Category Archives: Essay

Unashamed: Part Deux

UnashamedCompared to the time I wet my pants in second grade, it was nothing. (Yeah, we’ll talk about that another time. Maybe.)

It was the first day of first grade, in my new parochial school, Saint John the Baptist. My class had the lay teacher, Ms. Ditton. (There was a mix by then of both lay teachers and sisters.) She was one of the nicest teachers on the planet. (I’ve been blessed in that regard. I can’t remember really having a bad teacher. Less effective? Yes. Bad? Nope.)

I guess I was probably as terrified as a dorky nerd-ette could be. Lots of children (most of whom I didn’t know), new building that had multiple floors, having to sit at a desk that was probably a little too big. All curiosity and wonderment, confusion and not a little bit of awe.

Time for lunch. In those days, our school didn’t have a cafeteria. We went down to the basement, which doubled as a church “hall” where church-related clubs like Rosary Sodality, Legion of Mary, and the Knights of Columbus met for their meetings. There was a kitchen where actual lunch “ladies” prepared home cooked food. (No white uniforms, no hairnets, just dresses and aprons. For real. They were probably grandmothers from the parish.) We walked up to the open “window” and picked up a tray filled with honestly delicious food. Sloppy Joe sandwich (we never had that at home), and corn and something else obviously less memorable. Dessert was, I kid Little Debbie Star Crunchyou not, a Little Debbie Star Crunch Snack Cake (which remains a favorite of mine to this day)! We were instructed to take our trays back upstairs to our classroom to eat. (So much for food fights.)

I made it to the first floor landing when it happened. I don’t know how. I must’ve tripped, or had a hard time balancing the tray, or something. (I distinctly do NOT remember being tripped or any other boy-oriented nonsense.) But the next thing I knew, the tray was all over the floor and I was crying and some kids were laughing and Miss Ditton was drying my eyes and shushing them and giving me a hug and taking me back down for another tray. I think I was almost as sad about having someone else clean up my mess as I was for making it in the first place.

I think that was the first time I felt ashamed. It wasn’t the last. (I still haven’t talked about wetting my pants, but believe me when I tell you, it won’t end there. Nope.)

You see, I didn’t understand then, about the difference between shame and guilt. Even at the tender young age of six, I had developed an idea that something I did had a direct relationship to who I was. That doing something bad (yes, I know, it was really an accident) meant that I was bad.

How ridiculous.

As if our value as human beings can ever be determined by or the equivalent of our actions. Doing bad things can never diminish our worth, our inherent human value. Likewise, all the good things we are capable of doing, all the Mother-Teresa-Wanna-Be actions we’re adding up on the goody-goody scorecard can’t increase the value we, as human beings created by God, have as our personal endowment.

I had nothing to be ashamed of, and neither do you. (Even wetting your pants in the second grade.)

Performance Anxiety

Always Do What You Are Afraid To Do EmersonI’m so excited about doing this. I can’t do this. I have to do this. I don’t want to do this. I guess I’ll do this. Excuse me while I throw up in my purse.

Stage fright is, ultimately, a kind of narcissism. (And if you’re thinking of navigating away from this post because you’re not a stage performer, you’d be wrong, because stage fright can affect everyone, even if the only stage you’re on is in a metaphorical one in your mind.) It says that my emotional state is more important than your satisfaction. It says that my nervousness as a performer deserves a bigger slice of pie than your getting what you came for as a viewer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a singer, dancer, baker, or mother of preschoolers.

As a pianist in a small-town church, I worked with any number of singers and musicians, from trained professionals to children whose parents alone believed they had some special skill. (Most parents think this, some more than others. Usually, there’s an inverse proportion involved.) Maybe I’m overestimating, but I find that the church environment, with its family-like sense of acceptance is a good one for everyone, really, but especially beginners. Personally, I find this amazing. After all, most people at least listen to the radio, where the marvels of studio technology can render all but the most incompetent into some degree of listen-ability. Television shows like “American Idol,” where even the truly talented can be discarded every week like so much post-party confetti, have turned many people whose own singing in the shower makes Rebecca Black look like virtuoso into armchair critics harsher than those of the New York Times. So hearing genuine applause for the wavering tones of a grandmother of seventeen who just finished three rather off-key verses of “How Great Thou Art” is really lovely, if a little surprising. I’m glad for that, because it’s that very level of acceptance that allowed me to support myself for several years as a professional musician; something I could never do here in Milwaukee.

But even I have limits. I once worked with a man, a grown-up man with children, who was a very nice singer. Not ready for Broadway, but quite nice. He loved to sing, and people really enjoyed hearing him. He came from a musical family where almost everyone sang nicely, so he got a lot of support. He’d come up to me after a service and tell me about how excited he was about this particular song, and how he’d like to sing it at an upcoming service. Sometimes he would mention how he felt like God wanted him to sing this number, and how wonderful it was to feel this way. He would practice on his own, and then we would usually have a practice session where he would come in with the other musicians and the pastor for our weekly run-through. He was fine. But almost inevitably, on Sunday, he would climb up the three steps to the podium, stare out at the fifty to one hundred people in the seats, gulp (almost audibly), step away from the podium, back down the steps, and rapidly walk out, usually all the way to his car, where he would either sit for the rest of the service, or just start and drive away.

The first time this happened, I was amazed. What on earth?! Scanning the crowd from my piano bench at the front of the church, I could see a number of people who shared my emotion, but maybe more who seemed to take it all in stride. Later, I found out why. Steven (not his real name) was so paralyzed with stage fright that if he actually made it through a song, it was practically miraculous. If he didn’t actually leave the service, he would come up (again) afterwards and stammeringly apologize to me and the other members of the worship team. Afterwards, he would say something about how it was so amazing to him that none of us ever got nervous, and how that clearly proved that God didn’t really want him to perform after all.

Which is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I told him that. He didn’t believe me.

I explained how even though I played every single week before the same accepting crowd, I still got nervous (though it did get better). He still didn’t believe me. (He’ll never believe me.) I also sang for bishops. Often in Spanish. I got really nervous. I also threw up once as a novice baker when trying to get a large batch of glazed doughnuts ready for a demanding customer. I was weirdly nervous. In no way does that mean that I got to leave. And neither do you.

First, if you give a rat’s ass about what you’re doing, you probably also want other people to care. And if you want them to care, you’re going to be nervous. Second, God has nothing to do with it. (Well, God does have something to do with it, but I’m not getting into that today.) I understand that even the fantastically talented Adele is routinely given to throwing up before her concerts because she’s just that nervous. But she doesn’t just walk off! And new parents (especially fathers) are often nearly paralyzed with fear that someone they’re going to hold their new baby wrong. But they don’t then leave the hospital, hoping some other kindly but obviously more accomplished person will come along to rescue their newborn. Of course not. They just muddle along bravely. And you know, they’re fine (well, at least until the therapy bills come rolling in, but that won’t be for years).

Ultimately, life is about showing up and performing. There is no dress rehearsal, and all the performance anxiety your mind can muster will not allow you to leave the stage early.

Kill Them All

They Look Like UsHow’s that for an alarming title? Hmmm… I know it’s making you wonder, “Crap, has she really gone off the deep end this time?”

Nah… Hear me  out.

Legend has it that during the religious war that resulted in the extermination of the Cathar “heresy” in the south of France at Carcassonne  and Béziers in the 11th century one of the generals came to the man in charge of this “purge” and asked, in essence, “These people all look like us, how will we know who’s the enemy?”

The man in charge, one Simon de Montfort, was reputed to reply, “Kill them all, and let God sort them out afterwards.”

So that’s what I’m doing.

I’m killing expectations.

Expectations that it’s just wrong for me to be pure and pious and steamy and sexy—all at the same time. Because I am. (Get over it.) Expectations that it’s just wrong for me to say I love housework, and then not do any…all day. (Because some days are like that.) Expectations that I should be happy loving one man all my life and he should be so fulfilling that I needn’t look elsewhere for anything. (What, and give up roller skating?)

So I say, “Kill them all.” Kill all the expectations that other people have of me. Kill all the ideas, outmoded or otherwise, that say that I’m supposed to be like someone else you met once, who was just so great.

I’m great. I am.

So, I say, “Kill them all.” Kill all the crazy ideas that I myself have of reconciling all the diverging streams of thought that I have meandering through me and had (apparently vain) hopes of merging into some mighty Mississippi of rational thought.

Who cares?

Yes, yes, yes. Life would be a lot easier if I could just be one, or the other. Maybe it would be easier. I don’t know. I do know that stuffing parts of myself down into a dustbin labeled “Unacceptable Bits People Don’t Understand” is, for me, something that I’ve been trying to do for over forty years and I’m just doggone sick of it.

So I say, “Kill them all, and let God sort me out afterwards.” Because He will. He’s bigger than my expectations.

Date a Guy Who Reads

Guy ReadingThis post is a response to A Girl You Should Date

Date a guy who reads. Date a guy who spends his money on books instead of video games, beer, or tickets to sporting events. He has problems with floor space because he has too many books. He doesn’t have end tables, but he does have stacks of books. Date a guy who has a list of books he wants to read, who has had a library card since he was in first grade.

Find a guy who reads. You’ll know that he does because he will always have an unread book with him, maybe in the back seat of his car, or just under his arm. He’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore (and not just the science fiction section, either), the one who quietly smiles when he finds the book he wants. You see the geek sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

He’s the guy reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at his mug, it’s already getting cool, because he’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. He might look astonished, as most guys who read are not likely to be interrupted, since most people don’t know what to do with a reader, especially if it’s a guy, and it’s not Sports Illustrated. Ask him if he likes the book.

Buy him another cup of coffee.
Let him know what you really think of Hemingway. See if he got through the first chapter of Atlas Shrugged. Understand that if he says he understood James Joyce’s Ulysses he’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask him if he loves Gandalf or he would like to be Gandalf.

It’s easy to date a guy who reads. Give him books for his birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give him the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give him Dante, Dickinson, Pound, Plath. Let him know that you understand that words are love. Understand that he knows the difference between books and reality but by god, he’s going to try to make his life a little like his favorite book. It will never be your fault if he does.

He has to give it a shot somehow.
Lie to him. (He already thinks you do, from the first moment that you seemed interested in him…) If he understands syntax, he will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail him. (He already thinks you will—most women have been disappointed in him already.) Because a guy who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because guys who understand know that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two. That while life is more than about rescuing the fair maiden, he’d really like to give it a try. He wants to be your hero. Let him.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Guys who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series. (Which, as a powerful girl who reads, you can admit to doing. It’s cool. You don’t have to like it.)

If you find a guy who reads, keep him close. When you find him up at 2 AM clutching a book to his chest and silently weeping, pull him close and kiss him. Make love. Talk about it. You may lose him for a couple of hours but he will always come back to you. He’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

He will propose at a historical re-enactment. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time you’re sick. Over Skype. He may be past comic books (or not), but he still likes the pictures, especially when they’re of you.

You will start to cry, and laugh, all at the same time. You will wonder why your heart never before realized that there’s enough love in it for every single person in the universe. You will write the story of your lives, have kids (and cats) with strange names and even stranger tastes. He will introduce your children to Beatrix Potter and Guy Reading with Babythe Hobbit, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and he will recite Keats under his breath while you adjust his hat and make sure he has his gloves.

Date a guy who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a guy who can give you the most colorful life imaginable, and not just things from the Victoria Secret catalog. If you can only give him monotony, and stale hours and gossip about Jersey Shore, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a guy who reads.

Don’t get me started about the guys who write. Don’t go there.

Thank you, Rosemarie Urquico, for your original essay.

Worship

Statue of King David by Nicolas Cordier in the...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s not just for Sundays anymore! Or, it shouldn’t be.

In all truth, however, I don’t think I spend a lot of time worshipping when I’m not at church. And that’s something I’d like to change. In the first books of both Kings and Chronicles, we see King David worshipping at so many times, and when in so many situations that it’s obvious that he did it all the time.

I know that in the past I’ve worshipped God when I’m happy, but I tend not to worship when I’m sad or depressed, let alone when I’m angry. But we see David worshipping even after the death of the “love child” he conceived with Bathsheba. (Don’t get me started on that relationship. It’s for another entry!)

I’ve read a number of religiously-oriented books about depression that suggest worshipping when I’m depressed, and I’ll have to admit that when I’ve grudgingly (yes, I’ll admit it) started, it’s been a positive experience and has lifted my mood. The more I worshipped, the better the mood. I’ll also admit that there’s been more than a few occasions where I had no intention of worshipping, because I just couldn’t get there. (A few of those times I didn’t even want to get there! Sad…)

Could that perhaps be because I haven’t made worship a daily activity? Maybe if I was more in the habit of worshipping God every day, rain or shine (especially in the rain?), I’d be more inclined to worship Him when I’m not in the mood.

But what does it mean to worship God? According to the Oxford English Dictionary the act of worship includes:

1. To honour or revere as a supernatural being or power, or as a holy thing; to regard or approach with veneration; to adore with appropriate acts, rites, or ceremonies. b. To regard with extreme respect or devotion; to ‘adore’. c. To engage in worship; to perform, or take part in, the act of worship.

2. To honour; to regard or treat with honour or respect. b. To treat with signs of honour or respect; to salute, bow down to. c. To honour with gifts, etc.

3. To invest with, raise to, honour or repute; to confer honor or dignity upon.

Yeah, all that church stuff. (Odd how it doesn’t include singing!) It’s a lot easier to do this in a ritualized church environment. You’re already in the right place, at the right time, with the right sounds and smells (all these sensual experiences make it so much easier—it’s stuff Catholics like). We see all these things utilized—demanded by God even—in the Old Testament. Almost every religion uses the senses to help create a suitable environment for worship.

But there’s obviously more to worshipping God than the burnt offerings of the Old Testament Jewish Temple and the weekly religious services many of us now engage in (regardless of your religious persuasion).

So what does it mean to worship God at home, right now, in this day and age? For me, it’s a lot about the definition I gave above. Honoring God, calling to mind His attributes and characteristics, listing the many things He has done for me (things I don’t deserve). I may sing (with or without playing the piano), or even dance. Maybe I’ll even bow down!

What might you do?

Ampersands & More Ampersands

There are probably people out there who don’t know what an ampersand is. If so, I give you an intellectually condescending glance.Camera 3 April 2011 104

It all started with a trip my local Wells Fargo, because they were giving away a free optical mouse if you talked with a personal banker to review your accounts! Since I’ve always been a sucker for promotional items, I immediately signed up, and after an utterly delightful hour long meeting (and I am NOT joking—it really was a total riot), I received my mouse. (It’s especially cute because it’s tiny and has a retract-able cord!)

Camera 3 April 2011 105How, you may ask, does this have anything to do with ampersands? Well, the fun kept building throughout the meeting until we were laughing about everything. I am of the firm belief that going into a meeting with the idea that it’s going to be fun right at the top of the agenda is a pretty good indicator that the meeting will, in fact, be fun. I had been thinking about transferring my brokerage account to Wells Fargo, just to keep everything under one umbrella, and Cathy asked me what kind of stocks I had. After listing them, I added, jokingly, “I only choose companies with an ampersand in the name!” (That’s not true in the sense that I would only buy stock in a company with an ampersand in their name, it just so happens that all the stock I currently have is in companies with ampersands in their names.) We had a good laugh at that.Camera 3 April 2011 106

But now I’ve realized that they’re everywhere… I stopped in Barnes & Noble, and went to the drinking fountain to pop some allergy medicines and as I was taking a drink I looked up only to see that the wallpaper design is made of (what else) ampersands. Whoa! So I quickly snapped a picture! It’s difficult to see the ampersand design from this distance, so I’m giving you a close-up, too!

Camera 3 April 2011 108I turned around, only to see a book-seller, who gave me a quizzical look and said, “I’m sorry, I have to ask…” When I explained my mission, he delightedly informed me that there is a cover for their Nook e-reader with an ampersand on the cover! Naturally I had to take a look! I’ve been thinking about getting an e-reader, but this about seals the deal!

Who would think that a printer’s mark could be so much fun?! And given the related articles below, I’m clearly not the only one who loves ampersands!

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On keeping up appearances…

6a00e54f05e1bb883400e5512e6d058833-800wiI’ve discovered, over time, that keeping up appearances is something I both love and hate. Some days, there’s nothing I’d rather do than just hang out in a pair of jeans and a grungy t-shirt and do nothing to my hair. But then, I think, what would Marie Antoinette do? Did she EVER have a day when she just didn’t get dressed?

“Oh, sorry, Louis, I just wanted to be déshabille in my chemise and stockings. Non, I didn’t want to wear a beauty patch and powder my hair. Oui, I thought about not wearing mes bijoux diamantes.” No, she got all dressed up. Every day. Even for the guillotine!

So, while I’m sitting here in McDonald’s, typing this entry for my blog, I’m wearing mascara, lipstick, and I’ve done my hair, because even though I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt, there’s no need to look like the canaille!

What about Anne Boleyn? Contrary to popular belief (and far more like The Tudors or The Other Boleyn Girl), in his youth, Henry Anne Boleyn in the TowerVIII was a real stud. He really dug the hot chicks. Anne was one of them. (One of many more than the six official wives.) Believe me, her allure didn’t come from hiking around Hever Castle looking like one of the kitchen maids. No, she had it together. She knew what she wanted. And even when she was under the knife, she looked great and joked with the headsman.

If you need a more modern example, let’s choose Princess Diana. Practically a modern fairy tale, even at the end of her sad marriage and life afterward. I really don’t remember ever having seen a special issue magazine devoted to her bad hair days or wardrobe faux pas. Lady Di, as she was known before her marriage, was nothing if not charming, even when caught without a slip under her dress. Later, her fashions re-energized the London scene. Who can forget her hats, her hosiery? Yes, Prince Charles hung out with his mistress on the side, but did that change the savoir faire of Princess Diana? No. She got up, got dressed and made up, did her hair, and won the world to her side. By. Never. Looking. Like. Crap.

So what is it with so many ladies? I confess, there have been many days when I would go out looking like I’d just crawled out from under a rock. But I can’t tell you how often I go to the supermarket, or the mall, or even to church, and it’s as if there’s this attitude of, “You’re lucky I’m out of bed, and you certainly don’t deserve any better than this!” What it really seems more like is, “I’m lucky to be out of bed, and I don’t think I deserve better than this.” What is it with this attitude of self-loathing? Why, then, do we wonder why so many men pursue strip clubs, pornography both printed and virtual, and even the soft-core porn that we have delivered to our very doors under the label, “Victoria’s Secret”? You’ll notice that they aren’t reading Playboy because the scantily clad models are lacking makeup or haven’t shaved their legs in a year!

Sure, the above mentioned women were all princesses or queens. But they were also moms, and wives. Yes. Mothers. Each of them. To more than one child. And both Marie and Anne had miscarriages. Their husbands were either sexually incompetent (in the case of Marie’s, who literally had to have sex explained to him after they’d been married a year and Marie wrote to her mom that she thought something wasn’t right), or syphilitic (hence Henry’s increasingly murderous attitude, and everyday volatility), or just frustrated (will Elizabeth ever retire?) Except for Diana, who had the “fortune” to die in an accident, the other two spent the last month of their lives in prison, before being executed. Not fun.

And we complain about maybe our husband’s are a little dumb, or we live in a small town, or no one cares anyway, so why bother. Believe me, someone does care, even if that someone isn’t saying anything! Honestly, is anyone going to actually plead for you to put on a coat of mascara? I don’t think so. Seriously. And don’t give me anything about how it’s not about men. Because it is. But it’s also about women. Do you really think the women you go to your Bible study with appreciate your wearing curlers in your hair? Do you honestly think your girlfriends prefer you to be unwashed? I didn’t think so. We all appreciate beauty. Even in other women. Frankly, I think most of the time we really dress up for the other women, not the men, anyway.

No one is saying you have to wear June Cleaver pearls to mop your floor. I know women construction workers who wear lace  underwear, so don’t give me your I’m-a-hard-working-woman lip.

Oh yes, I hear you other ladies, too. No jewelry or makeup. Religious reasons. Fine. I have no problem with that. I lived with the Amish for a year. I know what that’s like. No one wears perfume to milk the cows at 4:00 a.m. But I never met an Amish woman who wore a dirty kappe to church. Who didn’t spend a lot of time ironing the pleats in her skirt. And that’s with an iron she heated on a wood-burning stove. Been there, done that.

So, no more! Enough of this. Ladies, lift up your heads. Get up and get going! No more nonsense. There is just no excuse for not looking like a million bucks. Cosmetics are not of Satan. Styling your hair is no longer optional. Rise up women, and claim your birthright to beauty.

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