Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Taking A Break

I'm off again travelling on business, this time all week. 

Here's hoping I can manage to find a seat on the plane other than Seat 29E.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Helen is feeling better .. and in fine form

Helen Philpot was sick for a while and hadn't been posting much. Lord, I missed her.  For me she's kind of like a real-life Maxine, only politically edgier. She's back and in fine fettle.  Here's my favorite part of her latest post:
If you want to preserve Christian values you might start with living like a Christian and not some racist asshole who can’t stand how many Muslims have moved into your neck of the woods or what your neighbor is doing in the bedroom.  And if you want to preserve American values then don’t elect a President who condones torture.  But if you want to stop the globalization of nations and the blending of the world’s population then use a condom, support Planned Parenthood and legalize gay marriage.  Because those are the only things I know that actually don’t add to the growing population on this finite planet we call home.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Blessing

Today while eating lunch at our regular Sunday lunch spot, we watched a mother dolphin fishing with her tiny baby.  It appeared to me as though Mama was teaching baby to fish.  At one point, Mama was a bit distracted and the baby headed directly for the navigational channel. When the mother noticed that, she streaked off to herd the baby back to safer waters, where they resumed swimming in tight circles. (I noticed the escaping baby before the dolphin did and, in the manner of mothers everywhere, my heart skipped  beat.)

Unfortunately, I had left my camera in the car, so I didn't get a picture. Bummer.

But, I have the memory.  

Friday, April 24, 2009

Update: My First Month

This past week marked the end of my first month of working out at Curves For Women.  I have never in my life been so rapidly sold on something -- except maybe Ghirardelli chocolate or Mrs. Fields cookies (but, that is another story entirely). 

After working out three times a week for a month, this week was the dreaded "weigh-in".  Only I didn't really dread it because I could feel that my body was different, and better. I felt taller, stronger and more energized. I was surprised to learn that I only lost one pound on the scale.  

They broke it down however, and showed me that I had actually lost 3 pounds of fat.  What is more, I lost 6 inches.  I am not happy with what the scale says I weigh, but I am thrilled with the way my body looks and feels.  I can continue to lose one pound a month, or less, provided I continue to feel so energized when I leave the workout room and so comfortable in my clothes!  

When I first read about Curves, I thought it was another of those ripoff franchises that preys on women's insecurities about their bodies.  I was predisposed to be suspicious about the whole concept.  I was totally wrong!  It is all about empowering women and helping us to be the best we can be.  Very few of us will ever look like Catherine Zeta-Jones or Angelina Jolie (they are my idea of the two Most Beautiful Women in the World), but we can at least do the most we can with the bodies we have.  

For me it is not about looks (although looking good is a nice side effect).  It is about health (managing my weight and diet are important with a body that tends to manufacture a lot of cholesterol) and mental well being (my stress levels are off the charts some days and exercise is the best way for me to manage stress). 

I have never been one to pamper myself or to take the time to do all the personal self-care stuff that our contemporary culture tells us is important.  I resorted to therapeutic massage a few times at one point when I was in so much pain, but I hated the experience of getting naked in front of a stranger and spending money to have someone "pamper" me.  I quit as soon as the pain became bearable.  I have never had a manicure or pedicure.  I quit going to the hair salon almost a year ago: I cut my own hair. My attitude has always been that I have too much to do to spend time and money on girlie frivolities.

For the past 20+ years in one way or another, however, I made time in my life for exercise, mostly walking.  That was good.  It helped me manage my weight and was great for my mental health as well.  But, it wasn't enough for my post-menopausal body.  I would have given anything to find another alternative that did not require me to pay money and/or make some kind of commitment to add to all the other commitments in my life.  I couldn't find it.  So, I bit the bullet and signed up.

Working out at Curves requires me to leave the office earlier than I would ordinarily do.  That is annoying when I'm in the middle of something. It is a good thing because I need to not work as much as I do on my job (gives me more time for my writing, for one thing). It is a good thing, too, because it gives me an opportunity to practice self-discipline.  The combination of flexing my actual muscles and exercising dicipline over my rambunctious Will makes me feel good. It's all about that "control what you can" thing. I can't control anything in the world but myself.  I take full advantage of that little zone of disciplinary control.

In any case, I was motivated to work really, really hard on my susequent workouts this week, and came out feeling great. [Image: Rocky Balboa pumping air at the top of the stairs. Background sound: James Brown singing "I Feel Good"]

Now, it's time to get back to work.

Isolating People By Age

Recently my Dear Husband and I went to a concert at a 55+ community.   For those who don't know about these communities they are manufactured home communities with restricted deeds such that you have to be over 55 to live there. Most of the people are retired.  They have all kinds of community activities to keep the residents occupied, including a community chorus.  One of my husband's customers is in the chorus. She was supposed to do a solo in the concert and she invited my husband to attend.  He dragged me along. I didn't want to go, and didn't really intend to cooperate, but he guilted me into it, so I went.  

The concert itself was actually a surprise.  The choir was not as horrible as I expected and a couple of the soloists could even sort of sing.  The selection of songs was very good for the most part, and I rather enjoyed parts of it. The pianist was just fabulous, and  would go to one of her piano recitals anytime.  

But, the whole experience was jolting in several ways.

On the one hand, it made me miss singing in a choir. Singing in choirs is a whole lot more fun than listening to them.  When you're singing in a choir you think it sounds like the Robert Shaw Chorale.  When you're sitting in the audience you know it sounds more like the church choir on the Andy Griffith Show.

Nevertheless, I miss singing.  I want to figure out a way to bring singing back into my life.

On the other hand, I had mixed feelings about the whole show. It was a very well done production. The women who were in charge were probably music teachers before they retired.  All of the singers had probably sung in community choirs and/or church choirs for years. Their voices may have been somewhat ravaged by age, but they were very professional in their attention to the director. I thought it was cool that they spent their time doing something so healthy and creative.  I loved that.  

But, it was kind of creepy to be in a place where everybody was the same age.  I saw exactly one kid in the audience.  It was not surprising that somebody's grandchild would be there. What was surprising was that there was only one. The rest of the grandchildren were probably "up North" someplace.  The creepiness went beyond fact that there were no extended families there.  It was a little like The (Elderly) Stepford Wives.  The women all dressed similarly, within a certain range. There were the flashy old broads with the sequined shirts and the casual old broads in Capri pants and sneakers, but they all wore makeup and they all wore earrings (dangle earrings). Most of the men were wearing striped golf shirts, with white or khaki pants. I was creeped  out by the fact that these wonderfully talented and capable people had isolated themselves from the  rest of society.

As much fun as planning that concert was for them, it seems to me they might have done better by putting on a show at a nearby elementary school that would include the children, or entertaining at a hospital or nursing home.  

My bottom line is that I have a problem with people who wall themselves off in gated communities that amount to upper-crust ghettos.  

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blog Surfing Sunday

While procrastinating in order to avoid doing any actual creative writing of my own today, I wasted a couple of hours link hopping around the blogosphere. I found some potential kindred spirits (and a bunch of folks that left me scratching my head and wondering WTF?) ....

I just stumbled across this blog by Honey Pie Horse.  I might quibble a tad with her take on the Bible, but I totally agree with her take on religion in general.  I also agree with her take on The Devil Wears Prada (perhaps the only book/movie combo where I have liked the movie (much) better than the book. Of course how can you go wrong with Streep? [Leaving aside, The Bridges of Madison County, anyway. What was she thinking?])

The folks at BlogHer were a little lathered up about a recent episode of Oprah. Evidently a bunch of mommybloggers were on the show and the topic was mommy-angst. Here's an interesting post on that subject.  I should not comment because: (a) I did not see the show  [I think I may be the only person in America who has never watched an entire episode of Oprah.  Five minutes is probably the longest I have been able to stay tuned to her show.] and (b) I would not have continued watching it once the whining and sniveling started (see above on giving up on Oprah in less than five minutes). 

However, I am qualified to speak on the subject of motherhood from a blogger's perspective. I have been an at-home mom and I have been a working mom.  I am not exactly an Earth Mother, but I do the best I can.  

No doubt about it: Being a mom is not a Sunday picnic: Sleep deprivation during infancy; Establishing authority and consistency in toddler-hood;  The ups and downs of Elementary School; the horrors of Middle School, etc.  Being an at-home mom can be isolating, but it can also be seen as a blessed gift of alone-time to think and ponder and experience creativity from the inside out -- at least that was my experience.  Being a working mom can be exhausting, but it has its compensations as well; I like to think that it is good for my daughter to see me as a competent professional apart from being a mom.  

Motherhood. Marriage. Career. Life. It all involves juggling, making choices. Some days are better than others. Some days totally suck, in fact, but there are other days filled with love and wonder and glory.  Tell me that it is not worth everything when you kid or your husband gives you an unexpected hug and says, "I love you"!!

Writing about the bad experiences is fun and cathartic for those of us who express ourselves with words.  We exaggerate and turn into humor what may have been initially a painful experience.  What we write often originates with a kernel of a true experience, but storytelling and writing techniques take over, and the end result is a "story", not necessarily a factually accurate account of what really happened, but it may [we hope] be entertaining as hell, perhaps because it's just a bit scandalous.

Were those women really just sitting around pissing and moaning about how excruciatingly difficult it is to be a mom and confessing to egregious behavior .... or were they a bunch of writer/storytellers sitting around trying to out-do each other with their tales.  I betcha half of those stories could have started with, "Oh, yeah?  Well, listen to this...."  I'm guessing those women were engaging in intentional hyperbole and outrageous storytelling: perhaps even satire.  It was probably all supposed to be funny.  The problem is those daytime talk shows don't understand satire. They are all about people crying and spilling their deepest, darkest secrets for the entertainment of the masses. 

These women go on TV and tell outrageous stories that are supposed to be funny in order to plug their blogs, and people take them seriously?  Sad.  So. Very. Sad. 

Erma Bombeck is probably spinning in her grave ... or maybe she's knocking back a few at St. Peter's Pub with Molly Ivins and talking about what a bunch of twits women can be.

And besides, don't people have anything better to do than sit around and watch Oprah?  Um... or read blogs, for that matter.  [NIW puts head in a paper bag....]


Friday, April 17, 2009

What in the World Is Going On

I have commented often in the past that I have a very busy job, but I don't generally blog about it in detail for a whole lot of reasons.  The main reason is the fact that bitching about your job in your blog is not exactly a career-enhancing thing to do.  And, besides, about 99.9% of what I do is very confidential anyway. So the details remain vague of necessity.

This is not confidential and it's not about my job specifically, so I'm going to blog it: WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON? I used to think that it was just my job that was super-busy and crazy.  It seemed to me that other people had more or less "normal" working lives, some jobs were busier than others, but for the most part they were in the range of "normal" (whatever that might be).  In my work life, I have always walked on the high side of normal. I have come to the conclusion that is because as an employee, I'm kind of an Evil Knievel.  I like to push the envelope at work.  I like to see how much work I can do in the allotted time. After I left most of my previous jobs, the employer hired more than one person to replace me. They didn't ask me to be a crazy woman, I just am made that way. I'm probably every employers dream.

Lately, however, my envelope has been pushed to the outer edges of its tolerance -- and beyond.  I'm starting to experience small rips and tears.  I fear the big split if I am not careful.

What is more, every person I have talked to lately on the phone or via email -- which typically adds up to dozens of people a day -- has told the same tale of woe:  things are crazybusy; they feel out of control and frightened; there is no end in sight to the deluge of new work.  I have the sense that companies are trying to do more with less staff, and the remaining employees are stretched to the max. That is to be expected what with the economy in the crapper, I suppose.  

The part that is disconcerting is that the busy-ness is not due to "booming business".  That kind of "busy-ness" is thrilling and exciting.  The "busy-ness" these days is a lot about people being scared to speak up and ask for help.  I am going to start counting the number of times people say (or I say), "no matter how bad it gets, it's a job."   I hope the day comes when workers will no longer feel that they have to put up with such unhealthy conditions just to have a job.  That is sad.  I hope the day comes (soon) when employers will once again feel they can hire enough staff to allow the employees to have time to do their job to the best of their abilities, instead of just hanging on to a speeding train, doing the best they can and praying that they won't make some kind of unforgivable mistake. 

As for me, I feel reasonably safe in my job, but I am still freaked out by how busy I am. I am terrified that I am going to screw something up and lose it all.....

I've been in the workforce more than 30 years [oh. my. god!!!] and I have never seen things this bad.  I usually try to comfort people in my workplace (actually, I tend to play "Mom" because I'm old), but these days I have no comfort to offer, other than the totally unhelpful "consolation" that we're all in the trenches together.  

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sneaks In

I have spent the entire six weeks of Lent reflecting and writing and otherwise observing in my own (twisted) way the passage of Lent.  I knew when Easter would come because I kept looking it up on my calendar to see when I could start writing fiction again. 

But, somehow, Easter still managed to sneak up on me and catch me unawares. Is that not the most appropriate and theologically profound thing that could happen???  No matter how prepared and "ready" I am for Easter, it still comes as a surprise, and brings me up short.  Oh, yeah!  


My Easter celebration is going to be a sort of unplanned and semi-spontaneous family affair.

On Friday evening Daughter Dear asked me if we were going to "do" anything for Easter.  Evidently Wonderful Boyfriend's family is doing a family thing and he has to work.  DD wondered if I was," like, cooking dinner or something."  (DD knows that typically I do not cook on Sundays.)   

I am always delighted when DD and WBF choose to grace us with their presence (they are usually way too busy to bother hanging out with her parental units). I said of course I would cook something.  I asked what they wanted. They want mac 'n' cheese.  That's all. I rarely make it because it's so high in fat and we all love it so, we gorge on it.

My Dear Husband gets irritated when I insist on making a huge meal for just the few of us.  He would be content with just meat and a starch. I usually eat only vegetables and the starch. For this meal, I should just make the starch and skip everything else, because our principal interest is in the starch dish. 

However, you see, I have a Southern Mother: that's kind of like a Jewish Mother or a Catholic Mother. [Come to think of it, my Southern Mother was also a Catholic so I got a double dose of guilt.] Anyway, in traditional Southern cooking there had to be two meats and three vegetables plus a starch, a couple of "sides" (such as tomatoes, slaw, or some other salad-like substance), plus assorted condiments (relish, chow-chow, pickles, crudites, chutney, etc.).  Desserts included both cake and at least one pie (more typically three or four different kinds of pies), plus some sort of "gooey" confection.  

On the one hand, it's no wonder we were fat and we all have high cholesterol.

On the other, I learned that cooks express love by feeding the people they love. I still do that. However, I do not want my loved ones to keel over with heart attacks at the  end of the meal. Therefore, instead of a whole ham, I bought a tiny (itsy bitsy and VERY EXPENSIVE) package of honey cured sliced ham.  With that we will have steamed green beans with slivered almonds, some leftover stir fried snow peas from tonight, sliced tomatoes, broccoli slaw, corn bread, and mac 'n' cheese. (My guess is most of us will eat mainly mac 'n' cheese. The rest of the stuff will become lunches and dinners for the week.)

Dessert will be mixed fruit and fat free frozen yogurt. (In the likely event we are too full for dessert, that will make good smoothies for breakfast next week.)

It's not my mother's over-the-top, 10,000 calorie holiday dinner.  But, it's my way of demonstrating my love for my family, both in preparing the meal with love and in trying to make it reasonably healthy.

May we all have a Blessed Easter, in whatever way we observe it!  

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fwd: On Holy Week / Practical Application

I have spent the Lenten observance reflecting on my life: my relationships; my work; my goals.  

I reread Every Day Sacred and identified some themes that were important to me, such as the importance of asking for what I want and knowing when I have enough.  I spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning and use of Sabbath time.

I gave up writing fiction as a sacrifice but also to free up time for these reflections.  

Holy Week is the climax of the entire lead up to Easter.   I thought about giving up writing altogether for the week. I decided instead to write mostly fiction this week.  After a five week absence, it's glorious to have the chance to write fiction again ... .

In that way, I'm participating in the Easter Myth by doing a little myth-making of my own. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On Holy Week / The Meaning Of

I have done kind of a new twist on Lent this year, so I want to do Holy Week differently as well. Instead of groveling in the pain of the Via Dolorosa and Calvary, I want to experience Holy Week through Easter eyes.

I have written a lot on the liturgical year in the past. Here's   something I wrote several years ago when I was still involved in a church.  It contains a sentence which moved me to tears when I wrote it (at a time when I was feeling betrayed by people I thought were my friends): One of the sub-texts of Holy Week is that Jesus was stabbed in the back by his own followers before he was nailed on the Cross by the Roman soldiers.  I have a good idea which wounds hurt him more.

Being betrayed even in a small way by the people who are closest to you hurts more than almost anything.  For me, the entire story of Biblical salvation history amounts to the saga of God's efforts to get humans to understand that God loves them and will take care of them, and the humans' responses ranging from "not now, I'm busy" to crucifying God's Beloved Son. The Biblical story is the story of Creation turning on its Creator, over and over again, and the Creator forgiving and beginning again in love.  Any parent who has ever had a kid look at you with fire in their eyes and say, "I hate you" has experienced just the tiniest hint of God's infinite pain. Some of us are better than others at the forgiveness and beginning again part.

It is almost as bad when the kids fight among themselves. In the case of the Holy Week saga, the other children gang up and murder the Beloved.  God stands by and watches in horror.  

Christian churches have typically approached Lent as a six-week long ordeal during which we are supposed to identify with the suffering of Christ and feel deep repentance for our "manifold sins and wickedness."  The problem I have with contemporary Christian Lenten observance is that ... well, the whole thing just so freaking much more complicated than that!!!

Yes, the Story is about betrayal and sin.  Yes, the Crucifixion is a symbol of the worst evil humans can commit: the murder of God.  Palm Sunday and Holy Week stand as warnings of the evil that lurk in the darkness of our hearts.  It is important to look there.  Artists (especially painters, actors, and writers of words and music) have  leg up in that department because we look into our hearts of darkness for material.  We know "what evil lurks in the hearts of men" (and women) because we peek now and then.  It's nasty business, but it's necessary.

Contemporary Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity would have Christians live their entire lives in the shadow of the Cross. That is a distortion. Yes, we live in the shadow of the Cross, but we also live in the glory of Easter! Our Lenten observances need to somehow take seriously the evil and sinfulness of the Crucifixion in the light of Easter. Anything less gets us nowhere.

If we stand in the Christian tradition, we are Resurrection People.  We are called to a New Life, every day. We are not bound by our past or our present. Our future is open, and Life calls us to embrace it, freely and joyfully.  Our family is all of Creation.  The Holy is everywhere, both outside of us, manifest in Creation, and inside of us, often hidden deep in our hearts. Sometimes it hides underneath all that Darkness and sinfulness. But it is there.  

I ended the Holy Week reflection quoted above by saying that Jesus was never, ever alone. Even on the Cross.  At the very moment when he thought he had been abandoned by God, God took him in God's arms and loved him into life eternal.  I wrote in my Journal the other day that I have recently learned there is "no such thing as being Alone". I guess I forgot that I already knew that.  It appears my Not-Aloneness is one of those things about which I need periodic reminders.  

Even though we are never alone, we often feel alone, lost, betrayed and afraid.  As contemporary psych-babble would have it, all feelings are legitimate.  It sucks to feel alone and afraid, whether you really "should" feel that way or not.  The worst thing you can do when someone is afraid and miserable is to explain to them rationally why it is not necessary for them to feel that way.  The best thing you can do is to simply be with them and convey (preferably not in words) that you understand how awful they feel.  Instead of saying "don't cry," try saying "Come. Cry on my shoulder and let me hold you."  

The funny thing is that in that moment of blessing neither of you are alone anymore -- and healing can begin, usually for both people.  

We are in the world and we are very much of the world -- our world, today, right here, right now. Religion (Christian or otherwise) errs if it tells us otherwise.  Instead of groveling in the the passion and death of Jesus or focusing so much on his resurrection that we lose sight of the suffering and dying going on all around us ... or the resurrections. 

A lot of Church people will say that the Easter Event was qualitatively different because Jesus was the Son of God. Yada. Yada. Yada.  I have heard that story a thousand times.  I don't doubt that Jesus was the Son of God.  So is my husband and my boss and the mailman. What makes Jesus different was that he was a totally obedient child. They will say that the whole point of Christianity is to follow Christ.  I'll give them that, but my question is: follow Christ where? 

I don't want to go back to Golgotha every year.  We've been there and done that and we get the message!  I want to look forward not backward.  I want to stand at the foot of the Cross and look not at the "mud and the blood and the vomit" one person told me were necessary to contemplate in order to fully experience the Crucifixion, but at the hope of resurrection.  

Maybe fifteen years ago, on Holy Saturday I was at the church helping with some of the final preparations for Easter. We were hiding candy and plastic eggs for the Easter Egg Hunt and generally getting organized. It was remarkably quiet even with a crew of workers.  I remarked that Holy Saturday always seemed so empty and frightening to me.  I said I felt that something was missing.  One of the other ladies said softly, "Of course, Jesus is not with us."  Then she paused and winked and smiled, "But we know, he'll be baaaaaaaaaaack!"  Ever since then, I have thought that was the perfect attitude for Lent.

It is a tightrope walk.  Go too far one way and you could fall into the abyss of either sin or despair.  Go too far the other way and you'll fly away to some kind of religious la-la land that has no basis in any reality that is in any way helpful to anyone.  Keeping Lent requires a struggle to hold ourselves in a balance between past and future, sin and redemption, death and resurrection, or real-world reality and religious mumbo-jumbo. 

The struggle of Lent is not to go too far down any rabbit trail.  When we get too fascinated by the Cross, we need to hear the echoes of the Easter Alleluias.  When we get too carried away by the love and the blessing and the totally amazing aspects of Resurrection, we need to remember the only way to get there is by dying first.  When we get too focused on the life of Jesus, we need to look at the suffering of the contemporary children of God.  When we start feeling too helpless and hopeless at our inability to respond to the crushing need in our world, we need to sit in the Garden at the feet of our Risen Lord.  

This reflection is particularly scary for me because "balance" is a physical challenge to me (because I have inner ear problems), an emotional challenge to me (because I'm a workaholic who doesn't really "get" leisure) and a spiritual challenge to me because I am a person who likes to be totally committed ... this balancing thing is hard.