Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Karen Kamon went out with the 80s

I have been fairly lonely lately: ready for a new boyfriend. It's an itchy feeling. But, I must be growing up because I'm not willing to go out on a man hunt. If I am wise, it is because I have read a lot of books and experienced some heartbreak. That small amount of wisdom that I have tells me that a man hunt will only find me someone who is easily flushed out of the bushes when loud noises are made. Those guys can run pretty quickly and I'm not very fast. I'm taking bets that the right guy for me will be a little like my pug, Retha. She was so fast that I would have to run not to catch her, but simply to keep her in sight until she got bored of running. When that happened, I would lie down on the grass and pretend like I wasn't looking at her and be totally interested in some stick. She would get curious about what I was doing and sometimes I could catch her before she realized that the stick was just a stick.

Now, I know that sounds like I'm willing to trick a man into coming home with me. However, that is not what I mean to communicate with the story about my puppy. I think probably that I have to actually be totally interested in some stick. To borrow (and change) from Dr. Phil, I have to add a relationship to a life, not a life to whatever relationship I have. So, I have to have a life, first. I'm working on that now.

All this is to say that when I was at a bar for a friend's 30th birthday party a couple of weeks ago, dressed up to go dancing with her and talking with a couple of cuddly-looking firefighters, I felt very comfortable concluding the conversation and walking away once they had teased me about using such a big word as "acuity." Those jokes always arise from insecurity. I've already been dumped by a doctor for being too smart. I don't even need to start out on that path toward hurt with a total stranger. That kind of guy is too easily startled and should only be bagged in a man hunt, which is, again, something I'm unwilling to do anymore.

What kind of girl uses the word, "acuity" while wearing a push-up bra and hot jeans in a bar, anyway?

That's right, me.

Friday, December 22, 2006

My job puts me in an awkward position sometimes. It is my responsibility to decide how product that has been donated to my organization will be redistributed to non-profits and churches in the inner city. Sometimes, this means that I have to make judgment calls about how things like shampoo, clothing, school supplies and toys will best be put to use. As a young, white woman, I have a very thin line to walk between due diligence and paternalism. On the one hand, I am educated and passionate about the theories of responsible charity and community development. On the other hand, my education and passion can easily lull me into believing that my opinion is right, which can quickly lead to acting like I’m the Great White Hope. It is easy to think that because I am literate and articulate, then I know more than the people from these hurting neighborhoods. In reality, I don’t know more; I know different things. For instance, they are geniuses of relationships and community. Life on the west side has taught them to know everyone in their neighborhood, what special needs and resources those people possess and to what level they can take the relationship. I think we’ve established pretty definitively that I’m terrible at all of that. The best I can say is that I try to interact with all types of people not just those that are like me, but the most I can usually manage is to stumble along, stepping on toes and having to apologize a lot. The ironic bit about this is that good relationships are what will change the world. I can know all the theories about what works to rebuild communities, but if I do not have a real relationship with the people that live in those communities, my theories will never get implemented. So, really, in terms of what is essential to fixing the problems of poverty, they know more than I do. My role is just an after-thought about efficiency.

But, because of my studies and my experiences, I’m becoming resolute in my opinion that simply offering up stuff for people to come and take home with them is actually making the problem worse. It’s the old give-a-man-a-fish-vs-teach-a-man-to-fish dilemma. It’s better to teach a man to fish because then he can support himself when something happens to the fish-giver. In fact, if you keep giving fish when you could be teaching fish, generations of people grow up not even realizing that fish come from water. Also, the people begin to identify themselves as Receivers rather than Fishers. A guy named Jayakumar Christian calls this a “marred self-identity” and it is actually worse than any situation except literal starvation.

But what do you do when you have a warehouse full of fish that have already been caught?

I can’t let them rot, so I try to give my fish (remember, Dad, I’m actually talking about shampoo, clothes, school supplies and toys) to organizations that are using those fish as incentives to bring starving people in the doors in order to teach them how to fish for themselves next time. This doesn’t account for all the fish that I have and, of course, it’s not that simple, but it is the criteria that I try to keep at the top of the list when determining who gets what.

In August, everyone wants backpacks for their back-to-school BBQs. Most of my community partners have a big party and pass out flyers and any kid that shows up gets a backpack, whether she really needs one or not. Giving the kid a fish, as it were. I’m not a big fan of this practice for the reasons that I stated above. So this year, I decided to give the backpacks that I had to the schools that fell in a one-mile radius of our facility. I figured that the schools would know which kids were actually starving because the schools would know which kids showed up on the first day of school without a backpack. However, since it had been the practice of my predecessor to give a few backpacks to every community partner who asked for them, I had to face some angry people who felt like they had been cut off unfairly.

In retrospect, I could have done that better. I could have sent out a letter explaining to my partners about my choice and providing alternate resources to purchase backpacks at reduced prices, which I see as the equivalent of teaching them to fish for backpacks themselves. Then, people wouldn’t feel so pole-axed. Like I said, I’m not so good with the relationships. But I’ll do better next year.

One of the worst interactions that I had was with a tiny African American woman who pastors a church just down the street. Her head reaches its pinnacle at my shoulders and she is slight of frame, but with the nobility that only poor, Black women in their fifties have earned the right to carry. She came to me on August 25th and started our conversation with, “I’m down on my knees begging you for my kids.” This, of course, brings to the surface every discomfort and fear that I have of becoming the Great White Hope. This fear often manifests itself as anger that someone would think that I would be so crass as to make my decisions about who gets what based on who toadied up to me the most. Don’t they know how much I agonize about being fair?!?! Of course, they don’t really think that about me and, if they did, they don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. It’s just how the world works in an under-resourced community. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and all that.

Because I knew in my head that women like the one in front of me are actually smarter than me when it comes to changing the world, I tried to tamp down the indignance of my heart and said as kindly as I could manage, "Please don't beg, Linda. I don't want to be the cause of your loss of dignity." She said that no indignity was too great if it will help her kids. I told her that I didn't have any more backpacks and explained to her about giving them to the schools this year. At this point, she was visibly upset. If I had brought James Brown himself in to sing, "I don't want nobody to give me nothing. Open up the door. I'll get it myself," she wouldn't have seen him because probably all she could see was these children that she loved starting school with empty hands. She looked up at me somewhat fiercely and told me, "Something about that doesn't feel right." She repeated herself when I didn't say anything. I didn't know what to say. Finally, though, I asked her if she could explain why it wasn't right. I tried to be as open and honestly interested in my demeanor as I could. I don't know how well I succeeded. I was saying, "I'd like to know because I'm changing the program in the next couple of months and your input would be valuable." By the time I got to the end of that awkward sentence, she had already turned her back on me and walked away.

In October, when we did our regular monthly distribution of stuff, I was working on paperwork and at meetings all day while my colleague met folks at the door and helped them load up their cars. At the end of the day, I asked him how things had gone and because he is a good person, he told me everything had been fine. I pushed a little and he admitted that one person had complained that she didn't get enough. I asked, "Was it Linda?" because he rarely wants to even imply that someone is less than reaonable in their behavior. I named her so he wouldn't have to. He laughed and agreed that it was.

Friday, Linda rang the bell to pick up her Christmas toys early in the morning. We have a visual intercom, so I clicked in on and asked, "Can I help you?" because people either stand VERY close to the camera or move out of its range very quickly after ringing the bell and so I can't tell who is out there. Linda is one of the latter, apparently, "It's Linda, Rebecca!" she called from a distance. "OK, someone will be with you in just a minute!" I yelled back into the intecom. This is what I always say because I manage the administrative side of my program and my colleague manages all of the physical warehousing for the program. After I greet someone through the intercom, I page him and he actually meets them at the dock door and gives them their stuff. I heaved a sigh of relief, thinking how great it was that I could hide in my office and let him - who is so much nicer than me - deal with her this time.

Of course, if one has spent any time at all with Jesus, the moment one heaves that sigh of selfish relief, one realizes that one's actions have begged the question, "What would Jesus do?" The answer is never, "Hide in your office!" Also, if one has spent any time at all with my father, when encountering a broken relationship one is hit with the internal question, "What would El Gordo do?" He would make a deliberate point to go out and be very glad to see Linda, so that she would know that he had no hard feelings. He wouldn't let her assume that no news was good news. Because he knows that people always assume the worst if they aren't told differently.

So, after this double whammy of better judgement, I went out and was very glad to see Linda. I wished her Merry Christmas and told her it was good to see her. Instead of the icy dissatisfaction that I expected from her, she hugged me warmly and asked how I was doing. I felt very successful and comfortable as we made our way through chit-chat that things were going to be just fine. Like the British, we would let social niceties smooth over the rough spot in our history. We could pretend like it never happened.

But African American women from the ghetto who have made it to their mid-fifties don't earn that regal bearing by playing along with the convenient lies of small talk. Linda turned to me and then turned me to face her, grabbing my upper arms with both hands. She said, "Do you remember the last time we talked when you told me not to beg?" I immediately thought that she was going to yell at me aain and so I hedged a little, "I remember when I asked you not to give up your dignity." Instead, she said, "Well, I've been thinking about that and I'm not going to do it anymore."

I was stunned. She kept talking about really examining her behavior and how hard it is to be honest with ourselves. She said that from now on, she was just going to ask me what I have and be grateful for what she gets. I couldn't do much more than restate her words in my own, like a paraphrasing parrot. I told her that if I have it when she asks, she can have it. If I refuse, it's because I don't have it. She wasn't done, though. She went on to say that this past year my company has treated her the best it ever has. Other years, she said, she just got junk and this year she really felt like we gave her good stuff.

It is relationships with people that will change the world. All of the good policy ever written won't make any difference if we don't actually have a chance to see God in the faces of other people because we hide in our office. I'm still terrible at relationships. This is not one of those stories where my life is turned around and aluvasudden I'm no longer awkward at engaging with people that are different from me and now, maybe just a little, I even like it. That only happens with the Grinch and mawkish memoirs. I'm still stepping on a lot of toes. But it is good to feel like maybe I won't always be such a klutz. That Linda, with all of her reason to dislike me, would forgive me for my missteps and even consider that I might have said something worth listening to, is enough to make me keep dancing. Even if my wisdom is the type that comes "out of the mouths of babes," which means, of course, unintentional wisdom come across through ignorance of how something is supposed to be said. I'm grateful that I can accomplish even that.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Deck the Halls

Today, I watched four episodes of Sex and the City while installing and decorating my Chistmas tree.
I was going to watch one of my Muppet holiday movies, but they're all on VHS and the rumpus room doesn't have a VCR. Yes, those are signed limited edition Brian Froud prints on the wall of my rumpus room, just in case there was any doubt just what kind of nerd I am.

Last night, I went over to my parents' house to help my mom finish decorating their tree while my father was still down in Danville for my great-aunt Delores' funeral.

Decorating the tree is the only holiday tradition all year that is still difficult since the divorce.

When I had been married only a month and a half, I began decorating for our first Christmas. We lived on the first floor and in the basement of a classic bungalow house in Berwyn and had lots of room for a full-sized tree. Because it was so big and because I had accumulated only a few ornaments of my own in my short adult life, I went to my mom's stash to fill it up. I guess I saw my mom's collection as the sourdough batch from which I could take a starter lump to make my own bread that would taste like my mother's but over time would acquire its own microbes that were specific to my environment and so be distinct to my life. Dennis brought some from his family's collection, as well. In my enthusiasm for this idea, I took all of the ornaments that were my quarter of the sets of ornaments that had been made over the years for my brothers and I. Specifically, my mother used to paint ceramic teddy bears with blue eyes to look like us and my teddy bear would have eye-lashes since I was the girl. She would paint our names on them. We also had ceramic stockings with our names painted on them. I had fantasies of all my brothers' future wives taking theirs when they got married as a way of forming their own sourdough cultures. I was starting a new tradition.

I don't know how, but I've lost all of those ornaments.

The best case sccenario is that I wrapped them up and kept them separate when I put my stuff into storage before moving to Orcas. But since all of my boxes are packed Tetris-style into my old closet, I haven't had the time to tear it all apart to check. Also, I fear that once I do tear it all apart, I still won't find them and then I'll really have to grieve.

Because my ex-husband used to throw things away when I wasn't around. Usually, it was when we were moving. Because I hated moving, he would tell me that he would finish up and make the last couple of trips to relieve me of the stress. I wouldn't realize that whole boxes were missing until months later and there was nothing I could do about it. I assume he blamed their loss on his friends, who he characterized as irresponsible and immature when we talked about them so that I would believe explanations like that when they were necessary. Certainly, that's how he explained missing cash and jewelry. His friends (many of whom had been his students) must have taken them. You know how kids are. Pedro's family is pretty poor. Vicky's mom doesn't really love her. What do you want me to do? he would say. My wedding pearls! I still grieve those. Now I fear that my ornaments will join that list of loved things lost.

So, now it's 7 years later, I'm divorced, none of my brothers are married and there are only three ceramic stockings on my mom's tree. It's not actually symbolic of my status in the family, but it still hurts.

The mystery is that I still have so many other ornaments. That's why I'm pretty sure that I must have wrapped them up separate.

So, in an attempt to focus on what I have instead of what I am missing, I present to you a gallery of ornaments that actually are symbolic of my status in the world. I almost never purchase ornaments for myself. Almost every one was given to me by someone who thought I was special at some point in my life.

The Murphys account for a good half of the ornaments on my tree.
I have to be honest and tell you that I can't usually remember who made what. However, it's pretty good bet that those with a sea shell theme were made by my cousins Emily and Megan, who grew up in Florida. Jake signed this one so I know it's his.Since becoming an adult, my aunts Barbara and Cynthia also contribute to my Christmas decorations with ornaments and manger scenes. A penguin them seems to run through the ornaments.

Many of these family onaments are fun because my mother has matching ones on her tree, which provides a little of the relationship that I was looking for when I took the ornaments with my name on them. This pickle also matches one on my mother's tree. She became enamored of the German tradition of hiding the pickle one year and bought one for her tree. At least once, she has hidden it so well that she left it on the tree to be taken out to the curb and she's had to buy another one. In one of those years, she bought two and gave one to me.

My Aunt Delores was a meticulous and artful ceramics painter. I was thinking about her since I couldn't go down to the funeral. She was a hard woman who was unable to have kids and whose medical situation was such that she grew up knowing that she would never have a family. I don't know if that was why she was such an unpleasant and hard woman so much of the time, but she had a delicate touch with a paint brush. She made the mouse that hangs on my tree. I also remember that she had glasses that had ladybugs in the cat's eye corners. The snowflake also matches those on my mother's tree. They were tatted by my Grandma Tolentino, who was my older brothers' grandma who made sweaters for my younger brother and I with our names stitched down the sleeves.

I was talking to Jeffrey a few days ago and reminded him that his mother changed my life a little when she said, "Just because I no longer ride my bicycle all the time, that doesn't mean it isn't important that I once did." Some of these ornaments are from people that were important to me at one time and so, despite the fact that we no longer spend time together, they are still important to me.
I haven't seen or spoken to the woman who gave me this Shakespeare in over a year but we taught English together at my first teaching gig. She bought it for me when she traveled to a Shakespeare festival in Canada as a chaperone for the smart kids. Will is flanked by a Santa sweater given to me by my parents' next-door neighbor who I was close to when her twins were two-years -old and I was over there all the time watching them so she could get some life taken care of one summer. My mother bought me the Santa on his other side this year because he is beautiful and made by Villeroy and Boch, ceramic designers that consistently produce beautiful dishes that fit our aesthetic perfectly.
This little mouse is named Chh, which is the noise made in the back of the throat for some Jewish words, like "challah" and "Channukah." One of my best friends from high school and I traded it back and forth at speech tournaments as a good luck talisman. We had named him after the accents that we had to learn as we portrayed Holocaust survivors for our horribly over-dramatic duet scenes. I haven't seen or spoken to her since graduation. Next to Chh is a Santa that I made in the 4th grade. I know this because I was a little retentive about creating heirlooms for posterity at that age, so I labeled it well. Mrs. Barker used to pick her ear wax and eat it. I swear it. Two of my brothers had her, too, and they will totally back me up on this one.

This monkey was tied to a basket full of candy from a fellow English teacher at my second teaching gig. She and I have stayed in touch but she just started a very busy stage in her life and I haven't seen her since this summer. Next to it is a house that was attached to a house-warming present from my friends Emily and Joe, who are hopefully in labor with their first baby right now. One of my good friends in college made us all these glass globes my sophomore year. I've seen her once since then and emailed just a few times. It's always good to talk with her but we've never been able to start up a new relationship. My best friend from high school gave me this our senior year. She loved Disney and a couple of the gifts she gave me had the Pooh Bear and Piglet best friend theme. We stopped spending much time together when I went away to college. We have known where the other was over the past 10 years but it hasn't been until the last several months that we have spent time together as friends again.

In the stories we tell, especially on TV and in movies, one of the most satisfying things to watch is when friends or lovers have a giant blow-out fight and say everything they've kept to themselves over the course of the relationship about the character flaws of the other person. Admit it. It's satisfying. To imagine ourselves in that situation, throwing it all to the wind in one big purge.

But scar tissue remembers the wound and relationships are never the same, even if forgiveness and reconciliation are possible.

So, I've never forced anyone to declare that they no longer wanted to spend time with me. Only once have I ever said it. Despite wanting the kind of clarity and closure that formalizing the break would give me, I've always feared that any conversation with a friend about how we were drifting apart would result in one of those giant, blow-out fights.

I used to think this was a weakness: that I didn't live life as boldy as I could because I feared permanently losing the few friends that I could muster. But again and again, it is playing out that leaving the door unlocked behind me, even as I keep walking on through new rooms means that old friends can catch up with me or meet me in rooms through other doors. I don't know who was Pooh and who was Piglet in our relationship, but I have told everyone I know the story of realizing that her one-year old son had not thrown the plastic butter packet on the floor but hid it in his mouth with closed lips and chubby cheeks and the laughing frenzy of trying to get him to reliquish it once we knew it was there because he smiled in joy at the taste of the butter leaking out.

Like my ornaments, I have friends that I can't find right now or for the last several years, but that doesn't mean that I won't find them again someday when I'm cleaning out my closets.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Washing machine

My tummy hurts. Like I've been laughing at one of my brother David's situationally perfect one-liners or I've been doing as many crunches as Arnold Scwartzenegger says I should be. But, instead, my stomach feels like it has a softball in it every time I flex it because I've been bitten by some sort of flu bug. Unfortunately, I spent most of the day yesterday thinking it was food poisoning and so didn't take any sick supplements. If I had, maybe I wouldn't be feeling so bad today.

A very cute mailman just came to deliver a package for my brother and I had to greet him in the hallway in my Route 66 pajamas. Bless his heart, he said that he couldn't wait to get home to his pajamas, too.

Luckily, he didn't come yesterday when I had the world's worst hangover. All day.

I haven't had a drink in a week.

Nevertheless, yesterday I was trapped on the couch with a fever, giant headache, tender skin, wooziness and the sensation that someone was pulling each and every one of my muscles taut every time I moved.

Also, I had eaten Indian food the night before and all of it plus everything else I ate on Monday left my body within a 45 minute period. Just the words, "butter chicken" are enough to make me . . . well, I don't even want to put those two words together in my head. Think of something else! Washingmachinewashingmachinewashingmachinewashingmachinewashingmachine. Whew.

I told my brother Daniel that he was going to have to break up with Meena. I just can't see how the three of us are going to build a life together if I can't eat the food of her people!


Monday, December 11, 2006

College memories

This is a picture of the store that is almost directly across the street from the two freshman/sophomore girls' dorms at Illinois Wesleyan. My good friend Erika still lives in Bloomington and sent this recent photo out to all of us to bring on fuzzy memories of good times at our small, rural, midwestern liberal arts college. Ah, the liberal arts education! It's a dying breed.

What makes me happiest is the early morning lighting, which means that on her way to work, Erika was so full of delight that she stopped her car and took a picture with her phone.

All mornings should have that much delight.

Does that mean that all mornings should have obvious double entendres and smarmy, skanky sex stores?

You be the judge.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Ice Gnomes

For he-ere by the fire we defy frost and storm. Aha! We are warm and we have our heart's desire. For he-ere we're good fellows and the beechwood and the bellows and the cup is at the lip in the pledge of fellowshi-i-ip!

It is a classic case of not knowing that something was important until years after it was gone, finding it again. If that is, indeed, a classic case.

Now, for the first time in years, Christmas can finally start.

I have heard a men's choir sing "Winter Song," by Frederic Field Bullard. Specifically, I heard the Windy City Gay Chorus sing it, directed by my friend Alan, who is the best director I have ever worked with. But what is important is that a men's choir sang it. And sang it well. You could practically see the beer mugs swinging back and forth, they had such gusto.

You can hear it here. The tempos are a little different than I'm used to, but it gives you an idea of the infectiousness of this ditty. Now your Christmas can start, too.

Ho, a song by the fire, pass the pipes, pass the bowl. Ho, a song by the fire with a skoal, with a skoal. Ho, a sooooong, by the fiiiiiiire, pass the pipes with a skoal.

When I was three years old, my oldest brother Paul joined Dick Whitecotton's Freshmen Boy's Choir at Glenbard West High School.

And an era was begun.

I don't remember that first Christmas concert, but I know for a fact that Paul sang "Winter Song." How do I know this? Because every Freshman Boys Choir sang the song every Christmas for probably the entire tenure of Dr. Whitecotton's 30 year reign at West. There are two generations of Glen Ellyn men drifting around the world in a diaspora that upon meeting could burst into four-part harmony singing "Winter Song" without having to pause for recollection. I know this because my three brothers have done and because Daniel and I sang along with the choir last night. Daniel didn't even realize that he knew the song until the first words were out of the men's mouths and then neither of us could contain our laughter and smiles. As he took a bow at the song's conclusion, Alan, the director, who also spent four years in Dr. Whitecotton's choir, looked right at us and raised a smiling eyebrow, to acknowledge the brotherhood.

Yes, I include myself in that brotherhood. If Paul started high school in 1982, David joined the Freshmen Boy's Choir in 1984. That is six consecutive years of Christmas concerts that my family attended since both boys were in the choir all four years of their high school experience. Although they moved on from Freshman Boy's Choir, the concert was one of combined choirs and so we all got to sing along in our heads with the current year's crop of Freshmen boys each season. So, that 1982-1988.

In 1990, I was in the 8th Grade and the junior high choir was invited to sing at the high school as part of the combined choirs. It was so huge. I remember putting on one of my mom's white button-down shirts and tucking it into a black jersey-knit skirt and feeling so grown-up as I looked at myself in the mirror, because I looked like six years of high school kids that I remembered. Of course, I looked rediculous because it is impossible to tuck a starched and ironed broadcloth shirt into what is ostensibly a t-shirt and look at all put-together, but what did I know? I was 12-years-old. I had beautiful fuzzy memories of watching all of the mouths of the high school choirs changing shape in perfect unison from smiley ee-vowels to the perfect oh-vowels. I was going to be part of that group. I was so very proud. That was the 7th holiday season ushered in with, "zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom."

Then, I had my own high school career in the choir to enjoy the pubescent sounds of 13 and 14-year old boys singing drinking songs. That's years 8, 9 ,10 and 11 that "Winter Song" was part of my Christmas celebration. My younger brother was in high school another 2 years, so that rounds out the experience to a full 13 years that boys have sung:

For the fire goblins flicker on the ceiling, and the white witch glitters in the glass, and the smoke wraiths are drifting, curling, reeling, and the sleeeiiiigh bells jingle as they paaaaaaaassssss.

Unfortunately, by the time I taught two years at my old high school, Dr. Whitecotton had retired and I can't tell you for certain whether or not Mr. Salotti carried on the tradition.

But Alan has! And now I can go on and watch Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, The John Denver and the Muppets Christmas, and the Star Wars Holiday Special while making and wrapping presents with the peace that comes from tradition carried out.

For the wolf-wind is wailing at the doorways, and the snow drifts deep along the road, and the ice gnomes are marching from their Norways, and the greeeaaaaat white cold walks abrooooaaaaad.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Meta Mirror

On Friday, I started my morning at my brother's restaurant, just sitting at the "friend" table in the presence of two other people my brother knows, staring into space and talking with whomever had something to say every once in awhile for about three or four hours. My three tablemates were used to this pace and had brought newspapers and sudoku books to pass the time. I had nothing, which made me vaguely uncomfortable, but the more that I stared into space in silence with my hands wrapped around the tea mug, the more I liked this way of interacting with people. I almost kind-of liked not having something to busy my hands and the shallow parts of my brain with. I got to just think for a little while, interspersed with conversations about music, the holiday or the news. Since my friends all require appointments in order to spend time with them, that time can't be wasted just sitting and thinking in each other's presence. We interact the whole time. That's not bad but Friday morning was different.

Ultimately, I had some thoughts that I wanted to write down and I pulled out my journal. This coincided with a tapering off of the intermittant conversation, so I had some time tofocus my thoughts into a stream that was a little more linear.

I wrote about loneliness. Lately, I've been more melancholy than not. I spend lots of nights at home, a little weepy and watching lots of episodes of the Gilmore Girls, Grey's Anatomy and the West Wing. I wrote in my journal about people who have it far worse than I do: instead of being lonely because their all of their friends are going through huge life transitions, they're lonely because they don't have any friends. If they're lucky, they have hobbies that they are passionate about that they find online communities of people to share them with and get to go to conventions a couple of times a year. As I wrote, I found myself envying the hobbies of these recluses. I have always considered myself a dillentante of crafts and hobbies. I float from project to project, buying supplies and learning enough to product a spate of presents for friends, but never sticking with one thing long enough to identify with other people who make things like knitting, quilting or reading science fiction into a lifestyle. Still, my melancholy had robbed me even of the simple joys of casual crafting! With motivation sapped from my mind because of my self-pity, I had gotten stuck in knitting and forgotten about all the other projects that I had been wanting to work on. I realized that being a dillentante was my strength! So what if I'm not overwhelmed with passion for one thing!? I can never get bored! That's super!

Ok, so I didn't have all of those realizations right there in my brother's restaurant. Some of that just occurred to me right now. However, in imagining the life of people with hobbies instead of friends, I did regain a desire to work on projects other than knitting. So, I put my journal in my bag, bid good-bye to Joe and Cara and my brother and headed home to make this:

My grandmother unearthed a picture of herself and my grandfather kissing in the mirror and I bought a raw wood mirror on clearance for $7 several months ago.

A perfect decoupage combination.

A picture taken in a mirror and a mirror. How very meta.

This is the back of the photo where Grandma has written, "Can't stand this stuff!" I can picture her feeling rebellious for both the contraction and the word, "stuff."

I have not lost that motivation since Friday. On Sunday, I went back out to my parents' house to get my sewing machine and have decided to finish the quilt that I've been working on. I set up a little station so I can sew while I'm watching Grey's Anatomy marathons. A perfect compromise.

I've been melancholy for some good reasons. But I've also been weepy because I didn't ahve anything else to do. So, I give myself something to do until school starts and then people will have to start calling me because they haven't seen me in forever.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rock Star

Erika and I toasted with bellinis at 10:15 this morning because I had been a rock star.

Also, I really needed a drink.

The venue was very small and I really only had an audience of 3 or 4.

But I was a rock star.

As we were being led to our table at Lula's, the woman at the table next to ours looked familiar so my face started turning up into a smile of recognition while my brain caught up to it with her identity. My brain got distracted momentarily because there was a little boy dressed in a full fireman suit including a hat standing on the bench next to her.

As I was sliding into my seat, I looked at the man sitting across from her and panicked slightly because it was my ex-husband's brother! The woman I recognized was his wife and the little boy was the child they had shortly after Dennis left me.

Here's where the rock star part comes in. In that split second, I looked around the restaurant to see that there was no other table that we could switch to, so I said in a totally normal friendly voice, "Hey Dave. Hi Kimberly." They looked like stunned fish but the little boy turned to me and said, "I'm a fireman!" I said, "You certainly are. I'd heard that you existed. You're just as cute as they said you were."

Then, I turned back to Erika and had every conversation that I had intended to have with her, as if people that more than likely believed terrible, untrue things about me were not sitting less than two feet away. For instance, they probably think that I had an emotional affair with a guy when I was on tour. I know Dennis spread that one around pretty thick to explain the divorce, even though the first I heard anything about it wasn't until he had been gone for over a year. My hands shook for the first five or ten minutes but I ultimately got to the point where I forgot they were there for whole sentences at a time. I didn't even need to listen in on their conversation. At one point, one of my brother's friends came in and I excused myself to go say hi to him. Really, I needed to just look at someone friendly, explain the situation briefly and say, "What the hell?" to get it out of my system. He was very nice about it, though. Other than that, I had a very normal breakfast date with my friend Erika that I just didn't happen to be able to taste.

When they got up and left, he led the way out. She waved and smiled and I returned the gesture. She always seemed like a reasonable and insightful person, so I bet she totally understood why I didn't try to make small talk with them. I mean, what would I say to my ex-husband's brother who never really liked me in the first place? That would only get ugly quickly. Better to acknowledge the awkwardness with kindness and the reality of our non-existent relationship with silence. Once they were out the door, though, I crumpled a little. Erika asked who they had been and I explained that it was Dennis's brother. Erika had recognized them from my wedding but hadn't made the connection. That was when she told me I was a rock star. She said she couldn't even tell that there had been anything wrong. I got a little teary with relief that they were gone and she asked if I needed a hug. Then, she got that lightbulb look on her face and asked if I wanted a drink instead.

So, we drank Bellinis, tipped the waitress extra for holding on to the table for another 45 minutes and kept talking like the good girlfriends can do. We didn't even need to talk about Dennis all that much.

In addition to being able to act like everything was OK, I feel like a rock star because it's beginning to feel like everything is OK, even in totally random and unexpected emotionally intense encounters.

Rock on.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


It’s cold in the desert at night. Because there is very little cloud cover, the sun is allowed to heat the air and soil to blistering temperatures during the day. However, lacking those same clouds, the desert lacks insulation to keep that heat in place during the night when that part of the earth turns away from the sun. These environments are how most reptiles evolved as cold-blooded. It takes more energy for them to maintain their own steady body temperature in the face of the extremes than it does to simply adapt the body’s functions to the external temperature. So, if you come across many reptiles on particularly cold nights, they will seem almost dead because their bodies have gone dormant.

A man was walking along the road early in the morning, before the sun had gotten a chance to warm the desert again after a long winter’s night. A snake was lying beside the side of the road, gasping. The snake called out to the man, “Help me! I can barely breathe because of the cold. I’m afraid I will die.” The man walked over to the snake and prodded it a little with his foot and the snake’s story rang true: his long, tubular body was ice cold and unresponsive. He seemed about to die. In pity, the man picked up the snake, tucked him into his jacket to share his own body’s warmth and continued walking down the road. The snake sighed in relief and the man got a warm, contented feeling in his chest to think that his existence had benefited more than just himself, for once. This warm, contented feeling was quickly followed by a hot, burning feeling somewhere near his stomach. He looked down into his jacket in pain and locked eyes with the snake, who said, “What did you expect? You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”

I had a brutal week last week. I got bitten by a lot of things that I should have realized were snakes when I picked them up. There were also just a couple of adrenaline boosts just to keep things at their peak emotional level.

On Sunday, as a result of hearing my music minister’s avid agreement with the pastor’s comments on racial reconciliation, I decided that it was time that I was not the only person who knew that publicly he put on a show that he did not act out in private. I sent an email to the pastors and the elders explaining that he had been ignoring my attempts to communicate with him by email, including my resignation letter, and pretending that he didn’t see me every time we were in the same room together.

This was actually probably the most peaceful part of the week. I really prayed about whether this was the right thing to do or not. I wrote the email, spent two hours in the spa, came back and looked at the email again, made some changes, and sent it. The proverbial weight was lifted from my shoulders. My mind knew that the shit could easily hit the fan because Christians are often the biggest and meanest potential snakes that I come across in my experience but my heart and soul were content that I was no longer the only person who knew that the music minister was capable of hurting parishioners with his deliberate neglect.

And I was contentedly surprised that the first few responses were caring and supportive. Ultimately, the folks that were responding communicated that if I had a little patience, they would find some time to meet with me and hear me out. They thanked me for not just walking away in the face of the hurt I was feeling. It was a situation in which I hadn’t realized that I was contracting all of my emotional muscles in the event that I would have to protect myself until I let them go because no one was attacking.

So, in that coasting state, of course, my ex-husband calls. He is the snake that I know is a snake but continually pick up because he looks so pathetic. He was calling to ask when and where our small claims court date was because he had lost the summons. Every time I think he can’t be any more self-destructive, he goes and finds a way to blow past his previous stupidities. You see, if he doesn’t show up at the hearing, I win automatically and the state will garnish his wages to get the money to me. But he lost the summons. Probably because he’s hiding the whole thing from his new wife. And so he calls me because he feels like he can rely on my to pick him up from the side of the road like I have so many times before.

Divorce is awful. There is no explanation for why interacting with the man who has not been my husband in almost 4 years can still cause me to weep. I have no illusions about reconciling and he has been so hurtful in the times that we have interacted since he left that I no longer think back on our time together with nostalgic longing. But I can’t get anything done when he calls because I am so agitated and at some point, I will feel tremendous grief. The fact that there is no psychological explanation for the tears makes them worse. They just are. And I have to accept it without being able to explain it. I’ve given up trying to explain since I know that my answers are just as wrong as the people who thought that maggots erupted spontaneously from rotten meat because microscopes hadn’t yet been invented to tell them otherwise.

So, in this state, while on the phone with my best friend Susan, a guy that is only an acquaintance, but whom I find to be quite attractive, beeps on my call waiting. I let it go to voice mail because I will only stick my foot down my throat and vomit all over this guy verbally if I try to talk to him now. But to add to the confusing mix of emotions that I am feeling at that moment, add fluttering hope and the terror of relationship potential. To recount, that mix is:
1. Fight or flight anticipation that my church leadership will reject me
2. Hesitating realization that maybe they won’t
3. Peace at no longer being solely responsible for the knowledge that my music minister behaves badly
4. Flabbergasted at Dennis’s temerity
5. Grief
6. Equivocation regarding whether to enable him or not
7. Frustration that I can’t get any work done
8. Fluttering hope because a guy who has never called is calling now
9. Intellectual attempts to squash that hope because it’s just silly
10. Terror that maybe it’s not silly and then I have to be all brave in a new relationship
11. The physical aftermath of conjuring up a mental picture of this guy
12. Mild dread at the office baby shower that will be taking place in 45 minutes (did I forget to mention that yet another woman my age is procreating?)
13. Pangs of emptiness because my life is not in a place where I can have my own children
14. Undercurrents of heartbreak over Matt
15. Slight disbelief that I still miss a guy that I only dated for 4 months

All on a Tuesday morning.

So, I listened to the voice mail and the guy is asking for my brother’s phone number because 1) he’s got a question about motorcycles and 2) he thinks he needs to start going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and he was looking for recommendations on which meetings to go to.

At least we can eliminate 8, 9, and 10 from the list. 11 was a little more tenacious and stuck around. Of course, the adrenaline for all of these had nowhere to go, so continued to swish around in my bloodstream, causing my heart to pump a little harder than it normally does and my muscles to grip closely to their bones.

I called him back, then called my ex-husband, who wanted to come meet me to bring me the money tonight. I said that was fine but he needed to pay the court costs and it needed to be a cashier’s check.

“How do I get a cashier’s check?”

I wish that I had said, “Ask your wife.” That would have said everything so simply. But responses like that only come through in movies and on very, very good days. Today was not even a good day. I did OK, though. It just took more words to express my disgust. I said in disbelief, “Dennis, you’re 31 years old.” “It’s just a question.” “After I spent 6 years of my life teaching you how to be a grown-up to be repaid the way I was, it’s an inappropriate question.” “Jeez, fine.”

For the rest of the day, I got through the shower, received kudos for the blueberry hat that I made and got at least a little work done in the afternoon. I docked myself a couple of hours for company time wasted on personal business and went home, stopping at the gym first to get rid of a little pent-up energy. Dennis came by after speech practice (because I’m never going to be more important than speech practice) and I went down into the rain to meet him on the street to receive his check. Of course, he didn’t have the full amount, so I made him write that he did in fact still owe it to me and sign a piece of paper. He said he’d mail me the last $200.


I’ve picked up that snake before.

Luckily, Daniel was home to talk to me so that I could talk though the dangerously expanding grief in my chest. Jess asked later how he had looked. I took only fleeting glimpses, even though I was facing him directly. He’s thinner and the only sentence I could formulate in my head at the time was, “She bought him a new coat.” I didn’t think to look for his new wedding ring. I’m glad that I didn’t.

I wish getting the money felt a little better. I’m not going to court for the last $200. He wins. I’ll never get the respect that I’m looking for by being repaid. I wasn’t going to get it anyway. I just realize it now.

Later in the week, after a few stable days, a good yoga class, and a fun night of liquor and burgers with Jess in which she knocked over the boots on the display table in the store we went into after dinner like dominoes, my head pastor responded to my email from earlier in the week.

I had been lulled into thinking that because some of the recipients of the email accurately understood that writing the email was hard for me because I had to lay all of my vulnerabilities about how Christians treat me in order to do so. Because the tail and body of the snake had not hurt me, I thought that the head wouldn't either.

We've talked about it since then and I recognize that his motives were not necessarily to put me in my place because I had touched a nerve and offended him in some way, showing the other staff that he had me reigned in. But, wow, it really hurt. He said that I was malicious in bringing this to everyone's attention and not just his attention. He didn't address the issue of the hurt I was feeling about my music minister at all but only told me that I had gone about making my complaint incorrectly. He used scripture like a bludgeon to drive that point home. When we met about it this past Tuesday, I told him that I was so upset by it because I expect that from other Christians, but I didn't expect the retreat to legalism from him. I was hurt and then I was angry. I spent Friday night raging with my friend Jess, who was agreeing with me for the most part, but talking me down. I was exhausted.

Saturday I managed volunteers and luckily got distracted from sitting around the house for the rest of the day by going to see the new James Bond movie with my brothers Daniel and David.

Sunday, I went to church because I could claim the moral high ground if I did. My pastor gave a brilliant sermon on how Christianity requires our motives for doing good to be pure. Specifically, it requires that we do all that we do out of other-centered love. Since I had not yet spoken to him about his email, I could only think about the fact that he had shown no love in his email to me and that hypocrisy made me mad. He has since called it "The most awkward hug he has ever given," because he went for it without realizing that I was mad and I was like "cardboard," in his words. I did, however, get a chance to check in with the attractive guy that needed an AA referral and apologize for any inappropriateness that might have been in my voice mail as a result of recent contact with my ex-husband. He was very sweet about it. Too bad he needs at least a year of not dating to focus on his sobriety.

After church, I drove out to my parents' house, where no one would ask me any questions that I didn't want to answer. James Brown went with me at top volume. I had slow down at one point because some asshole thought I was racing him. I played with the dog and read a magazine. My mom fed me. I stayed the night there and then had the day off so that I could do my "upkeep" out in the suburbs. I went to the dentist for a follow-up on my oral surgery, saw my counselor, got a massage and got my bangs trimmed. Luckily, it was a beautiful day for driving around. Sometimes days like that make me curse the suburbs forever because of how stupidly people drive when they don't have an edge from living in a city.

This past Tuesday, I met with my pastor and worked everything out. My brother thinks that maybe there is a little too much drama at my church. It's possible that he's right, but I think of my relationship with this church like it's a relationship with a person, especially a boyfriend. It isn't until you have a couple of fights that you realize whether or not it's going to work. It's unrealistic to think that you won't fight. You're grown people with different experiences, expectations and habits; of course there are going to be instances where the puzzle pieces that are your lives don't fit perfectly. However, if you work out those differences well once they flair up, then it's worth putting some effort into it. Long-term commitment only requires that you are both willing to be right with each other. That desire will trump any issue that will get between you. I told Jess that I'm looking for a church that is a group of people worth feeling as shitty as I felt on Friday. The fact that the head pastor and I could sit down over coffee and have the difficult conversation of two people who have offended each other but who want to be right with each other means that this church is worth those kind of nights.

So, in the end, although it felt like I was picking up snakes, it turned out that I was the reptile who only slowly warmed up as the sun drove away the cold of the night again. I hope that I'm something that makes a better metaphor than a snake. Maybe I can be a some kind of turtle or an iguana.

Ah, the cyclical nature of life and emotions. It's a universal truth that I'm just starting to be able to remember when I'm at the bottom of the wheel. It doesn't make the week any less brutal, but it does help me hold up while I'm in the middle of it. Maybe this means that I will start getting better at remembering snakes have a vicious nature before I pick them up so I can leave them at the roadside and keep walking.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thousand Waves Spa

Some people might think that after spending two hours in a spa - in and out of the sauna, steambath and hot tub - ridding my body of toxins through heat therapy and quiet meditation . . . some people might think that they should follow that up with a light meal, like sushi . . . or a smoothie.

Do gyros count?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Granted, Part II

Today I had a fantastic city day. And by that, I mean a day that blends all of the adventure that the city offers with an awareness that all of these things wouldn't be happening in one day if I had not made the decisions I've made in my life to bring me to this point.

I wrote about days like these when I lived on Orcas Island. I think it only fair that I stay up a little later to write about it now.

I woke up this morning with the alarm at 5:30 and swished around in my flannel sheets for awhile. Around 6:07, I decided that today would be the day that I took off of work a little early and got off the train in the middle of downtown to file the last of my small claims paperwork and to buy my city sticker for my car. I have been driving with Washington plates all of this last year. They expired last week when the calendar flipped to November. Luckily, I had gone to the DMV a week before my conference and gotten Illinois plates and an Illinois license. However, I did not put the plates on my car because I hadn't bought a city sticker and that is an easy target for police: Illinois plates with no sticker showing where it is registered. However, stickers can't just be bought anywhere and when I tried to go get one before the conference, the satellite office of City Hall only had one clerk for 43 people in line and I had a plane in 2 and a half hours. So, I decided to risk expired plates while I was out of town but parked on the street. I got back and there was no ticket on my windshield and since that worked so well, I got a little lazy. Not too lazy because I've actually been in the car twice when people. ("That will never happen to me") But this morning, instead of feeling groggy, I was awake almost immediately and got to enjoy the softness of the sheets. First thing in the morning is my favorite time of the day because I can savor my comfortable bed and the total bodily relaxation that is the result of a night's sleep before I go and ruin it all by abandoning the horizontal position for the stress and cold of walking around. Because I was inexplicably alert, I decided that today was the day.

So, I got up and did my routine and went out the door to catch my train. It arrived almost immediately and was not too crowded. I got to read my book all 45 minutes on the way to work. Does any day start better than that?

Work is busy since I was out of the office all week last week and my fax line was clipped by the phone guys while I was gone, which is unfortunate because tomorrow is the deadline for request forms for Christmas toys, which means that people have been thinking their faxes that they were sending all week were going through when actually they weren't. So, I've had to call everyone that I haven't heard from. I slogged it out for 4 hours but really wasn't feeling well. Yoga last night kicked my ass a little and I think my body was trying to work out some of the toxins that had been trapped in long-unstretched muscles that I stretched last night.

So, I left around noon once all the work that had to be done was finished. While at the conference, I built up 19 hours of flex time. I'm an hourly employee and all conversation and meals were networking and talking about business, so I counted any hour over eight that I was talking with someone as work. So, I used four of them and headed home with a quick stop downtown in the middle. (My El train runs into the city from the northwest, where I live, and back out of it to the west, where I work.)

At this point, I should tell that it was a gorgeous fall day today after so many uggy days of the early freezing rain type. And it wasn't expected to be. It was supposed to be overcast and rainy. So, 62 degrees and sunny was heaven to walk around in.

I had Jimmy John's for lunch, which never fails to make me happy, the went to the Daley center. I did not have to wait in any lines there and concluded my business with no snarls in less than 10 minutes. I wandered around the area a little bit, enjoying the people, then ended up across the street at City Hall. There was no line there, either. The nice young man did not charge me a late fee, even though it is 9 days over the 30 grace period that I had to purchase my sticker. (My lease began October 1.) That took less than 5 minutes. Two bureaucratic tasks in less than 15 minutes. Pretty amazing, huh?

I got back on the train and came home, where I closed my eyes on the couch and let the tension from the toxins and the pace from downtown fall away from me. It was one of those beautiful naps where I was aware that I was losing consciousness, even saying to myself with satisfaction, "That's not something I normally think about. I must be asleep," without waking myself up. I did wake up naturally about 20 minutes later and headed out the door to go to my friend Jess's house, which is a couple of blocks south of me.

As I walked, I approached where my car was parked and saw that a classic Chicago cop was ticketing the big white van that was parked behind me. He was in his early 50s, had normal sized legs and I giant torso, wrapped up in a bulletproof vest. He had unfortunate facial hair and the hair on his head was full and dark, but plastered to his forehead with sweat, despite the fact that it was 62 degrees out. Worried, I tried to figure out why the white van was being ticketed and whether I was guilty of the same violation. As I passed the van, I realized that its two passenger wheel were up on the curb, so my worry abated and I kept walking. Then, I realized that being close enough to the van to read the VIN off the dashboard, the cop would be right next to my expired out-of-state plates. Also, I hadn't seen his car parked anywhere with its lights on. What if he worked behind the desk in the police station across the street and was walking around the neighborhood ticketing petty offences of parked cars just to have an excuse to be outside in the beautiful weather?

At this point, I decided it would be prudent to turn around and go back to my car. I had the license plates in there and screwdrivers. So, I sat in the passenger seat and pulled my city sticker out of my purse and proceeded to apply it to my windshield. This done, I reached down and picked up the license plates, still in their plastic wrapper. At this moment, the cop came around and said, "Darlin', do you know your plates. . . " I popped up from the car very perky and said, "I do! I'm putting the new ones on right now!" All smiles. He smiled at me and moved along. Like there was nothing to see here. As I walked away from the car towards Jess's house after completing my tasks, I saw that my theory was correct; the cop was leaning over the windshield of a car around the corner, reading the VIN to write another ticket for a petty offense, this time with a cigarette in his mouth. Definitely looking for an excuse to be outside. And to earn the city a little money, of course.

I arrived at Jess's house and had a beautiful open and intimate conversation with about how I've felt abandoned these last few months and she reacted without hostility of defensiveness and thanked me for not letting her pull away from me because her life has been difficult in ways she has been reluctant to tell me about. I was so worried that the chemistry that I felt with her when I first met her last spring was going to end up being ephemeral, like all relationships are. I just didn't want to move into the next season so soon. That kind of friendship happens for me so rarely. I had been so sad about it. But we're OK. She was so affirming and upset that she had hurt me, both without going over the top trying to make me understand how understanding and regretful she was. She just was those things and let me see it.

I left Jess's house two hours later because we were both a little exhausted and went home. Daniel had called me around 3:30, when he usually gets home from work to see when I would be home so that he could determine whether he should wait to watch a couple of episodes of Season 7 of the West Wing, which he just bought. I told him that I would love it if he took a little nap, then watched two episodes with me when I got home. And so it happened. Boy, do I love Toby. And Margaret.

Then, at 7:00, I went out the door, got on the train again and headed north to my friend Camilla's production of The Crucible, which was only 90 minutes long because it had two drummers keeping it from slowing down and getting pedantic. It could have been better in a few places, but it's probably the best Crucible I'll ever see. And of course, the costume were gorgeous. I love having truly talented friends. Let's face it, I could fake enthusiasm for their lives if I had to. I mean, I don't have so many that I can afford not to be supportive, regardless. So, it's particularly neat that I don't have to. She really is bugely (big + huge) creative in designing the costumes and super-competent is constructing them. We stayed because she needed to be there for a "talk-back" with audience members who had questions. Then, she drove me home.

Look at how many cool things happened to me in one day. And I never felt rushed to get from one to the other. They all just fell into place. Actually, when I got home at 11:00, Daniel had texted me to tell me that he was playing a show with his country band, Barely American, at 10:00 or 10:30. Since he didn't get home until 11:45, I could have added that to the list of things I experienced today. But, instead, I sat down to record it all.

Despite the days when my soul feels like it is matte-finished, or maybe because of those days, I want to make sure that days like today do not get taken for granted.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


They're perfect.

I just left my audition with Michael and John and I haven't been able to stop laughing quietly to myself since.

I've been trolling Craigslist and The Reader looking for groups to sing with. It is quite a bit like when I was dating guys from after I had been recently divorced: you have to hope that whoever wrote the ad has some writing ability so that all of your reading between the lines is worthwhile. Otherwise, all the literary analysis in the world won't help you make an accurate prediction as to whether you'll like him when you meet.

I responded to a few ads and heard back from 4 of those. One band I eliminated after a few email interactions, mainly because it became clear that they were four guys in their late 30s and early 40s who were married with kids. Since played only 2-3 gigs a year but rehearsed every week, I realized that this band was their weekly escape from the wife and kids, like the basketball league for some guys. Their last singer quit the band because she couldn't balance it and 5 kids anymore. Not only was I feeling fairly toxic about adding more people with kids to my life, I also realized that it wasn't long before one of their wives felt threatened by little ole me with no early-onset wrinkles from years in the tanning bed and the time I was spending with their husbands, unencumbered by the need to chase a child away from certain death between every third sentence. That's just drama I don't need. Another guy eliminated me because it was clear that I wasn't excited about Bjork as his major influence.

So, this is the ad for the guys I met with tonight:
Female vocalist wanted by singer/songwriter & bassist duo for performance of original compositions. We're about the joy of playing and performing.

During our phone conversation, Michael revealed that he believed that he music he writes was beamed to him on a certain frequency and that he was just a care-taker for the music.


So, Michael is a hippy in his early 50s, which means he's at the very tail end of that Baby Boomer generation of original hippies. He wore a tie-dyed shirt tucked into his worn jeans and a khaki hat above his one faceted gem earring. John is probably in his late 30s, with a long pony-tail. As I write the word pony-tail, I realize that he is the embodiment of sensitive-pony-tail guy. Formless light blue jeans, plain navy t-shirt, 6-year-old white gym shoes that have absolutely no branding, color or design on them anywhere. He doesn't work out, so they have accumulated the subtle grime of little wear. These are the shoes that he wears when he changes from the pleated-khakis-and-polo-shirt that he wears for work every day. Like Mr. Rogers. He might be divorced because there are pictures of two little girls all over his sparsely furnished studio apartment. Both of them are totally harmless bachelors.

I am delighted.

They are like guys that I would meet on the island. This is a whole new social dimension that I'm entering. The songs are fairly simple but I like the style. It's a perfect venue for my kind of voice. Plus, I will be performing again, which I haven't done in a long time. It's a new adventure!

Monday, November 06, 2006

A new Murphy!

Poor kid. He's got to go through life as one of the Murphy's. And we are a decidedly odd bunch.

My cousin Barbara Joy and her husband Darren have finally brought home a baby boy. They already have one of the most precocious little girls that I know and, from his face, they might now have the most charming little boy.

Moise is from Haiti and he is three and a half years old. On Tuesday, I had everyone that was participating in the conference praying for him and for my cousins because he was having his visa hearing, which was the final step in their adoption.

On Wednesday, they put him on a plane.

My cousins have been trying to make Moise part of their family since January of 2004. He was 9 months old then.

All accounts are that they and he are adjusting as well as any overseas adoption can. When I talked with Darren, he had to leave quickly because his ball had rolled under the chair and then he bumped his head trying to get the ball and was now crying. Seems pretty normal to me.

I'm so American-centric that I was startled to learn that he doesn't know any English. He speaks a French creole. But he's learning sign-language quickly and seems to be picking up on what words mean. Mary Emma, his sister, has apparently been very helpful. Also, there are two men at their church who are from Haiti and can speak with him.

Congratulations Barbara Joy, Darren and Mary Emma on a beautiful son and brother. We're happy to make him part of our family, which means that he'll grow up with a sophomoric sense of humor, a knowledge of the words to traditional hymns, and a deep sense of being loved, both by God and by us.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I used to compete in and then coach forensic speech, which is competitive performance. At the end of each tournament, performers receive anywhere from 3 to 10 written critiques of their work, which also has a rank on it showing how they compared to the other performers in their round. Competitors receive a 1 for a best in the round and a 6 if they were the worst in the round and anything in between for average performances. Needless to say, it is very common for competitors to receive critiques that have a rank of 5 or 6 on them and state loudly, "This judge doesn't know what he's talking about!" Then, they list all of their observations about that judge that support their statement. They list of the terrible outfit he or she was wearing, make specualtions about which inferior school that judge was representing or nitpick mannerism such as slurping soda and tapping pens. Part of why I love teenagers is their inability to keep their disappointment (or any other emotion) out of their behavior.

I was as bad as anyone and this behavior carried over into my judging on occasion. As I made friends with other coaches on the circuit, we would talk a lot about our experiences as coaches and we would vent when a kid we thought deserved better got bad ranks. I was complaining about the grudge that I thought a judge had against my school and how useless his critique was. My friend Tom said, "In 20 years of coaching, I have learned that the most important critiques are not the judges that thought that my kid was the best but the judges that gave a good kid a 6. Speech is about effective communication and that 6 tells me that my kid did not communicate effectively. He put his information or emotion or entertainment out there, but the judge didn't receive it. That judge is going to tell me the most about how to help this kid get better." It was a watershed moment for me. I started to grow up out of my own teenaged competitor habits and began seeing tournaments with the eyes of an adult coach.

I have been slightly dishonest with you all. At the beginning of last week, someone commented on this post that was about my family and about my experience filing in small claims court for the money that my ex-husband has promised consistently but never repaid in the three and a half years since we were divorced. I erased the comment before anyone saw it because it made me very angry but I didn't want to let this guy provoke me into the intimacy of sharing intense emotion. He isn't worth that intimacy. However, I didn't want to just leave something so inflammatory up without a response. So, I deleted it. But as my anger that his total lack of empathy aroused has subsided, I began looking at his comment as if it were a critique with a 6 written on it. What am I doing wrong that causes me to miss the mark in trying to communicate with this guy? Why doesn't he understand me?

You know, Rebecca, in spite of your telling me you didn't want to be my friend, I had taken to reading this blog about once a month because I think you're a very good writer and, frankly, I just get curious to see how you're doing. But I don't think I'll be reading anymore. For someone who has claimed to just want to get past Dennis, you spend an awful lot of energy not getting past Dennis and taking satisfaction in not letting him get past you. I hope that eventually changes for you.

To give you some background, I did tell this guy that I didn't want to be friends with him. We had been friends but when Dennis left me, this guy sent me an email telling me I was a "bad person" and that he didn't want to be friends with me anymore. He never even asked me to confirm or deny whatever he had been told about what I did to make Dennis leave me. A couple of years later, when I moved into the city, he contacted me and said that he'd like to talk. He was not alone. I wrote about that influx of reconciliation in this post. While I felt comfortable with two of the three conversations that I had, I left this one conversation uncomfortable. I felt like he didn't really think that Dennis had done anything all that wrong by lying to me for 6 and half years and that he didn't understand why I was so hurt. He also wanted to take that opportunity to tell me his side of the story all about how his best friend (who was one of the other guys coming back to me) had betrayed him and how he was justified in not talking to him anymore. I felt strongly that if he was still the type of guy who could cut off the people closest to him without another word because he was insulted by something, I didn't want to trust him with my friendship again. Seriously. I'm not just writing that now in retrospect because of what he wrote in his comment. I have a three-point essay in my journal that I wrote as I was figuring out whether I was justified in doing something so drastic as to tell him that I didn't want to be friends anymore. So, I thanked him for helping me to resolve some of the painful issues of betrayal that I had from the events surrounding the divorce, but I told him that I wasn't interested in re-establishing a friendship with him. I said I hoped that he understood that I was in a new place in my life and looking for new relationships. I didn't go into details and I tried to be as respectful as I could. He responded and said that seemed weird, but that he wasn't going to argue with me. I thought it was all very amiable and adult, even if - maybe especially because - it was a little difficult.

So I was really taken aback to see his comment on my post. There is such smooth venom in it. And it shows that he really doesn't understand me at all. Which begs the question: how have I failed to communicate with this guy? He's right; in several posts I have a certain glee at dealing out some minor hurt to my ex-husband. Maybe I haven't done a very good job giving background to those folks that haven't been with me since the beginning: once I knew that my divorce was inevitable, I realized that I wanted to come out of the experience healthy. I didn't want to be the archetype of the bitter divorced woman who is always the confidante to the small, pretty, charmingly clumsy blonde who is the romantic heroine in the movies. So, vengeance of any sort wasn't an option for me.

But, do you know what? I just went back to check my posts since being back in Chicago. Only three are about Dennis in any length more than a passing comment to give background. You can find them here and here. There is also, this one about giving him the finger the first time I saw him after returning to Chicago from the island. After reading these three again and re-reading the post that caused this guy to comment, I have to disagree with his premise that I "spend an awful lot of energy not getting past Dennis and taking satisfaction in not letting him get past" me. I was going to spend some time in this post doing a self-inventory, seriously considering whether I have been allowing myself to slip into unhealthy behavior using the excuse that enough time has passed that I won't damage my soul now if I indulge in a few minor occurances of glee at his misfortune. But I don't see enough evidence in these posts to merit that space. If I can't get past Dennis, it is because Dennis continues to make himself a part of my life by doing things like bouncing checks that were supposed to pay back the money he spent going over my minutes on my cell phone calling his mistress while we were still married.

I made the decision that I was going to come out of this experience healthy. Being healthy is all about balance and up until recently, I had swung all the way to one side of dealing with the intense hurt of losing my husband not through death but through deception and his choice that I wasn't worth his time anymore. For the most part, I let him beat me up emotionally and turned the other cheek, attempting to forgive and move on so that my life wouldn't orbit around his anymore. But now that I have broken orbit, I need to swing a little bit to the other side of recovery and fight back just a little. I needed to regain just a little bit of power in the relationship and when I learned that he was getting married again, I decided that I would feel less powerless if I forced him to pay the rest of the money that he owed me.

Coincidentally, I dealt with this guy's betrayal of our friendship back then in a similar way. I was quiet. I didn't try to argue my case. I tried to forgive and move on. But when he hurt me again last week by flaming my blog, I took back some of the power in the relationship by telling him that I never wanted him to communicate with me again in any format. Also, I might have mentioned that I wasn't a "fucking newspaper" and that I didn't care if he canceled his subscription. When he responded to my email in flagrant defiance of my request, I simply deleted the message without reading it. I don't need that kind of negative energy in this life that I'm trying to build from the ashes of the life that he was a part of.

As a coach, I now look for the clue to success in the critiques that proclaim that my students have failed and try to teach that philosophy to the kids. I don't let them disparage their judges where I can hear them and most of the time I'm right: respect even those you don't like and who are mean to you because they probably have the most to teach you. However, sometimes schools hire their bus drivers to judge tournaments if the scheduled judge calls in hung-over. Other times, judges are hung-over. Occasionally, judges are so caught up in taking down the competition so that their own kid can win, they rank unethically. Kids don't have the experience to be able to weed these critiques out and disregard them. All 6s look the same to them. But I can tell when a judge has his head up his ass. I don't point it out to the kid; I simply change the subject and read what the next one has to say.

It's time to change the subject and move on to the next critique. Because if this guy thinks that I'm clinging to my life with Dennis after all that I've been through these past three and a half years, his ability to get his head so far between his knees that he looks like a grotesque pretzel is all that he'll ever have to be proud of.

And I'm not interested in freak shows.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I did not pack any socks.

Thursday, my boss walked into my office at 4:15 and asked me what I was doing next (this) week. I thought we were going to set up a meeting, so I flipped through my three calendars and said, "Nothing really. My schedule is pretty wide open."

"Will you go to Tacoma and represent me at the big U.S. Programs Summit?"

So, I'm in Tacoma for the week, washing my socks in the bathroom sink and blowing them dry in the morning.

However, the bed is good and I brought my yoga mat and my stuffed frog, Melvin. The wireless is free and the food that the hotel catering provides is excellent.

So I have to talk to people for 12 hours a day. So what? Actually, I could have stayed with them longer tonight but I know I have to pace myself for the rest of the week. Keeping myself from getting peopled out is serious business.

Also, it's a little hard to be in Washington, so close to Orcas Island. I'm still feeling too fragile about Matt to want to go up and meet Jeffrey's new love and to see the utopia that I can't have. Talk about upheaval. But, it'll be OK.

I just wish that the white socks I wore onto the plane with my jeans and gym shoes didn't make me look like Jake and Elwood Blues when I wear them with my professional clothes.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Last night I ushered at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and got to see their production of Hamlet from spectacular seats for free.

I haven't been going to church much lately.

What do those two have to do with each other?

Before I answer that, let's throw a few more ingredients into the pot.

Matt seems willing to hang out with me even though we broke up and although I know it's a terrible idea, I've decided to continue hanging out with him because my heart is happier when I'm with him and I'm giving it (my heart) permission to hope that there's a chance we can get back together. "Why not?" I tell myself, "I've never been Ducky from Pretty in Pink or Skippy from Family Ties." I say, "Life's an adventure and it's good to experience new things."

I will be 29 years old next week. This didn't seem like such a big deal until I saw a commercial that asked, "Are you overweight and over 30?" Connecting those two states of being drove it home that some things - like losing weight or finding happiness - might actually be more difficult in another year. Before that commercial, 30 was just a number.

In two weeks, I would have been married for 7 years.

When I called Jeffrey - the man who was my partner for a year and half while I healed from my divorce but who I never fell in love with even though I really wanted to because I was pretty sure he couldn't fall in love with me - he was twitter-pated with happiness now that he's finally found someone that he can fall in love with. Needless to say, she's not me.

Although my job is just fine, I'm not very passionate about it and I wish I had a better work ethic because it's good work that needs to be done. I will do a competent job but it will only be competent, not brilliant. This makes me wonder how I'm ever going to be content. I'm starting to worry that I will be content when I have a relationship to work on and a family to raise. But that leaves me pretty S.O.L. because one can't manipulate a personal life towards that kind of fulfillment like you can if a good career is what will make one happy.

My new friend Jess got a roommate and forgets to call me now.

I quit the music team and no one has noticed. The music director didn't even respond to my letter of resignation.

My new haircut requires glasses with rhinestones in the corners or black eyeliner to be anywhere close to sexy.

Judge Mathis sent me a letter today trying to get me to take my ex-husband to small claims court on national television.

Hamlet says, "To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished."

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Not shocks that are out of the ordinary. Natural shocks. In fact, these slings and arrows are so expected that they are our inheritance, something that we are bound to get, like an heir is bound to get family fortune once the patriarch dies.

Now, my uncle has not killed my father and married my mother. I'm not feeling suicidal. But Shakespeare is the greatest writer ever because 400 years later, I can explain why I haven't been to church lately. It is so much work to take arms against a sea of troubles. I'm tired. I can't see how all of this outrageous fortune will resolve itself and I don't know what resolution I want to work toward. Hamlet does not seek out the ultimate sleep because he does not know what awaits him after death. He is cowardly. I am home tonight rejoicing that there is a fifth episode of Grey's Anatomy on the DVD that I started 4 hours ago because I do not know what awaits me after all of this shit sorts itself out. Wisdom tells me that it will sort itself out. Wisdom tells me that this melancholy is not merited: this is not that hard when compared to other times in my life and definitely not when compared to the lives of others. But sleep, it is a consummation devoutly to be wished. I want not to be for a little while.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Above your eyes your hair hangs

I have my nightmare for a haircut.

Thick bangs, cut straight across the brow, which causes them to curve a little. The party in the back of my head falls just below my shoulders with almost no layers at all.

I look like a 12-year-old.

How do I know this?

My boss, who is also an old family friend, told me that he wanted to just pinch my cheeks and tell me how cute I was.

The pre-menstrual pimple where Cindy Crawford's beauty mark should be doesn't help the I'm-not-an-adolescent! vibe either.

All of these things seemed very reasonable when I asked for them at 8:15 last night. And, normally, my stylist is perfection itself in translating my totally dorky needs - like not wanting to blow dry my hair ever or use any kind of product - into a fairly stylish look. But last night I was her last appointment of a 12-hour shift and the appointment before mine didn't show up and so I bet her brain started to relax.

All I would need would be braces to complete the completely uncool picture that I present to the world.

Or, I could braid my hair in two braids and go out into the world as Wednesday from the Addams Family for Halloween. Every day.

I have a back-up appointment already scheduled for two weeks from now, just in case I do not follow what I assume to be a normal progression of emotions for women who get bad haircuts and ultimately get used to it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Of Jamokes and Poetry

My family is not a family of name callers. My parents only insisted upon a few things when I was little. The most important rule that we had was that we couldn't say, "shut up." To this day, my mother will look at people who aren't even related to us with dismay that they would be so hurtful and disrespectful with their syntax. The second rule of the house was that we weren't allowed to call each other "stupid." The third and final rule that I can remember my parents laying down absolutely was that we had to replace any can of Coke that we took out the fridge with a new one. Everything else was negotiable.

I have distinct memories of my father correcting us when we were very young and called each other "stupid." He made us call each other "silly goose." That was such a rediculous phrase that we just changed our way of fighting altogether. I don't know what we did instead of name-calling. We still yelled but I don't remember using names or hearing one of my brothers or my parents calling me names. In fact, even when I would come home in tears because the kids at school wouldn't let me into their groups, my mother never said, "Those kids are just spoiled brats whose parents don't give them enough attention," which was probably the truth. She just held me and said, "I just can't figure out why they don't see in you what I see in you." Her voice communicated that she was just as hurt and bewildered as I was, which turned out to be all that I really needed.

My father believes that no one is bad or good inherently. He believes that we are all capable of appropriate and inappropriate behavior. This is because no one is irredeemable. Christ died for everyone's sin, which means that everyone can be redeemed. This means that no one's behavior is based upon an inherent good, bad, stupid, or intelligent indentity, only good, bad, stupid, or intelligent choices.

So when my father referred to my ex-husband as a "jamoke" only once and only recently, I knew that Dennis had reached a new height of insensitivity. For my father to resort to name-calling meant that, in that moment, my dad thought that Dennis was incapable of choosing any other behavior than that of a total idiot. It must have seemed to my dad that Dennis was irredeemable. I am astounded at the love of my father for me that would allow him to voice such an inconsistency in what he believes to be true about human nature.

So, today when I was in the County Clerk's office filing the paperwork to sue Dennis for the last $1000 that he owes me because his check bounced, I came out of the heartbreak that I'm feeling and laughed at the five-foot-tall, balding, Italian man in a shiny, olive, pin-striped, double-breasted suit holding a cigar and standing in the middle of a empty part of the floor shouting, "Of course, on the day that I don't have anything to file, you jamokes are just standing around with nothing to do!" But then, the pro se help desk man was finished cutting out the crossword and photocopying it and was ready to help me so I didn't get to see what happened next.

The other entertaining irony about my morning in the Richard J. Daley center was that when they stamp documents pro se, which means "in one's own behalf," it is simply block letters with no space and reads as the word, "prose," which is the opposite of poetry or verse. It's a simple irony but since Dennis was never actually the poet or poetic scholar that he claimed to be, I took what I could get from it.

The best part of the morning, by far?

They are sending a sheriff to the Whole Foods where he and his new wife both work to deliver the summons.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Emotion Salad

I was giving my friend Meena the play-by-play of the breakup conversation that I had with Matt. Since it was of the unilateral declaration variety and so only took 3 minutes, I can pretty much remember it verbatim. When I was finished, she said she admired my ability not to lose my temper. I called my brother in and made her say it again since he is the person in the world who has always borne the brunt of my fairly vicious temper. Instead of praising me for having grown so much emotionally, he just looked at Meena and said, "Well, it's not like the two of you can form a club or anything." Meena is also Daniel's girlfriend. He's such a charmer.

I realized that I can stay calm in a situation like that because I only had anger and hurt to choose from. I could have gone either way. I could have gotten totally pissed and ripped him a new one. I'm good at that. And that would have been honest. But it was equally honest to be wounded while trying to retain my dignity.

Because hurt and anger are the same thing, just at different stages. I was trying to explain what I meant to Meena and found this pretty organic metaphor: the relationship between hurt and anger is like the relationship between green peppers and red peppers. They come from the same plant.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

This one will be entitled, "What the fuck, Mister Doctor Man?"

Luckily, I'm in the middle of reading an epic fantasy.

I have been dumped and it is no use listing the misgivings that I was having before because they weren't deal-breakers for me yet.

I was just getting to the point that I was admitting to other people that I liked him. I like him still. He broke it off as well as could be expected and that makes me like him even a little more.

There's not much to say more on the subject. One of these days, I will be able to discern which man actually believes that I'm as fabulous as I know I am.

Until, then, I will read Phillip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass and try to ignore the small ache that is left behind as the fantasies that I have spun about our future have fled.