Monday, February 28, 2005

Why suffer? My view of the pope

In the Feb 28 2005 Newsweek article "Precious Suffering" the pope's delicate health is described in horrifying detail. I was most disturbed by reading that on February 1st, Pope John Paul spent four hours “essentially choking to death” because of mucus-build up in his lungs that his weakened muscles weren’t powerful enough to cough up.

Imagine not being able to inhale or exhale enough for even shallow breaths, your very lungs choked with phlegm, wanting and needing to cough for your very life but not being able to. Imagine slowly suffocating from the inside. On February 1st John Paul went through this for four hours.

Why? Because he refused to go for emergency treatment, although he finally had to be rushed to the hospital where his doctors said “If he had come in 10 minutes later, he would have been gone.” Why did he refuse treatment? Because he believes in the sacredness of suffering. In 1984 he wrote, “Human suffering evokes compassion. It also evokes respect, and in its own way it intimidates.” In 1994 he said he must lead the church with suffering: “The pope must suffer so that every family and the world should see that there is, I would say, a higher gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future.”

What the heck -- ? What’s so great about suffering? The article goes on to explain:

In the pope’s 1984 treatise on the redemptive power of suffering, “Salvifici Doloris,” he argued that suffering is not punishment for a crime or a sin. As Job understood, as Isaiah preached in the Old Testament, and as Christ taught in the Gospels and in his life, suffering is merely part of the human condition -- and can best be answered with love. “Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence,” wrote John Paul. “It is one of those points in which man is in a cetain sense ‘destined’ to go beyond himself.”

So suffering is supposed to provide a gateway to a transcendent experience, like meditation? Or is it (as is explained in another part of the Newsweek article) simply that in physical suffering we can most closely experience Jesus’ death by torture, which brings us closer to “God” by bringing us closer to what Jesus went through at the end of his time in human form?

Why is it so great to experience Jesus’ physical agony anyway? Even if I accept for a moment the events of the New Testament, what’s the spiritual value in experiencing Jesus’ most painful, humiliating moments? Isn’t there more spiritual value in experiencing Jesus’ moments of giving and healing, his moments of triumph, his demonstration of the power to overcome all with love? Wouldn’t those be the moments to emulate in our lives?

Why are Catholics so drawn to the act of suffering? Maybe because if we’re suffering, we can’t be expected to do much for others and it lets us off the hook of responsibility. If we’re going through great physical suffering, our focus narrows down to what it takes to get through the next hour, the next minute, and we just can’t do much for anyone else. Extreme physical suffering takes all one’s energy. It’s draining. There’s no room for anything else.

Which leads to all the speculation about Pope John Paul’s capacity as the head of the church. When will his physical suffering narrow his focus so much that he has nothing left to give the church? What’s the point of all this suffering if it leaves him incapacitated, maybe in a coma, with no plan of appointment or succession, and the church goes foundering? What’s the point of it then? Huh?

I admit, I have a hard time feeling much for this pope who I’ve mostly viewed as the annoying holier-than-thou guy who issues ridiculous edicts against sexuality, etc. making life a nest of guilt-ridden compromises for most American Catholics. But I have sympathy for his physical problems, which sound horrible. But then my sympathy goes away again because I cannot comprehend why he chooses this kind of pain (refusing medical treatment? Come on.). The exaltation of suffering is one more reason I have little patience with the Catholic church. It’s just negativity on top of negativity (at least the way we do it in the U.S. I have no experience with how they do Catholicism in other countries).

And yet I would still call myself a Catholic, just a bad one.

Never-Married vs. Divorced Wrap-Up

Thanks to everyone who responded to my Divorced Vs. Never-Married anguish. My friends DeShawn, Lon and Kenn particularly helped me see "So, why are you still single?" as a question that could be more about my first date's fears than about my defects. Lon (a guy) wrote, "I think the subtext of that question might be (are you committed to never marrying? If I get real interested in you will that be a dead end eventually? Is there some big impediment to a lasting relationship here? ) I agree it's an abrasive question and inappropriate on a first date - I'm a man and wouldn't like it either coming from a woman." Thanks, Lon. Those are all excellent points.

DeShawn (a woman) wrote, " It may be more about them and less about you and your never-married status. I think my date asked that probing question, not because he really wanted to hear all of my important baggage, but he was afraid that there was someone else lurking in the background and he would need to be looking over his shoulder for the previous guys."
Also a good point.

And a conversation with Kenn suggested that "So, why are you still single?" doesn't translate as "So, what's wrong with you?" He says it really translates as, "So, what are you looking for?" or rather, "So, how can I be The One?" or rather, "So, what do I have to do to have sex with you?" This possibility relies the standard guys-are-always-looking-for-sex argument, but I'm actually relieved by that possibility. In my opinion ANY hidden motivation, however base or stereotypical, is better than the underlying meaning being "So, what's wrong with you?"

Finally, DeShawn wrote that if the question comes from any of these possibilities, it's most appropriate to answer simply, "I haven't found the right guy yet."

Of COURSE! Why didn't I think of that? Actually, I considered and dismissed that answer thinking that no one would ever be satisfied by it, but now it makes sense, but now I feel like I'm just going in circles....

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Never-Married vs. Divorced

Thanks to Jackie for sending me the link to an article called "Society's stigma jumps from divorced to never-wed". To Jackie's friend, Tina, from whom Jackie received the link I say, "Yes, we're doomed, screwed, f**ked, and fated to look like losers wherever we go, me more so than you who I'm sure is at least 10 years younger than I." To Jackie, who got married a year ago December and is currently going through a divorce, I say "One day you'll understand and be grateful to have that divorce under your belt. Just wait. OH yeah, just wait..."

Anyway, the article says it much better than I did.

Friday, February 25, 2005


I didn’t know bad poetry was a side effect of a crappy love life. It’s a boring subject. I’m bored with it. I am sick of my own one-color whining and my same old story. Blah blah blah.

I wish I could end my self-judgement. I wish I could stop seeing myself as a loser and a failure because I’ve never been married. I’m just not good at deflecting the question I got again just two days ago from a first date: “So, if you’ve been doing all this dating and you’re an attractive person, why are you single?” That question, which I ask myself all the time, feels condemning. It feels like being asked, “So, what exactly is it that’s wrong with you?” And I can’t counter it with, “Why are you still single?” because the people who ask it are usually divorced. In the single, dating world, to be divorced is to be normal, to have demonstrated commitment, to have made one’s best effort at the coupledom that everyone seeks. To be divorced is to be proven desireable, responsible, capable of giving and receiving love. To be divorced is to have had a full love life of courtship and marriage and separation and termination of marriage. To be divorced is to have been productive with one’s (love) life. One who is divorced has produced wedding photos, in-laws, living arrangments, probably children. To be divorced is good and respectable.

But to be single-never-married is to be undesireable, unproductive, incapable of commitment and responsibility, left on the shelf undoubtedly because of serious defect or “issues.” To be single-never-married is to have wasted one’s life, to have failed to produce or inspire an engagement ring, to have failed to create a new life with another, or in-laws or children. To be single-never-married is to live a life barren of love, pregnancy, “we”-speak, or bedcovers-sharing. I’ve had single men dismiss me because at the age of 38 I’ve never been married or engaged nor have I ever lived with a man. They’ve conveyed to me that if I’ve lived alone for this long, I’ll undoubtedly have trouble making room in my narrow spinster life for another. And I don’t hear from them again.

This is why I say I wish I were divorced. This is why I joke about marrying someone, anyone, for just a few days so we can then get divorced and I can join the ranks of the productive, worthy divorced people. Gone is the old-fashioned suspicion of those who have failed at marriage, gone is the old-fashioned respect for those who have a “clean” record of no marriage or divorce. Now to be single-never-married is the negatively marked status.

I wish I didn’t agree with the rest of society that there is something very wrong when an attractive, slim (the guys always want “slim,” right?), charismatic woman like me remains unmarried and un-boyfriend-ed after 23 years of dating. Why does single-never-married mean immaturity and avoidance of commitment? Why can't single-never-married indicate a strong ego that blazes her own trail, refuses to bend to social expectations, and lives the life she wants, free of the confines of socially expected coupledom? Unfortunately, single-never-married is an inferior state in the eyes of society and in my own. I wish this piece were a declaration of the normality and worthiness of never having married. I wish my statement were one of self-esteem and to-hell-with-social-norms empowerment. I wish I could create my own definitions of “productive” and “respectable.” Unfortunately, I cannot.

I remain at a loss as to how to respond when first dates (or anyone else) ask why I’m still single. I know it wouldn’t sound so condemning if I could stop condemning myself.

Possible responses to, “So, why are you still single?”

- “Why are you divorced?”
- “Because I just haven’t met The Guy.”
- “Because I’m an axe murderer.”
- “That doesn’t really feel like a first date question to me. Could we come back to that later?”
- “Because happiness is more important to me than marriage.”
- “’Still’ single? Has it been that long?”
- “So far, I’ve preferred staying single.”
- “Because no one’s found the unmarked graves yet.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

like putting on a wet bathing suit

So many dates, so many attempts.
Like being lost at sea.
It felt so good to come in, dry off, get warm, date just one person over and over again,
finally catching my breath on solid ground.

Another false start. Break time over.
Lurch back into the surf.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Mothers who yield custody

Just tossing this out and seeing if I get any response:

My sister struggles as the single mother of a nine-year-old special needs child who is autistic and has chronic emotional tantrums (including injuring my sister) every day, often more than once a day. Judy has decided to yield custody of her daughter to her ex-husband and seek work in another state since findng employment is very difficult where she lives (the daughter behaves relatively well with the ex-husband and everyone else and really only does the frequent melt-downs with Judy).

My sister is in great need of some support for her decision: specifically she'd like some role models. Does anyone know where I can find information about women who have yielded custody of their children and/or chosen not to raise them? I need to find such stories. Judy will, of course, still be in her daughter's life and see her regularly, but not as her full-time caretaker. I appreciate any help. Thanks.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Big Gig

Last night was totally, totally great. Neal, Jean and I were tighter than ever, my singing felt great and the music was rhythmic, energetic, totally dance-able. The sound system was so good people could actually understand the words and later they told me they caught the jokes, the innuendo, the one-liners that often get buried in my lyrics underneath the percussion and guitar.

I was completely relaxed. I knew these songs and had DRILLED the new ones to make sure I didn't flub any lyrics. And then, bizarrely, I forgot the opening lines of "The Penguin Song." How did THAT happen? One friend said her favorite was one of the new ones, "Sparrow" (that's my current favorite, too). Her husband liked "Song for Valentine's Day" best.

I also had a very good turnout and afterwards I tried to thank every friend who came (did I manage it?). I filled the bar, gave a great show and had a great time. I have GOT to work on getting a friend to bring a digital camera next time so I can post some photos. It's bad that I don't have any. One friend brought a regular camera and that's it. I guess I just don't have visual friends? My set was preceded by Chuck Cheesman and followed by Casey McCauley (says her website's in progress). They were both great, but I felt a particular affinity for Casey's songs since she also writes about how difficult it can be "just being me." OH yeah..

Now I'm facing the question: so what do I do next? What do I want to have happen with my music? The first thing that comes to mind is that I still want to draw a wider audience. Most of the people at my gigs are friends and acquaintances and it feels great to be supported like that, but I still haven't managed to pull in people who don't know me personally but just want to hear my music. I've been playing open mics for months now and my email list is longer than ever, but few of those people showed up last night.

Onward. I need to work on a plan and get some details figured out and I guess in the meantime I just keep playing open mics and playing wherever I can and just keep myself out there. Keep myself "out there." I'm keeping myself "out there" as a musician and keeping myself "out there" as a single, dating person. When do I get to come in?

Set list from last night:
(you can hear three of these if you look me up at Sorry, I still haven't figured out how to post complete songs to my website!)

1) Be Here Now

2) I Like Life

3) 40 (new. It's my aging, single woman blues song)

4) Solterona

5) Not So Bad

6) Song for Valentine's Day

7) Has Amado Una Mujer De Veras? (cover)

8) Sparrow (new)

9) Ven Devórame Otra Vez (cover)

10) The Penguin Song

11) Moving Through Madness

12) Going of Age

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

help i can't stop writing bad poetry

I've got to pull my focus off of my suck rat love life and concentrate on today: tonight is the big gig! I'm doing two new songs and a "new" one that's really an old one but I revised the lyrics (I do that a lot). The rehearsal with Neal (guitar) and Jean (percussion) went very well and I know it'll be a lot of fun. I love performing. It's better than exercise for getting me up and out of a depressive slump. And I can feel a depressive slump coming on because the time is coming when I'll have to stop seeing this guy who's obviously in love with me but it's just not happpening on my side. why why why why why why why Why don't I fall in love like other people? This guy was the end of a goddamn four-year dry spell of first dates and second dates and third dates but nothing real, nothing solid, nothing that stuck, just more first dates and more first dates. I've been through online dating and blind dating and dating men I've met at gigs, at work, on the bus, through friends, while volunteering, at church, at synagogue, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

I have nothing again. It's just me here. Alone. If music is the only thing I can fill my life with, music is not enough.

(No, the gentleman in question does not have online access, online savvy or even any online interest, can you believe it? I wouldn't post this kind of thing about anyone who I thought might read it.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Dating, Part Infinity plus one

So This Is Love
porous membrane surrounds me
fingers push sharp points, but it doesn't break
trouble breathing, trouble moving
panic starts

like an old womb, my prison feels familiar
yet hostile
I want out

my arms are extended, but it stretches with me
trouble seeing

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Valentine's Day Poem 1

"On, on --"

there's a light out on my string of pretty lights
has it always been out?
did it used to be on, but recently burned out?
i replaced the bulb, but it doesn't go on.
i checked the wiring, but it's fine
all the other bulbs are on
i just can't get that one on
i have tried all different kinds of bulbs
every one i could think of
every one i could get my hands on
bulbs and bulbs and bulbs
bulbs that this string was designed for
bulbs that can be used in place of the one this string was designed for
expensive bulbs
inexpensive bulbs
i've found them on the internet
i've run across them by accident as i lived my life
bulbs and bulbs and bulbs and bulbs
i'm cross-eyed with them
i'm easily discouraged
i'm tired of trying over and over and getting the same result:
there's a light out on my string of pretty lights
i give up again.

- rr

Valentine's Day Poem 2

Valentine's Day Sucks Dog Penis and So Does My Love Life

Valentine's Day sucks dog penis and so does my love life.

- rr

Friday, February 11, 2005

Why Don't Birds Freeze?

I don't understand how birds/ducks can swim in freezing ice water, fly in freezing ice air and live in the freezing ice cold the way they do. Why don't they die of cold? How can they not be extinct? Does anyone know how birds survive the cold?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

10 Days to the Big Gig

My feverish open mic activity continues as I get ready for my February 16th performance (details to the right of this page). My pitch is "After you have a sucky Valentine's Day, come to my gig and feel better - guaranteed." Stop by if you're around for any of these Chicago open mic nights:

Monday, February 7th: Subterranean, 2011 North Avenue, no cover, starts around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m.

Wednesday, February 9th: Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood Avenue, $2 cover, starts after 10:00 p.m.

Thursday, February 10th: Red Line Tap, 7006 N. Glenwood Avenue, no cover, starts around 10:00 p.m.

Monday, February 14th: no open mic for me. Have to work that night.

Wednesday, February 16th -- THE GIG at the Red Line Tap, 7006 N. Glenwood Avenue, $5 cover, starts around 10:00 p.m.

Any of this is subject to change.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Dating, Part Infinity

On her 38th birthday she registers at City Hall as Desperate, as required by law. This status requires her to accept any date offered by anyone, regardless of how beautiful she still is and regardless of how unattractive, ill-mannered or dull he is.

Their crush develops at work, between metal trays of food swung loudly and the almost-darkness of the dining room. He treats her better than any man ever has. She can’t get away with her usual level of self-hatred and alienation. He's funny and warm and generous. He amazes her with his confidence and brightness. She likes him. She has fun with him. He adores her. It feels good.

But when she comments on a tv commercial, “I thought it was funny. Why didn’t you like it?” he can only answer, “Just the whole way it was done.” She's unable to engage him in any critical thinking about anything: the president, her family dynamics, a controversial tv plotline. In fact, they rarely have conversations at all. A part of her isn’t being fed. Then again, it's the part that the whole rest of the world stands ready and willing to feed in a hundred ways.

How do you relax and let it be? How do you trust the fall? How do you know when it's time to move on?