Thursday, March 31, 2005

End of the World

I recently told a co-worker that when you start wishing the place you work would burn down, it's time to find a new job. And then there are those of us who fantasize about the entire human race and/or planet being destroyed. I don't know what productive task we're supposed to focus on, but in the meantime, here's Exit Mundi: A Collection of End-of-World Scenarios. From the homepage:

Some people collect postal stamps; Exit Mundi collects scenarios of what could go wrong with the world. Sure, our planet could get hit by an asteroid. But hey, that's nothing. Did you know we could all be munched away by hungry molecules? Or that our physicists could unintentionally wipe us all out while tinkering with particles? `Oops, sorry...'

Exit Mundi isn't in it for doom preaching, but strictly for fun. It's a fascinating thought: if that &*%#-comet didn't wipe out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we wouldn't be here pondering about apocalypses and armageddons in the first place. The dinosaurs roamed our planet millions of years longer than we did. If it wasn't for the comet, they still would.

That's why this site is a tribute to floods, quantum explosions and awfully big chunks of space rock falling out of the sky. If there's a lesson to be learnt, it should be that within every end looms the dawn of a new beginning.


I prefer to think that every in every new beginning, there's also an inevitable death. I doubt any of these possibilities is very likely, but it's lovely to dream....

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Deliver Us From Right-to-Life Idiots

Okay, I know I need to actually create a legal document that would give details about what I'd want done in various circumstances, but let me at least pound out a draft here (the following written instructions are to be superceded by any instructions, written or verbal, that I might give in the future regarding these circumstances).

If I were:
- in a vegetative state, and
- brain-dead and unable to perform basic bodily functions necessary for survival, such as swallowing, and
- completely unable to communicate with anyone or even give signs of recognition, and
- found by more than one doctor to have no reasonable hope for any improvement or change, and
- completely being kept alive by machines and external equipment,

Then --

I would prefer to be unplugged, that is, I would prefer to be allowed to die as my body would naturally do if it were not hooked up to external machines and equipment.

AND if I were:
- completely physically incapacitated as described above, but
- showed signs of brain function and a lucid, reasoning mind, but
- there was no hope for any improvement that would ever allow me to communicate in any way ever again and there was no treatment, however risky and life-threatening, that could even be attempted to improve my condition,

Then --

I would definitely prefer to be allowed to die because the second condition sounds FAR WORSE to me than the first. Unplug me without hesitation.

Okay. Now I'm going to bed. Happy Easter.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Day in Kyrgyzstan

Like everyone on the planet except us Americans, a European friend of mine pays attention to the rest of the world. Tonight he sent me a link to a NY Times article about the Kyrgyzstan government being taken over by the people. The link included his personal message which just says, "Incredible!" Putting aside my feeling of intimidation because he obviously understands this better than I do, I’m going to attempt to discuss what happened in Kyrgyzstan today. Quotes and paraphrases come from the NY Times article and a Yahoo news one.

First of all, Kyrgyzstan is an impoverished Central Asian nation of 5 million that became an independent country after the Soviet collapse. Kyrgyzstan is the third in a former Soviet republic to be brought down by its people over the past year and a half (the "Rose Revolution" took place in Georgia in 2003 and the "Orange Revolution" in the Ukraine last year). Other regimes in Central Asia haven’t responded to Thursday's uprising yet, but the opposition parties in other countries are hopeful that democratic change will spread in the region.

The most striking thing to me is how violence-free the takeover was. Organizers led a protest of several thousand people that they hoped “would be able to gather at the square and press their demands for President Akayev's resignation.” The people marched to the presidential compound, carefully staying on only one side of the street, and were met by about 30 horse-mounted police officers. These officers “fled after a few stones were thrown at them and the crowd hesitantly advanced twoard the White House, where they found that a handful of demonstrators from the other march had already entered the grounds and were just 100 feet from some 200 soldiers dressed in helmets and camouflage uniforms but armed only with sticks and shields.”

Get the picture? No firearms were involved at all. After a while, even the unarmed guards cowered and retreated, allowing the demonstrators to enter the building that (now former President) Akayev had already fled. I’m not just impressed by the lack of aggression of the police and soldiers, but by the restraint the protestors showed when the last 50 or so soldiers exited the building. The people jeered at the soldiers, but did no harm to them. This is striking to me because I know the penchant for violence on both sides of any American political protest.

The whole thing was over in a matter of hours, almost making comical the statement given earlier by the president of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, who said of the demonstration “This is the first day of a process that could take six months.” The NY Times article also reported that the U.S. and other nations had urged the Kyrgyzstan government to avoid violence and open a dialogue with the opposition. Oh, that the U.S. would use unarmed police officers and soldiers. Maybe then we wouldn't be a nation of &^#-damned armed lunatics (how we haven't managed to wipe ourselves out, I don't know, but that's for another discussion).

So, that's the news from Kyrgyzstan, as this ignorant American understands it. I did my best. What do these events mean? I don't know. Anybody else want to take it from here?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Latinos Leave the Catholic Church - por qué no?

The March 21 issue of Newsweek carries the article, “The Battle for Latino Souls”, which describes the current push of Protestant churches to get Hispanics to leave our traditional Catholic faith and join them. I didn’t realize the trend was in that direction, but data shows that from 1999 to 2004, the number of Hispanic Protestants rose and the number of Hispanic Catholics fell. Also data shows the longer a Hispanic family has been in the U.S, the more likely its members are to convert to Protestantism. First generation Latinos tend to be Catholic, but third generation Latinos often convert.

I’m a third generation Latina (grandparents born in Mexico, parents and self born in U.S.) and to this news I say, “EXCELLENT!” The American Catholic church is stodgey and restrictive and its mass services are just plain dull and boring. One woman is quoted in the article as saying that at her former Catholic church, “I always left feeling empty,” while at her new Pentacostal one, “I felt something beautiful -- the presence of the Lord.”

Yes, the American Catholic mass is a very empty place to be, the only exceptions being those masses that are led by priests with engaging ideas, inspirational messages and a charisma that invites personal contact and genuine connection. I’ve been to masses like that and they’re pretty good. Masses led by burnt out, uninspired priests without the energy or interest to engage with their congregants do little more than kill an hour of your morning, if they even do that much. One priest at my parents’ church used to spend no more than 20 minutes on a weekday morning mass. Actually, the mass I attended there lasted 17 minutes. What's the point of that?

I know what I’m saying is polemic, emotional and probably offensive. Maybe I should clarify that I’m only talking about my experience in the Catholic church. I attended mass every Sunday from birth (for god’s sake) until I was 19. That includes a year and a half of college, so I even went when my mother wasn’t making me. I tried again a couple of years ago to walk among the Catholics and it was fun for a while, but eventually the tedium got to me and I left St. Ignatius Church (on Glenwood Avenue in Chicago) last fall. I told the main pastor, Fr. Joe Jackson, that the reason I was leaving was his homilies, which held no inspirational messages or even interest for me. He was nice enough to talk to me about it for 30 minutes, but I still left. Fr. Jackson of St. Ignatius in Chicago is definitely one of those burnt-out priests in desperate need of a sabbatical, extended vacation or at LEAST a serious, intensive retreat for spiritual leaders who have lost their spirit. I suspect what would be best for Jackson is just a change of career, but I decided not to tell him that.

So anyway, because I keep winding up regularly in Catholic services, even during the times when I haven’t been part of a church, I have a lifetime of Catholic experience to draw on and it’s that experience that makes me so disgusted with the Catholic church. If they’re going to make guilt and obligation the bedrock of their religion, they should at least make the weekly services interesting. It’s as if Catholics can’t stand to have a good time. The traditional Catholic mass has calcified over the centuries into an empty set of movements and rote prayers that elevates ritual above feeling. I’m angered by the idea that the Catholic church requires ritual for the sake of (empty) ritual, but I’m disturbed by the idea that there are people who actually think they get a sense of renewal from this travesty of a spiritual practice. To those who actually like mumbling rote prayers, trying to stay alert through a homily that rarely engages them, and moving through a spiritless mass in a trance of boredom, I say, you have GOT jumpstart your life because this is not the holy spirit. Wake UP and demand a more spiritually fulfilling religion that actually helps you live a calmer, fuller, happier life. What does “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, blah blah blah” have to do with anything when you need help earning a living, or keeping your marriage together, or not wanting to commit suicide when it all just seems too hard? If “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, blah blah blah” doesn’t have any impact on Monday morning, then I can’t use it.

Yeah, I’m getting worked up. Yeah, I’ve pretty much reached the intellectual state of an old man furiously swinging his cane around the front yard. But this is all to say that if American Latinos are abandoning the Catholic church in favor of the livelier, more musically rhythmic, more literally “hands-on” spiritual experience of Pentacostal churches, then “God bless ’em." We should all have a place that spiritually moves us with palpable engagement and release. We should all be so moved by an experience of spirit that we can feel its reverberation throughout the week, throughout our lives, throughout whatever pot-hole crap the godless random world spits at us. I argue that the Catholic church just doesn’t have The Stuff. For all I know, maybe the Pentacostals do.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Luck

I'm like a relationship research project that never rests: a part of my brain never stops working the angles, exploring viewpoints, testing hypotheses, dwelling on failures and gathering data (written and fieldwork). Okay, so here's my theory at this point, influenced hugely by several articles on marriage that I read in last month's Oprah magazine.

Anyone can have a "good" marriage if they work on it because a "good" marriage is attained with good communication, strong commitment, willingness to work on the marriage, etc. A "happy" marriage, however, requires the same things plus a partner who is truly right for you. Some call this a "soul mate" and some call this phenomenon "true love." There's actually a dearth of "true love" in the world because "true love" is really very rare. The reason it's rare is that you can only find it by luck and, unfortunately, most people aren't lucky (or maybe they are lucky, but they blow it).

So it turns out the real relationship I've been working so hard to find can only be reached through pure luck. The past eight years I've spent putting an increasing amount of time, effort and money into finding a mate has been for nothing. Finding a partner happens only through luck and you can't make luck happen.

I imagine meeting someone who makes me happy just by being in the same room with me. I have to admit that I met such a person six years ago and (after an 18-month friendship) we had a relationship that lasted all of nine months. He was my favorite person in the world and one of my favorite people I had ever known. He still is, even though we're no longer in contact. We broke up three months before my 35th birthday. That was a rough birthday.

I had forgotten what it feels like to have my spirit lifted and my mood improved just by someone's proximity. I'd forgotten what it feels like to smile so much I have to tell myself to stop or I'll look like a crazy person (however honest an impression that might make). I'd forgotten what it feels like to linger over the process of getting to know someone like that, savoring the slow interlacing of our lives, even if only for a short time. I'm grateful for the chance I had this week to remember those things and, for a moment, I thought my luck was changing. But as luck would have it, this will probably be no more than another exercise in staying in the moment and trying not to blame a universe that isn't listening anyway. And it hammers home my new lesson that finding a partner happens only through luck and you can't make luck happen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Day After Valentine's

This is a short story I wrote in February, 2003. It tells the true story of one of the most miserable Valentine's weekends I ever had. The man named Henry who I mention in the story is now a friend of mine and we were talking last night. He'd never read this story, so I decided to put it on the blog. (All names are real, what the hell.) Enjoy, Henry.


The Day After Valentine's

The depression didn't lift on Saturday. I woke up feeling neutral, but my workout didn't bring the usual endorphin high. It seemed to work in the opposite way, giving me time to remember how miserable I was. In the twisted reality of my depression, my mind kept focusing on how we 10 a.m. exercisers obviously weren't sleeping in with anyone this morning, the day after Valentine's Day. I felt impressed by how unembarrassed everyone was to be there at the fitness club that morning instead of tangled up in bedding, letting desire win out over breakfast. I wanted to approach people in the middle of their routines, touch them tenderly on the arm and murmur, "I'm so sorry." After an hour of nautilus and elliptical machines, and other weird but sad fantasies, I felt worn and emotionally ragged. It was the worst I'd ever felt after a workout.

The plans I had originally made with Henry were for him to meet me at my place at five p.m. with the salsa dance starting at nine. Henry was the first out of ten first dates since the new year that I had felt excited about. We had had four great, silver-melting dates and then he told me he just wanted to be friends. My pre-Valentine's Day bravado curdled into tears. Why had I even tried to date with a major holiday coming up? This is my pattern: breakups and disappointments always happen just before Christmas or New Year's Eve or whatever. If I had missed a dramatic Valentine's Day episode, I probably would have had one for Washington's birthday.

Since I didn't have to get ready for Henry after all, I napped for as long as possible in the afternoon, unable to avoid consciousness anymore right at 5 p.m. I lay there thinking that in an alternate world he would be arriving at my apartment, late and full of enthusiasm and affection. He'd probably bring a goofy yet tender gift, appropriately casual for our fifth date. Maybe a "hot stuff" button or a home-burned CD of Frank Sinatra songs and George Lopez comedy: romance and bilingual cussing.

It didn't feel like anything could fill the hollowness, but I called Mary Muse, one of my closest friends who strongly supported my plans to go out that night. Mary is so enthusiastic. She just says what comes to mind, unfiltered. I said heavily, "Yeah, I just need to scrape myself off the couch and get out." She could hear the emptiness in my voice.
"I know you feel bad," Mary said, "but to me you just seem so together. When we go out, I'm always so impressed with you. You're smart and funny and you're living in your own apartment and you're so independent. I mean, that counts for a lot right there: you're, like, living on your own and you're in charge of your own life. That's a big accomplishment." She made me feel like Mary Tyler Moore, when she still had Rhoda and before she changed apartments.
"Yeah, I guess so," I said slowly. I required a bit more cheerleading, but eventually she convinced me. I hung up feeling confident enough to lift the remote and turn on the television rather than return to crying. With syndicated programming, I shut my mind up until it was time to leave.

At 8:00 p.m. I left the apartment, hair newly washed and full, lipstick fresh and dark. I bought some sparkly water and headed over to the home of a friend of a friend (of a friend) who was having a party. I only stayed a couple of hours, but in that time I met Bruce, a good-looking if slightly-built guy with great dimples. He struck me as a mild-mannered, sensitive-but-earnest person who liked to travel, leaned left politically, and probably wanted to learn Spanish. When I said I was on my way to another dance, he offered me a ride and mentioned that he had taken salsa lessons, but was still learning. He smiled at me as he hinted that he was always looking for someone to practice with. Why do men think this is a good come on? Maybe it works for other women, but to me it is very unromantic to be hauling some guy across the dance floor while trying to stay feminine and yielding. The dominance and direction required to teach someone how to dance just doesn't make me feel sexy. I prefer my enthusiasm to convey how impressed I am with a man's worldliness, not how maternally pleased I am that he's finally found the downbeat.

As we pulled up to the dance, Bruce and I exchanged numbers which gave me a little more confidence as I walked into the party. So there, Henry! You've already been potentially replaced. I really didn't feel interested in Bruce, but he was nice to look at.

The salsa was great. I danced alone most of the time, right in front of the band. Every part of my body moved in its own direction to the closely knit rhythms. I was determined to dance Henry out of my head. I spun and slid and sweated and at times only opened my eyes to make sure I wasn't heading into the nest of coats and instrument cases near the bandstand.

When the band went on break, I approached one of the percussionists. He was young and good-looking. I asked him where the guitar player had gone since I wanted to compliment a song the guitarist had written. The percussionist didn't know, so we started talking and then danced a little to the canned music that plays during band breaks. In the course of our conversation I found out that Marvin was 22(!) and this was his first gig as a congero. We discovered our common ground: he had a girlfriend who had broken up with him so abruptly he didn't even get to give her the flowers he'd bought her for Valentine's Day. We sympathized with each other. He was surprised when I told him I was 36. I don't really understand why I look so young when I've spent so many years dealing with depression and stress. Shouldn't these things have aged me?

I paid more attention to Marvin's conga playing during the second set, but as I started to go for a drink of water, a young woman whose body was unrealistically squeezed into a short skirt and pointy pumps stepped in front of me.
"Are you interested in my boyfriend?" Oh, hell.
"Who's your boyfriend?" I asked.
"The guitar player. The one who you told you liked his song."
"Oh, yeah, it was a good song."
"Well, are you interested in him?"
"No."
"Okay."
I should have stopped there, but now I was irritated.
"Why? Does it look like I'm interested in him?" I was sure she was crazy.
"Yeah, it does. And it's not very respectful. I don't want to have to kick your ass." Oh, God. She was taller and heavier than me.
"I'm not interested in him. Really. Like zero."
"Okay," and she finally moved away.

Great. For the rest of the set I was very aware of her hunkering near the bandstand. I know it's because I'm a single woman. We're the unwanted poachers of the social scene, immediately suspect because we're not attached to a man. Single women are uncontained, like free electrons, destabilizing to the couple environment. And the more attractive we are, the more dangerous. So much for feeling lucky that I look young for my age.

I waited until the end of the set which was, fortunately, the end of the dance. I watched Marvin put away his congas as carefully as Psycho Pumps watched her boyfriend take his time coming off the stage. I couldn't lose sight of Marvin now because I needed him for protection. As he stepped down, I leaned over and asked, "Um, can I ask you to walk me home?"
"Sure." He was so nice. I didn't look at Pumps or her overrated boyfriend as Marvin and I passed them on the way out. As unempowering as the thought was, I was glad I had hooked up with another man during the course of the night.

In his car, Marvin told me about how he'd avoided gangs and drugs as he grew up and said he'd been playing music for only five years. He talked a little about his newly ex-ed girlfriend and told me not to worry about Henry. Life goes on and you can't get too worked up about these things.
"You never get worked up, do you?" I asked. "You're always calm, right?"
"Yeah, there's no point in getting worked up."
"I get all worked up."
"Really?"
"Yeah. I'm very emotional." I paused. "I don't feel like I do this dating very well. I feel broken."
"Broken?"
"Yeah, broken like a toy. Like you shake the box and there's just pieces."
"No," he shook his head. "You're not broken."
I looked at him. "How do you know?"
"You're not."
I turned fully towards him in earnest. "But how do you know? You don't know me. You don't know...how do you know?"
"Yeah, I know I don't know you that well, but I know you're not broken. I can tell." Could I trust his insight? I resisted the urge to press him until he either explained his analysis or agreed with my lower opinion of myself. I just had to accept his viewpoint.

When he dropped me off, I said I'd watch out for when his band plays again, forgetting that Psycho Pumps is probably included with each performance. I felt grateful that this (very) young man had helped me feel better, kept me company, and even made me feel safe. I leaned over to give him a kiss on the cheek, but his lips were too ready for me. I figured a peck on the lips was okay, but suddenly he was Kissing With Intent. He wasn't a bad kisser, but this wasn't what I wanted. A 22-year-old?

I pulled away (after a few seconds), and he made a disappointed sound. I thanked him again for the ride, and stepped out of the car.
"Wait," he stopped me. "Here, take this." And he reached behind the front seat and pulled out the flowers he had bought for his girlfriend.
"Are you sure?" I was touched.
"Yeah, take them."
"Thank you, Marvin." I gazed at him for a long second before I closed the door.

In my apartment, I pulled the plastic off a large arrangement of lilies tied with a lavender ribbon. I had received Valentine's day flowers! I inhaled their scent. I still wept, but this time I felt grateful as well as sad. My Valentine's Day depression had finally ended with this gesture of two people helping each other. It's my favorite thing in life: when someone reaches out for help and ends up also helping the person they need. Marvin needed to get rid of a painful gift that he'd been carrying around for two days. And I really needed some flowers.

Regina Rodríguez
Chicago, Illinois
February 17, 2003

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Napoleon Dynamite - can't let go

Okay, tonight I returned the video of Napoleon Dynamite -- but bought the DVD before I left the store. I've found yet another way to be a geek...

Napoleon Dynamite - after 3 viewings

To those of you who have seen this movie:

Did you notice there isn't one nighttime shot in the whole movie? Even Napoleon's journey to the school dance - for which he picks up Trisha at 6:00 p.m. - happens in broad daylight. For a little while I wondered if the action took place in Alaska (it's Idaho) because the sunshine is so relentlessly bright and there's no dusk or dawn. I guess it's just what happens when you don't have a night-shoot equipment budget? I hope the actors wore lots of sunblock.

Did you wonder why most of the the characters dress like it's the 1980's? I'd think the action of this film took place in the '80's if it weren't for Uncle Rico talking about wanting to go back in time to 1982 (which was a truly great year). Are the dated fashions just part of the stylization of this movie or am I supposed to think that rural America, specifically Idaho, is stuck in 1985?

Tomorrow I return the movie :( <-- first time I use an emoticon on this blog

Monday, March 14, 2005

Napoleon Dynamite

On Wednesday I rented the 2004 movie Napoleon Dynamite. (I like this website, too.) On Friday I watched it. On Saturday and Sunday I watched it again. I might watch it once more before I return it. I wish I had seen it in the theater because this movie TOTALLY deserved my support. It deserves everyone's support. I love movies that are more a character study than a story. This movie has almost no plot at all and yet it's fascinating. It shows the painful high school world we all know: the annoying sibling, the incompetent school faculty, the girl/guy you like but pretend you don't, the surreal nightmare of the school dance. And yet it shows me a world that's foreign and fascinating because it shows the midwestern, guy version of awkward adolescence: the guy code of almost non-verbal friendship, the weird confidence total geeks often have, the never-say-die perseverance that leads them to their totally unlikely successes. Napoleon's perpetual exasperation and disgust with everyone around him clearly shows his unawareness that he's the one who's odd. It's totally great. I totally recommend that everyone see this movie. Now.

Friday, March 11, 2005

It's the 70's in My Head

I decided to go further into that nostalgia experience that happens when a song takes me back. Here's the moment I referred to in my last post, “slo-mo”:

I’m sitting in a northside café with a man who’s in love with me but with whom I’ve failed to fall in love. I’m feeling vague guilt for having this cruel lunch with him, even though I’m only doing it because I keep thinking I should give him another chance, and give me another chance to fall for him and get this right. He’s paying the check as I sit with my mostly eaten raspberry cheesecake in front of me. I can’t deny anymore that this isn’t the guy for me, no matter how much he likes me, no matter how well he treats me and no matter how much I wish he were the guy for me.

I’ve noticed the decades-old music this café plays, but none of the songs evokes much in me until one does. The melody comes through first, the whispery tenor voice, the lyrics almost hushed as they describe this incredible woman the guy can’t stop thinking about. Every muscle is stilled as I pause to identify it. Could that be..yeah, it is..that’s that song I used to like so much when I was very young, the one I never knew the name to (sorry). Now I’m barely breathing as my inner vision floods with the sight of my parents’ living room where I used to sit or lie with headphones and listen to music for hours. Sunlight from a 1980 sun pours onto their 1970’s shag carpet and I’m 12 years old and I’m lost in this song, in this music of older people who are living exciting, romantic, shimmery lives to which I can only aspire. I’m 12 years old and I lose myself in the light, airy, love song, wondering if one day I’ll be beautiful enough to inspire such over-heated infatuation. I’m captivated by the upbeat mellowness of the music, the devotion of the tenor voice, the obsessive romance of the lyrics. I imagine what the singer looks like and the image blends with that of the dream man I plan to look for as soon as I’m old enough: he’ll have dark hair, adoring yet teasing eyes, gentle hands, a wicked sense of humor. My Hawkeye, my Holy Grail, my hero who’ll be out there looking for me, dreaming of me, unable to stop thinking of me or writing songs about me until we meet and fall in love and he’ll be everything I want and I’ll be everything he wants and we’ll make out forever. I’m sure that’s how my life will go. I’m absolutely sure. This is my prayer and my reason for living as I breathe in the dusty shag carpet air and push REWIND so I can listen again...

The sunny melody fades and I’m back in the northside café. I’m 38 1/2 years old and there’s no dream man in sight and I’m way past the age at which I was supposed to meet him and fall in love and it’s raining outside. The familiar sense of failure washes over me and in my mind’s eye I glance apologetically back at the 12-year-old and feel guilty of not making the dream come true, guilty of not being found by the guy, guilty of somehow not being at the right place at the right time where he must have been waiting, where he undoubtedly met someone else.

My Failure Guy of 2005 comes back to the table and escorts me out of the café. I shuffle to the front door feeling stunned by how sharply reality differs from that golden shag-carpet dream. What did I do wrong? How could I have so completely failed myself when the vision was so clear and the dream so simple?

Footnote:
Once again I’m awed by the facility of the Internet. After 26 years I finally know what song it is. Here’s a link to the title, recording artist and lyrics for “Save It For a Rainy Day.” It’s by Stephen Bishop. Of course it’s by Stephen Bishop. Who else had that bubble gum, pre-John Mayer, whispery style? Do you remember the love theme from the Dustin Hoffman movie
Tootsie, "It Might Be You?" I used to love that song. That was Stephen Bishop, too. You can download the songs at (among other websites) Apple iTunes.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Normal

Today I heard a song that reminded me of being 12 years old, when I believed my life would be fun and exciting when I got older. I strain to hear such songs, as if remembering and recapturing that 12-year-old sense of anticipation might somehow straighten out the past 26 years like a bedsheet, resulting in a different 2005 outcome. But it doesn't. The song ends and I re-awaken to find myself back in this 38-year-old life, in the company of a man with whom I have failed to fall in love, on my way to a job I embrace because it doesn't allow me to sink into self-reflection and self-loathing. It's my Mary Richards life, but with rain and loneliness and depression and way too much effort.

I appreciate hugely my friend who’s 15 years younger than me telling me that she hopes to be like me when she's my age: independent, active and creative, with a strong network of friends and no end of male attention. She sees my life as successful, not as the consolation prize I see:

"Well, Regina, you didn't win the happy marriage and the life of love and family, but you won't go away empty-handed because here's your SWINGING SINGLE LIFE. [Audience goes wild as a panel parts to reveal a one-bedroom apartment with a hamster cage.] Yes, Regina, you'll experience the freedom of apartment living, regularly changing jobs and endless first dates. [Gorgeous model flips through an oversized Rolodex, carelessly scattering cards on the floor.] Not for you the wonders of childbirth, long-lasting marriage or grandchildren in old age. No, none of that is for you because you'll be enjoying a regular rotation of ever-changing friends, trying to figure out a half-way decent retirement plan for one and never having to call home to explain why you'll be late because there will never be anyone there! [Model waves arms around to indicate there's no one else in the apartment.] Ever! Congratulations, Regina!"

Humor is a freaking bizarre coping mechanism. Sometimes it helps when someone laughs at me, but sometimes it just makes me feel like my life is nothing but a series of punchlines. Get it? Get it? No one gets it. I don't get it. It's the depression. It's back. For a while I felt normal, but thank god I'm not. Thank god I'm not. I didn't know what to do with myself while I felt disappointed but basically okay about my non-existent love life. While I was able to stop dating one man and go on to the next without hunger strikes or crying spells, I didn't know what to do with myself. Is that what normal feels like? An endlessly sunny day? I actually missed the gloom. The depression response took a while to kick in , but it's back and it's familiar and I'm glad. And I'm a freaking nutcase.

Tell me no one gets the life they expect, tell me everyone wonders what went wrong, tell me everything I’ve ever felt is common and normal and I’ll start wondering how anyone survives the first realization that suicide is an option. Today I heard a song that reminded me of being 12 years old, when I believed my life would be fun and exciting. Does everyone feel like they’ve failed the child they used to be? Does everyone feel like they’ve abandoned that child’s dreams and her best possibilities? And what do they do with the guilt?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Parenthood?

The Newsweek article "When Does Autism Start?" makes me think about my family. My sister Judy has an almost nine-year-old daughter named Julia. Julia is mentally retarded and autistic. I think she can speak in sentences, or at least fragments, but it’s not always easy to tell what she wants because when she starts screaming she stops using words. She has what I think many parents call a “melt-down” every day with my sister. For Julia, a "melt-down" includes extremely high-pitched, loud shrieking, physically attacking Judy and fighting whatever it is Judy is trying to do at the moment such as giving Julia a bath. These tantrums/attacks are scariest when Judy is driving. All children have "melt-downs" I know, but Julia’s tantrums have stayed at the absolutely terrified or enraged two-year-old level and have become increasingly dangerous as Julia has grown. She’s big for a nine-year-old and is well over half my sister’s size. Judy regularly suffers bruises from Julia's attacks and sometimes Judy even has to take refuge in the bathroom, hiding from her daughter’s violent rage until Julia calms down.

Julia isn’t all bad. She behaves pretty well at school, where she’s on the life skills track (the hope is that one day she’ll be capable of assisted living in a group home). She behaves well for babysitters and respite care workers. She even does well with her father and with my parents. But for Judy, Julia saves her worst, most destructive emotions and my sister, as a single mother, is worn out.

Judy and her ex-husband divorced in 2000, but he has stayed very present in Julia’s life. He has part custody (25%), has been very good about financial support and responds immediately when Judy calls him with a desperate, “Come get your daughter.” He knows he has to respond fast to those distress calls because stress has a particularly bad effect on Judy. She has a serious health concern that sometimes requires hospitalization and it has happened that she has hesitated to call an ambulance because she was the only one in the house with her daughter. Too much stress can trigger symptoms, so Judy is not an ideal candidate for being the single mother of this kind of special needs child.

Because Julia acts worst with Judy, because my sister is under constant emotional and physical stress from her increasingly violent daughter and because Judy’s health isn’t up to this kind of prolonged strain, Judy recently made the decision to relinquish primary custody. Later this year, her ex-husband will take primary custody of Julia, and Judy will begin seeing her on a part-time basis.

I was so relieved to hear Judy’s decision. They’re in San Diego, but I’ve heard plenty over the past eight and a half years about how draining and defeating it is to raise Julia. For years now I’ve wished there were some way Judy could get out of this situation and now it seems she will. Congratulations to her.

But even if Judy has found an escape out of the horrors of parenthood, I still have fear about it for myself. The constant sacrifices and stresses of taking care of a child sound overwhelming. And these days the idea of getting pregnant is more frightening than ever because I know my chances of giving birth to a normal, healthy child are diminishing as I get closer to 40. Having an autistic - or any other kind of special needs - child seems like an awful, never-ending nightmare. I already knew that from witnessing Judy's experience, but the Newsweek article confirms it.

After years of listening to my sister's ordeal, I don't want to have a special needs child. But I also don’t know if I want an ordinary child either. Even an ordinary one requires huge amounts of love, attention and sacrifice and I just don’t know if I can make that kind of room in my life. Everyone says no matter how much you prepare and anticipate, you never have any idea what parenthood is like until you're in it. Any parent can testify to how completely children changed everything about their daily life. I wonder, can I make every single thing in the world that's important to me secondary - or non-existent - to the needs of the child I'm raising? It’s really not appealing, especially when I consider how necessary writing and performing music are to my emotional well being. And so I remain undecided about whether or not I want kids at all.

This issue currently feels a bit sensitive to me as I fill out online dating questionnaires that ask if I want kids. I know it's an important bit of information for potential dates, but I'm afraid I just can't give a clearer answer than "I don't know." Any other child-free, never-married people out there who remain as uncertain about parenthood as I?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Who's There?

BTW: Who's out there reading my blog? I can tell my site gets a dozen or two hits a day and I'm floored by it. Some of my readers are friends of mine, but there are obviously lots of people I don't know who keep an eye on my blog. Who are you? How did you find my blog? And if you check back regularly, why?

Chicana on the Outside

Another blog has now linked to this one. Julio Sueco commented on my last post and now I'm on his Yonder Lies It website. He has linked several Chicano blogs and while I'm honored to be included and very glad about it, I also feel intimidated. Am I worthy? Although I began calling myself a Chicana in the 1980's while attending UC Berkeley, I've never felt certain about bearing the political mantle of it. Am I left-wing enough to call myself a Chicana? Is my heritage right? Is my language right? Is my hair right? I have always been certain that there's a definition of Chicana that I will never meet. I remember in 1984 I considered joining the campus MEChA chapter (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, wow, I'm surprised I remember that). But I didn't stay because I felt like everyone was from a working class background and they saw me as different. When I mentioned being originally from L.A., one girl said, "East Los?" (East Los Angeles). I said no, my family had lived in Westwood. She said, "Ohhhh, that's a nice part." I fled.

I have always been ashamed of being a middle class Mexican American. I've also been ashamed of not speaking Spanish well. I've also been ashamed of how huge a difference there is between me and most Mexicans and Mexican Americans. I was born in a white neighborhood, raised in white schools, learned nothing but white English (my parents never spoke Spanish to me), and inhabit mainly white culture. On the phone you can't tell I'm Latina at all. I'm the quintessential "coconut," brown on the outside, white on the inside. I've never been to Mexico. I'm not working on improving "my" Spanish and I've never given anything "back" to "the community." I just live my life, aware that I challenge Latino/American expectations just by existing. Some people see me as Mexican and expect me to act Mexican. Mexican Americans expect me to act Mexican American. And some whites expect me to act white. I disappoint and surprise everyone all the time.

But if someone wants to include me in their links to Chicano/a websites, that's great. I just hope I don't have to meet any requirements.

(BTW: When I typed the title of this post, I meant "outside" as in "crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside," but now I see it reads more like I'm on the outside of some structure or group. Good enough.)