. Then, at one of the stops when the train goes underground in the Loop, he got on the train again!

How did he catch up?! Did the train behind my train overtake us somewhere along the line? Even if that train overtook us, if he maintained his pattern of only staying on each train for one leg of the trip, how did he keep from falling behind? This was 6 or 7 stops later! Did he get off a train somewhere and get on a bus, then go down the escalator to this stop? How did he do that and still catch up to the train that had left him behind?!

Then, at the next stop, he got off again, just like the pattern I had already observed.

Creepy. I think there's a science fiction plot to explain this somehow. Something about a guy coming back in time on several attempts to catch a moment on the El that he's not quite sure when it is. How else to explain it except time travel?

Now That I'm Gone

I guess there are some etiquette issues that I need to address now that I've left the island. I say this because someone went up to my friend Harreld and said, "Oh, so you're Harreld," because this guy had read about him on my blog but apparently hadn't read the link I had prominently posted asking people not to do things like this. It really weirded Harreld out.

Please don't do this.

I accepted some risk to myself when I chose to make this blog not anonymous. However, I guess that I didn't really think about the friends that I would make on the island and how they would feel about being not anonymous. I considered psuedonyms briefly, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to keep track of them and really, the main reason for using psuedonyms would be to keep the people on the island happy if they ever found out about the blog. But, people on the island would quickly figure out who I was talking about anyway. That's why I liked it; it was a small island.

But, in addition to the guy who somehow thought he could get in good with Harreld by his semi-stalker behavior, my blog is being found by people of the island. They search for the yoga studio that I first went to and the band that played at the Farmer's Market. The search for the resort I worked at and the name of Rhonda's farm. Someone also found me by searching for "dork magnet t-shirt," but I don't think that had anything to do with the island.

So, I have to deal with the reality that people might know what I think about them.

And, that makes me a little nervous. But when I really think about it, I'm OK with it. I didn't tend to post things that I wouldn't have said directly to the person if it came up in conversation. Any negative things that I said were usually in the context of my interaction with that person and should be read that way. I'm not making absolute statements here. My perspective and opinions and experiences with people colored my description.

When I look back on it, this blog was not so much about the island as I thought it would be. It was really about me and the changes that I went through while taking a sabbatical there. Please read it that way. What I said in November of 2004 or May of 2005 is probably completely different from the way I feel now.

If you are going to visit Orcas Island, please meet and engage with people there at face value. Let your experience with them determine how you treat them. It's not fair to them if you start your relationship with them more intimately than they have actually given permission for you to be.

I am continuing to write in this blog space because I think that I can take the same adventurous spirit with which I approached the island to the city. I'll try not to let it devolve into my internal ramblings but, instead, continue trying to make fun or poignent observations about the adventures I encounter in this new environment, be they social, physical or emotional. However, if I discover that leaving this adventure public is affecting the world that I left behind (but intend to go back to), I'll have to take the whole thing down. Don't make me come back there. :-)

Thank you for your interest so far and your (possible) continued interest as my focus shifts. Thank you also for respecting the people that have been so good to me.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Bunch of Thoughts

My entire high school experience of being unattractive was repudiated this morning as I walked through my Hispanic neighborhood to go work out. According to several men in my neighborhood, I'm hot even in slouchy athletic-wear. As you may have deduced, I have found and signed up with a Curves that is a half of a mile away.

I'm a little nervous about starting work in an office on Monday. The expectations of me are so open-ended. Am I supposed to just start right in and figure out what needs to be done? Will someone guide me? And by guide me, I don't mean mentor me. I mean, will someone tell me specifically what I need to do. I'll figure out how to do it, but will someone give me a list of tasks or is it simply, "Go get us some more clients to use these resources"? Teaching and working retail are pretty well defined in terms of what's expected from me. "Make sure these kids know American Literature, especially Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn." "When someone walks in the door and asks for coffee, make them coffee." Like I said, I can figure out the details of how to do it and what to do with extra time in situations like that, but I have no idea about office work. Not a clue. I don't even know what time to show up. It's not like a bell is going to ring for when I'll be late.

I’m just a little disgusted with myself that I have abandoned my principles of re-use, non-materialism and anti-suburban life so quickly. I rushed right out and bought $150 worth of stuff from IKEA. I bought my first two sets of groceries while I was out in the suburbs visiting my mom. The third set came from Whole Foods, which I have to drive to, here in the city. Granted, the third time was a little of a bonding trip with Paige, my new roommate, but still, where is my idealism to walk everywhere? I have yet to step foot in one of the little local grocery stores or restaurants on my block.

I've had to defend my beliefs and my lifestyle a few times in the last week or so. As I bought my iBook from Lee, we talked a little bit about my blog and its religious overtones. He asked me to describe my beliefs and I had to stop and think of how to put it into a sentence. I said, "My Christianity is all about my relationship with Jesus and his commandment to love others. And you can't love someone when you judge them." I felt really comfrotable with that answer. I can say the words, "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior" and mean it, but the unchurched tune you out when you start talking religious talk. (And unchurched doesn't mean anything other than that: someone that doesn't have experience with the traditional rituals of Christian churches.) Fellowship, light of Christ, the word witness, used as a verb: these are words and phrases that have no meaning to most of the people that I'm commanded to love. Isn't loving someone respecting that person enough to speak in language he can actually understand, rather than standing above him by participating a linguistic club where he can't get in the front door of what I'm saying because he doesn't have a decoder ring? The same goes for my lifestyle choices of drinking and swearing. I don't feel a need to conform to behavior standards that identify me with traditional Christians. There are a lot of instructions in the Bible that this society selectively ignores. Do not wear a garment of two fibers woven together, for example. Hell, even Wheaton College kids can dance, drink and smoke now. I make my own choices based on my conversations with God and based on Christ's commandment to love God and to love others. I figure those are like the Constitution of commandments; other scripture has to fall in line with one of those two commandments or it's not applicable in today's society and my life.

Finally, I've been knitting a little obsessively. I've made two tomato hats and I'm experimenting with an earflap hat.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hello Mac!

I've done it! I have bought my first computer!

Gee, Rebecca, what have you been writing all these blogs on if not a computer?

Well, that's a good question. I've always inherited computers. Or, my husband was responsible for acquiring the computer that he and I shared. But, usually, I've inherited computers from my father or one of my brothers. The same generally has gone for stereo equipment. As a result, mt computers tend to be a little wiggy. They have lots of weird programs taking up space that I'll never use and when I try to un-install them, they leave little bits behind to get in my way. Keys on the keyboards (they're usually laptops) stick and I end up signing off of my emails, "Goo Gently." They definitely do not accept new software because new software is totally uncompatible with the ancient operating system, so I have to limp along with whatever was already there and the internet appears to move in jerky slow-motion. The only plus side that I've seen to these old warhorses is that I don't seem to get viruses, because hackers blow their nose in my general direction but otherwise leave me alone. There is no challenge in creating a virus for Windows Millenium Edition. It crashes all by itself. It would be a little like knocking out Grandma's cane in order to feel like a real man. It's just pathetic.

The update on how I'm feeling can best be expressed in segments of an email conversation that I'm having with a friend:

"Today I woke up feeling like I'd finally stepped out
of the coffin of soul-tired that I've been trapped in.
No West Wing for me today. I'm screwing stuff into
the walls! I just got back from IKEA and I am ready
to organize, damnit. I'm amazed at how easily I've
given up trying to use salvaged materials and things
without packaging. Everything just felt so hard,
though. Making the rounds of the resale stores and
modifying stuff to fit my actual need paled in
comparison to the mega-convenience of IKEA, which has
the exact thing I need for every need I think I have.
I'm so f---ing American."

He responded, "Good luck on the walls. Ikea is the great evil convenience which lures us all in to their scandinavian goodness. Fortunately, they create and fill needs all over the planet, so it’s not just American culture."

I feel only the slightest bit better.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Carrie A. Nation

I don't drink very much. When I was younger, this was because I was a little afraid of the world and of losing control of myself in it, but I've since realized that, as Judith Weinstock once wrote in a student journal, "Control is an illusion, but organization is possible." Even with that epiphany that eliminates any moral resistance to drunkenness, I still do not normally drink very much. I do not normally get drunk because, I'll be honest with you, I'm a puker. I'm not talking alcohol-poisoning-kneeling-at-the-toilet-at-the-end-of-the-night-please-hold-my-hair puking. One can easily grow up out of that stage. I mean that I'll have a couple of drinks, start feeling like I need a little air and on my way out the door, if there's a garbage can, I'll just boot a little right into it. There's no heaving involved. One second, the contents are in my stomach, the next second, they're projectiling out of my mouth. If there's no garbage can, my body waits until I get to the gutter. Then, I have to wipe off my mouth and go find a glass of water. Then I have to wash my hands, because that's usually all I have with which to wipe off my mouth.

It's pretty gross.

So, I don't normally get drunk. However, last night I found myself driving south on I-55 towards Bloomington with the fall scent of burning leaves in my nose with just that intent.

It's all Erika's fault. She stayed in Bloomington, where we went to college together, so when I go down to see her, we often end up hitting the bars together. We dance, we sing, we hit on guys. I lose my filter that normally keeps my thoughts of people walking by from actually being spoken. Erika takes me home early. And, I usually end up puking at some point in the evening. Last night was no different.

But it was all worth it.

The purpose of my trip was three-fold: Erika was my only friend to come visit me out on the island and since she couldn't come up to the party, I wanted to make sure I saw as soon as possible; Erika bought a condo that by all accounts was stunning, so I wanted to see it and bring her a housewarming present; and the band Maggie Speaks was playing at a local bar. I had only seen Maggie Speaks once before, with Erika, in Bloomington, at Springfest. But when she sent out an email to everyone saying that she would host anyone who wanted to see them again, I was eager.

Maggie Speaks is a little like professional wrestling. They are utterly entertaining and one feels slightly ashamed for enjoying something so cheesy so very very much. Maggie Speaks is a cover band. They play a set list of songs right out of every 16-35 year old's personal greatest hits album. If a group of drunk people can sing along to it, they'll play it. And they'll play it well. Simon and Garfunkel's "Cecilia" would be a great example. Everyone can and does sing along to "Cecilia" in a party atmosphere. Bo bo bo bo-oh bo, [two-part harmony here] bo bo bo bo bo bo bo bo-oh-oh. They'll follow it up with "Hey Yah" and then play James Brown's "Sex Machine." It's fantastic. My personal favorite mini-set began with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," which segued into Vanilla Ice's "Ice, Ice, Baby," and rounded out with "Bust-A-Move." I had completely forgotten that at one point in my life, I knew all the words to "Bust A Move." But, your best friend Harry has a brother Larry and in five weeks from now he's going to marry. He's hoping you can make it there if you can, 'cause in the ceremony you'll be the best man.

In addition to the music, I had one of the best times out at a club that I've ever had. I think this was because I was totally unconcerned with attracting guys. Having been really loved recently by a great guy made a huge difference. I had no need for someone else's approval. However, I called Erika before I left and asked her what she was wearing. She hesitated for a little bit and gave me some vague responses, so I narrowed it down, "Are you sparkly?" Yes. "Is there cleavage?" Yes.


I'm not good at either sparkly or cleavage. I've spent the last year or so on an island where we wouldn't ever bother putting out on the shelf at the re-use center any shoes that weren't boots, gym shoes or water shoes. We simply sent high heels right on to the Salvation Army on the mainland. Unless I'm wearing long sleeves, when I raise my arms, my armpit hair is visible. Raising one's arms is essential when singing along to the J. Geils Band's "Angel is a Centerfold." So, after trying on several tops that wouldn't match how good Erika was bound to look, I finally decided to go like an island girl. It worked well for my reunion, I figured I'd be comfortable. So, I wore my hot jeans, which are fairly baggy, my hiking boots and a navy T-shirt that said, "Babelicious" in the logo style of the bubble gum, Bubbalicious. The logo was sparkly pink, but it was a classic style T-shirt so there was no cleavage. It's amazing how different a night at a club can be as a female when one does not offer one's breasts up for general perusal. Not one guy asked my name, sidled up to grind on me or offered to buy a drink. I'm certainly not saying that normally I'm the center of attention, but my experience is generally that guys tend to like to dance with me in those environments. But last night, not one. It was fantastic.

Because my self-esteem was not tied up in finding a guy and guys weren't bothering me, I was free to actually watch the dynamic of the Bloomington club scene, while still singing along to "Sweet Home Alabama." It's fascinating. Although there are many nice and fun people in Bloomington, very few of them are hip or edgy. Hip, edgy people tend to move to Chicago. So, when most of the folks in their 20's in Bloomington get dressed to go out, their costumes all tend to resemble each other's. Sparkly tank tops in both the strapless and spaghetti-strap styles, most with a faux lingerie look: shiny satin with edging in lace. Tight jeans on girls, carpenter-style jeans to show off the guy's cute asses. T-shirts of various brand names (Nautica, Tommy, etc) on the guys. Lots of ball caps on guys and dangly, rhinestone earrings for the girls. Pointy-toed leather stiletto shoes for the girls. It was like Seventeen magazine come to life before my very eyes. I kept just walking around and peering into corners to make sure I saw everything with this huge grin on my face because watching the crowd and making observations in my head was the same kind of fun as watching wrestling or Maggie Speaks. Plus, I got to see just how ridiculously women will act in order to appear sexy to men. They'll practically swallow the phallus, excuse me, microphone that gets aimed at their mouths to sing the chorus of "Save a horse, ride a cowboy," tipping their heads up because the stage puts them right at the level they would be if they were on their knees. Towards the end of the evening, these pretty, slutty girls have disappeared (I wonder where) and the front of the stage gets crowded with girls that really aren't that drunk and really aren't all that confident in themselves. My brother used to call their type, "the homelies." Girls with nice personality and I really found myself really respecting them. These are girls that can't or won't sacrifice time from what they're actually interested in order to learn how to put on make-up or wear contacts. They won't spend money on expensively designed club clothes that they know will only end up sweaty and will maybe just a little of someone else's beer and/or vomit on them. (Innocent, on all counts, I'll have you know.) However, they've realized that no matter how much smarter than most of the guys they are, they do, indeed, have their own cleavage and they show it off. I can imagine them shopping and getting dressed with their roommates, prodding and daring each other into skimpier and skimpier outfits. As a matter of fact, I can see that scene, because I have been and probably still am one of them. But I respect them because they are not wallflowers. They are right up at the stage, singing along to Rick Springfield's "Jesse's Girl" and enjoying time out with their girlfriends. Most of them probably nurse a secret hope that they'll find a guy there (why else the display of decolletage?) but deep down they know that they probably wouldn't like the type of guy they'd meet in a bar anyway. Really. I loved them.

So, the climax of the evening came after I had spent some time sitting outside with my back against the brick wall of the building for awhile. There had been a garbage can available, so I could actually stick around outside, rather than having to disassociate myself from the mess that I had made. (The last time I had sat against this wall, a giant pink gorilla came and gave me a hug, then handed me a CD. How's that for creepy drunken surreal?) I went back inside and after awhile, I realize that we were, indeed coming to the climax of the evening because the lighting effects shifted to more white lights, rather than the muted fresnels that they had been using to emphasize the choruses. I also noticed that lots of arms were pumping the air and the volume of the crowd singing along had increased. Maggie Speaks had read their crowd correctly and were playing a medley of Bon Jovi songs to great effect. Ohh, we're half-way the-ere, Oh-oh, livin' on a pre-air. The crowd went wild and called for an encore after the band left the stage.

The encore? AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long." Of course.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Chutes and Ladders

They want me to help them through their own process of disillusionment.

That's all I can think of for why yet another of my ex-husband's friends has come knocking. Something has happened to cause them all to question their comfortable beliefs about how the divorce (and the marriage) went down and now they're coming back to apologize. But they want more than that, because they want to meet with me. I was always the maternal figure in the group since I was the only wife that participated in the boys' activities on a regular basis. I liked that role: doling out advice, giving female perspective, being friends with guys without sexual tension. So, now I think that they are coming back to me for the same succor.

It's not fair! This is not the time in my life for this. How do they know I'm home? I'm am supposed to be missing Jeff and setting up house in my new apartment, figuring out public transit and my new neighborhood, learning about my new roommate and my brother's girlfriend and being excited about my new job. Instead, I wake up in the mornings thinking about Dennis and reliving betrayal.

I was past this! I had moved on. Dennis occurred to me only every once in awhile. I was starting to tell fond stories of him to friends that had never met him because it didn't hurt to tell them anymore. Harreld told me before I left the island that at first, he thought that I had lived through some unmitigated hell being married to Dennis, but as time went on I did a good job of humanizing him as I talked about him.

It's like I'm back in unmitigated hell. I'm having to relive the betrayal that I felt when his friends left me behind, most without saying good-bye. I'm having to anticipate reliving Dennis' actual betrayal in the conversations that I have with these friends because Dennis absolutely lied to them about the situation.

It's so complicated because I have chosen to keep much of the ugly truth to myself, rather than release it in a wave of vindictiveness. I realized early on in the divorce that although an itch would be scratched by doing so, being the person who disillusioned those friends about Dennis would only make life harder for me and prolong healing.

So, here I am, like Chutes and Ladders, back at the point of having to make that decision again of whether to keep what I know to myself or whether they are actually asking me for it. And, I can't make that decision until I actually engage with them. So, I wait, a little shaky with adrenaline.

I've been assured by my mother, my brother and by Susan that I don't have to do this. But I do. It is an opportunity for closure. If I am truly committed to healing, I have to wade into fear, hurt and uncertainty. Hopefully, I will come out of the other side of the river just a little cleaner. I have to open the wounds a little bit to let the pus out. Otherwise, that poison will live with me, even if I have it blocked off in the name of "moving on."

I believe that God is here in this situation. Really, now is the best time to be doing this. Sure, I think that I would rather be focusing on something else, but in a week, I'll have a challenging job to focus on. Right now, I have the time and flexible schedule to make room for this. I can spend hours on the email, crafting messages that say just what I want them to say so that I don't say anything rash or easily misunderstood. I have the time to recover from the adrenaline rush and shaky inside feelings that come on when a new email address shows up in my inbox. I can plan coffee in places where I can fly back to arms that love me if it goes badly. Coincidences are rarely coincidences. They are usually an opportunity presented by God for us to exercise our free will in following His commandment to love others as we, ourselves have been loved. And we, ourselves, have been forgiven.

My mother would like to tear all of their eyes out. She said so to me the other day. I completely respect that. That is her prerogative as a mother and that primacy has its own rules. But I told her that she wouldn't have to live my life when she was done. If I miss this opportunity to forgive and to help others through their own betrayal by my ex-husband, I will have to live with myself in the long run and that will be much harder than any shaky insides and tears that I have to live through now.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Anxiety, relief, pleasure

Today has been a day of some controlled anxiety, a certain amount of relief, and a little pleasure.

I have officially taken up residence in my apartment. It took me awhile because I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Jeff before he went back to Orcas, and since he did not have a car, it was easier for me to simply stay out in Glen Ellyn. However, I have now spent two nights in my bed in my apartment, listening to the bus recite that it is the Kedzie/California 52 line. The Pancho Restaurant across the street plays the same Latin music CD all day and the nearby El requires that I turn the Gilmore Girls up fairly loud so that I don't miss the dialogue that is my primary reason for watching the show in the first place. I'm fighting the empty loneliness that rises in my chest when my roommates go back to the lives that they have. I do that mostly by unpacking and by eating whatever my little mouth wants. The eating will stop soon, but I'm being very gentle with myself right now.

I have almost been offered a job by a large, Christian non-profit doing urban community development work in Chicago. It is not-at-all the job that I described earlier. But I did next to no work to get it and since I don't know what else I want to do, I'm probably going to take it. I'll let you know when I know the details.

Yesterday, I said good-bye to Jeff, I was mostly (just not formally) given a job, my heart and mind were boiling with these people that are coming back into my life and it was my first day in residence. It contained a lot of emotions. It was hard.

So, today was a relief that it was not yesterday. Paige (my new roommate) encouraged me to take a vacation day. I like her already. It's a gorgeous day in Illinois today, with the sun shining and the temperature in the high 60's. As Paige and I talked, we decided that I should go to the Lincoln Park Zoo. I love the zoo and it's free, so, despite my extremely comfortable bed, I decided to go. (If the weather had been crummy, I would have had no problem staying naked in bed all day, reading Dune Messiah.)

The trip to the zoo was where the controlled anxiety, as well as the pleasure come in. I'm not very good with public transportation. Probably, that's not an accurate statement. There was a time in my life when I was awful with public transportation. That has made me a little gunshy, although I haven't had a mix-up in years. Also, I'm just not very good with new situations in general. I'm always a little nervous that someone will know that I'm not an expert at whatever it is that I'm doing for the first time. It's totally irrational but I've come to accept it. As far as neuroses go, it's a fairly low-key one. You'll just never see me with a map in my hands. Ever. Oh, I'll look at maps. I'll look at them obsessively with an intent to memorize. I might even jot down little notes on easily concealable scraps of paper. But that will be in the privacy of my own home. Never let it be said that Rebecca didn't know what was going on. :-)

However, I've made a commitment to engage this urban community at the ground level, on my feet. So, I eschewed the bed, smashed my anxiety into little ball and thought about the zoo. Paige, who is one of those New Yorkers with no driver's license, told me how she gets to the zoo. Although we used the internet, we didn't use the Chicago Transit Authority's equivalent of Mapquest driving directions. I guess that's the poseur's way. So, armed with some new knowledge, I approached the CTA. I fumbled some with the fare card vendor and then over finding the right slot on the bus to put said fare card into, but ultimately sat looking out the window while traveling down Fullerton Avenue feeling not-at-all mortified with myself. I got off the bus at Halsted and continued on foot down Fullerton on instinct. I would be completely screwed if the city were totally unfamiliar to my eyes. I got a little lost because when I got to the corner of lawn with a sign that announced, "Lincoln Park," it felt like the bottom edge of it to me so I turned left/north and walked for several blocks until I got to a big, gilt statue of Alexander Hamilton (Why do we have a big, gilt statue of Alexander Hamilton? Who raised the money for it and why? Out of some vague sense of civic duty that a city should honor the country's early statesmen? Can such an emotionally distant motivation really contribute to the common good?) Anyway, at the big, gilt statue of Alexander Hamilton, I turned toward the lake/east since nothing in the park I'd walked along seemed at all familiar. It's amazing what you never see when you travel by car, as I have in Chicago my whole life. It turns out that this area was just blocks from places I have seen plenty of times when attempting to park for events, attractions and softball games, but it was totally unfamiliar. When I got to the water (Diversey Marina?), I turned south again, out of instinct and the glimpse of a sign on my periphery for parking. This choice was rewarded, ultimately, with a view of the zoo just past, you guessed it, Fullerton. I was never lost; I just had little frame of reference to identify where I was.

The zoo was pleasant, I wrote about the past few days in my journal and then I reversed my route to head home, minus the lost time in the park. A hispanic man in a white van wolf-whistled at me and hung out the window as they drove by, just to be sure I knew I was the target. How nice.

So, I went home, watched a DVD of the Gilmore Girls, ate whatever I felt like and am now spending some time with you all. I wonder what I'll do tomorrow?