Category: uncategorized media & blog entries

“I have something to propose to you…”

A little while ago, I called my mother. I wanted to take a break from the book I was reading, and she had asked me on Monday to call her soon. Oh, and I thought I’d tell her I got a B in Calculus. Well, as often happens, I didn’t get a chance to say what I actually called to say. As soon as Mom answers, she has a proposition. As soon as I say that I’ll think about it, she has to go. I love my mother, but I don’t know if she honestly thinks she respects me, let alone honestly expects me to believe she cares about anything I say when a) we can’t have a conversation without her interrupting me and b) yeah, I call her, and don’t even get to say anything! Don’t get me started on how she talks to me about my politics. Thank God she doesn’t try to preach to me against Catholicism.

Anyway, I love my mom. I do. But she’s difficult. Anyway, so her proposition is this: Since you’re going to Ohio in a few days, have you thought of taking a side trip to Indiana to see your grandmas? You know it’ll probably be your last chance.

That just makes me groan. I have different feelings about this. To be clear, my mom is talking about her mom, and her mom’s mom. Of course, there are some other relatives up there whose names I don’t know, who I’ve never met, and with whom I’m sure I have very little in common.

I never had grandparents in my life. My dad’s mom passed away before my parents even met, and I can’t say much about my paternal grandfather. I know some facts about his life. I know some of the events, choices, etc. that broke people apart in his family. Other people have told me what they think my dad felt (or feels) about my grandfather, but… he hasn’t told me. I don’t go trying to bring up things I suspect are painful to people. So anyway, I think I only ever heard my father’s father’s voice on the phone maybe twice. He has passed away now.

My mom’s dad I knew a little bit better. I knew him well enough to feel a little sad at his passing away. He had come to Florida twice to visit when I was a kid, and had sent cards sometimes, and called sometimes also. His wife was kind to me too. Still… not a big part of my life.

But to my mom’s mom, my last grandparent. Apparently she was in my life somewhat when I was a toddler, but I don’t remember it. I remember her visiting us in Florida once when I was still little, probably before I even started school. I remember being sad when she left. I remember a time or two talking on the phone. What I remember much more is how many times my mother has talked about her terrible childhood, my grandmother not being part of her life, etc. I’m not getting into details because this is the Internet and it’s pointless and tasteless.

The point is that things aren’t looking good for my grandmother health wise. As for my great grandmother, who I also don’t really know, she’s just quite old. Somehow my mother ended up going up to see them (for the first time in probably 30 years), and I guess there were some “arrangements” beginning to be made. Mother has told me to call the nursing home, and I’ve thought about it (but she hasn’t given me the number anyway).

But I don’t know what the Christian response to this is. Obviously I don’t have a particular desire to go. I want to respect my grandmothers for who they are, for the fact they are fellow humans. I pray for their souls. If I thought they honestly had a wish to see me, maybe it would be different. But how can they? It was probably before I even joined the Navy that I had any contact with either of them. Do they want a stranger to come visit? Really? And the other thing is… if I go, isn’t it rather out of the blue? I would not want my arrival to emphasize to them that “this is the last chance to see each other.”

I don’t get it. I don’t understand my mother’s relationship with her mother either. But really, what is the loving response to this? What course of action would DO GOOD? Let’s be clear: I’m sorry, but my grandmothers are strangers to me. If I go, I can’t say, “Thank you for all those memories! Thank your for the hugs and cookies! I love you and will miss you so much!” I can say, “I love you,” in the sense of charity, in the sense of striving to love every person God has made, but…

What is the edifying thing to do? What is right? What is the point of never talking to someone until they’re about to die?

I do regret not having spent my time by my uncle’s side before he died, although as a teen with no car and no money, I really didn’t have a choice. Still. It bothers me all these years later that I couldn’t tell him one last time that I loved him, fervently desired to live up to his expectations, and owed him so much. If I ever accomplish anything–my little victories–learning calculus–running a marathon, living in a foreign country–everything that seemed impossible when I was a child in unincorporated Pinellas County… everything, I wish I could tell my uncle. I wish I could feel that I’d gained his approval, done as well as he thought that I could–because he did always hold me to high standards! I wonder what he would think of my friends, of my husband, and other things.

So I don’t think this is a matter of not knowing that I’ll “regret it later.” If I had feelings to express to my grandmothers, of course I would want to go express them. I learned that much from my uncle’s death. In fact, I used that as motivation to tell my husband I loved him for the first time–because I didn’t want something to happen so that he never knew. So…

I just don’t know about a side trip to Indiana.

(feelings)

I’ve been feeling so down lately, and I know that comes through in my writing. I’m venting, after all, right?

Well, calculus has been destroying me. I really like it, and sometimes I feel like I “get” whatever concept I’m being taught… but still my best test score so far has been only 87%. I’ve spent 2.5 hours in class four days a week, and then another three or four hours per day studying, plus uncounted hours on the weekend. I dream about calculus. I doodle about calculus. Last night, I was having a glass of wine, and I even started thinking about estimating the volume of wine in my hand — because I’ve been estimating the volume of shapes like that all week! It’s safe to say I’ve been obsessing. My sleep has been disrupted, and–

Anyway, I was also bummed because I had to take ANOTHER break from running. Now, the first time I had to take a break wasn’t EXTREMELY bad, because I was able to work through it with the hope I wouldn’t have another injury for a while, and also by using other exercises like biking and swimming. Well, to be brief, I haven’t been able to bike or swim this time.

This time was also harder though because it is/was like the fourth injury I’ve had in fewer than two years. It’s always my fault too. My first injury was due to “mashing” on a spin bike, which I just didn’t know was a no-no (but people on biking forums online did know). The second was probably a mix of overuse, most of my runs being on hills, and getting new shoes that just didn’t fit like the old ones. The third was a little tendonitis due to running on hills too much, again. Now a different tendon is bothering me (but getting better) because I was running too much on uneven surfaces (slopes). All of this stuff I find out after the fact is not a good idea. I don’t know. I guess I’ve been looking at running in a too-primitive/childlike way. I run. I do make an effort to use an efficient form, but at the end of the day… I kind of have figured, why couldn’t I just run anywhere, over any surface, etc.?

To make it worse, I usually do at least two runs after pain comes up because I always think initially that, “Oh that’s just some weakness that’ll get stronger.” So stupid.

My latest calculus foible was also most painful because it was all my fault too. Things are more acceptable when you feel you can blame someone else. See, my latest quiz, I had the 100% correct answers, but then… I doubted myself, and changed the right answers to wrong ones. Who can I blame but me?

So on top of my “problems,” I’ve been dealing with the fact that they’re all due to my own foolishness.

But I’m trying to be more positive. This morning when I got up, I thought I heard some thunder. SHOCKING in San Diego, California. I pretty much dismissed it, although I did think to myself how hard I wished it would rain. And it actually did! It rained pretty hard (for here), and there was even some thunder. I took my breakfast and tea with me to the balcony, and enjoyed the sticky air and the sound and smell of rain. I finally forgot math for a little while. I just felt glad.

Eh, I have more to write, but I don’t want to spend too much time sitting here. Even if–heaven help me–I get a C in calculus, you know, I’ll get over it eventually. There are only three more class days left. I’ve got to move on. These days may be painful, but… shit, it could be worse, that’s all. There’s still a lot to be happy about. I’ve got to stop being insane.

Calculus 1 Day X, or Teachers make a difference

There are only six or so more meetings of my calculus class, and one of those is for the final exam. So… long story short, I’m PROBABLY getting a B. Unless I ace the final AND my professor loads on ridiculous amounts of extra credit opportunities that I’d also have to ace, an A is impossible this semester. I’m pretty sure to get a B though, unless I just stop working, or if in the next week, ol’ Prof serves up some wicked hard crazy impossible-to-remember shit.

The thing is, it’s so much of a bummer. I don’t recall ever having worked so hard on something, and then getting such lackluster results. The curse of being a “gifted child,” I guess? Sure, I’ve failed tests and even courses in my day — but not after trying to pass. I only failed before because I was truant or lazy or just didn’t pay attention…

Now, I’m not FAILING calculus. But I am trying really hard to do well, and I’m not meeting my goal! It’s depressing. Do you know what a 5.0 unit ‘B’ does to a girl’s GPA? 😦

God help me not get a C! I don’t even know what I’d do in that case! Maybe quit college and go back to the Navy.

So I’m bummed, but still trying to at least correct myself enough that I feel semi-prepared for Calculus II next month. And I thought it would be worth talking about speech class today, too:

I only have ten minutes between math and speech classes, so I hustle, use the little girls’ room, and mow down an apple and maybe some nuts on the way to the latter class. Usually I arrive with a couple of minutes to spare, so I stand outside, eating my apple. Why? Because I’m seemingly the only person at my school who a) doesn’t eat in buildings/rooms where you’re not supposed to eat in the first place, and b) realizes that nobody wants to hear me eating! Ugh!

Anyway, so today I was eating my apple outside of class as usual, when the teacher came out (I call her a teacher, not a professor, because that’s what she calls herself).

“To what do I owe the honor of having you in my class?” she asked.

Whoa.

To be honest, yes, her class is annoyingly cake-like sometimes. It’s easy, and frustratingly so at times. Some things I’m just good at, experienced at, or “get.” (Calculus apparently ain’t one of them!) I know this, but I don’t like talking about it. I don’t want to seem arrogant to anybody, but even more so, I don’t want to BE arrogant. That’s not who I want to be. Humility is great, plus, no one knows everything… so even if I were the world’s leading authority on speech, I’m sure I could still learn things from people in this class I’m taking.

So anyway, I felt a little awkward because once people identify/label you as “smart” in some way, they just look at you differently, and sometimes treat you differently. I don’t want that (though yes, I did when I was younger, but that’s another story).

So Ms. R. elaborated on what she was asking, and asked me about my previous courses and things. It made sense to her why I am one of her top students. She asked me my major, and I literally laughed at myself when I answered, “Physics.” I’m sure a lot of people hear that and think, “Whoa, smarty smart smart!” but when I say it (more like confess it), what I’m thinking inside is, “Yeah, that’s what I want to learn about, but am I going to be able to hack it?”

My teacher thanked me for being a model student (her words), and I thanked her for what I took implicitly as a compliment. Now that I’m writing, it makes me think about the different times we thank people. When I was in Japan, it seemed like there was always a contest to see who could be the last person to say “Arigatou gozaimashita!” But that’s another post for… someday when I’m not devoting most of my time to thinking/studying/practicing/lamenting over calculus.

The point is that my calculus grade is bumming me out, but my speech teacher did add just the touch of individual attention and kindness to my day that really makes teachers wonderful. Not all of them of course. But some of them. Yeah. Did Ms. R. know she would at least get me off thinking about my calc grade for a minute? No, but she did, and she’s evening brightening my day a little bit right now, as I think about the fact that she really didn’t need to go out of her way to talk to me. Teachers have no idea sometimes.

Does Jesus want excuses?

When I was a kid, I had excuses for everything. Why I didn’t do a chore, why this or that wasn’t my fault, etc. Maybe it’s growing older, or maybe it’s my military experience, or what I don’t know, but I really don’t care for excuses anymore. I feel ashamed for giving them, and so really I am more likely to just say, “I didn’t do blah blah blah,” or “I’m sorry I did blah blah blah,” than either of those followed by an excuse. Why? Because I’m an adult. I have responsibilities. If I gave my word, I gave it. If I couldn’t keep it, I shouldn’t have given it. There are plenty of reasons.

So what about being a follower of Jesus, and not just a fan? (I didn’t think of this, my priest wrote something like that in last Sunday’s bulletin.) What excuses am I going to say to the Lamb of God when he asks me why I turned my face away from the poor? Am I going to lie and say, “I didn’t know what you meant,” when he asks me why or how I was hard-hearted enough to look past people as though they weren’t right there?

There are many, many instances in my life in which I did one of those things. Arguably, my entire lifestyle is evil because I don’t give all that I have. I do live in excess. I don’t always give even when I have the ability. Sometimes people have called me generous, but I’m not; it’s just that a lot of people have a low standard for generosity.

——-

Today I didn’t want to go to school. I was tired. It’s ordinarily a gym day (after school), but I decided I wouldn’t work out after all, or if I did, it would be this evening. There wasn’t any question about going to my math class, but I did consider more than once just skipping my speech class so I could go home early… but I didn’t.

Then I was hungry. It didn’t help that I drank coffee at school, which sort of gnarled up my stomach… but after all these things, I eventually decided to just go to both classes, then go to the grocery on the way home. Was it fate? Was it the will of God?

I don’t know, but — and I don’t feel like I’m boasting, because nobody I know in real life actually reads this — when I went to the grocery store, I saw a man with tattered clothes, and a bike with bags on it. You know, almost certainly a homeless man. What do I do? Always I think this. I don’t always have cash, and when I do, I still can’t say with certainty if it is better to shell it out or not (I do believe in giving money to charities, for example, but I think doing this sometimes allows us to utterly ignore people who need, perhaps more than money, to be regarded with dignity by Joe Middle Class).

Anyway, I parked, and went in Albertson’s. Now, I’m not a poor person. First thing I grabbed was some veggies and organic bananas. Organic because the regular bananas weren’t ripe, and I figured, Hey, I can afford organic bananas. It’s worth it to me. I’m buying them. Then I go get a pound of salmon — not at all the cheapest meat.

Then I was moseying over toward the big packs of chicken because I actually do try to shop frugally. I get the big packs of chicken breasts because they’re cheap, lean, easy to prep, and will provide my husband and me with several meals. But… just a few yards down, looking at some prepared meats or something, was the homeless man I’d seen outside. “Can I buy you some food?” I thought immediately. Was it the Holy Spirit? Because it’s not like I reflected on that. The idea just came up, and seemed overwhelmingly right and necessary.

But I guess I am somewhat — SOMEWHAT — shy, so I decided, Okay, I’ll go get the last thing I need, then I’ll ask him. And I went to get my tortillas, then stood in that aisle for a minute to psych myself up. I went back to the place where I’d seen the man, and he wasn’t there. Oh no, I thought, I’m not going to say, “Oh, too bad.” I looked for the man, and found him, looking at something else, with nothing in his hands. No doubt he had little money, and wanted the biggest bang for his buck. I’ve been in that situation before. So anyway, I did approach him, ask if I could buy him some food, and did so. I tried to talk a little by offering my name, but he only said his name back, then averted his eyes. You know… there are those people in the world who just take and take and take, shamelessly. One of my friends has a sister like that! But many people find it extremely difficult to ask for or receive what they need from other people — because “charity” is like a dirty word. My dad is like that. I think part of it is that many generations of men have been conditioned that they don’t have needs, or they’re not to be acknowledged. Anyway, the man’s name was Aaron.

I bought him food. I went my way, he went his. And now I’m at home, and I totally forgot how hungry I was when I went to the grocery store. I totally forgot what a pain in the ass I think it is that my school would schedule a class over 10:35 until 1 pm — which covers pretty much every American’s lunch hour, and then some. (Ten minutes to change classes AND use the head AND shove food down one’s throat is really pretty stupid.)

Now I’m thinking… I did something small for Aaron. I didn’t know what else to do. He doesn’t have a fridge (I asked), so buying him a week’s worth of chicken wouldn’t help. I can’t bring him here because even if I really were faithful enough to do such a thing, I’m pretty sure my husband would… well, I actually don’t know what K. would do because I’m sure it’s just totally unimaginable to him. He wouldn’t be happy or comfortable, and I don’t think it’s okay for me to just do whatever I want in a place that is not MINE, but OURS. I can’t give Aaron a job. I don’t even know where homeless people can go for food or counseling or shelter. I’m sure there are places, because this is southern California… but I’m pretty ignorant.

I don’t know if there’s a point. I guess today, reaching out a little to a man I saw who looked like he was in need, you know, maybe that sort of thing does more good for my spirit than it does for the man. Or maybe the whole thing was part of a plan God had. Maybe by saying Aaron’s name, telling him, “I NOTICED YOU!” that did something for his heart. I don’t know. God knows I hope so. God knows all of my complex feelings and hopes and questions and doubts.

But I was just thinking that we shouldn’t make excuses not to help people. We shouldn’t say, “Most homeless are drug addicts,” as an excuse not to help them. Even if 100% of the homeless were drug addicts, does the love of Christ not extend to them too?! I can say little with assurance, but I can say that much! It does! The love of Christ extends to everyone, and indeed, transcends every evil idea so many of us humans have of who is deserving or not.

We have to love everyone, and it has to be a walk, an action, not just a word. Isn’t that what the epistles of James and John say? BE YE DOERS OF THE WORD, NOT HEARERS ONLY. And FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD. And so many other things. Not to mention Chapter 28, I think, of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus separates the sheep and the goats, and explains why.

We have to love everyone, and we do not decide who is deserving or not. Either everyone is deserving of love, or no one is. And considering that Christ died and was resurrected “while you were yet sinners,” I think God’s message is that EVERYONE is deserving. If the Creator, Maker, and Judge of all chose to also become the Savior of all, then where do we humans, who can’t even stick to our diets, let alone live without sin, get off saying one of our brothers doesn’t deserve love?

God is so amazing, really. And I can understand why people who don’t believe can turn away from the needy, but I can’t understand how we Christians can turn away. Our God does not turn away. He did so many miracles, came and saved us for eternity, and then he said, “Okay, you guys do it until I come back.” He did! That is what he said. You feed my sheep. You comfort those in prison. You care for widows. You shine my light in the world.

I feel ashamed if I imagine giving excuses for not doing the simplest things to care for my brothers and sisters, because think of the Judge. It’s Jesus. Someone who did much more than provide food and water. Someone who did much more than perform miracles, actually. How can you offer an excuse to someone whose love was so great that he accepted torture, ridicule, and death for us?

Last Sunday at Mass I prayed for help to DO what I WANT to do. Paul talked about that. I do what I don’t want to do, and I don’t do what I do want to do. I am better at not doing what I don’t want to do than I am at doing what I believe in and want to do. But today I did what I wanted to do for Aaron — well, much less than I would like, but as much as I knew how to do — and… may it bless Aaron, may God bless Aaron, and may it please the Lord.

Perceiving truth, or When you realize someone you know is actually a racist

(unedited) I’ve had moments in my life that were like opening my eyes for the first time. Moments in which I felt I’d never before seen anything the way it really was. One of those moments, of course, was when I was reading the New Testament for the first time, and simultaneously reading Kierkegaard’s book Works of Love. It was like I’d been struggling with a maze, but the path was just suddenly illumined before me. I don’t say everything is clear during these moments. I don’t say everything is clear for a Christian either. In fact, I am careful about Christians who believe in such a black-and-white creation.

But the moments I’m talking about are when seemingly every thought and feeling is absent except this awareness of something that is true, and always has been true, even if you were oblivious. The first such moment that I mentioned just now actually happened in 2006, on a shabby old couch in the back room of my high school biology class room (with all the specimens in jars). During that moment, I just said to myself, “This is true.” It was like a light switch. A revelation. A light bulb. Really. It’s hard to describe. Maybe it is like in the movies when someone finds an incredible artifact. It seems too amazing, “the Holy Grail,” as it were… but then the archaeologist or treasure hunter or whatever verifies it’s the real deal. Wow.

But not all of these moments are happy. Sometimes you realize — or at least this was my experience — that your friend who tells racist jokes isn’t just joking. I know I’m writing on the Internet, but this is my journal, so I might as well write it all out matter-of-factly. I’ve told racist jokes. I’ve made fun of other cultures. I’ve categorized and stereotyped people. And most of what I said that was offensive… was actually totally empty. Previous generations grew up in a world where the n-word was okay (though, let me be clear, I don’t use that word; I really can’t do it). While I was growing up, of course black people could say “nigga,” and that was okay, except some other black people would argue that neither blacks nor whites should say the “-a” or “-er” variation at all. Ever seen that episode of “Girlfriends” in which the group gets a white friend, and everything’s cool until they’re all singing along with Jay-Z, and the white girl says, “nigga” with everybody else? Yeah.

Anyway, while I was growing up, and until this decade, in fact, it was pretty normal for people to say things like, “Well that’s gay,” meaning, “Well that’s stupid,” or something like that. Also “fag” and “faggot” were slung around a lot, and not even that often (in my experience) as a reference/denigration to homosexuals. Usually I’ve heard it said by one young white guy to another when he really things, “You’re making me uncomfortable by somehow ignoring a social expectation of masculinity.” Example: “You like Coldplay, bro? Does your mom know you’re a fag?” — because many men are embarrassed to like soft, emotional music.

Growing up is one thing. Fortunately I had parents who wouldn’t let me say a lot of things my friends said. Thank God I grew up in a diverse neighborhood and had friends of many races, nationalities, and income levels! Thank God my mother was always preaching pluralism, equality, etc. I’m serious. Would I believe in these things (which seem so obviously right) if I would’ve had parents who didn’t care to emphasize these points? Would I believe in these things if I hadn’t had teachers who always cautioned against prejudice?

But I joined the Navy. That’s where I heard the word, “beaner” for the first time. Two points on that: I’d never heard that epithet before, perhaps because I’m from Florida, where there are relatively few Mexican immigrants. Secondly, “beaner” is one of those words that people say all the time here in California. A socially acceptable slur, I guess, like “fag” used to be.

Back to the Navy though. For an organization that fights “for freedom and democracy for all,” and can kick you out for using hate speech, there’s a helluva lot of hate speech flying around in the military. And it wasn’t just words for Iraqis and Afghans either. Mostly, it was members razzing each other. It’d be hard to explain to a civilian. What do you do when you work/sleep/clean/eat/live in the same small space (on a ship, remember) with the same people 24/7 for months at a time? I’ll tell you. You come up with ways to cope with the various things bothering you. One of the popular methods is joking. Cruelly, mercilessly joking. Everybody gets it. You’re fat? Expect someone to say something. You’re slow? You woke up with a zit? You went back to your hotel room with a “ladyboy” because you were so drunk? You’re (fill in a race)? Your sister is a “web cam girl”? You cosplay? Expect ridicule.

It sounds terrible, I know. And for a lot of people, probably it is. Honestly, I had a great time joking on the ship. I got mine, trust me, but the worst thing, looking back, is that being ragged on made me feel justified in ragging on others. That’s how almost everyone I’ve known in the Navy feels. The attitude is that, “Look. We have to live together, so we’re going to laugh. You have to be strong. Everyone takes a joke. If you can’t take it, then don’t expect anybody to try to be sensitive to what might offend you. Get over it.”

That’s really the attitude. And some people come to the boat not wanting to or maybe not knowing how to joke like that. They might not feel really offended the first time someone makes fun of them, but they will be surprised that it happened. A lot of people are really quiet when at first, for this reason. They’re probably wondering if everybody in the Navy is so careless about giving offense. They probably don’t understand how necessary laughter is (though I don’t deny we ought to joke about better things).

The kind of sick thing is when that new, quiet person makes his or her first crack at someone else. It’s especially juicy if it’s a new airman/seaman, and he or she makes a sharp jibe at some PO3 who takes himself too seriously. We celebrate when it happens. We say, “Hey! Good one!” We’re happy the new person has entered our fold of friends-who-constantly-insult-each-other.

Isn’t that crazy? I know that it is, and I do have strong regrets about many things I said when I was in the Navy, but… God knows I did have fun, and I did enjoy incredible friendships and experiences.

I’m getting to the point though. There was this environment. Still is. Just because I’m not on a ship anymore, doesn’t mean it’s changed. My views started changing when I realized that two of my shipmates (one is a friend now, who also left active duty and now lives in San Diego) were actually racists. They weren’t just telling racist jokes. They really did think white people were superior to people of other races. Back to that whole thing about “moments.” I had this moment where I realized that what most of us thought were just jokes were, to some people, serious, humorless remarks, expressing extremely ugly feelings toward other people. It’s so funny, too, because I didn’t realize these jokes were bad because anyone ever said they’d been offended… In fact, it wasn’t just white people making jokes about blacks. It was Filipino, Vietnamese, Laos, white, Mexican, Puerto Rican, mixed, black, white, male, female… everybody made every type of inappropriate joke, and actually the only complaints I ever heard of had to do with sexism, not racism.

Sexism in the military, by the way, is a really complicate subject that I — as a female veteran, by the way — have neither time nor patience to write about right now.

So it wasn’t someone being offended or hurt that made me get it. It was not the realization (which came later) that words do hurt. It was actually the realization that some people actually say racist things seriously. There was an old joke, based on stereotype, about a black man not being able to feed a family of four. The joke itself is stupid and offensive. But I was only shocked when I realized that some people say that joke, but really do believe black men can’t feed their families! That moment I had, realizing not only that racism existed, but also that it wasn’t far away in some KKK meeting, but right there in the face of someone I know… that was just a moment of sadness and disgust and shock.

If any African Americans are reading this, they probably think I’m an idiot white person. That may be true. But having grown up with black neighbors, teachers, and friends, I guess I just… didn’t get it. I hadn’t known racists growing up. There were always people of different races around, and always a message about equality, justice, non-discrimination, etc., that I guess I didn’t realize what was really happening.

After realizing my friend was a racist, I had to think about a lot of things. This has happened over a few years, and I’ve actually had some similar thoughts and observations regarding sexism, too. As I’ve been trying to understand racism, part of it, of course is, “I’m not racist, am I?” After all, I did used to tell racist jokes, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t still laugh at one or tell one myself now and then. I try not to now, and I feel bad if I do. I try to imagine how one of my friends of whatever race/nationality/religion would feel if they heard that joke. And if they heard if from me, maybe they’d think I was just giving them shit, and it wouldn’t hurt them. But what if they heard it from someone, and they could see that person was serious? I guess it all falls into the whole “power of words” category of thought.

Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about it all. I felt so stupid one day when I realized that I don’t have any black friends anymore. I mean, I have black friends who live far away from me now, but none that I talk to all the time, let alone hang out with often. I don’t have a single one in San Diego, though two notes on that are: San Diego has a rather small black population, and also, I don’t have a lot of friends here period.

But I thought, Whoa, now I’m tallying the races of my friends? … and it’s like I’m paranoid of being racist. It’s tricky making race-related observations. The goal, of course, is just to make observations. To be honest. But it’s hard to determine people’s motivations, even your own, especially when it’s a human fucking fact that we often do things we object to, or say things we don’t mean.

I can’t say I’ve figured anything out about racism, except that I’m more aware than I ever was before that it’s real! I’m so sorry that it is, and I’m sorry for anything and everything I have said or done to give it life. I used to say that the only jokes I would not tell were Jew jokes. Reason being that as soon as we start making jokes about the Holocaust, that’s when we’re saying we don’t think such a thing could happen again. And as soon as we think of a second Holocaust as impossible, it will happen! How didn’t I realize what jokes about African-Americans and immigrants could mean?

I will probably be writing more about this sort of thing another time. It’s on my mind. I think a lot about how I got out of poverty, and some of the kids in my old neighborhood, black or white or Puerto Rican, you know, they didn’t even finish school. I don’t know where most of them are. Why me? Was it partly because of my race? The short answer, I think, is yes. But again, another post.

Not going to be an ornithologist

I was going to–and will still, in a minute–write about not majoring in biology. Then I logged in here, and I saw that I have 43 followers. Probably that is not many, but still… I’m pretty surprised. Seriously.

Well, I’ve adequately expressed my surprise; now back to biology.

When I went to make my first ‘academic plan’ or whatever the tentative schedule is that we GI-billers must keep on file, I said I intended to major in general biology. And I did intend to. It makes sense in many ways. Lots of fields, let alone jobs, are based in biology. Probably a lot of biology knowledge would be useful in case of some sort of apocalyptic situation. I am super interested in health, fitness, preventing illness, animals, gardening, and other stuff involving living things. I think I might even be the youngest bird watcher in the world (I’m 25).

But death makes me sad.  Not all of it, of course, but enough of it that I can’t see myself working with endangered species, giving mice cancer, or collecting specimens.

The whole specimen thing is what got me thinking of this again today (I figured out bio wasn’t for me months ago). NPR has an article up about some folks’ article saying that collecting specimens of wild animals is maybe not always the best thing to do. I’m not writing to weigh in on that debate, although, as a former Girl Scout, I don’t take anything out of its place myself… Except a pretty rock once in a while, for the bird bath. Anyway, the article had a picture with it of some birds pinned down.

Hm. How do I express myself on this? Death for scientific progress, and potentially conservation, is still just… Not my cup of tea. I dunno.  I’m really not that much of a softy or anything, and I do eat meat (though I admit I was a vegetarian for about eight years), but there is something about dead birds in particular that just stirs me terribly. I have several images in my mind of experiences with birds, but the most haunting is the goldfinch memory. Last year, for a few months, my husband and I had a goldfinch feeder hanging from our balcony. We could get about eight or nine lesser goldfinches on there at once, and they became one of my favorite animals in the world. They’re so small, so pretty, and have such a lovely call. Also, I love the way they fly; it’s like they launch themselves like little arrows, and land only wherever they catch a grip. It’s just a plus that feeding them is less messy than feeding, say, house finches.

Anyway, one day, I got home around 4 pm, and I think I was even in a good mood. I’d gotten an A on a math or Japanese exam or something. But my husband had a sad look, and he took me to the glass door to see a goldfinch that was somehow stuck at the bottom of the door. K. said it had just happened, and he was glad I was home because he didn’t know what to do. The bird had flown into the door.

Well, I carefully got outside (because I couldn’t slide the door much, the bird being stuck in the track somewhat). I released the bird from where it was stuck… I think it was just that these birds have hook like feet… and it was just frozen. But it was alive. I could see it looking around as it lay in my hand. Did it move? Was its heart beating hard and fast? I don’t know because my own heartbeat had gotten louder. At first, I put the bird down in a planter, hoping it would fly away on its own. But it was cold and very windy that day, so I picked up the tiny creature again, feeling like a dangerous, giant, unsophisticated thing myself, and I placed it instead on the soil of a potted plant I had nearby. The level of soil was low enough compared to the rim of the pot that I thought this would provide better shelter. Of course I went inside to consult Google, hoping that other people recommended the course of action I had intuitively taken. They did, but I had doubts. I felt extremely sad, and I cried much  harder over this than I had over other things that most people would consider much more significant. I guess, in my Eden, harmless little birds are immortal. I felt bad because it was my door that hurt the bird. It appeared to me one of its feet might be broken. What do I do? I felt bad picking up the creature, looking at it, putting it down, picking it up again. Maybe it was too stunned then to even have been afraid of me. How should I know? The few moments that I had held the bird are like a very long time in my memory, because the feelings were so strong. I felt powerful in a terrible way.

I think I was thinking about my next step, once I paused crying, and looked out the glass door again. I didn’t see the bird in the pot anymore though. I went out to see, and indeed, it must’ve managed to fly away. Of course my dark imagination would speculate that the bird would just starve because its foot was broken, or this or that. I don’t know what happened ultimately. I don’t even know the typical lifespan of a goldfinch anyway. But I knew that even when these sort of stories have happy endings, they are too much for me. I hate pain and death and fear in creatures like this. Of course we must all hate these things in all of creation, mustn’t we? But maybe it’s just more poignant to me with birds because of what they can symbolize. Untainted nature. Innocent existence. Beauty. Freedom. Absence of ego. The marvelous, intricacy of all that God has made: those specially shaped feet, those tiny feathers, the deep black beak, the always moving eyes — not to mention every little bone and organ and cell and organic compound…

Even to help these creatures, I couldn’t hurt one. I couldn’t look at a single dead one without feeling sad. This whatever it is isn’t the only reason, nor, I realize, is it exactly a “reason,” why I don’t want to study biology beyond what I already have.

I have more thoughts and feelings on this sort of thing, you know, involving conservation, creation, and so on. But it’s so complex. I just wanted to take a few minutes to write down what happened with the goldfinch. I think it may even be an insight into love. What is a little bird to me, that I should be so moved thinking of it, many months after I even saw it? What is man, O Lord, that you should look at him? It is something I have been thinking lately, too, about the fundamental goodness of humanity, and about Christ. It is easy enough to say, “I do not deserve this,” or “I am unworthy,” or “I have sinned,” or even, “I cannot stop sinning.” It is easy to feel inadequate, guilty, and other things. It is true that we do not gain redemption ourselves, but only by the grace of God. It is true that Christ died for our sins. But it is also true that God loved us before he saved us; he loved us — loves us — even in our most disgusting, miserable, evil-doing states. It makes no sense, but that is love, I think. And I think the fact that God loves me and provides for my eternal salvation even when I am the worst, confirms that I am “good,” like he said in Genesis. I am not only the sum of my good and bad works. We are all creatures loved by God. Why? Well, why do I love the little goldfinch? I don’t know, but I feel it.

 

Been about a year.

It has been about a year since I started lifting weights. This time last year I was doing marathon prep, but it wasn’t meant to be. Today I just finished a 2-mile run that I’m partly embarrassed about, and partly proud of. The will to run 26.2 (and maybe more!) is there, but I guess I’m just aging.

Last April, I was having a lot of fun running in Japan. I hurt my knee in a spin class (LAST spin class for me), but it didn’t mess me up too badly. Once I started lifting weights in May or June, my knee got a lot better, and I got back up to half-marathon distances before I hurt my foot in November. I still don’t know how. Probably something to do with running on hills 75% of the time or more.

In the past few weeks, I’ve felt that it’s time to get back to training seriously. I decided to start with an 8-mile week. Four 2-milers only. I figured that was plenty conservative, but I was still stupid enough to try the first run in my super hilly neighborhood… which, yeah, the podiatrist warned about. Well, I got a tendonitis flare-up like mad, but iced, took naproxen, and prayed. I hope God doesn’t think I’m petty for praying for my foot, but anyway, that’s between him and me I guess.

Long story short, I got back on schedule Monday, and just did the second run for this week — on a treadmill.

I’m moving in a few weeks, and… what can I say? I have no idea where I’m going to run. I don’t know the “city” I’m moving to at all, except that it’s hotter than San Diego proper, since it is further inland. I won’t have a treadmill anymore. I will live WAY too far from the flat running courses I know of, which are mostly in south county. I don’t know.

I just want to get back to it though. I just want to at least do what I have been able to do in the past. I am in better shape now than I was before, even with my wimpy little foot! Time. Patience. That’s it, right?

Maybe it’s dumb, but… what if running could become a form of ministry in my life someday? I don’t mean I’m ministering to myself because it’s therapeutic to run. I mean… now that I’m a decent runner, and I have a lot of experience (mostly just doing things wrong — don’t worry, I’m not cocky), I feel like I both want to help people, and maybe even have the ability to help them. To help them run anyway. Is that ridiculous? But running brings me joy, so why can’t it bring joy to someone else? Isn’t bringing joy part of my job as a Christian?

Eh. Just some thoughts. I can’t believe it’s been a year since I started lifting weights. SO MUCH HAS CHANGED. Maybe my lower abs will even show next year (JUST KIDDING). But it is wonderful. I hope I will be smart and patient enough to make the right decisions about when to run and when not to, so that my foot gets strong again. Slow breaths.

Don’t “no butter” yourself.

Just a minute ago, a friend said some kind things to me about my writing. It made me recall the phrase in the title.

In high school, I took the advanced English classes, a college English class, and the available humanities and creative writing courses. I also helped just a little with the school’s literary magazine. So of course I wrote a lot during high school, both for school and not for school, and I read a lot of other students’ essays, poems, and even songs. Peers and teachers also critiqued my writing.

It’s hard for a person to share his creation, for the most part. It can be hard to receive criticism, and so we have various ways of defending ourselves against it. For a variety of reasons, it can also be hard to receive compliments though, and that’s where the “no butter” story comes in.

In all of those classes with all of those papers, so many people would say things like, “I couldn’t think of the right word,” or “I was so tired when I wrote that,” or simply, “Sorry, it’s not very good.”

One of my teachers, with whom I still occasionally speak because he has had a great impact on my life, told a story that I will now paraphrase:

     A man and his wife prepared dinner for their friends one evening. The meal was delicious, and the company was even better. But when one friend complimented the man on a dish he had made, the man replied: “Oh, it’s not good. I’m sorry. There was no butter, and I didn’t have time to go to the store to buy some. I had to use margarine, but even that margarine has been in the back of the fridge for a long time…”

By the time the man had finished rattling off the circumstances which had prevented him from preparing the dish just perfectly — and responding to his friend’s compliment as though it had been a negative criticism, the genial mood was ruined and the rest of the food had gotten cold.

The story could alternatively go:

     A man and his wife prepared dinner for their friends one evening… When the man brought out the dishes to be served, before anyone had tasted them, he apologized, “I’m sorry this dish won’t be quite right. See, I was caught up at work, and got home late. I got home to see there was no butter, but of course I had no time to go buy some. I had to use margarine instead, but even that tub of margarine has been sitting in the back of the fridge forever…”

By the time the man finished explaining what was wrong with the meal he was serving, his friends were decidedly less interested in tasting it.

So you see that no buttering yourself is taking compliment as criticism, which is rude to your friends. Or it can be preempting criticism by giving it of yourself, which gives your friends a bad impression before they even “taste” what you are serving. It applies to music, art, writing, food, anything. Do you see? I find this story profound.

My parents and my uncle, all of whom play or played musical instruments with exceptional skill, also taught me — a terrible musician — to receive compliments well. My uncle, who played professionally, told me about giving bad performances. He told me that sometimes an audience will applaud, or an individual will give a compliment, not out of flattery or politeness, but from genuinely having enjoyed the show, even when the musician himself knows that this part was off tempo, that chord was struck wrong, or something else hadn’t been played perfectly. The proper response is never to say, “Oh no, the second movement started off wrong,” or anything like that! No. The proper response is always, “Thank you.” And you should mean it when you say it, too, because as a musician, a writer, a cook, whatever, although you may know you are no Johnny Winter, no J.R.R. Tolkien, no Jacques Pépin, to the person complimenting you… maybe you are!

Think about it like this. Would a rich person be happy with a gift of dirty, used sneakers? Probably not, but someone who’s never been able to afford shoes would be. Would Anthony Bourdain be pleased with a breakfast from Denny’s? Maybe not, but someone who hasn’t had a square meal in a couple of days would be thankful. (I would be thankful, too. I love Denny’s.) We all have different standards. Don’t argue with people when they are more generous to you than you are to yourself.

So don’t “no butter” yourself. Say “thank you,” and mean it.

And Thomas, if you read this, you know, I wanted to no butter myself in response to your comment on my last entry. I thought better of it though, and I thought it might be a good time to write down the no butter story. I hope you understand. And thank you again for your kind words.