Sunday, October 30, 2011

when "Mom" becomes three syllables

We did indeed watch Sound of Music last night.  It was its usual sweet, goofy, sentimental, sexist self.  I enjoyed watching it, but Dean is working this weekend, so he was gone for more than half of it, and MadMax was utterly unamused.  I bribed him with popcorn and Sprite to stick with it for awhile, but he finally gave up in disgust and went downstairs to the other TV.

The thing is, I don't think he really hated it as much as he let on.  I think it was more the idea of it that had him horrified.  His 14-year-old self is way too cool to watch silly family-friendly movies, especially musicals.  I thought he might be able to get into it just for the sake of some family time, but it appears those days are gone, too.

We've been through this with Nell, so I sort of know what to expect.  As with the movie last night, I don't think that they truly hate family time (that doesn't come until 16 or so), it's just that they're pretty sure they're not supposed to like it anymore, because cool kids don't, so they convince themselves they hate it.  Which is why--often-- if you can get them to go along, they'll enjoy themselves and be comforted even if they can't admit it and grumble all the while.  That's why I've dragged him to any number of things in the past six months.

but there does seem to be a bit of a difference between the two of them.  So far with MadMax, the difference over the past year or so is more specifically directed at me.  Well, at least me in my role as mom.  It's the mother-role he's rejecting, because he doesn't know what to do with it.  If Dean had sat and watched the movie with us, MadMax would have suffered through.

With Nell, the anti-mom stuff didn't happen until she was 16 or 17 and started dating.  Then suddenly, I was The Enemy.  It surprised the heck out of me, because we had always gotten along pretty well (generally speaking) before that.  But with MadMax, for several months now, other than the occasional hug or talk in the car, he ignores me.  Or appears to.

Most of the time I do pretty well at remembering that it's the role they're rejecting, not me personally.  And as long as I remember that, if I gently persist, I can push through some of the negativity and reclaim my kid.  But it's a strange feeling.

So I said there would be another post after Barbie Goes to the Mall and Clay Feet, but I find that there's not that much to say.  This has happened before.  I have some sort of a-ha! moment, but when I try to explain it, it ends up just sounding so obvious.  So I write setup posts to try and get at what exactly happened, but it still sounds less like a wise insight than just a casual observation.

So the point of all that was:  I chose my current set of beliefs.  See what I mean?  Duh.  Of course I did.  But as I was driving home from UTown and had that thought, it felt like a huge weight lifting off my shoulders.  Go figure.  I'm still not sure exactly why.  Was I worried at some level that someone had coerced me into my current belief system?  (just as I was coerced into the beliefs of my childhood by not having any choice.)  Maybe that's it.  I don't know.  I choose this way of thinking.  It works for me.  For some reason, coming to that realization was huge for me.  But rather than getting an entire post or two out of it, a paragraph seems to have sufficed.

I'm reaching the point in the semester where I disappear from everybody else's blogs.  Apologies in advance.  I will probably still post here, but I may not appear much of anywhere else.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

the view from the deck

for my friend gb who reads but never comments:

And I give up on the book giveaway.  I'll mail the two sets requested, and the rest are off to a local charity resale shop!  It was worth a try!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I have con-fi-dence in con-fi-dence alone....

....trail off.  gaze stupefied at enormous house enclosed behind fancy wrought-iron gate.  Choke out Oh, help.  Start singing again, slowly and softly, then build to a rousing finale, "I have confidence in confidence alone, because as you see, I have con-fi-dence IN ME!"

 movie ID, anyone? if you don't know, the world has changed even more than I realized, grasshopper. That was Julie Andrews, in The Sound of Music.  If you haven't seen it, go rent it right now and brace yourself for two-plus hours of brilliantly sentimental schlock.  I just poked around on YouTube till I found the video clip-- there are many imitators, and the only clip of the real thing is very poor quality, so it took awhile to find it.  The movie may be treacly (Christopher Plummer called it "The Sound of Mucous"), but Julie Andrews singing that song is thoroughly, radiantly perfect.  Never more so than when she trips and falls out of the taxi while singing, "With each step I am more certain/everything will turn out fine...."

Oh, Lord, guess what movie we will be watching this weekend.  I haven't seen it in ages, and I do love it, sticky sweetness and all.

So, today's topic is self-confidence.  It's a tough one for me.  If you have narcissists in your life, or even people who are just preternaturally self-assured, self-confidence is not a simple subject.  It has never been something I've aspired to. (to which I've aspired?)  Why would I want to be one of those annoying people who have no qualms about themselves? who are utterly assured that they are always doing the right thing?
who just know that their opinions are all correct?  And is it healthy to ignore negative feedback?  The ability to handle constructive criticism is one of the hallmarks of growing up, if you ask me. Those kinds of attitudes may be adorable and appropriate for a kid, but I'm not a kid.

But you know, my lack of confidence is just silly.  There are things I'm good at, in addition to the things I'm not.  and I've also figured out that when you lack confidence, other people-- exactly those people I was describing in the last paragraph-- can use that as a way to manipulate you.

And anyway, I've been figuring out over the past month or so while reading other people's blogs that my skewed definition isn't what most people mean by self-confidence.  What they mean is what Julie Andrews does in that song-- she's flaky, goofy, naive, tripping all over herself, and yet she's putting up a brave front, she's ready to take on the world.

So.... maybe I've been wrong.  OK, I admit it.  I need to re-think this.  If I ditched my old definition and came up with one that worked, what would it look like? 

Yesterday I did something unusual for me.  I did a presentation in front of my Ulysses class, and I wasn't all that nervous.  In the past, I have had an utterly paralyzing fear of public speaking.  If I'm going to stand up in front of people and talk, I have to have a script-- I have to know precisely, word-for-word, what I'm going to say, because once I get up there, my brain refuses to function.  My hands shake.  My voice wobbles.  I'm terrified.

But this time, it went astonishingly well.  I was a bit nervous, my hands a little trembly, my voice not quite steady, but nothing like the near panic attacks I've experienced in the past.  I was so, so proud of myself that I was grinning like a maniac all the way to my next class.  It was a small group-- there are only four of us taking the class, and we've been in class together for the last six weeks, so they're not strangers.  And it was on a topic that interests me and that I was comfortable with.  So it was great practice, a perfect low-pressure environment.

Maybe I could change my definition of  self-confidence to encompass not knowing what the hell you're doing, but being willing to try anyway.  Rather than something brittle that you hide behind, it could be a basic belief, maybe even trust, in myself.  I may fail, but I can handle that.  It's not going to keep me from trying.  Ha.  Maybe for an Eeyore like me, self-confidence means being confident that I will survive failure, not that I will succeed.

What does self-confidence mean to you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Poetry Tuesday: Wallace Stevens "The Snow Man"

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow; 

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Linguist Jay Keyser, in a 2005 interview on NPR, called this poem "the best short poem in the English language, bar none."  I haven't read nearly enough poetry to know if I agree, but there's much to think about.  In class today, we talked about the consistent connection in Stevens' poetry between images of winter/cold and clarity of vision or stillness/calm.  The Snow Man can regard the snow-encrusted trees and the "junipers shagged with ice" because he is so used to the cold that he can ignore it, "not to think/Of any misery."

He can also see through the pathetic fallacy-- the idea that nature responds the way people do.  Under the influence of the pathetic fallacy, you might believe that there is misery in the sound of the wind, but the Snow Man sees through that.  Keyser says, "The poem is a recipe for seeing things as they really are. To do that, you must see the world the way the snow man does. The snow man is free of human biases. He knows that in winter the days aren't cold and miserable; you are. To see like him, you must constantly challenge your own assumptions."

The last three lines are what intrigue me, though.  There are three assertions of nothing-- the listener is "nothing himself," and in the last one, he beholds "the nothing that is."  In between, there is a double negative:  he "beholds/Nothing that is not there."  Why all the negatives?  It seems to assert that nothing is something.  I want to put a Buddhist spin on it.  In Buddhism, the great nothing isn't a void or a negation, it is what lies beyond the boundary of humdrum, ordinary human thought.  It is actually teeming with vitality, but if you try to name it, make it into something, it immediately ceases being nothing.

That is of course based on my rudimentary understanding of Buddhism.  I have no idea if Stevens knew the first thing about Buddhism.  There were other, entirely different opinions among the members of my class.  but I like this reading. :-)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

still clearing my clutter

Well, we have signed on the dotted line, so we are definitely downsizing. Someday I will post a picture of the view from the deck so you can see why I'm willing to do this.

Today's topic is getting rid of books.  It kills me.  But I have two full walls of built-in bookshelves in this house and there are none at the new place, so a bunch of them have to go.  I wasn't sure exactly how to do it, because when I've seen other book giveaways, they've been about marketing or promoting something.  I'm just trying to get rid of a bunch of books, which breaks my heart, so it will be easier to do if I know they are going to good homes. 

Read over the list below and see if there's anything you want.  If so, leave a comment and/or e-mail me.  If you don't already have my e-mail address, click on "profile" (I'll move it up to the top of the page so it's easier to find), and click on my name.  Tell me your top 3-5 choices from the list and give me your snail mail address.

At the end of the week I'll divvy things up (based mostly on what order I receive your requests), and send them out media mail, which means it will take about ten days for them to reach you.  I have no idea how many people will respond, so I don't know how many books you'll be getting.  I'm kind of excited to see how this turns out!! 

Unfortunately, not all of these are good books.  But some are duplicates of my absolute favorites-- if you've been reading along, you'll recognize them.  Don't worry-- you're not getting my only copy.  I somehow ended up with two (or even three) copies of some of these.  They are all used, and since I tend to buy my books used to start with, some of them are not in very good condition.  But they're all perfectly readable.  They are all romance novels.  If this goes well, I may do it again with other types of books, but at the moment, I'm just clearing out my stash of romance novels.

The list:

Kleypas:  Mine till Midnight, Seduce Me at Sunrise, Tempt Me at Twilight, Lady Sophia's Lover, Suddenly You, Stranger in My Arms, Dreaming of You

Balogh:  First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Seduction, At Last Comes love, Ideal Wife, Slightly Married, Slightly Sinful

Crusie:  Bet Me, Crazy for You, Charlie All Night, What the Lady Wants, Tell Me Lies, Fast Women

Luanne Rice, The Edge of Winter
Patricia Rice, Almost Perfect
Sandra Brown, The Crush
Laurens/Balogh/D'Alessandro/Hern, It Happened One Night
Kristan Higgins, Where Fools Rush In
Susan Eliz. Phillips,  This Heart of Mine
Jennifer Ashley, Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie
Anne Stuart, Heat Lightning
Patricia Gaffney, Lily
Stephanie Laurens, Rake's Vow
Anne Mallory, Three Nights of Sin
Lori Foster, Say No to Joe
Foster/Bradly/Callen/Marquez, Hot and Bothered
Kathleen O'Reilly, Nightcap and Beyond Seduction
Julie James, A Lot Like Love

Friday, October 21, 2011

there are no words

You know, life just sucks sometimes.  A dear friend of mine in North Carolina had to make the decision this week to pull her husband off life support where he has been since a car accident about ten days ago.  He died yesterday afternoon.

Well.  After typing that, I find I can't say what I was going to for today.  Please say a prayer for Brenda.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Riffday: All the Single Ladies

Dean and MadMax left early this morning for a weekend of bird-hunting with Dean's dad and brother-in-law in Idaho. Dean was so excited he couldn't sleep last night.  Woke up at 4:30.  Went for a run at 5.  Was showered and packed by 6:30.

Which means it's me and my girls this weekend--Cinder and Jazz.  Cinder decided to kick off our weekend of fun and frivolity by throwing up on the hall carpet.  So I started my crazy party weekend by cleaning cat vomit off my Costco hall runner.  Ah, the brilliant life I lead.

Also on the docket for this weekend:  In preparation for my book giveaway, I have to go through my 3-foot stack of books waiting to be read and figure out which ones I want to keep.  Which means reading the first ten pages or so and seeing what I think.  If I'm lucky, I'll get sucked into one and not be able to put it down.  It's been awhile since I've read a book I couldn't put down.

I managed to reduce my four shelf-feet of picture books that I'm saving to read to my grandchildren by two feet this morning.  I'd post a photo but I think I left my camera in my car, and Dean and MadMax took mine because Dean's is too small for all the hunting gear.   That still leaves me with two feet of picture books.  I admit to getting a little tear-y over How many Trucks can a Tow Truck Tow?, The Father that had 10 Children, Officer Buckle and Gloria, and 10 Minutes till Bedtime (possibly my all-time favorite children's book).  But those aren't going.  They're staying, because dangit in ten years I might have grandkids.  Never mind that Nell is still in college and MadMax is still in middle school.

btw.  Have I told you that MadMax is taller than me?  It happened back in May or so.  Five months later, he is over an inch taller than me.  I'm the shortest in the family now by quite a bit. 

the low-fat four letter word:  so my diet is sort of going in fits and starts.  Remember, it's not about weight-loss anymore, it's about lowering my cholesterol.  Which is good, because I'm not losing any weight.  I thought I would pass on the best things I've discovered that are low-fat.  Some are obvious, like salsa and mustard.  I'm lucky that I love both of those (not together).  But there have been some surprises, too.  Did you know that Hershey's syrup has no fat?  So if I use a banana, a cup of  1% milk, a handful of frozen raspberries and 2 tablespoons of Hershey's, I can have a totally awesome chocolate raspberry smoothie for 2.5 g of fat (and even though I'm not officially counting calories, it's still only about 350 calories).  And Tootsie Pops.  No fat, 60 calories each.  I missed regular tortilla chips at first, but really if you're just munching (with your low-fat salsa, of course), once you get used to them the baked chips are fine.

Then there's Dr. McDougall's cup soups.  They're about $1.50 each from Amazon, slightly more from the grocery store, and there are several good flavors.  The nutritional info varies with the flavor, but my favorite, PadThai, is 200 calories, 1 g fat, and 8 g protein.  No, it doesn't taste like Pad Thai, but it tastes good-- pleasantly burn-y and interesting.  and they have them at the student center at my school, which makes for an easy, quick lunch.  also I tried a Rocco recipe for brownies that is based on a can of black beans.  It wasn't bad, although I think I would call them black bean bars and not brownies, so you're not expecting them to taste like brownies.  I want to mess with it a little bit and "improve" it and then maybe I'll post it. 

Adding 15 minutes to my exercise time has turned out to be harder than expected, though.  I get bored.  I've tried reading, but I get a little nauseated with the book bouncing up and down.  (Have I ever posted about how prone I am to motion sickness?)  There's a TV in the room with the treadmill, but there's no cable in there, so I can only watch movies on it.  I haven't done it yet, but I may have to if I'm going to stick with this.  I've actually walked outside a couple of times, which is more interesting, but I don't get as good a workout because there's only a small bit that is hilly.

Hey, I have a question for you.  What is your opinion about artificial sweeteners?  I just don't like them.  Well, OK, I drink 3-4 caffeine-free Diet Dr Peppers a week, but other than that, I'm not a fan.  Many of Rocco's recipes call for Truvia, which is based on stevia, an herbal sweetener.  So it's not exactly artificial, but still.  It just doesn't taste right to me. If I'm going to eat something sweet, I want sugar, dammit.

Wow, this has been truly all over the place.  I confess to pulling this one out of a hat because I didn't want that last one to be the first post a new person might see.  I don't know why I worry, though, since I've only got half a dozen readers right now.  I seem to have scared off the phdonline person and my teethwhitening buddy with that TMI post.  They'd been coming by for months, but I haven't seen them since.  Which just makes me more grateful for you guys!  Happy Wednesday, people!

clay feet

I wrote the parking place post last night, but didn't publish it until this afternoon because I wanted to let it sit overnight.  When I started it, I was going to try and describe my experiences as a process-- this happened, then this happened, then this.  But I've realized that's not possible.  Partly because I just don't remember it that well-- the 50-year-old brain doesn't do details well.  But also partly because it didn't happen that way.  Much of this was going on at the same time.  It's just different pieces of what happened.

So another piece was dealing with hypocrisy.  That's such a cliché that it seems kind of dumb to bring it up.  Of course I figured out that there were a lot of hypocrites in my religion, including myself.  Duh.  Can any of us live up to our higher ideals?  There are hypocrites in every religion.  It makes you wonder if it's even worth it to have higher ideals.

But I'm pressing on because there's stuff I need to process here.  The hypocrisy hurts more, I think, when you hero-worship someone and then they fall off the pedestal.  And it hurts even worse, I think, when you compound that hero-worship with a long-term resolute determination to not see the person's faults.  So that you spend years, decades, shoring up your hero's heroic-ness, and when they fall off, you realize not only their flaws, but also your own participation in the whole mess.  You have to deal not only with anger and disappointment, but guilt and self-recrimination (how could I have been so dumb?)  You would have been better off--both you and your hero--if the hero worship had never happened.

This is my dad, of course.  He had faults, plenty of them.  Who doesn't?  He was a brilliant teacher of the Bible, and he created a version of Christianity that was compelling and beautiful and....oh, what's the right word.  real?  He could take the stories in the Bible and make them come alive-- the characters, the settings, the teachings.  He'd re-tell one of the scenes from Jesus's life, and turn it inside out, so that you'd think, whoa.  I never thought of it that way.  He was very clear about grace and forgiveness and love.  And I bought it.  All of it.  Hook, line and sinker. Not just the theology, but his projection of himself as the Teacher, the Man of God.

the problem was that he couldn't live in his personal life what he taught in his public life.  He wasn't exactly a horrible father; there are many who are far worse.  He just wasn't a very good one, and we had to cover that up so his ministry could continue to thrive.  He was by turns--turns that were completely unpredictable-- angry, cold, withdrawn, funny, critical, absent, and affectionate.  He was so proud of us when we made him look good, but at the same time so afraid that we would embarrass him.  We actively participated in creating his image so that he could keep doing his thing, even though he was emotionally abusive to my mom, and incapable of seeing his children as anything other than extensions of himself and his own needs. 

But was he unusual?  I don't think so.  I've read memoirs and heard stories of other people whose parents were "in the ministry" and I don't think he was much worse than any of them.  It goes with the territory.  But even though it's common, you still have deal with it.  I had to grow up and figure it out.  And especially, I've had to extract my faith, my belief system-- the theology I learned from him-- from who he was. 

That's harder than it sounds.  There's an old family story about me from when I was about four or five years old.  I was playing with a boy about my age and my mom overheard us boasting to each other.  "When my dad grows up," said the little boy, "he's going to be Superman!"  "Ha," I replied.  "That's nothing. When my dad grows up, he's going to be God."

You see my dilemma.  God the Father, earthly father.  I had them all entwined.  And that's what I've been working on processing for the last couple of weeks since I figured this out.  Or since I figured out this most recent round of it-- I've always been aware it was there.  How much of my anger and rage at the religion of my childhood is anger and rage at my dad?  Much of it, I'm afraid.  Maybe even most of it.  There's no chance that I'm going back to it.  Once I was old enough to make up my own mind, I left--motivated at least in part by a determination not to let my dad have the satisfaction of thinking I condoned his teaching.  And once I was out of it, I found a gazillion other reasons to not be there.  I'm not going back.  But I have to acknowledge that a big part of the break had nothing to do with the religion at all; it had to do with the man that tried to teach it to me.

I think there's still one more post coming on this topic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the Code, and Poetry Tuesday: Marianne Moore

There is a code among students.  You don't try to make another student look bad.  You cover for each other as much as you can.  If the professor calls on your neighbor and you know your neighbor didn't have time to finish her reading last night, you jump in with a comment.  You grouse about how far behind you are and how much studying you have to do, even if you don't.  You don't try to look extra smart or outshine the other students.  In other words, it's students vs. the professor, in a subtle, not-too-blatant kind of way.

But I'm way closer in age to my professors than I am to the other students.  In fact, I'm often older than my professors.  We can talk about our kids, college tuition, buying a house, home maintenance, raking the yard, running car pool-- all things that my professors and I have to deal with that most of the other students don't.  And this has become even more obvious as I start to have professors again.  This is my third class with my Ulysses professor, and the second with my Modern Poetry professor.  Two of the professors I had last year I had for more than one class.  They are people I profoundly respect, and also just like to sit and talk to.  They're becoming friends.

So last week I crossed over.  I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it.  My modern poetry class is an undergraduate level class that I'm taking as a graduate independent study.  I attend the class, and then meet with the professor once a week for further, more in-depth discussion.  The class is a particularly uninspired group.  On the first day of class, almost of all of them said that they were a) education majors, not english majors, and b) had to have this class in order to graduate in the spring.  They don't really care about poetry.  They don't do the reading.  They don't like to discuss.  They just want to come in, zone out through a lecture, and get their credits.  (And by the way, I suspect that these same students are very animated and involved when it's a class they're interested in, they're just not interested in poetry.)

So last week when the professor--one of my friends--was becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of involvement from the class and asked, "So who did read the assignment?", normally I would have waited to see how many others raised their hand. But this time I blew right through the Student Code without a qualm and acknowledged that I had.  He was grateful.  I felt a bit like a heel.  But I've reached the point where I feel far more loyal to him than I do to the other students.  Funny feeling.

We've only just started Marianne Moore, so I don't have too much to say.  But here is the published version of her poem "Poetry":


I, too, dislike it.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it,
                one discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.

And that's all there is to the poem.  But then you flip over to the back of the book to the footnotes (which I suppose would technically be endnotes), and it says, "Longer version:" and proceeds to a 30-line version of the poem.  Was she just being witty?  making fun of the idea of poetry?  Or was she so disgusted with the self-involved, smug attitude of some poets that she was trying to pare away every unnecessary thing?  It's hard to say.  In the longer poem, she makes a plea for poets to be "literalists of the imagination," to write "imaginary gardens with real toads in them."  By which I think she means that (for example) even if you're writing fantastic fiction with trolls and elves and dwarves, the characters and their situation still have to be real, to connect with the reader in a way that feels authentic.  There have to be real toads in the imaginary garden.  The longer version ends:

...In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
  the raw material of poetry in
    all its rawness and
      that which is on the other hand
         genuine, you are interested in poetry.

and there you have it.

Oh! and one last thing.  One of you who reads and doesn't like to comment came up with a name for dh.  She says that since I use Aunt BeaN because my initials are BN, he should be "DeaN" because his initials are DN.  Which is perfect.  So, I am christening my long-suffering spouse Dean.  Now you know.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Barbie goes to the mall

When I started this blog, I was even more neurotically freaked out about privacy than I am now.  There are still things that I would never write about here, but back then, there were entire catalogs of things I didn't dare post.  So some of my early posts, about why I originally left evangelicalism were.... not the whole truth.  It's been so long since I wrote those early posts that I hadn't really thought about this.  But a few weeks ago, in connection with processing my father's death, I revisited a few of them and realized that some revisionist posting was in order.

I said in this early post that the original catalyst for getting out of the religion of my youth was my realization of the logical inconsistencies of what I believed. And it was true to an extent.  This mainly had to do with answers to prayer, or with feeling like I had direct access to guidance from God.  For example.  If I went to the mall and a parking place opened up right in front of the entrance just as I got there, I would think, "God opened up that parking place for me. God wants me to go shopping."  It perhaps wasn't quite that bald, but at some sort of not-quite-conscious level, that's what I would think.

But once I got out of an entirely Evangelical environment, the thing I started to realize was that if I got to the mall and there were no parking places at the front, I didn't then think, "Oh, God must not want me to go shopping," and then leave.*  I just found a place at the back and walked.  *Unless, as a special case, I was undecided about whether or not to go shopping, and then I would pray that if God wanted me to go shopping, there would be a parking place, and if there wasn't a parking place, I would know to leave.  (I am not making this up.  If you weren't raised evangelical, I hope you find this amusing and not appalling.)

I was young.  Don't judge me.

The point is, I had this completely absurd picture of what it was like to have faith.  I was basically just talking to myself in my head, taking the coincidences of my life and making them into something meaningful.

Right.  We could get into a big discussion about that, I know.  Lots of people, many of them not Christian, believe that there are no coincidences in life.  And on certain days, I might agree with that.  But with this caveat:  I think you can realize that in hindsight.  You can drive yourself nuts trying to figure out the "meaning" of every single little thing in your life.  Sometimes there's a pattern when you look back.  Sometimes there's not.

On the other side of that argument, which I would agree with on other days, human brains look for meaning.  If we can't find it, we create it, or impose it.  I first realized this when I was working at a school, and had to spend many hours typing student ID numbers into the "child count" database software.  After awhile, my brain would start looking for patterns, for meaning, in these completely random series of numbers.  My brain was so compulsive about this that after awhile it made me laugh.

Wow, is this ever not going in the direction I thought it would when I started.  ha.

Back up.  So there I am at the mall, blithely confident that God cares enough about me to manage parking spaces for my benefit, while children are going to bed hungry, or have stepfathers that molest them, or are dying of cancer.  So if God cares that much about me, what's happening with them?  It's impossible for me to believe that God surveys the earth and chooses some people to valet park at the Galleria, and others to starve to death.  It was the age old problem of "How can a good and loving God allow Evil in the world?" with my own little "It's-all-about-me" spin thrown in for fun.  My 19-year-old self would go through this convoluted bit of reasoning about how it's not God's fault that children are starving, because God allows human beings free will, and human beings hoard resources and mismanage food supplies, and thus there are starving children.  And then I would go to the mall and expect God to have someone vacate their parking place so I could go shopping.  The undefined "they" who were causing world hunger got free will, but poor Jane Doe who was just trying to find her mother-in-law a birthday present would have this sudden compulsion to leave the mall-- a complete denial of her free will-- so that I could have a parking place.

So where am I going with this?  Because all I'm proving here is what a brain-dead 19-year-old I was.  None of this proves anything about who God is or might be, let along whether or not any such being exists.  It just proves that there were a lot of logical inconsistencies in my faith.  and maybe that's all the point there is to this one.  I started seeing these big holes in my logic, and not knowing how to plug them up.

to be continued.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

when september ends

Summer has come and past
the innocent can never last
wake me up when september ends

Yeah, yeah, I know september ended a couple of weeks ago, but this Green Day song ran through my head as I pulled out my flowers this morning.  Once I let them go until we got a hard freeze and they were all dead, but it was way more depressing to pull them then that it is to just do it now when they are leggy and overgrown and past their prime.

It's not hard to do when they look like that, even if it makes me sad that summer is gone.

But then there's bacopa.  Bacopa is used as a filler plant.  At the beginning of the summer, you can buy it in six-packs, and you use it to fill in the blank spaces in your pots and hanging baskets.  It has a trailing habit, which means six weeks later, long strands of dark green foliage covered with tiny white flowers trail out of your baskets.

There have been years when bacopa was my most successful plant.

Can you see it?  the pink ones are petunias, but the long trailing stuff is bacopa.

The best thing about bacopa, though, is its smell.  It isn't a pretty smell like roses or gardenias, it's sharp and biting and earthy.  It's the smell of summer.  I broke off a bit of it and crushed it in my hand this morning, and that scent wafted up like the last little bit of green.

Apparently it is also more hardy than the other plants.  I pulled out everything else, but I couldn't do it with the boxes that had bacopa.  It's still so alive.  So I watered them and left them.  Maybe they'll last a couple more weeks.  We've already had first frost, but these are so close to the house that it takes a hard freeze to kill them off.

Here is my attempt at an artsy photo representing the end of summer:

I didn't pose that, promise.  After I stuffed everything into the garbage bin, it was just there on the floor.

Friday, October 14, 2011

HGTV this is not

Well, we might be moving.  Not far-- really, as the crow flies, it's less than a mile-- but a different house.  You might remember that we tried this awhile back and couldn't sell our house.  But it is starting to look like this is really going to happen.  The new place has a beautiful lot, gorgeous views, smaller house.  Those were my three priorities.  I'm not much of a house person, and it's a good thing, because the house itself isn't as nice as this one.  But we can fix it up a bit and it will be fine.

Did you catch the key word there?  smaller.  And this one is packed to the brim with stuff.  Which means much jettisoning is going to have to happen before the move actually occurs (which will probably be in early January).  Clean out must happen.  Fortunately my friend Debbie is way ahead of me-- she's started a new blog called "100 Days of Cleanout" about her determination to eliminate at least one item of clutter from her house every day for 100 days.  She is inspiring me, although a whole heck of a lot more than 100 things are going to have to exit chez nous.

Anyway.  I will only do a minimal amount of cleaning before the semester is over.  Then I will have about three weeks between exams/papers and the actual move date.  Of course, Christmas is in there, too, but who's counting?  At least I won't be bored.

Earlier this week, I cleaned off the tops of my cabinets in the kitchen and the plant shelves above.  Here is what I took down:

and believe it or not, there is still quite a bit left.  Our church is having a bazaar to raise money for local charities in a couple of weeks, so that's their destination.

I think I'm going to have a book giveaway for my loyal readers (all six of you) to clear out my bookshelves a bit.  Stay tuned.

On a further cleanout note, I spent about an hour on Twitter last night clearing out the list of people I follow.  When I first started Twitter, I didn't really know anything about it, so I just followed whoever they told me to follow.  Which meant I ended up with a continuous stream of tweets from people I care nothing about.  I deleted about 60 last night who had never followed me back, and all the sudden my tweetstream is full of people I know and who I want to keep up with.  Suddenly I am interested in Twitter again.  It had gotten to the point where I never looked at it, because why would I?  This makes me happy.

Also: help needed.  When I started blogging back in 2003, I was a member of an online community of moms who all had babies in July 1997 (that would be MadMax).  We all referred to our spouses as dh ("dear husband" or "dang husband" or whatever the mood required).  So I just kept using that and never really came up with an internet name for him.  But since all my other family members have internet names, "dh" has felt too impersonal for a long time.  So I've been trying to think of a name for him.  Unsuccessfully.  Any ideas?  He is a runner, bicyclist, gardener, loves his tractor, smart as heck, 6'2"-ish.  Ha.  Maybe TractorMan.  I hadn't though of that.  All of the names I actually call him in real life (besides his real name, of course) are too silly.  I'd be embarrassed.

Have a great weekend, everybody.  I actually have a manageable amount of reading to do for once.  Which means I should get started on my papers, right?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Poetry Tuesday-William Carlos Williams

Every English major has read Williams' most famous poem:

So much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

because its easy to anthologize and nobody complains about having to read it.  It's short.  It doesn't even seem like a poem.  Anyone can do that.

Except you can't.  It's like a Jackson Pollock painting.  It looks like splatters of paint, something any two-year-old could do, until you try to do it yourself.  And "the red wheel barrow" turns out to be perfectly balanced-- line length, stresses, the weight given to each stanza.  It's like a zen koan.  It's short and seemingly simple, but there's nothing about it you could change.

Williams wrote several of these (try the plums poem for another), and they are what he is famous for.  But who knew? Late in life, he also wrote "Asphodel, that Greeny Flower," which has to be one of the most beautiful poems I've ever read.  It's an autobiographical poem, written to his wife of forty years as an extended elegy for their long marriage.  On the evidence of the poem, he was not a perfect spouse (who is?)  He is alternately regretful, joyful, groveling, demanding, and proud.  But always stubbornly loyal to her and to the life they had together.  There's a long (*sneezes* *boring*) bit in the middle where he tries to put their marriage in the context of the times in which they lived, but the beginning and the end are just.... lovely.

For background, in Greek mythology, the asphodel is a flower that grows in the underworld.  And you'll have to forgive the line arrangement-- HTML won't reproduce the line breaks correctly without me doing a bunch of CSS coding, which I don't have time for.  So imagine this more spread out on the page. It is way longer than this, I left out pages.

Of asphodel, that greeny flower...
     I come, my sweet,
         to sing to you.
We lived long together
     a life filled,
          if you will,
with flowers.  So that
     I was cheered
          when I came first to know
that there were flowers also
     in hell.

....There is something
          something urgent
I have to say to you
     and you alone
          but it must wait
while I drink in
     the joy of your approach
          perhaps for the last time.
And so
     with fear in my heart
          I drag it out
and keep on talking
     for I dare not stop.
          Listen while I talk on
against time.
     It will not be
         for long.....

I cannot say
     that I have gone to hell
         for your love
but often
     found myself there
         in your pursuit.
I do not like it
     and wanted to be
         in heaven.  Hear me out.
Do not turn away.

....It is ridiculous
what airs we put on
    to seem profound
         while our hearts
gasp dying
     for want of love.
         Having your love
I was rich.
     Thinking to have lost it
         I am tortured
and cannot rest.
     I do not come to you
with confessions of my faults,
     I have confessed,
         all of them.
In the name of love
     I come proudly
         as to an equal
to be forgiven.

....Lean cheeked
I say to myself
     kindness moves her
         shall she not be kind
also to me?  At this
     courage possessed me finally
         to go on.
Sweet, creep into my arms!
     I spoke hurriedly
         in the spell
of some wry impulse
     when I boasted
         that there was
any pride left in me.
     Do not believe it.

And there's plenty more, too, but that's probably enough.  Poetry moment over.

It always seems that when I write one of those "I'm offline for awhile" posts,  I immediately have lots to say.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

post from somewhere out there

Seriously, today I realized it is October.  That's how out of it I've been.  Too much studying to do.  I will be back eventually.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

in which I start out discouraged and move back to normal

I've had several demoralizing things happen in a row.  I just don't know if I'm cut out for this grad school stuff.  I've been hanging out with literary types today due to volunteering at a literary conference that's going on in UTown.  I'm completely intimidated and discouraged.  I feel like the country bumpkin trying to hang out with the sophisticated people.  I don't know the right words, I don't know how to make their kind of jokes, I can't imagine this is going to end well.

But they let me in, and I'm not quitting, so I suppose there's nothing to do but just keep going.  It's funny, I hit this point every semester, and every semester I end up doing fine.  But it doesn't change the feeling-- I just don't have the gloss of intellectualism that you need to have to survive in academia.  That's why even though I've started practically handing out my blog address on the street corner, I haven't given it to anyone connected with my master's program.  Because the stuff I go on and on about here is so not the kind of stuff that would cut it in the academic world.  So they don't need to know.

So fuck it.  (excuse my language.)

I started this post sitting at one of the public computers in the lobby of the hotel where the conference is being held.  I wasn't exactly crying, but I was sort of leaking if you know what I mean.  My turn at the registration table was over, so I left and went and got a chocolate milkshake and a cheeseburger (strictly verboten on my low-fat diet, but ohmylord did I need comfort food).  Then I checked into the hotel where I'm staying so I can be back at the registration table at 8 a.m. tomorrow and took a half hour nap.  Between the comfort food and the rest and a couple of e-mails from people who had no idea what was going on but who were supportive of me anyway, I'm feeling better again.

The thing I regret is that there are a few people in the program whom I really like and admire, and I want them to admire me back.  And maybe they will, but just in a different way than you admire academic people.  And now that I'm pulling myself out of my funk, I think they do like me.  None of them can believe I'm doing this "at my age" and with the commute I have to do.  It takes guts of some sort, if not the academic kind.

There have been a couple of posts in the Bettyverse recently about self-confidence.  They've got me thinking.  You may have noticed that I don't have very much.  I'm working on that, but my goal isn't to be the kind of self-confident that is utterly sure of how great I am and of my own opinions.  I know a few people like that, and although they make admirable heroes, they aren't people I feel close to.  I just want to figure out how to value my own kind of self-ness, my own unique brand of being.  I have a long history of aspiring to believe or act in ways that don't suit me.  I'm working on that, too.

good grief, I'm practically sobbing into my coffee cup here.  (which, if I meant it other than metaphorically, would be decaffeinated, of course).

On a sort-of sideways related note:  although I've never been a huge fan of apple products (besides my iPod, to which I am utterly devoted), I am sad that Steve Jobs is gone from the world.  In reading about him today, I ran across the commencement address he gave at Stanford in 2005.  There is both a text and a video version here.  It's long, but it's worth it.  Or if you want a shortened version of it, the highlights are here.

Monday, October 03, 2011

but she never asked for money

I thought I wasn't going to be able to post anything for days due to recovering from our weekend roadtrip to Seattle, but then I found this, which I wrote about three weeks ago, and never posted (because it is unfinished, as you will see).  But it's as long as most of my posts are, so I'm publishing it and will finish it in another post--if I can remember what the point was, because at the moment, I can't.  I have no idea where I was going with this.

When we first moved here-- in July of 1992, so it has been 19 years now-- I was still in Exploratory Search Mode, looking for a way to express my spirituality that felt right. So I tried out several different things.  Compared to what I was raised with, some of them were pretty wild, but you know, when you actually get there and sit with people and listen to what they believe, it's not wild at all.  It's just people, trying to make sense of the world, trying to live deeper, richer lives.

I tried a UCC church, a church of religious science, a wiccan circle, a group that was more or less a book club that read books on spiritual topics, and a couple of groups that were too amorphous to have a specific category applied to them, but were more or less New Age spirituality groups.  One of them was started by a couple of women who had spiritual interests and wanted to have a group of like-minded women to meet with on a monthly basis.  But the other one had a real live guru in charge of it. 

She has subsequently moved--in fact, it has probably been more than a dozen years since she moved--so I could probably use her real name, but since it's fun to think up internet names, we'll call her Selena.  I went to Selena's group weekly for about a year.  To use her New Age lingo, she believed that she "channeled the universal Christ Energy," but really that is just a woo-woo way of saying.... hmmm, I'm trying to think of a way to say this.  I don't want to sound snide or pejorative, because I often found her teachings to be very wise.  but it's hard not to be snide sometimes.

Let me back up.  I think in our culture, we have a hard time believing that individual humans can be spiritually wise, so if we're going to trust a spiritual teacher, we expect them to have some sort of credibility that depends on an authority outside themselves--their authority to teach has to come from having studied a spiritual text (the Bible, the Koran), or having gone to a spiritual school or apprenticeship (seminary, or lived in an ashram, or spent 20 years in Zen meditation, or whatever), or from some sort of crisis experience (a former drug addict that has had a conversion experience).  We don't want to believe that Joe Schmoe down the street can speak spiritual truths just because he thought of something in between watching football games and mowing the lawn. 

Which is mostly a good thing-- it keeps us from getting sucked in by some charismatic person who claims special spiritual brilliance and by the way if you send him $500 he'll send you his newsletter.  But it's also a sign of patriarchal thinking-- your brilliance can't come from within, it has to have the stamp of approval of some external authority.  It's how the local village wise woman (who was either self-taught, or was taught by the previous wise woman) got labeled a witch and then ousted by a Catholic priest, who had an entire church hierarchy to back him up. 

So, back to Selena.  About a dozen of us would gather every week, and Selena would sit with us in a circle.  She would spend a few minutes centering herself, and then, with her hands out flat on her thighs, she would start to talk.  She would talk about love and what is valuable and the state of the world and how to handle various difficulties.  As she talked, the fingers on her right hand would flutter a bit on her leg.  One time when I was talking to her alone she told me that that was how she knew she was on the right track-- the Christ Energy that she believed she channeled would move her fingers. I can't remember exactly how it worked but it was something like if her pinky finger moved, she was OK, but if it was her index finger, she was getting off track. 

I found her helpful, and interesting, but she didn't say anything exactly earth-shatteringly new.  Everything is love, the world of our senses is not all there is, you should align yourself with positive vibrational frequencies (which is basically the same thing as 'think positive,' if you ask me).  It seemed to me that she used the idea of "channeling" to give herself credibility-- not consciously, I'm sure that she believed what she was telling us.  But I think even in her own mind, she needed to believe that there was some external authority out there-- the "Christ Energy"-- that was telling her what to say.  But maybe really she was just a person who was unusually in tune with her spirituality, and thus had interesting things to teach the rest of us.  Maybe there was no Christ Energy at all, beyond what she had inside herself.

At least, that's one way of looking at it.  On the other hand, I've had experiences, too, where a sudden insight or realization felt like a gift from an external source.  and of course both ways of thinking bring up the question of exactly what spirituality is, anyway.   Is it just an underused section of our own brain?  or maybe as-yet-unknown capabilities of the human brain?  Do we really tap into some external source?  I have no idea.

hunh.  I just googled Selena and she's still around--in Oregon, as a matter of fact. (*waves at Oregon*)

more later. I did remember where I was going with this, and believe it or not, it was going to be about group dynamics.  ha.  I edited it quite a bit before I remembered that, so that's not where it's going anymore, obviously.  (and just in case you're wondering, no I am not about to announce that I will be channeling the archangel Michael on Tuesdays.  I'm just interested in this in a general sort of way.)