Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Declaration of Dependence

It's been awhile since I posted.  Since Easter I've felt very busy, and for a long time it seemed like there was just one problem after another.  My children had their spring break from school this week, and I feel like I spent all of it putting out fires, rather than investing that time in quality moments. I argued with my mother, I argued with my husband, and I almost lost my son. I am emotionally exhausted, which makes it hard to write.

In the middle of all of this, E took his finals, and he is finished with his first year of nursing school.  His spring semester has been a nightmare for me, though I can't really understand why I have had such a negative reaction to his new career choice.  We had a long discussion about it last night.  I feel sorry for my husband.  I struggle so much in so many areas of my life, and he loves me, so he is caught in a position of feeling the need to help me all the time.  Just to maintain a loving friendship with me, he must act as my lover, best friend, counselor, advocate, co-parent, leader, follower.  Added to that, he voluntarily takes on the role of cook and food shopper in our home, cares for and/or cleans anything I don't wish to take care of, and never complains.  He also does at least as much parenting as I do.  Obviously we do not have anything remotely close to traditional roles in our home, and this is both a comfort and a concern for me.  I don't wish to change the balance we have, and I find our ability to communicate and care for each other soothing and beautiful.  We understand each other so well that a casual observer might think we engage in some kind of telepathy.  Sometimes I will think, I'm a little hungry, and immediately E will begin making me a sandwich. Sometimes a friend will say something that hurts a little, and E will take my hand.  I have told him many times that we've been doing this for so long that I can no longer tell where I stop and he begins.  If once he was red, and I was blue, we are now purple.

I've realized too that it would be healthy for both of us to develop separate friends, activities, and interests.  Without careful attention it would be so easy for us to nurture no relationships but our own.  Sometimes it feels like he and me against the world.  But life is hectic and difficult and broad, and we need to have other people to rely on.  E seems to want very much to be all I need, and many times he is, but over the years I can see the burden this is on him, though he bears it so willingly.  He has become more easily hurt by me, yet more careful about hiding it.  Sometimes when things have been stressful and painful for a long period of time, I can see him shut down and build a wall between us relationally, and I imagine that this is his only option.  He simply can't bear the weight that my emotional neediness puts on him, so he shuts me out in the gentlest of ways.  All of these are why I am really happy that he felt comfortable enough to come to me and tell me he wanted to make a drastic career change.  Now that he's begun nursing school I am finding that there are aspects of this that are challenging me, and it's unexpected.  The schedule changes, new responsibilities, and new views of the future have brought the the forefront my internal battle with dependence, independence, and interdependence.

Our society applauds independence.  We judge a person's value and ability based on their level of independence, or how much they can do without help.  We celebrate our children's successes when we see them master a skill without help.  We bundle this value of independence with the more modern American value of individuality, and we expect that a person should strive to function independently of help from others, so that ultimately any relationships he or she chooses to have are there by choice and not necessity.  In my lifetime of almost thirty years I have seen independence become the goal, with relationships being made by choice. In many cases we only maintain and nurture the relationships that encourage our independence.  Without looking up the statistics, I see more and more people in my culture choosing to keep all their relationships on a comparatively superficial level of intimacy.  Single children instead of big families.  Child-free living instead of families.  Co-habitation instead of marriage.  Single living instead of intimate relationships.  The people of my generation seem to be increasingly afraid of relational commitments.  We have been taught to be independent, and we are living that out.  Growing up, I remember a friend's mother, who was happily married, telling me that I should seek to be successful and build a lucrative career so that I would never have to stay with a man because I needed his income.  We are the children of modern feminism.

Twenty years later that is exactly the position I find myself in, and I'll be honest, it scares me.  I have been thinking of getting a part time job, not as the insurance policy my friend's mother implied that work should be, but because I feel like there is a need for independent, worldly success running through my blood.  I feel a need to know that I could make it on my own, without E.  I wonder about trying it.  I wonder about running away, changing my name, and building a career as if I could have a clean slate.  I wonder about taking the children and moving into a cheap apartment, getting a job and enrolling them in school and day care.  Or I wonder about getting a full time job right here, dropping the baby off at day care early in the morning and hopping on the Metro with my heels tucked in a tote bag.  I could do it.  It would take some rearranging for childcare and housework, but it could be done.  But why do I dream about this when I have so many friends who live that life, and wish they could be where I am?  And why would I want to do anything that upsets the balance I have with a husband who can sense me, read my mind, feel my feelings? For goodness sake, we're like Eliot and E.T.
Please don't try to speculate which of us is E.T.
As much as I love E and as much as I know I've been given a more wonderful husband than I could have dreamed of, he is not perfect.  It's hard to describe the problems we have to other people.  I think people tune me out if I say anything negative about him.  I understand why.  It's hard to get past the fact that I have a husband who does all the cooking and grocery shopping, more than his share of parenting, supports me in everything, listens to me, and looks the way E does in a pair of jeans.  I hate myself whenever I have a thought that even slightly resembles a complaint.  But E's willingness to jump at my every need is sometimes the problem.  I have no idea if I could live without E.  I imagine that if we were separated, and I had to function on my own, I would fail miserably in the practicalities of my life, and that emotionally I would wither and die, just like E.T.'s flowers.  I have never lived as an adult without E.  We met when I was only 17, became engaged shortly after I turned 18, and married when I was 20. I had my first child a few months after I turned 22.  I have never worked a full time job in my life.  I have no idea what it would be like to do so, and to have to do it.  It's a charmed life, and I have nothing but appreciation for my God who has put me here, and my husband who works hard so that I can focus on our children, our home, and our relationships.  But like my friend's mother expressed twenty years ago, being this dependent on another flawed human being is a risk.  If E left me, I would have nothing.  E won't leave me.  He's said so repeatedly.  As bad as things got last semester, and as many times as I told him that I wanted to leave and taste freedom and life without a caretaker, E never wavered.  He would have let me leave if it meant my happiness, but he would have never stopped waiting for me to come back.  Last week, when the semester was almost over, and my burning need for independence seemed to be climaxing, he said, "You will not remove this ring from my hand without cutting off my finger."

So how do I reconcile this?  I wish I could be a person who could simply choose to enjoy this, and never wonder how it could be different.  I would like to think that E and I live in a state of interdependence; that while our talents and abilities and strengths differ greatly, we have found a way to live that brings them all together in harmony, that allows each of us to gain from the abilities of the other, where neither of us takes advantage of the other, and both receive equal benefits.  But it's hard for me to imagine what E is getting from me.  At worst, I imagine that I am nothing more than free childcare and an organized home.  Even then, the definition of "free" is limited; E more than pays for my services with all that he does for me when he is here, and with all the hurt I put him through in my emotional and psychological struggles.  What is it that he sees in me?  Why is he so committed?  He doesn't express it in so many words. I ask constantly, and the best answer I get is that he is happy and feels loved.  He is loved, and I would love him forever, even if he stopped doing all these things for me.  It doesn't seem like something I can control; I love him even when I wish I didn't.  I need to love him the way I need to breathe.  In the end it has nothing to do with all the things he does for me.  I love him because he is the person I was designed to love.  He says the same.  Mutual dependence seems inevitable, and when I look at it this way, it seems so much more lovely than freedom.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: I'm not a party gal.

Picture is unrelated, but still pretty cool.
Today is Good Friday.  I always want to call it Black Friday, which is a little silly since Black Friday is that kick-off to the holiday shopping insanity and probably the best example of the commercialization of Christmas. (I love Christmas shopping by the way, but I prefer Cyber Monday.) I want to call it Black Friday because to me, this day is about mourning.

We marked the day today by reading Luke's account of the death of Jesus at exactly noon.  In a beautiful tribute, the skies in my area darkened and rain began to fall precisely at noon, the approximate time of Jesus' death.  After the children and I read about His death we walked around the house together, pulling down the shades and closing the curtains, promising to keep our lights dim in mourning and grief until the sun rises on Sunday. Tonight we went to a Tenebrae service at our church.  We wore black.  To me, this is a funeral.  There are some years where I sit in this service praying that my emotions will access the depth of the meaning of it, but never quite achieving that, and there are years when the floodgates open and I am a tearful mess right there in my pew.  This year was the latter.

I made a decision during the service.  I decided that I'm not going to go to my future sister-in-law's bachelorette party.  What a petty thing for me to be fretting over, but there it was.  It's been on my mind for weeks.  For me, nothing is without meaning, and anything and everything can be connected.  When I make a decision, it's almost never simple.  Every little thing is somehow connected to my integrity.  E asks me how I can live like this, but I don't know how not to.  If I'm going to call myself a person with values and beliefs greater than my own desires, I need to have the strength and will to reflect those values and beliefs in my actions, always.

The bachelorette party is something my future sister-in-law (A) approached me about a couple of months ago.  I have been looking forward to this wedding since my brother proposed because I am expecting it to be such a happy moment for my whole family- my brother happy and loving someone for life, my parents happy to see both their children with loving partners, etc.  Of course the day should be just plain fun as well.  IC, DJ, and I are in the wedding party, so it's a perfect excuse to get my hair and nails done, doll up my little girl, get great pictures of myself looking good for my facebook profile, all that materialistic shallow stuff that I can't help but love because I'm human.  The invitation to the bachelorette party was the first moment that this became uncomfortable.  She seemed unsure of whether or not I would want to attend because of the nature of the party.  It's a sex toy party.  My initial reaction to this, upon the reassurance from A that they did not sell any kind of pornography, was to say that it would be just fine, probably a lot of fun.  After all, I am a married woman, and I very much enjoy a good roll in the hay with my husband, so what's wrong with a few little items to make things more interesting?  We were in a lull anyway, why not spice things up? I went through my Christian sex rules in my head- Sex toys would not involve any other person in our sexual relationship (hence the pornography question), and they could potentially even bring us closer by making things a little more adventurous but remaining within the confines of the husband/wife relationship.  Decision made, I told A that I was going and I was excited about it.

It nagged at me, and I couldn't figure out why.  The more I thought about it, the more I did my "everything connected" stuff.  You see, I have had a lot of things happen to me in my life that gave me a negative outlook on femininity, sex, womanhood, body image, and physical relationship.  I began this blog because I suspect that there are a lot of women out there who, like me, have many flaws in their thinking due to past hurts and learned misconceptions, and I believe that healing from this flawed thinking can come through openness and discussion of these very intimate yet incredibly meaningful and important issues.  The bachelorette party, with its adult toy sales and rumors of a penis-shaped cake, presented a certain image of sexuality and sexual relationship.   I wasn't unfamiliar with the image, and it is just one of many out there.  I have been in a healing process over my flawed thinking in this realm for years, and overcoming my negative views of myself and my body, and my inaccurate understanding of my worth as it relates to my body and to sex, has been a big part of that healing.  I've only scratched the surface.  Connected to all of this is a fundamental lack of trust in my own worth, and put together with several poor experiences with men at a young age, it is easy for me to believe that my value as a woman is based on my ability to "perform" for a man, sexually and otherwise.  Thank God; with the love of my amazing husband (E), and my growing faith in Christ, I am learning that my worth is not connected to my beauty, my ability to attract the man I want, or even my ability to keep a clean house and happy children.  Past abuse and poor choices left me with my individual sexuality locked in a box, controlled only by me and used to gain favor and acceptance, and therefore, worth.  But after eleven and a half years with E, I can say confidently that I have given him the key to that box, and I will not take it back. He has earned it by showing me that I am worth more than what is in it.  I have given him a part of myself that includes both my physical body from neck to knees, but also the part of my mind that creates and acts on my sexuality.  E doesn't talk like this, and his thoughts on subjects like these are generally unspoken, but I know enough to know that it is a mutual decision.  Sex is something that we have with only each other, not just in body, but in mind and spirit as well.

There's nothing actually wrong with attending a sex toy party, as I said.  I could go, have a great time, buy some fun stuff, and use it with my husband without doing anything wrong or sinful.  Nowhere in my Bible does it tell me I can't use sex toys with my husband.  But going to a party, where sex is something fun to chat about with women I don't know, where sex is an act performed for physical pleasure and nothing more, does not fit my vision.  Going to that party and laughing and eating penis-shaped cake not only cheapens the intimate, God-created connection I have with E, it puts me in a position where I have to take back that locked box and open it up for everyone there to see.

Furthermore, Paul taught that the marriage relationship is designed to reflect the love of Christ for us.  In Galatians 5:25 it says, "And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church.  He gave up his life for her...".  E and I have something together that belongs to no one else but each other, that is shown to no one else but each other, and that gives us another opportunity to understand how God loves us.  Why in the world would I do something that remotely has the potential to diminish that?  When you have something good and beautiful, you care for it and cherish it.  The image of sex presented at that party couldn't hold a candle to what I have already, without any extra devices.

So that's why I'm not going.  I don't really understand why, on the night of the death of my Savior, I felt led to write a journalistic post on an invitation to a sex toy party, but there it is.  I wish I could express it more eloquently, but maybe I can only see the connection because I know what E and I have.  Perhaps tonight was an emotional night for me because E and I have had a rough few months, and there were a few times when I almost gave it all up.  Christ died for all of that.  His death and resurrection are my open line of communication with God, and because of that sex, love, emotion, relationships, and life in general are on a whole other level.  I live in the world and I enjoy a good time as much as anyone, but sometimes I find that, as it is with this party, accepting the best that the rest of the world has to offer me simply isn't good enough for me when I've tasted the goodness of life and love with Jesus in my life.

You should try it too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Anger, Batman!

Don't mess with Jesus, yo.

So this is Holy Week, but so far it hasn't been too holy on my end.  I've been kind of a mess.  I'm yelling at my husband for things he can't control, complaining about my baby waking up at night even though I'm not willing to do much to change that, and feeling generally lazy and run down.  There are many moments where I can take a step outside of myself and watch me doing a great job at being me: I'm helping the kids with their homework and they're having fun and learning together, or I'm choosing to let it go when my husband makes a decision that might make things a little more difficult for me.  But there are many many more moments when the view is not so nice.  Instead of giving him space to have his own life, I'm yelling at my husband, telling him to fix something he can't fix, or telling him I don't like the solution when he does fix it.  Or I'm frustrated with the kids and unwilling to try a different approach to help them understand something. I can't remember ever being consistently proud of my own actions or abilities.

I'm an emotional person; it's something that will never change, and I wouldn't want it to.  To live life without being able to feel anger that burns like fire or happiness that feels like the sun is inside your chest or sadness that feels like sinking would be simpler, perhaps, but incredibly bland.  My hypersensitivity causes both my best and worst traits, and without it I have no idea what life would look or feel like.  If my perspective is different, I'm not me.  So it's not that I want to avoid strong emotion altogether, it's the management that's difficult.  I grew up thinking that I should be able to control my emotions, but no one ever taught me how.  The people around me weren't so good at it either.  So now I find myself inching ever closer to 30 years old, and I still have only scratched the service in learning how to really take my own feelings into my control.  Is that what I'm trying to do?  Or am I trying to change how I feel about things?  Or am I only acknowledging my feelings, but learning how to separate them from my actions by stopping to consider my situation before reacting to whatever emotion comes up?  I tend to think it's the last one, but I'm so lost in my own brain at this point that I really don't know.  So here I am with three very emotion children who are struggling the same way I am, and I don't know what to tell them.  I am no farther along in this emotional management course than they are.

Yesterday my children and I read John 2:13-16 as part of a set of Holy Week activities I am doing with them.  This is one of those passages that I've always wanted to celebrate.  It shows me that those women you meet who seem to have little oscillation to their feelings, who look the same no matter what is happening in their life, and pride themselves on it, are not, in fact, better than I am.  Jesus was an emotional person, like me.  Here's what it says:

"When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, "'Get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

So yeah, Jesus was seriously P.O.'ed.  I love how He never acted the way people expected Him to.  I mean, what these people were doing doesn't seem like that big a deal to me.  If I remember my Biblical historical info right, these people weren't actually selling animals and exchanging currency in the part of the temple where the solemn worship happened; they were outside, still on the temple grounds, but in a sort of pavilion area that surrounds it.  And they weren't there selling pork, for goodness sake, they were selling materials that people needed who came to the temple to make sacrificial offerings.  Is it even all that different from those churches that have Biblical book stores in their buildings?  Why in the world is He so upset?

When I really think about Jesus' reactions to things that were happening around Him, it's no wonder that some people thought He was crazy.  In John 8:2-11 He persuades an angry mob to give up on punishing a woman caught sleeping with a married man.  I mean, by their law this woman (and her partner, but notice he's no where around) could have been stoned (see Leviticus 20:10), but Jesus didn't worry about that.  But selling sacrifice materials outside the temple?  You're gonna get whipped.  The notes in my Bible say that Jesus was angry that the sellers were taking advantage of purchasers, that those who came to the temple to worship had a hard time doing it because of the commotion and the space taken up by the sale tables, and that He wouldn't tolerate the commercialization of the temple. (Boy, there's a whole other topic that Christians don't want to hear about.  Have you ever noticed that you can invest your hard earned money in a Christian version of just about everything these days?  Christianity is totally  commercialized and no one is talking about it.)

All of these things are probably true, but it's the opinion of scholars based on historical information; it doesn't actually say in Scripture why Jesus got so upset.  For me, it's not so important what His anger was about; what His anger wasn't about is key.  It wasn't personal.  It doesn't say that any of these sellers said or did anything to Jesus to make Him angry.  In fact, take a look at Matthew 26:59-63.  Here you have a whole group of people in a sort of mob mentality, all working together to come up with some kind of charge against Jesus so they have a good excuse to kill Him, but they can't find anything they can twist into something wrong.  The high priest asks Jesus directly what He has to say about the false accusations.  So Jesus has a prime opportunity to defend Himself at this point in His "trial".  He says nothing in His own defense.  So here's the contradiction again- sell doves, get whipped; make false accusations against God incarnate, stone cold silence.  When it is personal, Jesus doesn't do a whole lot about it.  He definitely doesn't get angry.

Up until this point I'm cheering myself on.  "See, it's just fine to get super mad and yell and scream about stuff; Jesus did it too."  This stops me in my tracks:  When it was about the holiness of the temple, the potential exploitation of worshippers, and the commercialization of a sacred Jewish ordinance, He left no one doubting His opinion, and used some violence to show it; but when it was only a personal offense, He let it pass.  The sacred nature of the temple worship was more important to Him than defending Himself against false accusations.  My anger isn't like that.  Usually when I'm angry, it's about me.  I'm tired, I'm insulted, I'm frustrated, I'm not getting what I expected, I'm making more sacrifices than I care to make at the moment.  Many of my reasons aren't even that good.  But they're all about me.  I do the "righteous anger" thing too, but usually not as deeply.

So how do I know the difference between "righteous anger" (the kind that's not about me) and selfish anger (the kind that is)?  It seems like it should be simple, but it isn't.  For example, lately I've been really unhappy about our living situation.  I have a great house and a great family who all seem completely satisfied.  Unfortunately, my great house is in the middle of a very rough neighborhood in D.C., and it does concern me that I am raising three children in a place where I count gunshots just about nightly.  Also, the schools here are terrible.  My kids are O.K. at the public charter school they attend, but I can't help but wonder if they'd be more motivated to work and able to perform even stronger at a better school.  This leads me to rethink their school options, which are just about endless around here, on a yearly basis, but while the options are numerous, none of the choices are all that great, and all seem to involve a lot of sacrifice for my kids and for me.  Is wanting my kids to have a better community to grow up in, but not being able to get a good selling price on my house for a few more years righteous anger or is it just an advanced form of white people problems?

I suspect it's the latter.  After all, if we moved to a better area, all their friends would still be here, listening to the nightly gunfire.  Eventually some of them might end up dodging it.  I want a better community for all of them, of course, but that's a harder emotion to access because that involves sadness and a sense of defeat because I know I can't fix it.  But at least I know God's probably pretty ticked off about it too.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

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Casual Friday: "The Ecstasy and The Agony"- We're taking our kids to Disney World.

There will be none of this on our next trip.
Ignore the time stamp on this post. I woke up exhausted and moody and ended up sleeping most of the day, so to me, this is Friday.

I have been meaning to reread a book I have on femininity and Christianity for the purpose of more blogging material, but currently all my private reading time is filled with The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2011.  Not even the authors think that this book should be read from cover to cover, but my obsessive personality leaves me worrying that I'll miss something important if I don't, so here I am plowing through all 850 pages. I did the same thing with the 2009 edition for our "Second Honeymoon" trip two years ago.

Which isn't to say that I'm not enjoying every minute of it.  I LOVE Disney World.  The place is so incredible that you could show up without a guidebook and with no plan whatsoever, buy a ticket and walk in, wait in hour or more lines for everything, and still have an amazing time.  I've met a few people who say they don't really like Disney World, but I don't get that.  The only real reasons I can come up with for someone to not like it are: a) Having a philosophical issue with corporate America and big companies, AND never having been there; b) Having gone there but had your trip ruined by something, like death (since there's little short of that that could ruin this trip); c) Having a paralyzing fear of crowds; or d) Having no desire to be happy.  This will be my fifth trip to "the World", and my husband's fourth. We went there with my step-daughter on our honeymoon in 2002 (yes, we brought a four-year-old on our honeymoon, which was stupid), and we repeated the trip in 2009 so we could do it right and be alone.  That particular trip was heavenly.  We could get up and arrive at the parks early enough to avoid the lines, stay all day without hearing any complaining, and we only needed a backpack and a camera.  My only complaint about it would be that Disney World is exhausting, and by the time we got back to our hotel room at night we had no energy left for the kinds of things you're supposed to do on a honeymoon.

We had such a good time we couldn't wait to go back, but of course this time we must bring the children.  It's not that we missed them last time; we just kind of pulled one over on them.  We left them at Grandma and Pop-Pop's house without telling them where exactly we were going on vacation.  When we came back with mouse ears and stuffed Mickeys for them, they weren't exactly mad, but dismayed might be a good word. We couldn't go more than twelve hours without them asking when they could go to "Mickey Land" until we told them on Christmas Day that we would be going this summer.

So here we are planning a trip with an autistic seven-year-old, a hyper 6-year-old, and an infant.  I can't help but think that if I don't have an anxiety attack every single day, it will be a Disney miracle.  No one in this house enjoys getting up early, but we will all have to in order to to get to the parks and enjoy the most popular rides without waiting in line for hours.  My children, who get excited about riding the city bus, will be completely overstimulated by all the attractions.  My oldest, who has autism, may need earplugs to compensate for the volume of some of the productions.  They both complain that their feet hurt on a daily basis, and this will involve walking miles every single day.  The baby will need to be nursed, fed, and changed throughout the day, and we will have to wait in many lines twice so that both children and both parents can ride the rides, since the baby can't go on most of them.  Oh, and did I mention we're driving?  Two days in the car, both ways.  We're insane.

But there isn't a doubt in my mind that despite the moments during the trip that I will regret this decision, it will all be worth it.  Many say that Disney World is too overstimulating and strenuous for younger children, and that only older children should go.  My parents didn't take me until I was 11.  The problem is that by that age I was too old to dream of being a princess, or wrap my arms around a giant costumed character without worrying about looking dorky.  It's sort of like Christmas morning.  I put a huge amount of effort into budgeting and choosing just the right presents for each of my kids for Christmas morning.  Yes, it's commercial, it's unnecessary, and it's expensive, but I love it.  I painstakingly search out just the right things, figure out how to balance things so that I spend approximately the same amount on each child and they each get the same amount of gifts.  I will go to great lengths to get the gifts I want (though thanks to the Internet, I usually don't have to).  Inevitably every year around the second week of December there is a moment where I wonder why I bother with all this work, since they will never know how much I did for them.  But then I remember the looks on their faces when they come down the stairs and see those beautiful wrapped presents.

Pure, unadulterated happiness.

In my mind, this trip is going to be two whole weeks of Christmas mornings.  So we're going to do this now, while they're still just young enough to believe in Santa, princesses, and giant mice.  While they're old enough to reason with themselves that the scary stuff is just pretend, but young enough to choose to think that maybe some of the fun stuff isn't.  And when it doesn't seem so "magical" to us, we'll try to have a sense of humor about it.

All my life I have been searching for the fabled promised land,
with my sisters and my brothers we shall walk their hand in hand, 
through the trials and tribulations and the devil's cruel temptations
I know that we will all get there one day.

After years and years of wandering, oh the kingdom we shall find.
And the doors may not be open but we'll gather in the line.
And our hearts will swell with pride the day those gates swing open wide.
And we take a walk down Main Street, U.S.A.

Oh that Magic Kingdom in the sky
We will all be there together by and by
We will all drink from a fountain and go riding on Space Mountain
when we reach that Magic Kingdom in the sky.

Where Mother Minnie, Father Dopey, and Saint Tinkerbell abide.
There'll be no more cares or sorrows on the heavenly teacup ride.
I will lay down all my fears when I put on those big black ears
and join the choir to sing in harmony.

We will sing the songs of endless souls who once had gone astray,
who were lost but now are found in the Electric Light Parade.
Singing Hakuna Matata, growing Mouseketeer stigmata;
It's the only club that's made for you and me.

Oh that Magic Kingdom in the sky
We will all be there together by and by.
All God's children shall be free in Pirates of the Caribbean
when we reach that Magic Kingdom in the sky.

Oh the meekest and the poorest their inheritance shall see.
And a zillion Japanese tourists will all join the jamboree.
They will ride that Holy Monorail into sweet providence, 
when they learn that their redeemer is a mouse in short red pants.

Won't you take me to Orlando where the sun is shining bright?
All the angels are clean shaven and the people snowy white.
Where your problems all are hidden and unhappiness forbidden,
you'll find salvation for a modest fee.

Climb into my Winnebago and if you help with the gas,
then we maybe can finagle you a five or six day pass.
May your afterlife be blessed, just American Express it.
Let Mastercard and Visa set you free.

Oh that Magic Kingdom in the sky.
We will all be there together by and by.
All religions may be practiced there except for Southern Baptists*
when we reach that Magic Kingdom in the sky.

Oh that Magic Kingdom in the sky
Manufactured by that Uncle Walter guy
We'll give thanks to that old geezer and we'll keep him in the freezer
when we reach that Magic Kingdom in the sky.**

**Yes, I'm aware of the commercialization of Disney World and the fact that it often seems like they really do think they have manufactured heaven.  I know better; I like it anyway.
*The fact that we are Southern Baptists makes it even better.

Goodnight all!

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Very Flawed Post On Being A Perfectionist

This is what my life feels like.

After more than ten years of relatively consistent professional psychotherapy, I have a pretty good idea of where most of my hang-ups come from.  I know, for example, that the reason that I worry about my husband cheating on me is because my father once cheated on my mother.  Perfectionism, on the other hand, is something of an enigma to me, at least in terms of where I picked up this terrible habit.  My parents never expected me to be perfect, and while they could be critical, I rarely got the feeling that I had completely let them down.  There were a few times in my teen years where I felt like I was an annoyance to them, but perfectionism had set in long before that.

I didn't realize it was a problem until college.  In fact, I thought everyone should be a perfectionist until I started paying attention to how crazy I was becoming.  I never understood how my classmates could go out and have fun when they had just as many difficult assignments to complete as I did.  Many of them even chose to turn in assignments late sometimes, but this was unimaginable to me.  Even if they got assignments done, many of them only put a certain level of effort into them, and were happy with whatever grade they got as long as it was fair.  I understand why that kind of behavior can be reasonable now, but I still could never engage in it.  I am the one who locked myself in my dorm room every night, plowing through assignments at a blitzkrieg pace, and then finding myself reduced to tears when confusion on a topic slowed me down.  There wasn't time for fun, and I resented my classmates for engaging in it.

Unfortunately this is one of those negative aspects of my life that I have put limits on, but can not seem to eliminate.  I suppose I take a little pride in it; after all, aren't I better than the person who expects little or nothing of himself?  I am certainly superior to the person whose philosophy in life is to have as much fun as possible, regardless of the consequences.  But of course this is flawed thinking.  In God's eyes I am not superior to anyone.

One of the worst aspects of being a perfectionist is that you are defeated without even trying.  If you recognize yourself as a perfectionist and know that it is a negative personality trait, you have already failed in that you are not perfect.  But where does this come from?  In the past I have blamed my parents, believing that the shame I felt when we argued was taught by them, and therefore it was their fault that I was doomed to strive for the impossible for the rest of my life.  Even after becoming a parent myself I truly believed that I would never ever teach my children that they had to be perfect.

Then came our move.  When my daughter IC was four years old we were getting ready to move into our first real new home, and it was very exciting.  IC is autistic, and was only minimally verbal at the time.  She couldn't have conversations or ask questions, so I really wasn't sure how much she understood about what was going on, or if she remembered the move we'd made the year before.  For a few days I watched her studying the growing stack of boxes in our upstairs hallway, most of which we had obtained from the produce department of the grocery store and filled with our stuff.  Then one day she got a hold of the black Sharpie I was using to label boxes.  When I saw her my first instinct was to rip the Sharpie out of her hand before she started scribbling on the walls, but then I saw what she was doing.  IC could not write yet, but was working on tracing letters at school.  IC had taken the Sharpie and was slowly and painstakingly tracing every letter on every produce box in the hallway.  If her hand slipped, or she somehow made a mistake, she would scream.  SCREAM. For the most part she was going so slowly that she was doing well with it, and rarely made mistakes, so we let her do this for several days.  It occupied her and we were busy packing.  But after a few days she began getting so upset with herself over a mistake that she would throw the Sharpie down, scream, and hit herself.

Oh, Lord, not her too.

To be an autistic perfectionist is not something I would wish on my worst enemy.  IC is doomed.  By the nature of her disorder she will never fit into the same mould as the rest of us, and she will have to spend her life trying to find alternative ways to learn things that the rest of us just learn naturally through experience.  I am very afraid for my little girl.

From Wikipedia: "Perfectionists are focused on personal integrity and can be wise, discerning and inspiring in their quest for truth.  They also tend to dissociate themselves from their flaws or what they believe are flaws (such as negative emotions) and can be hypocritical and hypercritical of others, seeking the illusion of virtue to hide their own vices.  The greatest fear of perfectionists is to be flawed and their ultimate goal is perfection." Ouch.  Self discovery sucks.

Unfortunately I don't think society has much to offer me to help this tendency in myself or my daughter.  School certainly isn't helping.  While I live in an area known to have some of the worst schools in the nation, it certainly isn't from lack of pushing their students.  IC and DJ are 7 and 6.  They start school instruction at 8:30 AM everyday, and finish at 3PM. During that time they have a break for lunch, during which only minimal conversation is allowed, and recess, which lasts 30 minutes at the most.  When they come home every night they are expected to complete an hour's worth of homework, sometimes two.  Often I'm forced to cut them off before they've completed their homework just so they can have enough time to eat dinner and get some rest before the next day.  In total, they spend 32.5 hours a week in school, and another 5-7 doing homework.  For first graders.  In fact, the schedule at their school is considered easy.  Many of the schools in this area utilize "extended school days", in which children are expected to continue school until 5PM or later, and some schools have half day school on Saturdays.  How can I expect children to work at this pace, and at the same time teach them that they don't have to be perfect? Our society teaches us that we must keep pushing ourselves harder and harder because the only way to be worthwhile and valuable is to be productive.  Yet that is the very definition of perfectionism.  Again, from Wikipedia, perfectionists are "people who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment."  How do you reconcile that with a nine hour school day for elementary school students?

As with my personal prejudice and perspective flaws (see my post titled "The Window"), I can say with confidence that I am making some progress.  There was a time when I was caught in an endless cycle of needing my house to be and remain perfectly clean.  Try that with three small children and a husband who doesn't value cleanliness and order.  But sometimes God puts us in those impossible situations because it forces us to grow.  I had no choice but to gradually and systematically relax my expectations in this area.  They remain way too high given the life I lead, but a few months ago I finally reached the point where I was able to surrender the heavy duty cleaning to a couple of hired maids who come every other week and accomplish in a couple hours what would take me a couple weeks at best.  Of course some might say that hiring someone else to make things perfect for me is not helping my compulsion, that I should really let myself suffer through the stress of leaving the cat hair on the floor so I can learn that in the end it doesn't matter.  But even accepting help in this matter is a step forward for me.

For IC, I still don't know what to do.  She has been known to rewrite entire assignments because she didn't approve of her own handwriting.  It will probably be a lifelong struggle, just as it has been for me. But at least we have each other.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Window

What are you seeing, and why?

"I was staring out the window the whole time he was talking to me. 
It was a filthy pane of glass; I couldn't get a clear view.
And as he went on and on it wasn't the outside world I could see,
just the filthy pane that I was looking through..."*

"Perspective" is one of my favorite words.  In fact, I think my enjoyment of the concept of perspectives is bordering on obsession now.  I love perspective because it is always relevant.  There is no circumstance that is not effected by it, and rarely is there only one available.  Furthermore, a circumstance or situation can change completely just by switching perspectives, even without altering a single element of the objective truth (if there is such a thing as "objective truth", but that's getting pretty deep; I may have to save that discussion for another night).  
Merriam-Webster supplies several definitions of the word, of which my favorite is "the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed".  There is a lot in that definition- perspective involves relationship ("interrelation"), the mind ("mentally"), and viewpoint ("viewed").  Think of it this way: a subject, or perhaps stimulus, is received and then processed by the brain, resulting in a unique viewpoint.  

"I was never focused on just one thing; my eyes got fixed when my mind got soft.
It might look like I'm concentrated on a very clear view.
But I'm as good as asleep; I bet you didn't know.
It takes a lot of it away if you do."*

I try not to make this blog about the practicalities that run my everyday life, but perspective taking is actually something I deal with throughout my day with my six and seven year olds.  In a blog with the awesome title of "Everybody Is Stupid Except You," Nate Kornell, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Williams College says, "Taking another person's perspective is among the most difficult things humans do. Compared to other animals we're great at it, but it takes effort" (Kornell, "Neurodevelopment of Perspective Taking in Teens," Psychology Today).  I don't have the research in front of me to back this up (shame on me, but it is 1AM), but I remember learning in the psychology courses that I took in college that perspective taking, as an aspect of abstract thinking, is one of the last elements of mental development, taking place in adolescence.  Some people never really learn to look at things from another person's point of view, and I'm sure you don't need me to show you any research to prove that.  My two children are very intelligent, but tend to be lacking in their social skills, or more specifically, they struggle with "reading" other people by observing their actions, words, expressions, body language, etc.  This interferes significantly with their quality of life, or in mom language, I worry that other people won't like them because of it.  For example, after watching game shows my daughter developed an annoying habit of making a loud buzzer-like noise when someone answers a question incorrectly.  It's been well over a year since she started this, and we are still reminding her on a daily basis that she needs to think about what someone else might feel like before she makes that noise.

"Because, the fact being that, whatever's in front of me is coloring my view.
So I can't see what I'm seeing; in fact, I only see what I'm looking through."*

As I watch my daughter struggle to understand that other people are not usually thinking or feeling the same things she is I am challenged, and I have spent a lot of time over the past few years examining the idea of viewpoint.  What elements in our lives make up our unique perspectives, and how do our conflicting perspectives bring about and effect external conflict?  It's a hard topic because our perspectives are made up of positive elements, such as interests, desires, needs, personality, strengths, and talents; as well as negative elements, like preoccupations, prejudice, stereotypes, obsessions, habits, and weaknesses.  Just examining the development of my own perspectives has been valuable, and remarkably simple.  For example, when you're flipping through the channels on the TV, ask yourself, "Why did I stop to watch this particular show?  What is it that I like about this, and how does that relate to my life and my experiences?"  Then, take a moment to realize that other people have not had the same experiences as you.  Think of someone you know who has lived a very different life, or those experiences that you've had that you know that someone who hasn't had the experience couldn't possibly understand.  
The hard part about doing this is that I've realized how simple minded I really am.  I've realized how easy it is for me to create a stereotype, or even develop prejudice, from a single negative experience.  I've realized how easy it is to pick out one trait in a person, and define them by it.  I've realized that I have not overcome stereotypes and prejudicial thinking passed down to me from my parents and grandparents, and worse, that I have no idea how to keep my own children from developing their own.  

"So again I done the right thing; I was never worried about that.
The answer's always been in clear view.
But even when the window was cleaned I still can't see for the fact,
that when it's clean it's so clear I can't tell what I'm looking through."*

The worst part?  There isn't a whole lot I can do to change my perspectives.  My culture, my life experiences, my job, my family, my needs, my genetics -- it's all wrapped up inside.  And I spend most of my time not really thinking about them, just going on with my life and making my decisions based on them, even though I'm now fully aware of how flawed they are.  It's frustrating.  But I can see that change does happen, and it happens over time, with growth and understanding and awareness.  I think the key to making those changes is exposure.  The simplest way to live is to insulate yourself in your own comforts, and that most definitely includes people who live, act, look, and think just like you.  It keeps you from being challenged too often, but it doesn't always work.  Just like our mothers tell us, we're special, and no other person in the world is just like us.  So inevitably we will be confronted with a perspective that is in direct conflict with our own, and we can choose to refuse to acknowledge that there is an infinite way of viewing, and thereby understanding, any subject or situation, and stubbornly inform our detractor that he is flat out wrong.  Or we can choose to ask questions and try to discover why he believes what he does, and what in his life has come together to create his perspective.  I'm not saying this is the secret to world peace, because I also believe that it's impossible to see something outside of the boundaries created by our own viewpoints, but it can help keep a certain level of peace in relationships.  As difficult as it is and as often as I sometimes wish to avoid getting out of my comfort zone, I seek out and value the opportunity to meet, talk with, and possibly even develop a relationship with someone who I suspect looks at life very differently from me.  Sometimes I later discover that I simply can not acquire the ability to understand why they think the way they do, and I give up, but other times I have found that my life is enriched.  

"So I had to break the window.  It just had to be; it was in my way.
Better that I break the window than miss what I should see."*

Goodnight everyone.

*Song lyrics from "The Window" by Fiona Apple, from the album Extraordinary Machine, 2005.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bleeding Heart: how Jesus looks at women

Just grab on.
As a Christian I feel compelled to think and act differently on Sundays.  That may sound as if I think that Sundays are my day to build up some brownie points with God, so that I can slack off and do what I want Monday-Saturday, but that's not what I mean.  One of the ten commandments is "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8).  For a long time I thought that that meant nothing more than going to church on Sundays, but when you put this verse into its full context, it is much more than that. The ninth verse of Exodus 20 reminds us that we must rest from work on the Sabbath.  Then about four years ago I read a wonderful book called Breathe by Keri Wyatt Kent, in which she discusses living life in a rhythm of  work and Sabbath rest.  This includes not just taking advantage of Sabbath as a day off from housework and paid employment, but seeing it as a time set aside for growing in one's relationship with God through, among other things, rest, Scripture reading, meditation, times of quiet stillness, quality "down time" with family, etc. So now I try my best to reserve my Sundays for things that grow my faith and help me connect with my Creator.

I hope I haven't lost the non-Christians who may be reading this.  It is not my intention with this blog to alienate those who don't think like I do; on the contrary, I hope to share my perspectives and find ways to broaden them by hearing others. (Side note: If you are reading this, please comment! Even if it's just to say hi it would be encouraging to know who's out there, but even better I'd love to hear what you really think about what I have to say!) However, it would be impossible and inauthentic of me to write here on a daily basis without bringing things back to what's in my heart, and that is my faith in Jesus Christ. If you're already rolling your eyes, hear me out, then tell me what you really think in the comments; I can take it.  I'll hear your thoughts if you'll hear mine.

Why do I believe this stuff? Well, the answer I give you depends on the day, because there are a lot of reasons.  Since I am trying for the most part to maintain a focus on what are sometimes called "women's issues" (though I don't like that name for it), I'd like to take a look at how Jesus related to women during his human lifetime, and how that effects a Christian woman today.  It seems to me that feminist viewpoints and Christian viewpoints do not have good history together.  Author Nick Don of the blog "revelife" explains that the earliest attempts at a feminist examination of Scripture focused on the status of women in Biblical culture, but failed to separate the cultural aspects of recorded accounts and Old Testament laws from the overarching message of the Bible.  I would suggest that this could be compared to confusing the message or theme of a novel with its setting.  The setting is a backdrop on which the story enfolds, and the nature of the backdrop will effect the events as they take place.  The theme or message, on the other hand, is usually not bound to the setting and could be defined as the idea the author wants to convey to the reader.

A complete examination of feminist Biblical interpretation is beyond the scope of one blog post.  Since the Christian faith is ultimately about understanding and trusting in Jesus Christ, we can learn more about God's view of women by studying Him. There are probably a million ways to go about this, but for tonight I would like to start by taking one example from the New Testament where Jesus interacted with a woman, and examine what that reveals about Him.

Jesus lived a very short life, and during that time He was a busy man.  When you read the gospels' descriptions of His short three year ministry, there is a sense of urgency and chaos at times, particularly when Jesus is interacting with the multitudes who came to Him for healing or to hear what He had to say.  In the ninth chapter of Matthew Jesus heals two women in very different ways, in the midst of a pressing crowd of people who all seemed to want something from Him.  He had just finished a meal at the home of a hated tax collector (Matthew himself), and was presumably traveling on foot.  First, John the Baptist's disciples approach Him with questions about fasting, and no sooner has He finished answering them when a "ruler" met Him, knelt, and asks Him to bring his dead daughter back to life.  Jesus' reaction is immediate: "Jesus got up and went with him, and so did His disciples" (Matthew 9:19).

But their trip is interrupted again when a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years reaches out from the crowd to touch the edge of His cloak.  Stop here.  Notice how this woman has chosen to approach Him, and we can learn about her.  While the ruler approached Jesus with humility and knelt before Him before making his request, this woman didn't necessarily even want Jesus' attention.  Verse 21 says, "She said to herself, 'If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed."  Why the difference?  To find one reason we could examine the culture in which Jesus lived, how women were seen as property to be owned and controlled by a father or husband (see for example, Deuteronomy 21:10-14), or we could make the logical assumption that this woman was poor, and had no real hope of getting the same attention as a "ruler".  Also, remember that under the Old Testament law a woman was considered "unclean" when she had her period, and men would refuse to touch her, sexually or otherwise.  This woman had had her period for twelve years; Israelite law or not, I would feel unclean, and this woman probably had not had someone touch her voluntarily in a long long time.  But there are other differences between her and the ruler as well.  Look at their requests.  The ruler asked Jesus to "come and put your hand on her, and she will live" (Matthew 9:18).  The woman doesn't see the need for all that touching, or even to get Jesus' attention.  She has faith that simply touching his coat will heal her, and she is rewarded for that faith.  In a quick moment, He turns to her and says, "Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you" (Matthew 9:22).  And so it has.

There is so much to see here.  Jesus was a young Jewish man who was now well known as a teacher, prophet, and healer.  Based on the Old Testament law He was raised to live by, He had every right to get angry with the woman for even coming near Him, but He didn't, because He didn't see her as an unclean poor woman.  I believe He saw two things: need and faith.  Old Testament laws about what was clean and unclean didn't matter, and for a moment neither did the ruler's dead daughter.  What mattered was this woman's need and her faith that He could provide the answer.  Compare His actions here with the misogynistic culture in which He lived, and you can see how shockingly controversial Jesus really was, even then.  This is also a great illustration of why we can't properly understand a Biblical view of women by examining verses taken from Old Testament law, and why the first feminist approach to Scripture fails to understand the real message.  Jesus' actions here not only differ from those implied by Old Testament law and historical knowledge of how women were viewed and valued in His earthly culture, they directly contradict it.  Jesus is reflecting the message of Scripture, not the setting, because it was His mission to do just that.  The message here is that He sees our need, our faith, and our love, male or female.  The message here is that what God sees transcends societal and cultural boundaries and limitations, and our thinking about Him and our reactions to Him need to do the same.

Happy Sunday.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Casual Friday: I don't like coffee, tea, or wine.

I took a night off yesterday because I was really tired and I wanted to spend some time with E.  Tonight my computer is irritatingly slow, and I'm not feeling quite ready to deal with the deep stuff like I did on previous nights, so we'll call this "casual friday" and keep it light.

Thought for the day: It is very hard to be a non-coffee drinker.  Based on statistics, and if you're from the U.S. (since my stats say I got at least one reader from Germany and one from Australia), chances are good that you drink at least one or two cups of coffee a day.  I do not.  I HATE coffee actually.  I don't understand what everyone likes about it.  Perhaps there is something wrong with my taste buds, but with the possible exception of a really good cup of hot spiced cider, all warm drinks taste like plain hot water to me.  Yes, for all the crunchy folks, that includes tea too.  I've tried several times to get myself to drink coffee or tea, but I can never get past the first few sips before I decide that consuming it just isn't worth it for the social aspect, since it tastes so gross.  I've done a little better with tea.  While I was pregnant I was able to get myself to drink a cup or two a day of the Traditional Medicinals Pregnancy Tea, but not through the whole pregnancy.  After my first and second babies I also sometimes drank Mothers Milk Tea, but when I realized that drinking it gave me boobs the size of mountains and breasts that leaked like drippy faucets, I had to stop.  The tastes on those were acceptable, but not good.  With standard black tea I don't even like the taste.  I don't drink iced tea or sweet tea either.  It tastes like grass steeped in water to me.

I know this doesn't sound like a big deal, but not drinking either can make things very difficult socially!  Think about it this way: When you're making a new friend, and you want to get together to get to know him/her better, what do you ask them to do?  Go out for coffee, right?  It happens to me all the time.  "This get together has been so much fun! We should go out for coffee sometime!"  Yeah, sorry, not gonna happen.  Why doesn't anyone ever say, "We should go out for shamrock shakes"?  Now, how about when you're at a dinner party. You finish dinner and are in that state of pleasant post-meal euphoria, any social awkwardness that was there in the early part of the evening has evaporated over smiling discussions and remarks about the delicious food.  Then the host or hostess comes out and says, "Who would like coffee?"  Nope, not me, but can I get a double helping of dessert instead?
How about when you're up at 6AM and you barely slept the night before?  You reach for a strong cup of coffee, and no one shames you.  No one says, "Wow, isn't it too early for coffee?"  But when I get up after being up every two hours with a baby, and I reach for a Coke Zero, people snicker.  Apparently Coke Zero is not considered a proper morning beverage.  And don't forget- I have to drink at least 3 cans of Coke Zero to get the same amount of eye-opening caffeine that you get in one cup of coffee.  (Remember those old Total cereal commercials?  "You'd have to eat 12 bowls of raisin bran to get the same amount of whole grains as just one bowl of Total!" But I digress.)
It also looks good in a bikini.

And just when you thought my childish weirdo beverage tastes couldn't get any more awkward, I can also inform you that I do not drink wine.  Any kind, at all.  I used to pretend to drink wine.  I even drank wine when I was with people I wanted to impress, and it was all I could do not to vomit every sip.  While the blech-factor of coffee is its tastelessness, with wine I can taste plenty.  Unfortunately, what I taste is rotten fruit, and isn't that really what it is?

So go back to the classy dinner party with me.  Rewind to meal time, or sometimes even before that at hors d'oeuvres, what do they serve to drink? Wine.  The friggin glass on the table is designed for it.  Frankly, this one is even harder to get out of than the post-meal coffee.  Half the time someone has already poured the stuff into the glass before you sit down at the table.  So what am I supposed to say, "Excuse me, would you mind dumping out this expensive wine you painstakingly chose and spent a hundred dollars on, and filling my beveled glass with diet soda?"  This isn't even comfortable at parties in my own home.  When you crack open a Coke Zero and dump it into a wine glass in the middle of a five course Italian dinner, everyone laughs at you.

When it comes to alcohol, it's either the classiest drink or most redneck drink for me.  Either serve me real french champagne or a cold beer.  Vodka and cranberry juice works too, but be prepared for me to embarrass myself.

Now I'm a girl who loves a fancy party, and doesn't get to attend very many.  Invite me to a wedding and I'll pay to have my hair and nails done, buy a new dress, and keep my heels on all night long.  I'll try the food, even though my tastes in that department are pretty un-classy as well.  But when it comes to drinks, I'd rather be digging mine out of a ice filled Coleman cooler.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Male Gaze

Admit it; you want to be her.
The other day I was walking to the mailbox in front of my post office when a man drove by in a car and honked the horn at me.  Disgusting, right? Treating me like a piece of meat like that. But do you know what my first thought was? I'll admit it. I thought, "Hmm, I must be losing my baby weight, I must be looking pretty good." 
This isn't the first time this has happened either.  While I certainly don't think it's appropriate and I wouldn't say it's welcome for a man to honk the horn at me or make a comment about the appearance of my body, I find that I take it as a compliment.  I used to blame my husband for this.  I'd come home and tell him how I got 3 horn honks while I was standing at the bus stop today, so maybe he better start complimenting me once in a while because obviously every other man thinks I look pretty good.  E, being confident in his own sexuality, did not react to this obvious method of compliment fishing and remarked instead about the absurdity of honking one's car horn at a woman. "What do they think, that you're going to jump in their car?"
This is all pretty light hearted, of course, but let me take this a step further and give you more background.  When I was in the eighth grade I was the victim of repeated sexually harassment from boys my own age, which eventually escalated to at least one instance of molestation.  The harassment typically consisted of just-loud-enough conversations wagering on my bra size, offers of sexual favors, and other instances of what I would call sexual bullying.  One of the ring leaders in all of this happened to be the crush-object of a girl who sat with me at lunch.  When she found out what was going on she confronted me, loudly calling me a "slut" and accusing me of liking their attention.  Her statement sent me reeling at the time, because she had seen something in me that I thought I had been hiding.  Don't misunderstand me- what they were doing to me made me feel sick and violated inside, and was in no way complimentary.  But there was also a part of me that took their attention as a sign of approval, no matter how much the things they were saying hurt me.  At 13, I had somehow learned that male attention was desirable, and that any sign of receiving it should be valued.  Part of me was consenting to my own objectification, and that scared me.  
Ever since then I have been very sensitive to these issues, and I find myself especially irritated at how prevalent the objectification of women has become in our society's media.  So I took a lot of interest in this article from "Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog".  The article taught me that there is a term beyond objectification that specifically refers to this phenomenon of how women are presented in such a way as to please a presumably heterosexual male audience, and thereby become the object- "the male gaze".  Imagine sexy, half-dressed women in beer advertisements, or even the opening of Baywatch and you know what I mean.  
"This is because, more than just being an object of a gaze, the woman in the advertisement becomes what’s being bought and sold..." (Tekanji, "FAQ: What is the 'male gaze'?").  

It's not really a difficult concept to understand, and really it's one that we're so familiar with that it's almost difficult to see.  It was the following quote from the blog, taken from John Berger's Ways of Seeing, that helped me make the connection between media presentations of women as objects and my acceptance of horn honking, lewd comments, or breast grabbing as signs of approval: 

"Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves."
[Berger, John. (1972): Ways of Seeing, p. 42]

Please tell me I'm not the only woman who reads that and thinks, "Ouch." Then I recognize the fact that I had fully digested this by the age of 13, and how little control I had over my own body image.  

However, now I'm an adult, and I'm aware of it.  I need to do some hard thinking, not just about how I look at myself and how I judge my own worth by my body image, but what I really think about my body image, and where that comes from.  Despite what many feminists believe about the Bible, there are many positive images of women inside it, and I need to learn these (more on this another time).  But just as importantly I need to carefully and systematically cleanse my mind of these images and ideas that objectify me and my body, that tell me that I am only worth the oxygen I use as long as I am and remain "fuckable".  I need to stop passively allowing media images and the long standing and culturally accepted gender bias to teach me what to think about myself.  I know this now, and I must accept my responsibility to choose how I see myself.  I have the choice to reject these objectified images as they pertain to my own self image, and to choose instead to base my worth on another standard. 

There are a lot of implications here, and a lot of directions where this information can go.  More tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Overkill: Everything in Excess, Including Excess

I'd love to know what void this person is trying to fill.
My title is not original; it was the name of a photo blog on the Cheezburger network devoted to photos of 20 foot subs, ankle-length hair, enormous collections of stuff, and the like.  I looked for it today and it appears that they have removed the site.  For awhile there the network seemed to have an amusing photo blog for just about everything, and I guess they decided it was too much (they also had a site featuring irony).

I spend a lot of time thinking about what constitutes "too much".  It's been a long time since I've felt like I've had too little of anything.  Is three Coke Zeros a day too much caffeine? No, I console myself, because it's not near as much caffeine as someone who drinks three cups of coffee.  Do I talk too much?  Do I eat too much?  Do I take too many breaks?  Do I spend too much time on the Internet?  But who decides when I've crossed the line between "just enough" and too much?  Usually the only way I can define "too much" is by comparing myself to others, and that's tricky.  You see, I can always reason that I don't have too many pairs of shoes by thinking of those women who have hundreds of pairs of shoes.  But if I think of the child in Africa, or Asia, or anywhere, who has never owned a new pair of shoes, then I certainly have excess.  When I think of that child with no shoes, and realize that he probably has even more pressing needs, I feel a sense of guilt over this charmed life that I live where I never have to make a sacrifice. 

I watched a Beth Moore video today in which she stated, "All excess is rooted in emptiness" (Breaking Free, 124).  So where is my emptiness?  What holes am I trying to fill with Coke Zero?  I've been in therapy for over a decade now, so this shouldn't be a hard question.  I know that most of my addictions come back to my desire to be perpetually, endlessly, ecstatically happy.  That sounds nice.  However, I think I am now realizing that no one is actually that happy all the time.  Happiness is based on circumstances;  and since circumstances by their very nature are always changing, no one can maintain a very high level of happiness consistently.  There are sources of joy or contentment that make happiness less important, depending on your perspective toward it, but that is another story.  So then I must conclude that the amount of happiness I desire is more than anyone could possibly experience this side of heaven.  It is excess.  And I am back at square one again. 

The Webster's dictionary that my husband received for having a straight A average in junior high school defines "addict" as "to devote or surrender oneself to something habitually or obsessively".  Up until about ten or fifteen years ago I only thought of addiction in terms of substance abuse, but today this term is used much more broadly to refer to any habit or compulsion, good or bad.  Is it possible that the term has become overused in such a way that it is no longer seen as a serious problem?  For instance, in the past I have referred to my Coke Zero habit as an addiction, but recently I attempted to give it up for a long period of time.  I wasn't expecting success, but it turned out it was no big deal.  Perhaps our excessive culture has embraced it's bad habits to the point that the line between desire and compulsion is blurry. 

It's worth finding the line.  We all have desires; I can't imagine being human without them.  But if excess is truly rooted in emptiness then any addiction, no matter how benign, is only a losing battle in an inner war that we're refusing to acknowledge.  I'm not preaching, or if I am, it is directed at myself.  I think I may be addicted to anger.  I know I find it to be an easier emotion to access and contend with than sadness, disappointment, or grief, and I may be subconsciously seeking out things that infuriate me.  Now that I think about this it seems perfectly obvious that I'm caught in a cycle of anger as a bandage. I use it to cover over my less comfortable feelings, but since I'm not dealing with those feelings directly I never come to accept them and move on.  I do not pretend to be a psychologist, but if we stop looking at our addictions and instead ask ourselves what we're covering with them, we may be able to deal with whatever it is so that we no longer need what we were addicted to. 

How did so many people get to the point where instead of fighting for healing, growth, and self improvement they chose to sit down and get comfortable in their chains?