Monday, November 4, 2013

I'm alone at last.

Proverbs 16:3, Colossians 3:23, Mark 6:45-47

I can always tell the magnitude of something I'm about to do by how badly I freeze up right before I'm about to do it.  If there is any time to think about it before I get there, I will think myself right into a frozen stupor.  When I was applying for my life-changing summer semester at Middlebury, I sat on two acceptance notices from two different programs for two weeks.  I literally let the two envelopes sit on my desk for two weeks before opening them.  I went to Middlebury because I had not acted quickly enough to inform the other program that I wanted in.  More recently, I have spent weeks unable to write before big events in my life, like surgeries.

And I haven't written any posts in the past two weeks because I have been staring down a vacation.  Well, a working vacation.  I've taken myself off to a hotel to try to write.  There is a long, writerly tradition of getting away from it all to try to get the work done, and I would like to see if joining that tradition will benefit me and my work.  So I'm spending a few days alone away from home.

(I probably shouldn't even be telling you all this, I'm going to jinx myself, or be too ashamed to admit if it didn't work.  Privacy versus accountability.  That's a whole other post.)

So far I have checked into my hotel room, brought all my stuff inside, called DH, spent two hours farting around on the internet, and started writing this post.  Granted, this vacation has taken some prep work.  Since I'm not really leaving town, I cooked and brought all my food with me, and have made a couple of appointments to see people and do fun things.  (And, damnit, I just remembered I left the ice cream I bought for myself in the freezer at home!)

I feel better now that I have written something.  And I'm sorry if you've missed hearing from me or my blog.  I know that this week is going to be about more than writing, it will be about me, taking care of and motivating myself by myself.  Which is a huge challenge, a much bigger challenge than I would care to admit.  I've never lived alone.  I've only a couple of times been alone in a home I would usually share with someone else.  Granted, DH is a phone call and a half-mile away, but I can still hear every little sound in this tiny place, and the way I spend my time is entirely up to me.  You are who you are when no one is watching, or when you're starting to get sad and paranoid that someone is watching, even though you know they're not, just because the fridge knocks and the lamp buzzes and it's rainy outside and you forgot your ice cream.  (Damnit!)  

So, time to be a grown-up.  Get yourself up, do what you came here to do and make something to show for yourself.  Join the great tradition of writers who got away from the cares and distractions and let all the crazy right out onto the page.  Or, cuss, kick the fridge, write a blog post, and eat a peanut butter cup before dinner.  Thank God I didn't forget my candy!

Monday, October 14, 2013

I have a dirty job.

Exodus 23:12, Matthew 20:1-16, Colossians 3:23

I love the show Dirty Jobs.  I have often said that the host, Mike Rowe, is the hottest man who will never, ever touch me; because I know exactly where he's been.  Rowe is also an admirable and decent man, with good comic instincts and boundless humility in the face of his own ignorance and inability.  Even though he began his career in the arts and has a fine (and lucrative) speaking and singing voice, he focuses his television career and activism promoting the traditional trades in the American job market.  His slogan, Work Smart AND Hard, means a lot to him, and inspires me.

While Rowe specifically promotes the skilled trades, his general ethic of respect, even reverence, for hard, unpleasant, and necessary work resonates deeply with me, as I have a job characterized by hard, unpleasant, and necessary work.  I work retail.  My job would be categorized as unskilled, which is a joke, because it requires lots of different skills, some of them very difficult to learn and teach.  Mostly, since economic pressures have changed the retail business drastically in the last few years, what the job now requires is the ability to motivate and direct oneself: to evaluate the job environment, identify and prioritize the various jobs that need doing, and do them, correctly and in an appropriate time frame, welcoming constant interruptions from customers, coworkers, and supervisors.  (Obviously, that is not how our corporate offices would characterize my job, but we often disagree.  On myriad topics.)

And like garbage men, sewer workers, and toilet scrubbers, we get no respect.  I believe that the more necessary the dirty job, the less that white-collar professionals want to acknowledge us and the jobs we do.  This is consistent across humanity.  The gauge of respectability is the degree of removal from one's own dirt: how can you tell he's a king?  "He hasn't got shit all over him."  I don't believe this for a minute.  Whether society gives you respect for your job is a separate issue from how you respect yourself.  Sure it's hard to maintain your dignity in the face of social stigma, but you can do it, and take pride in your work, and that's what makes you a king among men.

On the other hand, I've heard others, with great smugness, say that they would never hire a maid to clean their homes.  People who can't clean up their own filth are victimizing others by forcing them to do it.  I don't believe this either.  My mother cleaned houses, briefly, when I was a small child, and there was nothing wrong with the work itself.  The only real unpleasantness was the behavior of the people she cleaned for.  In fact, there were few things in life that satisfied my mother like doing a good job cleaning something.  She only quit her last cleaning job because the client accused me of licking and sticking candies to the carpet under her couch.  Silly woman.  Poor kids do not waste candy, not even stale lemon drops.  She probably didn't really believe I did it, she just couldn't face the idea that her spoiled grandchildren were the real culprits.    

There is great dignity in service, there is self-respect in a job well done, especially a hard, dirty job.  There is an iron core of character that grows and strengthens every day that you do what you know is necessary for society to function, and do it with pride.  It has nothing to do with living your dreams, exploring your passions, or following your bliss.  It has nothing to do with your education or intelligence.  Just because you believe that you, or your child, are too good for certain jobs says nothing about those jobs, it only says bad things about you.  

Will you be able to look yourself in the eye if you find yourself one day scrubbing toilets to put food on the table?  Will you still be proud of your child if they pay off their student debt by taking their degree to the dog food cannery?  I still struggle with internalizing society's (and customers' (and occasional acquaintances',  friends', and families' )) low opinions of me, my job, and my pay (I get it, I have a pretty low opinion of my pay, too), but every day I get a little better, both at my job and at my attitude.

Work is dignity.  Keep that in mind the next time someone works for you: waiting at your table, ringing up your purchase, or scrubbing your toilet, and try to offer a little more respect.  And a tip.  Tips are good, too.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Customer Service, Part 12.

Proverbs 31:30,

I judge people.  I do, all the time.  I'm judgy. I am Judgy McJudgerson.  And I enjoy it.  I enjoy it a lot. Superiority is one of life's finer pleasures, and I have it down to an art.  One of my favorite kind of people to judge are women who try too hard to be pretty or young.  We have a regular customer in our store who looks about fifty, because she is about fifty, no matter how hard she tries to plump it away.

Everything about this poor woman is fake.  She is: Fakey-lady.  From the top of the brown roots in her fried orange hair to the impossibly high heels that force her to take tiny steps like she lived in the time of foot-binding, she has completely enslaved herself to a false standard of beauty.  She has puffy injected lips, big, obviously fake boobs, and her skin has been deep-tanned, probably every day, for at least twenty years.  She wears nothing but short shorts and skirts and low-cut shirts.

She doesn't just look silly, she talks silly, too.  Every time Fakey-lady comes to the register, she brings a whole pile of books, but then only buys one or two, taking about ten minutes every time to decide which ones,  asking the cashier's opinion of each one, whether we've read them or not.  (We don't like it when customers try to make us choose for them, we imagine that if they don't like our recommendations, they will come back and complain.)

So obviously, I think I know Fakey-lady.  I think I've got her pegged.  Especially after I rang her up myself, and she did her little decider-dance with me and made me have to call up two extra cashiers to get through the rest of the customers.  But after all the other customers were gone, and we finally decided on two books (and then left and came back for more money (and then added a tote bag to her purchase)), she managed, just like all the others, to surprise me.

See, even though her total was still under one hundred dollars, she handed me just over one hundred, and a random amount of change.  And I knew I was wrong about her.  Usually, when a customer hands me a random, over-large amount of cash, it's a guy, and he hands me the money and looks at his shoes and says: "Sorry, I'm an engineer."  Because when someone pays like that, what they are looking for is even change.  And indeed, Fakey-lady's change was exactly $30.30.

So I was happy that Fakey-lady is now Math-in-her-head-lady, but on the other hand, it makes me really sad.  Just because she's smart doesn't mean her life is perfect, or that she is immune to believing silly things like that tanning and lip injections will make her young and beautiful.  So now, what silly things am I doing and believing?



Monday, September 23, 2013

I want Winter!

I've lived in the South now for, oh man, I thought writing a blog wouldn't involve math, a long time now.  And I'm grateful for the people and opportunities I've enjoyed here.  The food is spectacular.  But there is one thing the South doesn't have that I miss with all my heart: Winter.

I'm sitting here, noodling around on FB, watching King of the Hill, looking for something to write about, when this episode, Snow Job, season two, episode 13, comes on and I am sitting here in the middle of September in ninety-degree heat just about to cry.  This is a fantastic episode, about how Texans in general, and the Propane business in particular, deals with a light snowfall.  The answer is, of course, not well.  And this has been my experience in Texas.  (I know less about propane and propane accessories.)  (I know nothing about propane and propane accessories.)

Southerners don't like snow.  They don't get enough to be used to it, or prepared for it.  So they tend to freak out.  But not me.  I grew up in the Great White North, and I love snow and cold.  My mind and body are right now craving the cool down of fall, but here in the South we won't cool down until November, and there won't be real cold until January.

Of course, if you say that to a Southerner, they will object.  They have a relative experience of cold, and they believe they know what it feels like.  They do not.  I still remember.  I remember it being so cold that wind would cut right through both of your coats.  So cold that no matter how high you turn up the heat, ice forms on the inside of the windows.  So cold, they cancel Sunday morning church.

Recently, the heat was so bad in my home state they pushed back the start of school.  You can't fill an un-airconditioned building designed to hold in heat with people in ninety-degree weather.  They are not prepared for heat up there.  But I like it better that way.  In the cold, you can stay inside, drink hot drinks, and put on another sweater.  But you can't take off enough clothes to beat the heat.

I would absolutely love, at some point in my life, to take one of those LOTR tours down in New Zealand.  I would like to go there while it is summer here, and winter there.  I could get myself a little shot of winter in the middle of the hell that is summer in the South.  Someday.          

Monday, September 16, 2013

I'm an introvert.

2 Corinthians 10:10

Introversion has recently become fashionable to talk about; to try to define.  For the first time, books about introversion are bestsellers, like Susan Cain's Quiet, and they are casting introversion as a positive, rather than the negative it has always been before.

So, if you want to know what introversion is, you can read all about it now.  I'm not going to bore you with the details, except to talk about one major aspect of introversion that I struggle with most.  I don't know what the official term for this is, Cain's still on my list for later reading, but I call it getting "peopled-out."  I have had enough of human company and I need to be by myself.

But I live in a small apartment with DH, and so sometimes, alone time can be hard to come by.  And I work in a job that requires me to talk to people all night long.  Customers, co-workers, managers, all night long, talk, talk, talk, and no privacy ever.

I get edgy and cranky.  I eat more than I should, and I try to use distractions to avoid the other people in my presence.  Right now I am writing and watching TV at the same time, hoping to cut down on interacting with DH, even though he is in the same room here.  He doesn't usually take it personally, he is introverted, too, but he gets all the alone time he needs while I'm at work.  His work schedule this semester only gives me two mornings a week on my own.  I love him, but I am at the end of my rope.

No, I do not need to work on this.  This is not a flaw, and it has nothing to do with how much I love people.  Sometimes, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first.  I treasure my alone time when I can get it, because the more time I spend alone, the better I feel around people.  The more time I have to myself, the better I love others.

I got started late on this, so it's short, but getting it done is making me feel better, like even though I'm feeling picked at from all directions, I can still accomplish this.  I can still reach out and speak my mind, even if only to gripe.  As long as you're on the other side of the screen today.  You might not want to get too much closer.    

Monday, September 9, 2013

I am fascinated.

Proverbs 10:4, Numbers 14:18, Colossians 3:23

I have written before about the moment I lost faith in mother, and the authority issues it gave me.  I have also written about my inability to clean my house, with which I still struggle.  These two things are connected, in my inability to grow up, which I joke about constantly, but which is becoming a serious problem.  The problem is really two-fold: I don't want to be anything like my mother, but I'm also wondering how in the world I am going to ever be like myself.

As I get older (I am over thirty, believe it or not) I have slowly warmed up to the idea that I have half my mother's genes, and I will never escape the fact that half of me is things I have in common with her.  How to reconcile myself to that, how to spin that positively, or at least neutrally, or control it so that it does not doom me to live the way she did is only one half of the problem.

But in order to survive living with her through my teen years, and get away from her the way I needed to, I did something to myself that I now need to figure out how to undo, so that I can be fully myself, whatever that means.  When my mother admitted that she had a modicum of control over her mental illness, I had two simultaneous reactions, and from that moment on, I have felt like a split person.  To my mother, I had not changed.  The dutiful daughter lived on, as a facade.  Inside, I became extremely motivated.  At school, I started working really hard, not taking good grades for granted.  I got into the best college I could, which was the impetus for my mother and I moving a thousand miles away from where we'd both grown up.  I was a duck: on the surface, steady and smooth; underwater, paddling furiously.  And it got me pretty far.

This is the other half of the problem: I'm still doing it.  At work, I am highly motivated, multitasking, large-and-in-charge, bitch-on-wheels, at least in my own mind.  But at home, I'm mostly sitting on my ass.  I love my couch and my television, and my internet full of cat pictures.  As long as I'm out in the world, I'm great.  Once I'm at my own front door, my motivation, my confidence, and my competence all hit an invisible wall, like an uninvited vampire who can't cross the threshold.

This is no way to run an adult life.  There are things that need doing, have needed doing for a long time. I want to take my work self, my school self, my motivated, engine running, going someplace self home with me so I can have a life outside just as rich and full and top-of-the-line as I try to make my job experience.  I believe that I can do this, and that keeping writing about it over and over again is helping.  Blogging, as irregularly and inconsistently as I do, is the best thing I have found to help myself.  Writing about stuff doesn't always have an immediate effect, but I believe that the more dots I put down, the more I'll be able to connect.

This is why my writing is cyclical, repetitive, and self-referential.  It may be boring to you, but it is fascinating to me, the way we are all fascinating to ourselves.  I just have a simultaneously public and anonymous platform on which to work it out.  Aren't you lucky?


Monday, September 2, 2013

I trash tracts.

1 Thessalonians 4:10-12, Romans 14:4, Galatians 2:6-10

Two nights ago, I was at work, taking a bathroom break, when I spotted some papers tucked behind the toilet paper dispenser.  I sighed.  Not again.

The night before, when cleaning up the children's section, I saw a little piece of paper sitting, trying to look unobtrusive, at the bottom of of a display.

I have seen them everywhere, little slips, little brochures, of all types.  In color, in black and white, with pictures, or just text, photocopied, mimeographed, or glossy mass-produced: tracts.  And I did the same thing with the little piece of paper, and papers behind the toilet paper dispenser, as I do with all the tracts I find.  I wadded them up and threw them away.  Into the trash, where they belong.

How hard-hearted of me, I know.  How unchristian of me, to sabotage the evangelism effort.  But I would argue that I am in the right, on a few counts at least:

1.) It is inconsiderate to dirty up someone else's space.  It is my job to keep the store neat.  Our merchandise is the only thing that should be on our shelves.  Eating areas and restrooms must be uncluttered and free of trash and extraneous materials, including stray papers, in the interest of comfort, cleanliness, and sanitation.  It does not matter what is printed on the paper, the paper must be cleaned up.  

2.) Christian books are already well-represented on our shelves.  Any of our customers, if interested, can pick them up and learn about Jesus at their leisure.  Proselytizing in a bookstore is just about as tone-deaf to the American values of freedom of speech and thought and belief as possible.  Obviously, proselytizing is your right under free speech, too, but it is one of the most annoying and cognitively dissonant excersizes of that right.  Proselytizing is invasive.  It supposes that what you have to say is more important, more vital, than respecting someone else's mental and spiritual boundaries.  In the West, where we theoretically have all the information we want at our fingertips, supposing that what you have to say is so superior is incredibly, well, presumptuous and disrespectful.  How would you feel if someone tried to proselytize you?  

3.) It is ineffective.  If I was the first person to notice the tract, then you are out of luck.  If I wasn't the first to notice, then I was the first to engage.  I've never found a tract on the shelf, or tucked behind the toilet paper dispenser, that looked like it had been disturbed, perused, or even noticed by any other person.  And I have never met anyone who converted to Christianity because they read a tract.  Have you?

I could go on.  But to me, it seems that in our Western culture, so steeped in the stories of the Bible and Christianity that we hardly need our memories refreshed, and with so many politicians yammering on about what it means to them to be Christian and live in a so-called Christian nation, we've reached a saturation point, but for one aspect: service.  Not in the sense of church attendance, but in the sense of serving those who are in need.  Right now so many people need help with jobs and homes and daily food that if you've been congratulating yourself for leaving tracts lying around, I think you're missing the point.  No one listens to litterbugs.  But they might listen to someone who buys them a sandwich, and sits and eats with them, even if they don't smell so nice.

Please know that I am a hypocrite about this.  I don't go out and buy sandwiches for people or volunteer or even give all that much money to charity.  I just tell other people to it.  I often find myself in this position, knowing the good, and yet not doing it.  I feel like I have so little to say to those who believe differently from me.  Listening seems to bring me closer to friends who are not Christians.  But when it comes to fellow Christians, I seem to have no problem pointing out specks, particularly as they apply to me.

All of this to say: Don't make a mess.  Don't be annoying.  Don't be wasteful.  Give, listen, and serve.  And I'll try my best to live up to that, too.    

Monday, August 26, 2013

I drink.

Galatians 5:1-13

At about the age of ten, I counted it up on my fingers and realized that every one of my adult relatives was an alcoholic or had been married to one.  At the time, I thought my mother fell into the 'married to one' category (my long-gone biological father had a well-known drinking problem) but as I got older I realized that her on-again, off-again relationship with alcohol was a form of addiction.  Just because you can spend years on the wagon doesn't mean you can control your drinking if you fall off.  In fact, feeling the need to spend years on the wagon should tell you all you need to know about your relationship with alcohol, but my mother never realized, or just never admitted that she carried the family curse of alcoholism (among many other curses).  

She could either never drink, or drink all the time.  And that's an alcoholic.  When she drank all the time  (sometimes openly, sometimes secretly), she always reached a point when she looked back at her recent behavior and thought to herself (or so she told me): I have to stop this, I'm becoming an alcoholic!  And she'd stop drinking for years.  But after a time, she would think to herself again: You, know it's been a while since I drank, I've been good, I can have just one.  And the cycle would start all over again.

They get this in AA, that just because you stop drinking doesn't mean you're no longer addicted to alcohol.  You have to stop drinking because you're addicted, you have to cut yourself off from the thing that is harming you.  And abstinence is not the same as control.  Abstinence is a lack of control.  Abstinence is an inevitable admission of weakness after a proven pattern of failure.  It is a necessary evil.

Because, ideally, no one would be so damaged as to have to deny themselves any fun for a lack of control.  Abstinence may make your whole life better, but it is complicated to explain, hard to stick with, and a drag in general.  I wish no one had to do it.  I wish we all were equipped to regulate ourselves properly, to never worry that we will lose ourselves or destroy others.  I wish no one had to be afraid of pleasure and celebration.

Which is why I drink.  Because I refuse to be afraid.  I know, this sounds silly.  With my family history of alcoholism, the smart thing would be to never touch a drop, right?  In fact, if some people can't control themselves, should we not all just refrain?  Especially since it is hard to tell, before it is too late, who will be able to regulate and who will succumb.

Because sometimes, fear masquerades as smart.  And sometimes, control can be taken too far.  I have often written about my need for control, and my inability to hold myself to a routine, but I don't think I'm going to learn anything or get control of myself by hiding in fear from any and all danger.  So I drink a little.

I've never been drunk.  I've never driven after drinking.  I've never said or done anything I regret while drinking.  I like drinking things that taste nice: tequila, no.  Limoncello, yes!  I like my wine red and sweet, but refuse to learn anything more about it.  I like my beer pale and bitter, otherwise I get tired of it before I finish, unless it's Guinness.

I think that part of the reason why drinking now feels like an okay thing to do (as opposed to my twenties, when I was more hesitant) is because of my own maturity and security with myself, and the company.  Friends that I have made in the third decade of my life are now the kind that I feel able to be open with, the kind I feel safe with.  They are in control of themselves, so I don't feel the same need for vigilance around people that I used to.  And if I am by myself, a little drink is fun and relaxing.  My favorite thing is to pour a bit of Khalua on a bowl of chocolate ice cream.  Very nice after a hard night's work.

I feel like I am going to spend my entire adult life facing down my fears, and this seems to me a worthy way to live.  I refuse to be afraid of alcohol, so I cannot indulge either in drunkenness or abstinence.  Both extremes represent fear and lack of control.  So do rules, which I refuse to make for myself, since rules are another way of expressing fear and lack of control.  And this is, at the risk of sounding precious and twee, a journey.  The first few steps are feeling pretty good.  We'll see how it goes.          

Monday, August 19, 2013

I am a Skate-Free Pedestal.

Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, 7:15-18

I went to an art show, my first, this past June for an artist named Jay Giroux.  I liked his deconstructionist vibe and affable, self-effacing manner.  One piece in particular, though, really spoke to me, called "Skate-Free Pedestal."  Here is a picture:
Aside from the somewhat distracting and very nice pinstriped bottom also in the picture (The show was very crowded and that's too close to crop, besides, free bottom, so why are you complaining?), I found the piece itself absolutely riveting.  For context, the pedestal is about 3-3.5 feet tall, about 1 foot long on each side, made of maple and sanded and buffed to buttery peach fuzz perfection.  You can see the silver Skate Stops are placed perfectly evenly and symmetrically on each side, and even the screws securing the Stops are precisely evenly distributed.  The piece was priced at around three thousand dollars.  And if I had that kind of walking around cash, I would have bought it.

Half of my blog posts are about my longings for order, routine, improvement, and personal perfection.  The other half are about how I like to eat ice cream for breakfast.  So half of me loves this piece because of its physical, geometric perfection.  But the geometric perfection exists only to mock those people, like me, like the people who screw Skate Stops into every public flat surface they possibly can, for being the kinds of squares who cannot tolerate any kind of spontaneous joy or chaos in their lives.  The ice-cream-for-breakfast part of me loves that.

Because who wants to skateboard on a pedestal with foot-long sides?  (Okay, as a fan of Jackass I really shouldn't have asked that.)  The Skate Stops are completely unnecessary.  But they have been rendered beautiful by care and craftsmanship.  Despite the fact that they usually stand for everything safe, mild, and tight-assed, like any object, they are neutral, and in this piece have been made to stand for everything subversive, wild, and permissive.  They point out how our obsession, my obsession, with order can get out of control and suck all the fun out of life.

Skate-Free Pedestal has two levels, two meanings, if you will: the structure celebrates order, the context celebrates chaos.  I have two faces, two sides to my personality: I want both inviolable routine and hedonistic pleasure in equal measure.

Yes, this is contradictory, but is it evil, or even hypocritical?  Not at all.  We all know someone who cannot deal with change, or who cannot, as in the cinematic master piece Hot Fuzz: "switch off."  And they are no fun to be around.  Life is an alternating current of the expected and the unexpected, you almost have to be both Jekyll and Hyde just to deal day to day.

I like that I am coming to grips with these two sides of myself.  I like Skate-Free Pedestal for helping me see myself so clearly.  I like that Jay Giroux made this piece with such care and vision.  I like how, if you look carefully, that very nice and distracting pinstriped bottom in the picture just goes to help prove my point about how chaos and order exist cheek-by-jowl in everyday life, and therefore, in every one of us.                      

Monday, July 29, 2013

I'm not special.

Luke 18:10-14, I Peter 2:9-25, Matthew 23:25-28, Romans 7:15-25

When I was a kid, my mother had a car with a bunch of Christian bumper stickers on it, including this little gem: "I'm not perfect, just forgiven!"  Which I always thought was a perfectly lovely way of declaring your faith while maintaining your right to drive like a moron.

It's also the most humble Christian bumper sticker I've ever seen.  Lately, I've been really irritated by self-righteousness, especially my own, and in a combined spirit of confession and show-and-tell, I would like to point a finger at you and four back at myself and say: Christians aren't special.

Christians aren't special.  Christians aren't nice.  Christians aren't good people.  Christians aren't smart, certainly no smarter than anyone else.  We are not self-aware, able to change, or willing to admit our mistakes.  We are not charitable.  And though we excuse our own failings by claiming grace and forgiveness, we do not extend those soul-saving gifts to anyone else.  Christians are sinners.

Yes, even after salvation Christians are still sinners.  We still sin constantly, and more so because we believe that grace has covered us.  Because when we believe that we are covered, we all too easily fall into a subsequent belief that being covered makes us better people, better than other people.

Let me clarify the Christianese: Christians believe that God forgives all their sins.  But instead of being grateful for forgiveness, we take advantage of it.  We start to shrug off the ways the we hurt other people and hurt ourselves, after all, our sins can't be that bad if God forgives them so readily.  Our sins must not be that bad.  We are not that bad.  Certainly better than that other guy, who goes around without any forgiveness in his life.  We use what is called : "moral balancing" or "compensatory ethics."  I did this one big good thing, becoming a Christian, now I can relax about everything else.  It's enough to make you not want to join this club, simply because they would have you.  

But God forgives everyone's sins, whether they acknowledge sin or not, whether they acknowledge God or not.  Forgiveness is available to everyone.  Being forgiven doesn't mean you're special.  Being forgiven means you did something that required forgiveness.  Being forgiven means you sinned.  Being forgiven means you're a sinner.

Even if we try not to sin; even if we succeed in disciplining ourselves to be healthy, loving, and wise; there is one hurdle left: pride.  It gets me every time, and I can see it getting you, too.  Just when I think I'm doing really well; I did all my push-ups and only had one ice cream bar, I did a favor for someone who dug themselves into that hole, and I didn't say anything bitchy about the mean customer and her awful hair; I start to feel good about myself.  I get really smug.  I start congratulating myself on being a good, kind, and gentle person.  But the self-congratuation is a sin in itself!  How can I escape?

And really, I may be prideful and self-righteous and walk around constantly comparing myself favorably with others, but at least I'm self-aware.  I may be a hypocrite, but at least I admit it.  Does that make it any better?  No, it does not.  Self-awareness may be a post-modern virtue, but unless it leads to real change, it gets real old, real fast.  Self-deprication is funny the first few times, but as a constant it becomes equally pathetic and self-serving, and all-around off-putting.  (Like a paragraph with too many hyphens. (As well as the acknowledgement of those hyphens.  (I have to stop this before I become the literary equivalent of M.C. Escher.)))    

We have to stop congratulating ourselves for being Christians.  We have to stop believing that God's grace makes us special.  There are literally billions of Christians in the world, and billions more people that God also loves.  (All of them, basically.  He loves all of them.)  We are not unique in our discovery of the the one right way to live, the one correct destiny that leads to eternal life.  This is not a theological question about which religion is true, but a human question about what is love, and what is kindness, and what is goodness.  The place we believe we hold in the natural world as keepers of the light is granted to us by God who grants it to us despite the fact that we are sinners, we have no cause to be smug about it.  We have no cause to be smug about our beliefs, or about the fact that we believe them.  

As writer Ashley Cardiff says in her book, Night Terrors: "Then again, telling people not to be shitty is kind of the problem, too.  To my mind the solution is this: better oneself where possible, but don't marginalize others for failing to do the same...Try especially hard not to shame or judge people..."  So that is where we stand: after getting this all off my chest I'm going to try to stop getting all uppity about how nice I've been to everyone, and you're all going to stop making jokes about gays and Buddhists and Democrats.  Agreed?  No?  Okay.    

Monday, July 22, 2013

This really happened.

Jonah 4: 5-11

I'm guessing you all noticed the big gap I left in my blog from April to June, the reason is I kind of cratered a bit in mid-April, the day I saw my doctor and decided to have my second surgery in six months.  It was a big decision, and I know it was the right one, but I immediately went into a sort of emotional hibernation and became unable to write, until after my surgery.  Which is a real shame, because after the doctor, I went to the grocery store.  And you will not believe what happened there.

Before I went into the store, I put some gas in my car.  I pulled up to the pump, turned off the car, got out, opened the panel, took off the cap, put in the nozzle, pumped the gas, took out the nozzle, put the cap back on, and with my hand on the panel, I finally noticed it: a giant red wasp, and a teeny, tiny nest inside the panel over the gas cap on my car!

The only thing that saved me from a terrible wasp sting was the glorious weather.  It was the last cool day of spring, and the wasp was still very sleepy clinging to his little single-cell paper nest.  I gently closed the panel, got back in my car, and found a parking spot far away from everyone else at the store.  I am proud of myself for what came next: I knew that this would be the last cool, sleepy day for this big wasp so no matter what kind of day I was having, I had to take care of this right now.

I went into the store and bought some wasp spray.  I took it out to my isolated little infested car, and opened up my cell phone to try to get a picture of this.  Then, cell phone in one hand and spray in the other, I used one finger to open the panel.  The big sleepy wasp was getting kind of wiggly, so I took a couple of quick shots with the phone, then a couple of long shots with the spray.  The wasp went down to the pavement, and I snapped a couple more pictures, then used some more spray on both the wasp and the little nest.  Then I used the shopping bag to close the now dripping panel, and looked at my pictures.  They were terrible.  Way too much glare.  I should have parked on the other side of the lot.

I know, this would have been a much better story with pictures.  I'm sorry, I have a crappy phone.  But I took care of the wasp and the nest and then proceeded with my shopping.  I was so upset about the day that I spent almost the whole time in the store on the phone with DH telling him about the surgery and the wasp.  I was probably very rude, no one likes to hear about strangers' medical problems, that's why they all come to my blog, but it made me feel better, and isn't that the point of loud public cell phone conversations?

Anyway, it really happened and I'm just sorry it took me so long to tell you all about it.    

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I'm a potato.

Galatians 6: 2, Mark 5: 25-34

So, five weeks out from my surgery now, I'm starting to try to get back to normal.  It has not been easy, but I've been back at work three weeks, I've written a couple of posts, and I'm trying to get back to exercising every day, just a little.  I am, for all intents and purposes, back to normal.

And I'm going to call this surgery a success.  I have achieved a new level of livability, my body dictates my life less and less and I want very much to focus on getting stronger and getting back into as much of a routine as I can manage with my job.  Besides, I think I'm done with surgeries for a while, not just because I don't need them, but because I don't want them.    

Surgery is no fun.  Okay, I'll admit, the first one was kind of fun.  It was minimally invasive; my doctor is not stingy with the pain pills; I got to take a week off work during the busiest, most annoying season in retail, and I got to spend a guilt-free week on the couch drinking juice boxes.  It wasn't perfect, but it went as well as a medical procedure can, I guess.  Except that it didn't work.

This surgery was awful.  I had to do a bowel cleanse the night before.  I had a bad reaction to the anesthesia, and spent an unplanned night in the hospital.  They let DH stay with me all night and he took on a lot of the nursing duties, so he was fairly popular with the staff.  It was good practice for him, since when I got home, I was an anxious, pain-raddled wreck who refused to be moved from the couch for three days.  I also would not allow the television to be turned off, but cannot remember anything I watched.  He was a saint about the whole thing.  Never left me alone or got annoyed with me.  He's the best nurse I've ever had.

Everything I did for two weeks came at a steep cost.  My entire recovery was two steps forward, one step back.  Even five weeks out, I can feel the effects, and one of my little laparoscopic incisions is lagging behind in healing process.  I'm still a little itchy, too.  I want more than anything to get better, better than before the surgery, to make up for all the lost time my condition cost me, but it's a lot harder than I though it would be.

I have a bad habit of minimizing my feelings and experiences, so that I have trouble gauging an appropriate response in myself.  I will limp around depressed for weeks over something that I keep insisting is no big deal, except if it's not a big deal, then why am I still dragging around about it?

It is hard to admit to myself how much time and energy I lost on my condition, arguably unnecessarily.  It is hard to admit how difficult this second surgery was for me to get over, physically and emotionally.  It is extraordinarily hard to admit how worried I was about my surgery and how much pain I was in before it.  It is still hard to go on with my life, keeping track of how I feel everyday, making sure to push myself not too much, not too little, but just enough.  Monitoring myself so closely brings it's own set of problems.  I feel like every time I check in on myself I suffer a mini-flashback, not to put too fine a point on it, but I think I've got PTSD of my own period.

What helps?  Exercising every day.  Ice cream.  Flowers from BIL and SIL.  Netflix queues and DVD play-alls.  I think poor DH could probably recite the entire disc one of Frasier season four, "The Two Mrs. Cranes" being the best episode of the show, but I can't help that nothing makes me happier or comforts me faster than that intelligent, eccentric family.  Doing chores, and writing blog posts help, too.

One thing that helped far more than I expected was depending on some really good friends, Captain Princess and his wife, Lime Water.  They provided excellent relief care when we needed them, and then took us on a wonderful outing that revived my spirits and helped me turn a corner in my healing process, just when I was beginning to wonder when I would start feeling better.  We are both grateful to them.

I know that I am at least better enough to have worried about my behavior when I was feeling my worst.  I asked DH the other day if he had minded taking care of me, if I had been difficult for him, and he looked at me with so much love and affection and said: "You were a potato.  You were so easy to care for, you don't have anything to worry about."  It's okay, I laughed about it, the best laugh I'd had in a long time.  It made me so grateful to my doctors and nurses, to DH, and to all our friends and family.  And I know I'm getting better, and will keep making progress.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sandra Bullock's come a long way, baby.

Proverbs 31: 30

I saw "The Heat" today with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, and I loved it.  It was a great buddy cop comedy, with a comfortingly predictable plot and more jokes than just the ones in the trailers.  But Bullock's character in particular reminded me of another movie she made just thirteen years ago: "Miss Congeniality."

In "Miss Congeniality," Hart is an uptight, competent FBI agent, out of touch with her feelings and femininity.  She comes into her own as an agent and a woman by going undercover in a beauty pageant.  Getting pretty not only solves the case, it also helps her get the guy, played by Benjamin Bratt.

In "The Heat," Ashburn is an uptight, uber-competent FBI agent, out of touch with her feelings and femininity.  She comes into her own as an agent and a woman by hammering out a rough working relationship with a tough, nasty cowgirl of a cop, Mullins, played by Melissa McCarthy.  Together, they solve the case, take out bad guys, and solve their career and family problems.

Guess which movie I liked better.  Go on, guess.

Not only has a buddy cop movie been made with two female leads, but it is a good buddy cop movie.  Both Bullock and McCarthy are comedically gifted, and this script gives them some solid material.  They face down johns, dealers, drug lords, hookers, vengeful families, and sexist colleagues.  There is never a joke about female cops not cutting it in law enforcement.  There is never a joke at the expense of womankind in general, just the foibles of the characters, jokes that would be funny regardless of subject or source.

Just one more thing, before I become a total feminist killjoy, I want say that as funny as I once found "Miss Congeniality," I now know that things can get better.  I am so glad that Bullock and other actresses have more options now.  I am so glad that not every movie has to have romance as the end goal.  I am so glad that Melissa McCarthy is in movies!  Any movie!  I love her so much!  Anyone who can honk a car horn with her ass just for the laughs is aces in my book!  I was going to title this post: "I love Melissa McCarthy." But you have to admit, the Sandra Bullock thing is funnier.

The lessons the characters in "The Heat" learn have nothing to do with fashion, or men, or beauty, or desirability, or how to downplay your abilities and accomplishments to win over both men and women.

The other day I was shoe shopping and I did it again.  I forgot how to respond appropriately to a compliment from another woman.  Another woman in the store looked at the shoes I was trying on and told me they were cute.  Instead of doing what I was supposed to do, find a way to denigrate the shoes and myself while complimenting her, I said: "I know, right!"  She didn't really respond, but I think we are all lucky that they were the wrong size, and I did not buy them.

In "The Heat," Ashburn and Mullins have issues with each other, to be certain, but focusing on the case pulls them together.  Both are social misfits, emotionally incompetent each in their own way, so they just scrape and catch on each other's rough edges, and keep trying to move forward.  They compete openly, for the good of the case.  They just come out swinging, never bothering to circle each other the way most women do.  I wish more real women could be like that.  Because that's how they got to be sisters by the end of the movie.  By being real and strong; seeing and raising each other's realness and strength.

I simply don't have the time or the inclination to learn how to play the nice girl games.  And most of the time, I pay for that; socially, emotionally, and professionally.  Lately, though, I have been making inroads, finding better women to be friends with, and now it's just a matter of making the time.  Even though "The Heat" was just a movie, it gave me hope for women, on screen and off, that we can be real, and funny, and righteous, and wrong, and insufferably smart, and in the end, still get the girlfriend.      

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Customer Service, Part 11.

Okay, this is bad.  This is really bad.  I would like to state for the record that I know what I did was bad, that if I had been caught I could have been fired.  Maybe I should have been fired.  Maybe I still could be, I don't know.  But this was years ago, and thinking about it still makes me smile, half sheepishly, half triumphantly.

It all started with the fart book.  Farts: a spotter's guide, by Craig S. Bower, had been on our shelf for a while.  We had a lot of fun with it; our favorite thing to do was broadcast the fart sounds over the store intercom after we closed for the night.  I liked button number nine, the long, drawn-out fart.  And it was always a treat to watch customers discover the book for themselves.  Occasionally, we would put the book on a promotional table, and we would get to see customers pick it up, look it over, and experimentally push a button.  Then, they either dropped the book in disgust, or started giggling like children, and taking ten minutes to push every button and thoroughly enjoy themselves.  Age, race, and sex did not matter; all types of customers enjoyed this book.  I don't think any of them suspected that one day that delightfully silly book would be used as a weapon against them.      

But one night, near the end of my rope and desperate to get home as soon as possible, I conceived a diabolical plan.  Of course, before we can go home, we have to clean up the store.  We try to get started on this as soon as possible, but not too soon, so the customers don't sneak in behind us and mess up the shelves we just straightened.  I thought I had gotten my timing down just right, only to find myself stymied by a gaggle of six teenagers in the graphic novels.

They were not reading, they were not shopping, they were just standing around talking, long after kids their age should have been home in bed.  They were led by a Lone Pontificator, a young man so arrogant he could not help but style himself the intellectual head of his little clique.  Skinny, nerdy, with a large nose and thick-rimmed glasses; his voice was loudest.  The boys laughed at his jokes, but the girls laughed harder and all the kids were heady with the joy of being young and smart and away from their parents.  If I had been in a better mood, I might have remembered feeling like that as a teenager, but it had been a very bad night.

So, how to get them moving?  I don't know why I didn't just try to sell them books, there's nothing our customers hate more than service, until they're desperately frustrated, anyway, but in my exhausted, frantic state I thought of the fart book first.

So I went and got a copy out of the humor section.  Then, I situated myself one row behind them, in Science Fiction.  I put the book up on top of the shelves, so I could reach it and they could hear it, but none of us could see it.  Then, I hit a button.  Of course, since I couldn't see the book, I didn't know which one I hit.  I was hoping for nine, but I think I got, like, six.  Anyway, they didn't react.

I straightened another shelf.  Then, I hit it again.  This time, they noticed.  I heard the pause in their conversation, but it was short, and soon they continued talking.  I straightened another two shelves.  I hit another button.  This time, the Lone Pontificator, smarter and more functionally assertive than I gave him credit for, asked his friends, "Is that one of us?'  They all denied it, of course, and for a moment it looked like they might turn on each other, and that would have been interesting, but instead, they continued their conversation, but hesitantly and with less enthusiasm.

All right, one more try.  I hit the button again, and this time, jackpot!  I got button number nine, the fart noise that goes on for ten seconds straight.  And with that, the Lone Pontificator had enough.  He led his whole posse around the corner to confront the interrupting farter.  And he caught me.  But I didn't have the book in my hands, obviously, because that really would get me in trouble, so he just saw me.  And assumed that I was farting.

I blushed.  And when he asked if had heard anything, I stammered my denial.  But he clearly thought I had, and my suspicious behavior didn't help.  He knew I was responsible, in a far more personal way than I actually was.  I was surprised that he confronted me directly, and when he left, leading his posse with him, he seemed confident in his victory.

I felt sheepish in my victory.  Even now, years later, I still have to remind myself that I will never see those people again, and I have no real reason to be embarrassed.  Except it was so bad.      

Thursday, April 11, 2013

I want a well regulated militia, Part 2.

Romans 15:1, 1 Corinthians 8:9, Luke 11:21-22

In the April 2013 issue of Texas Monthly magazine, Joshua Trevino writes: "There is one big truth that used to hold from sea to shining sea and is now most keenly apprehended here: an argument against the individual right to bear arms is an argument that the average American is incompetent to contend with the most fundamental moral questions of life, death, and justice.  It is an argument that assumes ordinary people cannot be entrusted with democracy." (p. 52)

Trevino is right.  I don't trust you.  I don't trust you to defend me, rather than shoot me and steal my supplies, if civilization breaks down.  I don't trust you to take out a mad gunman in a dark, tear gas filled theater without taking out a couple of bystanders in the confusion.  I don't trust you to supervise your children well enough that they do not take your perfectly legal guns and shoot up their schools.  I don't trust you to seek psychological help for yourself or a friend or family member who may be losing touch with reality and start thinking that a gun is the answer to every problem.  I don't trust you to remember your obligation to your country, to not engage in domestic terrorism, and therefore imperil my rights as a citizen of a country that trusted you with a gun.  I don't trust you.

I don't trust you with a gun, and if that means that I don't trust you with democracy, I'm not alone.  When our nation was born, and our revered constitution first laid down, voting rights were only extended to white, land-owning, males.  And our Founding Fathers established the Electoral College specifically as a safeguard against popular elections going wrong.  Not even the greatest proponents of democracy trusted everyone with democracy.  Have we proved them wrong?  It depends on who's your favorite president.

And I don't believe that getting myself a gun is going to change all that.  Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) did not work as foreign policy during the Cold War, and it will not work as domestic policy now.  Promoting gun ownership will do nothing to help any social problem we have within our country.  Polls, surveys, and statistics can be made to say anything you want them to.  When two, and I'm sorry, but there is just no other word for them: shitheads can open fire at each other on a community college campus and hit several unintended targets, I can't believe any poll, survey, or statistic any more.

Trevino again: "In today's gun debate, Texas is a proxy for America's traditional view of itself." Trevino also quotes T. R. Fehrenbach's Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans: "The Texan's attitudes, his inherent chauvinism and the seeds of his belligerence, sprouted from his conscious effort to take and hold his land.  It was the reaction of essentially civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions."  Trevino goes on: "Fehrenbach identified that mind-set as European, but it encompasses nineteenth-century America as well."

If our attitudes about our right to bear arms are rooted in the nineteenth century, then it is entirely inappropriate to apply them to twenty-first century technologies and mores.  Let's have either twenty-first century attitudes toward twenty-first century guns, or nineteenth-century weapons that match our antiquated ideas for their use.    

This goes back to the idea of a well-regulated militia.  Do we want to bring all of our technological prowess to bear on tracking guns, gun owners, gun activity and gun use?  I don't think anyone wants that.  It sounds expensive, time-consuming, and complicated.  And I still don't think taking away people's guns is a good idea, nor is it going to happen in any widespread fashion.

To my mind, if you can't hit your target in six tries or less, you have no business shooting anywhere but a range.  Get your skills up.  Magazines, semi-, and fully automatics are crutches for amateurs.  No one who can shoot worth a damn should need more than six carefully placed rounds at a time.  Let's go back to revolvers, or at least the calm focus they require for effective use.

But that's just handguns.  What about guns for hunting?  I accept hunting, when sportsman-like, as an acceptable form of land and wildlife management and an honorable way to feed one's family.  However, an AK-47 not only doesn't give any animal a sporting chance, it also ruins the meat.  Again, semi- and fully automatics have no place in mature, responsible hunting.  There is a huge psychological difference between 'the thrill of the hunt' and enjoying killing for killing's sake.  Feed you family.  Manage your land.  Take pride in your ability to do both.  But I have no respect for people who spend the weekend in a luxury cabin on a hunting lease so stocked with game they're practically stepping on it, stroking an automatic weapon like a new girlfriend.

After all is said and done, guns are not the problem.  People are the problem.  People think guns equal safety.  People think guns equal security.  People think guns make them strong, invincible, impenetrable.  People think owning a gun makes them a good shot, and reliable in a crisis situation.  People think owning a gun means that other people will respect them.  People think, deep down, that owning a gun makes them a man, in a way that nothing else has been able to make them feel as powerful, virile, and big.  People use guns as a way to feel better about themselves, when other methods of shoring up the self-esteem fail.  People use guns to, let's be perfectly frank here, compensate for something.

Guns deserve respect, but not worship.  They will not make you a man, or keep you safe.  Guns do one thing and one thing only: destroy whatever you point them at.  Guns destroy.  Period.  They destroy property, life, perspective, and conscience.  I wish that we could effectively regulate guns, without black markets, political extremism, and domestic terrorism breaking out, as gun owners and organizations have threatened.  To have a really well regulated militia, we will simply have to regulate ourselves, our ideas, and our insecurities.  As Christians, our values of love, mercy, and compassion must drive our attitudes towards guns, the authorities, and the safety of our fellow man.  When we can trust each other with guns, then we will no longer need to regulate them.  


I want a well regulated militia, Part 1.

Romans 13:1-10

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."-the US Constitution

"The Second Amendment is the only amendment to the Constitution which states a purpose." -Wikipedia 

I have recently become mildly obsessed with an artist named Ursus Wehrli.  He organizes things.  Lots of things.  Big things.  Things you did not think could be organized.  Things you did not realize needed to be organized.  But they do.  Oh, yes, they do.  His new book is called The Art of Clean Up and it is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life.  

I like organized things; neat, orderly, tidy things.  In my home, there is a place for everything, and everything in it's place, and an inch of dust covering everything.  I realize I've begun to sound a bit ominous.  Don't worry, we'll get back to this.

When it comes to political issues, I tend to be a bit of a late adopter (I'll get to Steubenville sometime next year, though not literally, I can't imagine any woman ever wanting to set foot in that town again.), mostly because I have this horrible fear of looking stupid. Because whenever I see people jump into arguments immediately after an inciting incident, running on pure adrenaline, that's how they all look to me: stupid.

And indeed, once we all have a chance to simmer down, the rhetoric gets less and less inflammatory, and people start to look like friends again instead of unrecognizable fountains of panic and rage.  And if we're very lucky, that's when we get to see the real villains emerge.  

I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of links about the gun-control debate, mostly because you're all on Facebook anyway and can find these stats if you want to: the majority of Americans, gun owners included, are in favor of some sort of regulatory action on guns, just not too much.  Even James Bond now carries a weapon with realistic safety technology that insures only he can fire his own gun.  (Insert sex joke here.)  The NRA are in the pockets of the gun manufacturers, who are in it for the money, because let's face it, no one manufactures guns for the safety of it.

No one is trying to take anyone's guns away.  No one.  Seriously.  That was never even on the table.

But if you're going to hide behind the Second Amendment, you have to hide behind the whole thing, not just the clause you like.  See, that first clause there: "A well regulated militia,..."  That means two things: one, the government has always intended for guns to be regulated, and two, the government only lets the citizenry have guns in order to have a quasi-military force, self-equipped, prepared.  A militia, at the ready.

Why would they want that?  Second clause: "...being necessary to the security of a free state..."  Not necessary to the security of the state of individual freedom, but in defense of the state as a political entity.  A state that is still the vanguard of political freedom around the world.  A state that had, at one time, hoped that in dire straits it's citizens would rise up in it's defense.

So, to my mind, if you exercise your right to own a gun, you are also shouldering a responsibility equivalent to joining the United States Armed Forces Reserves Reserves.  That's not a typo.  If the 'Red Dawn' scenario becomes a reality, fulfilling some of the most macho masturbatory fantasies out there, you will be expected to stand up like a soldier.

But before you get too excited about that idea, remember that first clause again: "A well regulated militia,..."  You must be regulated.  Just like we have put reasonable limits on free speech (no shouting 'theatre' in a crowded fire), we must also have regulations on gun manufacturing, purchasing and ownership.  Guns are not for fun.  And you are of no use to your nation and fellow citizens if we don't know where you are or what you have.    

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I'm exposed.

Matthew 18:21-22, 22:35-402 Timothy 2:23, John 5:13-18,

I've written briefly before about our culture of over-exposure, and my ambivalence at participating in it with this blog, and I'm not the only one.  One of my favorite bloggers, Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism, has written a post about this very phenomenon.  She doesn't take the mass-media aspect into account here, but she gets seriously personal, in a way I don't, and not just in this post.

And she takes on an idea that I have been avoiding thinking about for a while, but since I discussed my health problems two posts ago, I've been really feeling it.  Libby Anne worries about the ideas she shares in her blog, and the effect those ideas, and the way she lives them, might have on her family.  She has cause to worry, since much of what she writes about is telling the world all about how weird and awful her life was because of her family and their beliefs.  They don't read her blog, her blog is just strangers and people she knows since becoming an adult (I'm assuming, by my reading of the afore-linked post.)

But my blog is primarily read by my friends and family.  Well, my in-laws (Hi everyone!) can read it, my mother does not, so far as I know.  I don't Facebook where I work, so that's relatively safe, especially because I'm careful for anonymity.  I have not kept any friends from earlier than college, so school stories probably have some clearance.  But the way I discuss family, religion, and politics is definitely going to cost me something eventually.

I've been making you use your thinking caps a little bit so far, but I have not yet begun to disseminate.  And I cannot tell you how frightened that makes me.  I have enough trouble making friends and since I have prioritized my job over church, I have one less social outlet available.  If I start writing about how I really feel about gun control, abortion, environmentalism, sex, universal health care, education, and the state of the American church, I fear I may not have many friends left.  Honestly, the thinking caps are the least of our worries.  It's the moment I write about a certain topic and we all lose our thinking caps and start getting our feelings hurt that I worry about.

Whatever I talk about here, I'm never trying to hurt anyone's feelings.  I'm not trying to self-destruct, it really only looks that way.  We all go through seasons of testing what we believe, testing what is real in our lives, and what needs to go.  I don't want to hurt feelings, I definitely don't want to lose friends, but I am feeling very insecure.  Don't reassure me yet, you all know how unerring my instinct for the surgical strike can be.

Here's the real irony: last year I wrote somewhat mockingly about a book I cannot now forget.  In The Bait of Satan, John Bevere makes a really compelling point in a very straightforward way, a point that I am still wrestling with: Christians are not allowed to be offended.  I was, I will admit, offended by this idea.  Now, Bevere's point, as far as I read, was about personal offense.  When people hurt your feelings in a small, up-close kind of way, within community.  Social slights is as far as I got in the book, and I had to shut it when I came across the line (to paraphrase): Jesus's instructions to forgive over and over are literal and limitless; as Christians, we are to allow people to hurt us with impunity.

And then I put the book down.  Because that was a hard word, and I was not ready for it.  (Sorry, I keep slipping into Christianese.)  I couldn't even continue long enough to see if he was going to contextualize or qualify the idea.  And then I had to figure out how to solve the mental and spiritual Rubik's Cube stuck in my brain.

A recent blog post on momastery helped a lot.  The link goes to the whole entry, but if you do not like reading about gay acceptance and enthusiasm, I'll just tell you the relevant quote here: "...if a certain scripture turns our judgement outward instead of inward, if it requires us to worry about changing others instead of ourselves...then we assume we don't understand it yet, and we go back to what we do understand."  This is it exactly.  This is how I want to regard everything, and how I want my writing to be regarded.  Not as scripture, but as a litmus for myself and my thinking and my behavior.

This is how I keep myself from getting offended, even by John Bevere.  Will what I have heard require me to change myself?  How?  If something makes me uncomfortable, it is more valuable to examine my own discomfort than to accuse those who make me uncomfortable.  Am I telling you that you should always regard me with love and affection no matter what deliberately infuriating thing I say?  Yeah, kinda.

But I am also saying that I am obligated to regard all of my readers, near and far, with love and affection no matter their reaction to the deliberately infuriating things I say.  No matter how much I offend you, I still love you.  I have to.  Not only to be a good little Christian and keep the guilties away, but also to grow spiritually.  My weakness has always been showing compassion.  Showing compassion does not mean holding all of my thoughts inside so as not to offend anyone, but understanding and not retaliating when things inevitably get heated.

You have been warned.  If you have not already been offended by this blog, you will be at some point.  And when that happens, I will expect you to still love and respect me as your friend.  Because I am committing to love and respect you, too, no matter what.  Even if you're not a Christian, because then you can go ahead and get as offended as you like, I still have to love you.  And for the first time in my life, I want to.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Customer Service, Part 10

I love teenagers.  There is no teen who is not a fun story in their own way, every one is a unique customer service experience.  I love the ones who read the books I love, I love the ones who read the books I hate, I love the ones who know exactly what they want and the ones who don't even know how clueless they really are.

School titles are some of our biggest sellers; although it takes a bit of planning to sell over two hundred and fifty copies of The Once and Future King in just over a week, we do appreciate our student customers and their literary-minded teachers.  (Though we would appreciate some warning, teachers (or parents), when you are going to assign the same book to over two hundred and fifty students at once, just so we can be ready, because that whole The Once and Future King thing was a really lucky break, but that's another post.)

And school titles are comedy gold.  No matter how many times I hear: "Do you have any How to Kill a Mockingbird?"  I still get a special thrill from replying: "No, but we still have plenty of To Kill a Mockingbird." From The Shower Head by Ayn Rand to 1776 by George Orwell, just when you think you have heard the ultimate school title mangling, you hear an even better one.

Yesterday, a future Housewives of Your City Here, accompanied by her Middle Bee friend, came up to the desk and said: "I need a book for school.  It's called Nigt, spelled N-i-g-t, by like, Anne Frank or something.  It's about the Holocaust."

Now, I've been fooled, and schooled, enough times by unique customer requests to only be half-joking when I showed her a copy of Night by Elie Wiesel and replied: "Do you mean Night, spelled N-i-g-h-t, by Elie Wiesel?  It's about the Holocaust."

She looked stunned for a moment before taking the book I offered and giving me a funny look: "That's what I said, it's about the Holocaust."

Then, as she walked away, she turned to Middle Bee and said: "I think that girl thinks I'm stupid!"

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I turtle.

Mark 5:25-34, Galatians 6:2

I am normally very introverted, needing time alone with my thoughts in order to gather strength for another day of interacting with other humans, but I am especially introverted when it comes to trouble.  When life goes off the rails, and I could really use a friend, and any even half-extroverted person would reach out for social support; that's when I turn my most severely inward.  When trouble comes knocking on my shell, I pull my head in and hope it goes away before I am forced to admit to someone that I need help.

I mentioned briefly that I had surgery, but that is merely the tip of the health issues iceberg I've been dealing with for the past eight years.  My problems are slow-growing and embarrassing, and I doubt I would have done anything about them at all if I had not been living at the very end of annoyance, the very height of irritation, with my body for the past two years.  And only when I set out to fix the problem did I realize how very large it was.

Even in this sort-of confession that I am having health issues, I still have this problem: I really don't want to tell anyone what is going on.  Very few people know what is wrong with me, and even though there are those who do know, in the quantitative aspect, what the problem is, there is no one who really knows what I've been going through, in the qualitative, symptomatic, what-is-it-like-to-live-with-this-day-to-day aspect, except my doctor.

This is not in any way a measure of how much I love the people in my life.  In some ways, it is a measure of how closed and possibly damaged I am, but it is also a measure of how much I do not want to gross any one out.  I am not ninety years old, I am not yet to the point where I can describe my heath issues to people without batting an eye.  Especially, for instance, over a meal.  I'm grossing myself out here, I can't imagine how anyone else would feel having to hear about it.  I'm having a hard time forgiving myself for being shy about telling everyone how my Shark Week turns into Jaws every month.

Stop worrying; I'm not dying.  This is not a fatal condition.  It's not cancer, or anything that awful.  It will not kill me, it will just make my life gradually less and less livable if I neglect it any longer.

(Fibroids are almost always benign, and mine have been tested more than once.  There, I said it.  I have fibroid TUMORS in my uterus.  TUMORS just looks so scary, every time I say it everyone freaks out.  I can't seem to say the word "benign" enough:  benignbenignbenignbenignbenignbeginbenignbenign.  And yes, they're in my uterus Look away now while I get all embarrassed and turn red.)   

And DH has been more than supportive.  He is my rock; he has done everything in his power to help me deal in the day-to-day, and really steps up in the big moments, too.  He takes better care of me when I am sick than any one else ever has.  Even though he is suffering, too, he makes me his priority every time, in every way.  And even though he is a man, and kind of squeamish, he does his best to understand what I am going through.    

And the friends and family who do know have been incredible, too.  My friend D went with me for a test the other day, and when I tried to treat her to breakfast after, she stole the check and treated me.  Wily woman!  Awesome friend!

And I have a huge girl crush on my doctor.  (Many thanks to my friend W for recommending her to me!)  My doctor is very pretty, always perfectly turned out, and listens well to everything I say and don't say.  She has a sort of Jekyll/Hyde thing going: one minute she is a compassionate, merciful friend; the next an analytical, expert surgeon.  I love it.  Usually you get one or the other with your medical professionals, in her I have both, and I get to see both.  It is reassuring to know that the effort and precision she puts into herself every day is an overall personal ethic that extends to her job as well.

I am right now in the belly of the beast, in the thick of the battle, and I don't how long this is going to last or how it is going to turn out.  But I know that I am doing the right thing dealing with it, because it is really uncomfortable in the way that doing the right thing, even though it is scary, always feels uncomfortable.

I am all right.  The pain and inconvenience are manageable, and everyone at work has been fair and understanding, even without knowing all the details.  God is with me, my friends are with me, and if I keep actually telling people that I need help, I will probably get the help that I need.  If I just poke my head out once in awhile, I will see that I am not alone.    

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Spring Break Woooooooooo!

Take some time this week to wear an inappropriate outfit and randomly scream with your friends.  Beach optional.  Or at least enjoy your time off from me.  Back next week!

Monday, March 4, 2013

I am not content.

Philippians 4:12-13, 2 Corinthians 11:20-29

So my new manager, T, and I are getting along really well, and he keeps giving me more, and more important, responsibilities.  I love getting to do more different stuff around the store; I love learning something new every day.  And just the fact of changing managers all those months ago has taught me some very valuable things about myself, and what it means to be a leader, than I ever thought possible.

I beat myself up a lot, and blame myself for being a bad person, but lately I'm beginning to wonder if the problem was really all me.  The parts that were my fault are still there, and I have discovered more of my own character flaws, but I also think that I am wiling to ease up on myself a little.  I don't remember where I heard this, but I know that it is something counselors and other mental health professionals tell victims of abuse and trauma: You did the best you could at the time.

See, I had no idea the difference a little credit could make.  Every time T gives me something more to do, explains another procedure, or lets me lead in a new situation, I actually become not just a better employee, but a better person.  I am finding all kinds of time to help do all kinds of jobs around the store.  Seriously, I'm even nicer to customers now.  I used to think that I was just a snippy, hopelessly territorial grouch who hated people and couldn't change.  Now I see how difficult it can be to do your best when no one believes in you or tries to help you in any way.

I could have tried harder, I could have been better, I could have been more perceptive.  I could have taken the time to really think about why S (our old manager) did things the way he did.  I got really wrapped up in my own pain and misfortune and the unfairness of it all, especially at the end.  But I should never discount the fact that there was great misfortune.  S was really mean, especially at the end.  He really did throw me down a well and hope I would never dig myself out.  And I stayed down there and felt sorry for myself for far too long.

Now, not only do I see what a  difficult employee I was to manage, I can also see how hard it was for S to do his job properly.  The manager position went suddenly from being very easy to impossibly hard in 2008.  He was great at sales, he loved to talk to customers, and was not cut out for the bureaucratic aspects of management.  He was desperately non-confrontational, and his employees were his family.  I believe that the several firings he was forced to carry out near the end of his time with us broke him emotionally.  He lied, he lost his temper, and he left the store a mess.  But maybe, he did the best he could at the time.  

I am ashamed of the way I acted at certain points during the kerfuffle of S's last two years with us, but I know now what to watch for the next time I get a bad boss, an overwhelmed boss, or a boss I just don't click with.  And next time I will do better.  I now know how difficult it is to be professionally fair to someone whom you personally dislike.  Leadership can bring out the worst in people, and one of the worst things a leader can do is assume they know all about the people under their authority.  Never assume, but don't be too hard on yourself when you can't help someone change or grow.

I hope that in the future I can be a consistently good employee no matter who my boss is, and a consistently good person no matter my circumstances.  I hope I can continue to do the best I can all the time.  I am really glad I didn't listen when everyone around told me to just quit my job.  If I had quit I wouldn't have all these lovely life lessons I've learned, and I wouldn't have gotten a second chance to prove myself now with T.  Do your best now.  Whatever that best is, it will reap benefits that will make your next try even better.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I'm a feminist.

Ruth 4:16, Esther 7:3-4, Judges 4:9, 17-22, 1 Samuel 25

This feels vaguely like coming out of the closet, except I'm still (mostly) straight.  And I'm debating actually talking about it, because if you've been reading my blog for long, and paying any attention at all, you already know this.  Also, if I'm totally honest, feminism is a buzz kill.  Okay, so I'm a good Christian because I'm a bad feminist.  But I'm still a bad Christian because I'm a feminist at all.

Here's the thing: it's not feminism that's depressing.  It's all the reasons we need feminism that depress the hell out of me.  The reason we need feminism is because the world is a bad scary place for women.  It's a bad, scary place in general, but try, try to convince me that it is not worse for women.  Just try.

These are just some of the reasons I think we need feminism:  rape, date rape, 'gray' rape, the fact that we actually make distinctions between 'types' of rape, blaming victims for getting raped, FGM, human trafficking, abstinence-only sex education, the pay disparity, complementarianism, purity balls, purity rings, purity culture in generalstay-at-home-daughters, incest, virginity, Disney princesses, domestic violence, limited access to birth control, limited access to abortion, limited access to education, limited access to medical care, gender stereotypes, gender stereotypes played for sociological and psychological fact, gender stereotypes played for comedy, headscarves, hijabs, burkhas, dressing modestly, high heels, makeup, hair removal, wrinkle cream, dieting, cosmetic surgery, mommy guilt, using feminine adjectives as insults, the Double Standard (TM), 'women aren't funny', sexualization of women, sexualization of children, the virgin/whore dichotomy, arranged marriages, homophobia, and Christian men who discipline their wives with spankings.  

I actually got tired of making links to fully reference the above 'paragraph of horror', so if you don't believe me when I write it, Google it yourself.  All these things I've listed exist as topics for debate, and I believe are harmful to women and men and society as a whole.  I realize that not everyone will agree with me on this, but I honestly believe that these things, all of them, are bad.  There is no need to ask me to clarify or repeat myself.  Yes, I reject it all.

That is not to say that I have never participated in any of these things.  I have done some of them, I have thought some of them were quite good ideas, in the past.  I still catch myself automatically behaving according to some of them, I lived them for so long.  But I recognize now that my motivation for participating in my own (church- and family-sponsored) oppression was fear.  I have been desperately afraid of being bad, of facing unpleasant consequences, of losing the approval of authority figures.  But all that fear has terrible consequences itself.  Fear breeds deception, of the self and others.  Fear undermines accomplishment of any kind.  Fear is never a trait that earns respect, from anyone.

There are so many reasons to be afraid as a woman.  In my life, I am trying so hard to steel myself in every way I can think of, not just as a woman, but I seem to be coming up with more and more ways that I am afraid.  I want to root out every bit of fear I find in myself, and there's a lot of it to go.  But reminding myself of my own value, remembering to fight for myself as a person and as a woman, gives me courage.  Feminism helps give me the courage to be married, to work, to drive, to go to the doctor, to write this blog.  For me, the personal is very political, and vice versa.

You may think the things I am afraid of are so normal and basic as to be stupid, and you're right.  After all, who's afraid to be married?  Isn't that what all women should aspire to?  But some of the marriages I've seen in my life would chill your blood, and anyone unaware of how women around the world suffer from domestic and institutionalized violence must be living in a cave.  I may be haunted in my daily life by fear and anxiety, but I'm not irrational.  It's not paranoia if they're really out get you.

Instead of living in fear, I want not only to be able to walk confidently in my own life, but to also make the rest of the world a better place for everyone.  My blog is tiny, but I keep putting it out there in the hopes that it will help someone.  I want to be the change I want to see, especially for women.  One day, I want everything I listed in that big, scary, overwhelming 'paragraph of horror' to be over and done with.  I want the world to be so safe that we laugh about those things.  This does not mean I have confidence in human nature that we can all be changed, but that I have hope, or possibly ego, in my ability to live out what I believe and affect others positively as well.

This does not necessarily make me a good person.  Feminism has come under fire for attacking, undermining, and oppressing men, and I don't doubt that there are women working with this goal in mind.  I refuse to blame them.  Sexual politics and relationships don't have to be a zero-sum game, but there are times when it is hard to see the middle ground.  And if I can't be or feel safe in a society built on equality, then you better believe I'll settle for my turn as Queen of the Hill.  


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hate is a verb, Part 2.

Matthew 4:8-10, 27:40-43, 25:40,  Mark 8:35-36,  Luke 14:26

Any time we act, even unconsciously, to preserve our own implicit power under the status quo, we act in hate.  And any time we fail to act, any time we show indifference to the powerless and marginalized all around us, we act in hate.

Since Jesus called us to love, how should we act, how should we vote?  As Christians I believe that we need to lead this nation in purging hate from our political process.  Not by shouting and spending until everyone agrees with us, but by laying down our political rights.  We can let love win if we give up our rights and political power, exactly the way Jesus gave up his rights and Godly power when He died on the cross for us.

Political power does not make us moral leaders.  In fact, we cannot be moral leaders unless the base of our morality is love, rather than power of any kind.  Jesus understood this.  When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert by offering all the kingdoms in the world, he was offering Jesus the opportunity to impose God's will and morality on the world through political power.  Jesus didn't take the deal.  Neither should we.

This does not mean that we disengage from politics completely.  No, I have a much more difficult, much more ridiculous idea in mind, and this one I can credit to real people, quicker and cleverer than I: vote for your neighbor.    

Vote for the least of these.  Vote to benefit those for whom you have the most contempt.  Vote against your own interest, because you believe that it will lift up someone else.

If you are rich, vote yourself more taxes, for the benefit of parks, and schools, and libraries.  If you are straight, vote for gays to marry.  If you are pro-life, vote for more government benefits to care for families that choose to keep the children they cannot afford.  If you are out of work, vote to make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens, and get jobs in the meantime.

Can we love, sacrificially, the way Jesus loves?  Can we love enough to give up our power, give up our advantage, to benefit someone else?  Can we lay down our lives, our livelihood, and even the sanctity of our families, so that other sinners can get a leg up on us?  Can we vote against our own opinions, because a friend in trouble desperately needs a policy or program that we abhor?

I believe we can.  I believe that voting against our own best interest, for the benefit of our neighbor, will be the key to re-civilizing the American political process.  Does it mean we will all vote the same way, or for the same party?  Of course not.  But it will help us think more deeply about how and why we vote, and it will help us show more compassion and regard for those who think and feel differently than we do.

Any time we act, however grudgingly, to surrender our power in politics, society, and all areas of life, we act in love.  Any time we act, however insignificantly, instead of remaining passive in the face of oppression and injustice wherever we see it, we act in love.  Love is a verb.