Saturday, June 29, 2013

Auntie Facebook Just Won't Let It Go

Facebook keeps asking me to declare my relationship status.  About once a week, when I sign on through my smartphone, a little panel pops up, urging me to finish my profile, but the only thing missing is the state of my lovelife. Facebook is like that annoying relative who keeps asking about every detail of your life and then gets huffy when you don’t want to answer. I don’t know why they’re so keen to have that information, and if they are, I don’t know why they don’t allow me to choose “Other” as they do with Religious and Political views. They provide a menu of options, but none fit my situation. I don’t want to put Single because the unspoken connotation is “Single and Looking, Gentlemen!”. I don’t want to select “It’s Complicated” because it really isn’t.  It’s very, very simple: I’m a Singularity. Introvert. Spinster. Quirkyalone. Unattached. Solo Mio. Autocratic Overlord of my own Sovereign State. Stubbornly independent to the point where I will sometimes place my well-being in danger. I hesitate to use the word “Loner” because while I do very much enjoy my solitude, I also like hanging with friends. I’m not ANTI-social, just selectively social. I’m not a hermit, because I leave my house all the time. And I’m not Anti-Couple, unless the couple in question is insufferable, condescending, or insistent that I join the Smug Couple Kingdom by letting them set me up with their neighbor/brother/coworker.  In many cases, one of the members of the most vehemently self-righteous couples will confide in me privately that their partner drives them nuts. Misery loves company, I guess. I don’t know the right label to describe my status, but Facebook doesn’t have it on their pulldown menu.
There just seems to be no way to say that I’m single and very happy.  Many people read that as, “You’re not happy, you’re just resigned to it, right? Have you tried eHarmony?”  Arggh! I’m 47 years old, and I’m fully content with my life. And when I think of my future, it is one of solitude, and that’s good! Really. I promise you, I’m good with that. It’s my plan.  If I didn’t like the idea, I would be on the prowl constantly for someone to pair off with. I just don’t want to. How else can I state that? Perhaps a list of reasons as to why I am fulfilled would be helpful.  Here’s why I like being, and will continue to be, single:
Freedom to do what I want, when I want, and not having to make sure it’s cool with someone else
Not having to deal with another person's drama
Not having to deal with another person's hangups
Not having to deal with another person's pouting
Not having to deal with another person's body odor or icky laundry
Not worrying about someone else putting up with my drama, hangups, pouting, body odor, and icky laundry
Spending my hard-earned money on myself, rather than things another person wants or needs
Being able to make decisions based solely on how the outcome will affect me, and just me
Making plans to do what I’m interested in doing
Being able to break those plans if I change my mind without ruining someone else’s plans
Sleeping in without being disturbed
Staying up late without disturbing someone else
Taking a nap
Watching what I want on my TV
Turning off the TV and being able to read in silence
Listening to what music I want to
Not being disappointed by someone
Not disappointing someone
Not having to assure someone that nothing is wrong, when all I want is silence
Being able to go for a walk or a drive, and not having to explain to someone that I just want to be by myself
Eating what I want, when I want. If I want to eat spaghetti four days in a row, well then, that’s what’s for dinner four days in a row
Letting the dishes sit overnight if I don’t feel like doing them
Not having to pretend I care about someone's sports team or job
Cluttering up my home with things that I find aesthetically pleasing, and not having to bargain for space to do so
Did I mention doing what I want, when I want? It bears repeating, because it is the central point of my life paradigm.  Simply put: I want to do what I want to do.
I could go on and on. Facebook will just have to keep bugging me to pick an answer, because what they want is too hard to explain.  I am who I am, and the most important word there is “I”.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Commuter Stories

I drive to work at about the same time along the same route every day and as a result, I see the same cars. We hit the same traffic lights and pick the same lanes like clockwork. It’s kind of dehumanizing in a way, but such is the commuter life. To pass the time and keep myself from crashing into a street light out of sheer boredom, I make up stories about the cars and their drivers.

Here are those stories:

The Prius driven by the man in a business shirt and tie. You’d think he’d be a kind, ecofriendly soul, but he drives like a complete jackass. He cuts people off and tailgates.  So much rage.  He used to be a hippie, maybe a drummer or poet. Now he sells insurance and hates his life. His car is his last clinging concession to his wild youth.

The pickup truck driven by the man who has his high school tassel dangling from the rear view window. He’s in his mid-30s, and graduating from high school has been his greatest accomplishment so far.  He still lives with his parents, and when they die, he’ll have the place to himself and he won’t have to turn down his stereo. Maybe he can have girls over, too. He just won't know how to cook or do laundry, since his mom does it for him, and always has.

The sports van driven by a woman who’s got a license plate frame saying “HAPPINESS IS BEING THE MOM OF TWINS” and a few “My child was student of the month at Blah-Blah School for the Overly-Entitled.” Her vanity plate also implies something as much.  She is the kind of parent who works her twin stories into every single conversation, regardless of the subject, whether it be with friends, coworkers, or the person behind her in line. Her entire existence is defined by her children's lives and her parent smugness oozes from her car like exhaust.

Some jacked-up economy car driven by a teenage white boy who plays gangsta rap so loud that it rattles my windshield. He’s eighty credits behind in high school, and every time an adult asks him what he plans to do after graduation, he said he’s going to be a rap star, bigger than Eminem. He’s never once been on stage, but he will be someday. I hate idling at a light by him, and I pass him as quickly as I can, not only to get away from that noise he blasts but also as some warped old lady vindication. “Suck on that, Snoop-Dog,” I say as I blaze past him.

The work truck full of Hispanic men with sun-weathered faces and cowboy hats. The back of the truck is full of landscaping tools and bags of dirt. Even though they work outside together all day, they’re still laughing and talking, even at this early hour.

The ancient Jeep Wagoneer driven by an obese man with a red face and scraggly beard. He eats a donut quickly, slurping coffee in between big bites. It is a miracle that both car and driver are still mobile.  Both their demises will be cataclysmic and sudden. The only question is which one will go first.

The red Hyundai driven by a young woman who jams to her tunes with such verve that she’s almost rear ended me a few times.  Her hair is stylish, and she wears fashionable sunglasses and perfect manicure, but she does not have car insurance. When she eventually DOES rear end me, her daddy will pay me off to keep me from contacting the police or the DMV.

The shiny black foreign sports car driven by an older blonde woman.  She doesn’t fit the neighborhood, which is stubbornly middle class. She works in Calabasas or Los Angeles, at a job where the kind of car you drive matters. Her car payments are more than her mortgage.

I’m sure some of them have made up stories about me too. I’ve got a Subaru with bumper stickers that reflect a childish fixation on pop culture and my dogs.  Yet, storytelling passes the time until we can all reach the freeway onramp and disperse on our various ways.  When summer passes, and the new school year starts, I’ll have new commuters to observe and wonder about.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Casually Quaker

"Casually Quaker, with occasional whiffs of Catholic" is how I describe my religious views on my Facebook page, and I feel like that sums up my theological leanings pretty well. Religion is such a personal thing, and has become such a hot-button political issue of late. I rarely discuss it, and yet it's an important part of my life.
I was raised Catholic, but even as a kid, I was always distracted by anything and everything. I could never concentrate on the Mass.  The stained glass windows, the sniffles of the lady in front of me, the crying baby. The droning lectors and priests lulled me into a catatonic state, and I was never sure what I was supposed to be doing.  And the readings bothered me. (Really, God? You got mad at humans, so you wiped out everyone, babies and old ladies included, and just saved Noah and his sanctimonious clan?  And what did all the animals do to deserve a watery death?) There was never any silence, when I could focus on praying.  I wanted to pray, to thank God for his blessings and ask for more, but there was always someone talking or music playing.  I would get muddled and forget how many Hail Marys I'd said, but then it didn't really matter because I didn't listen to the words anyway.  I wondered if Mary got tired of hearing the same prayer repeated to her robotically, a billion times a day.  I went to a Catholic high school, so nearly all of my friends were Catholics.  Catholicism was the religion of my family, and I didn't encounter any other religions that were any better, so I stuck with it.
Until the sex abuse cases started coming to light.  Then, I lost nearly all respect for the Church, not only because of the pedophile priests, but because of the indifference of the church leaders over the suffering until the lawsuits and arrests began to make for bad press. I tried to look past the human crimes and think of only the dogma and purity of the Church, but I couldn't. Part of the Catholic belief was accepting papal infallibility, and I felt that all of the modern popes who had turned a blind eye to the abuse were deeply fallible. It became almost impossible for me to sit through Mass and not squirm every time the priest came within five feet of an alter server.  I started skipping weeks, and eventually stopped going altogether.
But I still believe in God, and wanted to be part of a community that shared my beliefs.  I tried other religions, but found that each service held the same pitfalls as the Catholic mass.  Too much talking, singing, fidgeting, and empty words from an ancient book about how we were all supposed to live our lives.  One thing that formal religions have in common is that they all have a LOT of rules, more than I can remember. So I prayed every day on my own, and slept in on Sundays.
I first encountered the Friends Society (or more commonly known as the Quakers) in Philadelphia, and again in London. The silent stillness of the meetings fit my introverted nature, and the lack of dogma and ritual helped me to focus on a sense of spirituality without distraction. It seemed like a good match, but life got hectic and I didn't pursue it.
Over the last year or so, I've been feeling like I wanted to be a part of a religious community again, and I started doing some research and reflecting.  I spent a weekend at the New Camaldoli Hermitage, trying to become enlightened about what I wanted as a spiritual life, and the Quakers kept coming to the foreground as the religion that made the most sense for my beliefs and personality.
I'm not going to preach the word about the Quaker faith.  If you're interested, there are many good sites and books about it.  I read two books by J. Brent Bill, Holy Silence: the Gift of Quaker Spirituality and Sacred Compass, both of which were insightful and helpful. The belief systems vary among different Friends groups (or meetings, as they're called) and are not easily summarized.  What appeals to me is the idea that God wants to talk to us, not through a book, or ministers, or prophets, or songs, but just one-on-one. All we have to do was be still and quiet, and listen.
I started attending Sunday (or First Day) meetings at a meetinghouse about 25 miles from where I live. The silence is hard to adjust to, at first.  I'm conscious of the noise I make when I walk, or shift in my seat. During the first thirty minutes of meeting, my mind races and bounces around.  I try to focus, but grocery lists and outside drama seep in. I use visualization to quiet my mind. I recall a time when I was sitting in a London park, on the grass, and I closed my eyes and turned my face to the sun, and I felt a lovely sense of serenity. I had no thoughts or mental images beyond the feeling of warmth on my face.  I try to recall that feeling in meeting. If someone's image works their way into my mind, I imagine helping them into a rowboat, and sending them off gently downstream, out of sight.  I wish no harm for them, but I don't want them in my head.  That takes awhile, but then there's always a moment when all the imagery falls away, and my mind and heart feel open and peaceful, almost like floating.  I understand the concept of expectant waiting, a feeling of contemplation. That's when God and I talk. And so I sit until one of the elders stirs, wishes everyone good morning, and starts to shake hands, which is the signal that meeting is over.  Then there are announcements and general chatting. I never get smacked over the head with some great epiphany, but I always feel tranquil and purposeful afterwards.
Quakers believe, as most religions do, that one's religious striving doesn't end at noon on Sunday.  I try to practice the Quaker testimonies of peace, equality, community, integrity, and simplicity. When a student, colleague, or rude driver enrages me, I try to "hold them in the light," to wish them peace and grace.  It doesn't always work. but taking a breath and trying to lessen my anger or frustration does give me perspective and diffuses the rage a bit, even if I do still want to wring someone's neck.
I do attend Catholic Mass occasionally, when I'm visiting my parents. I still pray to Mary for her intercession when I'm scared, and I pray to St. Anthony when I can't find my car keys.  There's much to the religion that I like, so I don't think I'll ever denounce it forever.  And I don't know if I'll ever be a good Quaker, because as with other religions, it is only a part of who I am, and I haven't committed fully to it.  I will keep the epithet "Casually Quaker, with occasional whiffs of Catholic" and face the consequences of being a dilettante in religion, as with everything else.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's Alive!

I haven't written anything here for months. It's gotten to the point where I think about deleting this blog altogether, because it vexes me that it sits idle. It's my Frankenstein's monster, a being I created, then abandoned. The reason I don't delete it is because I fear it will chase me around the globe and wreak revenge on me.  (Sorry. Lit nerd joke.)  In actuality, I don't delete it for the same reason people keep their dust-and-laundry-covered StairMaster in the living room. If it sits there long enough, surely I'll use it eventually out of shame, if for no other reason. But I wonder why I haven't been compelled to write for so long, and I've come up with a few theories.

Reason #1 - I have nothing to say.  I really don't. I don't have an angle, or voice, or obsession to draw on as a starting point. I'm not a mom or a wife or even a militant single. I have opinions about society and politics, but not well-developed enough to build a pundit platform. I don't stand out particularly as a teacher, and I refuse to devote a blog to the foibles and follies of my students (a petty thing to do, plus EXTREMELY detrimental to one's career.) I don't have any interests that burn within me so fiercely that I must, or can, write about them. I'm a self-centered, quirkyalone slacker/dilettante, but I'm not SO self-centered that I think people would be interested in reading my thoughts about me. So I stare at the blinking cursor, then give up.

Reason #2 - My job. As a teacher, I feel like if I have any downtime, I should be grading papers, and if I don't have any papers to grade, I need to think up some assignments to give out, so I'll have some papers to grade.  When I do have a window of legitimate free time, I devote it to reading or watching TV.  I have stacks of books I want to read and a DVR full of shows and specials to watch.  And then there's evil Netflix, which offers me even more time-wasting opportunities, right here on my laptop. It's a delicious luxury to be able to sit and turn off the teacher brain. Writing is active, and I need my passive time.

Reason #3 - Social media. Facebook has taken away my urge to write.  BFB (Before Facebook), if I had an observation or insight, I'd write about it and post it on my blog.  Now, I can jot it onto my status update and forget about it, rather than expanding on it. This is unfortunate, because there are some things I post on Facebook that have a story behind them, but there's not enough time or space to explain.
But I do often feel a burning need to be creative, and as I'm not artistic or crafty, writing is the most enjoyable option for me. So maybe Facebook can be my idea notebook.  The thought process that makes me want to share my garbled view of a fellow shopper or a cheesy story about my dogs may be parlayed into a spurt of creative writing beyond a few sentences, and will feed the blog beast and scratch my creative itch. I need to not worry about boring any readers I might have, and think of this as more of an intellectual exercise for myself.  I'll try to make a habit out of it, and set aside some time each week to string some sentences together in a cohesive form and post them here with more regularity.
But only after I watch eleven archived episodes of Doctor Who and read my September Harpers Magazine.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Today, I had loads of errands I needed to run, plus I wanted to take a walk around the community park. Before I got on the road to accomplish all this, I needed a hearty breakfast. I was in the mood for pancakes, so I went to a little diner off of the freeway.  It's a hole-in-the-wall place, with simple but delicious food, friendly waitresses who call everyone "Honey", vintage fruit crate labels on the wall, and a toy train the runs the perimeter of the dining room.  My favorite part is the weekday clientele.  It's a group of old men who totter in and greet each other warmly, probably every day of the week.  I'm not trying to be funny when I say that they seem deeply pleased that they've all woken up to see another day.
This morning, they were being interviewed by a freelance writer who appeared to be doing research for a book on World War II veterans.  I was stifling giggles, listening to the exchange.  The writer was trying to engage the men by complimenting them on their service to the country, and the men weren't having any of it.  Maybe they've heard it all before, or it's too painful to reminisce about, or they've jettisoned their past stories for more immediate concerns.  The writer kept addressing each one, like, "Bill, I know you were shot down over France, and Jack, I know you survived D-Day, and Joe, you were at Pearl Harbor, right?" and the old men just nodded and said, "Yeah, yeah" or started talking about something else.  At one point, the writer said "Lou, can you tell me about your recollections of the invasion of Italy?" and all Lou was interested in was the bill and who ordered cream cheese, because they owed 50 cents more.  I felt sorry for the writer. It's going to take a lot more breakfasts with these guys to get the stories he wants.  I hope he does, though.  It's a fascinating cross-section of history sitting at that diner table.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sports (Yawn..)

I went to the beach this morning with my dogs.  While I was watching them frolic in the waves, I started chatting with a guy who was surf fishing. He was nice looking, friendly, complimented my dogs. A pleasant guy, all around.  I think he was flirting a little.  I can't be sure because it happens so rarely and I've always been embarrassingly dim in recognizing anyone's interest in me.  I didn't stay long enough to discover more, because I was hungry and my initial scan of him indicated that we had little in common, anyway. He had a Dodgers baseball cap, San Francisco 49ers t-shirt, and a Lakers duffle bag. He was a sports fan.  Deal-breaker.
I couldn't possibly care less about sports.  When people start talking about anything related to athletics, my eyes glaze over and a pleasant song starts playing in my head. I used to PRETEND I liked sports to make myself more desirable to men. It seemed important to them, and I was trying to adapt. I came to realize that I wasn't adapting, I was posturing, and it made me tired and resentful.  Why, oh why, I would wonder, couldn't he read my mind and know that even though I SAID I loved his sports team and would like nothing more than to spend a Sunday watching his favorite sports team play another sports team, what I REALLY wanted to be doing was walking through a museum, or eating lunch on a bistro patio.  It was a lovely, liberating moment when I decided that I would never again feign interest in a topic or activity, in order to be more romantically appealing. I'm too old and cranky.
I don't mind going to live sporting events, because it's a nice time with friends and there's always a great energy and sense of civic pride. Plus there's stadium food and beer in big cups.  I watch the sport being played, and I cheer for the home team, but I could take it or leave it as a regular activity.
The only sport I genuinely enjoy is bobsledding, and obviously, I don't get to see much of it, except during the Winter Olympics. I can't say why I like it, except that it's fast and exciting. But I don't have a favorite bobsledder, and it's not like I follow bobsledding on ESPN. And in case you're wondering, no, I don't care for luge, because (to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld) it looks like the luger is participating against his will, that he was just strapped to a sled and sent screaming down an icy track. It also bothers me that they have to keep their head up like they do, in order to steer. It hurts my neck to watch the luge.
Don't even get me STARTED on NASCAR.
I also enjoy the World Cup, again not for the sport, but for the sense of global unity.  I'm an Anglophile, and I think it's adorable how worked up the Brits get over their game.  A nice thing about soccer is that I can turn on a match on TV, take a nap, wake up an hour later, and not have missed anything except sixty minutes of guys running around. I'm shocked to see if there's any kind of score. It's comforting in a way.
So, I chose not to waste any more of the fisherman's time today.  Let him move on a girl who will look cute in his oversize football jersey and who will coo and croon over bowls and balls and those stick-things that jocks use to hit stuff with.  I'm happy to be on my couch, watching Cary Grant movies.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Snail Tale

With the time change, it is now dark when I walk my dogs in the morning. Darkness makes me inordinately lethargic, and I tend to fixate on one thing to wake my brain up, until coffee takes over. This morning, I walked my dogs along our usual path, and they sniffed their usual spots. At one stop, as I stared down at the sidewalk, I noticed a snail slime path coming from the left. The snail had evidently slimed its way across the sidewalk until it was almost an inch from the right side, then did a U-turn, and returned to the grass on the left. It's a wide sidewalk, so the creature's round trip was about six feet. It must have taken all night. Why did it turn around? What goes on in a snail's brain? How far can they see? Maybe it got frustrated or nervous, and turned around. 

I know nothing about snails, except that I find them rather charming, in a Beatrix Potter, idealized sort of way. I find slugs repulsive, but slap a cute curly little shell on it, and I want to name it and keep it as a pet.

I probably wouldn't have even noticed this snail trail today except for the fact that yesterday, I noticed about six or seven snails in the same spot, all moving in the same direction, left to right. A herd of snails. A flock of snails. A stampede of snails, all headed doggedly (as if a snail can be any other way) towards the same place. It was actually kind of a funny sight, as if they were in a race. So this morning, I wondered if there was a connection between the two molluscan events? Maybe they were a pride of snails who migrated to the other side of the sidewalk, for reasons known only to them. Maybe the snail from today was a pariah, and was left behind on purpose. As it approached the new settlement, the other snails sent out a wave-off, or a warning shot over the bow.

Or maybe it was a devoted parent, who was unwilling to leave a snaillette? Maybe it forgot something, and had to return to retrieve it? Perhaps it suddenly and capriciously chose the life of a snail hermit? I'll never know.
These are the kind of things that skitter through my mind in the morning. I may need to up my caffeine intake.