vendredi, octobre 21, 2011

Two religious hypocrites, one damaged daughter

I'm a bit off institutional religion today.

Perhaps you will see why in a minutes.

This morning I went to have my hair highlighted - caramel, if you are interested. It's a long process, so one expects to spend significant time with the stylist.

Brian couldn't be there, so Callie (that's not her real name) volunteered to take me on.

I knew we had a few hours to kill, so I settled in by asking a few innocuous questions. How long did she have before she got a "chair"? What area did she live in? Where did her family live?

I picked up on the determination and the work ethic right off the bat -- what I didn't notice until we were well into foils is that the girl wasn't telling me a whole lot about herself beyond the surface.

Not until we were at the wash bowl did she disclose that she had a one-year-old at home, and that her mother now lived in the South.

She's got seven siblings, and all of them live in the Midwest, she told me.

By now, the gears were turning. How lonely that must be sometimes, I said. But I didn't want to push too hard -- after all, she was simply a 19-year-old woman who was coloring my hair.

It wasn't until we got back to her chair and I asked her about whether she had time to go out with friends that the mask of the happy career woman slipped.

Not easy to keep up with friends when you get pregnant your senior year in high school, she commented.

Hard to make it when your family kicks you out of the house when you are seventeen for being pregnant.

Her family is very religious, she told me, and when they learned that she intended to keep the baby, her step-dad said she couldn't live with them anymore.

I hadn't said anything about being ordained, and now I darn tootin' was going to hold off.

I asked her if she and her mom had reconciled. She thinks that her mother, unduly influenced by the step-dad, does feel guilty.

She's being treated for depression and anxiety, she said. She doesn't like to revisit her past (with her birth father).

And when she is in the room with the therapist, she badly misses her mother.

I looked up -- and the mask of the happy, self-sufficient woman was gone. Here was a girl, a girl close to my own daughter's age -- trying to make it in a world where she couldn't trust the people she loved the most.

Tears were in my eyes -- and fury in my heart.

Fury at the way that people cover up their cold hearts with a veneer of faith. Disgust with the way that some adults put the interest of their husband or wife above that of their own children.

Yes -- I don't know the whole story. I'm sure that mom, and even the wicked stepdad, have a side of it.

But now I know Callie's story -- or a part of it.

So what do I do now?

I told her that I'd think about it -- and would come back if and when I had some ideas.

Not because I'm religious. But because it's possible that it's the right thing to do.

jeudi, octobre 20, 2011

Mellow Malvern moments

This post is about doing almost nothing -- just enjoying being in the moment.

And that's something I almost never get to do right now, so I'm celebrating it.

Running two households (did we turn off the lights? feed the cats? where the heck ARE my contact lenses), writing on deadline, taking classes, driving kids to and from school -- no wonder I pace or race the sidewalks of Exton Station (when I can) like a madwoman with a caffeine jones.

But on Sunday, I had an hour to spare after church.

The boy was on a retreat, and the DQ's youth group leader had invited her out to lunch.

Yippee! Time enough for stroll the Malvern Harvest Festival.

I love Malvern. We almost lived there when when we first moved back from D.C.

Anthony's, an Italian restaurant with helpings of pasta enough for two guys with a healthy appetite, has been a family hangout for years. It's not so much the food as the atmosphere that makes you feel "at home."

In recent decades, the town has become a bit more upscale. The older homes that line some of the central avenues have gotten face-lifts. Friends have a huge new home on its outskirts.

But given some of the slightly ramshackle, cottagey homes that occupy many of its side-streets, it can't develop too much of an attitude.

Malvern is, in many ways, a family town -- though perhaps haunted, literally, some claim , by the ghosts of slain Irish immigrants who built the tracks long ago.

The air was warm, the sun shining down on the jewelry vendors and local businesses as they gave out candy and key-chains.

I stopped to chat about state government with a college student giving out pamphlets at the table of a local legislator. Spoke to a young man hawking wind power. Looked at some lovely carved bowls.

Buying nothing. Selling nothing. Watching over nobody. Just another face in the crowd. Boy, did it feel wonderful.

Weaving my way through the hordes of children, parents and singles also grateful for the lovely day, I picked up a frozen yogurt and ambled slowly back to my car.

It was time to get back to church and pick up my daughter -- but when I need to take a moments vacation from the many responsibilities weighing on me this week, I can recall that Malvern moment -- and feel the sunshine on my face. And smile.

mercredi, octobre 19, 2011

The guy who thinks for himself--he's hot, hot, hot

It was time for the phone call.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I'd had to put it off a few times.

So we'd exchanged a few more emails -- I had questions.

Shoot, I always have questions. I betcha I spend about a third more time in a normal conversation with a guy asking questions than answering them.

But though I did ask, occasionally, I mostly listened to this fellow talk about geopolitics. He's really smart. Apparently, he's also got an incredible memory for dates.

At the end of the conversation (which I had to close because I was getting my hair done for a family photo shoot I'd bought on Groupon how superficial is that...), I wasn't sure that I'd be able to keep up with him.

O.K. Let me be honest here. I have the ability to keep up with a man like him. But I don't have the work ethic.

I don't mind exchanging opinions. I've been giving another fellow quite the online workout, mostly for fun. He seems pretty resilient.

On the other hand, as I've lamented before, I'm incredulous as to what now passes for thought on the Internet.

In part because the new Facebook format is so annoying, I miss a lot of posts. But I've actually blocked the feeds of certain friends because of the endless number of quotes and links that they post.

An article is great -- particularly if I have the sense that you've actually read it.

Some status updates stolen from others are pretty funny. Family pictures? Fantastic. Links to your own work? Well, that's part of why we have Facebook friends. Our achievements and ideas are fair game.

But I'm not interested in the gospel according to Rachel Maddow, Bill O'Reilly, or the latest pop-culture guru.

Am I picky? Yeah, probably. But there's an epidemic of second-hand thought sweeping the country -- and it's abetted by the ease of our social media.

Again and again, I see profiles in which men ask for the same independence from potential dates -- they don't want a woman who will nod and say "yes, dear."

My "perfectly imperfect" imaginary man? He'll be clever enough to read carefully -- but lazy enough to skip the front page on Saturday mornings. He'll know about baseball (tennis will do, in a pinch) and what's going on in British conservative politics. When someone mentions Greece, he won't think they are speaking about French fries - but he won't be above the occasional sentimental chick flick with a side of Raisinets.

He'll be able to talk about religion and politics on the couch and off of it.

And he'll have his own ideas. Lots of them.

I prize creativity.

Bring it on.

Now would be good.

mardi, octobre 18, 2011

Thirtysomething angst, twenty years on

True confessions -- I was a total "Thirtysomething" addict.

Oh yeah, I know. Yuppies. Self-involved, idealistic, sometimes selfish children of the late 1960's, anguishing in a sometimes very silly way about where they had misplaced their idealism.

I lapped up every minute of relational drama as Michael and Hope, Eliot and Nancy, Melissa, Ellyn, Gary (oh, Gary) and the gang struggled to act like adults -- and very often screwed it up.

For many of us, it didn't hurt at all that the show was set in Philadelphia (and perhaps could be partially credited with putting that wonderful city back on the national map).

Way back when, it was the show to which I turned to explore my own experiences and dilemmas as someone who shared a ballpark age and economic status with the cast -- I, like many of you, could project a little into a future that seemed like ours.

I didn't have a child to interrupt my attempts at marital intimacy , like Hope and Michael.

But my maternal clock was ticking, bigtime, so I enjoyed "spying" on their problems.

Melissa and her insecurities about guys? The writers, who really were fantastic (the show has been listed a few times as among the twenty best series ever on television) really seemed to understand how tough it was to be a single woman trying to navigate a married world.

And wasn't Miles Drentell the boss you loved to hate? Everyone has had superior like him -- smooth, hard, a little sleazy. Only Miles was more so.

For those of us who worship at the altar of paralysis by analysis, "Thirtysomething" was the sometimes soapy, often funny, frequently rueful show that fed our obsession.

And maybe that's partly why I miss it -- and why I so rarely watch television now.

It's a different era -- but a lot of the relational, moral and political issues we struggle with haven't changed all that much.

Change the hairstyles, the restaurants, and the actors, and a bunch of clever writers could easily find new ways to make their world seem very familiar to modern thirtysomethings.

And for those of us who like to time travel? I think we'd still recognize ourselves in these characters -- even if we do it with an apologetic smirk.

lundi, octobre 17, 2011

Picture as an exhibition

I've been thinking about what it means to be physically attractive recently. It's something that many of us think about, whether we say that we do, or not.

After all, this is a culture that prizes looks -- or, perhaps it may be more accurate to say that throughout time, in many cultures, certain physical attributes have been given a certain marketplace value.

And, in studies sure to be controversial, many have argued that good looks get men and women ahead, not just in the bedroom, but in the boardroom (read this article if you wish to be depressed/informed.)

What this means for those who didn't win the evolutionary, and possibly ridiculously cultural lottery when it comes to looks?

One just has to try a little harder -- and be smug about the longevity or intelligence or creative genes you do have!

All of this speculation was prompted by a picture of a friend I came across a month or two ago.

It was one taken in his twenties, way before our ways crossed.

He's a fine looking man now. But in his youth, he was more than fine (and not just in that "seventies or eighties way," as a much younger mutual friend of ours said. Some of us remember the eighties).

And no, my friend wasn't Sir Edmund Gosse (though you have to admit he was hot in a late 1880's way).

Seeing that picture prompted me to ponder whether good looks make a real difference.

Does it really ease your access to that first job? Do looks mean that people are more willing to trust you? Does it mean that women, or men, are more forward?

And what are the implications of being advantaged? What happens when you are hired? Are you more persuasive? What effect does it have on your romantic relationships?

I wasn't a particularly attractive college student -- a classic example of hiding whatever assets I had under Indian print skirts, scarves and the classic freshman twenty.

It wasn't until a really bad breakup in my early thirties/late twenties that I started to take care of myself. In my case, I began to get better haircuts, learned to use makeup, started to exercise and lost the twenty(this is not the scrip for everybody -- I am a believer that curves can be lovely).

I've never had conventionally good looks -- but I stopped questioning the benefits of playing up what I do have.

Although, I have to admit that even now, when I have a fair number of guys bidding for my attention, I still sometimes wonder why -- it's a throwback to those old days when I blamed myself for every time a guy chose the blond.

Now I look in the mirror, and most days, like what I see -- as do some guys I respect! (And women, thank you for your moral support when I truly need it).

What would have happened if I'd played up the exotic in my twenties, instead of hiding under a torrent of wavy brown hair and loose jeans?

Who knows? I realize now that physical beauty is a limited and frangible coin -- if we aspire to look great in our seventies, it better come mostly from within.

When you look in that mirror today, pick your good features, and vamp them for all they are worth. Then fuggedaboutit -- let your confidence , sweet nature, and smarts shine.

That's what matters in the end.

Besides, it could be so distracting to have to boot guys or girls out of the way with their chocolates and invitations to dine when you are going out to lunch, or the restroom.

But boy, wouldn't it be fun to have had the chance?

PS -- Allen, I didn't see your comment until just now. Thank you. I just published it. You have always been a wonderful morale-booster -- a younger man discerning enough to appreciate women of a certain age, and kind enough to tell them!

Portrait of Sir Edmund Gosse by John Singer Sargent, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons