Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dear Santa

If I had a million dollars, I would buy these things for myself. Since I don't, I figure it doesn't hurt to tell Santa.

Gocco Print Maker (new, used, doesn't matter)
Macintosh Time Machine
Cleaning Lady (just once)
Fabric (all kinds of cotton)
A Mimi Doll (not the men dolls, they freak me out; not the misshapen lady dolls either. I guess that leaves baby dolls and girl dolls)
Any Johanna Wright painting that where the figure looks like me (no glasses) and is quilting, reading, loving or crafting.
Oliver + S backpack tote pattern (and oh, the hardware!)
Donation to my church since we're this close (picture thumb and forefinger within inches of each other) to figuring out a funding model for this post-modern project we're working on. Still, there's a little budget shortfall this year so any help in place of physical presents will be awesome.

You know, just in case you were wondering.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mac and Cheese



Someone brought Kraft Macaroni and Cheese that had salsa mixed in it for church potluck tonight.

This, more than anything else, makes me love my church tonight.

When we first started having dinner every Sunday, we brought food creations: soups from our moms' recipes, holiday casseroles, fresh-baked bread. We talked self-consciously about how the week had felt to our souls or stayed in party chit-chat mode. "So, where do you live?"

But someone brought Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with salsa mixed in.

That is someone's comfort food.

That is a dish someone makes when work was awful and the bus broke down on the return commute and it's fucking cold outside.

That dish is home.

And someone brought it to church.

Someone didn't care whether or not the rest of us would be impressed by what s/he brought. Someone didn't worry that it wasn't fancy enough to offer to other people. Someone just made what was easy and offered comfort and shared it with the rest of us.

This is why I love my church.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Being Poor

I'm catching up on posts from my friend Arloa and I was entranced by this poem. The sheer volume is hard to take. It just keeps going. But I encourage you to keep reading to the end. I encourage you to pay attention to how it makes you feel when you reach the end. Let it sit with you.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they're what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there's not an $800 car in America that's worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends' houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won't hear you say "I get free lunch" when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn't mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can't leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don't have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn't have make dinner tonight because you're not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid's school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don't give a damn about you.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger's trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can't find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she'll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you'll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid's teacher assuming you don't have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn't bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that's two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you're being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn't spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won't listen to you beg them against doing so.

Being poor is a cough that doesn't go away.

Being poor is making sure you don't spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Written on the very late plane last night . . .

This is the worst turbulence I have ever been in. It’s a little like traveling in a bus over a poorly-paved road except the potholes are impossibly deep. Anne Lamott writes a charming story about how turbulence brought her seatmates together to form an impromptu community but although the guy next to me is clearly frightened from the looks of his shaky, grasping-nothing hands (just like me), I feel a little weird about talking to him. He’s turned off his iPod and taken out his headphones. Maybe I should, too, but my stomach is queasy, my shoulders are tightening and it’s too hot. I want to watch a DVD and escape but the computer got about 4 inches of air off the seat-back table. I am glad that I texted my boyfriend I loved him and that I checked in with my dad before the flight. I’m a morbid kid.

As usual, once I acknowledged that I didn’t want to do something uncomfortable, I went ahead and did it. I made a little chit-chat observation about how everyone else started talking, he responded a little, said, “That was wild,” I used my “impossibly deep potholes” line and he put his headphones back in.

Mission accomplished.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Syracuse Thanksgiving

I have spent the weekend with my boyfriend's family in Syracuse.

I have spent the last several weeks being very nervous.

There have been tears, some clearly misdirected yelling and lots of conversations over these last several weeks.

Jacob had dinner with a rabbi friend of mine recently and came home with an adorable epiphany: this is totally normal.

It was a classic misunderstanding of the sexes. I absolutely knew that this was normal. Of course a 31-year-old Christian divorcee just might worry a little bit that the parents of her 27-year-old beautiful, kind, communicative, successful Jewish boyfriend might doubt her motives. But men don't think like that. He thought I was doubting his family.

So, with that difference resolved, he was able to let me go on being nervous without taking it personally.

And it turns out that my fears were actually totally unfounded.

His family is wonderful. This has been an incredibly restful and fun weekend. His siblings are my kind of sarcastic, his mother is fun, welcoming and a little bit of good crazy. His father is quiet and seems to have gradually warmed to me. His sister has beautiful and well-mannered daughters: two and a half and four and a half years old. I made them presents to buy their love. I figured if the grandkids liked me, his parents would have to like me.

So, I made felt crowns from the Juicy Bits pattern.There is an "E" for Ellie and an "N" for Nina.

I also made lace crowns from a post by Amy Karol with just a little velcro. I have to admit that I made one of these for myself.

Finally, I made matching floral garlands like I used to make at the Renaissance Faire. Since Nina corrected everyone and insisted her name was "Bride" and married her father seven or eight times over the course of the weekend, these seemed particularly well-received. On a side note, when asked what she wanted for breakfast, she responded, "'I want eggs,' said the bride!" Both of them are slightly precocious. Her sister said a little later with a perfectly appropriate transition, "Speaking of the Muppet show, I want to watch the boy one [Paul Simon]!" We got a long very well: the girls and I.

But I have to say that this weekend has reminded me that relationships are hard. I have shifted from being a woman who dates men to a woman who is partnered with a man and the difference is overwhelming sometimes. It is stunningly joyful at other times. But occasionally I am totally overwhelmed that my life is being changed in ways that I would not normally choose in order to be in harmony with Jacob. Sometimes his needs come before mine. Especially when all I want to do is to fall asleep when there are still fears and insecurities (belonging to both of us) that need to be discovered and soothed.

I think I was too young to actually observe this when I was dating Dennis and too raw to really witness it when I dated Jeffrey. It is what I have wanted but the reality of loading the dishwasher someone else's way, eating kosher, changing my morning routine and realizing as I look around at his family that I will create patterns of behavior over time with them, as well - that they might become my family without my ever having chosen them - is slightly daunting.

Do I want my life to change? I've got a good thing going here. Friends who go out to dinner with me, time for crafts, a church that fulfills my spiritual needs and pushes me further along the path. Am I ready for all that to be different? Right now, probably not. My life works for me.

But I'm fairly certain that it isn't sustainable. I will want to be at the next stage at some point here and it would really show hubris to insist that I will not move to that next stage until I'm good and ready. And here now is this man who loves me and makes me laugh and wants the same things that I want out of life. How could I not love him? How could I not make the changes in my life that need to be made in order to live in love with him?

All I can do is give thanks.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Salvation on the Small Screen

When I am reading Christian books in public, I am more conscious about “acting Christian” than at any other time. I fear increasing the scorn most people feel for the hypocrisy of Christianity. I don’t want to make it harder for them to approach God themselves because I appeared hypocritical.

Currently, I am reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Salvation on the Small Screen, which is about the 24 hours that she spent watching the Trinity Broadcasting Network with various other pastors, biblical scholars, atheist friends, and others. I’ve met Nadia and the picture on the cover does not do her justice. She’s an amazon of a woman: tall, gorgeous with long, thick, dark hair, dramatic pale-skin-dark-lips-and-eyebrows coloring, and great tattoos on both arms. On the book cover, she’s seated cross-legged on the floor, holding a tv in front of her face.

But she’s wearing a clerical collar (she’s a Lutheran pastor) and a big cross at her sternum, and the title has the word “salvation” in it, so I have to act right while I’m carrying it.

Is this why people wear crosses?

So, when the woman with the oddly-shaped face with the scotched-tape nose sat down on the bench to wait for the train with me, I laughed good-naturedly when she apologize for having made myself and the other woman next to me move because she was so fat. I said, “That’s nothing to apologize for. We’re happy to have you.”

But then I went back to reading my Christian book.

Because she was probably crazy.

And I don’t like talking to crazy people.

They say odd things that are often offensive and I don’t know whether it is more loving to challenge them, like I would someone from my family or if it more loving to humor them, which would infuriate me if I were the recipient of the pity. Plus, engaging folks who say obviously provocative thing usually leads to more uncomfortable and crazy conversation.

Best to avoid contact.

For example, once, Jacob was waiting for me in front of the Ladies Fountain outside of the Art Institute. I walked right up to him and kissed him without saying a word and he responded by embracing me and kissing me for awhile. It was very cinematic. A little later, when we were catching our breath and smiling at each other as we exchanged pleasantries, a man walked over to us and told us how beautiful it was to see that. We laughed and thanked him and turned back to one another.

But he continued.

“I mean, it was really beautiful. I thought to myself as she passed that I might try to get her number but then I saw that she was all yours and that’s a really beautiful thing.”

OK, only slightly creepy. But manageable. But he continued.

“Now, if it were a man and another man, that would not be beautiful. That would be disgusting.”

At that point, I smiled, took Jacob by the hand and pulled him away.

I just wasn’t going to get into it with this intrusive guy. People are intrusive for a reason. And it’s usually because they want something from you: change, to change you, a fight, attention, to feel valuable, to feel superior.

And I wasn’t going to give it to him.

But what would Jesus do?

I honestly don’t know. Maybe he would have smiled, taken Peter’s hand and firmly pulled him away. Maybe he would have healed the man. Maybe he would have given him whatever it was he wanted.

Rthetorically, it’s easy to end on that last sentence and leave it hanging there to imply that I, too, should have the grace and peace necessary to give this man what he wanted.

But I don’t always get what I want. And I’ve come to believe that that’s a good thing. (Don’t tell my dad, though.)

So, I usually follow my instinct and then look back to see if my instinct was right. I believe this kind of introspection will actually change my instinctual responses over time. You know, all Gladwellian and Blinky-style.

But when I’m reading a Christian book, the rules change. Now, it’s not just about what kind of person I am and have to live with. Now, it’s also about being an obstacle on someone else’s journey.

Now, don’t give me some claptrap about everyone’s journey is their own responsibility, so I shouldn’t worry because my hypocrisy might be part of the greater plan. Although I acknowledge that might be true, it doesn’t change the fact that if I am an obstacle, that becomes part of my identity, and I have to live with being that new, slightly changed person.

My relationship with God is about liking the person I see in the mirror, both through trying to remember that I’m worth God’s unconditional love AND by trying to make choices that will sit well with my soul.

But when the woman with the sunken right cheek began to laugh out loud at the little sheet of magazine that she had torn out of a magazine from the doctor’s office she had just been visiting (too much information about health information early on in the conversation is also a good sign that the topics of conversation will ultimately be uncomfortable), I continued to read my book, although I kept a welcoming smile on my face so she wouldn’t feel completely ignored.

“I’m just sitting here dong my thing, not because I’m ignoring you but because this is the thing I was doing when you sat down,” I practically whistled to telegraph my innocence.

I knew I was affecting this posture the whole time I was reading about Joyce Meyer’s use of the “Amplified” Bible to create her own “study” Bible that she then refers to as a spiritual authority in our lives, despite the fact the original Greek and Hebrew have been stepped on so many times that only spiritual junkies should pay money for it.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” a still, small voice whispers to me as I read. But I keep reading because that same still, small voice is whispering to Nadia and I want to experience her growing humility as she finds kinship with the other sinners in this country who send part of their Social Security checks to Creflo Dollar in order to save souls.

But the voice points out the woman next to me and realize that my own humility – and therefore peace – is at stake.

So, the next time, she announces something in the air, “Well, it looks like they’re starting to rush the door,” I close my book and confirm her observation. We share a couple more exchanges and I laugh at her joke, which didn’t make me at all uncomfortable.

Luckily, she wanted to be close to first on the train, so she didn’t try to wait for me so we could sit together on the train.

I’m not that good a Christian, yet.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Advent conspiracy

I love that I have gotten my life to a point where I am making almost all my presents to people because it gives me life to make things. Wanna go there with me?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Because I miss you all

If you have your own blog, copy/paste this list and bold your own. I'm going to add a new one to the end of the list. You should tell. Leave a response here with a link if you do this.

Have you ever?

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community.
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelos David
41. Sung karoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie (Do wrestling DVDs count?)
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a lawsuit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day
101. Been within five feet of a wild animal that wasn't a squirrel or a bird?

Thanks Priscilla.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Overtreated

When I lived on Orcas Island, one of the most profound things I've ever heard in my life was said to me in a conversation at Sauna night one Sunday shortly before I left in October. Tim the Human is called so to distinguish him from his friend Tim F. and because he did research living with gorillas for years and needed to be distinguished from them. He does a phenomenal gorilla impression. I asked Tim the Human where he had been all summer.

He said very simply, "I joined the tribe of a friend of who dying for about a month."

It would be easy to disregard this as hippy-talk but I was really moved. This was community, the thing that I went to Orcas to find. No one lived in denial that this man was dying. Instead, a dozen people moved nearby so that he would be surrounded with friends when he did. This means that a dozen people looked at the routines of their lives and decided that making money wasn't as important as loving their friend.

What if our society allowed us to be that kind of person all the time?

I'm reading Overtreated by Shannon Brownlee for my one of my classes. It describes the economic incentives in American society that encourage people to believe they are sicker than they are because it helps other people make money and is good for the economy.

It's heartbreaking. Good research shows that American spends more on health care per capita and actually have shorter life expectancies than any other developed nation.

And because of systemic financial incentives, we live worried about our health rather than surrounded by love. If Tim the Human's friend had bought into this mentality, he would have been in hospital undergoing invasive tests that were unnecessary because he couldn't have been treated for what they found anyway because he was too weak. Instead, he accepted that the payment for a life of love is death. Interestingly, the payment for a life of worry is also death.

When I was 20, I had a sore throat all the time. I went to my mom's doctor and first he looked at me and said, "Really? Every day?" in a tone of such incredulity and paternalism, I might have crumbled right there and admitted no, maybe not every day just to make him stop looking at me that way. But I was teaching and I was eating 6 or 7 cough drops a day to get through all of my classes so I knew the answer was "yes, every day." Luckily, I had recently taken a health class that changed my life by pointing out how many doctors set up a parent-child dynamic because it makes life easier for them rather than because it makes patients healthier. With this new-found knowledge, I insisted that it hurt every day. He asked a few cursory questions about my allergies and the daily medicine I was taking for it and said finally that maybe I had acid-reflux, a new disease in 1995, ordered a series of blood tests and warned me that he would probably have to prescribe a pill I recognized from commercials.

I didn't like the off-handed way I had been treated and looked for a second opinion with an ear, nose and throat doctor who said I should have my tonsils out, especially since my father had also had his out in his early 20s. My younger brother pointed out that this same doctor would be the one who would do the surgery, which would get him more reimbursement from my insurance, so of course he thought I should have my tonsils out.

By this time, I had new insurance and looked for a doctor of my own. On this newfangled internet, I searched their database and found a 55-year-old woman who had gotten her medical degree in the last few years. A perfect candidate for someone who would actually listen to me. It turns out she had been the office manager for her husband's practice and went to med school as her children got older and moved out. She was short, had wild curly grey hair and reminded me a little bit of a hobbit. She asked what I was reading when she walked in to the exam room and had opinions about the book. She asked me lots of questions about my throat and determined that the allergy medicine - which was a blend of antihistimine and decongestant, also new-fangled in 1995 - was drying me out too much. She changed my prescription to an older version of the drug without decongestant that was no longer being advertised on TV and prescribed a separate, milder decongestant.

My sore throat went away.

It wasn't acid reflux.

It wasn't bad tonsils.

I wasn't sick at all.

I was taking the wrong medicine.

This was not my only experience like this in my early twenties when doctors wanted to make me sicker than I was and to prescribe more medicine to fix what turned out to be side-effects of other medicine. In my last semester at school, I was crying every day but able to get out of bed and get all of my work done every day. Conflicting symptoms for depression. I had to see 2 mental health specialists who wanted to prescribe prescription anti-depressants until I found a third who suggested I change birth control methods before I did anything drastic.

I am grateful for those early experience and for that health class. I worry much less that I might be sick and assume much more that something is simply out of balance if I'm not feeling well.

My sister-in-law's mother died in bed at home surrounded by her family and friends, most of whom grew up with her in India. Like Tim the Human's friend, throwing off the denial that death is inevitable let her find balance since the weight of fear was gone and her friends were there to hold her up. She could not fall; she could only move forward like the tightrope walker that we all are.

What if we lived that way all the time? Expressing gratitude for the health we have, seeking help only when something is debilitating or when prevention will make life better? I know it's more complicated than that for a lot of people but for a lot more of us, we look for problems with microscopic focus so that we don't have to look up and see with our own eyes. If we look down, we do not have to move forward. If we don't move forward, we're less likely to fall. But what if we recognize that for the lie that it is? The most dangerous point for a tightrope walker is when she loses momentum. If we focus on creating community, won't the love that results keep us balanced? With that, we cannot not fall but get to keep moving forward, closer to God's kingdom with the light from there illuminating the things around us more and more, showing them to be more beautiful than we ever thought they could be.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

An historic occasion

In my Political Economy class last year, we were taught an equation that showed that there is no rational reason to vote since the "costs" outweigh the benefits. The costs always outweigh the benefits because with so many other people voting, the chance that my one vote matters in teeny tiny. This is called a "free rider" problem: I do not participate because I get the benefits whether I participate or not.

Especially, living in Chicago: Obama Central.

But I am not a free rider today. I am not part of the problem. I am part of the solution.



The photo is a little fuzzy because I felt a little awkward. These are not the booths with the curtains that you see on TV. Now, though, I kind of wish I had taken a little more time to makes the names less blurry.

Oh well. It's the vote that counts.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Satisficing

Do you want to know what I find most frustrating about school?

I already know how to do this stuff.

Sure, I could be taking finance classes and cost-benefit analysis but I know myself. I will never take a job that requires those skills.

So, I'm taking classes in my interest areas because I want leadership skills and content-area knowledge. But the trade-off is that the homework for these classes are just practicing skills I already have. I gave a five-minute presentation in one class and the professor told me it was great. That was it. Just great. Nothing to improve, even the stuff I brought up as unsatisfactory to me. I'm currently working on a neighborhood overview of a local neighborhood. I've already done a better and much more thorough analysis of the neighborhood I used to work in. In fact, the college intern did the kind of work I'm doing now so that I could do the higher-level stuff. In several classes I have to design a policy to respond to a community problem. Again, something I've already done but for real and at a much higher level. These projects take three hours of research where the stuff I've done for work has taken weeks.

So this is all just busy work.

But busy work that takes time and energy that I don't really have. I'm happy to do all the reading in the world. That's stuff I don't know. But this crap? This is what you're grading me on? I wrote a paper a couple of weeks ago that was a glorified book report that was also supposed to reference the other readings for that week. I satisficed and just wrote a book report without references and only lost 2 points out of 20.

But I have to get the 18 points or I won't pass. In a trade-off between 0 and 18, I have to put in the time to get the 18.

I'm a little pissed off, can you tell? I'll give you a hint: you can tell I'm pissed when I lose all humility. Yup, definitely right there.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I only have a minute to tell you this.

I am sitting in Argo Tea in the Loop right now doing some homework and at a table nearby is an odd woman. She seems to be in her mid-forties with a chapped face. She is thin and dressed in clean, normal clothes. She has an odd sense of style but her color palate and clothing choices are up-to-date. She is wearing a brown hat. She is eating a variety of foods out of ziplock bags.

Here's the odd bit. She seems to be spending her time here trying to get the attention of other customers by flashing things in their peripheral vision. The first time I looked up, she was waggling a little stuffed ghost bear that was attached to her finger with a rubber band at me. Another time it was a piece of paper with hand-drawn letters and an illustration that said, "Ghost mob hit." The next time I looked up from my computer, she had the torn-off cover of a book about Mozart held out at arm's length in my direction while she studiously looked elsewhere. Finally, the next time I looked up, I saw that she was holding another sign up to another patron. She held it there for awhile, then put it down and got another sign to show someone else.

I love Chicago.

Wait! Now she’s flossing.

Now she is walking around the store with large sheets of music in her hand, largely flipping through them while standing in the middle of the floor.

I really love Chicago.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A poll

What do you keep the thermostat set at when you're home in the late fall and winter?

What's normal?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

So, I'm doing a 5-minute speech on the Entertainment Consumers Association, a special interest lobbying group for video gamers.

If I start the presentation with a title page that says, "Entertainment Consumers Association: Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington," would you get the joke?

What if I include these pictures?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Bloody Life

I am almost drowning in the four or five major commitments I've made with my time. The irony is that when I started swimming for exercise again, I regained a sense of buoyancy. I'll get almost everything done. But, ugh. Nothing else. So, to entertain you while I'm dong that, I think I'll post some of the writing I've been doing for school. This paper was for my class on the Youth Gang Problem. I think I was supposed to cite some of the other reading we've been doing but I'm not sure how I would have worked it in there in any sort of authentic way so I just left it out. I have a feeling that my scruples will turn around and bite me in the ass when it comes to grades this time.

I will be honest and say that I tried to skim Reymundo Sanchez’s My Bloody Life in order to earn myself a little more time for other class reading. However, to my dismay, I found that every anecdote, every vignette, every story was essential to the psychological progression of this young man’s complicated experience desperately desiring community but simultaneously regretting his choices. There was not a chapter that I could skip without creating a large hole for myself in the fabric of knowledge that he was trying to weave for me. In writing his story, he does an excellent job of looking back with humility, showing neither the self-aggrandizement of a man still caught in the insecurity of adolescence nor the false humility that is just another symptom of that same insecurity. His simple, straightforward commentary on the reasons for his actions communicated the voice of a man who has accepted himself through examination and repentance. For instance, when he says, “The real impact of our actions was a lack of education within the Puerto Rican community,” (166) he demonstrates his new awareness that his story is not just about him, but about a larger system of people and that all of their actions and consequences are tied up with one another. This is the running theme of the book.

This theme that people’s actions and reactions to each other are inextricable is played out in Reymundo’s ultimate initiation into the Latin Kings. Reymundo joins the Latin Kings gradually and spends the first third of the book describing his life up to that point. He vividly describes the abuse from his mother both physical and relational when she allows the men in her life to disregard him once their own children are born as the main reason for his vulnerability to the brotherhood that gang life offered him. He holds his mother responsible for not protecting him, but admits that her actions stemmed from a society that allowed a 74-year-old man to marry a teenager and that did not provide a means for that young widow’s survival other than to seek refuge in another man. In a parallel scenario, he paints a picture of a society that does not provide a means for Reymundo’s survival except to cower under the bed. As his life continues, he describes continued cowering under the bed through drug use, sex and violence. This trio of behaviors is the only thing he knows to do to feel safe. Since these three behaviors were those most rewarded by the girls who he wanted favor with and the boys he wanted esteem from, being formally initiated into the Latin Kings once the Spanish Lords had rejected him seems inevitable.

Every time Reymundo is sober, he does not like the choices he has made, including his choice to join the gang. He feels scared and like he in incapable of living up to the legend of Lil Loco that he has created for himself. His solution to these insecurities is abuse of alcohol and drugs and the irony is that this solution is what keeps him from getting to an emotional place where he can leave the gang. He does not fear the physical punishment of being violated out. He fears having to live independently in a society that he views as merely a larger version of his abusive mother. Racist, corrupt police and other gangs form the most obvious threats that his gang protects him from. However, he quietly acknowledges that from the very beginning when watching Slim get violated out rather than helped with his drug problem that his own gang brothers are also a threat. His objectification of women shows that he also sees them as threats. If he becomes emotionally close to them, he risks being hurt and having to repeat the scene when he found himself defending his mother’s honor while still bleeding from the electrical welts on his back that she had given him.

There is no safe haven for the emotional emptiness that attacks Reymundo. But until he acknowledges that the external threats are not the largest threats, he stays in the gang, even when he has pursued the life of a coke dealer and lives largely outside of the gangbanging sphere. His turning point comes when he is in the same position as Slim was at Reymundo’s first meeting. He is brought in front of a gang authority figure for discipline for his drug use and snaps, ranting about how the idea of “Amor to all Kings” had become a joke, that the gang culture had changed, that it was now all about money and not brotherhood. Although he cites specific examples of how gang culture had changed, what seems more likely is that Reymundo had changed. As he had been allowed higher and higher up the chain of command, he saw the inner workings of corrupt officials and the white people who sold his Puerto Rican community the guns and drugs that were used to destroy themselves. He saw that most of the gang leaders lived outside the community that they foot soldiers risked their lives for. He saw that his emotional emptiness could not be filled by a corporate machine. The gang culture might have changed some in the six years that Reymundo was involved, but Reymundo changed much more. So it is fitting that when he is finally violated out, the beating is anti-climactic. The beating was never what he feared and since he had faced his fear that life outside the gang would be worse than life inside the gang, he could walk away and resist his urge to avenge Loca’s child’s death.

I hated reading this book. It was well-written with a humility that did not allow me to dismiss it as grandstanding. I had to engage with Reymundo’s suffering and the suffering of all the people in his community. It was awful. More than any of the clinical research that we’ve read for class that show trends, statistics and brief anecdotes, Reymundo’s story arouses sympathy. What are my impressions of gang life? It is more awful than reading Reymundo’s book. The animal terror of being attacked. The sadness of being rejected. The betrayal caused by family, chosen friends and authority figures. The hopelessness of having no skills to leverage a way out. The emptiness that results from having nothing stable to hang on to. And the overwhelming sense of inevitability is worst of all. Other first-hand accounts and interviews that we have looked at are full of bravado and claims that gang life provides a sense of family and security but Reymundo’s story and my own experience with teenagers makes me interpret that bravado as denial.

I know from my perspective of privilege that individual people can be redirected from the path that leads to gang life. But those folks can’t see it from my perspective. All they can see is the system and the system probably seems deliberately designed to keep them on that path. I hope that the system can be changed, for their sake, as well as my own. I agree with Reymundo, our actions and reactions are inextricable entangled with the actions and reactions of the larger community. From my perspective of privilege, I am partly to blame for every kid that lies bleeding in the arms of another kid. I hope that I do not take that responsibility lightly.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Apples

An apple hitting the floor makes a very distinctive noise. I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when I pushed one off the table while searching for something else. When I heard the hollowish and heavy simultaneous thump and squish I said, "Shit."

I heard the noise again last night when a two-year-old named Zev fulfilled every premonition that everyone in the room with the hardwood floor had just as soon as he gripped an apple in each hand and began walking around looking up into faces and noting, "Apple!"

But the fall was greeted with laughter rather than profanity. Menachem had already assured us, "There are more," and, indeed, there was a feast of apples and honey to celebrate the new year.

Shana tovu. It is the Jewish New Year, which will be closely followed by the Day of Atonement. There is no pretense that we magically start fresh with a new year. Atonement must still be made for the wrongs that we've done by turning away from the needs of others and thus turning away from God, who specifically commands that we look directly in each other's eyes and recognize that just as Zev's dropped apple was inevitable, so are our own mistakes. And since everyone in every station of life is bound to succumb to gravity in some form or another, we should not judge people for the bruises they cause.

There are more apples.

If we remember this, we can laugh rather than swear because we are not threatened.

Rosh Hashana is a time for letting go and turning back to God and people. My friend Jacob will be casting the lint from his pocket (or his belly-button, depending on his mood) into Lake Michigan this afternoon to represent the spiritual preparation that he will engage in for the next ten days. All of the accumulated shit of a year that keeps us from atoning for the bruises we cause will have to be cast off. All of the defensiveness and fear of what will happen that keeps us from exposing our true selves to God and each other has to be let go of. Because God will just laugh, knowing that your delighted recognition of what is beautiful in this world - Apple! - offsets the mistake of damaging it.

I attended an emergent Jewish congregation's celebration last night led by a rabbi who has attended up-rooted meetings once or twice. He held his son Zev on his lap as he explained and led the prayers his congregants were chanting and reciting. Zev chomped on one of his two apples contentedly in his father's arms and never even noticed the squishy brown spots.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The couch is not an option

My grandma is 87 years old.

She called my cell phone this morning but the signal was bad, so I had to hang up without speaking to her, find a new location and call her back.

In surprise, she answered the phone, "Rebecca! I was just talking to your dad about you!"

I had asked my father to determine whether it would be better for me to go down on Wednesday or on Thursday next week to see her.

She said, "Well, I told your father that either day was fine but I just remembered that on Wednesday I have Bible study from 10 to 11." She said this like that might be a deal-breaker for me and she just wanted to be respectful of my time.

I laughed and said, "Well, I'd love to go to Bible study with you, Grandma."

"That's what your father said. Otherwise, I have to work at the front desk at church from 9-12 on Thursday. I could cancel because I'm only a volunteer but I think it's a good idea for me to stay as active as possible."

Grandma said that last bit because she was reminding me that although she's getting old, she's doing everything she can to live the life God wants her to live, rather than giving up and letting age overtake her mind. She read in Guideposts magazine that people's brains stay healthy longer if you limit your TV intake (only Gilmore Girls and Matlock)and keep as active as possible. So, even though she misses my Grandpa fiercely and with great sadness and all of her friends and contemporaries are dead or out-of-reach, she gets out of bed every morning and does stuff so that her mind stays healthy.

I love it when my grandma says and does things like this because it shows her total inability to deny that we all get old, lose functioning and die. This straight-forward approach might be the only real characteristic that she and I share. I'm proud to receive that legacy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vegetable pizza

When I get my garden (and I'm thinking about big pots on the back porch for next summer), I'm going to grow eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic and onions. Because with eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic and onions I can make my very own vegetable pizza.

What is vegetable pizza? One of the legacies of my childhood meals. We never balked at the vegetables because it was smothered in mozzarella cheese and seasoned with basil and oregano and so actually tasted like pizza.

Last week I made it for the first time in more than 5 years for a date. I bought the veggies at the Farmer's Market and arranged them all pretty for his arrival. I also bought a big bunch of basil and a bunch of oregano and put them in earthenware mugs. I'm surprised I didn't take a picture of the entire tableau I set up.

It's a perfect date meal. Easy to slice the vegetables together, bumping into each other as we move from counter to sink to drawer to retrieve things. Then, pile them into the Romertopf and sit on the back porch in the twilight with a glass of wine and wait.

Tonight is the only night I'll be home for the next two weeks. No exaggeration. So, I thought I'd take advantage of the season and make it again for the leftover lunches.



I had frozen the basil by coating it in olive oil and popping it in the freezer. I dried out the oregano by the heat generated by the pilot light in my oven. (I did briefly forget when pre-heating the oven for brownies bit caught it before it burned.) Since each bunch had been $2, (those little plastic boxes of herbs at the grocery store are $2 each, also) I feel good that I could make it last over the weeks.

And voila! I present you with vegetable pizza amidst a swarm of childhood memories and future plans.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A new song

As has happened before on the rare occasions when two romantic-y men have come into my life at the same time, one has fallen by the wayside and one has hopped into the car with me.

The psychic ghost hunter sparked for a minute but lost interest like so many of them have but tried to keep me in his stable of women that he calls on when necessary. No thank you. I was too clear about what I was looking for in a relationship and after he responded as if he was actually considering a partnership like I offered, I will not tolerate that kind of insult.

However, after over a month of exploratory conversations over dinners and lunch, Mr. Steampunk has shown himself to be funny, intelligent, quirky, handsome, considerate, spiritual and consistently eager for my company. In fact, we've had a slightly giddy conversation about formalizing our intent to see if we could possibly be partners with one another for awhile. I am cautious and a little fearful but have decided to trust the joy and accept the pain if it comes.

The immensity of this step hit me this morning when writing an email. Mr. Steampunk had gone to church with me on Sunday night. It seemed such a natural part of our weekend together but once I reflected on it, I felt a little overwhelmed. I wrote,
Since I have never dated a practicing Christian man, I have just gotten used to the idea that church is something I do by myself. No one has ever been interested. Pagans, secular Christians, Jews, and atheists all simply co-existed with my faith once it became clear that I didn't need to convert them. Even when I was married, my husband went to my church only once on a random afternoon for a concert I was singing in. But then you included me in your Shabbat ceremony and didn't blink before you said yes to church. It is making me re-think this idea that church (or spirituality) is something I do by myself. That's overwhelming. I haven't had to change my base perceptions of life for awhile and although I've been longing for someone to help me do that, I'm less ready for it than I expected to be.


Of course, church hasn't been exactly something that I do myself. I have the other people who go to church with me forming a community of people searching for God with me. But it's not something that I do with a boyfriend.

Still, the last sentence of my email has been repeating itself back to me all day. I'm reading This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew. My friend Mark loaned it to me as something I "should read" almost a year ago and since the season it describes started lst month, I figured I should actually buckle down and read it. Lew describes the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, in which all of our names are written either in the Book of Life, the Book of Death or the Book of In-between (my vocabulary) and he descrcibes this spiritual event as terrifying since judgement cannot be known.

When I was in junior high, I wanted to be an Egyptologist and read every book in the library on the subject. I learned that judgement of the afterlife required that when one's heart was weighed on a scale, it had to be lighter than a feather or it would be fed immediately to Ammut, who had the head of a crocodile, fore legs of a lion and hind legs of a hippopotamus. How terrifying? How could you know for sure if your physical heart would be transformed by your good life into what had to be just a cloud of mist that would provide no sustenance for the monster?

This anxiety is something that Lew would have us recreate on a yearly basis since he reminds us that we are imperfect and need spiritual motivation to get us off our butts to seek out transformation.

I think he's right.

My sister-in-law's mother died two weeks ago. There was nothing beautiful or exotic about her funeral. She was not yet 60-years-old and her passing came swiftly on the heels of the cancer diagnosis. People grieved. It was over 90 degrees. Not everyone had a seat. The officiants spoke vaguely and in platitudes. It made me wish fervently that the homily was already an aspect of Hindu funereal tradition and is not an influence of Western Christian culture that seemed - for whatever reason - like a good idea to adopt.

The pundit-ji spoke for 20 minutes on how death reminds us that we are alive and should not be feared.

Ugh.

In trying to pull all of this together, I have thought most about getting dressed. Meena told me that it was fun to dress her mother in a sari on the morning of the funeral. I bought a white dress for the occasion and paired it with pearls and heels to respect with my formality the life that her mother had led. Susan's sister-in-law was dressed by her mother and her closest friends in a white dress of her own to celebrate the beginning of her marriage that same weekend. In the beginning of this relationship with Mr. Steampunk, I choose each outfit deliberately to delight him and to communicate a favorable personality.

All of this attiring is preparation and it is good preparation. But it in not enough to keep us from being surprised by death and grief and joy and the ray of sunlight that breaks through into loneliness.

And the surprise is what allows us to skip out of the groove that we're stuck in and play a new song.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Update

I've definitely got thoughts to share with you but life is full to bursting right now.

I was sick. I was out of town at the fantastic wedding. My brother's mother-in-law passed away. I had a very good date while still remaining in the interminable liminal stage.

Lots of emotions.

Lots of thoughts.

And it keeps on coming.

Soon I'll be able to stop and share my progress.

Soon.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tired and full of trepidation

I'm tired of dating.

I'm tired of holding back my enthusiasm and my needs until I'm sure that he wants both.

I'm tired of being unable to date casually (like this great blog I found) because my heart and my spirit want a partner rather than a companion.

I'm tired of the constant ticker tape of analysis that runs through my head puzzling out if a man is still interested now that he's gotten to know me and whether he's still interesting now that I've gotten to know him. (It's no use asking him: they're always either polite, manipulative or cowards but I don't have enough information about their actions to deduce the answer at this point.)

But I fear that if I stop dating, if I declare a moratorium, I'll be like a grasshopper and wallow too long in the temporary comfort of my single life when I should be an ant, storing up for winter. I fear that when I get back into it, I'll have hit an age where my only options are damaged goods, like the last pumpkins in November.

I'm fear that I'm already that old.

And I fear that by saying these things out loud I am betraying feminism, that I'll get lumped in with those women, with their romance novels and too many pictures of their nieces and nephews in their cubicle.

I'm tired of living up to my own high expectations.

I wish I could want a career instead of a family but I don't. But I can take steps toward a successful, fulfilling career where I can't take any steps toward a husband. I just don't know where he is in order to set off in that direction. So I reluctantly turn north whenever I can toward a career and take the interesting-looking side roads of dating whenever possible.

But there are long stretches of corn fields on these side roads with only a few attractions to break the monotony and I keep telling myself it will get better but I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't be heeding the adage about fool me once, fool me twice.

But it's not all bad. This weekend, I'll be heading up to Wisconsin to a wedding as my friend Susan's date to be the comic relief and to hold a drink that she can take big slugs off of between bridesmaid duties to a bride who will have gigantic hair and a dress like a cupcake. I have chosen the walleye option for my meal at the restaurant with the giant cow statue out front. I've also been asked to watch over the two boston terriers that will act as the flower girl and ring bearer.

Don't worry, I'll take pictures.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Woozy

I think that maybe next week I should wash the blueberries that I buy at the downtown Farmer's Market on Tuesdays before I eat them.

I'm feeling a little light-headed.

I have the best intentions of taking them home.

But the bag is just sitting there!

Remember, Rebecca. Local doesn't equal organic. Who knows what's on those things?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beholders for Obama

Probably only one or two of you know about the crack that McCain staffer Michael Goldfarb made to rebut some people who speculated about the validity of McCain's war story.

He wrote:
It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others.


Now, I'm inclined to doubt that McCain is making up his story. However, I'm less inclined to vote for a man who chooses to surround himself with staffers who lash out on his official blog with weird, almost Freudian, non-sequiturs that just happen to hit me right in the nose. Really, did some nerd pick on you in high school?

So, in response I have spent my Saturday afternoon making my first-ever campaign t-shirt.Pretty cool, right?

I did steal a couple of images, so I'm making my first-ever campaign contribution for amends.

However, I'm so giddy that I'm giving away the extra iron-on that I printed. Just comment below by next Friday, August 29 and you'll be eligible for the prize. Look around the blog and write a short response or tell me a story about your own experiences with D&D and I'll give you a +1 on your dice roll.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

When I was in the 7th grade, some liberal rag of a magazine showed up in the mail and I read it, which is unsurprising since my eyes can't seem to keep from reading whatever wafer of text are put in from of them. It lauded the society in Amsterdam, where drugs were legal and health care was free and probably discussed baby seals and whales. The latter is probably what drew me in. I remember showing my Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Herrity, this mind-blowing new truth I had found and she said as politely as she could that possibly there were other sides to that story. You've got to respect her sense of restraint.

But another article in that 1988 periodical was about organic farming and how some folks in San Francisco were starting to be able to make a living on smaller plots of land, tending their crops by hand and selling the more expensive produce to restaurants.

And thus was born my ultimate fantasy.

At age 11, I pictured raising my children in a rustic farmhouse with no TV, getting up early in the morning before school to harvest the eggs. With my shiny Prodigy account, I knew that we wouldn't be too remote as long as we had a computer and a phone line. I could live life the way it was meant to be lived: with the middle-man cut out and possessing the ability to feed myself directly, rather than working for money that would then be used to purchase my sustenance.

I had taken a summer school class for gifted kids that taught us the basics of economics by creating a marketplace where we all had something to sell and were given monopoly money to purchase the commodities produced by others. I baked a coffee cake before class every Wednesday so that I could serve it still warm and cinnamon-y. So, this is not revisionist history. I really did understand capitalism enough to fantasize about circumventing it.

And the fantasy has continued to exist fairly consistently for the last 20 years or so.

When I lived on the island, I even volunteered once a week or so with on my friend Rhonda's start up organic farm, plunging my hands into goat poop, feeding the trimmings to the chickens and getting my hands stuck my nettles as I weeded the strawberries. I also learned that the island also has an organic farm camp, where kids come to spend a week doing that exact same stuff. I still have two giant balls of yarn that some kids spun and sold at the farmer's market. Then, I altered the fantasy to having a farm camp where urban kids could come to let down their emotional defenses for a moment while school is out. That combined my two passions, you see.

I'm not sure when I will make this fantasy a reality, but when it doesn't seem exhausting to think about, I'll know it's time. That's how I've known when every other decision was right in my life. When an idea shifts from seeming like an uphill battle to bringing images to my mind's eye of flying down that hill on a bike, I know I'm ready. If I start before then, I only fuck everything up.

Still, I can be brought nearly to tears at the sight of a stray kohlrabi at a farmer's market because I remember Rhonda giving one away as a gift to a customer. She covered the woman's protest by saying, "It's just a kohlrabi; please take it," but I knew it wasn't just a kohlrabi. I knew exactly how much effort had gone into sprouting and cultivating and fertilizing and weeding and harvesting and cleaning that kohlrabi. It was an enormous gift Rhonda was giving this woman.

So, yesterday, when I rounded the corner on my lunch hour and saw a farmer's market in Federal Plaza, I considered carefully before entering.
But August is food month at my church.

It only makes sense. August is when the harvest starts rolling in. Why not spend that time meditating on and talking about the life-giving routine that we practice every day? I mean, if religion can't address the daily routines of life, really, what can?

As a church, we're reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I have to say that it's blowing my mind in the same way that Irresistible Revolution did. One of my favorite authors writes about her family's attempt to eat only local food for an entire year, growing and preserving much of it herself.

So, I had to go and at least smell the farmer's market. Earlier this summer, I was admiring my friend Emily's tomato plants and had a visceral sense of being three feet tall in my mom's garden again. It made me think of my friend Carrie's daughter Caitlyn coming in from the backyard through the dog door when she was two years old, clutching tomatoes in her chubby fists that she had picked herself. It's moments like those that I want for my someday family.

I actually ended up coming home with a little of the farmer's market.

The problem right now with following in Barbara Kingsolver's footsteps right now is that I rarely cook. Almost every night I am meeting friends for dinner at a restaurant or at their homes. They don't come here because a) I actually don't enjoy cooking very much b) my house is a mess and c) many of them now have children.

But, contrary to popular belief, I can cook. But if I only have a couple of hours of rest in an evening, I'd rather spend it reading a book than shopping and cooking my meal.

But Kingsolver really reinforces the idea that how we spend our money will ultimately determine what the market offers. If traditional farmers can't make a living, the option of better-tasting, more nutritious and carbon footprint-reducing produce won't exist very much longer. Both my 6th grade economics summer school and my University of Chicago graduate degree tell me that.

Plus, I believe that how we spend our money is a spiritual practice and I'm working to transform myself into the kind of person who spends money in proportion to my priorities rather than society's priorities. For instance, I'm trying to get to the point where I spend as much money every month on maintaining the institution of my spiritual community (church) as I do on Netflix.

I want to use the world's currency to express my spiritual beliefs. Those currencies can be my money, my time or even my relationships. I mean, if I don't care about something enough to talk about it with my friends because I'm afraid of their reaction, it must not really be that important to me. I think that I can shape my spiritual identity by committing to act out my beliefs because those commitments create a mold that I can grow into. So, I signed up to have money deducted every month automatically for my church.

And I cooked local green beens for my dinner instead of eating an organic frozen pizza that had been trucked across the country to my local Trader Joe's. I planted the cilantro plant in my window box with my morning glories.I'm saving the eggplant to make a tiny experimental batch of baba ghanoush.

It's a start.

Barbara Kingsolver describes part of the store her family put up for winter:
. . . I took inventory of our pantry. During our industrious summer we'd canned over forty jars of tomatoes, tomato-based sauces, and salsa. We'd also put up many jars of pickles, jams and fruit juice, and another fifty or so quarts of dried vegetables, mostly tomatoes but also soup beans, peppers, okra, squash, root vegetables, and herbs. In pint-sized freezer boxes we'd frozen broccoli, beans, squash, corn, pesto, peas, roasted tomatoes, smoked eggplants, fire-roasted peppers, cherries, peaches, strawberries, and blueberries . . .

Our formerly feisty chickens and turkeys now lay in quiet meditation (legs-up pose) in the chest freezer. Our onions and garlic hung like Rapunzel's braids from the mantel behind the kitchen woodstove. In the mudroom and root cellar we had three bushels of potatoes, another two of winter squash, plus beets, carrots melons and cabbages. A pyramid of blue-green and orange pumpkins was stacked near the back door. One shelf in the pantry held small, alphabetized jars of seeds, saved for starting over - assuming spring found us able-bodied and inclined to do this again.

. . . Right now, looking at all of these jars in the pantry gave me a happy, connected feeling, as if I had roots growing right through the soles of my shoes into the dirt of our farm.


My parents live in the original farmhouse of their neighborhood. At some point, previous owners sold off the land in suburban-sized lots but they left an acre for the house to live on.

A common theme in this blog is my search for community, for a connected feeling. After three years in Illinois, I'm just now starting to feel comfortable with the group of people that is sprouting out around me. They are like the leaves that photosynthesize food for my soul. But I left the community I had on the island partly because I didn't want a community without my family in it. Lately, I've been starting to wonder if I'm not supposed to incorporate my parents' backyard into this fantasy of mine. My personal roots are already planted there. Why not pull in my branches just a little closer so I can really focus on opening blossoms that will ultimately become fruit?

I have a long way to go until I can realize this dream. The longest distance will be actually learning how to garden. I'll rely upon my mom to teach me how to can and preserve things. I have such pleasant memories of standing at her hip, being told not to touch the sterilized jars and being warned not to get under foot lest I get burned or one of the newly sharpened knives "cut my heart out." And Jeffrey's mom has spoken of my mom's canning kettle in rapturous tones that came quite close to breaking the 10th commandment.

The fact that I'm starting to dream like this makes me think I'm getting a little closer to the top of the hill of possibility.

Two summers ago, I bought this painting at the Renegade Craft Faire from Johanna Wright. It's the most expensive piece of art I own (at $125) but the lifestyle it portrays is so exactly the life I want.

I believe that I get to be a citizen in the Kingdom of God whenever I follow her commandment to be connected to the earth and to other people.

Slowly but surely I'm spending more and more time there and I couldn't be happier.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Rock, Paper, Strippers

As you know, my church is trying to find different ways to financially sustain itself as part of our mission to be welcoming to people who were hurt by churches in their past. We're trying to make it easy for them to get back on the path of moving toward God through Jesus by not parroting the fundraising tactics of traditional churches since that so easily makes people defensive.

Also, as part of our mission to engage the artistic community in Chicago, we've let a Second City student troupe use our space to practice and they're donating a show in return.

These two activites of my church are coming together in a fundraising event on Tuesday night. I'd love it if any of you wanted to come. For $25 you get a Second City improv show, alcoholic beverages and fancy restaurant-grade hors devours. (Fair warning, though, because this isn't your grandma's church, we're comfortable with some degree of adult humor.)

If you can't make it but want to support us anyway, we're also taking donations. Either way, it will really help out my church and the new, non-threatening direction we're trying to take spirituality.

More information about the Sketch Comedy Bonanza and the link to buy tickets online is here.

I consider this to be a new kind of tithing since the spiritual practice of it revolves just as much around giving our time and transforming our relationships just as much as it involves our money.

We're still new at this. Want to be part of the experiment?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Coffee?

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Advice for the gentlemen

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

The day did not get much better after that.

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

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

But let's go back to the date.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
J


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Beautiful People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My children will mock the hipsters more than I do.

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

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

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