Them thar’s fightin’ wurds!

Just shut your beak!I got in a fight yesterday.

It may not have been a fistfight, but it wasn’t any prettier.

I didn’t start it (though I’m sure the other person didn’t think that, either) and I didn’t finish it, but that doesn’t make it right. Or wrong. It just was.

I know, I know. I should’ve known better than to step into the ring. These things never end well. (Sometimes it seems they never end.) But when somebody jumps you in an discussional back alley, with a lead pipe of doctrine, and they’re part of a gang you thought you were already a member of, well, things quickly escalate. I started thinking.

“I’m just trying to defend my position.”

“There must be some misunderstanding.”

“Maybe I could try a different angle.”

“Aarrgghh….”

That never works. Well, it hardly ever works. And I’m not saying the other person was wrong. I’m just saying I don’t think I was either.

Finally, I just gritted my teeth and backed out. Then I called a friend and we hashed it out. There’s really not much more soothing to the wounds of intellectual violence than the healing balm of shared opinion.

“No, I think you’re right. I feel the same way.”

I’m not sure if I’ll ever learn. But some days, I think I’m getting better.

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Pull Your Pants Up!

Out of the Blue ThursdaysI really wasn’t trying to look at his butt. It was hard not to, though, since his pants were practically down to his knees.

This is part of living in a large metro area. There’s a lot of diversity, and, for the most part, I really enjoy it. Among other things, some of what’s covered by the diversity umbrella is apparel and personal style choices. Afros to Pentecostal Poufs, ballet flats to Converse, split tongues and pierced ears, it’s all there. Again, for the most part, I enjoy it. God is creative, and part of being created in God’s image is that we all have some sense of that creativity.

Thankfully, it’s not a super popular trend for young men to wear their pants quite so low, but whether this guy didn’t get the memo, or just decided not to cinch up the string on his baggy sweatpants, he definitely could’ve pulled his pants up a long way. We’re not talking low around the hips, we’re talking half way down his thighs.

Believe me, all this visual took was one half a second from ten feet behind him in the self-checkout lane at a store I don’t usually shop at.

I usually don’t consider myself a flippant pray-er, but it was really hard not to just send up a plaintive mental whining. “Jesus, really, would it be too much to ask for You to please get that guy to pull his pants up.”

And at that very second, the guy grabbed for his wallet, and pulled his pants up! All the way up, and even cinched the drawstring. I was surprised the sound of my jaw hitting the ground didn’t startle him.

I almost did a happy dance, right there in line. Seriously, I laughed. But, you know, under my breath, so he wouldn’t hear me. I mean, there’s no point in gloating.

God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good.

*****

Out of the Blue Thursdays is a group of women who write about surprises in their lives that God has shown them. You can read about it, and join if you’d like, here.

Dinner with the Pope

He actually enjoys drinking Fanta with dinner.After the second bottle of wine, His Holiness really loosens up. He kicks off his red loafers (yes, loafers) and slips off his zucchetto. Another glass or two and it gets easier to see that he’s just another white-haired old man, frustrated with the way the world has changed since he was a boy. Certainly many good changes, to be sure, but “the young people, nowadays…” I nod sagely.

The table talk almost instantly quiets down, as it usually does once His Holiness starts in with that tone of voice.  The other men, most of them with white hair too, even if their skin isn’t, lean in a little, their soutanes rustling around their legs like ladies’ long dresses from a bygone day, equally weary of and curious for these stories. Will it be the Hitler Youth? His years as a professor? Time spend with John? with Paul? with John Paul? Will he become increasingly strident during this monologue, or disgusted? He definitely won’t whine. (That’s a little hard to imagine anyway. The Pope? Whine? Maybe back when he was a little boy in lederhosen. Do German children ever whine? Maybe once.)

But tonight is different. Because I’m here.

Dinner with the Pope, in this day and age, isn’t like having dinner with any other man. The micro-thin veneer of respectability sported by the ultra-worldly popes of the Renaissance (like the sexy Borgia popes with their in-house mistresses and the gentle pitter-patter of the ever-increasing number of their soon-to-be-legitimized children’s feet swelling to the din of a thunderstorm down the halls of the Papal residence) has grown thicker and harder than a granite countertop.

While that may be good (indeed, almost "American" in its sense of puritanical respectability), it makes my job much harder. I’m only a little ashamed to have used, over the years, my “feminine wiles” to get a man to do something for me, though I’ve yet to use them to get a man to do something for me that he didn’t want to do anyway—even if his desire was subconscious. And though I am very conscious that I am surrounded by men whose very public pronouncements of chastity do little or nothing (depending on their cultural background) to mask their all-too-masculine appreciation for feminine attractiveness, they are still churchmen and so we must maintain the veneer. In fact, if only for tonight, I am happy to do that.

I’ve occasionally wanted to be a nun in my life, but never so much as now, when having a veil and no makeup might lend a force to my words that no amount of eyelash batting and under-the-table footsie can give. But no amount of soft and sexy can compensate when you have to give a man hard words. Words that tell him he’s wrong. Every word as hard as a brick. A brick he can either use to build a bridge for further discussion, if he’s wise, or one he can use to brick himself up into a wall of stubbornness, if he’s not. While I’m hoping for the first, I’m figuring on the latter.

“Your Holiness, I’d like to ask you something.”

 

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Performance Anxiety

Always Do What You Are Afraid To Do EmersonI’m so excited about doing this. I can’t do this. I have to do this. I don’t want to do this. I guess I’ll do this. Excuse me while I throw up in my purse.

Stage fright is, ultimately, a kind of narcissism. (And if you’re thinking of navigating away from this post because you’re not a stage performer, you’d be wrong, because stage fright can affect everyone, even if the only stage you’re on is in a metaphorical one in your mind.) It says that my emotional state is more important than your satisfaction. It says that my nervousness as a performer deserves a bigger slice of pie than your getting what you came for as a viewer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a singer, dancer, baker, or mother of preschoolers.

As a pianist in a small-town church, I worked with any number of singers and musicians, from trained professionals to children whose parents alone believed they had some special skill. (Most parents think this, some more than others. Usually, there’s an inverse proportion involved.) Maybe I’m overestimating, but I find that the church environment, with its family-like sense of acceptance is a good one for everyone, really, but especially beginners. Personally, I find this amazing. After all, most people at least listen to the radio, where the marvels of studio technology can render all but the most incompetent into some degree of listen-ability. Television shows like “American Idol,” where even the truly talented can be discarded every week like so much post-party confetti, have turned many people whose own singing in the shower makes Rebecca Black look like virtuoso into armchair critics harsher than those of the New York Times. So hearing genuine applause for the wavering tones of a grandmother of seventeen who just finished three rather off-key verses of “How Great Thou Art” is really lovely, if a little surprising. I’m glad for that, because it’s that very level of acceptance that allowed me to support myself for several years as a professional musician; something I could never do here in Milwaukee.

But even I have limits. I once worked with a man, a grown-up man with children, who was a very nice singer. Not ready for Broadway, but quite nice. He loved to sing, and people really enjoyed hearing him. He came from a musical family where almost everyone sang nicely, so he got a lot of support. He’d come up to me after a service and tell me about how excited he was about this particular song, and how he’d like to sing it at an upcoming service. Sometimes he would mention how he felt like God wanted him to sing this number, and how wonderful it was to feel this way. He would practice on his own, and then we would usually have a practice session where he would come in with the other musicians and the pastor for our weekly run-through. He was fine. But almost inevitably, on Sunday, he would climb up the three steps to the podium, stare out at the fifty to one hundred people in the seats, gulp (almost audibly), step away from the podium, back down the steps, and rapidly walk out, usually all the way to his car, where he would either sit for the rest of the service, or just start and drive away.

The first time this happened, I was amazed. What on earth?! Scanning the crowd from my piano bench at the front of the church, I could see a number of people who shared my emotion, but maybe more who seemed to take it all in stride. Later, I found out why. Steven (not his real name) was so paralyzed with stage fright that if he actually made it through a song, it was practically miraculous. If he didn’t actually leave the service, he would come up (again) afterwards and stammeringly apologize to me and the other members of the worship team. Afterwards, he would say something about how it was so amazing to him that none of us ever got nervous, and how that clearly proved that God didn’t really want him to perform after all.

Which is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I told him that. He didn’t believe me.

I explained how even though I played every single week before the same accepting crowd, I still got nervous (though it did get better). He still didn’t believe me. (He’ll never believe me.) I also sang for bishops. Often in Spanish. I got really nervous. I also threw up once as a novice baker when trying to get a large batch of glazed doughnuts ready for a demanding customer. I was weirdly nervous. In no way does that mean that I got to leave. And neither do you.

First, if you give a rat’s ass about what you’re doing, you probably also want other people to care. And if you want them to care, you’re going to be nervous. Second, God has nothing to do with it. (Well, God does have something to do with it, but I’m not getting into that today.) I understand that even the fantastically talented Adele is routinely given to throwing up before her concerts because she’s just that nervous. But she doesn’t just walk off! And new parents (especially fathers) are often nearly paralyzed with fear that someone they’re going to hold their new baby wrong. But they don’t then leave the hospital, hoping some other kindly but obviously more accomplished person will come along to rescue their newborn. Of course not. They just muddle along bravely. And you know, they’re fine (well, at least until the therapy bills come rolling in, but that won’t be for years).

Ultimately, life is about showing up and performing. There is no dress rehearsal, and all the performance anxiety your mind can muster will not allow you to leave the stage early.

There and Back Again, Sort Of

From inside on of the hobbit holes, on locatio...

From inside on of the hobbit holes, on location at the Hobbiton set, as used in the Lord of the Rings films. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mixed emotions would be one way to describe it. Ambivalence would be another.

Yes, we’re going to see Peter Jackson’s rendition of The Hobbit, and I’m a little nervous. No, nervous isn’t really the right word. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I do really want to see the movie, but I’m expecting to be disappointed. Believe me when I say that, having read The Hobbit, I really think there’s no way Peter Jackson can do justice to is, given his reputation. That’s not good. At the same time, this movie (like his previous trilogy covering The Lord of the Rings) will certainly expose more people to J.R.R. Tolkien. That is good. Anything that gets people reading is good.

In a way, what we’re doing is interestingly evocative of The (real) Hobbit. Bilbo was pretty nervous about starting on his journey, and so am I.

Date a Guy Who Reads

Guy ReadingThis post is a response to A Girl You Should Date

Date a guy who reads. Date a guy who spends his money on books instead of video games, beer, or tickets to sporting events. He has problems with floor space because he has too many books. He doesn’t have end tables, but he does have stacks of books. Date a guy who has a list of books he wants to read, who has had a library card since he was in first grade.

Find a guy who reads. You’ll know that he does because he will always have an unread book with him, maybe in the back seat of his car, or just under his arm. He’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore (and not just the science fiction section, either), the one who quietly smiles when he finds the book he wants. You see the geek sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

He’s the guy reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at his mug, it’s already getting cool, because he’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. He might look astonished, as most guys who read are not likely to be interrupted, since most people don’t know what to do with a reader, especially if it’s a guy, and it’s not Sports Illustrated. Ask him if he likes the book.

Buy him another cup of coffee.
Let him know what you really think of Hemingway. See if he got through the first chapter of Atlas Shrugged. Understand that if he says he understood James Joyce’s Ulysses he’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask him if he loves Gandalf or he would like to be Gandalf.

It’s easy to date a guy who reads. Give him books for his birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give him the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give him Dante, Dickinson, Pound, Plath. Let him know that you understand that words are love. Understand that he knows the difference between books and reality but by god, he’s going to try to make his life a little like his favorite book. It will never be your fault if he does.

He has to give it a shot somehow.
Lie to him. (He already thinks you do, from the first moment that you seemed interested in him…) If he understands syntax, he will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail him. (He already thinks you will—most women have been disappointed in him already.) Because a guy who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because guys who understand know that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two. That while life is more than about rescuing the fair maiden, he’d really like to give it a try. He wants to be your hero. Let him.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Guys who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series. (Which, as a powerful girl who reads, you can admit to doing. It’s cool. You don’t have to like it.)

If you find a guy who reads, keep him close. When you find him up at 2 AM clutching a book to his chest and silently weeping, pull him close and kiss him. Make love. Talk about it. You may lose him for a couple of hours but he will always come back to you. He’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

He will propose at a historical re-enactment. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time you’re sick. Over Skype. He may be past comic books (or not), but he still likes the pictures, especially when they’re of you.

You will start to cry, and laugh, all at the same time. You will wonder why your heart never before realized that there’s enough love in it for every single person in the universe. You will write the story of your lives, have kids (and cats) with strange names and even stranger tastes. He will introduce your children to Beatrix Potter and Guy Reading with Babythe Hobbit, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and he will recite Keats under his breath while you adjust his hat and make sure he has his gloves.

Date a guy who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a guy who can give you the most colorful life imaginable, and not just things from the Victoria Secret catalog. If you can only give him monotony, and stale hours and gossip about Jersey Shore, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a guy who reads.

Don’t get me started about the guys who write. Don’t go there.

Thank you, Rosemarie Urquico, for your original essay.