Friday, July 30, 2004

Believing in Yourself

I've been watching the Democratic presidential nominees for months now and the thing that most strikes me about them (John Kerry and John Edwards in particular) is that they never, ever doubted that they would get where they are going. There is a sureness, an unshakable belief in themselves that carries them forward and prevents any despair at their situations and circumstances. How do you get this quality? Where does it come from, and why didn't I get any? I suspect it's born with you, installed from birth. Maybe some people can inherit or learn it from their self-esteem-laden parents. I didn't and that's just how it is.

Dennis Kucinich has it, too. His heart and his spirit are bigger than the Republican convention pricetag as he throws his support behind John Kerry. I still support you, Dennis! I will always know you were the one who deserved the nomination.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

DNC: I'm serious

The speeches of the Democratic Convention are washing over the country as clean and fresh as untainted hope, as full of promise and excitement as Christmas eve, as energetic as the last and greatest spurt of anticipation towards a life-saving goal.

Yes, Barak Obama!
Yes, Reverend Al!
Yes, John Kerry!

Yes and yes and yes and yes!

Video clips of speeches available.

Arthur Andersen

I’m still realizing that I chose my current job according to a single criterion which was not a good idea. I reacted so emotionally to the corruption and collapse of my former employer, Arthur Andersen, that my job search really only had one focus: a business that had no unethical practices that might get it into legal trouble. Since it’s almost impossible for any large corporation to have absolutely no one engaging in unethical practices, I logically ended up at the one small (10-person staff) business that offered me a job.

It’s only now that I see how completely I sacrificed every other quality that’s important to me in a workplace, just to go where there was the least probability of illegalities. I gave up the large size I knew I loved at Andersen, I gave up the support and supervision that was so important to me, and I gave up the feeling of community that was critical to my happiness there. I sacrificed it all, I sacrificed everything that made going to work enjoyable to me, just to avoid another melt-down and forced layoff. Just to avoid another business collapse and dissolution of a staff of people who loved our jobs.

How many former Arthur Andersen employees today are at jobs that don’t begin to measure up to their experience at Andersen? How many of us still miss the people and positions we were forced to leave? How many of us still dream of a similar job at a similar company but doubt that it exists?

I only worked at Arthur Andersen for 14 months and yet its disappearance has left an unfilled hole in my life. When I was laid off in April 2002, all I wanted was to shelter myself in a company that would never be brought up on charges like that. And here I am in a company that’s safe, principled, ethical and legal in all its dealings. But I’m not happy. I need community. I need support. I need to get out of here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Lessons of a Reluctant Corporate Mofo

Remember Arthur Andersen? After 89 years as the gold standard of accounting, in the spring of 2002 it became the poster company for corporate America gone wrong and within months had been stripped of its clients and completely dissolved. No, this is not a business analysis of where they went wrong or where the white-collar-criminals are today or anything. I just want to express the following: that was the best damn job I ever had. Why, O why did they have to go under?

Arthur Andersen LLP hired me as an executive assistant in January 2001. I supported four managers and two partners. I loved my place among the legion of secretaries and other staff who supported the accountants and consultants. One of the best things about my position was that I didn’t have to think. Mine were the mindless tasks that executives couldn’t be bothered with: answering phones, getting reports duplicated, typing up client bills. Andersen liked its administrative assistants in lockstep and we were carefully supervised on everything from the billing software to what winter coats were appropriate. Nothing ever changed without us being forewarned and re-trained in the new procedure, and there was a right and a wrong for everything. I loved it. And with so many other executive assistants around me, I was never at a loss for people to ask for help. If ever I was in the least doubt about a procedure or decision, there were countless peers and administrative supervisors I could consult. I could do no wrong unless I tried.

I remember brushing my hair one Monday morning as I got ready to leave my apartment. I felt happy and eager to be going to work at Andersen. The people were great and our floor always had some little event going on: someone’s birthday or a baby shower or a plan to bring snacks in for no reason at all. I enjoyed my co-workers and looked forward to making mail runs or heading upstairs to Document Duplication so I could visit with my colleagues in those departments. I reflected on how lucky I was to feel so good on a Monday morning. I knew I wanted stay at Arthur Andersen for a good long time.

The reason I remember that morning so well is that later that day, we learned that Arthur Andersen was going to be indicted by the U.S. government for obstruction of justice in the Enron scandal. I didn’t understand at first, but within days I realized this was the beginning of the end of my most favorite job ever.

I was actually lucky to be one of the first people laid off. I hit the job placement agencies and job fairs with zeal. It was April 2002, but I had no sense of a sinking economy or a tight job market. I just knew that God wouldn’t cast me out into a cold, jobless world (that was when I still Believed). And my unshakable faith paid off: within three weeks of getting laid off, I had job offers from the Aon Corporation, KPMG (another huge accounting firm) and Thrall Enterprises, a tiny holding company where I would be the executive assistant to the president.

A large part of my selection criteria was trying to figure out which company would be least likely to go under due to unethical activities. Shell-shocked by the trauma of learning that Andersen as a company had been deceitful and unethical, I felt disgust for corporate hubris and corruption. I also felt personally betrayed, as by a parent, since I had believed that while Andersen wasn’t saving the world, at least we weren’t damaging it. My faith was shattered and I sadly considered companies that seemed quite different from my former employer. In the end, I sacrificed my desire for community in order to go where the possibility of corruption seemed smallest: I went from the largest place I’d ever worked, to a family-owned, 10-person holding company on the 30th floor of the Prudential building.

It’s been two years since I made that decision, and I’m still waiting to love this job even a fraction as much as I loved Andersen. But these days I’m realizing it’s not going to happen. There just isn’t the heart here I found at Andersen. Here birthdays are dull, perfunctory events; holiday celebrations are stiff and tedious. My boss, a critical perfectionist, wants a take-charge assistant who, in complete isolation, can head projects, determine procedures, make confident decisions and know just how to throw together special events for dozens of people. I’m not that assistant. As the only secretary here, I’m lonely for peers and I long to be told what to do.

After two years at this job it’s time to admit that I’ve given it my best shot, but it’s time to move on. I want a job I can embrace and love. I want fun colleagues it’s a joy to work with. I want tasks I enjoy and a boss I like. I know it sounds like I couldn’t be serious, but I really do prefer a universe of tight rules and dress code conformity where I’m told exactly what to do. I’m a musician who needs to save her creative energy for her original songs. That’s where I pour my heart and soul into an artistic process that takes great focus and concentration. Because of the demands of the music, my day job needs to be much more mindless and take much less energy. I save my thinking for my own projects.

So, yes, I dream of standing shoulder to shoulder in an efficient and omniscient army of executive assistants. I don’t even care about the corporate corruption thing anymore. I want to be a sheep in the fold of dubiously motivated shepherds again. I want to be part of a staff of hundreds -- no, thousands of employees, all working in our beehive-like cells to make some nameless, faceless partners/shareholders wealthy while we spend company time celebrating each others’ birthdays and throwing baby showers. I’ve learned that community is more important to me than salary, happiness more important than ethics. Take me back, Corporate America! And this time, let’s not get caught.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Birthday





Today is my birthday. I am 38 years...old. I am the same age as Carrie Bradshaw when Sex and the City ended. A year older than Mary Richards when The Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air. The same age as my mother when she had been married for 12 years and had two grade school daughters. When Marilyn Monroe was my age, she had been dead for two years. Princess Diana didn't make it this far, either.

So far I have received happy birthday emails from Webshots.com, eharmony.com, E!Online.com, and WTMX The Eric and Kathy Show. I feel well-loved by the cyber-automatic birthday mechanisms of many websites.

The day of my birth was July 24, 1966. I was born just in time to be completely oblivious to the premiere of Star Trek. I was the exact demographic for Sesame Street, which began broadcasting when I was three. I was born into a culture of wild colors, political upheaval and unwashed hair.

When I was growing up, I never understood why women lied about their age. My mother said I would understand it when I got older. I still don't understand why women lie about their age. I was also told that I would develop a taste for alcohol. That never happened either. I wonder if I am in an arrested state of development, held back because I don't like to drink and still tell people how old I am on my birthday. When you were growing up, did you ever start calling yourself the next age before you actually got there? So when you were 15 going on 16, you'd start thinking of yourself as 16 in the weeks (or months) ahead of the day? I still do that. I've been 38 since February.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Chicana Demographic

"Did our ancestors suffer, sacrifice and struggle just so we could come here and read books, Regina?" - Rayfield A. Waller, Cornell University, 1991.

A July 22 Reuters article, on a survey done by The Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that although 40 million Hispanics live in the U.S., only about seven or eight million of us are actually expected to vote. That was interesting enough, but here's what really caught my attention: Hispanics that are registered to vote "are better educated and more likely to use English as their primary language than their counterparts who are not U.S. citizens." Reading this made me feel better, since as a highly educated Latina whose dominant language is English, I often feel uncomfortably atypical. Apparently, my language preference isn't so uncommon among my Hispanic peers who are registered to vote. Yay! I'm in the majority of a minority (Hispanic registered voters) of a minority (Hispanics in the U.S.)! Okay, well, it's a start.

I also feel very atypical as a Hispanic woman who is 37 (for one more day) and single, who lives alone, and who earns over $40,000/year. As I make this statement, I feel like the little Whoville child, in Horton Hears a Who, who stands on top of a tower and cries, "We are here!" I want to declare my atypical Hispanic existence and add to some hoped-for critical mass of people who will eventually be recognized as a demographic. Or something.

Or maybe I'm a unicorn, searching out other unicorns, always keeping my eyes peeled for other Latinos of my educational class and income. American Hispanics are not a homogeneous lot. We don't all speak Spanish, grow up in an intergenerational household, and struggle our way out of the barrio. We don't all have accents and children and believe in god. And the issues important to us are not all tied to immigration, language and the (archaic and tired) Cuban embargo (this one's a totally partisan link).

I finally appreciate the education my parents and grandparents made available to me. In the context of the white suburbia I grew up in, graduating from high school and going to college was common and unremarkable. But as I look at my life in the context of the country, which is easier to do living in a heavily Mexican neighborhood, I can see that graduating from high school and going to college was a real achievement. But it wasn't my achievement. It was the Mexican American community's achievement. It was my grandmother's achievement, who somehow knew that education was the only way to get anywhere in this country -- and she had that radical idea in the 1920's. It was my parents' achievement, who not only finished high school, but got themselves through college in Texas in the 1950's and '60's. They and their siblings established the tradition of higher education in our family. And it's the achievement of all the Latinos who spent the 1960's and '70's establishing community organizations and political caucuses and voter drives and scholarship funds and thus created an environment in which the grandchildren of immigrants could follow a college-bound path with as little struggle, financial hardship and cultural conflict as I did. I believe my bachelor and masters degrees reflect in large part their struggles and successes. I just took the tests and memorized the information, the same as everyone else in those classes.

So here I stand, childless and godless, a credit to my race. Mine is the life of freedom and independence that so many before me wanted for themselves, but could only help my generation obtain. Looking at it that way, my frequent shame for not speaking Spanish or not having married yet becomes an insult to the Latinos who worked hard for me to occupy this specific place. Likewise, the disapproval of those who judge me for those things is similarly insulting. I am the product of many people's dreams, and each life choice I make is possible only because of those dreams. So when I feel like a weirdo for being "the only" Chicana with a certain set of demographic characteristics, I'd do better to feel grateful for the freedom to live this way and proud to reflect the achievements of those who got me here, however counter-culturally I might do it.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Longing

Longing, Part I

I want to learn happiness the way others do it
with lazy lunches
occasional silence
and coats thrown together on a kitchen chair.

To stay in someone’s life,
my name coffee-stained in their address book
and permanently on the Christmas card list.
To let my stomach hang out and put my feet on the chair and say “no”
and have it be all right.

Look --
I have no god
have a clogged kitchen sink
feel no obligation to do volunteer work,

but I can laugh loud,
make you dozens of cookies,
understand when you cry,
And although I don’t often do gifts, I will always, always remember your birthday.

Longing, Part II

I want to learn happiness the way others do it
with bodies clasped after the sweating,
lives completely entangled,
underwear mixed in the hamper.

To trust like the baseball trusts the mitt,
to swoon like cut grass after the scythe,
to think as deep as a matchbox.

Can I try that kind of love? Borrow it like a precious library book?
Or like my friend’s prized mink, just see if it fits?

No? All sales final?

Some other time then.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

What I Would Say at the Democratic National Convention

As the daughter of community activists, I have spent my life being suspect of American culture, media and politics. As a product of the Reagan '80's, I learned that our government is not to be trusted and the worst things I suspect of our leaders are probably true. As a witness to the 2000 election, I learned that the powers that be will do as they want, regardless of even the results of a good old American election. When even the formerly sacrosanct right to vote was ignored by the Supreme Court's appointment of George Bush as president, I in large part gave up on American politics. Why bother even paying attention? There was nothing I believed I could do to make any difference.

Last fall, purely as the result of having too much free time on my hands, I joined Dennis Kucinich's campaign. I knew Kucinich didn't have a donut's chance at a church social and I knew the Democratic Party's chances of taking back the White House and/or Congress were slim to none in this era of the Rabid Right, but it was a way to kill time until I found something better to do.

After the Illinois primary, I didn't think I was going to do anything else politically. This careless attitude was consistent with my growing indifference over the last two decades. During the 1980's and '90's my apathy took root and grew as I watched my government lie to me in increasingly shameless ways and I saw the power of the left wing dissolve into embarassment over the term "liberal." I, and millions of disillusioned Americans, sat by while the right wing consolidated its power and re-drew the lines of conflict by enveloping conservative fundamentalist forces and claiming God as their ally. After the Federal Supreme Court stepped into the democratic process in January 2001 and rendered it inconsequential, I gave up.

But here's what happened next.

In the past few months, Move On, an organization dedicated to bringing more voices into the democratic process, began emailing me with things I could do to support the Democratic Party. They weren't just asking for money. They had concrete suggestions for me as an individual. Emails from them and the Kerry campaign had me planning a "Kerry House Party" fundraiser, rallying my friends to go see "Fahrenheit 9/11" and standing outside a movie theater with voter registration materials. A Move On meeting that included a discussion with Michael Moore gave me clear ways to stay involved which included hosting an event that registered voters in swing states. And tonight I just came from a house party that screened Robert Greenwald's film "Outfoxed" which offers evidence that Fox News participates in advancing the conservative agenda of the right wing.

After watching that film and signing up for more political activities, I feel a new enthusiasm. I've gone from desultory and apathetic to mildly interested to excited about what we the people CAN do to get George Bush out of office. John Kerry's campaign is being funded in large part by individuals like me making contributions of $50 or $100 or even $10 over the internet. Move On.org is mobilizing thousands of people to do what we can in our communities to chip away at the power of the right wing, which functions not only in the White House, Congress and Supreme Court but the in the news media and entertainment industry (like Disney trying to block the release of Michael Moore's movie).

Tonight I watched footage of Jeremy Glick, whose father died in 9/11, take on Bill O'Reilly as O'Reilly attempts to stop Glick from pointing out that the U.S. government funded Al Qaeda in the past. I listened to Robert Greenwald give credit to hundreds of volunteer hours that made his film possible on a $300,000 budget. I listened to Al Franken declare Air America Radio the second most listened-to talk radio station in New York. I saw dozens of us ordinary people raise our hands to sign the petition supporting Move On's lawsuit against the Fox network, demanding that Fox's trademark of "fair and balanced" be revoked and that Fox News stop using that tagline unless it begins giving (real) liberals equal air time.

Coming home from this gathering, I have hope again. I have hope because grassroots organizing like this doesn't just turn the tide of an election, it gets people involved. It pulls people like me out of our chairs, into an informed discussion and out to pull others into the tidal wave of activity that is changing the landscape of this election. Because John Kerry is hugely supported by individual donations, when it comes time for him to answer to his political contributors, he won't be answering to large corporations and a few wealthy families. He'll be answering to ME and all of us little people who send him donations every day. And because we are waking up to the way the media withholds some information and distorts the rest, we can now demand that networks and news programs present more than one side to any given issue. We have that power.

We have a lot of power. Oh my GOD, we have power. We just forgot it. I just allowed the media to forgive the worst offenses of the Reagan and Bush administrations (I and II) and forgot that I don't have to take pre-digested opinions from sources that claim to be unbiased. I believed in the impunity of people who twist foreign policy for their own ends and forgot that corruption only grows when honest people don't do anything about it. For two decades I have accepted every affront as further proof that the U.S. government gets to do whatever it wants and forgot that the only force big enough to stop it includes ME.

Tonight I am realizing that the world is a much better place than I thought it was. Tonight I can see that there's still time to change things and all the energy in the world to do it. I have seen that people DO care and we WILL respond when given the chance and it doesn't take the coming of the Messiah to do it. It's a matter of simply giving us an alternative to the roll-over-and-eat-this treatment we've been getting. The reign of the right wing has not been founded on the dead corpse of American liberalism. It has only been propped up against our paralyzed minds that have been anesthetized by increasingly shocking lies and manipulations.

No more.

I am personally committed to doing whatever I can to make sure that George W. Bush does not win OR steal a second term. I will do all I can to make sure that all registered voters get to vote, and that all votes are counted. I will do all I can to mobilize people to vote Bush out of office, protest a slanted news media, and help others realize how much power we have to change our country.

I have hope and, god damn, it's been a long time since I did. I have hope and it's based on real people with real power and a real vision of a much better world than our apathy has created. For the first time in my Johnson-administration-born life I feel proud to be an American because I now believe that being an American is following your vision and taking action and working to make your country the best it can be and not giving up. I now believe that to be an American is to have hope. And hope, I'm realizing, is good.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Nader?

I am now considering how qualified and experienced Nader is for the presidency and he doesn't look good.  Then again, neither Kerry nor Edwards has experience leading, either. 
 
I'm also considering how effective Nader would be as president.  I have to say, based on the choices he's made so far, I couldn't confidently say he's shown excellent judgement that consistently prioritizes the good of the country.

Okay, okay -- it's Kerry/Edwards for me.  Thank you to everyone for helping me work through this (for now).  I especially thank my friend Lon who made me really look at why I was considering Nader.  And thanks to Lenora for holding down the argument against voting for Nader.  (See comments from 7/15) 
 
Now let's all shake hands and go get ice cream! 
 

Thursday, July 15, 2004

I WANT to be a centrist, but...

I want to be a centrist: reasonable, willing to see both sides, comfortable with progress through compromise. Arguably the only progress that’s ever made in our political system is the progress that happens when both Republicans and Democrats work together, put aside their differences and look at what they both need. This view asserts that progress and change only happen in that middle ground when the two parties stop trying to defeat each other and prioritize actually getting something done.

I enjoy listening to Air America Radio (especially their “Morning Sedition” program), but sometimes I consider how Air America panders to the left while radio shows like Rush Limbaugh’s pander to the right. What’s the point? They both rail against each other, absolutely certain that the other side is stupid and destructive. What does this achieve? I was so excited when Air America first aired because they echo my beliefs. Listening to Air America Radio made me feel better, like there’s hope for defeating the right wing in the next election and making the country safe for peace and recycling.

But what does ideological ranting really achieve? Wouldn’t it be better to promote radio shows that give both sides equal time and look for the common ground? Wouldn’t it be more healing to get right-wingers and left-wingers to see each other as human beings who are afraid of basically the same things? If we could all see that we bleed the same color and are shaped by the same forces, we’d be better able to understand each other and not react with knee-jerk fear to extremist statements. A centrist approach like this would lead to less hot air and more forward movement.

Yesterday I was willing to step right, closer to the center, and support John Kerry even though he’s not nearly as far left as I’d like him to be (my favorite candidate is Dennis Kucinich). I received many responses to yesterday’s posting, mostly from people who agreed with me in seeing Kerry as the best option for our country. The more people I heard from, the more I saw that my argument was sound and my conclusion inevitable. So why did all those reassurances make me feel worse and worse?

The last comment I got last night (like Hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box), was from the friend who first told me about Kucinich’s campaign, my friend Lon. Lon alone offered the opinion that Kerry isn’t far enough to the left and if we accept Kerry then we simply send the message that we’re willing to compromise everything and end up with nothing really changing at all. Lon’s comment ends with the words, “Vote Nader!”

I know, I know, I know…but Lon’s comment thrilled me and felt like an affirmation of my own far-left tendencies. Maybe a vote for Nader IS a vote for good against evil, both the evil of the right wing and the evil of centrist selling-out-on-everything. Maybe we should send a message that says, “No, Kerry being Not-Bush isn’t good enough. We demand a president that truly reflects what we want and what we want is a correction of the country’s growing economic disparities and no more stupid wars and an administration that tells us the truth and doesn’t treat us like idiots.” Maybe I don't have to compromise my idealist tendencies by supporting Kerry-Edwards. Maybe voting for Ralph Nader would strategically show the country that you cannot take for granted that the far left will fall in line with the middle-left when the middle-left fails to provide the possibility of real change.

But what would that message achieve? Voting for Nader could achieve nothing more than four more years of George W. Bush and the wrath of the centrist liberals who would call for Nader’s head on a platter and refuse to listen to the far left again in 2008. Four more Bush administration years would widen the gap between the rich and the working class and probably get the United States voted off the planet.

Or voting for Nader could result in four more years of George W. Bush and a 2008 Democratic party that’s so desperate to take the White House that they finally listen to the constituencies they’ve been ignoring: youth, Blacks, single women, first- second- third- and fourth-generation immigrants, people living below the poverty line, etc. If you add up all the numbers, WE’RE the majority, not white guys for whom the American Dream actually works.

Oh, I want to be a centrist, I really do. I want to be mature and reasonable and see that compromise is the only force that ever truly moves forward. But to be a centrist, I have to figure out what to do with my leftist passion and ideals. Is there such a thing as a passionate centrist? I don’t do tepid.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

John Kerry - Pro and Con

Okay, so there’s this debate going on among leftists and further-to-the-leftists: why elect John Kerry when he’s so centrist it will barely make a difference? The argument is that John Kerry’s record shows that he isn’t nearly as far to the left as he would need to be to actually change anything, so why would leftists vote for him? The counter-argument is that George Bush’s policies and tactics have been so destructive and disastrous that just getting Bush out of office is reason enough to vote for Kerry.

I feel personally involved with this discussion because my first choice for president was Dennis Kucinich. I volunteered with his campaign last fall and felt passionate about what he stood for: defending the public interest against corporations and big business, re-establishing America as a cooperative and supportive nation in the global community, making sure every single person in the U.S. had access to basic needs such as a living wage and universal health care. When people would point out what a long-shot he was, I’d answer, “I’m not supporting Kucinich because I believe he’ll really end up in the White House. I’m supporting him because I believe he’s the only candidate who belongs there.”

I still believe Dennis Kucinich is the only candidate who belongs there, and I still support his platform more than anyone else’s. I look at John Kerry and I see someone who plays it safe, who won’t challenge the status quo and who will ultimately support big business, health insurance companies and a foreign policy of slightly less arrogance and destruction than Bush’s. I look at John Edwards and I see someone slightly further to the right than Kerry. Edwards seems to support a strong military and an economy that sacrifices American jobs in favor of corporate profits.

Someone argue me on these opinions. Please.

I want to believe Kerry and Edwards will shepherd America into a time of prosperity and international cooperation, when rights are respected and we re-build our reputation with the rest of the world. I want to believe they’ll work to even out our growing economic disparities, keep us out of unfair military campaigns and give other nations in distress the help they truly need. I want to believe the Kerry administration will fight, no matter the cost, for Americans to have access to decent healthcare and a quality education and a minimum wage you can actually live on.

But I don’t really believe any of that. Here’s what I do believe: I believe that the Kerry administration will not twist foreign policy in order to carry out an unspoken agenda, or try to make frivolous amendments to the Constitution, or press its lawyers to find ways around the Geneva Conventions, or stack the Supreme Court with the most conservative judges possible, or pretend that backing a president that was not elected by the people is business as usual.

It’s true that to support John Kerry because of what he is NOT is to take a very weak rhetorical stand, and doing so doesn’t fill me with the pride of living by my convictions. But even though I know Dennis Kucinich is my man, I also know that desperate times call for desperate measures. Even in the worst moments of the Watergate crisis and the Iran-Contra scandal, the United States did not face the kind of international criticism and hostility that George W. Bush has brought upon us. We gotta get rid of him. Any move, even towards the center, is a necessary goal.

So, looking at what’s on the menu here -- John Kerry and John Edwards, centrist supporters of the status quo? Yes, please.

Almost John Edwards

In the July 19 issue of Newsweek, the “Conventional Wisdom” section makes this statement about Vice President Dick Cheney, “Campaigns like Scrooge on tour.” I showed it to the stranger sitting next to me on the train and made a friend, for a moment.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Startling, new one-man show

Last night I attended the opening of Jamie Black's one-man show Living Inside Myself at the Bailiwick Repertory Theater (1229 West Belmont Avenue in Chicago). If you think I'M honest about my personal life in public spaces like this blog and my songwriting, you've got to see this show. I've never seen anyone lay it bare like Mr. Black does. No, there's no nudity, but with humor, emotion, physical comedy, and just a bit of singing he tells the story of being a little girl who knew she was really a boy and her journey towards adulthood as a man. And it's a true story. Jamie tells it with vivid description, real emotion, clear characters and an incredible amount of bravery. Oh, that I should be that brave.

I challenge anyone to attend a performance of this show and then tell me you've ever seen anything like it. It's funny, startling, revealing, and it made me proud to be Jamie's friend. I highly recommend this show. "Living Inside Myself" shows on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through August 1. Click here for ticket info and tell them my recommendation got you there. Then let me know what you think!

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Myth of Marriage

Thanks to those of you who responded to yesterday’s posting, either by commenting here or sending me an email. I appreciate all of your input. I guess I'm just expressing the frustration of having no control over random chance (not an original expression). A college student whose blog I find interesting is Bingo who commented on Dating, Part Three. I like how he says that relationships are "like creativity: you can better prepare yourself to be receptive to it when it comes, but cannot generate it on command."

I think that's what my friend Robert Cowie meant one time when, regarding relationships, he told me I had to just "keep my end of the bargain." He meant that if I want a relationship, I must stay open-minded, fit and attractive and keep dating rather than staying home and eating Twinkies every night. I dismissed Robert’s idea at the time because I was complaining that it doesn't matter if I keep my end of the bargain when The World isn't keeping Its end (producing a partner for me).

The World still isn't. But I'm slowly, slowly beginning to understand and accept the raw randomness of "meeting someone." My understanding of how couples form and solidify has been warped, twisted and ruined by the myth of marriage. I define the myth of marriage as the belief that there's a pre-destined or God-created partner for everyone and most people find that partner when they're in their 20's and they get married and are happy forever. I also think the myth includes the belief that anyone who doesn't find that partner while they're in their 20's is resisting the process, either because we don't want to get married or because we're unable to recognize our partner. So being single becomes a matter of willfulness or stupidity and I believe that's the assumption underneath questions like, "Why isn't s/he settled down yet?" which imply "What's his/her problem?"

The reality is that most people get married while in their 20's (or 30's) because there is such pressure to do so, and they convince themselves that they've found their pre-destined partner when they find someone who meets a certain set of requirements. For the most part these marriages have as much chance of lasting forever happily as any other relationship or romantic partnership, which is to say a slim chance. So the world is full of divorces and unhappy marriages. Doo-dah, doo-dah.

Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t matter to me most days because my mind has been quite completely corrupted by the myth. Because I am single, I imagine I have made some mistake, not focused enough on the goal, or am lacking some essential quality that would have had me in one of those compromised marriages by now.

So really the point of this posting and yesterday’s is to simply tell everyone, most of all mySELF, that I have done nothing wrong and have, in fact, performed admirably in the effort to find a long-lasting relationship. But what it comes down to is the reality that a true, lasting, romantic partnership of equals is rare and cannot be generated on command. All anyone can really do to manifest one is to prepare herself to be receptive to it when it comes. Thanks for the words, Bingo.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Dating, Part Three

Not believing in god or destiny, I believe it's up to us to make things happen for ourselves. But after having tried many methods to find a lasting relationship, I'm about to conclude that this is the one area in which there is nothing I can do. A friend once said to me, "Regina, I have a lot of friends who say they wish they were in a relationship, but none of them have tried as hard as you have."

I have found that the following activities do nothing to increase my chances of finding a relationship: dating, blind dating, online dating, speed dating, using the personal ads, taking classes, doing volunteer work, having hobbies, going to church, joining a political group, joining a fitness club, looking gorgeous at all my public music performances, and just staying home. I have also tried thinking positively, having faith, taking action, surrendering to God's will (when I believed in god), extensive personal growth work, and just letting it go and forgetting about the whole thing. None of these things seems to make any difference.

The guy who runs the corner gyros place had this to say on the subject of me finding a partner, "You won't have any problem. You're beautiful." In response I sighed, "You'd think that would make a difference, wouldn't you?" Being beautiful doesn't make a difference. Think about all the married people you know. Isn't it an equal mix of attractive and not-so-attractive, sharp and dull, interesting and boring, fat and thin? Isn't the married population just a reflection of the population in general? If there were any correlation between marriage and prettiness, married people would tend to be prettier than single people, right? But they're not. There's no correlation between anything and anything.

I am also forming a hypothesis about marriage and love. I suspect that the lasting love that forms between two people who are truly matched as partners (some use terms like "soul mates") is rare. Since marriage is common, this leads me to suspect that most marriages don't have the long-lasting, "soul mate" kind of partnership. This theory is supported by the high divorce rate and the high incidence of lasting yet unhappy marriages.

I have until now thought my possibilities were either being happily married to a true life partner or being unhappily single and without that partner. Now that I realize that the chances of finding a true life partner ("soul mate") are quite small, I can see that the real choices are being single and without a life partner, or being married and without a life partner. And, hey, what do you know -- it turns out I've made the best choice for myself after all, since I'd much rather be single and alone than in a marriage with someone who doesn't feel like a true partner. I hear the most painful loneliness is the loneliness people feel when they are in a marriage.

When you wish upon a star,
It makes no difference who you are.
When you wish upon a star,
Your dreams might or might not come true in a godless, random universe.

Actually, I do believe some goals can be reached with perseverance and hard work. Career, money and other such achievements are simply a matter of having the vision, resources and stamina. But when it comes to romance, strategizing just hasn't worked for me. It's a sobering view, but having completed a thorough inner search that has turned up nothing in me that is causing my aloneness, all I can conclude is that the reason is out there somewhere, beyond my control. It either happens or it doesn't, and nothing I do can affect it.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Learning How to Be a Girl

A Transplanted Californian Re-programing for the Chivalry of the Midwest

I came of age in California in the 1980’s. I was painfully aware, even from the inside of them, that they were totally lame compared to the cool 70’s and the political 60’s. I’m still surprised by the cultural/nostalgic mining of the decade that began a few years ago. Not only did I not love the ‘80’s while they were happening, but having been a part of ‘80’s teen culture will be a source of lifelong shame. But I can’t change that my formative years fell in that decade: I turned 13 in the summer of 1980 and was 23 at the end of ‘89. I was undeniably an ‘80’s chick, and while I knew the music was stupid (Aha, Johnny Hates Jazz, Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam??), I still participated in the big hairstyles, the ankle-tapered fashions and the bizarre meld of aesthetics and attitudes that permeated the time and place in which I began interacting with boys.

My first date happened when I was 15. It was 1982. Being the daughter of a feminist and living in northern California, my approach to dating was untraditional. I insisted on paying my own way and always tried to get to the door first, opening it for myself. I had learned (from my parents? from movies? from tv?) that “gentlemanly” behavior was a threat to my very personhood and any attempt by a guy to treat me well was to be fought with venom.

I wonder now why this approach felt so right to me and where I got it. I was 15 years old, for chrissake. No man had “done me wrong.” I hadn’t suffered sexual discrimination. I was no diminutive Andrea Dworkin. Where had I gotten the idea that men were the enemy and the more they tried to cherish me the more I must fight them?

Well, you know we were all just so hip in the ‘80’s, especially in California. Gender bending was the way to go: David Bowie, Boy George, Annie Lennox, Barbra Streisand as Yentl. Sigourney Weaver was brandishing small arms and the hardest heavy metal bands were using hairspray and full makeup. Left over from the furious women’s lib battle of the 1970’s was the idea that since being June Cleaver left women vulnerable and powerless, the safest way to go must be to shoehorn ourselves into men’s masculine roles. Women accepted men’s traditional definition of power and demanded it for ourselves.

So we got Melanie Griffith’s Working Girl proving herself in the boardroom, Geraldine Ferraro nominated to be vice president, and Madonna wielding sexuality like a doomsday weapon with which to take over the world. Female sexuality became hard and glossy, straight lines and pointy angles. We armored ourselves with shoulder pads, V-shaped dresses and oversized blazers.

And yet at the record store I cashiered from 1986 to 1988 there were buttons that said, “The 80’s are the 50’s in color.” Nancy Reagan embodied the attitude that now that all that women’s lib silliness was over, it was time to get back behind our man. Actually two equally strong forces were at work: the androgynous, hard-bodied images (Grace Jones, Brigitte Nielsen) and the buttons-and-bows, fluffy-soft approach (Molly Ringwald, Winona Ryder). No wonder I was confused.

I absorbed all of this from my environment, alternately wearing the dresses with bows and lace, and the cropped hair and blazer. I wanted nothing to do with Nancy Reagan and accepted that as women tried to occupy the same roles and spaces as men, women and men became competitors in the same arenas. Somehow I understood that this translated from boardroom to bedroom. I saw men not as romantic partners to be attracted and romanced by, but as sexist adversaries to be battled. Hence, my wrestling over the check. From my environment I learned that when it came to men, safety lay in thick walls of cynicism, a sharp sword of wit and atom bombs of devastating intelligence.

Oh yeah, that was me growing up in California in the 1980’s. I didn’t leave this environment until I headed out to the east coast for graduate school at the age of 22. There I spent five years in a sort of stunted social phase of dating men only for fun, never for anything serious. While other women used their 20’s to find a husband, I used them only to see who I could attract and what I could make him do for me. I was not operating from a base of much self-esteem. Once I realized that the dream of becoming an English professor was someone else’s, I left the PhD program and moved to Chicago to become a musician. And it was here in the heartland that I finally began to re-learn my role as a dating woman. It’s a re-programming that still continues.

In the Midwest, men open doors, offer seats, pay for dinners, do the driving, and it’s not because I’m unable to do these things for myself or as a barter for sex. It’s because women are valuable enough to be cherished in this way. Why did it take me so long to realize this? I’ve lived in Chicago for 11 years and I’m still learning. Me valuable? Me cherished? It’s a crime that I ever learned that I wasn’t. But so it was. I’m finally learning to stop fighting men as if I were the last warrior at the drawbridge. I’m finally learning that men and women are not the same, we never were and were never supposed to be. What I learned growing up, that in order for women to be considered the equal of men we had to take on their characteristics, was never true. Feminine power is different from masculine power and that’s okay.

So at the age of almost 38, I am finally relaxing into the role of girl: brilliant, radiant and lithe. I will never gird myself with oversized blazers or shoulder pads again. No longer coveting men’s physical build and masculine ego, these days I relax into the curves I used to hide. I’ll gleam instead of shine, and sway instead of swagger. I think I can cherish myself enough to let a man cherish me. Just watch – any decade now I’m sure I’ll get it right.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

How to View Life as Not a Waste of Time

I'm a musician. I have spent years and years studying music, becoming a better singer, performer, and songwriter. Sometimes I feel like I am moving achingly slowly and I wonder if I am wasting my life. In the past few years, I have become increasingly critical of my "progress" in life in general. As I have soldiered through my early 30's, then mid-thirties, now late-thirties, I have heard an increasingly insistent voice within me. It reminds me of all the things I haven't done yet. It reminds me of all the things it's too late for. It compares and judges and basically makes me miserable.

Tired of being at the mercy of this critic, I have developed the following view of my life. Each day that I wake up not dead, is another day I have to spend here. I have no way of knowing if I'll wake up the next day, so I focus on this one. And I think, "Well, if I have one more day to spend, what would be the best way to spend it?" For me, the answer is making music. It's what I enjoy the most and it has the greatest likelihood of making me feel happy. So that's what, for the most part, I focus on. There are other things that also make me happy, such as spending time with friends and writing this blog, so those would also be on the list of best ways to spend another day. But to keep things simple, I'll focus on music right now. Others have also told me that my music makes them happy which is great to hear, but when I look at my life this way that's just a by-product of me spending my time in the best way I can.

So I go about my life focusing on my music, knowing that it's the best use of my time. And it doesn't matter if others like it or if I'm accomplishing things with it or progressing at a certain speed. None of that matters if the point is for me to enjoy myself until the day I wind up dead.

It's a very comforting philosophy. When I start to worry, "No one's listening to me. My music doesn't matter. It's just a big waste of time. I'm an idiot," I pull things back into perspective by reminding myself, "But music is my best thing. No matter how the world reacts to it, making music is my best thing. It's the best way for me to spend my time, until I'm dead." And then the opinions of others recede, and I feel more peaceful.

Maybe it's the tunnel vision of an atheist, but that's how I look at things on good days. That's how I view my life as not a waste of time.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

France Saved OUR Ass in the Revolutionary War

On this Fourth of July, I'd like to remind all those Americans who love to say that we saved France's ass in World War II:

1776 - The signing of the Declaration of Independence took place at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, a war that would drag on into the next decade.

Dec. 1776 - The Americans were in desperate need of arms and financing. Benjamin Franklin went to France to urge them to join us in fighting the British.

1776-1778 - The American Revolutionary War was a long slog, with the Americans getting their asses pretty well kicked by the British army.

1778 - France signed a treaty of alliance with the United States.

1781 - American and French forces defeated the British army at Yorktown, VA and the war began to turn in our favor.

1783 - A peace treaty was signed between Great Britain and the United States.

In other words, WE wouldn't be HERE if France hadn't saved OUR ass in the Revolutionary War. So shut up about WWII already.

My source

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Self-indulgent boring post

I left the apartment with no umbrella and just my straw hat, thinking the day might become sunny, even if it was starting off gray. I hadn't seen any weather forecasts, so I was surprised when it began to rain shortly after I got on the train. It was amazing to behold, the suddenness of it, the abundance of it. Just rain, rain, rain. I had no umbrella, but I knew the bus stop I was heading for had a shelter. When I got off the train, I sprinted for the bus stop. As I ducked under its shelter with two other people, the rain began to pelt down even harder. RAIN, RAIN, RAIN, pouring out of the sky, saturating my view of the street and Dunkin' Donuts. As a deep puddle formed before us, I and the other rain refugees tried to back away from the splashing of passing cars. It was really raining.

And then it lessened. And then it stopped. By the time the bus came, it was barely sprinkling and when I reached my destination, I was able to walk with no umbrella and stay completely dry. I remembered a childhood riddle: how do three large men walk under one small umbrella without getting wet? The answer is: it's not raining.

When I left the building an hour later, the sky was back to gray and threatening. It looked very ominous, so I decided against the bus and headed for a brown line el train. Once on the el, I could transfer to my red line train without having to leave the protection of the el station. I walked quickly, not trusting the sky to stay dry for long. Sure enough, I had just ascended the escalator to the el platform when it began again, no prelude, no build-up this time. Just another hard, driving rain, insistent and full.

This time I was amazed. That was twice I had just missed getting soaked. I felt charmed, magic, like an urban Snow White wending her way through eerily cooperative natural elements. I rode the brown line to the red line and got on a northbound train at Belmont. As the train passed Wrigley field, I saw that the stadium lights were on. Oh no, there was a game today! I could only imagine how the fans looked, getting soaked in the downpour. I could clearly see the people on the rooftops, huddled under umbrellas and awnings. How miserable! I knew they were all getting drenched in spite of their attempts to stay dry.

As my train continued north, I watched the onslaught in fascination. And then as I got closer to my neighborhood, sure enough, the rain began to let up. By the time I got off the train at my stop, once again I was able to walk with no umbrella; no problem. I thought, "Quick - I should buy a lottery ticket!" But I didn't. Staying completely dry on a stormy day with no umbrella was enough.

Sometimes life works.

Dating, Part Two: The Ballad of Regina

The Ballad of Regina
or
The Divorce Fairy
or
F@#$! F@#$ me!

Gather 'round, you Singletons and you will hear a tale.
His name was Mario and from Havana he did hail.
His bride and he dreamt of a U.S. life, so free and fine,
but she had a change of heart and had to stay behind.
(Once Mario made plans to leave, he could not change his mind.)

I met him on a summer's day, he took me out to eat.
The chemistry between us was such fun and it had heat.
Alas, young Mario led me through laughter, hope, and kissing
before he came clean on the fact that there was a wife missing.
(In truth, I had to glean the fact through his attitude dismissing.)

But Mario insisted that he cherished my embrace.
He swore his marriage was an empty vessel, out of place.
Back to his homeland went the lad, to initiate divorce,
but when he saw his bride they knew a break could not be forced.
He came back more in love with her and I was out, of course.

The next was Michael, who had lived without his wife four years.
She'd moved out with the children and spared not a single tear.
He swore his marriage had long rotted from the outside in.
Since he would not go back into a bond of love so thin,
certainly to date this man would not seem like a sin.

Dim Michael thought his wife would not know what he did not tell.
But she found out from looking at her very own Sprint bill.
Without a lot of smarts did he deny our fling at first,
but soon the wife knew everything. She wept, she spit, she cursed.
(She even started calling me at home which was the worst!)

Both simple men I left behind without a backward glance
and quickly withdrew from what had become a crowded dance.
The lesson learned was more than not to date a groom untrue,
but that some men can't even tell when matrimony's through.
(I think I'd know the time of death of marriage, wouldn't you?)

But this young huntress will not be discouraged from her quest.
The men who hide their wedding rings can't make up all the rest.
My strategy for screening out those cads of vague commitment
is using pointed questions as my divining equipment.
(Since they don't always answer straight, one has to be persistent.)

The next one, Hugh, felt free enough to ask me out to dinner.
His marriage felt so cold to him it didn't even simmer.
The date was good, with him I felt that glimmer of sweet hope,
His way was gentle, voice was clear and he knew all my quotes.
(His vocabulary even challenged that of my wide scope.)

I began my questions as the waiter went to wrap our chow.
"Have you been married?" followed by "And are you married now?"
Poor Hugh thought "separated" would appease me, but the bill
arrived as I stared at the tablecloth, just feeling ill.
(Of married men who ask out singles I have had my fill!)

Thus is my dating like a strange and double-headed spear:
I test the bonds of marriages that aren't as they appear.
I make these men evaluate that which they dread to face:
will they resume the partnership they vowed to not replace?
Or risk the pain to finally just end the stale embrace?

These men who let unfinished business hamper them forever,
afraid to be a husband, but much more afraid to sever
the ties they forged, make me feel like a kind of "Divorce Fairy."
I force the issue, make them closely look at what they carry.
I've been resilient, but I wonder as I grow more wary:
does marriage make men cowards or do only cowards marry?

(c) Regina Rodriguez 2004

Thursday, July 01, 2004

My Brave Sister

My sister (one year younger) is named Judy and she has a special needs child. Julia is going to be eight years old this summer and she takes a lot of attention and patience. Her diagnosis with her school district is “autistic characteristics” and although Julia looks just like all the other eight-year-olds, she doesn’t talk and interact like they do. Having a sustained conversation with her or teaching her a game takes extra effort and patience, but the real demand is emotional. When Julia becomes upset, she becomes very, very, very loud. Even pediatricians, who hear children screaming all day long, have commented on her uniquely powerful lungs and high-pitched shriek. She also gets physical, often hitting my sister who can only try to defend herself.

Julia often tantrums in public and the triggers are the kind of stimuli that other kids don’t even register: a texture, a noise, too many people, a perceived invasion of her person, or nothing at all that anyone can pinpoint. Think of the last time you tried to calm a child who was having a fit over something you knew couldn’t be changed. Now imagine trying to calm that child when you have no idea in the world what the problem is and she can’t tell you. Now imagine going through that surrounded by strangers who glare, sigh or even offer advice such as spanking. Now imagine going through that most days of the week, sometimes more than once a day.

My sister’s role as a mother is hard. Inconceivably hard. She loves her daughter and Julia means the world to her, but it’s hard. I will never know how Judy manages, especially since she and her husband split up four years ago. Brian has remained present in Julia’s life and is a very active father, but Judy still has Julia 75% of the time. To deal with the stress of raising a special needs child alone, Judy does her best to regularly take time for herself and has put in place the best support system possible. Judy is the only mother I know, let alone single mother, who is so strict about scheduling the movie nights and friends-only lunches she needs. Good. For. Her.

Recently, Judy made a decision about moving to a new location. She is pulling out of sunny but unemployment-saturated San Diego and looking at houses in Texas, near our relatives. Brian is supportive about the idea, but he had one question: wouldn’t it be better for Julia to stay in the excellent special needs program she’s in and loves so much? There is a year left for Julia to work with a particular teacher and then she might change schools anyway. Judy had to agree that Brian was right: it wouldn’t be good to take Julia out of the school she’s in right now. Brian went on to propose that he and Judy reverse their 25/75 custody split, and have him take primary care of Julia next year.

It was a stunning idea. Judy found herself faced with the possibility of spending a significant amount of time away from her young daughter: both a mother’s fantasy and nightmare. She struggled with it, but it would only be for a year and then Julia could join Judy in the new home Judy will be preparing.

My sister impressed me with her bravery in 1990 when she and her husband suffered through the wedding ceremony and plunged into married life, and I have watched with fascination as she has worked to master motherhood with a very high maintenance child. But I have new admiration for her now because this time she’s choosing a challenging path that mainstream views do NOT support: Judy has decided to accept Brian’s plan and give him primary custody of their daughter for the next year while she sets down roots in a new location.

Is that amazing? I was so proud of her when she told me. I just think it’s the coolest thing. This plan counters all the conventional definitions of motherhood. It goes against what we’re taught about how mothers must always stay with their children no matter what, even at the cost of their own lives (in all ways). Such strict notions about motherhood don’t allow for new interpretations of what love looks like or new configurations of parenting and nurturing. Why shouldn’t Brian take primary custody of his daughter? Why shouldn’t Judy have the freedom to shift her life and establish a new home in the most practical way possible?

I just wanted to share my brave sister with you.