Monday, July 28, 2008

Coffee?

For the past four months, the lower left-hand side of my jaw has hurt. Sometimes with stabbing pain, sometimes with an ache, sometimes with fluttering waves of flames. Occasionally, I would forget and chew with that side and the surprise of pain would cause me to jump, yelp and involuntarily put a hand up to it.

So, when the fragment finally broke off and the dentist could actually do something, it was actually an improvement to my daily life. Nothing hurts anymore. The metaphor seems a little obvious. Sometimes it takes a big break or disappointment to find a little relief. In this case, I'm experiencing the relief that comes from getting outside validation that I'm pretty cool.

At D&D tonight, the professional psychic and ghost hunter asked if I'd like to get coffee sometime.

It is such a relief to have this additional object lesson that I'm not going to have to chase down every guy that expresses interest and demand, "Are you sure?! Because I'm willing if you think you're sure! Here, let me help you!" Relief that there are some men out there willing to go out on a limb for the chance that an almost total stranger might want to explore how well they might get along.

Totally worth giving up that little rotten guy. . . I mean . . . tooth.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Advice for the gentlemen

As I was brushing my teeth on Friday morning, a giant chunk of one of my molars broke off.

The day did not get much better after that.

In fact, I later got completely stood up for a date.

The day was redeemed by the number of people who texted that they loved me when I was looking for alternate plans and by my friends Jake and Jess, who treated me to a ride on the motorcycle, and then beer.

But let's go back to the date.

This guy has been expressing interest in me for almost a year. My heart has been busy in that time but my ruminations about my relationships made me think that his persistence might be the solution to this string of men who date me only as long as it's convenient.

We've had lots of good phone conversations that involved some mini-conversations about my need to feel like I'm special to the man I'm dating. That I'm worth a little extra effort. My friend Mike frequently says, "We want to please you; we just don't know how." Using that as my guide, I took the step of being vulnerable and telling this guy some of my history so that he would know that I wasn't asking him just to jump through hoops. He seemed to get it and we started a courtship. I even sent him a mix CD about how to woo a woman, with a few songs about my own hesitancies.

But Friday, he stood me up. To that point that I worried that his plane had crashed. Only tonight, Sunday, after asking one of his friends to confirm that he was alive, can I actually be a little pissed.

Is it too much to ask for a little romance in a budding relationship?

My brother Daniel thinks it is. A couple of weeks ago when I talked about teaching my best friend's boys to be kind to women and how to make them feel special as their Auntie Rebecca, he scoffed and said, "Way to put your issues on the next generation."

But I don't have a proscribed way that this romance has to happen, which is what I think most people assume. I just want to know that a guy is willing to invest a little in me. It helps me believe that he might be willing to work though problems when things get even the slightest bit difficult. This is not a belief that I've had in many of my relationships. So, I have to stay on my best behavior in them and I'm tired of that.

I don't think it's too much to ask that a man say with his actions in addition to his words that he thinks I valuable.

I know I am amazing and I'm not interested in dating someone else who doesn't show that he knows it, too.

Most of these guys are very intelligent and successful in their chosen fields and it baffles me that they haven't applied the same energy that achieves their goals in other areas to achieving their goals in relationships. You don't know how to please a woman? Pay attention. Her reactions will give you the opportunity for a little trial and error. Otherwise, talk about best practices with other guys. Also, I think every straight woman on this planet would benefit if every straight man on the planet had either a gay man or a straight woman as a platonic friend who will tell him when he's being a dumbass.

This would be an angry rant except that just as I was losing hope that all men who are capable of this kind of civility were already married, I received this email:
Hey Rebecca,

This is T's friend J. As I told you when you left the other night, I'd like to get to know you better. You intrigue me and I think we could have a lot of fun together in Chicago. T just got me your contact info, so I wanted to get in touch and make plans to see you again.

Remember when I mentioned steampunk? It's a form of creative anachronism that some people are really into and there's going to be a Steampunk-styled performance of Much Ado About Nothing this Saturday near Loyola. It sounded like something fun to check out and I was hoping that you might be free and interested in joining me. Let me know if it's up your alley and we can put some plans together. If that's not your cup of tea, I'm open to suggestions - I'm sure we can come up with something to do in Chicago in the middle of the summer ;-)

Sincerely,
J


I wrote him back immediately. Let's examine what was successful about this communication besides the words themselves, i.e. - the actions that are doing most of the communicating.

1. He got my contact information. (I know this seems obvious but I can't tell you how often I've had to chase men who were supposedly interested in me.)
2. The formality of his tone indicates that he doesn't take my interest for granted.
3. The writing style shows that I'm at least as important as his business colleagues.
4. He describes his positive reaction to me. (Compliments are another obvious action that get missed a lot.)
5. He built from a previous conversation. He studied my reaction and used something I was already interested in as a jumping-off point for our next encounter.
6. He suggested an activity. (Again, this one may seem obvious but it is also common for men to simply say, "So, what do you want to do? and the get me to plan everything.) This shows that he's willing to put some effort into providing a pleasant experience for me.
7. He offers to change the plans and leaves space for a dialog. This is the answer to "I don't know what all these feminists want!" It respects the fact that "we" don't want to have to submit while still showing us we're worth the effort of making plans.

While we're on the subject of male tantrums because women want equality and the door opened, too, let me say that I've pursued my share of men. Women pursuing men have the complication that sometimes men feel emasculated if they haven't made "the first move." I had a guy tell me that once. But it doesn't stop me from getting back on the horse. Remember the mix CD. I think all these pieces of advice work well for any gender that is interested in a particular person as a partner. Make him or her feel special. Don't be worried about the precedent it sets. If s/he is right for you, reciprocation will quickly ensue.

For me, this is all about setting up the framework for a partnership that is mutual. Society still tells men that women will take care of them if they just bring home a paycheck. This delineation is damaging for both parties since it infantalizes the man and overburdens the woman. I've been in this marriage and I have no interest in repeating that experience.

So, I'll be steampunkin' it and see what happens this time. Here's hoping that the rest of my teeth stay in their rightful places.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Beautiful People

I first learned the phrase "the beautiful people" from my older brother David, who was giving my 11-year-old self a tour of the University of Illinois Campus, along with the rest of my family. David was what was known as a "skater" and I'm sure he was indicating some fraternity guys with collars popped and sweater tied firmly around their shoulders in 1988.

I latched on to the phrase as perfectly describing that elusive statis I longed be identified with but could never manage to achieve.

While "the beautiful people" still exist and I still can't blend with them, I don't mind so much anymore. What's more, the term continues to sound in my head with the same derisive tone that David used 20 years ago when I think about expensive and sparkly halter tops and stilletto heels on women too drunk to walk in a straight line from John Barleycorn to some Irish-themed bar with it's name written in gold on a dark green background.

This shift came as my brother's "skater" aesthetic became a more dominant force in our consumer society. To be alternative or "indie" (short for independent) is now so prevalent as to be mainstream. Hipsters are the argument made by skaters ad nauseam. Hipsters oppose the conformity of society by taking little pieces of pop culture and re-presenting it in a way that says, "I am aware that this is trendy and by choosing to partake in a piece of the trend I am subverting the rules that say I must partake in the entire trend in order to be popular/successful." Of course, over time this has created its own aesthetic which must also be subverted. The demographic has become an oubouros, post-modern in the fact that is constantly reacting and responding to its own statements on several levels at once. In broad terms, this aesthetic can be described as artistic, edgy and social justice-y. It manifests itself in piercings, tattoos, disjointed combinations of clothing in different formalities and styles, assimilation of working class culture, incorporation of nostalgic elements especially from the 40s, 50s and 80s and an emphasis on hand-made or, at least, personally assembled.

On Sunday, I volunteered for ReadyMade Magazine for two hours at the Pitchfork Festival, mecca for hipsters. In return, I got free entrance to the festival, a free renewal of my subscription and a free American Apparel t-shirt that I could customize with any number of subversive stencils provided. I chose a luchador.

Because I don't care about the music at all, I spent the time before my shift observing the sub-culture at its finest and examining my relationship to it.

I had this weird sense of anonymity as I walked around the park. I have figured out the language of style enough to fit in, with my sweatshop-free knock-off Converse low-tops, pigtails, dark jeans cuffed into floods, a black tank top, my domino necklace and my horn earrings.

The words, "these are my people," kept running through my head and my consequent desire not to be associated with the trend marks me indelibly with its label.

Because in this environment, I feel like even my lack of tattoos and piercings is "in" because my chasteness is itself a "statement" against their trendiness. Leaning against a tree and taking notes in my journal seems poseur-ish, something "these people" would do. And here I am doing just what the world expects me to do!

I am horrified at the thought because this means that I should be painted with the same brush as the guy wearing exactly the same clothing he wore when he was 11 years old: a smallish t-shirt that has been worn down to rice paper thinness, green gym shorts with a white stripe down the side and an elastic waistband that is too big for his tiny ass and so show his greying tighty whiteys underneath. There is a deliberate uglification of most hipsters. No one would look at this crowd and say, "Wow, she is really lovely." Many are aesthetically pleasing or attractive but none are beautiful. Or if they are, they hide it quickly with greasy hair or plugs in their earlobes.

But the tags of this demographic are my tags. I'm drawn to the aesthetic, especially the bits that take pop culture from previous decades and re-jiggers it in a modern context. Look at the snowglobes I made awhile back with a Planet of the Apes figurine and an old toy astronaut. My personal style leans in the hipster direction, with my large collection of Threadless t-shirts and long straight bangs. I would like to think that I'm not a slave to the description, but all of us want to think that.

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch in the suburb where I used to live. There was a craft fair going on outside the window and I reveled in how tacky, unnecessary and unsophisticated all of the wares were. Baby blankets made of plastic yarn, tissue box covers with Sox and Cubs logos, generic but hand-painted water-colors pastorals. I thought that the giant there-but-for-the-grace-of-God feeling I was having was the moral to that story but I think now that the LaGrange Craft Fair was just a set-up for the epiphany I'm having now.

My children will mock the hipsters more than I do.

But the won't do it with a sense of kinship. They'll say things like, "Oh my god. I have to go into the city to visit my parents on Sunday." They'll walk through the Renegade Craft Fairs that we'll still be having and roll their eyes at pendants made "from a photo of a real heart-shaped potato," our re-melted plastic bracelets, or the re-styled 70's dresses that have been Frankensteined with too-small faux gym shirts.

The ironic part of my brother's coinage in my life of the phrase "the beautiful people" is that he is part of the inner circle of artistic, edgy, social justice-y folks that planted the seeds for this aesthetic. He went to the University of Illinois in those years that indie bands were coming out of there like monkeys coming out of the proverbial butt. His friends are famous designers and musicians. But there is nothing sinister about their motives. No one created this aesthetic to rule the world through the spending of the next generation. It just kind of happened.

I guess that makes it OK for me to be one of them.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fully lined goodness

Thursday night I went dancing, of all things. My friends Neal and Emily invited me to meet them up in Lincoln Square, where a live swing band (The Flat Cats) was playing and people were dancing. Neal and Emily met at swing dancing lessons so I asked if I could go and just watch. I mean, I can silently chant toe-heel, toe-heel, rock back with the best of them, but I knew that my few lessons weren't going to match people that didn't have to think each step in time to the music that they had counted out in their head before taking a step.

It was a beautiful night after a stinky hot day. The music was good and the dancers were fun to watch. I thought, "I should take pictures of this classic Chicago experience so that I can share it on my blog." Then I thought about my crappy camera phone and looked at my feet dejectedly. Then, I remembered that my friend had bought a camera for a trip that he wasn't going to use much, so he loaned it to me on a somewhat permanent basis. However, I didn't have it, either. I realized that if that new camera (which is about the size of a credit card) was going to do me any good as a blogger, I would need to find a way to protect it so I could casually throw it in my bag whenever I was going out.

So, I present to you:Tiny little bags present a few problems for my machine, even with a free arm. (BTW, loved the free arm for the tiny little RenFaire costumes.) However, I soldiered through.

My love of lined pouches stems from one of my early trips to the Faire as a teenaged patron. A woman had an entire shop of these little lined pouches that had little belt loops on the inside. She made Elena and I promise that we wouldn't compete with her by selling them and then showed us how to make them. I made the pink one my first year to match the aqua costume and the green one a few years later out of scraps with brown lining to match my costume that year. They have served me extremely well. Big enough to hold sunblock, keys, cards and cash while still having room for a little shortbread from the bakery wrapped in waxed paper. When I worked there, I also carried little glass stones to give to kids whose parents wouldn't buy them garlands. I told them stories about dragon poop or fairy raindrops and how either could grant wishes.

So, I've scratched the lined bag itch one more time to contain the camera and its cords. I love summer break.

Friday, July 18, 2008

It's the guyliner that does it for me.

Seriously.

http://www.planetdan.net/pics/misc/prince_says_hai.gif

And I thought 90 degree weather with Chicago humidity was hot.

Thanks Dan.

Extended summer break = crafts

So, my internship has had a somewhat flexible start date. I'm chomping a little at the bit but I'm trying to use the time well. For the last couple of weeks, I've been working on tiny little Renaissance Faire costumes for one of my best friend's children.

She goes in costume with her family to the Faire every year. I worked at the Faire in costume for five years. However, we've never been there together.

I've been to the Faire once since I retired in civvies but retained a certain jaded armor about playing dress-up as a patron.

You see, I used to love dressing up because I used to imagine myself as the heroine of my fantasy books. Here's a picture from my junior year yearbook showing me in the first costume I ever made after I had visited the Faire for the first time with my friends Elena, Lisa and Janstee. (As always, you can click on the picture to get a bigger version with better resolution.) We were all costume geeks and spent a good part of our day at Thistlecraft, home to a group of folks that were trying to be as historically accurate as possible, dying their own cloth, hand-stitching things, authentic patterns. They let us all try on a bodice and as I looked in the mirror, for the first time I had cleavage! One of the other girls bought the bodice and traced it to make a pattern for the rest of us. Oh, did I swear as I tried to figure out how to create a lined vest! Then, because I wanted to be historically accurate, (and I didn't have a grommeter) I hand-sewed just the eye portion of the hook and eye so that I could lace it up. I remember working on it in Sarah T's basement on a Saturday night when we were all just hanging out. At 15 years of age. I guess we set our habits early.

When I came home from getting the job at the Faire when I was 19, I immediately took the costume that they had simply handed me out of the bag and tried it on. I remember running into the driveway to show my unimpressed brother and twirling around in all its princessy, aqua wonder.We called it the Ice Cream Dress.

But two things happened. The first is that I met my ex-husband and although he loved me for being such a sweet innocent, I quickly picked up his derision for people who actually liked pretending that they were someone else for someone else. (It was a fine line, though. Remember that playing Dungeons and Dragons was NOT mockable.) As a professional actor, costumes were simply tools of the trade to him. The second loss of innocence was that I spent 5 summers interacting with people who had gone over the edge of pretend deep into delusion. From a distance, those folks are sweet but up close, it was a little weird to see the same guy pay his entry fee every weekend, dressed up like Conan the Barbarian and posing with other paying customers. Actually that wasn't as weird as simply having conversations with guys that normally did not possess social skills but who wanted to kiss my hand an win the affection of this most beauteous fair lass that way. I was 19 and did not yet have the self confidence to let others be who they need to be without feeling threatened that it would reflect badly upon me if I was seen with them.

So, for years I have kept myself from reveling in dress-up. Like Stevie Knicks says, "Well, I've been afraid of changing
'cause I've built my life around you." Retaining my scorn for public displays of imagination was one of the last strongholds wrapped around my heart. That scorn was also containing me and keeping me from becoming a bigger person who lets other people be just as free.

But this summer, I asked Lorinda if she would go to the Faire with me. It actually wasn't a big deal at the time. It just seemed like it would be fun.

And it was. We had a great day. The weather was perfect. The boys were absolutely adorable. We got lots of compliments for their outfits, especially the Very Wee One's hat. I got to see shows I've loved. I got to ogle the new show, Adam Crack and his fire whips.Mmm. Very nice.

But on Monday I wept unexpectedly for much of the day. I think being surrounded by all those memories and being surprised by one of my old friends who didn't know about the divorce and asked about Dennis really shook loose some last bits of grief. Also, every once in awhile, I miss the children that I should have had by now. Or, more accurately, the life I was supposed to have at this point that included children. I have long since mourned away those imagined Edward Gory-looking, flat-faced pudgy kids and all that's left is a vision of life with a family.So, when people told me the Very Wee One was beautiful, assuming he was mine, it hurt a little.

But it was so worth it to fit those little banded collars into the lined vests. And to use the grommeter that I now own. Every little stitch was love that holds together my life and the life of this woman who has known me since I was 11 years old, loved me, forgiven me, affirmed me, corrected me and now lets me dress up her children with my affection.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

It's A Small World

So, apparently, the purpose of world travel is not to broaden the mind but to be able to say, "I've been there!" while watching this video. Actually, I teared up a little when they were in Chicago. Amber, I'm pretty sure Tonga gets two shout outs.

You can find out more about this project here.

Thanks, Lorinda.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Level Six Cleric

For my 500th post, I'd like to share with you another anniversary post that I was just referred to by my friend, Neal.

His friend Jack writes an overview of his previous year as a minister, in his words, "culminating in the declaration that I've 'leveled up' as a cleric." This is one of the world's best Dungeons and Dragons jokes I've ever read.

However, this is where the levity ends. As one reads along, one learns that Jack has encountered turmoil in his ministry and has made a drastic break in his trajectory. Let me quote some of it for you, but it is worth reading the entire thing.

He starts with a very emergent sentence, although he comes out of a Unitarian Universalist tradition, which is a sector that is not very involved in the Emerging movement. Of course, I've been saying all along that it's important to keep track of all folks who are emerging so that we can converge on each other. He says, "I still seem to be a better minister than ever, even as I seem on the verge of giving up religious ministry completely."

Here's something I didn't quite grasp when I set out on this journey as a minister: "religion" used to mean "that which binds." . . . You see, I never really bound myself to anything. Before understanding this meaning of religion, I laughed off my lack of bindings as typical male fear of committment, and spoke of my religion using words like "independance" "freedom" and "choice."


He goes on to describe that as his personal life suffered as all personal lives do: death, divorce, unemployment. His church encouraged him to relieve himself of his church duties to take care of these issues. The tone of his post suggests that although their intent was good, their very act belied that church was not religion and that this wasn't necessarily a good thing.

It was within all this turmoil that I really began to understand my deepest priorities in life. My true religion, if you will--that which I cling to, when all else crumbles around me; the mast I am bound to in the storm. I found there was another word besides religion to fairly describe these core bonds. When I looked for what was most important to me, what I found was family.

I don't just mean blood family, or legal family, but also and foremost those friends who are close enough to be called family. The people to whom I am tied, flesh and soul, and I cannot leave them behind without also leaving part of myself. The people I care about and love.

And I thought, "Eureka! Religion and family really mean nearly the same thing!" And I saw, in scripture and practice, how the familial terms used by religious authority were not mere metaphor or parable, but rather reflected recognition on the part of the leadership that their role was in essence the same as the role pursued by mother, father, brother and sister. They're playing the same game--not to imply that it is mere game--whose goal is nothing less than that which is most important, meaningful and binding in life.


My church is just beginning to talk about how to do membership. At the same time, I've had a conversation with a woman who had an almost identical experience to mine at River City, my old church. She felt like she couldn't get into the in-crowd and that her leadership in the ministry was unwelcome. How do I take that information and help ensure that my new church does not create the same kind of insularity as many of us are in the process of committing to each other as family?

Absent from our church was the patient introspection of priests and rabbis, whose rituals of initiation and advancement help ensure that everyone involved takes the religious bond seriously. Absent was the carefully considered theology that allows us to understand the commitments being made. Instead, we relied on various forms of bait-and-switch, calling people together in the name of religious freedom and independence, then arguing over responsibility and commitment only after they've signed up. These convoluded expectations mostly just created bitterness, burnout and resentment among our volunteers.

It's an easy mistake to make, but ultimately, it just doesn't work. Casual membership leads to casual dissolution when time gets tough; if you want a functional and healthy religious family that can weather life's difficulties, you have to approach membership with all the seriousness and reservation you'd give to any other familial bond. Yet the more you do that, the more you lose the openness and freedom that made our "universalist" institutions particularly worthwhile in the first place. There's always a tradeoff.


How do we continue to welcome new people while acknowledging that some folks have a deeper relationship with one another because of time and deliberate choice?

Jack decides to leave the church to pursue religion with his family. How do we create a new kind of church that is worth being religious within it?

I don't know but I'm glad we're giving it a try.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Logic of Goodness

I've been having a good week.

I know that it seems every week should be good on this extended summer vacation that I'm having but the truth is, when I spend too much time by myself, I get morose and find the nearest pool of self-pity in which to wallow.

Saturday was another one of those days. I was just puttering around the house, getting only little things done, feeling sorry for myself and rehearsing over and over in my head different ways of telling off this guy who keeps expressing interest in me but doesn't necessarily follow up on his propositions even though I've now given him permission to formally pursue me. Also, I couldn't stop eating. It was like having the literal munchies. I would put the last bite of toast into my mouth, swallow the last bit of orange juice and stand up from the couch while still chewing to go to the kitchen to find myself something else. (Wow, I just typed someONE else. Mr. Freud? Care to chime in?) It wasn't a binge. I was legitimately hungry. But I tried to call my any of my girlfriends that I call in times like these and none were available. I ate every Fourth of July leftover in the house. Ultimately, I took a two and a half hour nap. When I woke up to go to a movie, I wasn't hungry anymore. I did go see Iron Man, which was fantastic. Goodness. Has any movie ever cut to credits better?

However, after dropping my friend off, my car died on Lincoln Avenue in the heart of a yuppie club scene. The group of nearby guys that I asked to help me push it into the loading zone turned out to be drunk, which affected their ability to speak English, as well as their ability to be funny. Then, they were overzealous in their pushing so I couldn't get straight against the curb. Since I was in the loading zone, the valet parking guy came over to tell me i couldn't park there, shaking his head and waving his hands horizontal to the ground to indicate that I couldn't park there even as I was explaining that my car was dead. I finally looked at his and said, "you can gesture like that all night but the car's not going anywhere." Then the bouncer came over and told me that the police were going to hassle me and tow the car to the pound if I didn't get a tow truck there first.

Great. The last two times that I've tried to use Progressive's Roadside Assist, no tow truck ever showed up and I had to resort to alternative help. Plus, it's 1:00 in the morning by this time. So, when I finally got a tow truck, I was so insistent that they come quickly before the police towed me, I forgot to get him to quote a price. The tow truck driver was nice and we had a pleasant conversation for the hour and a half it took to get out to the suburbs and I helped him out by stopping at the ATM to get cash but then he cheated me on the mileage we'd gone and I didn't have the energy to fight with him.

Sunday morning, a friend who had made a date with me to have brunch called to tell me that she had decided to help some friends stain their porch instead, which was the second friend blow-off I've received lately. It doesn't actually bother me all that much but it does baffle me: I have spent a lifetime being a good friend in order to get friends. I would never cancel established plans unless there were an emergency. I certainly wouldn't risk making one friend feel like she was less important to me than another friend. In my psyche, I would worry that the dissed friend wouldn't be my friend anymore because of the slight.

Add this to my bewilderment that even though I try to be the best person I can be to other people (the tow truck driver), I do not necessarily get the favor returned. In my Geez Magazine this month, one of the writers used the phrase "the logic of goodness" in an off-handed way and it perfectly encapsulates my dilemma. What is this impulse in us to be good, when there is no guarantee that the return on the investment will be positive and, if fact, often seems negative.

So, Sunday was kind of a wash, too. Not the pits because I just hung out at my folks' house enjoying the beautiful day on their screen porch and reading a book. Church was good and tasted a little bit like family. Now that I look back on those balms, I think they must have led up to my seemingly impulsive decision to just call Mr. Man to say HI rather than waiting for him to pick up our sporadic email conversation so that I had an opening to sever the relationship. (Since it's informal and friendly, a regular old break-up would be inappropriate and awkward.) We ended up having a great 2-hour conversation that led somewhat naturally into a conversation about this gradual, hesitant inching toward each other that we're doing.

And when I woke up on Monday morning, everything was OK. I mean, it was like the world had more color and someone had greased the gears that had been squealing dully in the background every time I tried to move.

When I went swimming that morning, the 82-year-old ladies ogled my naked body and exclaimed that I must work out every day because I looked so good. (BTW, I'm totally telling everyone every day how old I am once I'm older than 80, too.) Then, the cute check-out guy at Whole Foods liked my t-shirt and flirted with me, talking about zombie movies and Elizabethan theatre. At the Trader Joe's, a toddler came tearing around a corner screeching and the woman next to me said simply, "Oh. A pterodactyl." I laughed and when we heard him again from the next aisle after his mother had corralled him, she explained, "My two have pterodactyls, too." It's good to share non-judgement of mothers with a stranger.

On another day, I would have beaten myself up for forgetting the peanut butter, not getting cash from the check-out and forgetting to mail the Netflix. But I just shrugged my mental shoulders and adjusted.

At church last night, we discussed how we might get folks to transition from greeting each other to beginning the service. In the end, we decided that instead of attempting to manipulate them in some way with music, changing the formal start time or by starting before everyone was quiet, we would just lay the different issues out in front of the larger group and try to do better. Rob said, "That's very much in the nature of Wicker Park Grace."

I love it that the "nature" of my church is one that values relationships more than regulations or hierarchies. Got a problem? Let's talk about it. It is a nature I am trying to cultivate. Practicing it led directly to the unfettered lens through which I engage the world this week. I am free of my self-pity and righteous indignation and can feast on the eccentricities and community that are offered up to me.

Tuesday, I went out for a couple of drinks with a friend I was close to while I was married but have only seen sporadically since the divorce. He's grown in so many ways since when we were close, including falling in love and buying a house. It's amazing to see. It was really nice to just hear him laugh again and to see the world through his perspective for a little while. At one point, he was interpreting something that I said and told me, "Well, you look pretty different than you did when you were married." I thanked him and agreed, "I've lost a lot of weight."

"No," he corrected me. "You have a vibrancy about you now that you didn't have before."

You see, the reward for being the best person you can be is not that other people will treat you well in return. The reward for being the best person you can be is that you get to go through your life as the best person you can be, rather than something less than that.

Pretty good logic, isn't it?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Rent Party: A Skiffle of Sorts

Since my church is not about guilt and obligation, we're trying to figure out new ways to funds our operations than, you know, passing the offering plate. So, we're having a rent party.

July 12th at 8:00pm
at 1741 N. Western Ave.

Phone: 312-399-2081



In the tradition of those who have laid the path before us, Wicker Park Grace will be holding a
Rent Party: A Skiffle of Sorts

Door Fee: $15
(free food and drink!)

Historically, to pay rising rents in neighborhoods that were filing up with people moving north in the Great Migration, folks would ask a few musician friends to play in the living rooms of their apartments, asked a few other friends to make some food and mixed up a little gin in the bathtub.

Charging admission at the door generated cash to pay the rent and a party whose celebratory energy burst from the intimate setting for all comers. Rent parties were a quintessential example of communities of people joining together to work towards mutual benefit.

Wicker Park Grace will carry on this historical tradition on July 12th with an evening of music & art, food & drink, conversation & dance.

Performing will be:

Rob Clearfield & At This Point We Don't Have the Luxury of Silence

Kate Haralson

Dave Spaulding with The Moves

Ira Gamerman w/ songs from the band, Even So

Michael Mc Bride

If you can't come, you can still contribute to the effort here.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

d20

Speaking of warriors, princesses and sorceresses. . . I played Dungeons and Dragons this week for the first time in 6 or 7 years.

It was fantastic.

I told the story before about meeting Joshua on the El and inviting myself over to his house to play. I've also told you before about learning to play D&D with my ex-husband and his friends.

So, Monday night, I drove out to Joshua's house, which was a little bungalow that has been entirely given over to gaming. Every wall was covered in D&D maps, white boards or shelves to display miniatures and action figures. Book shelves were everywhere and stuffed with rule books. The most amazing part of the decor was that the giant dining room table had a gingham table cloth that had perfect 1 inch squares so that once the clear plastic sheet was laid over it, it could be written on with overhead markers. So, Joshua could draw the landscape of certain settings if we were going to be fighting and we could put our miniatures in perfectly scaled relationships to each other and to the savage mutant monkeys that were attacking us.

Their roommate is a minor local celebrity. At least, when I tell people that he does the Weird Chicago Tours, my friends say, "Oh yeah!" in recognition. He's kind of cute. I wonder in the fact that he's a professional psychic and ghost hunter puts him out of the running.

The group was Joshua, his wife, Scott and Darrin. All four were, as my dad says, straight out of Central Casting. Darrin was a big bearish oaf of a guy who smiled the whole time. He dropped his giant gym bag full of rule books and jumped in immediately to help me put the finishing touches on my character, laughing at my jokes and enjoying my slightly abrasive retorts. Scott looked a little like Steve Buscemi and had a giant red velvet drawstring pouch to hold all of his paraphenalia.

I loved it. It was like coming home.

I mean, I made my own dice bag for the occasion. If you click on the picture, you'll notice that the bag is lined with flannel to give it the appropriate-looking heft and that it was designed to fit my mechanical pencil, my halfling miniature and the plethora of dice I bought that morning at Gamer's Paradise, having discovered that my ex-husband got ALL the dice in the divorce.

This group plays a little differently than what I am used to. They focus less on storytelling and character development and play it more like a computer game, calculating strategically what choices they should make about the character now so that later, it can increase in levels in the most efficient way. Almost like getting experience points and being the most powerful you could possibly be was like crack. That will make it less fun for me in the long run, but they responded well when I said that I wasn't going to do what they were encouraging me to do because it wasn't in my character's nature.

It feels good to be expanding the foundation of people that I am friendly with. Even if the number of people that feel close enough to be totally myself with remains small, I might soon have a wide enough base of a variety of personalities that I will always have someone availalbe to match the individual facets of myself that I want to be at any given moment. You know, like my nature is a 20-sided die and only one side of it can ever be facing up at one time.

And, as that network is being built, I'll be having fun killing savage mutant monkeys and hearing other nerds like me laugh at my jokes.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hen, hen

My friend Cliff posted this YouTube video that his friend posted. I actually really like Joe Cocker and love his musical style and ability. However, John Belushi's impersonations entertain me equally. So, for your amusement, here is my friend's friend's send-up.

Warriors, princesses and sorceresses, oh my!

I love costume shops.

In my life, I've been able to see (and sometimes rummage around in) the costume shops at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Cedar Point Amusement Park, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Broadway Costume Rentals and my high school. This is not an impressive list to people in the business. However, to a theatre layman like myself, it's huge.

When I read, I get completely lost in a very visual world that is being described by the words on the page. It's like I act out the scenes in my head, like when you imagine conversations that you wish had gone differently or even when you dream. As I've mentioned this before, this often results in catatonic reading that I don't realize I'm doing until after I snap out of it. Like Professor Godbole says, "But how, if there is such an event, can it be remembered afterwards? How can it be expressed in anything but itself? Not only from the unbeliever are the mysteries hid, but the adept himself cannot retain them. He may think, if he chooses, that he has been with God, but as soon as he thinks it, it becomes history, and falls under the rules of time." Occasionally, when I come out of the ecstatic state, I have a deep desire to maintain and continue the experience in some way. Like keeping the balloon suspended in the air with light taps. When I was younger, this impulse took the form of wanting to surround myself in the clothing that the characters wore, especially characters in novels where the heroines wore medieval-style outfits. Bodices, mutiple skirts, cloaks, peasant blouses. I wanted these things. Have you ever seen Labyrinth? I hadn't then, but if I had, I would have been eternally jealous of Sarah.

More often than not, the impulse would fade and I would forget my desires until I had another literary episode and then the longing would begin again. But since I had very few sewing skills and no money to spend on expensive costumes ($100 - gasp), I did without.

Imagine my delight when I entered high school and got access to my first costume closet. It was a giant collection of fanciful clothing that included just about every outfit that I had ever imagined myself wearing while immersed in a book. When it was left unlocked, I stole away to stroke the textures and to explore the construction with inquisitive fingers while holding pieces up to myself in front of the mirror.

Costume shops are important because each piece takes hours (10 to 40) to construct and a fair amount of cash for materials, not to mention somewhat advanced crafting skills. Average people just don't have the resources to devote to making costumes that theaters do. We have, you know, jobs and families and household chores. But for costumers, it IS their job to create these things.

I just recently returned from a trip to Miami to visit my friend Camilla, who is cut from almost the exact same cloth that I am, and who moved to Miami to be the costume director for the Florida Grand Opera. She has three degrees in either fashion or costume design and is amazing. We met while we worked at the Renaissance Faire and she designed and made my wedding dress. Since the season is over for the summer, she's the only employee there and she let me wander around while she got some work done.

When I enter a costume shop, I'm overwhelmed by the combination of industrial decor and the casualness with which these individual objects of my intense desires are simply smooshed together on the rack.

For instance, upon walking up to this rack labeled "cloaks and capes," I'm first just struck dumb. Do you know how badly I wanted a cloak? I made a purple cotton one for my friend Dan for our Junior Honors Medievalfest but I still have the yards and yards of forest green wool that I bought for my own but never had the courage to actually cut. Ultimately, I found a basic one at a thrift store for $18 and actually got to wear it on the 6 cool days I experienced during 5 years working at the Faire.

But Camilla's shop has dozens of all colors and styles. How could I not love this one?Can you picture the dramatic entrance I could make in it, pulling back the hood to reveal a tumble of raven hair belying my female status to an inn that assumed the rough-and-tumble adventurer must be a man?

Occasionally, I have pretty-girl fantasies and so buckets of parasols catch my fancy, as well.Must preserve my alabaster skin, you know.

Costume shops are also fun because most have been around for decades. Since pieces can be used again and again for different productions in new combinations, when you look at a wall of belts, you'll find antique purple velvet belts and pouches sharing the same space as newer plain brown belts. Notice that the purple is faded on the side that faces out compared to the lining.

To survive this long, older pieces have to have been well-constructed and that care and diligence is reflected in the little details. Look at the needlework on this one.Even the more modern pieces have amazing details that no one in the audience will ever appreciate. It just looks like a big blur to them but if it were missing, the costumes would look flat. Less like clothing and more like Halloween, which would pull their focus away from the experience.This dress has layers and layers of small shapes appliqued individually to create the gauzy magical look.

Another delight of costume shops for me is that people that work there tend to have similar aesthetic sensibilities to mine. Actually, of the three colleagues that Camilla got a chance to introduce to me, two assumed that I was "in the business." In bewilderment I asked her what made them think that. She said I just looked like someone who would be.

Lots of costume people love vintage stylings and details that make objects special in addition to being utilitarian. Although the wig staff could have easily just bought a standard barbershop chair. Instead, someone found and paid for this beautiful antique chair. Look at it! It even still has the attached ash tray for when the whole world walked around in a cloud of cigarette smoke.
You push the button to open the hatch that lets the ashes drop into the compartment below. It just makes me grin with delight that such a beautiful piece of furniture still gets used.

Camilla has one hard and fast rule in the costume shop. Apparently, this is a really hard concept for many of the singers to get. Luckily, she has the ability to send them home and not to pay them for the fitting if they disobey. She has stories about sticking her hand down the top of the back of someone's pants in order to pin the seam only to receive the nasty shock of her skin coming into contact with a man's sweaty, hairy butt. Apparently, he thought the sign didn't apply to him.

So, when I turned a corner and saw this shot framed in front of me, I had to take a picture and title it "Butts."

A companion to that shot is called, "Heads."

Thank you for being my friend, Camilla. Thank you also for letting me fall deep down inside my imagination, where I am a warrior. And a princess. And a sorceress.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Come Thou fount of every blessing

Being single is hard.

Right now, I'm not say that for the reasons you might expect. I've stopped worrying that my eggs are getting old, as Anne Lamott says, "like the eggs you get at 7-11" and I can live without cuddling and intimacy and someone to talk about my day with on a regular basis. I can also live without having an automatic date for the wedding and being included in my friends' "couple nights."

But I'm having trouble living without someone who fucks with my shit. I'm having trouble living without someone who needs to forgive me and does. I'm having trouble living without someone who thinks I'm funny and annoying and sexy and slovenly and needy and a blessing and who wants to hang out with me most of the time despite those contradictions. I miss having someone I can get angry at who will stick around until we both feel better. I miss having someone who rests his head on my chest and lets me stroke his hair while he cries in the safety of my arms and the dark.

I've been reading Debbie Blue's book From Stone to Living Word. It's blowing my head off. She is able to lay out the logical narrative ending the journey at truth I believe intuitively and so can't explain.

She writes that the Garden of Eden was about humans convincing themselves that to be god-like is to be independent heroes. She points out that so many of the heroes we admire are shown to be weakened when they attach themselves to other people. Look at the Jedi Knights and Spiderman, she says. But the reality is that God actually gave up being alone in order to attach himself to humans. I think we can all agree that God gets to be the ultimate role model for humans, right? And She does this both at Creation and again by taking on the form of Jesus. God invited the mess that is relationship as the ultimate state of perfection. It was good.

But we don't like chaos. We hate that the sea can wash over us in a tsunami and the rain can alluvasudden dry up or that mothers die of cancer. We want order and rules. We want experiences that we can hold in our hands, analyze and understand completely. Even if these rituals, rules and explanations don't actually keep destruction and hunger at bay. Anything that assures us that life is not a mess - just like a relationship - is an idol, according to Debbie Blue. Because life is a relationship between us and God. God keeps insisting on it. No matter how often we walk away from the truth that we cannot exist unless God wants us to, no matter how much we want to believe that the highest position to aspire to is as a lone-wolf tycoon, God insists on fucking with our shit and forgives us and thinks we're funny and annoying and sexy and slovenly and needy and a blessing and wants to hang out with us most of the time despite those contradictions. She writes:
It would be revelatory to recognize that somewhere we believe (or if not quite believe, then act in ways that suggest we believe) that it might be good to be alone - not just part of, but better than, bigger than, more important than. Not one with but removed from, set apart from, somehow transcending the masses. I think this story [the apple] in Genesis might help us see that somewhere, consciously or unconsciously, we question the goodness of our relatedness all the time.


I agree with Blue wholeheartedly both regarding the superior state of being in relationship with all of its mess and that we tend toward aloneness by default. "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love." I think Laura Kalpakian says it similarly in Steps and Exes but gives it a feminist twist:
Only men think it’s so romantic to go it alone. Look at you – you’re off with your boat – you and no other. Man against the sea! Why do men think you can only be a hero by yourself? Man against Nature! Man against Society! Why don’t men ever acknowledge that keeping something together can be just as heroic as being all alone? Men are always against something. Why can’t they be for something? [. . .] I’m not committed to universals. I’m for very modest, particular things. An ordinary life. Watching my daughter grow up. Making a home for us. A living. Nothing very grand or ambitious.
Kalpakian resonates as well as Blue does for me because my experience with men is the same as her character's.

I have been thinking about the ex-boyfriends that I am beginning to stack up in my backyard like firewood since the divorce. Although one or two of them didn't work simply because of a lack of chemistry, the majority of them didn't work because the guys wanted to date me but didn't want to be my boyfriend. They didn't want to get their lives all mixed up in mine.

Jeffrey was the exception when I lived on the island. Tom noted once that Jeffrey and I had such distinct shared mannerisms that it was hard to imagine us as individuals.

I miss that. I don't really know how to find it again. From either God or a man. I have some guesses but my batting average is pretty low.

Being single is hard.