Wednesday, June 30, 2004

New Mown Hay and Moonlight on the Wabash, Part 2

BF and VDF were visiting the night before I left for Indiana (D., my husband, and BF's husband had left us after dinner to meet up with other guys for Vinyl Night, which involves a turntable, records from the 60s-90s, lots of beer, and no women, and, as I was telling them as I packed ), I felt a little humiliated to finally be feeling so angry at my father, just before leaving to visit.  Earlier in the spring I'd read a book called THE SISTERHOOD OF THE MAGICAL TRAVELING PANTS, a gift from BF (because it is also about good female friendships), and one of the characters was the daughter of a father who was getting remarried to a woman with children. One of the subplots was about her coming to terms with her feelings of rejection and replacement as a result. 

I've been to counseling many times in my life --- and even to some very good ones.  I have no good explanation for how it is that it took 25 years for this set of feelings to finally present themselves so simply to me.  I do credit the book some, for portraying the girl as being angry at everyone but her dad for most of the story, until at last she could see that her anger was at him.  I recognized myself, I suppose.  In any case, I was seething as I packed, feeling betrayed and angry and hurt in a way I don't know if I've ever felt so directly.  I was not looking forward to going and though BF and VDF were good ears, and reminders that I was not on my way to a confrontation, but to an event that was about a good thing, inside, I was just a mess of dank and tangled bad feelings.

I got on the plane and it was full of Midwesterners.  You'd think it'd be full of Californians, since we were leaving from California --- and it probably was full of both in two senses.  For one thing, it is a commonly held myth that Californians are a different species from Midwesterners.  The truth is most Californians ARE Midwesterners -- transplants.  And those Californians who aren't transplants themselves, are most commonly second generation transplants. It's hard to find a native Californian whose grandparents or great-grandparents -- much less even farther back -- were also natives, unless in fact they were Natives.  (Which is part of why we don't have the whole blueblood society of back East.)  For a second thing, I was in a state of feeling alienated from my Hoosier self, as a result of feeling alienated from my Father-God. So, of course, it seemed to me that the plane was packed with passive-aggressively nice people --- the kind who talk to strangers in particularly well-meaning, helpful ways with the implicit understanding that anyone who does not respond in kind is a misguided and unchristian heathen with whom God is surely displeased.

To be fair: Californians are passive aggressively nice in a different way.  Californians are the kind who smile indulgently and believe that true kindness is to appreciate people's differences and that respecting each other's personal space is the only civilized course of action.  Californians tend to believe that those who do not respond in kind are well-meaning idiots whom one can only pity their cluelessness.  Where am I in this mess, you may wonder?  As always, somewhere in between.

Since I was full of dank and tangled bad feelings, I would have preferred to be surrounded by Californians, though. I closeted myself as well as I could in a sardine can and suffered the judgment of my unchristian heathenness.

After 8 hours of travel-compression, I got to Indianapolis and was finally on the road. I found a radio station, the kind I only listen to in rental cars: some soft-rock oldies scholckhouse that was sure to play songs to which I could sing-along.

I was halfway across the I-465 loop when "Our House" by Crosby Stills, Nash and Young came on.  And I started crying.  When I was eighteen, twenty I went through a phase of really needing to know what had happened in my parents' marriage to cause their divorce.  It was a tough time for all of us, because as anyone who has been through divorce knows (and I do, now), an important part of the healing process is deconstructing the mythology that you had created with your ex at the time when, long ago, it had all seemed so right and good to be together about why you belonged together, and what kind of a future you would have together. And I needed my parents to remember the mythology they'd once created as well as how and why they'd deconstructed it.  And they needed most of all to remember that they had deconstructed it, for fear it might otherwise grab their ankles and draw them back into the heartbreak of a marriage's collapse. 

To their credit, they both tried. And in the end, I was consoled by the affirmation that they had once loved each other, and that I had been a wanted child, not an accident of poor planning in a doomed relationship.  The other thing I got out of that process were some writings they'd both done, one of which was a house-warming ceremony they'd written for themselves and friends when they moved into the one house where I remember all of us living.   The song they'd sung at that ceremony was "Our House;" the lyrics had been in the program, every line of them intentionally a part of my parents' idea of themselves and the future they saw before them at the time.

I sobbed my way all the way out of Indianapolis and onto State Road 37, where as my tears began to dry, I noticed the green farmlands and woods spreading out on either side, the light casting gold on patchwork quilts of corn, soybeans and fallow fields, and big old farmstead where one horse's head would be poking out the door of the barn and dogs would be running through the fields toward stately old farmhouses.  Man, do I love the ocean.  But Indiana's farm lands are my spiritual landscape.

I didn't notice that I was thinking until I found myself aware of the realization that my step-mother had been a good mother to marry my father.  Not only did she find a good friend and husband for herself, but she found a good father for her children.  And that, simultaneously, it was not crazy of me to think of her as having taken my father from me --- though it was not her intention.  She did not mean to take him from me, she only meant to do the right thing for her own children.  And she did.   And though I was not wrong to feel displaced -- no one had meant for me to be. 

My father had been very lonely and heartbroken after my parents' divorce.  For six long years afterwards, he was alone and lonely.  At one point shortly after my mother had moved to California, my father refused to send my brother and me back to my mom at the end of a summer because he couldn't part with us -- resulting in a custody battle that formalized the terms. School years: Mom. Summers: Dad.  While I've been disappointed he didn't move to California once those terms got set, I also understand it would have meant abandoning his career.  He's a good man, and he believed it mattered that he stay the course.  And then he found my step-mother, and she loved him.  And she had three kids who needed him.

It's not unnatural for a daughter to want her father's love to move mountains.  To want him to be able to make everything right, to be right behind her whenever she turns around, looking for reassurance, and there to offer wise and loving counsel, whatever she may face.  It's not unnatural.  It's the opposite of unnatural, actually.  But, it is unreasonable.   Especially when he is married to a woman he loves and who loves him, one who knows how to hold the candle lighting his way home on dark nights --- a woman whose life and children are 3,000 miles away from that daughter.

I do not wish he had remained lonely instead.

When I pulled up to their house in Marion, I was nervous, not angry.  And I was excited.  To see my Papa. 

And, also, to see them, my dad and step-mom, together

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

New Mown Hay and Moonlight on the Wabash, Part 1

I hail from Indiana.  I was born there and lived there until I was six and then every summer of my childhood and two high school years.  The rest of the time I was in California.  (So I also feel that I hail from California, but that's a different part of the same story.)

My parents divorced when I was three.  My mom moved out West and my dad stayed behind.  I split in two.  I became Phoebe-in-California-with-Mom and Phoebe-in-Indiana-with-Dad and during my childhood those two selves grew more and more dissimilar, to the extent that one would have been unrecognizable to the other parent.  There was me for dad, and me for Mom.  Very nearly like a set of twins, plotting their parents' reconciliation at times (a la Hayley Mills from the first version of The Parent Trap) --- but most of the time, just two kids trying to figure out how to get by.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about this phenomenon --- the twin me's --- especially as I've grown up and begun deliberately integrating them into one whole Me.  (In a Jungian sense, you might say that I am the reconciliation of my parents that I longed for as a child --- at least, you would if that kind of psycho-babble doesn't leave you cold.) 

These days, my mom gets to meet the integrated Me more often than my dad does.  She's smart enough to recognize the love and trust entailed in the fact that I've been introducing her, but human enough to find it disorienting and sometimes alienating that I am not exactly the person she thought she raised.  (I think both parents were startlingly susceptible to the myth that they were the only one who was really influencing me.) 
Things are trickier with my dad.  I think because in part I'm his daughter.  Also because like many children of divorce, I longed most for the parent who was more remote --- the loss of whom was more complete and therefore painful.  Plus, my dad then remarried.  So did my mom.  But my dad married a woman with three kids who she had custody of full-time.  So he didn't just replace my mom and expect me to go along, as my mom did when she replaced my dad.  My dad also replaced me.   New wife and new family.
I remember, as a kid, people being careful to assure me that I wasn't the reason my parents divorced and saying, "Oh, I know that."  And I did, in a way.  I knew that I wasn't the reason they thought they divorced, at the very least.  But I was three when they divorced.  Ever meet a three year old who didn't believe deep down that she was at the center of the world? That her actions or emotions or intentions didn't cause all observable phenomena?  Even if she was empathetic enough to be sensitive to other people and sweet in a smart way that adults called "wise beyond her years?"  If you think you have, I think you're kidding yourself.  Or maybe I'm kidding myself. 
All I know is that it might have been buried deep, but some part of me definitely did believe that the fragmentation of my family --- that cataclysm --- was my doing in some way.  At one point I think my alienation from church had to do with the fear that my parents' divorce was God's way of punishing me for some evil I just didn't realize I'd done. It's taken me a long time to recognize it, in part because it is so irrational, and I like to think I'm so smart --- but, rationality is not the most powerful influence.  Long ago and way back there, I internalized the fact that my family had not stayed together as evidence that somehow I had not deserved the happiness of being able to hold both my parents' hands over all the cracked sidewalks of life. 
Unworthy and replaceable.  These were my secret fears about myself.  These were the twin demons at work in the development of twin identities carefully crafted to appeal to the appropriate god -- Mother-in-California, or Father-in-Indiana.  Let me be worthy.  Let me not be replaced.  Look at how worthy I can be!  Look at how difficult I am to replace!  I'm sweet and smart.  I get good grades but I'm not a goody-two-shoes.  I'm understanding when my step-brother calls me fat and takes my underwear out of my drawers --- he's just jealous of what a great dad I have compared to his own.  I follow politics and swear to impress my mother's friends.  I am a model of good works to impress my father's parishioners.  I don't do drugs but I'm not judgmental about it when my mom and step-father do.  Oh, the list goes on...
My poor tormented twins. What a relief adulthood has been -- freedom from the parental gods, and the opportunity to make a home where both twins are welcome.  And it's the oddest thing -- where neither  twin has to cover up true inclinations and feelings in order to ensure the pleasure and comfort of some jealous or frightening parental god, suddenly I find just one Me.  The twins are not so different after all; when we're all together, we're just one Me.  It gets trickier, always, however, whenever I visit with one of my parents.
And this weekend, I went to Indiana to visit my dad.  For his 25th wedding anniversary.
Let's just be clear: neither of my parents think of themselves as "gods."  I suspect this construction would be deeply disturbing for both of them.  But let's also be honest.  Human beings meet the idea of God in their parents first -- a being who all-knowingly provides, loves, and judges...?  What's the model for that, exactly, other than Parent?  Some of us are lucky enough to see through the illusion earlier than others, and yet I watch plenty of my adult friends still emotionally capitulate to the Parent who they fear can somehow can deem worthiness and loveability, even once they are too smart to believe it or acknowledge it consciously.   Hopefully as we age, some better idea of God, or conviction of the absense of, frees us from this usually unintentional tyranny.  But its a hard one to get over --- submission to the power of a Someone who can tell us whether we are loveable.
And as I was packing to go, I was feeling particularly submissive. Angry, but submissive.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Why Husband Cannot Be BF

Last night, for example, he told me he hadn't left my shirt at the laundry/drycleaner because the launderer guy had insisted that he had to dry-clean my machine washable shirt -- at three times the price of washing it, of course. My husband insisted that he would not pay for the shirt to be dry-cleaned, but the guy then said they couldn't just wash it because it was a "different size" than the shirts they wash. (Apparently, all men wear shirts that are larger than my XL button-down "blouse" -- sorry fellas, you gotta have some barrel chest to compete with my 38-Ds.) Well, of course, this is outrageous and I immediately chimed in with my own indignation, inventing scenarios in which we could really "stick it to them" for being such jerks... you, know, put the fear of god into them for such blatantly discriminatory pricing policies, etc. It was fun. I started indulging this great fantasy about taking in a tape recorder and asking them to tell him, again, on tape, their reasons for why my XL machine washable shirt could not be washed rather than dry-cleaned for the same price as any man's laundered shirt --- and then his handing them his card (he's a lawyer).

I thought D. had been listening with amusement -- as I think, any girlfriend would have been. I couldn't see his face, because his back was to me. Suddenly, while I was mid-sentence and deep in the satisfying fantasy of seeing this little worm of a drycleaner squirm, D. says in a strained voice: "Okay, I get it. I'm a total failure as a man for not making them do it right. Well, tell you what, from now on you can pick up and drop off your own laundry." End of conversation.

I don't want a girl for a husband. I like sleeping with men, my man in particular. Besides which, I think my husband is a fine, truly fine, man --- physically, ethically, mentally, etc. He is my Atticus Finch --- an epitome of a fine man. Of course, the last thing I think is that he's a total failure.

Let's just say this: I'll be the first to defend mine, and any woman's rights to equal respect, equal pay, equal opportunity, and equal laundry prices. But there is a difference between the genders and it isn't just equipment.

For all the ways my husband knows me better than anyone else --- and he does --- and loves me better than anyone else --- and he does --- and is the person above all I'd want to spend 365 days in a row talking about anything under the sun --- and I have and would do it again in a heartbeat --- there will always be that barrier to some kinds of conversation and the transmission of certain ideas between us. Namely, that impenetrable male ego and perspective --- and, I think, my own persistent failure to account
for it more generously.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Best Friends

One of my very dearest friends (VDF) is coming to town tomorrow night.  She'll have dinner with my husband and me at our house, and my "best friend" (BF) and her husband (arguably my husband's "best friend" though that's a whole thing of its own), will join us.  BF and VDF are also "best friends" --- they went to junior high and high school together.  I met BF when VDF and I were housemates in college. This is very dangerous terrain for a public post.  This belongs in a private journal.

However, since I have yet to let anyone but my husband know about my blogging -- and even he doesn't have the URL -- and I'm thinking, too, about removing the links to any sites attached to people I actually know -- I think I'll use this forum to explore this just a little bit.

What makes my BF my "best" friend?  My VDF is someone I love no less than my BF.  For that matter, in many ways, at least right now, it's possible that my VDF and I have a more intimate dialogue whenever we talk or write to each other.  It is easier for me to share with her more casually my internal dialogue about god, about love, about life, about politics, about marriage, about the deepest goings-on in my soul because we are so often teasing apart the same knots of life's meaning and what is it to live faithfully (note: not synonymous with religiously, but not mutually exclusive, either).  We have very similar childhood histories, which also helps.  Essentially, our brains process things similarly, and in a quick volley of metaphor, she and I can speak volumes to each other.  Plus, we can always pick up where we left off regardless of the span since the last sentence.  And she loves and truly appreciates my husband -- big points for that.   

Meanwhile, neither VDF nor BF knows me as well or is as consistently, on a daily basis, aware of me and interested in what's going on in my life, what I'm feeling or thinking about at every level, from the substrata to the patina, as my husband is.  And I find him just as interesting.  But with him, it's easier.  For one thing, I love him so differently from the way I love my VDF and my BF that our relationship is, for obvious and less obvious reasons, outside comparsion.  He's my husband but he's also so much more.  He's my daily touchstsone, foil, and partner.  However, he gets the unique moniker of husband, and thus his unique role is somehow recognizable without tortured analysis. 

What are the short-cut categorizations of friends to define the relationship to outsiders (akin to "husband")? My BF is not necessarily my best friend -- at least not all the time.  She lives blocks away and by all counts should have been lock step with me in my wedding planning and experience, but instead, she didn't even realize that my wedding had been a four-day affair because she was only present for two days of it.  I used to perform in poetry slams, of which she never attended one.  The weekend I  came back from a year away, she went into the office to work. To be fair, I am sure that she has her own list of my wrongs. Nonetheless, she is, unmistakably, my BF.  It's a function of history, and more.  It's dailiness.  It's level of intimacy.  It's type of intimacy.  For all the times she doesn't come through, she's one hundred percent reliable if I need someone to help me see myself as wonderful, and worthy, and that over-used but particular adjective -- special.  She'll remind me to treat myself gently and with compassion even as I'm messing up.  And, I believe, I do the same for her. 

We became friends at a time in each of our lives when recognition of the importance of self-compassion was just germinating in both of us, and to have found each other and nurtured its growth right at that time was a heady, fantastic experience, the likes of which I have never experienced in friendship before.  We were head over heels in love with each other (in a platonic sense) and with the idea of figuring out what life is like when one is kind and friendly to oneself, and in some ways, the enduring friendship, now that we are both married and more aligned with our husbands' lives than with each other's, is akin to the relationship of any former lovers who remain friends, with all the strange jealousies and quirkily defined boundaries, even as the mutual interest in each other and love endures.  These days I'm no longer as close to her as I am to my husband, or possibly even my VDF.  But she is, remains, and may always be, my BF.

Because of all of them, I think, I am a better friend to myself and to all of the other kinds of friends that light the night sky.  I love them.  And, I can hardly wait to see them

Monday, June 21, 2004

Sugar High

I am about to begin the all-time most major sugar high. Already, my hands are shaking and I feel a little short of breath somehow.

Over ten years ago, shortly after my first wedding, while my now ex-husband and I were living with my mom, unemployed, I was sitting on my hands in front of a mid-afternoon Oprah Winfrey show whispering to myself, "I will not eat, I will not eat, I will not eat," when the next thing I knew, I was sitting in front of an empty pot of what had been Kraft mac n' cheese. At that time, cheese was still a major binge food. It took me another five years of the 12-Step Overeaters Anonymous program to begin to recognize that sugar was the real addiction. Cheese was almost always only the way to even out all the sugar I'd eaten with salt (and more fat).

When I say "sugar" I don't actually mean the white grains, though I'm not sure why it never really got quite so far that I started eating sugar straight from the bag. (Now that I'm thinking about it, actually, I think I probably did at one point or another at least eat sugar cubes.) Typically, however, I use the word "sugar" to define the common ingredient in my true drug of choice: desserts in general, and chocolate --- in any form --- specifically.

Perhaps one day I'll bother to catalog exactly how crazy all of that got. But the long and short of it is that while science may only just now be beginning to acknowledge that excessive sugar consumption can generate physical addiction, I knew it years ago. And, like any addict, my relationship to my "drug of choice" has been a rocky one. Sometimes easy, sometimes manic, sometimes obsessive, sometimes apathetic, and sometimes estranged, which is, arguably, the best for me.

Recently its been hard for me. I work in an office that believes that a "fun" working environment entails access to lots of chocolate and other candy. Now, there have been times in my life when that was not so difficult for me. But until late last week, I've been deeply in the grip of an obsessive phase, probably eating more candy during a workday than most people eat a year. I think I started the blog, in fact, in part to try to give myself something else to distract myself. Because that's the issue -- the key to when I am in the grip of my addiction and when I feel free of it has everything to do with how much I am trying to distract myself from something. It's like a morphine drip, except that rather than a narcotic, it dispenses denial. The capacity to ignore my own deep seated discomfort with some fact of life -- some nagging doubt or worry or cause for anger.

In that prior marriage I managed to pack nearly 250 pounds on my 5'5" frame by "clicking the drip" constantly. Just let me not be here. Let me not feel this. Let this not be true. It's easy to say that I was trying to check out of my marriage because of my ex-husband, but I don't think that was it, really. I think it was that I was trying to check out of myself and the deeply buried awareness that my ex-husband was never going to help me become me. It would have been at cross-purposes for him. He needed me to be his support, not to be mine. And if I am honest, I knew that long before we got married. So, I'm the one who made that mistake, not him. And I'm the one who tried very hard to hide from that truth about myself.

About the time that he and I separated, I got my longest and easiest reprieve from the addiction. It was amazing. I could even have dessert after a meal, and yet I'd forget about it within minutes. It had no grip on me. No compelling power.

It lasted for four years.

My stomach hurts right now, and my mouth feels tight and dry. There's a burning about mid-way up my chest, and I have headache. Minutes before I started writing this, I downed a bottle of extremely concentrated glucose. I'm being tested for diabetes. I'm sitting in the lab as I write this. I feel truly awful. As though I might yet throw-up. This is not my typical response to a massive influx of sugar. But I don't know that I generally try to pay that much attention to how I feel after a massive influx of sugar. The whole point is to get out of my body. Out of me.

Right now, I'm in me. This is a yucky feeling.

Some small child is having blood drawn right now and is screaming bloody murder between sobbing. My heart leans toward him. And to his father who is sitting in the waiting room with me looking pained and nervous about his boy's cries. And suddenly, they are over. He is fine. Soon they will go and I will stay, the only one left.

The glucose tolerance test I'm taking --- to determine if my addiction to sugar has advanced my genetic disposition toward diabetes --- takes two hours. You fast for 12 hours and then they draw blood. After they draw blood, they have you drink way too much of a thick flavored glucose syrup. I went for orange, which the nurse assured me was far less awful than the cola flavor. It still tasted like soda syrup.

I was premature. The boy is screaming again and father's been called in to console him, which is not working. He is growing more and more panicked, hiccuping between screaming sobs. The poor parents. The poor child. He is crying out for his parents, while they must stand there, having to watch him be subjected to this terror because of their confidence that it is necessary for his ultimate happiness. Father can't take it, he's back in the waiting room, a stony stoicism on his face. And now, at last, the nurses and mother are cooing over the boy, he is done. "All done!" I just heard the nurse say. I hear the boy sniffling, winding down from the panic. And as he leaves, he says, sweetly, "Bye, bye" to the nurse, who is contrite. As am I, as he, still hiccuping and sniffling, half-smiles to say goodbye to me. I wish I hadn't had to be here, little one.

In ten minutes, I will go back to have more blood drawn. It will have been an hour. And then they will draw blood again a half an hour later and another half an hour after that. I do not like this. But I probably will not begin screaming and sobbing.

I'm back from my second of the four blood tests.

A mother with two small children just came in and one immediately collapsed on the couch and started crying. "Mama, can we go home now?" he cried. He hasn't even had his test yet. I hear him in with the nurse now, "But why, Mama? Why? No! No needle! MOM!"

I couldn't do this job.

He is back on the couch, crying, while his younger brother, the little brat, is perfectly stoic as he has his tests. The nurse and mother laugh together while this one lies on the couch and nurses his sense of betrayal and loneliness. "Now can we go home, Mom?" he asks again.

They are gone, and I am left again with no one but myself to observe.

So, why has the addiction been so hard again lately? What's got me "clicking the drip" now? I think I'm beginning to recognize some of the things involved. One of them is a dramatic loss of intimacy with one of my best friends for reasons that I do not fully understand. My new husband and her husband have been friends for 15 years, but never as close as she and I have been, though our friendship is only five years old. Though she and her husband had been dating longer, D. and I got married first, and then left to travel for a year --- the same year that she and her then husband-to-be moved in together. We have been less open with each other since D. and I got back, but truth be told we had both developed a new guardedness before we left, too. And I'm not sure of the reasons, or why it would be that in the last six months the pain of that has finally caught up to me. But it hasn't. Because I've been on a sugar high.

Likewise, part of the impetus for taking the trip was to give D. and I a chance to think about what we want to do with our lives. But our conclusions were shaky and insubstantial enough that upon our return, instead we fell into exactly what we'd been doing before. I'm even back at the exact same job. There was a reason I wanted to think about what to do with my life. This doesn't feel like the right thing. But then, it hasn't felt like anything. Because I've been on a sugar high.

Let's add to these to much larger issues. For example, finding my country unrecognizable. I'm a patriot, I always have been. My idea of America is one that has been inspiring to me --- a country that is about equality and freedom and the protection of individual human dignity and integrity, with publicly-shared goals for the ways we relate as a society to preserve social stability and ensure justice for all. As D. and I travelled the world and heard the world's perspective on the U.S., I gained new appreciation for the importance of holding those values for the world, not just ourselves. But not by force of war in a region that already hates us -- AS IF that was really the reason we're in Iraq to begin with. To return to a county where the Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney trinity reign (with Ashkroft as handmaiden) is depressing beyond belief. I'm angry and despairing -- KERRY is the best the democratic party could put up? I'm beside myself. Or, I would have been, except that I've been on a sugar high.

Back from my third of four blood tests.

I wonder what it means that by now, an hour and half after throwing back that vile orange syrup, I am feeling pretty much okay. Okay, but hungry. I haven't really eaten for fifteen hours now. Nothing but sugar. I should be on a high, but I'm actually feeling a little clearer and steadier than I have in a long time.

D. and I developed the denial button theory this weekend about addiction -- that there are a lot of ways to try to "check out" of what is going on right now. That eating sugar is my signal to my brain that I want to "check out" now. Slip into denial. Be not present. It's human to avoid discomfort and unpleasantness and pain. There are a lot of ways to "click the drip." Will discovering I'm pre-diabetic, or diabetic, help me begin the process of learning new ways to "click the drip," or even better, to learn new ways to tolerate life's discomforts and difficulties? If I'm not, will wanting my life be enough?

Time for my last poke. I brought a mango with me for lunch later. I don't think I'll be eating it... it sounds too sweet.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Anna Quindlen on Ronald Reagan

See: "Personality, Not Policy," by Anna Quindlen (posted at MSNBC)

One of the things about Reagan's death that continues to intrigue me is how effectively it has opened up people's mouths. Suddenly, the letters to the editors pages are full of what we knew was true, but that was somehow hiding from view: we are a periously polarized nation. I don't know that this column by Anna Quindlen helps resolve that divide -- right now one of the most interesting questions I can think of is what on earth will? As someone standing on her side of the deepening chasm, I appreciate her points --- even if I do so with a little guilt, aware that seeking the gratification of having someone agree with me doesn't move any of us closer to a solution to our polarization as a nation and the politics of exclusion and retaliation that inevitably ensue. So, what purpose do I serve by linking to her column? Maybe, absurdly, I hope that it will help others, like me, to find each other -- people who value a united cooperative society over an angrily divided one, even if it isn't at all clear how to go forward to heal without compromising the things that matter most (to each side) --- yet.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Dilemma of Owning Up

I haven't told anyone close to me about this blog yet.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  The first and probably most compelling is that a lot of what I've put up, I've put up during business hours at a time when my work life is insanely busy.  I've had to work late several evenings -- last night until 8:30 p.m. and there was one evening last week when I worked until after 1 a.m.  While my husband is supportive of me, he's not supportive of long hours that cut into our time together -- it is, in fact, another way he is supportive of me.  And I like that about him.

I'm not claiming the hours I work on the blog as billable, so I don't feel dishonest in that respect, or otherwise as though I am cheating my employers.  However, I worry that I'm cheating my husband of time at home by not being optimally efficient during working hours.  That's one reason I haven't told anyone.  He is the first person I would tell and I'm not quite ready to break that news yet.  It doesn't take as long as it seems like it might, but it definitely does cut into my productivity during work hours by at least 1-2 hours each day (so far). 

I justify it to myself by knowing that I need to be writing. My husband would understand this.  But I'm confident that once he does see this for the first time, he'll still not be happy with me for taking work hours to do it.  And while on one hand I appreciate the fairness of that complaint, I also don't know when else I would be doing it. So. Even writing about it now makes me nervous.

The second reason is that I really want to feel free to explore whatever interests me with this blog.  And generally speaking that's going to be spiritual/religious stuff or political stuff, and/or the nexus of the two.  (Though plainly, sometimes it will be something else altogether.)  I really don't know how open to my faith-based ramblings and political diatribes my friends would be in general.  Everyone would recognize at least one aspect of me, but I have very few friends who are attuned to or fully aware of both. And, ironically, I believe that's because many of them would find "the other part" alienating. 

Perhaps that's a part of the motivation I hadn't considered until just now.  To find a community, somehow, of people who do not think they know the answers about what God is or wants of us, but who care anyway, and who are searching for answers nonetheless --- AND who, at the least, suspect the answers are not to honor wealth above all, to justify war or war-mongering for access to other countries' natural resources, and/or to foist America's consumer culture on all of the world, much less perpetuate it even within our own borders.  This is, perhaps, a crazy way to seek you.  Are you out there?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

We Are The Ones We've Been Waiting For, by Jim Wallis

We Are The Ones We've Been Waiting For, an address to the baccalaureate graduates of Stanford University by Jim Wallis

This is the kind of thing I simply have to read occasionally in order to keep my head on straight. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

"When I was growing up, it was continually repeated in my evangelical Christian world that the greatest battle and biggest choice of our time was between belief and secularism. But I now believe that the real battle, the big struggle of our times, is the fundamental choice between cynicism and hope. The choice between cynicism and hope is ultimately a spiritual choice; and one which has enormous political consequences.

"More than just a moral issue; hope is a spiritual .... choice. Hope is not a feeling; it is a decision. And the decision for hope is based upon what you believe at the deepest levels - what your most basic convictions are about the world and what the future holds - all based upon your faith. You choose hope, not as a naïve wish, but as a choice, with your eyes wide open to the reality of the world - just like the cynics who have not made the decision for hope.

".... New options for public life, and even political policy choices, can be inspired by our best moral and religious traditions; especially when present options are failing some fundamental ethical tests. The eight - century Micah has become my favorite prophet of national and global security. Listen to his prescriptions:

"'He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.'

"Micah is saying, you simply cannot and will not beat "swords into plowshares" (remove the threats of war) until people can "sit under their own vines and fig trees" (have some share in global security). Only then will you remove the fear that leads inextricably to conflict and violence.

"....There are voices rising up in our world that sound like Micah. I believe they are modern day prophets, often coming from unexpected places. One is the most famous rock singer in the world, the leader of the Irish band U2. Of course, I'm speaking of Bono, who has become a serious and well - informed activist, talking always about Africa and HIV/AIDS. Bono is a spiritual man, though not a churchy person, and often comes to Washington D.C.

"Bono spoke at the Africare dinner in Washington, to fifteen hundred of the capitol's leaders and media. "Excuse me if I'm a little nervous," Bono apologized, "but I'm not used to speaking to less than 20,000 people!" Then he spoke like a preacher.

"'So you've been doing God's work, but what's God working on now? What's God working on this year? Two and a half million Africans are going to die of AIDS. What's God working on now? I meet the people who tell me it's going to take an act of God to stop this plague. Well, I don't believe that. I think God is waiting for us to act. In fact, I think that God is on His knees to us….waiting for us to turn around this supertanker of indifference.... waiting for us to recognize that distance can no longer decide who is our neighbor. We can't choose our neighbors anymore. We can't choose the benefits of globalization without some of the responsibilities, and we should remind ourselves that "love thy neighbor" is not advice: it is a command.'"


I really am not sure how to pray.

Lately, at breakfast, I bow my head for a minute before I eat and think, "Thanks, God, for Phoebe-ness and (my husband)-ness, (my dog)-ness, family-ness, and friends-ness." And mostly my purpose is to acknowledge that I'm grateful for my own life, for my family's and friends' lives, and for the blessings derived from the ways all of our lives intersect.

I'm not always a good person, I fear. I certainly make a lot of mistakes. I can be judgmental, impatient, compulsive, undisciplined, lazy, moody, dishonest, jealous, petty... There's more, too, I know. But there is also in me a functioning moral compass, I think. And a capacity to observe myself misbehaving, and to have regret, and enough so to be motivated to try to avoid misbehaving and/or to make amends when, for whatever reason, I don't seem to be able to prevent it. I don't know how effectively I end up, from a whole of the cosmos perspective, offering a more positive than destructive contribution to the world, but at least within the very small context of my immediate life and its observable impact, I believe I do all right.

Purely by the grace of God.

To be honest, I'm not sure what God is. I have an experience with something that calls me out of my self-absorption to recognize my connectedness with all the people and life around me. And my experience with that something also, whenever I'll let it, fills me to overflowing with love --- for myself, for those around me, for strangers, for the world. God seems like as good a name as any for that.

And, as noted above, I talk to God. Often, giving thanks, as above, for the fact of me and of my capacity to reflect on, and consciously experience life and whatever "me-ness" is. Occasionally, whining about or outright railing against things I perceive to be injustices in my own life, in the lives of those close to me, and more broadly, in the world. Sometimes pleading for justice I can witness or an outcome that I can, with my own puny mind and puny perspective, judge "correct." Or, asking for courage or patience or hope. And sometimes just appreciatively acknowledging the beauty in how people's lives intersect and relate, or the color of light filtering through an overhead tree canopy, or the mixture of tart and sweet in a good grape, or the infectiousness of my dog's delight.

And though no one's ever told me I can -- or for that matter that I shouldn't -- I call that prayer. And I just keep doing it.

So far, it hasn't made me rich, or thin, or powerful. It hasn't saved me from pain or turmoil. It hasn't caused anyone, as near as I can tell, to bend to my will regardless of how certain I may have been that they would have been better off doing so. God hasn't smote my enemies (though I do appreciate that God let the Pistons win the NBA Championship last night), or preserved my loved ones --- or my country --- from harm. I don't get the best parking spot everywhere I go. I still overeat sometimes, and get so nervous around new people that I make an ass of myself, and occasionally deeply disappoint myself. I don't even seem to have better luck than most people I know who say they don't pray.

You might ask why I keep doing it.

I can't quite help it, really. And that's the whole of the answer. Well, and that, somehow, I enjoy it. It enriches my life in ways I don't fully understand to take a minute or two every day to say something to God. Go figure. I'm not a hundred percent sure it's really prayer, but I'm going to keep doing it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

A Moon in Retrograde Orbit

This past Saturday I was at a party, when a friend asked me about a recent news article she'd read.

"So, have you heard about Phoebe, one of Saturn's moons, the one that goes in the wrong direction? Has a totally different orbit than all of the others?" she asked.

"Yes, I've heard of it." I said.

She smiled. "Have you heard of it?" she asked a friend who approached on my right. She told him about it again. "That sounds like someone I know!" he said.

"That's exactly what I thought," she said and they laughed.

My name is Phoebe.

I'd like to think that their laughter was part affection, part admiration. I'm sure that my husband's laughter, when I related the incident to him, was. But somehow, it's an odd feeling, too, to be compared to a moon that is in a different orbit than any other moon. Even if I do understand the connection.

I'm starting this blog today partly inspired by a couple of other blogs I've been following:, and realivepreacher. Not because of anything posted today, but because today the itch finally must be scratched, to be writing, to be posting. Whether or not anyone is even out there reading.

If you are, hi. My name is Phoebe. Welcome to my retrograde orbit.