Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Little Texan In Her Pink Shoes

Did y'all see Texan Wendy Davis filibustering a couple nights ago?  It was a pretty awesome sight to behold, whatever your opinions on women's issues may be.  

I am the same age as Wendy.  She was born one month and six days after me.  I was reading a bit about her, as I had never heard of her before her filibuster, and she is a pretty incredible person.  She married and had a baby as a teen, got divorced, became a paralegal, worked her way through college and law school, and went on to have a fantastic career.  If I had tried to do all those things, I would have had a nervous breakdown.  My hat is off to you, Wendy!

And as I watched this darling lady in her pink shoes and the reactions she got from the crowd and on Twitter, I tried to just quiet myself and ponder things.

This is what I have pondered.

Yes, I am a Catholic.  Yes, I am a Republican.  I take being a Catholic pretty seriously.  Being a Republican?  Not quite so much.  Though I appreciate politics and understand their importance, I do not possess enough of the ideology of either of the major parties to be entirely faithful to one or the other.  And I have actually switched party affiliation more than once.  I may do it again.

What do I like about the Republicans?  I have generally been drawn to the ideas of limited government and subsidiarity.  I also liked Reagan a great deal.  If you are a Democrat, you will probably gag at this, but Reagan was to my generation what Obama is to the current generation of younger people.  Things pretty much sucked in the late 70's, and Reagan gave us his version of "hope" and "change."  He had a positive attitude, a good sense of humor, and he was unflinchingly brave in the face of the things we viewed as threats to our freedom.  Of course, he also scared the crap out of a lot of people.  I understand that.  But, I liked him.  I still do.  I know he made mistakes.  I know he was not perfect.  I am not defending everything he did.  But, he sort of gave our nation a much-needed kick in the pants and a shot in the arm and a little bit of pride and confidence where it was very lacking.  If you don't believe me, go and watch that new movie about the Iranian hostage crisis that stars Ben Affleck.

As a Catholic, though, I also appreciate many, many things about the Democratic party.  I am quite sympathetic to their ideals of social justice and their desire for a strong social safety net.  And -- having children in their 20's who are struggling to begin careers in the current economy -- I am really starting to appreciate their desire for some type of national health insurance system.  And I have to say that "Obamacare" has been a Godsend for us -- especially since my 23-year-old daughter has many health problems.  I don't know what we would have done to affordably provide for her healthcare needs -- especially considering the current state of the job market for young people -- without the new laws. 

Why have I told you these things? It is so that you will have more understanding of where I am coming from when it comes to my thoughts about Wendy and her pink shoes and standing with her and all. 

I have to admit that my first reaction in watching Wendy was to "root" for the Republicans.  Then I started to pay more attention and learn more about what the GOP members had done.  It seems like they basically tried to throw a Hail Mary pass at the last possible moment.  They said that their proposed laws would protect the health and safety of women.  Frankly, I don't really buy that.  I think they were just trying to get abortion clinics shut down.  And this seems, to me, like a dishonest, heartless way to reduce abortion rates.  And I don't think it will protect the health of women, either.  Because, in the current environment, given the current state of our culture, women will not say, "Oh, I am pregnant and I am not happy about it.  But, I will just have this baby and all will be well."  They probably won't do that.  They'll most likely try to find some way to get an abortion, anyway -- a way that will probably be less safe than if the current clinics had stayed open.  And they will get angry.  They will get angry at the mean men who appear to be bullying them.  They will get angry at the heartless and ignorant men who keep saying things like, "A woman's body has a way to shut those things down."  It's like these Republicans just attacked a relatively peaceful hive with a flame thrower.  Way to burn bridges, GOP members.   

So, here we have this image.  An image of a little lady in pink shoes -- a woman who was a teen mom herself, who chose to have her baby in an era when she could have chosen otherwise -- facing down these hostile people.  Even I -- Catholic that I am -- was quite moved by this.  And now I hear that the governor has called a special session to go through the whole issue again.  Hello, Governor.  You think Wendy is going to back down this time?  I don't think so.  She's probably in training right now to take you on.

At this point, I have probably succeeded in alienating practically everyone who is reading this.  Sorry about that.  But, if you care to read on, I will tell you what I think would be a more positive approach to this whole thing.

I would like to see the people on "both sides of the aisle" respecting each others concerns and appreciating the merits of each others arguments.  I would like to see the Republicans being honest about their goals and measured in their approach.  I would like to see the Democrats trying to understand that most Republicans don't want to oppress women.  (Well, at least the ones in California don't.  I'm not sure about the ones in Texas.)  I think the governor should cancel the special session he called and wait until the next regular legislative session, when all of this should be taken up in a thoughtful, respectful, unhurried way.  I want to see everybody calm down and deal with the issue in a rational manner.  If that is possible in Texas. ;-)



Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Good Underthings For The Dressing Room, Or...

...Confidence For The More Mature Lady

The other day, I spoke about the idea of confidence, my remarks being primarily aimed at younger women.  Today, I am going to throw in my two cents about confidence for the woman who is a little older.

I am 50 now.  I am in the midst of the menopause.  I am rather broad-like (or, at least, I aspire to be).  I am also a bit sensitive, rather clueless about fashion, and -- admittedly -- probably not always quite as confident as Ben McKenzie would recommend. 

Now that I am 50, my body is not what it used to be.  My parts seem to be falling apart in this order -- thighs, butt, hips, back, tummy, calves, arms, shoulders, boobs.  Thighs getting the worst of it and boobs faring the best.  I am also a fair amount heavier than I was when I was 25 and 125 pounds.  I am not in the worst physical condition, but neither am I in the best.  I am starting to take on the appearance of a grandma.

Usually, I am pretty accepting of how nature is taking its course, but once in a while it totally pisses me off.  And that leads me to this story.

About two weeks ago, I made the decision to go with my 23-year-old daughter, Bridget, to the mall.  We picked up an item she needed from the Apple Store and had lunch.  All was well up to this point.  Then I asked her if she wanted to do a little clothes shopping in Nordstrom. 

Off we went to the dress section.  We picked out several things each and the nice lady put us in the extra-big dressing room so we could try on the items in regular gal-pal fashion.  Bridget looked really cute in all the things she tried on.  Me?  Not so much.  One of the dresses, though it flattered my figure, wouldn't zip up all the way.  Another item, though lovely in color and shape, was a bit "revealing."  Not "revealing" in the sense of giving hints of my lovely womanliness, but "revealing" a lot of my stretch marks and various dimpled, saggy areas.  A third dress was quite comfortable, but Bridget vetoed it.  She explained it in this manner, "Your bust and your butt go out, but your waist goes in, and this dress doesn't go in at your waist.  So, it just looks like a tent on you."  This was all rather discouraging, especially because I could imagine how these dresses would have looked on me 20 or 30 years ago.  "We've come a long way, baby."

Next, we made our way to a section of the store containing pants and tops.  I found a couple of cute pairs of linen pants and a couple of colorful, flowy tank tops.  At first, I was horrified by the pants, because they were much tighter around the waist and hip area than linen pants usually are, but the saleslady told me they were made that way on purpose.  Maybe she was full of shit, but I just decided to go with it.  I tried on XL tank tops, thinking they looked all floaty and romantic, but Bridget (trying not to laugh) told me they were MUCH too huge and brought over the saleslady, who seconded her opinion.  Both of them got me to try on the next size down.  The saleslady pronounced, when she saw me in the appropriately-sized pants and top that, "There.  Now you have a cute figure."  Like I said, maybe she was shining me on, but I decided to believe her and bought the clothes.  And, I admit, they are cute.

So, what does this have to do with confidence?  When I saw myself in those dresses and imagined what they would have looked like on me 25 years ago, I started to cry.  This is probably pretty vain, but there it is.  Bridget was sweet, though, and gave me tissues and hugged me and told me that I was still pretty.  She told me that I just needed to find the right things -- things that would flatter my "now" figure and not my "long-ago" figure.  Then I cried some more when the waist and hips on the linen pants were snug.  But, when I got into the correct sizes and was made to understand how things were supposed to fit, I felt better.  I realized that I need to accept myself for how I am now and not mourn how I used to be.  I realized that I need to take the advice of people "in the know" about fashion.  I realized that if I wear the right things for 50-year-old me that I can still be cute.  I won't be cute like a 25-year-old, but that doesn't really matter.  I am 50, and I need to embrace the attractiveness of that.  And this is a positive sort of attractiveness.  It can be gentle and nurturing and warm and caring.  Grandmotherly.  All good.

And what does this have to do with "good underthings for the dressing room?"  You know dressing rooms, right?  Mirrors all around.  Bright lights.  Looking at my middle-aged body in this environment is fairly horrifying.  Every flaw glaringly apparent.  But, then I inadvertently discovered something.  Having an awesome, gravity-defying bra and pretty, well-fitting panties can make this potentially horrific situation more than tolerable.  So, next time you're thinking of heading off into the sunset of that department store dressing room, make a stop at Victoria's Secret first.  You'll be glad you did.  This is also a smart thing for us middle-aged broads to do because (have you noticed?) more and more dressing rooms are co-ed.  And if you're like me -- having been raised in the era of sexually segregated dressing rooms -- you'll occasionally forget this new phenomenon when absent-mindedly opening the fitting room door to ask for your daughter's help or opinion. 


Monday, June 24, 2013

Having A Little Confidence In Your Legs

One of the reasons I like Ben McKenzie is that he gives me lots of ideas for things to blog about.   Thanks, Mr. McKenzie!

For example, he did an interview (thoughtfully put online by the lovely lady from "Ben McKenzie News") in which he talks about four things he looks for in a gal.  Two of them, in particular, struck me.
They are:
     1.  confidence
     2.  a good pair of legs.

I'm not sure if this interview was originally in print or done live.  But, I imagine -- especially if it was done live -- that when he said the thing about the legs, at least 75% of the females who were listening to him looked down at their own pair, wondering if they measured up to Mr. McKenzie's standards.  After all, he did not describe in any sort of detail what kinds of characteristics he looks for in legs.  Does he like them long or short?  Should the muscles be well-defined or softer and rounder?  Are the calves or thighs of more interest to him?  How about the knees?  Does he care for tan skin or fair?  I mean, when you start thinking about it, the whole thing can get a little overwhelming. 

And this leads me to the idea of confidence.

In my experience, ladies don't tend to have a lot of confidence in their legs (or in their bodies, in general).  They tend to be extremely hard on themselves -- and on each other.  They complain that one part is "too fat," another part is "too thin."  They tell themselves that they are "too bony" here or "too flabby" there.  They put themselves under a dissecting microscope and have at it, judging themselves in the harshest manner. 

All of this makes me sad.

Because, now that I am 50 and looking at my daughters (who are 23 and 24), at their friends, at the young women in my little town, and at all the youthful ladies I see as I travel here and there for various reasons, I realize something.  Virtually all young women (and by that, I mean those 35 and under) are lovely.  Please don't get me wrong.  Older women are lovely, too.  But, it's the younger ones who are especially hard on themselves, so they are the ones I am addressing right now. 

So, young women, hear me.  You are beautiful.  Most of you groom yourselves well.  You shower and do your hair and put something on that makes you feel pretty.  You smile and laugh and have fun.  You have spunk.  And you have nice legs, too.  Whether they are a little larger or a little smaller, a bit longer or a tad shorter, your young legs look cute dressed in the stylish shorts, pants, and skirts that you wear.  They look cute when you walk around with your friends, getting coffee in the mall or going to the movies or dancing in a club.  And not just your legs look cute.  The rest of you looks adorable, too.


Have a little confidence in yourselves.  Have confidence that you are beautiful -- but not only that.  Have confidence in your intelligence and your abilities.  Let your natural goodness and enthusiasm shine through.  And don't worry about what others might think of your legs or any other part of you.  Be happy in yourselves.  Know in your heart that you can create lives and friendships that will be rewarding and satisfying.  

Because, I must admit, Mr. McKenzie does have a point.  When you are confident, you will be attractive.  But, it needs to be authentic confidence.  The kind of confidence that -- if you happened to run into Mr. McKenzie somewhere -- would allow you to look him in the eye and smile warmly, not worrying about what he is thinking of your legs.  For I believe that Mr. McKenzie -- seeming to be a truly good sort of guy -- and any other guy worth your time and attention, is going to be looking at the totality of you as a person.  He's not going to be spending a great deal of time rating your body parts.  A worthwhile guy wants to be with somebody who cares about him, who cares about others, who can converse with him about interesting things, and (maybe I am getting ahead of myself here, but what the hell) who might be a good mother.  A good guy realizes that when he falls in love and makes a commitment that the woman he chooses is going to get older, along with her body parts.  And he will have the maturity to deal with that.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Why I Will Not Fight A "Culture War"

"Culture War"

A pretty popular term right now.  As I understand it, this basically means the Conservatives pitted against the Progressives over whose values will prevail in society -- both culturally and legally.

Of course, there is always a push/pull in every society.  I mean, let's face it, no two people are exactly alike.  So, when you put millions of individuals together, you're going to have lots of disagreements on how things "should be."  And this, to me, is fine and natural.  There should be discussion and debate.  But, not a war.  At least, not in my opinion.  Especially when there is plenty of room for negotiation.

Pope John Paul II spoke out a lot against war.  He spoke against the war in Iraq.  He spoke against war, in general. He spoke of the harm caused by war to innocent people.  He spoke of civilian casualties.  He spoke of men and women in uniform and how their lives should not be endangered without truly just cause.  He spoke of how both sides in a war -- both the victor and the defeated -- suffer.  Yes, he said even the victors are damaged by war.  This means, to me, that when you are in the position of getting your way (and keeping it) through force, you are not actually gaining the cooperation of those you defeat.  And those you defeat -- who are kept "in their place" against their will -- are not just going to roll over and adopt your positions.  They are going to try to figure out a way to rise up and put you down, in turn.  This just leads to more hatred, more conflict, more war.  John Paul II argued that negotiation should be the primary means of resolving conflict; and he stated that negotiation is often neglected or not given enough of a chance to succeed.  What are the advantages of negotiation?  Negotiation seeks to allow everybody as much freedom of choice as reasonably possible.  People are required, through negotiation, to try to see the individuals on the "other side of the table" as human beings with free will, dignity, hopes, dreams, and needs.  In a negotiation, everybody has to give something up in order to gain something.  There is not a "winner" and a "loser."  The needs and desires of all -- even of those you disagree with -- have to be taken into account.  And this helps all of us to remember and respect the humanity of those from whom we differ.

You may be thinking to yourself, "Well, the Culture War is not a literal war, like World War II or the war in Iraq."  But, I disagree.  I think a lot of the same dynamics exist in the Culture War as in a war in which actual bullets and bombs are employed.   What are some of these dynamics?  First of all, each side starts to separate from the other -- socially, geographically.  How many barbecues have you been to lately where Dems and Reps freely mingle and enjoy the company of one another?  How often nowadays do we see neighborhoods -- or even whole towns, cities, and states -- that are predominantly of one political ideology or another?  And after the separation comes the demonization.  We start thinking of each other as "enemies."  We can't listen to each others opinions -- especially via the internet, the radio, or the TV -- without becoming apoplectic.  And this leads to more separation and more demonization.  It is easy to demonize people with which you don't have to personally interact.  And once we separate and demonize, it is easier and easier to hate.  It becomes easier and easier to want to "put the other side down" by some kind of force.  It becomes easier to believe that making everybody live the way that you deem "correct" -- the way that makes you feel comfortable -- is right and just.   It becomes simpler to make "straw man" arguments out of the ideas of your opponents, so that you can joke about them and ridicule them, instead of giving them the respectful and intelligent consideration they deserve.  And all of this does just as much damage to us as individuals and as a society as a literal war --  not physically, perhaps -- but, psychologically and spiritually.

What is the solution?  Negotiation -- as John Paul II advocated.  Each side in this "Culture War" needs to listen fairly and openly to the concerns of the other.  Then we need to make room for each other, even if it might make us a bit uncomfortable to do so.  I have been a fairly conservative person most of my life (even though I am a bit of a hippie on the inside), and it concerns me when I hear "my" side say, too often, that this, that, or the other thing is "non-negotiable."  It just seems like we say it too much.  And then the progressive people feel threatened and disrespected and they don't really feel like dealing with us and all our "non-negotiable items."  And I don't really blame them.  We come across as a bit obnoxious and intolerant sometimes, fellow conservatives. 

Also, frankly, I really like the idealism of the Progressives.  And the vast majority of Progressives are lovely people, who are kind and charitable, who are just and merciful, who are great fun.  And I count many of them as my good friends.  I'm not going to have a war with them.  I will give them room to follow their consciences.  And I trust that they will give me room to follow mine.  Also, our consciences have more things in common than not, because we all strive to be people of goodwill and moral integrity, even if some of our opinions differ.

One final thought:  When we war with one another culturally, there is something we often forget.  We forget about the actual people whose choices and orientations and lifestyles we are putting under our little microscopes.  For example, in the vociferous and often unkind debate about gay marriage, conservatives sometimes seem to forget that there are actual gay couples who genuinely love each other.  There are actual gay individuals and couples with beautiful children.  And these people love their children just as much as I love mine.  We need to avoid hurting these people by our words and attitudes.  We need to respect these families.  We need to be charitable.

As one of the saints once said, "In all things, in ALL things -- charity."

Friday, June 14, 2013

"Goodbye World" -- or -- "Goodbye, World"

"Goodbye World" is a movie that is going to be screened at the LA Film Festival.  It is sort of a modern-day-hippie-apocalypse story.

I have seen a few trailers for this movie, and it is rather appealing.  It also has Ben McKenzie in it.  "Ah-ha," you are now saying.  "Now I get it," you are thinking to yourself.  And you would be right.  I like Ben's projects, though.  They tend to be interesting and funky.  That is also their downside, because his projects -- being so off-beat and quirky -- seem to have a hard time making it out of festivals or being expanded beyond a 6- or 10-episode television season.  This is unfortunate, at least for me, because he is greatly talented and brings a lot to his roles.  Sometimes I think he chooses these types of roles because he was, maybe, a little bit traumatized by his whole Ryan Atwood experience.  I suppose it could be rather difficult for somebody who is rather private and comes from a very intellectual background to become a teen idol virtually overnight.  Maybe his brothers teased him.  So, I can understand why he would choose these more "artsy" types of projects.  They would allow him to express his creativity while staying off the paparazzi radar.  There is one thing, though, that I would mention to Ben, and that is this:  You should do at least one blockbuster project in which you get to play a guy of the age that you are now so that people will recognize you as being famous apart from "The O.C."  For example, they could say, "Oh, there's James Bond!" instead of "Oh, it's Ryan Atwood!"  Of course, I am not a showbiz person, so there is really no reason that Ben should actually pay attention to me.

Anyway, I am no expert on this movie, but that's not going to stop me from writing down my thoughts and opinions about it.  As uninformed as they may be.  Being uninformed about something has never once stopped me from voicing my thoughts and opinions, so why should I start hesitating now?  "Goodbye World," as I said, involves an apocalyptic theme.  I don't think Jesus comes back in the movie, though, so it is a secular-type of apocalypse.  As I understand it, there is a cyber-attack which brings society to a halt, so a bunch of Stanford alumni go to stay with their Stanford alumni friends (a married couple with a little girl) who are living "off-the-grid" somewhere in the vast northern regions of California.  This, in itself, makes me smile.  I am from Redwood City, CA, which is not far from Stanford University.  I have had many friends, acquaintances, and teachers from that well-known institution.  And I have to say -- from the trailers I have seen of this movie -- that they totally hit the Stanford "personality" right on the head.  Not that there is one Stanford "personality," because Stanford attracts a diverse population.  And Stanford purposefully admits a great diversity of people, as they want to be a school known for its diversity.  But, still, Stanford people take on a certain Stanford air.  I mean, for one thing, its students are all freaking brilliant.  And their brilliance is enhanced and their personalities shaped by being in that cultural melting-pot known as Stanford University, and so -- in my life experience -- there is such a thing as a "Stanfordite."  And -- I repeat -- "Goodbye World" gets it totally right.

So, here is this group of friends, reunited by calamity, eating and smoking different organic substances, trying to survive a worldwide the apocalypse while simultaneously sorting out their past histories with each other, all amidst the beautiful natural environment that is Northern California.  Sounds pretty fascinating to me.  And I think it's cool the way the writers of the movie have taken into consideration and researched what these people would actually need in order to survive this type of catastrophic event.  There is talk of energy and water and food supplies and rationing.  Although, it is apparent that not all of the friends take everything as seriously as they might.  For example, Ben's character seems more preoccupied with his feelings for the woman who appears to be his ex-girlfriend -- who is now married to the guy who owns the off-the-grid-property -- than he is concerned about the practical situation at-hand.  Now, if Ben's character was as smart as a true Stanford alum would be, he would realize what side his bread is buttered on, and not piss off the guy who knows how to work all the generators and grow all the food and purify all the water.  If I were Ben's character, I would be extra respectful to this guy, otherwise I would worry that people would find my mangled body after I had an "accident" with the water pump.  But, Ben's character seems oblivious to these possibilities.  Another cool thing is that Ben's character shows up at the off-the-grid property with a lovely young woman, who is also a Stanford alum and was acquainted with the owners of the property when they were in school.  Although, they don't recognize her at first, because I guess she was rather unpopular -- a fan of Christian rock and sort of a "goody-two-shoes."  I get a big kick out of her because that is what I was like in college, and it gives me satisfaction that Ben's character shows up with her.  I'm not sure whether or not he is her boyfriend, but it seems like maybe he is, so I'm all like, "SCORE for us Amy Grant-loving, studious squares! Woo-hoo!!!" Although, I have to say, she seems much quieter and more polite than I ever was.

In thinking about this movie and its well-informed research and presentation of an off-the-grid, post-apocalypse survival situation, there is one question I have, though.  I hope to eventually get to see "Goodbye World" and maybe my question will be answered.   But, anyhow, here is what I am wondering.  There are all these good-looking, healthy young people living on this property.  There is at least one married couple.  There is obviously a lot of attraction going on.  So, what about birth control, or "family planning," or whatever you want to call it?  Will there be a midwife around?  Because no matter how much "family planning" you do, by whatever method, young, healthy, attractive women have a tendency to get pregnant when spending a lot of time with young, healthy, attractive men.  This might be especially prone to happen in an apocalypse because of all the stress and boredom.  Why will there be boredom?  Because Twitter probably won't be functioning.  That's why.  People talk about the apocalypse all the time these days.  They talk about food and water and energy and evil government activity.  But, nobody ever takes sex into consideration, and I think it is very important to do so.  Because -- frankly -- there probably won't be birth control pills readily available.  Or any other prescription birth control methods, for that matter.  Should people be stockpiling condoms or spermicidal foams and jellies?  And how long does it take before the rubber starts degrading?  What is the expiration date of the foams and jellies?  Should people be collecting massive piles of Natural Family Planning charts and basal body temperature thermometers?  And I'm not talking about the newfangled battery-operated thermometers, because we will run out of batteries in an apocalypse.  I mean the old-fashioned thermometers that you had to shake down by hand and leave in your mouth for AT LEAST 3 to 5 minutes.  (Don't ask me how I know this.)  Or are people supposed to give up sex in an apocalypse?  That might be for the best, at least for a while, but it doesn't seem like anybody told the "Goodbye World" characters this.

So, if you are in the LA area, I hear there still might be a few tickets left for one of the screenings of "Goodbye World" -- or -- "Goodbye, World."  (I'm unsure about the comma, and I'm too lazy to check it on Google.)  And since I have probably totally piqued your interest, you might want to buy yourself one of those tickets.  Or two -- and bring a friend along.  And then you can tell me the answers to the stuff I am wondering about.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mrs. Elizabeth Foss's Blog Post Of Today

*Note:  If you read my last post and are wondering if I was talking about you, I probably wasn't. ;-) *

I enjoy reading the blog of Mrs. Elizabeth Foss.  It is interesting, insightful, and -- often -- funny.  In today's post, she spoke about human relationships.  She spoke, in particular, about how to get along with people who are different than you, people who may make you uncomfortable, people with whom you may not see eye-to-eye, or even like very much.

To summarize, she advocates (and I agree with her) being gracious to these kinds of people.  For, she explains, if you act graciously you may even begin to have actual feelings of graciousness.  If you behave towards someone as if you like him or her, you may find that you do come to like that person.  It also seems that some people disagree with Mrs. Foss, because they feel that she is advocating a type of dishonesty.  In my opinion, this is silly.  She is just saying that people should be tactful, polite, and humble.

I'm going to add my own two cents here, though.  (I'm really good at that. Right?)  In behaving well towards people who are very different than you, it is important to be sincere.  What do I mean by "sincere?"  I mean that you must honestly believe that this person with whom you may disagree on many important things may actually have something to say to you -- something worthwhile.  You have to have the conviction that even if you are, say,  a faithful Catholic or Christian or whatever, that someone on the "other side of the fence" might enlighten you a little.  Maybe you won't change your opinion.  Maybe you will still believe wholeheartedly in whatever it is you believe in.  That's fine.  But, hearing another side to an argument -- sincerely and truly hearing it -- might help you to become a more charitable person, a person with a softer heart.  And if that person "on the other side of the fence" feels heard -- and I mean sincerely and truly heard -- that may help him or her come to understand you better.  Now, do I mean that you should be kind and respectful to people of "different stripes" so that you can fix "the error of their ways?"  Absolutely not.  I am saying that you should be kind and respectful because it is the right thing to do -- because this is what it means grant people their basic human dignity.  It is also important to be sincere in dealing with others because, frankly, most people can tell if you're "faking it."  And "faking it" -- in all types of human intercourse -- just leads to bad feelings all around.

Oh, and let's all try having a sense of humor.  If you are a conservative, try laughing at one liberal joke a day.  If you are a liberal, try laughing at one conservative joke a day.  The results may pleasantly surprise you. :D

Do Not Judge

St. Monica's Catholic Church in Santa Monica is pretty much my favorite church, ever.  I have only been privileged to attend Mass there three times -- in the summer of 1992 or '93 (I can't remember exactly) and twice this year.  The first time I went to Mass at St. Monica's, I was basically holding onto my faith by a thread.  Or, perhaps I had let go and Jesus was just holding onto me.  The times I attended Mass there this year, my faith was also at kind of a low point.  Not as low as in the early '90's -- but low, nevertheless.

Why does my faith hit these low points?  I'm not really sure.  I mean, I understand my faith and I believe in it.  It makes sense to me.  I love the Lord.  At times, though, I get sensitive about certain things.  There are teachings which, at times, seem too hard.  There are people who sometimes seem too difficult to deal with.  Occasionally, the sheer number of people in the church building gets to me.  I get tired of the bickering -- of the "orthodox" Catholics lashing out at the "progressive" Catholics, and vice-versa.  There are times when I get annoyed with the hierarchy for getting (it seems to me) a bit too political and saying things that appear to me to be unhelpful in human relationships.  For example, I do not like this whole "culture war" thing.  I am not going to get into a "culture war" with anybody.  But, that is another post.

But, when I really think about it, my perception of my own shortcomings -- my own sins -- and my inability to conquer them is maybe one of the things that most deeply and negatively affects my faith.  Especially -- most especially -- when I am often in the company of "holy" people.  What do I mean by "holy" people?  People who are constantly talking about the sins of others, the sins of society, the sins of the Church.  People who talk about Democrats and how bad they are.  People who talk about "pro-choicers" and how bad they are.  People who talk about gay marriage and how bad it is.  People who go on and on about "liturgical abuses."  People who criticize the English Mass or the Latin Mass or OCP.  People who yammer on about the "evils" of Praise and Worship music at Mass.  It is when I am around a lot of this kind of talk that I just feel like becoming Episcopalian.  Why?  Because I realize that I am worse, deep down, than any of the Democrats, or "pro-choicers" or OCP publishers.  And then I just feel like a crap Catholic.  And then I get depressed and want to jump right off the ship that is the Catholic Church.

It is at these times, though, that the Lord -- in His great Mercy -- has seen fit to get me into the pews of St. Monica's.  The most recent time was on Mothers' Day of this year.  My husband, two of my kids, and I attended the Sunday evening Mass.  We were on our way to a Monday wedding in Santa Paula, so as we were enroute there from San Diego on Sunday afternoon, it happened to work out that we could go to St. Monica's.  It was lovely.  There is the most wonderful choir/band at that particular Mass.  And all the moms -- and some of you will not like this -- were invited to go up and stand around the Altar during the Consecration.  It was amazing.  It was happy.  It was prayerful.  And it was also very cool, because you get a wonderful view of the instrumentalists from the Sanctuary and they are stupendous.  All us moms held hands and prayed.  We also got roses -- beautiful roses with no thorns that must have been extremely expensive.  And even though some of this involves a little "pushing of the liturgical envelope," I felt at peace and loved by God.  And I wondered why I felt this way, and this is what I realized.

I realized that when I go to St. Monica's, I feel no judgement.  No judgement from the priest or any of the people.  I feel welcomed.  And it is not the kind of no judgement and welcome that is prideful, that involves a rejection of the idea of "sin" or wrongdoing.  I have gone to parishes where they try to be non-judgmental, but it is a kind of non-judgement that is more the fruit of wanting to deny the reality that we are fallen creatures.  I don't like that, either.  I know I am fallen and that I do wrong.  At St. Monica's, the feeling of not being judged, of being made welcome, seems to come more from a spirit of true HUMILITY.  The acknowledgement that nobody is really better or more worthy than anybody else.  There is the feeling that we are all in this together and that God loves us and accepts us as we are.  And in this humble love, it is easier to quietly and humbly acknowledge my own faults and my own sins.  Because I am not so busy being defensive.  Because that's it sometimes, I think.  When I am surrounded by "scribes and pharisees," I start to feel defensive.  I curl up in a ball or retreat into my protective shell.  But, if I am treated with love by people who are humble, it is easier to be humble.  That makes it easier to acknowledge my wrongdoing to myself and to God.  And that makes it easier to accept His forgiveness and His healing.  It makes it easier to not despair when I fall into the same crap over and over again -- which I inevitably do.

So, when I go to St. Monica's, I know that I am a sinner.  But, I receive hope anew that God -- and the people who truly love Him -- take me as I am and will help me to go forward to a better place.  I am not tempted to give up on myself or on others or even on our society.  And I am not tempted to jump off the ship, anymore.

If you are ever in Santa Monica, I would encourage you to attend Mass at this wonderful parish.  You can also visit their website, where they livestream the Sunday evening Mass and where you can watch Masses from previous weeks.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Junebug And The Dignity Of Human Work

Gaaa...  That sounds so boring and academic.


If you read the post I wrote yesterday, you know that "Junebug" is a movie.  And in that post, I summarized, briefly, the plot of that movie.  So, I am not going to summarize it again today, because that would just be dull.  And this topic is already sounding dull enough, as it is.

So, here we go.

There is a scene in "Junebug" in which Johnny is at work.  It is a darling scene, one of my favorites in the film.  It is probably the only scene where Johnny looks totally, unabashedly happy.  He clearly loves his job and his co-workers.  You may now be wondering, "What type of awesome job could this be, that young, high-school-dropout Johnny loves so much?  It must be some wondrous, pipe-dream, unrealistic for an 18-year-old to have, type of job.  A job thought up by some out-of-touch-with-reality movie producer."  I understand if you are thinking that.  But, you are wrong.

Johnny's job is what many would describe as blue-collar.  He works in a packing plant, I guess you could call it.  It is a place where things like dishes are packed into boxes using various types of packing materials -- like styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap.  The workers chat among themselves while going about the job.  They go outside and eat their lunches together.  They go back inside and pack some more.  And they are all obviously good people -- salt-of-the-earth people.  They are very fond of Johnny and he of them.  They clearly enjoy one another's company; and they take pride in their work.  And the workplace itself, though not at the level of a company such as Google, appears to be clean and safe and comfortable.

As I watched this scene, I started to think about the Catholic Church's teachings on the dignity of human work.  Now you may be thinking, "NOOO!!! Do not shove your religious viewpoints down my throat!!!"  That is not what I am trying to do, though.  You can take these things or leave them.  You can have a different opinion.  You might believe that the Catholic Church likes to "keep people down" by advocating stuff like no birth control and big families and other things you see as being in direct opposition to human development.  And, I admit, it can sometimes look that way.

Be that as it may, though, I do very much enjoy the Church's teachings on human work.  And as I watched Johnny at his job, as I said, I began to reflect on these teachings and on how this film poignantly illustrates and gives life to them. 

The Catholic Church teaches that work is important to and for people, and that people have both the right and duty to work.  The Church also tells us that human work is FOR the good of those who do it and that people should benefit from their work.  To quote from "The Catechism Of The Catholic Church" -- "Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community."  (And, just so you know, "his" in this case also means "her.")  The "Catechism" also addresses unemployment in this fashion -- "Unemployment almost always wounds its victim's dignity and threatens the equilibrium of his life.  Besides the harm done to him personally, it entails many risks for his family."

Human work is important then, in and of itself, as an activity pertaining to human dignity.  It is also the means by which most people provide for themselves and their families. 

The job done and the wages earned are not the only concerns of the Church about work, though.  Catholic leaders have often spoken about the environment of the workplace, itself.  This environment should respect the dignity of the person -- his or her mental and physical health and well-being.

So, back to "Junebug."  As I watched Johnny and his colleagues doing their jobs, I saw many of the Church's teachings in action.  I saw a workplace in which the employees appeared to feel safe and happy.  It seemed that they derived satisfaction from their work.  I saw a place where the joyful side of their humanity could be expressed and where they could care for one another as friends.

On the flip side, Johnny and his very pregnant bride are living with his parents.  This made me wonder if his job pays a living wage.  Could Johnny and Ashley live independently if they didn't have the support of his mother and father?  In wondering about this, I thought about the teaching of my faith regarding the importance of jobs paying a living wage.  Of course, "Junebug" is pretend.  But, there are people in Johnny and Ashley's situation.  And though it is not a bad thing for a young couple expecting a baby to live with either the bride or the groom's parents, it is still best if the newlyweds could feel capable of providing for themselves.  And perhaps, as a society, we could think of ways in which people who do not have a high degree of education -- but who are, nonetheless, bright, capable, and willing to work -- could be paid a wage which would allow them to establish new and happy households and families.  Is it really fair to expect young people to all earn college degrees and be 30 years old before they can marry and have children?  Maybe our country has a little problem in this regard.  Not every person likes school.  Not everybody is good at school.  Too many bright young adults are having their potentials wasted in our current economic set-up.  In my opinion, anyway.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, "This Marla person really over-analyzes things."  And you would probably not be wrong.  I think it is interesting to consider, though, how "Junebug" brings to light and encourages us to think about situations that are not uncommon for the young adults of our country to be in -- beautiful young adults who are our legacy. 


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Junebug And Gold Wedding Bands

Recently, I had the opportunity to see the movie "Junebug," which is the story of a family in North Carolina.  A family composed of middle-aged parents and two sons.  The elder son lives in The Big City and has recently married a beautiful, well-educated, artsy, very kind-hearted woman.  The younger son (Johnny) lives, along with his very pregnant wife (Ashley), in his parents' home.  The story unfolds when the older son brings his new wife home to meet this rather dysfunctional, though utterly loving and lovely, family.

Johnny (played by Ben McKenzie) and Ashley (played by Amy Adams) are, seemingly, rather ill-prepared for marriage.  They were high-school sweethearts.  Johnny is still struggling to earn his GED, and it is unclear whether or not Ashley managed to graduate.  It is also a little vague whether or not Ashely became pregnant before or after their marriage.  Although, it was probably before.  She is, though, very much in love with Johnny.  He, too, is in love with her, even though she doesn't really feel his love.  At one point, she says something to this effect, "I wish Johnny loved me like he did in high school."  And we see a picture of the two of them from those happy days -- a picture in which he is, quite obviously, head-over-heels for her.  He still is head-over-heels for her; but, he is basically scared shitless by their situation, so his actions do not always belie his feelings.  There are a few scenes in this lovely film, though, which demonstrate quite clearly how much young Johnny loves young Ashley, such as when he attempts to record a TV show for her about one of her very favorite things -- meerkats.  The ending of the story, too, makes it abundantly clear how much Johnny loves Ashley.  In fact, I think the final events, as they unfold, show Johnny himself discovering just how deep his love for his young bride happens to be.

And so for the gold wedding bands.  I love to notice little details in movies -- tiny, understated things that contribute to the story-telling in profound ways.  Johnny and Ashley's wedding bands are simple, unadorned, rather slim gold rings.  They kind of scream, "Shot-gun wedding! No money! Oh, crap!"  But, they also illustrate, in their simplicity, the innocence and promise of young love.  Young love, as immature and inexperienced as it can be, is also full of hope.  There can be a depth and a faith and a truth to it that is sometimes difficult to find in the more "complex" love of more "mature" people.  And in these very basic wedding rings we are reminded of what love is in its basic and most elemental form.  And we are reminded that young people -- as "immature" as they can be -- are also capable of a very pure, very uncomplicated kind of love for each other -- as pure and uncomplicated as these pure and uncomplicated gold wedding bands.

Am I saying here that all the 18-year-olds should get each other pregnant, marry, and live with their parents?  No.

What I am saying is that young people are capable of love -- love which is real and simple and pure.  And given the right soil in which to grow -- such as parents who provide a good example and emotional support, a community that is nurturing, an economy that provides dignified work -- perhaps young love can put down healthy roots, grow, and bloom into something truly beautiful. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ben Sherman -- The Daddy

Ten years ago today we were married, Ashaki and I.  She was well-prepared -- in upbringing and temperament -- for this state.  Me?  Not so much.  "But," she says, teasingly, "I have taught you well, my Benjamin."  And she has, and so have they.  Who are "they?"  My children -- all three of them, with the fourth due any day now.  Ashaki and my daughters have taught me how to be a husband, how to be a father.  Although, they have not always had it easy.  I can be selfish.  I can be moody.  I can hold grudges.  But, little by little, maybe I'm changing my ways.  At first, changing my ways was the only way I could survive being a father.  Being a father is a much different kind of a thing than being a husband.  As a husband, you are dealing with another adult -- your wife -- who is (hopefully) somewhat mature and rational, knowing how to give as well as how to take.  But, being a father?  Not much give and take there.  It's pretty much all "give."  Don't get me wrong.  I wouldn't change anything.  Because I recall it most clearly.  Walking with my first little baby, late one night -- as she fussed and fought off sleep -- so that Ashaki could get some much-needed rest, I realized that, for the first time in my life, I felt truly happy.  Exhausted?  Yes.  But, happy. 

It was frightening, that first labor and delivery.  Of course, I was not with my wife.  That is not the custom here.  There was a midwife.  An authentic, medically trained, and certified midwife.  And there were several women from the village by my wife's side, making her comfortable, giving her support.  But, I was terrified, waiting outside with Ashaki's brother and a few of my other male friends.  Some of the older women brought us food and drink, whispered encouraging words to me, reminded me of how strong my wife was (and is), how healthy.  But, still...  If something should happen to her -- or to the baby -- I didn't know how I could survive it.  These people were there for me, though.  They understood how I felt.  And then, at twilight, I heard her cry.  The cry of my first baby girl -- Hadiya, a name which means "gift."  And then I was really frightened.  As much as he had already been subdued, I knew in that moment that the "old Ben" had to die completely.  Because the "old Ben" would totally screw up with this new life -- the new life crying her first (very loud and piercing) cry inside of my home -- and that was just not acceptable.  I could not fuck this fatherhood thing up.

The midwife sent one of the women out to get me after a few moments, and I went in to my wife and new daughter.  Both so beautiful.  Ashaki was smiling at me.  She looked tired, but so content with our little girl at her breast.  We have been blessed that our babies have all nursed well, right from the beginning.  And it always amazes me to see them, only a few moments after being born, snuggling close to my wife and taking nourishment.  Certain American men I have known think that watching their wives nurse their children somehow makes the women seem less attractive.  I could not disagree more.  It is not a sexual thing, this feeding of babies at the breast.  But, as I watch my wife smile and stroke the skin of our children as she holds them close and nurses them, well...  She never looks more breathtaking to me as she does in those moments.

And now I have three daughters -- 9, 6, and 2 years old -- and a new babe on the way.  Boy or girl?  I don't know.  Ashaki still insists on being surprised.  And I must admit, it is kind of fun, waiting for that "big announcement" to come from the very private and well-shaded back portion of my home.  Has it become less scary to me, as I wait while my wife goes through the birthing process.  Not exactly.  Ashaki trusts God.  I trust Ashaki, and I try to trust God. 

What kind of a father am I?  Probably far from perfect.  I do love it, though.  Teaching my girls, playing with them.  I even love holding my babies, bathing them, changing their diapers.  I had no idea I would enjoy my babies so much.  Of course, I knew I would help Ashaki.  I didn't want to be one of those "cave men," refusing to assist with the multitude of chores associated with infants.  I was determined to pitch in.  But, what I didn't anticipate was loving it so much, loving them so much -- those tiny babies.  My favorite thing?  Late at night, after Ashaki has finished feeding the little one, she lays the babe on top of my chest and we sleep that way -- my child and I.  Feeling that warm weight on top of me, breathing as I breathe, there is nothing like that in all the world.

So, when Ashaki tells me that she is "ready for another," maybe I do feel a little bit terrified.  After all, I had never envisioned myself with more than two children.  But, I also feel more than a bit excited.  Yes, there are those times...  The times when everybody comes down with the stomach flu simultaneously, or when everybody is just tired and cranky at the end of a long day...  I mean, life isn't a fairy tale -- for anybody.

But, when I think of where I was all those years ago, at the end of my less-than-praiseworthy LAPD "career," I am just grateful to be loved and to love.  When I think of how things could have turned out for me, when I think of what I actually deserved (and maybe still deserve), I tremble inside.  And so the hardest things about my family life?  I just count them as joy.  Well... I count them as joy after I get over being tired and cranky from cleaning all the vomit up.

Maybe you are wondering if I ever speak to anybody from my old life, my LAPD days.  No, I don't.  Although, I did speak with Sammy once.  It was a few months after Hadiya was born.  As I rocked her one morning while Ashaki bathed, I started thinking about little Nate.  I was his "Uncle Ben."  And I was suddenly and overwhelmingly ashamed at the danger I had exposed him to when I had Chris stage the break-in at Sammy's.  Of course, I didn't realize Chris would actually encounter Nate and the sitter.  But, I knew things could go awry with my plan.  Of course, I knew.  But, I was willing to risk it for my own damned self-interest.  And that's what it was -- my own selfish interests.  My plan had nothing to do with caring about Sammy.  It was all about protecting myself, my reputation, my career.  And I had put a small child in danger.  A child I supposedly loved.  A child who trusted me.  And when I looked at Hadiya resting in my arms, looking up at me with those big, hazel eyes (all of my daughters have gorgeous hazel eyes, rich chocolate skin, and wavy ebony hair), I knew that if Sammy were to do to me what I did to him?  I would have wanted to kill him.  Literally.  And in that moment, looking into the eyes of my daughter, thinking of the danger I had placed Sammy's son in, I loathed myself.  So, I called him.  I didn't know if he would accept my call, but he did.  And I apologized -- an apology that, if I had been in Sammy's position, would have been much too little, way too late.  But Sammy, being Sammy, actually listened.  He listened while I told him about Ashaki and Hadiya and being a father.  He listened to me tell him, rather lamely and awkwardly, how sorry I was, how I finally "got it."  And Sammy, being Sammy, actually forgave me.  "I don't deserve your forgiveness," I told him.  "No, you don't," he answered. "But, I'm fucking giving it to you, anyway, you fucker."  And then he actually laughed and told me about Nate -- and about his second wife and their small daughter.  And he told me that sometimes "the job" -- that whole cop thing -- was too much for some guys.  He told me that, for some guys, being a cop is like being caught in a whirlpool that sucks you in and then spits out your lifeless body.  He told me that I was one of those guys, and that he was glad I got out of the whirlpool before it killed me.  He also told me I should never come back.  I didn't argue. 


"Benjamin," she whispers to me in the night, just after I return to bed after getting a thirsty little girl a drink of water, "it is time."

So, I go to wake the midwife, and I fear once again for my beautiful woman and the child who is preparing to make his (or her) entrance into this lovely, though troubled, world.  And I wonder if we will have a little boy this time.  As I wonder, though, I realize that it doesn't really matter to me whether we are given a baby boy or another little girl.  And -- in this realization -- I surprise myself, once again.