Monday, August 30, 2004

Great gig

reg and neal

I had a great time last night performing at Uncommon Ground Cafe. Neal Alger and I did one set to an audience of fans AND people who had no idea who I was and just stayed because they liked the music. I had a lot of fun. If anyone would like a CD recording of the performance ($5) email me. And watch the announcement bar to the right for future gigs!

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Republican National Convention: The Protests

(This post references an article by Rick Perlstein that appeared in the Village Voice on August 24th, "Get Mad. Act Out. Re-elect George Bush")

Okay, back to the controversial stuff (and to bait my friend, Lon). Here's what I'm currently thinking about protestors at the Republican National Convention. I guess I don't have the optimism to believe that undecided voters will see newsbroadcast images of protestors and police clashing and determine that voting George Bush out of office will bring peace back to the streets. I think most people are afraid of the kind of emotions and risk-taking that such demonstrators show and they don't align themselves with it.

I can tell from my own reaction to street protests that even though I slept on the steps of UC Berkeley's administration building to protest apartheid in 1985, I feel quite removed from most of the protesters I've seen demonstrating in Chicago. I don't feel like they represent me and I wouldn't trust them to speak for me, Regina Rodriguez, whose opinions about the presidential race and state of our country are very complicated. I'm not totally sure where I stand on everything and that means that I'm more hesitant than ever to align myself with any group with an agenda. And the more nebulous and shifting the agenda and membership of a group is, especially a "group" as free-form and constantly changing as any given protest rally, the less I trust that their interests are the same as mine.

These are all just my opinions and I'll willingly take the label of "yuppie" who's more conservative than I want to admit. But when I see the anger of protestors who clearly feel there's nothing to lose by hurling the full weight of their bodies and emotions at some physical representation of the status quo, when I see that kind of thing I can easily relate to the emotion (I have lots of emotion myself!) but I cannot respect the method. And that loses the message.

What is that message? I, as an observer, don't know because the message is now lost in the spectacle of high emotion (protestors' emotions AND the police's). Remember: Americans are not big on emotional displays, especially when you mix them with politics. We, as a masculine-centered culture, tend to be afraid of strong emotions and we especially want to keep them separate from things like debates, public statements, political philosophies, etc. If you're trying to make a reasoned appeal or persuasive statement, emotional displays are not an effective tool.

So improvisational, emotion-driven political action just doesn't feel effective to me. Maybe Perlstein is right: maybe it is a matter of having a planned and carefully coordinated action that doesn't ever lose its clear meaning and intent for us, the viewers. If such political action really is for us, the viewers, then emotion-motivated improvisation doesn't help. It only muddies the message and then, I think, very little communication with us, the viewers, is accomplished.

Friday, August 27, 2004

"Losing the Cow"

So now that I've achieved my goal weight (after 18 months of effort) and can actually present myself as a thin person, how do I maintain it? Well, the first major hurdle was cleared when I made it through my 20 year high school reunion weekend without putting any of it back on in celebration of having reached the goal and convinced my former classmates that I've looked this good all along. And the reason I didn't do that is because:

1) My stomach won't currently hold that much food all at once as its shrunken from all those days of curbing calories.

2) Whether or not the previous statement is actually, physically true, I've gotten in the habit of paying attention to when I'm hungry and when I'm a quarter full, when I'm half full, when I'm 98% full and when I'm completely full, and that kind of attention stops me from becoming uncomfortably stuffed.

3) My emotional need for sweets, sugar, and general self-medicating with food continues to be absent (hypnotherapy was the answer for me) and that goes a LONG way towards keeping me from going back to old binge-ing habits.

4) I'm still working out every single day for an hour (even on vacation) and counting every calorie that goes in my mouth and keeping a food log (even on vacation).

5) I have genuinely developed the habit of eating whole grains, lean protein, lowfat and nonfat dairy products and fresh produce instead of highly processed and refined foods, yes, even while on vacation.

And all of that is what I believe they call "maintenance" and that, I believe, is what people often don't do after they've lost weight which is why they put it back on. Now I've never really dieted before and lost weight and gained it back or kept it off, so I'm not saying this from personal experience, but I believe the following is true: whatever I did to lose the weight, I will have to keep doing or I'll gain it all back. I'm going to have to take the habits I formed to lose the weight, and make them permanent habits for the rest of my life.

I am committed to doing this. Let's see if it works.

I think the reason I'm writing this all out is that I'm motivated by a blog called "Losing the Cow" and I'm specifically motivated by a post called "Off the Field of Battle." This post talks about how women look at each other and compare ourselves all the time and when we see women who are thinner than we are, we think things like, "I hate her." So I'm trying to keep women from hating me. Please, don't hate me! I worked very hard to get to where I am right now and I'm 38 and am facing an uphill battle for the rest of my life as my metabolism slows down a bit more every year and my spine shrinks a bit so I'll lose height, too. It's going to take a lot of focus every day to maintain this weight and it will take ever more focus to keep fit every year for the rest of my life until I die. So I'm actually hoping for the privilege of living a long life (to at least 100) during which I will count calories and exercise and eat well and not depend emotionally on food and try to stay height/weight proportional even as my height decreases.

So, if you see me looking thin and healthy and great, please know that it isn't luck or genetics or surgery or any magic solution that I've found. It's plain old diet and exercise, plus the incredible (for me) tool of hypnotherapy that got me off the food addiction. It's just a matter of priorities and I decided to make being healthy more important than anything else in my life. And keep in mind that I don't have husband, family, kids, etc. to pull my focus. It's just me here and that makes it easier for me to put my health first before everything else in the world. Lots of women have things they have to prioritize before their own weightloss and that's fine, too. We all do what we have to do.

Okay? Is this working at all or are there still people out there hating me?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Now share my posts with others

There's a new feature on my blog: those little envelopes that appear at the bottom of each post, next to the "posted by Regina" line. They allow you to email a link of the post to someone else.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

H.S. Reunion: The Dance




In honor of my 20 year high school reunion last Saturday in Walnut Creek, California, my mother pulled out my old Las Lomas yearbooks from 1980-1984. On Thursday and Friday, I thumbed through them, but could only look at them for a short while before the sense of being smaller and less important than others overcame me. I'm one of those people who has never wanted to experience high school again, not for a second, not for anything. Looking at photos of cheerleaders and laughing girls falling over themselves for the camera only reminded me of how much laughter I didn't participate in. I guess my belief that others' lives are better than mine started earlier than I thought. I've assumed that adulthood has made me gaze at others' marriages and families in vague envy, but obviously it's an older behavior. In high school I was never popular, but always longed for it, didn't everyone? I didn't learn self-esteem and aloofness. I used my artistic talents and academic skills as best I could and tried to believe that my wallflower high school years would lead me to some incredible adult life that would justify my years of quiet patience.




If high school was an unpleasant experience of alienation, why go to my reunion? I think what was most important to me about attending my 20 year high school reunion was the feeling of history it gave me. As a nomadic loner, I make my home in places where I have no roots, no family, and no one remembers me from ten years ago. I envy people their closeness to family and friends even while I avoid it. It seems they have a sense of place, of identity, of history that I lack. I find it safest to be alone and I prefer it that way, but I miss feeling like I have a history here. Chicago holds only eleven years of my memories and the rest are somewhere else. There's a stabilizing force to being grounded in a physical place and my daily life lacks that stability. An almost tribal sense of needing to feel my roots is what drew me to the reunion of the Las Lomas Class of 1984.

On Friday afternoon my sister Judy and I walked around our old elementary school and I was surprised at how innocuous it felt. The sunny hills of Walnut Creek didn't hold the darkness I remember from my grade school years. As I breathed into the clear blue skies and scuffled along the rural boundaries of my grammar school, I saw for the first time that I actually had advantages as a child. Urban children have nothing like our access to the limitless natural setting of Indian Valley Elementary School. It was so peaceful, calm, open and free. Also, from kindergarten to fifth grade I think I didn't notice the cliques and popularity levels as much. I think I was more carefree and less self-conscious and I didn't yet know what it felt like to be excluded. That pain didn't begin until the end of my sixth grade year when I was one of few children who were not invited to Michael Keim's end-of-the-year party. That event marked the beginning of my sense of being outside or at least unappreciated, and it's a self-doubt that has never left me.

Surprisingly, as Judy and I began the weekend's reunion activities, the discomfort and pain I remembered from high school was absent and my nervousness about regressing into the frightened and insecure person I was back then turned out to be unnecessary. Everyone was so enthusiastic to see everyone else, even me, that it felt more like an affirmation of everyone's value, not a reinforcement - or even reshuffling - of old high school lunch groups. In a rare, rare experience for me, I was surrounded by people who knew who I was, who had witnessed my growing up, who had memories of me from decades ago. Those who knew me from Indian Valley addressed me as "Gina," and I remembered that I really go way back with some of them. And it was as if we had made a jump from the easy compatibility of elementary school to the all-inclusive welcoming of our reunion, with the social pecking order of high school forgotten. It was wonderful.

I was surprised at how relaxed everyone was. Some of us theorized that the ten year reunion had been more somber and stiff because we had all been establishing ourselves in the world, careers and marriages were new or still unformed, and we felt like we had to project a certain image. Now at the twenty year mark, we've let go of a lot of that need to "present," we're more comfortable with ourselves and have a better sense of what matters and what doesn't. Those who are still attached to accomplishing and who feel they've failed in some way weren't there, so the rest of us had a great time.

And how did it feel to be single and child-free while surrounded by classmates who are married with children? It was fine. I was relieved to discover that there were several child-free people who had not yet married, so I wasn't the only one. Having reached certain fitness goals also helped my confidence, although as I said there was little ego-polishing and no jockeying for position in a stale social hierarchy. Everything was good.

There was one point during the Saturday night dance when I felt so happy that I felt sad at the same time because I knew the moment and what caused it were fleeting. The boom and blare of Earth, Wind & Fire surrounded me and my classmates as we danced, swept up in the deliciousness of remembering youth while reveling in the present. I felt like I had a place in the world, a home, a starting point, if only for that night. It was like my foot touching the bottom of the pool after dog paddling for SO long; like finally seeing into the mirror from an angle that includes my own reflection. And I didn't have to give up any of the poise and accomplishment I've gained over the past twenty years. I celebrated with my classmates, who included former homecoming royalty and those who had walked the halls alone, and I was still me, Regina Rodriguez at 38 who has more sense of self than ever before. The grown up part of me didn't go away; I didn't have to lose any of it in order to fit into the reunion. My old high school class of '84 had room for me no matter how much I've changed. I didn't expect that.

I'm still bewildered at how free we all were to be who we are now and not shrink into the roles we had formerly played. It was a wonderful affirming experience of acceptance that I never would have expected from a social group formed in adolescence. Maybe I can be friends with some of them now. Maybe I can grow and change and not have to jettison everything and everyone who came before, as if any memory of me will lock me in place. I look forward to keeping in touch with people better and I look forward to retaining a sense of history and support.


Sunday, August 22, 2004

H.S. Reunion: Sophomore Year




I was fifteen in the fall of 1981. During my sophomore year I began performing in the school musicals, settled into my lunchtime routine with Suzanne Besag, Laura Pratt, Kim Wightman, Dana Santos and Luceen Kayaian, and began getting attention from...boys! The year would end with my first ever breakup, which I mourned to the tunes of Deneice Williams' "Gonna Take a Miracle" and the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love." Senior year felt a century away...

Friday, August 20, 2004

High School Reunion: Lunchtime

Whenever people try to reconstruct an event to find out what went wrong, they go back to the beginning. So it often is with a life. When it goes wrong or at least skews off in a very different direction, people go back to the beginning, the roots, how it all started. Maybe that’s why this trip back to California for my 20 year high school reunion feels like a chance to solve something and maybe re-align, get back on track, leave with a better sense of who I am, or even just why I am.

Who was I in high school? In the horrible months before I started my freshman year, I lost my best friend to another girl. It was an extremely painful loss. I felt like I had been abandoned, rejected, and now had to negotiate the alien terrain of Las Lomas High School without anyone to eat lunch with. Who to eat lunch with, that was the question that plagued me, worried me, terrified me. The worst, worst, worst thing I could imagine was eating lunch alone.

Las Lomas had an airy, outdoor campus where you could spend your lunch period anywhere you liked. The school had the typical architecture of many California schools: the buildings were laid out bungalow-style, connected by covered walkways. Every classroom door opened to the outside (considered a great fire safety feature). The connecting walkways were lined with seated areas that were open to the sun and landscaped with trees and bushes. I guess it was nice, but I didn’t notice that in my first days of freshman year. I just noticed that none of these places seemed particularly welcoming to me, a girl who had just lost her best friend.

Maybe this best friend thing had handicapped me, made me think I had no other friends but my best friend. Maybe focusing on that one person had isolated me from everyone else. I don’t know if any of that occurred to me as I considered my social options. I do remember that I spent weeks eating lunch with a couple of girls that I didn’t know particularly well, didn’t really like and didn’t feel much in common with, but with whom I felt safe. With them I wasn’t alone and my belief that they were even geekier, less popular and less attractive than I was assured me that they would not reject me.

I can see in my mind’s eye, the area where I met these new friends for lunch. It was called “the Quad” and it was a large square of uncovered pavement, with levels that went down, each sunken square level lined with benches. In this Christians-to-the-lions arena of my shame, we would meet to exchange dull small talk and swallow dry sandwiches. This is the scene that comes to my mind when I try to remember my freshman year.

Now I realize that during this time I was probably very depressed. During the months that I spent feeling abandoned and lost, I didn’t have much to say and even if I had, there was no one to say it to. I was lonely, hurt, upset, and undoubtedly ashamed that I hadn’t been a worthy enough friend to keep. My already shaky self-esteem was completely de-railed and with no one to give me comfort, advice, or even a safe shoulder to rest my head on, the only conclusions I was able to draw were that I wasn’t important or interesting enough to secure someone’s loyalty, and that closeness and intimacy lead to abandonment, pain and betrayal. I felt like the loser of the universe, able to comfort myself only with the certainty that my lunchtime companions were even lowlier than I.

By the mid-way point of freshman year I did manage to find other lunchtime company: girls I respected, whose company I enjoyed and whose fondness for me began to heal some of the pain. After that I think the rest of my high school years were okay. Anchored by the friendship of these girls who made up my new clique, I was able to weather the dramas of final exams, aloof cute guys, musical try-outs and fighting parents. But I never found another best friend. At least that’s how it seemed. The truth is probably that I never made another best friend. Likewise I’ve spent my entire adulthood making and leaving friends, letting them go out of my life shortly after celebrating their appearance in it. I rarely spend my birthday with the same people two years in a row. So far I’ve assumed that the high turnover rate of my friends has reflected the constant shifting of my life: I have regularly changed apartments, cities, boyfriends, religions, jobs, careers and gods for years now. I thought the regular changing of my friends was part of the same pattern, but maybe it’s not. Or maybe the entire kaleidoscope of my life has reflected my hesitancy to commit to anything very deeply.

So maybe it’s an inner 14-year-old girl I’m dealing with here: a 14-year-old who sits in the soul-stripping sunlight of the Quad, feeling her failure and shame as if everyone could see it, world without end. It’s okay, I would tell her now. Now I have the resources to deal with that kind of pain if/when it happens again. I don’t have to fear and avoid closeness. I even have a couple of close friends who have stuck by me for more than a decade now, at times despite my best efforts to shake them off. They love me. And if being loved by them isn’t so bad, maybe it’s okay if others do, too. Maybe even me.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

My 20-Year High School Reunion

I graduated in 1984 from Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, California. My 20 year reunion is in two days. Yes, that explains part of the weightloss obsession. I figure if I'm going to walk in there without husband, children, house or even a divorce, then I'd better look HOT.

I hope the DJ plays music from the early 80's. I really only like the stuff that came out before everything went techno. I want to hear Rick Springfield and Loverboy and Quarterflash and the J Giles Band. And Olivia Newton-John after she got hot. Play the soundtrack from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and Michael Jackson's Off the Wall album. What am I leaving out? Who else can name the cool music from the early 80's?

My first boyfriend lasted for six weeks in the spring of 1982 and the experience was so disappointing I've been trying to erase it with a really good relationship ever since. I was fifteen and a sophomore and he was a senior. I spent the first half of my high school years never saying a word, wishing I had more friends and longing for "cool." I spent the second half amazed that boys were paying attention to me and people seemed to like me even though I still felt like a total geek inside. I still do.

I guess my inner fifteen-year-old is still looking for a safe, yet exciting place to eat lunch. She still gazes wistfully at the popular girls and wonders if she's really as unattractive as she feels, an almond-eyed Chicana in a Kim Basinger world. She's certain that if she were just a few years older, she could crack the code, find her way to the INside, gain social acceptance and find romance. She waits patiently for the age of sixteen, eighteen, twenty-five or whatever age it is at which one finally knows everything one needs to know in life. She waits hopefully for that day, that wisdom. She still thinks it might be coming.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Somebody STOP me...

I did it! I did it! Today I finally hit my goal weight: 123 pounds (I'm only 5'2"). It's three pounds from my former 120 goal, but I'm stopping now. Why? Because I've noticed that I'm getting quite slender on top, including in the chest area. Whoops! Debra Messing alert! I'm not sacrificing my upper body for my lower body. I will not turn into Courtney Cox.

Now I can stop obsessing with losing weight and focus on obsessing with not gaining it back...

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Oh, Boys! Dating Suggestions

The Chicago Reader has recently launched its online dating service, called the Chicago Reader Matches. It's free until August 25th, so women, go there now if you're interested (you'll understand why I leave men out of this invitation in a moment). I think their questionnaire is one of the most original that I've seen and I had fun filling it out. The usual photo-posting option is available, but you can also record a voice message. I really like that feature since for me the voice is almost more important than the photo. And I strongly suggest that users do one or the other, preferably both, because when a user hasn’t posted his photo or recorded a greeting, I tend to pass up their profile. Guys, you gotta give me more to go on besides that you like movies and dining out and are looking for a thin woman.

As usual, online there are plenty of men who want my attention. Through the Reader Matches I've heard from about 10 or 15 guys. But when it comes to the "live" and "in person" dating services, like speed dating and singles organizations, the men are scarce. This past spring I joined Social and Service Chicago, which is a singles volunteer organization. We meet each other by working on tasks for non-profits. At the social events I've been to, the women WAY outnumber the men (usually 8 or 12 women to 3 guys). This makes me wonder if the men who use only online services and not live dating services only have the nerve to approach women through a glowing screen, with no real contact at all. Are they just too scared of us? Why would there be this huge difference in the male to female ratios of online and live dating services?

So I'd like to make some suggestions for men who are single and want to meet single women. I stress single men because in my opinion there is nothing lower than a married man who pretends to be single to an unsuspecting single woman (which is why I think Scott Peterson should hang, regardless of what he did with Laci). Alternately, if a guy has been separated for years and years and in his mind the marriage is over (and maybe his wife is even with someone else now) and that's why he doesn't mention her, that's a slightly different case. That means he has yet to clean up his life. Either way, technically married men are in the UNDATABLE category (possible exception: if the woman is technically married, too).

So for legally single men, the following:

1. Join Social and Service Chicago .

2. Join Eight at Eight, a dating service that sets up four women and four men at a dinner at a nice restaurant and then whomever likes whom can exchange info at the end. I haven't been able to join for a YEAR because they have too many women and not enough men.

3. Try speed dating. The one I went to had about 20 women and maybe 15 men.

4. Give up the online dating services which don't work in your favor. The numbers are way too skewed with a huge male:female ratio.

5. Especially forget eharmony.com. I and a male friend tried this service over the past three months and we’ve both been disappointed and disgusted with it.

Women, I can’t really help you with dating tips because if I knew how to find that long-term, solid relationship with a great guy, I’d have it by now.

Any input on my theory that the reason men dominate the online dating services and are scarce at live dating services is that they’re too scared of women to meet us face to face? I'd like to be wrong on this one. Comments?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

I've plateau-ed again!

Things were going so well: I was losing weight (as described in my "Weightlost" post) and I was getting rid of the ten pounds my doctor suggested I lose after my last annual physical exam. But now I've stalled again with five pounds to go. Dammit. It's like Zeno's theory, isn't it? The closer I get, the more impossible it becomes to get there. Five lousy pounds. I give up.

And I'll never give up!

Friday, August 13, 2004

Street Performing

Street performing, also called "busking," seems to be part of paying ones dues as a musician. My friend Lon asks about my summer plans to do some street performing and thus gauge interest in my original music. To answer his question, I have done some street performing downtown during the Taste of Chicago, on Michigan Avenue outside the Pottery Barn, on the lakefront in my own Rogers Park, and outside of Selmarie Cafe in Lincoln Square. This is what I have found: I'd starve to death if I tried to live off of what I make busking, and it wouldn't be a slow death either. I'd pop right off, after making a single loaf of bread and some peanut butter stretch as far as possible.

Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic, but for me the glass is often half empty, especially now as the theoretical possibility of unemployment -- ever present in these balloon-popped 00's -- becomes very real. I supposed IF I were to busk every single day for hours and hours, I'd pull in enough money to eat on, but not enough to pay the rent.

If anyone has any suggestions of better places to play, let me know. When I do it, I pack up my electric bass, battery-powered amplifier, microphone and stand, a big bottle of water and some snacks, and head out. I hoped some street performing would give me a better idea of what audience my music works best with. I imagined that by the end of the summer, I'd have a better idea of what venues to get gigs at and what population my self-promotion should target. But I really don’t have any more of an idea than I did in June.

Street performing can be an interesting adventure in and of itself. A few years ago I got a CTA permit and sang in the subway for several months. At Christmastime I had a great time singing carols because I love Christmas and I love carols. Most people were nice about it, or at least tolerant, and I made a pretty good fistful of cash. The most unappreciative listener was a scruffily-dressed, not-quite-sane-looking guy who strongly objected to "The Twelve Days of Christmas." I can't say I blame him; it's a pretty tedious song. But I was committed to finishing it, even when he yelled at me to shut up, then walked over to me and yelled at me to shut up, and then got right up in my face to yell at me to shut up. When he was just a few inches from me, I interrupted my singing (but not my smiling) just long enough to brightly point out to him (as it said on a sign I had posted), "For five dollars I'll stop singing completely for ten minutes!" He continued to stare at me as I continued to sing. I don't know what would have happened next since he certainly didn’t look like he had five dollars on him, but then his train came and he left. I probably should have been more worried considering that he seemed a bit crazy and I'm not very big, but somehow performing gives me the confidence to face anyone who wants to tangle with me.

Nothing so interesting has happened to me lately. I sing and play and sing and play and make my dry comments in between songs. I point out that I have yet to compose a bona fide love song, call myself a "cheerful pessimist," and occasionally draw attention to the this-is-supposed-to-be-my-life? origins of a song. I love being onstage, even if it's really the sidewalk. Performing puts me in a good mood, I don't know why. Just imagining that I'm making a connection, even if I'm not, helps me feel that I have a place in the world and that I'm not as alone as my solo home address indicates. This blog does pretty much the same thing, especially when people comment, so please comment! Blogging is good because I don’t have to schlep heavy equipment across the city, but singing is good because I get to feel happy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

When It's Time to Change, You've Got To Rearrange

Reasons I’m tired of being a personal/executive assistant:
• Having to do things I have no creativity for like figuring out how to ship an Oriental rug to Mexico or getting a hold of a Southern Methodist University banner by tomorrow.
• Doing things for boss' kids that I believe an 18-year-old and a 22-year-old should be able to do themselves, such as apply to get license plates replaced or book travel between Dublin and London.
• Travel arrangements.
• Handling personal stuff I’m uncomfortable with (medical insurance claims, clothing items to be returned, I won’t tell you the rest…).
• Trying to figure out the boss’ SBC phone bill which is entangled with extra charges and transferred balances month after month.
• Changing travel arrangements.
• Listening to boss clip his fingernails.
• Calling Gateway regarding servicing the son’s computer, then Gateway asks questions only the owner can answer, so I go back and tell boss and he gives answers, then I call Gateway back, then Gateway asks more questions only the owner can answer, so I go back and tell boss, etc!
• Figuring out the best Sprint cell phone plan for him and his family.
• Reconstructing what happened to his Southwest Airlines credits when he doesn’t tell me when he acquires or uses them.
• No training, no support, no peers, no one for me to get help from at all.

The reason I've stayed this long:

Enough downtime and internet access to become a blogger! (and work on music lyrics, promotional materials, creative writing, venue research, etc.)

Monday, August 09, 2004

For Sale: One Small Chicana

The last time I initiated a job search it was April 2002. From the dust of Arthur Andersen's collapse, I charged out into the world of online job-searching and multiple resumes. You couldn't convince ME the economy was in a slump -- oh no! To anyone who tried to dampen my spirits, I said, "The economy might be in a recession, but I'M not!" I believed in myself. I knew the jobs were out there. I knew my future position was ripe for me to find. I got three job offers within three weeks of being laid off at Andersen. I picked one and barely felt a ripple in the smooth flow of paychecks into my checking account.

Then again, I believed in a god back then. I loved my Andersen job and knew I'd love the next job, too. I felt fresh and ready to tackle the challenge of the interview process. I knew I wanted another plain, vanilla, ubiquitous executive assistant position. I knew where I was heading and nothing could stop me.

This time I don't like my current job and feel discouraged about finding a job I "love." My spirits are considerably lowered by my failure to pick an enjoyable job in a pleasant company. I think I'm ready to look for a more interesting, challenging position, but I'm not sure what that would be. The future is murky. Worst of all, the reality of our soft economy has fully sunk in and this time I believe everyone who says it will be hard to find another job. I'm scared. And I don't have a god.

This is what I know so far: this blog has reminded me of how much I love to write. I'd like a job that involves writing/editing/proofreading. I know this will probably mean a pay cut since I'll probably have to go back to the entry level for those jobs. Only as an executive assistant do I have the experience to command the $40,000/year and up jobs. I'm looking in marketing, publishing, technical writing, and I'm looking at positions in the marketing/PR department of any kind of organization. I'm looking at any job description that includes the words "assistant," "writing" and "editing." This masters degree in English literature from Cornell has got to be good for something.

I'll cast a wide net, keep my eyes open, hold on...

Friday, August 06, 2004

O the wacky Vatican

O the wacky Vatican. An AP article written last Saturday says of the latest Vatican-released document about women and the Christian family,

"[It] said the 'temporal and earthly expression of sexuality is transient,' and cited Scripture suggesting that a married couple's existence in heaven would be celibate."

A married couple's existence in heaven would be celibate? For all eternity? Okay, I'm not even going to make the obvious jokes. I'll just say that this is typical of why I can't take the Vatican or the Pope seriously: they produce rules and laws about things like the unknowable afterlife, such as what a dead married couple will (not) be doing for all eternity. You can't govern the afterlife! In my opinion, you're on shaky ground trying to impose rules and laws on people's sexuality and churchgoing activity and diet. But the afterlife? Rules about what we'll do after we're dead?

Jesu...

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Public Service

Last night on the el I saw a guy (18? younger?) who totally reminded me of my first boyfriend who was a computer geek who was very attractive when he took his glasses off. This guy last night also wore glasses and was quite tall but with slumped shoulders. He had beautiful dark brown hair, ivory skin and great lips. Headphones plugged his ears, he kept his head down, and as I watched he tugged his hair down over his forehead. I could see the lack of confidence, and the desire to speak to him was powerful.

Finally I got up, sat next to him, and tapped his arm. When I had his attention, I said, "You're very good looking and keeping your shoulders straight will make you look more confident, trustworthy...and hot."

"Oh. Okay. Thanks." He handled the startling moment well, and I moved away to sit in front of him. A moment later, he tapped me on the shoulder.

"How does the shoulders thing look trustworthy?" he asked. I sat up taller to demonstrate and said, "Well, having your shoulders straight makes you look more open, like someone can lean on you and depend on you." He seemed to get it and nodded. "Oh, okay."

And that was it. Who knows what this encounter meant for him, but I just know there are girls who think the same thing about this guy all the time, but could never, ever say it. I considered myself to be doing a public service.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Sudan: U.S. Has No Credibility Left

I just read a letter to the Chicago Tribune Editor that says the United States Congress passed a "non-binding resolution" that calls for the Bush administration and the U.N. to take action against the genocide happening in Sudan and begin immediate measures to help the refugees of Darfur where hundreds of thousands of men, women and childen are being murdered, raped, or are dying of starvation and disease. Here's the part of the letter I'm upset about:

"This resolution has not gone over well in parts of the world where, due to our unilateral action in Iraq and its aftermath, our government's intentions are seen as mercurial at best. As a result many around the world are expending great energy in a debate over whether the situation in Sudan truly constitutes 'genocide' instead of taking action to bring relief to victims of Darfur and pressuring others to do the same."

Oh. My. God. Like the boy who cried wolf, our credibility is shot just when we need it. Or rather, just when the people of Darfur need it. Because of that stupid, ego-driven, not-worth-it, too-many-lives-lost, farce of a "war" in Iraq, we can't lead the world in a charge to solve the true international crisis of genocide in Sudan. Because of the "war" on Iraq, we can't lead the world in anything. No one is listening to us. The United States has become an international buffoon, marching forward and calling orders while absolutely no one follows. We have no authority and no credibility to convince anyone of anything.

Maybe the best thing would be for the United States to come out strongly in favor of the genocide in Sudan. We need every country possible to help the people of Darfur who ARE being ethnically cleansed. Maybe the best way to unify the world in a strong effort against the genocide is for the United States to state that we support it.

Jesu ...

We had better damn well hope WE don't urgently need help of any kind from any of these countries that don't trust us now.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Capricious Grace

So after the talk last night (part of the “Theology on Tap” series sponsored by the Chicago Archdiocese’s Young Adult Ministry), I waited to talk to the speaker, Fr. Bob Rohrich. Since I’d missed out on most of the lecture series, I wanted to know where I could go to find a forum where I could ask questions like “Why should I believe in ‘God?’” A woman overheard my question and spoke up. She talked about believing in love even if you don’t believe in “God” and began to explain how believing in love was related to believing in “God.” I said, “I don’t believe in anything.” Fr. Rohrich then offered the idea that I probably believe in myself. I said, “No, I don’t believe in myself either.” Later, after I’d moved on to a conversation about Kerry vs. Bush, Fr. Rohrich passed me on his way out. He thrust into my hand a cassette tape and his business card. The tape contained one of his lectures on self-esteem.

The woman who had become a part of our brief discussion of my lack of faith wanted me to attend another lecture tomorrow night given by a speaker who addresses this kind of question. Fr. Rohrich's talk had been on “The 10 Most Important Issues in Building Healthy Relationships,” and I imagine she thought I wouldn’t be able to find the relationship I’m looking for until I believe in their god.

The problem is that I’ve gotten into a lot more trouble believing in a god than not believing in one. From birth to age 19, I swallowed everything the Catholic Church taught me and believed in my unchangeable sinfulness as a human being, plus extra sinfulness for me as a girl because of Eve. I believe part of my low self-esteem came from being Catholic and learning that I was pretty low on the religious pyramid of children, adults, nuns, priests, bishops, cardinals, Pope and Jesus.

Catholicism just felt like a lot of rules followed to please a judgmental and unpredictable god. From earliest childhood Catholicism gave me little to feel proud of, and in it I found nothing to support myself, emotionally or otherwise. Mass always felt like an empty ritual and I could never find anything in any of it that made my life any better. I rarely even made friends at church. There was some comfort in thinking about a loving god that always protected me, but it was balanced by the whole sin/wrath/penance thing. And I found the concept of a person having a relationship with this god person baffling.

Unable to make Catholicism work for me, I pitched the whole thing at the age of 19 and spent years not caring if any of it was true. It was when I started to rebuild a belief system ten years later that I got into trouble again because I seem only able to conceive of a god that judges, tests, manipulates, and exercises capricious grace.

Why is this the only way I see “God?” Because people often conceptualize their god as an anthropomorphic super-being who can do many of the same things we can, like love or want or plan, but who also has divine capabilities like omnipotence. Our culture anthropomorphizes its god and that personification of divinity is based on a human model. And I don’t trust humans. But at least as angry, vengeful or punishing as anyone gets, another human being has a finite ability to affect me. But ascribe human qualities to a supreme being with infinite power over everyone and everything? That’s scary as hell to me.

I’m not saying that human models for divinity are bad for everyone. Just for me. If someone believes that humans are fundamentally good, they might not have any trouble believing that a human-like divine being will be good. Sadly, I have apparently learned that humans are fundamentally bad. So a human-like divine being is the worst thing I can imagine.

So far, the best conceptualization of divinity that has worked for me has been divine power as light or energy. This is the least threatening way for me to imagine divine power because light and energy aren’t human-like at all. They’re just forces or resources. If you want to talk about “Divine Light” working through us or “Divine Energy” directed towards healing us, that doesn’t bother me quite as much as a personification like “Heavenly Father,” or “Lord.”

New Age ideas of divine power, such as “light” and “spirit,” worked for me for quite a while, and those are the concepts I used to re-approach religion in my 30’s. But, with some differences, my New Age belief system was quite similar to my old Catholic beliefs. I just changed all the terms. Eventually I realized I had the same sense of there being a Right and a Wrong and I'd better get it right. In my New Age religion, the danger wasn’t Hell, but just being unhappy, out of place in the world, isolated from “God,” etc. Seeing my problems and challenges as "lessons" was better than seeing them as sins and punishments, but it was still exhausting and overwhelming to imagine that a mechanistic universe was consciously sending me more and more “lessons” until IT Decided I had learned enough. And there it was: now I was ascribing human intention and action to things like “spirit” and “light.” I was screwed.

Thus was I unable to stop imagining divine power as human and willful. Plus I finally just got tired of there being a right and a wrong. I'm tired of the idea that if I can't make the right decisions for myself, there will be no end to more and more and more “lessons” with the reward with-held until I get them all correct, as if life is an unending, Sisyphusian class and I never quite make it to recess. I'm tired of the task of figuring out how “spirit” works, and the task of how I can make the best use of my life, and the task of learning how to "let go and let God," and the task of trying to achieve a workable concept of divinity. Oh, the tasks are endless when you have a religion. It's too tiring.

So, I'm done. My life is simpler and easier without a belief system. No capricious god, no hard questions. No rules, no sins, no penance. No deep thinking and no divine state to reach. No god, no hard work.

No god, no hard work. Thus my inability to conceive of a nice god and my unwillingness to wrestle my way towards holiness, seal my faithlessness. And my freedom.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Weightlost

From my mother I inherited high metabolism. From my father, I inherited a raging sweet tooth. The combination of these two made me a kind of Archie's Comics "Jughead" when I was growing up: in spite of all the cookies I had for breakfast and bowls of ice cream I had after school, I was a skinny kid. Almost better than my birthday, was the day after my birthday when the supermarket cake with the piled-high frosting would be waiting for me, half-eaten and ready to be my breakfast. When I graduated from high school, I was 5'3" and weighed all of 105 pounds.

In college I gained "the freshman ten." Dazzled by the unlimited dorm food, I was especially excited about the desserts. I could have donuts at 7:00 a.m., pie with lunch, and cake and ice cream after dinner. It was a dream come true. During the five years I was in graduate school, my weight climbed steadily as I seriously used sweets to deal with stress. Grad school triggered a bad depression marked by mild panic attacks and total sugar binges. I sometimes ordered a cake from my favorite bakery and hid it in my room, like a secret lover. Returning to my cake throughout the day made me feel so much better. I'd go through a three-layer, nine-inch-diameter birthday cake in less than a week and the only reason I didn't keep a cake constantly was the expense.

In my mid-30's, as a sit-on-my-butt-all-day administrative assistant, I discovered the boredom that leads people to snack all day long. Depression still came and went, but usually my sugar-eating was simply a way to kill time. By now I was fully aware of my emotional dependence on sweets, but it didn't seem so bad when everyone around me indulged in the same way. It was when my body mass index (BMI) officially moved into the overweight category, that I decided enough was enough. I feared that gradual blobitude was my inevitable fate as an American, but I refused to accept it.

Around this time my doctor prescribed an anti-depressant for me, but not one that causes weight gain. To get rid of the extra pounds, my chiropractor gave me nutritional supplements to reduce hunger. I also increased exercise and managed to rein my BMI back in to a marginally healthy number. But I wanted to be slimmer than just-this-side-of-fat, so I decided to go for losing another ten pounds.

It didn't work. I had "plateaued," that is, I'd hit a weight my body was content to maintain and it was going to take another level of effort to get past it. For months I struggled, gradually increasing exercise to several days a week, but a combination of genuine hunger and my continuing emotional dependence on sweets kept my calorie-intake too high to lose anything. Around the Christmas holidays, as I continued to struggle with depression in spite of the medication, my old cake behavior came back. I didn't start ordering them again, but I discovered a supermarket that sold yellow cake with the thick layer of white frosting, by the slice. I had found a new supplier.

Sugar was my crutch, my worst friend. I could identify where the pattern came from and why, but I couldn't break the need. As long as I felt things were missing from my life (a boyfriend, professional success, self-confidence, sex), I tried to fill myself with food. It was only when I was savoring a mouthful of moist cake, the creamy indulgence of too-much frosting against my tongue, that I felt like my life wasn't missing anything. As I struggled with my biology (the depression), I found the sweetness that was missing from my life in cake, cookies, ice cream and chocolate. A part of me never wanted to give up the sugar addiction, ever, but the greater part of me knew it had to go.

Way past the holidays and into the winter I fought myself: up at 5:00 a.m. every day to get that workout in, then calorie-counting all day long, just to end up with my cake in front of the television most evenings. It was hopeless. My sugar addiction was at a new high. Neither my weekly therapist nor my psychiatrist had advice that I hadn't heard before.

As desperate as any smoking addict and driven by my fixation on weight, I knew I had to stop bingeing on sweets. Since regular therapy and raw will power didn't make any difference, I looked for a different approach. Full of doubt, I decided to try hypnotherapy. It focused on the subconscious, bypassing the conscious mind that I knew could fight itself right back into the kitchen. Maybe there was some hope in this new approach, although having tried to kick my ferocious sugar habit before, I felt pretty sure this would be another failure.

Incredibly, it worked! I'm still not sure how, but the surprisingly simple exercises and meditation techniques actually broke the lifelong hold sweets had on me. I can still hardly believe it. Within months I was able to pass up desserts and completely give up the yellow cake slices. Today I can actually stare down a plate of fancy frosted cookies, rationally decide whether or not to indulge, and then walk away without a nibble or an inner quibble. It's the closest thing to a miracle healing I've experienced. With the sugar monkey off my back for the first time ever, I felt hope that the pounds would melt away.

Nope. Even with my freedom from sweets, snacking all day kept my weight up. And this wasn't eating out of boredom or depression, either. With my sugar addiction cured, I stopped using food to medicate and truly only ate when hungry. Unfortunately, I was always hungry. I also had a very limited tolerance for hunger since low blood sugar quickly drained my energy and darkened my mood. My hypnotherapist suggested reviewing my diet and eliminating high-calorie foods. I did it. I reviewed. I eliminated. I bought a copy of Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss and memorized his method of filling up on low-calorie, high-satisfaction foods. I fought off cravings with dried fruit and LifeSavers. Surely this would do it.

Nope. The numbers on the weight scale still didn't budge. Even with fruits and vegetables instead of cookies and cake, my daily net total of calories was just too high. But I only ate when hungry. What else could I do? Someone suggested overhauling my workout to burn the most calories possible. Of course! I hired a personal trainer who worked me hard. My 5:30 a.m. workout became a daily marathon-tough slog, sweaty and heart-pounding. We also reviewed my diet. Eating well was getting easier as I released the habit of self-medicating with food, and my body began to crave clean foods. I never ate so much produce in my life. Burning hundreds of calories every morning, I felt my clothes fitting better as I honed my body. Now I'd see a difference on the scale!

Nope. After four weeks of this new regimen, my weight still didn't budge. I couldn't believe it! I double-checked with my psychiatrist about my anti-depressant, but he confirmed that it had no history of causing weight gain. What was I still doing wrong??

Neither I, nor my personal trainer, nor my chiropractor, nor my regular doctor (I saw him, too), nor my hypnotherapist, nor any of my fitness-minded friends had any more ideas. I knew the best way to lose weight was to exercise more and eat less, but I couldn't possibly add any more exercise, and each time I tried to make it through the day on fewer calories, the light-headedness and crankiness and would force me to eat. Also the more I exercised, the more calories my body wanted. I felt stuck in a loop.

If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's this: when the going gets tough, quit. So I gave up. I kept eating well and exercising hard because these new changes were already habits and they felt good, but I gave up on the goal of losing weight. I just gave up.

And still I struggled with depression. I finally asked my psychiatrist for an adjustment in my medication so I wouldn't have to scrape through every day, fighting the gloom, so he added a second anti-depressant to my prescription. After just three days I noticed the difference. I felt cheerful. I could smile again. The mood swings were gone. Another miracle! After a week of feeling good, I decided to make one more attempt to curb my calorie intake.

And it worked! The new drug combination reduced my hunger and evened out my moods. I had finally achieved the conditions I needed for weightloss: my sugar addiction was gone, my exercise habits were solid, I was now hooked on healthy foods, my body accepted fewer calories and I could finally manage hunger without an emotional crisis. The weight began to come off. Finally.

So that's the secret to my current slenderness. I can't believe how much money, time and effort it's taken. Trying to lose weight turned into this complicated process that involved many professionals, a lot of support and thousands of dollars. But that's what it took as I grappled with my emotional dependence on food and then had to figure out all the other pieces of the puzzle. No wonder it's so hard to lose weight when you only focus on one of the factors.

Today I am finally free to eat what I choose. And I'm finally choosing what I eat instead of just reacting to whatever my body or emotions demand. Losing weight permanently really did require me to change my life, on many levels. And from now on, I will forever understand what people are talking about when they say they have trouble losing weight.