Friday, November 30, 2007

It can't have been a decade already

November 30, 1997

The Denver Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 38-28 on the way to Elway's first
Superbowl victory.

I looked like this, packing 11 pounds of baby, and gamely waited until victory was in hand to utter, with a crampy grimace, "I think we should go."

At 12:25 and 12:27 a.m. on December 1st, Devon and Ryan were born, making the family Christmas card with only days to spare.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Devon!

Happy Birthday, Sweet Ryan!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Suddenly I love geometry...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Life is an epiphany

Once when I was twelve or so, my sisters and I bought my mother a birthday present. We found it at Spencer's, a store full of black lights and glow-in-the-dark posters, lava lamps, hanging beads. To our young minds Spencer's held every groovy thing the 70s had to offer and we could not wait to present our gift to Mom.

I remember with crystal clarity the look on her face when she opened the box. The sidelong glance that she gave my father, who turned away at that moment, the apparent victim of a coughing fit. I knew there was something that I didn't understand and I thought about it for a long time after.

I remember another adult joke from my wonder years. People would see my siblings and me with our parents and would exclaim various things about us. Suzy's red hair and fair complexion! Jim's bright blue eyes and olive skin! My blond curls and, well, just that usually. They would follow up these spirited observations with the same question, "Are they all YOURS?" To which my dad would reply, while pointing at us, "The postman, the milkman..." My bubushka-clad mom would then hit him on the arm with her leather gloves and say "Milty!" which was his name. Everyone would laugh and we would continue on our way.

I never understood why my father pointed at me and said "the milkman" so often. What did that even mean? What was a milkman? Shouldn't I be a milkgirl?

Yesterday my brother sent me some old family photos that he had digitized. And I finally understood.

By the way, the gift for Mother was an adorable grinning egg in a nest. The sign underneath said "You'd smile too if you'd just been laid!"

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Tao of Marie

I read yesterday's post and decided that I'd had too much turkey, too much tryptophan actually, to have sufficient mental clarity to properly opine on the divine. Today I possess mental acuity thanks, in part, to the fact I have yet to break my overnight fast. The turkey omelet must wait while I wax philosophic about health and wellness for a spell.

Scientists search, a bit like pigs after truffles, for cures to heal us. Doctors prescribe drugs to relieve us. Cosmetic manufacturers create creams and gels and shampoos to give us a healthy glow. Dieticians create programs to slim us down, bulk us up, bolster our energy, keep us young. Mostly they make us poor and depress us. The diet industry alone took in more than $50 billion last year but has, get this, a 95% failure rate! What the hell? Why aren't these people in jail?

If the divine can be bothered to dwell within us, doesn't it make sense that all we seek might possibly reside there too? Why do we allow lesser mortals to define our highest and best? If the path to enlightenment is one we walk alone, the road to self-actualization is simply the other lane. The time spent hunting for essential oils would be better spent looking for the essential self.

I cannot, for a minute, separate my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves and still feel a sense of well-being and balance. Perhaps I am particularly sensitive in this area. Perhaps the essential "I" is a tightly-woven braid that feels mussed at the slightest breeze. Actually, I think the popularity of Bo Derek's terrible movie 10 was a collective recognition of our inner corn rows. Perhaps you are pig tails or a pony tail or a big tangled mane. Perhaps you can stand in the midst of a cyclone and feel unruffled and focused. Maybe you even enjoy the wind in your hair because, after all, it is still hair no matter the form. But a braid does not have this luxury.

I am not mentally healthy when I am not physically sound. My thoughts scatter, if I can be bothered to think at all. To me, a rational and precise thinker, this does not feel right, or safe. I am emotionally fragile when I don't have the support of my other strands. When I can't think clearly, or I don't feel physically healthy, I am a mess. Once, only once, I had what, in retrospect, was a migraine headache. I laid face down on the couch and sobbed, aloud, until it went away.

I am a hairy wisp of a girl in every way. Only when I am integrated can I feel the power of my inner braid. As if this necessary tidiness wasn't difficult enough to maintain, there seems to be a power struggle within my strands. The physical strand determines the hairstyle. This is not a rational choice that I have made. It seems to have little to do with my conscious self. But from experience I know that if the physical strand feels powerful and centered, I am free to play with the other strands.

Psychologists have affirmed that this is the case for many. The physical is the lowest rung on Maslow's ladder. It is primitive. A beast that must be pacified. Woe to the other strands if the physical isn't happy. Only when I am pregnant can I let my hair down, let the strands commingle, and still feel whole. Maybe it is because I am sharing my body with another human being in an vital way, maintaining health my highest purpose, that the physical knows its importance and loosens its grip on the other strands. Or maybe it's hormones or other biochemicals manifesting their influence. They are, after all, the scrunchie of the essential I. Without their cooperation, there is no braid. And they know it.

Human beings are unique. We each have different power structures, styles, desires, needs. We've encountered different weather conditions and live in different climates. If we want to know what our particular hairstyle is, and how it's faring these days, we don't need to look at a magazine or a television or even at our friends and family. No, to ascertain the condition of the hairstyle, the true self, the essential I, we need only natural light and a hand-held mirror.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past

I was obsessed with Bernadette Soubirous when I was a Catholic schoolgirl. You'll recall, or perhaps you won't, that the Mother of God appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes in 1858. Or so Bernadette claimed.

Filled with unbelief and not wishing to delude the gullible faithful, the church hierarchy convened a Council of Enquiry to check out Bern's story. Oh how the Bishop wrestled with his monumental burden!
"But if Bernadette does not want to deceive, was she not deceived herself? How could she believe to see and hear what she did not see and hear? Was she not the victim of hallucinations? How could we believe her? The wisdom of her answers reveals in this child a spirit of goodness, a quiet imagination, good sense beyond her years. Religious feelings never showed in her a spirit of exhalation; nobody could prove in the young girl neither intellectual disorder, nor change of mind nor unusual personality nor morbid feelings which would allow her to give way to a creative imagination."

The Bishop of Tarbus, after only four years' deliberation, decided that Bernadette was worthy and the people were given permission to believe her. The divine presence revealed, because of the moral purity of one young girl. Hmmmmm.

Upon hearing this story as a ten-year-old I determined to be the next Bernadette. I was certain I could be as holy and pious as she was. I secreted myself in my room at night and quietly recited the rosary, lingering over the Hail Marys. Surely the Blessed Virgin would take notice of my glow-in-the-dark rosary beads and appear to me as I lay in my little bed. I worried about my response. Should I feign surprise? Perhaps a sense of peaceful recognition? What if she expected tears of joy? Would I be able to produce them without delay? What if she appeared and my acting was deemed inferior? What would happen to poor Mary?

I enrolled in a Creative Dramatics class to ensure my success.

Despite years of piety, countless novenas (guaranteed to work! follow instructions exactly or no money back!), mental sojourns along the Via Dolorosa, Easter vigils, midnight masses, prayer flags, candles, medals--still no Mary. After learning that Marie was synonymous with Mary in the eyes of linguists everywhere, my final act of radical devotion saw me refuse to take a confirmation name. There could be no saint that I hoped to emulate more than the Mother of God. Mary, are you listening?

I finally gave up hope the summer after my sophomore year. I burned my uniforms and transferred to a public school. I decided that if Mary was too good for me, I'd find another other-worldly persona that liked my obviously flawed self. Who could be bad enough for me? Perhaps SATAN?

After a short stint as a bad girl I found Jesus and stopped grieving my fractured relationship with Mary. I was drawn to the fundamental purity and wisdom of that most-revered and infallible document, the Holy Bible. In my youth, the Bible was clad in white leatherette with garish gold writing and a big picture of Jesus. It was placed in a prominent place in every Catholic home. But read? I was sure the Pope would not approve. Popes are popes and they have need to pontificate. This requires a certain degree of cooperative ignorance on the part of the pontificatees, does it not? Feeling like a teenage boy with his daddy's Playboy magazine, I sat in my room and studied the Bible. I could not believe how deceived I had been! Satan himself had been standing between me and the Holy Spirit, the only true path to peace and enlightenment. Jesus had been there all along, quietly knocking on the door to my heart, and I had been so caught up in my works-based salvation, my meager attempts to be holy, that I missed his call. Fuck.

Thus began a twenty-year stint as a religious fundamentalist. I will spare you most details of my quest to reconcile my inherently sinful nature with my holy and perfect god. I will say that I had a team of prayer warriors beseeching god to reveal himself to Dave, my militant atheist husband. I begged the Lord to allow the scales to fall from Dave's eyes so he, too, could see as clearly as I did. It turns out that it wasn't only Dave who was in grave danger. It was pretty much everyone I knew. And every unreached person in the four corners of the earth. It was up to me personally to pray without ceasing for each and every one of these lost souls. Their eternal destiny depended entirely on me. Holy fuck. I had wasted a lot of time on Mary.

Try as I might I could not suppress my rational nor my spiritual side forever. An academic approach feels safe when treading in parts unknown, so I embarked on a study of comparative religion. Surely most of the world could not be held accountable for truths that God in his infinite wisdom had not chosen to reveal to them. And surely it could not possibly fall on me and a handful of the idiotic chosen to make certain that the world had a chance to hear the good news. While I was sporting my hard-won Mind of Christ, my mind developed a mind of its own. What a crock of shit! was the refrain that replaced the time-honored Praise the Lord!

I'll cut to the end. I believe that there is something more knowing, more powerful, more permanent, more loving than me. But to attach a personality, a gender, a shape, even a part of speech, to a universal force is not only foolish, it's often tragic. If you want to see human frailty in action look no further than organized religion.

Spiritual reality has been a part of mankind since the beginning. We do our best to give our ephemeral understanding structure. We fashion an idol that resonates within us. Where food is scarce and money more so, perhaps god resembles a golden calf, the highest and best we know. Where women suffer together and depend upon the earth's bounty to bear daily burdens, perhaps she is a goddess who permeates the natural world. Men stripped of their voices and forced to serve a capricious master create a suffering servant who will rule heaven and earth one day. When our basic needs are met and we are perched on the top of Maslow's ladder, we have nowhere to go but inward. Divinity resides within.

At the deepest place we are the same. We are one tribe. We are protected and loved by a universal force that knows no bounds. We are free to define it as we will. Our understanding of it may change over time, a reflection of our growth. We must give others the same freedom to be, to know, to discover, to change. I am thankful that I have had that chance. That I still have that chance.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Activism home grown

My siblings and I frequently talk about our “activist” upbringing. We grew up with parents who walked their talk. Our mom hung out with the radical nuns protesting around Rocky Flats. And I can’t remember a single Thanksgiving where we didn’t have a couple of homeless men sitting at our dinner table. Our parents introduced them by name and we were expected to be gracious and make interesting conversation.

Then there was Robin, a retarded young man who was obsessed with a pair of moccasins that we had in our front closet. My mom made a rule that the front door be always open so that Robin could come in for his moccasins any time he wanted. As a mother, I question the wisdom of this now but, at the time, we just accepted that at any time Robin might walk in and open our front closet. It wasn’t anything we worried about….just another one of mom's people.

At the 1975 fall of Saigon, Divine Redeemer, our home church with hundreds of families, decided to sponsor a family fleeing Communist oppression. They asked that someone step forward to host a family of 8 people for several months. Guess who stepped forward? Much to our horror, my mom and dad did. We had 6 of our own children, aged 6 to 15, living in a small house and suddenly we had 16 people living under the same roof. They didn’t speak a word of English. We certainly didn’t speak Vietnamese. Our mom and their dad were able to communicate in broken French.

We reminisce about how our mom used to read little kid books to them, VERY LOUDLY, as though she could make them understand English if only she shouted. They used to stare at us and we back at them while she did this...all of us trying hard not to laugh.

Because my dad had been a part of the war in Viet Nam and a number of families we knew had been widowed during that war, we lost friends because of the choice we made to support this family. I didn't understand this at all at the time. It's taken many years for me to understand that to stand for something, anything, is to risk the wrath of those who don't agree.

As kids, we remember it as crazy fun. We made Chef Boyardee pizzas and they chopped off the heads of weird little fish and made carrots look like flowers. We were all about the same age, they dressed weird, we dressed weird….we laughed and figured out how to communicate even without words. They showed us martial arts. We taught them to hula hoop. We laughed our asses off day after day.

Once, the 10-year-old girl, incredibly beautiful, her name was Ngoc (pronounced Nop), and I sat on the swing in the front yard. She placed her hand in front of my face, put up her index finger and said “Mot.” “Mo,” I said, knowing that she was counting. “Hai.” “Hi.” “Bah. Bon. Nam. Sau.” After she taught me to count to ten she grabbed my hand and rushed me into the living room where 15-20 people sat, always at the ready, listening to the Vietnamese singing American anthems, which was both lovely and hilarious since they didn’t really understand the words. “Ma cunry tis a vee. Swe lan a liverty.” Ngoc got everyone’s attention and suddenly 20 people were staring at me, a 14-year-old, not exactly at the age where I wanted a lot of scrutiny, and she said, encouragingly, “Mot.” I felt like throwing up but I understood that the stakes were high so with red cheeks I recited what I just learned. When I finished a loud roar went up….I swear there were even a few tears from the Vietnamese parents.

This family went on to become a success story. Ultimately, the boys, Phat, Dat and Loi, became Tony and Billy and Joey. They went to DU, studied engineering. Mom and Dad opened a successful restaurant on Federal Boulevard in Denver. The girls married Vietnamese men and carried on Vietnamese tradition on their new soil. Oddly, my two brothers married Asian women, one Vietnamese, one Thai.

This family had another baby after they came to the United States. They wanted to choose an American name to honor the country that had given them a second chance. They chose Helen. My mother’s name.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two decades “wasting” my time doing things that may or may not ever register on anyone’s radar. One of my inspirations has been Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” That’s what my family taught me….and what I’d like to teach my own.


I am in Chicago nestled in a guest bed, pajama clad, laptop ever near. It is sleeting outside. I can see the trains rumble by every few minutes. Eric pops in occasionally to bring me slices of warm banana bread so I don't succumb to starvation. I alternate between Connie Francis and Rufus Wainwright, the same two songs over and over. I sip cold Starbucks from a mug on the table beside me. I am conversing with a girl in Germany whom I've never met. After six weeks of listening to her relationship woes, I break down and call her boyfriend a fruitcake. She contacts me about an hour later. She'd "looked after" the word in her dictionary and thought it was an hilarious description of him. She heads off to the Christmas market in Nuremberg. I look at Google images of Nuremberg for a bit. I feel dangerously happy.

Today I am grateful for warmth and freedom and people who love me and leave me alone without making me feel guilty. I am grateful for people who make me laugh though I've never seen their faces. I am thankful for flannel and fleece and lovely smells wafting up from the kitchen, created entirely by someone who is not me.

I am grateful for intelligent people who take the time to write down their thoughts, even if they are unsure that they will be properly cherished by the reader. Or if they will be read at all.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

In defense of Ralphie

I agree that Ralph Routon's diatribe about the impending departure of Michael DeMarsche was lame.  But you have to understand.  Having Ralph write about the arts is akin to having John Waters write about the Superbowl.  You can only imagine how funny that would be.  To us.  But not to sports fans.  You might as well call Jesus a homo or spit on an Indian before you sully such sacred land.

People.  Look at the picture of Ralph.  Then consider that no one chooses their worst picture to present to the world.  This is likely as good as it gets.  Which means that he is a beer-swilling bratwurst-gobbling sports-worshiping manly man.  He spits.  He scratches.  He has issues with dingleberries.  But he LOVES sports.  And by sports, I don't mean fencing or horse racing or curling.  Sport involves a BALL of some sort.  And a distinctively American connection (which rules out rugby and soccer, although rugby is the ultimate masculine sport...even basketball doesn't totally qualify for reasons I can't quite figure out, but I think it's because there are so few good white players).

One of the most memorable arguments that Dave and I ever had involved music.  We were in our late twenties; we lived in downtown Denver and we were cool.  He was a surgical resident at the U and I was a financial guru for a hip software company.  As such, we were invited to many cool events. When these invitations came in through medical channels everything was great.  Orthopedic surgeons are always jocks who were inspired to become surgeons while recovering from their own sports-related injuries.  But when the invitations came from my side of the channel, things were unpredictable.

We were invited to Josephina's on Larimer, to drink wine and listen to some groovy jazz with fellow yuppies, a term Dave hated.  We got there.  We drank Coors Light while they drank "whine."  They listened to the "music."  In a very unfortunate turn of events, the girl that Dave took to junior prom, Alison, the fantastic skier, the one that paid only friendly attention to him due to family connections, walked in with her new husband, Clark.  Clark was an attorney who was, tragically, wearing a knee-length fur coat.  Dave was wearing Levis, tennis shoes and a yellow t-shirt (with red letters, like a hot dog) that said "NO LIGHTS AT WRIGLEY FIELD!" (which is now framed in the basement, I kid you not).  Things went rapidly downhill from there.  'When's the music gonna start?  I could probably fix that pinkie for a fee.  Let's go to the sym-PHONY next week."

Dave is the guy who slept through the birth of most of his children.  Our 10-year-old had the lead role in Oliver! at the FAC and I had to beg Dave to watch a single performance.  Brendan was in A Colorado Christmas at the Broadmoor, performing for 1,000 people every night, and Dave came to watch only once and rolled his eyes at all the "religious" bullshit (he doesn't know any Christmas carols).  Brendan was hand-picked by Debbie Allen to be in Pepito's Story at the Pikes Peak Center and Dave was sort of embarrassed and wondered if Brendan might be gay. 

This same guy sobbed like an 8-year-old girl when Brent Musburger retired from sportscasting.  I've been to two Broncos Superbowls, Northwestern's first Rose Bowl in 80 years, several Olympic games, the Citrus Bowl when Peyton Manning was senior quarterback and headed for greatness.  Weeping and gnashing of teeth all around.  My children paint, and play music, and sing, and dance.  None of it matters.  But Dave is elated for days if 6-year-old Devon, the only girl on the team, makes a double play to win the game.  Booyah!  Fuck yeah!

My point in all this is that Ralph Routon DOES NOT and CAN NOT care about the arts.  We will have to leave it to the psychiatrists to figure out why. Ralph Routon does not care who or what is playing at the Black Sheep, Theaterworks, the BAC.  He won't attend Pridefest, nor the Diversity Fair.  Not even Springspree.  But he will agonize over the legal troubles of Michael Vick and any injury sustained by LaDanian Tomlinson.  He did, after all, draft them to his fantasy football team and he's got 50 bucks hanging in the balance.

John Weiss, not exactly a manly man and therefore less than qualified to diagnose the problem, better figure it out soon and bring in some new blood.  Or the Indy will become the Indy 500 and he'll have to find a whole new group of advertisers and readers.  Of course I'm kidding.  Car racing is most definitely not a SPORT.  Duh.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

I am my own muse

Opposites attract? Maybe if one feels a lack.

When my husband and I were in our mid-twenties, we worked out at a hip club in Denver. We did aerobics for cardiovascular health and lifted weights to stave off osteoporosis. We had a group of friends, like-minded couples, who were our workout buddies. We went to the club several times a week for years. We were an integral square on the yuppie quilt.

Once Dave and I had an unexpected encounter at the water fountain. Maybe it was my long wavy 80s hair, or my leg warmers and matching scrunchie, but Dave was overcome by passion and gave me a big smooch. I returned to my class and he to his weights. One of our friends said to him, "Did I just see you kiss your sister?" Dave, horrified, said, "That isn't my sister, that's my wife!"

Hmmmm. Rather telling. Why did I choose Dave as a mate? Well, because he grew up here in Colorado Springs; we shared a common history. He was smart and funny, edgy and difficult, driven, athletic, competitive, decisive. He loved George Jones and Hank Williams, not Flock of Seagulls or Tears for Fears. He followed sports with a passion that defied rationality. He wanted a big family and a successful career.

Or was that me?

After many years of marriage, we divorced. We'd grown apart. We had irreconcilable differences. Simply put, he no longer resembled the me that I love.

Now I have another. He is a writer, a musician, introspective, analytical, sensual, a world traveler. Intelligent, strong-willed. He has an outward focus and a knowledge of history and the arts. He has no interest in sports or money, but has an affinity for children and cares about the planet. He has sophisticated taste, and a distaste for the inequities between earth's inhabitants.

Or is that me?

Opposites don't attract. Like attracts like. I'd marry myself if I could.