Monday, January 31, 2005

Confession of a Fat, Selfish American

The following is my response to a friend's email. Scott Dvorak sent me some very insightful comments about my last blog posting and I thank him for it.


I'm honored that you have been reading my blog. Thanks. I think your analysis of my last post is very insightful. My immediate response to your final question is that, you're right, I threw myself into the Kerry campaign for very personal reasons that had little to do with the man or the platform. I don't know if you remember, but I started out with the Kucinich campaign and I did that out of simple boredom and desire to connect with others. After my boredom was gone and I felt connected to others, I stayed with the momentum under the guise of concerned left-wing citizen who cares deeply about her country and the world. But do I? I don't know.

I'm extremely self-absorbed. I inherited depression and low self-esteem. The things I'm most interested in are making music and having relationships with others (including friendships, alliances, etc.). I'm often very introverted and inwardly focused and my main response to life in general is to feel afraid. These conditions don't make for a very giving, altruistic person. I mostly notice what's in front of me (like most people, I guess) and have a hard time conceptualizing my connection to others in other parts of the world, country or city. I'm also easily overwhelmed and emotional, so I have a low tolerance for thinking about people suffering. I'd rather just focus on me and I believe it's appropriate to just focus on me since my life has been mostly unhappy, but I deserve to be happy. Happiness takes a lot of work for me.

In search of happiness, I threw fundraising parties and joined others in Wisconsin. I loved the social aspect of campaigning, that's what I was committed to. I was 100 per cent devoted to Kerry because working for Kerry meant having more people in my life. I like having more people in my life. The more the better.

Who are the truly altruistic people who give their energy and focus to causes that might never directly affect them? Who are the animal rights activists, the grassroots politicians, the bake sale leaders, the community mobilizers? What are they made of? Whatever it is, I don't think I have it. I want to keep my precious little flashes of contentment to myself. Oh, and the audience/readership.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Another Fat, Selfish American, Part II

Yesterday I ran into a friend of mine at the gym who railed for a good twenty minutes about the state of our country, how bad George Bush is for us, the increasing limitations on our freedoms and rights, etc. Donna told me to read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale for a look at what we're heading for.

I was pathetically unable to care. For Donna it all comes down to the kind of world she wants for her two-year-old daughter. That's what's behind her fear of how things are going, and I know a lot of people are motivated to action by what they want for their children. Having children seems to change how one sees the world and the future.

Maybe I'll have to have a child before I can feel motivated again to work for change. I do things in extremes: for decades I've had no political interest, activities or discussions. Then I gave a lot of time and effort to the the Kerry campaign: I hosted a fundraiser, canvassed on weekends, and even lived in Wisconsin for the last five days of the election season, knocking on doors and getting Kerry-voters to the polls. I did everything I could to make sure Bush was not re-elected.

Afterwards, I focused on how Wisconsin had gone blue, even though it wasn't enough to win Kerry the election. I thought I had learned the lesson that I can make a difference. I wanted to believe my political activity would continue as "we" fought the good fight against the Republican agenda. It hasn't.

As Donna tried to impress upon me the urgency of our fading freedom, I felt dismay for my lack of interest. I had realized that I'm another selfish American who doesn't care about the rest of the world, but now I had to admit my indifference to my own life. I really can't think of any Bush policies, mistakes or even attitudes that directly threaten me. I can't be drafted, my jobs (as a waitress and a musician) will never be outsourced, I have no need for childcare, my health insurance is set, I don't have stock market investments, I'm not gay, a political prisoner or in the military, and I lack the foresight to consider social security/retirement an issue for me. What is there to movitivate me to throw myself again into political activity? Even the supposed "women's issues" don't concern me. I'm 38 and don't anticipate having children (indeed, I've given up on ever having sex again), so reproductive rights and childcare and access to abortion just don't touch me. How can I get pregnant if I'm never having sex again? I just don't care.

Right now I'm still not earning enough to live on at the restaurant, but I understand that's because of the January/February post-holiday, snowstorm-afflicted business slump. Each time we start to do well, a snowstorm drives everyone back into their homes again. So my focus is on earning a living and I've just taken a part-time childcare job. Now I'm looking at a 48-hour workweek which I don't like, but that's what it takes apparently. Born middle-class, educated at UC Berkeley and Cornell, fluent "white" speaker, I have chosen a working class job and like most of the servers, cooks, bussers and dishwashers at Carson's, I am working two jobs just to cover the bills. Let's hear it for the blue-collar work ethic.

My other focus is my music career (I believe I should get a decent crowd on Feb. 16, details to the right) and this incipient, possible, it's-gotta-be-a-mirage, why-the-fuck-did-it-take-so-long, maybe *relationship* (not even whispered, but mouthed) I might be at the beginning of. So talk of George Bush just doesn't draw my attention. I'm not proud of any of this and I wish I were a better person who wants to make the world a better place, but I guess I'm not. Maybe once upon a time, when just getting enough to eat for yourself and your family was the priority (in caveman times? In the 50's?) we had the right to just take care of our own and not worry about the rest of the city or the country or the world. And maybe in the 1950's when Americans reached a state of abundance for most, our attention was appropriately shared with other countries that needed our support. But now we've buckled down into a post-9/11 fetal position where we have declared the rest of the world our enemies -- or at least not our friends -- and drawn our focus back to just us. Back to us now. Is that bad? Am I selfishly not sharing my small resources with the poor? Or am I allowed to just work on my happiness and not want to share it?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Dating, Part Six

Startling moment: I have a date tonight with a new guy who looks great online and sounds great on the phone, and...I don't want to. I'd rather go out with the guy who drove me home last night, the one who thinks there's no information to be gleaned from my lack of marriage history.

Footnote: thanks to my good friend Robert Cowie who offered to go to Las Vegas with me and get legally married for five minutes just so I can say I'm divorced. He did it because I point out that in past generations a divorced woman was much more suspect than a never-married one, but today I struggle with the opposite social mindset. I'm at a definite disadvantage as a 38-year-old, never-married woman and I'd LOVE to be divorced, but I've decided the Las Vegas plan is too expensive. And, okay, yes, too ridiculous.

Sub-footnote: Today I am exactly 38 and a half years old. A very merry un-birthday to me!

Change in Open Mic Schedule

I invite you to come with me to some interesting places as I "open mic" my way into the consciousness of as many people as possible as I get ready for my February 16th performance (details to the right of this page). I was going to play somewhere else tonight, but now I'll be at Uncommon Ground.

Monday, January 24th: I plan to play at the open mic night at Uncommon Ground Cafe, 1214 W. Grace Street, starts around 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, January 26th: I plan to play at the open mic night at the Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood Avenue, $3 cover, starts around 10:00 p.m.

Thursday, January 27th: I plan to play at the open mic night at the Red Line Tap, 7006 N. Glenwood Avenue, no cover, starts around 10:00 p.m.

Monday, January 31st: I plan to play at the open mic night at the Subterranean, 2011 North Avenue, no cover, starts around 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday, February 2: I plan to play at the open mic night at the Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood Avenue, $3 cover, starts around 10:00 p.m.

Thursday, February 3: I plan to play at the open mic night at the Red Line Tap, 7006 N. Glenwood Avenue, no cover, starts around 10:00 p.m.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Barbecue Ribs Tonight

I heard that Thursday night was busy at the restaurant, so I had hopes that Friday night would be busy, too. Earning enough to live on is tough while we're in the January o-my-god-I-spent-way-too-much-on-Christmas business slump. But then the weather forecast turned it into a good-night-to-stay-in, and I disappointedly brought home $30 at the end of the night. Thirty bucks! I can't live on $30 a shift.

I'm on my way to my Saturday dinner shift (I'm also working the Sunday dinner shift) and I just want to tell Chicago - hey, wouldn't it be a great night for some barbecue? Don't let a little snow blizzard slow down your Saturday night. At Carson's Ribs on Wells Street, we're waiting to serve you. We actually do have some of the best barbecue (ribs, chicken, chops, salmon) and steaks in the area. It'll be a great night to spend at Carson's because you won't have to wait 30 minutes while your entree sits in the "queue" along with all the other orders. It should be nice and quiet. Ask for Regina's section! Please.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Another Fat, Selfish American

My friend Martin has been forwarding me articles about Democratic strategizing and various responses to -- I guess -- Bush's inauguration this week. He's written me extensively on his views of how a moral, religious agenda fits/doesn't fit with the Democratic one. Actually, I'm not sure what all the stuff is about because I've only glanced at it. He has forwarded me four or five articles from the Washington Post in the past five days.

I finally wrote him back and admitted that I've read nothing that he's sent me nor do I plan to. Clearly my Kerry fever was just a temporary response to the election year. For over a solid year I kept my eye on the national/international scene, certain that it was important that I do my part to get our country back on a half-decent track. Now that the election is over, I'm apparently done caring. I have to admit to being one of the millions of fat, selfish Americans who could care less about human rights violations, poverty, war and genocide whether it's happening in another country or down the street. I feel bad about this when I think about it, so I try not to. I felt so much better about myself and my place in the world when I was actively trying to make the world a better place. Now I've shrugged and turned back to my music, my relationship problems and earning a living. I've done the same thing I sometimes do after I've been watching tv for a long time: turn off the set, stand up and say out loud, "Okay, back to me now."

I'll be playing at the open mic at the Heartland Cafe tonight, 7000 N. Glenwood. "In One Ear" is the name of it, it starts around 10:00 p.m. and there's a 2 or 3 dollar cover charge. It's my favorite open mic because there's a big audience, the people listen, and it's a mix of music and poetry and anything goes. I'll do my two songs, snag as many email addresses as I can, pass out flyers, enjoy the show and try not to think about my apathetic role in the world as a fat, selfish American.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Last Night

I had called the Elbo Room to see what time I should be there. The guy I spoke to said to be there before 9:00 pm. I got there at 8:35, but the signup sheet was full. I was very annoyed, but took off for another open mic at Subterranean. I arrived there in plenty of time for their open mic and the signup sheet had plenty of spaces, but they wouldn't let me in without an I.D. and I had left my wallet in my gym bag. Furious with myself, I insisted on signing up anyway and took off to get my wallet.

I was with a very patient and generous friend who didn't once complain about all the driving around, especially the drive back to my apartment to get my I.D. (30 minutes each way), and when I finally got myself into an open mic and was waiting for my turn, I began to feel better. My songs went well, I got more email addresses, I got positive comments about my performance and gave out some flyers so life was good...for a few minutes, until I found I'd sat on my glasses and bent them. Fortunately that only annoyed me for as long as it took for me to become absorbed in the next singer who had little control over her pitch. All in all, I'd say the night sucked except for periods of things going well. I wish it had been the other way around.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Music on the Move

Okay, enough about "God." Back to me now...

This is it: the big promotional push until Wednesday, February 16th at 10:00 p.m, which is my next big gig. I promised them I'd fill the bar, so help me out (details on the right of this page). As part of my personal promotion drive, I plan to play as many open mic's as I can get to between now and Feb. 16th. I'm writing new songs and am excited about the challenge of the 16th. Tonight I'll be at the Elbo Room where I've never been. Apparently they have an open mic that's hosted by someone from radio station Q101, so it sounds very interesting.

The Elbo Room Open Mic starts at around 9:00 tonight, I think (2871 N. Lincoln Ave). There's a $3 cover charge. I'll be there early to sign up. If you've got nothing to do and don't mind going out in the freezing cold, maybe I'll see you there. If not, I'll be at another open mic on Wednesday and I'll post the location when I decide.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

"What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

Now that we've got this roiling discussion about god going, I'll lob the next ball over the net. Actually it comes from Lawrence of A Better Nation who sent me this link to a New York times article for which fourteen scientists were asked, "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" The answers are interesting and include theories about topics as varied as true love and the Abu Grahib abuse. I was particularly interested in one who says he believes a god exists and another who says he believes no god exists. But I was really drawn to this response on the whole god question:

Nicholas Humphrey
Psychologist, London School of Economics; author,"The Mind Made Flesh"

I believe that human consciousness is a conjuring trick, designed to fool us into thinking we are in the presence of an inexplicable mystery. Who is the conjuror and why is s/he doing it? The conjuror is natural selection, and the purpose has been to bolster human self-confidence and self-importance - so as to increase the value we each place on our own and others' lives.

The myth of a divine sapien being is one the most powerful and universal. Every single culture in the world throughout time has had such a myth, even if they had no interaction with any other culture. Why is that? Isn't that proof of the existence of such a sapien divine being? Humphrey's answer offers another possibility: that believing in a god could be part of a survival mechanism responsble for the existence of humans as a species. This idea supports my belief about god which is that a lot of people need to believe. I know because I'm one of them. I maintain that just because I've (painfully) stopped believing in "God" doesn't mean I'd ever try to take someone's god away from them. I know faith and prayer are extremely powerful and I know they work miracles every day and we all need those. I don't think it matters if praying makes a difference because there really is a responsive god or if praying makes a difference because the humans involved are powerful enough to make a miracle happen. Who cares? If prayer works, prayer works. So be it. I currently believe that it is our faith that heals us, whether or not there's a god.

I wonder if it's time for me to check out a book my friend Robert Cowie recommends, Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth. Robert says this book includes an examination of our powerful, universal myths and how they affect human behavior and development. I know the god-myth changes lives, for better and for worse. I tend to despair that humans are anything but doomed and overdue for extinction, but Robert offers the idea that it's our belief in the god-myth that has strengthened our species and offers us hope. Also thanks to Robert for his comments on this god question over the past several days.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Countless Souls, etc.

I appreciate Jackie's post on this same subject of the religious response to the incredible horror and destruction of the Dec. 26th tsunami. Jackie writes her response to the Newsweek article Countless Souls Cry Out to God and my post of last Friday. If I'm reading her correctly, she writes that "God" doesn't control everything. The earth moves independently of a some sapien god-force just as we move independently of some sapien god-force. This would counter the idea that there even IS a sapien god-force that has thoughts and will and volition and control over everything (and knows all the hairs on your head, etc.).

This is what I believe and what I THINK is consistent with Jackie's piece: there is no sapien god-force with thoughts and will and volition that is appropriately referred to as a "He" or "She" and that feels human emotions and has human responses. That sapien god-force that so many of us think of as paternal, external and unknowable does not exist. That "God" does not exist.

Okay, good. I'm sure Jackie will correct me if I read her piece incorrectly.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Would You Trust This God? Part Two

Newsweek published an article on the spiritual responses of the communities hit by the Dec. 26th tsunami and I found it interesting to consider how these responses would feel to me (Countless Souls Cry Out to God, Newsweek, January 10 2005). It discusses in very broad and general -- and I have no idea how accurate -- terms the basic beliefs of four major religions: Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians. It says Hindus worship a number of gods who they see as directly affecting the lives of humans. According to this article, "Hindus use the deities to think about and explain happenings like the tsunami as destructive acts of god...Relating to the local deity and cooling her anger through propitiation is more important than thinking about personal or collective guilt for what has happened. What seems good about this is that it at least relieves people of the soul-searching of other religions that believe we cause what happens to us. In fact, the idea that our lives are ruled by capricious and emotional deities who must be honored and placated doesn’t feel to me too different from the Catholic god I learned about when I was growing up. Who can guess what actions will cause what results when “God” is a judgemental yet inconsistent distant monitor with human tendencies towards anger and punishment?

The article quotes a professor of Buddhist studies, "Buddhists will look to the idea of karma and ask what they did, individually and collectively, that a tragedy like this happened." This focus on karma and figuring out what they did to reap such consequences reminds me of the Unity church I attended for many years. If I lived through a tragedy like that tsunami and then tried to figure out how I/we had brought that kind of destruction on myself/ourselves, I would be overwhelmed. I'd wonder, Could I possibly have led such a life that would bring this on myself? My tendencies towards self-blame and self-loathing are exacerbated by this kind of life view. The Unity church's focus on how we all create our own reality amplified my self-blame and guilt until I had to abandon that belief system.

Of Muslims the article writes, "Like the Bible, the Qur'an recognizes no natural laws independent of God's will. All that happens is Allah's doing, and nature itself, wind, rain, storms, constitutes signs of his mercy and compassion. Even the destructive tsunami, therefore, must have some hidden, positive purpose." To me this sounds the most unreasonable. There's a hidden, positive purpose to this tsunami? Really? Even if some good does come of it, I can't imagine it will even begin to balance the incredible horror and sorrow. Hundreds of thousands of families have been torn apart, entire communities have been levelled, and some believe it will all have a net positive result in the end? No. That's all I have to say. No.

The article concludes with the Christian tendency to see this kind of suffering as a Job-ian test of faith. I'd like to ask, to what end would "God" put people through such tests of faith? If "God" sends me a wall of water to kill my family and tear my children from my arms to test and strengthen my faith, I don't want to be around for the events that "He" is preparing me for. I'll take a life of wishy-washy faith and uncommitted spirituality if my life can be free of "faith-strengthening," horrific tragedies like that tsunami.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Blogs to Books

Here's a NY Times article on the blogger's dream come true: being contacted by a publisher who's so impressed with your website they offer you a book deal. *Sigh*

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Baffled expression

I said, "I'm thirty-eight and I've never been married! What does that tell you?"
He said, "It doesn't tell me anything."

I can't comprehend his answer, but I sense that if I could it might change my life.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Would You Trust This God?

Sometimes my online dating activity yields a new friend. I've been corresponding with Mark for a couple of months now. He's a minister and we've had some interesting phone conversations about faith: my lack of, and his enduring. Sometimes I feel like a lost soul that this patient minister is working to save. I don't mind the dynamic since we're total strangers otherwise (we've never met in person). We were talking last night about the tsunami disaster. I asked him where "God" was in the moment that one mother had her 8-month-old baby pulled out of her arms by the water. He said, "God was with her." I said, "No, f--k that. I want nothing to do with that kind of god." One of my complaints with U.S. religion is the contradiction between the belief that the hand of "God" is behind every single thing that happens, and the belief that "God" doesn't control our every move because we have free will. These two beliefs are in direct contradiction and cannot be resolved in a single faith system, and yet people pretend like they can be.

Was "God" behind the tsunami? Did "He" cause it to rise out of the sea and kill people? Maybe not. But if "He" was with the people as they were crushed by the water or sucked out to sea, what good is "He?" What good is a god that can't help you avoid the intolerable pain of losing your entire family, or having your child pulled from your arms, or having your entire community wiped out?

The strength that people call on to get them through those times isn't "God." It's themselves and each other. People have incredible inner resources. We are capable of building intricate support systems that help us through these kinds of disaster and that's not "God," that's us.

God, don't move my mountain,
but give me the strength to climb.

No, God, move the f--king mountain. Life hurts. To be alive is to experience all kinds of heartbreak and that's just how it is. A benevolent, all-powerful god is not consistent with a world of pain.
A benevolent, all-powerful god is not consistent with a world of pain.
A benevolent, all-powerful god is not consistent with a world of pain.

The people in mourning for their loved ones and in shock from the loss of their homes and livelihoods will get through this tragedy in different ways. Some will hold onto their spiritual beliefs. Some will abandon theirs. But even those whose faith is strengthened will have to re-think what their god is capable of and what "His" limits and failures are.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Happy New Year!

On the first Monday of 2004, last January, I remember sitting at my corporate desk job at 8:15 a.m. I had just had many wonderful days off for the holidays and was now going through the "withdrawal" feeling of getting up early again and having to be at my job which I disliked. I stared at the calendar and counted how many months there were before the next long weekend. Almost 5 months away! How was I supposed to bear such a long, unbroken period of relentless workdays? I remembered that ever since childhood I'd always hated January: all the lights and decorations going dark, returning to school (or work), the bleakness of that no-holiday stretch of calendar. Cowering there at my suckrat job made me feel like such a cog in the wheel and although I hate being a cliché, I have to say I hated that Monday.

I now suspect that the worst thing about Christmas being over is that I have always had a tendency to expect Christmas to fulfill all my needs and make me happy. Of course every year Christmas Day fails to solve all my problems and make me happy, and that leads to this awful post-Christmas hangover. I've always seen the end of Christmas as the end of hope that I might be happy, and I've viewed January as a sentence to be served. (I like the words of a poet I once saw perform: "Your sentence is not knowing what your sentence is.")

BUT! This year is completely different. This year I took the sting out of the holidays when I realized how much I need gifts to make me feel loved and happy, so I bought myself some gifts. My Christmas presents to myself were getting Tivo and my first ever cell phone. I felt happy. I felt loved. And now I have this great job that I enjoy, so January doesn't intimidate me. This year I can see the great things that are in my life and I can see that they'll continue way past the holidays. In fact, there's no link at all between Christmas and my feeling of contentedness. The wonderful holidays are over? No problem. I'm spending this first Monday of 2005 enjoying my day off, and tomorrow I'll go to work. I'm looking forward to it!

A singer who dreams of being a waitress

Why my new restaurant job is good for me:

1. Constant interaction with others leaves little time for sitting and crying.
2. Teamwork feeds my need for community.
3. My co-workers are fun people who make me laugh and help me keep perspective on my life.
4. The challenge of interpersonal dynamics is fascinating to me.
5. Male co-workers give me a lot of attention (this boosts my ego except when it creeps me out).
6. Gives me a place to go so I don't just sit in my apartment, crying.
7. Physical work feels SO much better than sitting at a desk all day.
8. I like the managers and no longer have a boss I can't stand.
9. Free meals!
10. I can once again say I LOVE MY JOB (hasn't been true since Arthur Andersen went under).

The main challenge of this job is mastering the waitressing skills fast enough to earn decent money. I have a way to go before I'll be able to "turn over" (serve people and get them out of there so the next party can sit down) my tables as fast as I need to. Until then, extra shifts will have to help me earn the rent. I envy those who have served for years and can do it so much more easily. I long to be a seasoned server with many years under my belt so I can handle the large parties and earn good money. It'll be a little while yet.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

40th birthday - a year and a half away

I am the most beautiful, amazing sweater you ever saw and it's the only one left and it's perfect for you and it's in your size and it's on sale. You feel so lucky; it seems too good to be true. How is it possible that this beautiful sweater was overlooked by everyone else and now you are the winner who gets to own it? It's yours. It must be yours. It must be fate.

But when you take the time to look at it closely, you find the irremovable ink spot or the hole that's too big or awkward to fix and you realize there's a very good reason no one else has taken it. Of course no one else wants it, of course it seems like it was there just waiting for you, of course it will continue to hang there forever. In this way everyone comes across this sweater, becomes excited by the miracle of it, and feels disappointment upon finding its flaw. It's not fate. It's just bad merchandise.