Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Lent and Fasting

I'm so confused right now. Every time I think I've concluded something helpful and practical about Lent, a new realization occurs and throws me back into a tailspin. Perhaps it's just hormones; the Lord knows mine are going crazy right about now. But regardless, some reflection is certainly in order.

When Septuagesima rolled around, I became excited for Lent, and looked forward to offering my penances for specific people or causes, though I was yet lacking good ideas for what to give up. My thoughts tended toward self-discipline over self-denial, because I find self-denial easier than self-discipline (if only achieving balance were easy).

Despite two and a half weeks of Pre-Lent, Fat Tuesday still caught me off guard. (I mean, I was wearing the appropriate colors and all, but the knowledge that my mortifications would begin the next day left me still wondering what exactly they might be.) Then J posted this note explaining how and why he's effectively fasting from the internet from Lent, which caused me to rethink my whole set of ideas. There's something extremely attractive about anything that's intensely hardcore like that, and such a fast tugged at my heart-strings, but I also felt that this was not really something to which I am called this Lent. At lunch that day, one supervisor asked the whole table what we were giving up for Lent (knowing full well that I'm the only practicing Catholic - it's just how she rolls), and my prepared answer was "sweets and comfortable work shoes" (I never reveal all my Lenten mortifications, as it gets in the way of the "secret gift to my lover" aspect that I love so dearly).

Ash Wednesday arrived, and with it came the discomfort of the fast imposed on me by the Church, with no wiggle room. This discomfort was particularly striking in light of previous years when I felt the official imposed fast to be too lenient, and felt almost guilty eating the food that was provided for me by those with whom I was staying. But I discovered I did have a fairly well-rounded program of fasts, prayers, and alms that I had pulled together, and I was pleased.

This afternoon, I discovered this post on L's blog (I know, I'm a few days behind. So sue me.) and her discussion of freely chosen detachment caused me to realize - there's not a single thing I'm giving up this year that isn't good for me in some way. No sweets = fewer calories (i.e., easy diet). Limiting my time on Google Reader at work = renewal of my work ethic. The shoes are a bit tougher, as they're both awesome and harmful - I do love how they look (and the attention is usually a plus, too), but they're actually bad for my body (whoops). So I reembarked upon my quest to find another penance, and considered I would probably blog as soon as I got upstairs from doing my laundry (if I'm getting a self-improvement kick out of Lent, I might as well stick with it, eh?).

As I was doing said laundry, I reflected upon the fact that I do want to offer my Lenten sacrifices for a particular intention (or maybe 3 or 4), but have been unsure where to begin. Well, the Institute gave me a starting point by organizing a spiritual boquet for the Holy Father, which I found in my bulletin this past Sunday - so I could offer Lent for the pope. That's wonderful, and I will, but it has felt like my fervor for fasting, largely composed of having other pressing intentions for which to pray, as L also expressed, has diminished as my prayer intentions remain largely the same. I was then reminded of a conversation last night in which a peer whom I hold in great esteem asked my prayers, and detailed a struggle he's been having - not the most intimate of conversations, but he certainly gave me more detail than he needed to, and I was humbled by his trust. Yes, I could offer up my Lenten penances for him. Too, perhaps adding a new face to my familiar list of prayer intentions would rejuvenate me a bit.

I was not three paragraphs into this post when I heard Mom's very angry voice yelling for me - I'd forgotten the change of lifestyle that comes with having no kitchen, and had started laundry with dishes still in the sink the washer drains into. Oops. I already felt negligent that I haven't done dishes all week (largely because I simply haven't been home - my formerly slim social life has exploded lately).

So I have resolved: Yes, my prayers, alms, and self-denial will continue as planned, and I will offer them for several specific people's intentions. But I think my focus needs to be on my family and the household's needs (something I always conveniently forget, living at home. I can already clearly see many of the crosses of being a mom).

You know how I often say that I used to try to be weird/unconventional, until I realized I didn't have to try? My primary penance this Lent needs to be doing chores around the house. Who would have ever guessed?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

On Analogies for Monogamy

Disclaimer: I don't know if any of you will be able to understand or relate to this (save for K), but I"m posting it anyway. Please, comments.

* * *

I've been singing in organized choirs for over thirteen years. I have sung under a dozen different choir directors, and done music ministry under at least half as many music leaders. I've sung in impromptu choirs or praise bands, and I've sung in choirs that practiced for months and months before the big event. And I'm not even counting years of school musicals and Christmas concerts. In short: I'm used to this.

It's particularly apparent in a music ministry setting, when there are fewer people and I often end up being the leader's right-hand man (if you will) - helping him with whatever he needs to lead music, and trying to anticipate his needs: setting up the microphones beforehand, making the photocopies he forgot to make, writing down the hymnal numbers on his list. In addition, of course, are the technical music aspects - singing whenever he does but not otherwise (no false starts on a verse and that sort of thing), ensuring that my syncopation matches his, even along with him on a song I've never sung before.

And last night, as four of us were running through the Mass's chants, it suddenly hit me: Singing under different music directors at different times is kind of like having multiple sexual partners throughout life.

It's not a perfect analogy, of course (far from it). But hear me out.

I'm good at what I do. I'm no musical genius, but I can generally jump into any choir or praise band and supplement the fullness of the group's sound, often adding harmony. I know how to follow any musician who can lead, and have a good general sense for things like tempo, dynamics, and group balance. But my talents are usually underused / underappreciated. Which is fine - I'm not primarily there for my own enjoyment but to offer back to the Lord a part of the gift He's given me.

But sometimes I feel like it would be really nice to have found a home, to be singing consistently under one director, who knows my strengths and weaknesses, knows what I can pick up without practice and where he can put me to make or break the beautiful blend of voices. I had a glimpse of such direction under DB, but lasted mere months.

Let me refine my thesis: Where I'm at now musically gives me an analogous glimpse into the tiredness of living a sexually promiscuous lifestyle, and the desire for a depth and consistency that seems impossible.

It would be hard to settle down into only one choir. There's a certain thrill to being able to just drop by and augment the group, to fill a hole, whether they knew it was there or not. For several events I've sung for, that was the only option; there was no time to practice, to develop a relationship with the director or the vocalists around me. And the music is always beautiful, always rewarding and enriching. And besides, it's unrealistic to sing under only one music director for the rest of my life.

But what a beautiful relationship we could build if I did. And the music itself would become ever deeper and more glorious.

A girl can dream, can't she?

Monday, February 23, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

It's been a busy weekend. I have at least half a dozen half-scripted blog posts in my head, but I completely lack the time to flesh them out in text. They will come... slowly...

In the meantime: Let it be known that I bear no ill will to the people of the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, nor do I wish for this comment to reflect poorly upon them in anyway. However, it remains to be said:

You know you've left Jersey when:

There are John Deere tractor fruit snacks right next to the Dora the Explorer ones in the supermarket.

Photo taken at George's Dreshertown ShopnBag in Dresher, PA.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Stating the Obvious

Sometimes self-denial is not its own immediate reward.

That is to say: Sometimes, when you're having a crappy day (even if for no readily apparent reason), and you have just enough time to do that thing you don't want to do but really should do and have been putting off for weeks already, and you get over yourself and do that thing - sometimes finally doing that thing does not make you feel any better.

But I guess that's part of the point of mortifying the flesh, eh?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Gender Roles and Unanswered Questions

A few weeks ago, my consistent tendency to (without trying) defy people's expectations came up again in conversation, and examples were given: I can't ride a bike, but I can pack, light, and smoke a pipe. D found this fascinating (and declared that I had to teach him to smoke once it's warm enough), then pumped me to find out more traditionally male skills or tastes I have. It's always a fun conversation for me, because, like most people, I enjoy being the center of attention for a bit among my friends, and I also like it when people appreciate things about me that set me apart from the crowd.

I don't recall how it came up, but this weekend at brunch, C referred to a comment D had made that night, which was something to the effect of: "A woman who smokes cigars, drinks scotch, and likes sports: How are you not married yet!?" C's private remark to D's public compliment is nothing I haven't heard before: "That's precisely why; guys don't want to marry their smoking or drinking buddies; they want to marry a woman who will run a good household for them..." Her comment was made in full charity, but it drives me back to a familiar train of thought, something I've grappled with many times.

Man and woman are different, complementary. Thus there is a reality to men's roles and women's roles. You all know this. But what part of those roles are inherent to my nature as woman or his nature as man, and what part are more societal/cultural?

I'm sure this is like the nature vs nurture argument: It's a both-and, but good luck to you figuring out where the line lies. So I return, time and again, to my amateur self-psychoanalysis.

The first question is always Why? Why do I like to drink scotch, for instance? That's as simple as I like its taste. Why do I like to smoke cigars or pipes? Because it provides a special occasion for conversation that's just not quite the same any other way (it helps that I treasure certain memories of events and friendships celebrated over cigars). Why do I like to play sports? The physical exercise gets those endorphins running, and it's just fun! Why do I like to converse with men? It's about the common interests we discuss and the charming personality traits they display, and everything else that other friendships are based upon. I just happen to like a lot of things that a lot of guys like. The Why is never Because I want to be like the guys, or Because I want guys to like me, or Because I don't like doing girly things, so I tentatively set aside the question of Why and move on to Is That Okay?

If I only liked these guy things, then I might be worried about my balance. But I like plenty of "girl things" too, and am very pleased to be a woman. And besides, I know plenty of stable-seeming guys who like things that are seen as more feminine (e.g., the arts) without leaving behind their masculinity.

But that's not a logical argument; that's appealing to personal experience and comparing myself to others, and when personal experience is what you're trying to evaluate, it begs the question.

In the end, I don't have an "answer". I don't have a reason why it's okay for me to like these things, to do these things. All I know is I'd be willing to give them up if it ever came to light that they were bad for me; I just don't expect that to happen.

Not everything in life has an easy answer, and sometimes an inner peace about something is hard to explain, but that doesn't necessarily mean it defies reason, nor does it change the fact that I have such an inner peace.
So much for all the effort I put into trying to be a nonconformist earlier in life. Had I only known how easily I would fall into it, and what trouble it would sometimes be, I could have saved myself plenty of growing pains... :)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On New Kitchens and Vocation Preparations

I don't cook. I don't clean. I don't sew. I mean, I have the ability to do these things (at a basic level, at least), but I don't use those skills, even though I'm living at home and probably have more free time now than I will again until retirement (that's a scary thought). Sometimes I feel a bit guilty about the fact that I'm not honing my domestic skills, but then I very quickly realize that I'm perfectly okay with the knowledge that I will probably have to call my mother every day for a while as I make dinner, when I'm eventually a wife and/or mother, but for now I'm more than content to come home from work and eat what Mom's cooked for me.

Are you confused? Let me explain. See, when a girl is at that point in her life where she thinks she's ready to get married and start a family, and many of her friends are doing so, and she has no prospects, she comes down with a condition known as "the bridesmaid blues." Sometimes she gets desperate and/or depressed, but if she's more of an optimist, she may just throw herself into learning every domestic thing well, so that she's clearly well-prepared to take care of a house and all the little ones that are likely to be running around the place sooner or later.

I'd love to be learning all that now. It's just that I have other things to do and learn, and I figure I can learn on the fly later, and it won't really be that big of a deal. I mean, I have all the basic skills down, right?

But still, there is little in my life that excites passion. Sunday Liturgies at my wonderful parish. The occasional restorative phone call or even more occasional social event through which the local community reminds me of our longstanding (and often surprisingly deep) bonds. Even family bonding time is solidly good. But not work. Not any extracurriculars I'm involved in. Very little of what I do in my daily life inspires or fulfills me in any way. Sure, some of what I read in books or on the internet makes me excited - but it's largely enthusiasm of a type that makes me feel a part of a great global community but does nothing to connect me to the reality in front of me every day.

The frustration I feel at letting my education stagnate by neither using it nor furthering it is a topic for another post, but suffice it to say that these factors combined have made me feel like a bum, wasting my time here at home when many others are building roots and families or embarking upon careers or at least getting closer to whatever it is they want to do with their lives.

What do I want to do with my life? Raise a family. Work in the Church. What am I doing to pursue either? Not much.

My family is getting our kitchen remodeled. Like, everything gutted from the kitchen (including the walls) and starting over from scratch. We've never had major remodeling done before. I had no idea how inconvenient this was going to be.

Think about your house (or your parents' house), and about how much time everyone spends in the kitchen. It's the heart (and stomach) of the home! Well, our home's innards are split between the tv room and the garage, with an occasional road trip to borrow our grandparents' old kitchen while they're in Florida (winter migration and all).

Needless to say, there's been plenty of extra work for each of us to do, just to stay afloat. Washing dishes, for instance, either needs to be done in the basement (first, unplug the washing machine...) or at the grandparents' (load the dishes into the car, being careful not to break them...), and because it always needs to be done in batches, it's never ever done. Now, Dad's an accountant and this is tax season, so we hardly see him 'till mid-April because he's either out at appointments with tax clients or sitting at his laptop, doing their taxes in some secluded corner of our house (lately it's the dining room, since the kitchen is empty and we've all but abandoned that entire floor). My sister, too, has her hands full with her first year of high school and Honors classes - plus two teachers who aren't very good at teaching, to boot (for Latin and Math, too, neither of which are subjects one can BS through easily). This effectively eliminates both of them from most of the extra chores, and even adds on the chore of teaching T her math homework, especially before tests.

Mom, too, is pretty worn thin, between trying to cook for us without a kitchen, shopping around to find the right appliances at the right price, and juggling everything else in her (and our) lives. I've been coming home from work lately, expecting the usual evening of a brief dinner, some time on the computer, maybe some tv, and time for bed. Instead it's been tv dinners (PTL for Healthy Choice meals!), listening to Mom's run-down of the day (often while I'm trying to catch up on Google Reader - reminds me that I often tell unnecessary stories at inconvenient times, a habit I probably won't grow out of), perhaps feeding the grandparents' cat... running other errands, washing the dishes, teaching T her homework. Oh, and maybe I can have some time to myself, too.

Maybe my parents really did spoil me by enabling me to be so involved in high school that I hardly had time for many chores. Still, I definitely had my tasks to do, and I did then (generally) in my own time. This kitchen business, however, combined with the full-time job bit, have left me very much at the mercy of the needs of the family, at their time schedule.

Which, oddly enough, is a skill very much needed by domestic engineers (as my cousin T tells me homemakers can be called): the loss of personal time and schedule according to the needs of the family, and the ability to drop what one's doing at any moment to fill another's need.

So sorry if I've been less available than usual lately. I've been training for my vocation.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Addendum: On Dieting

I wrote the better part of a post earlier today before deciding that I'm not sure whether it's worth it to finish it and post it, so I'm too tired to write another one now.

But I bought a new pair of jeans this past week. Same style as the pair I bought in September, only darker - oh, and a size smaller.

Monday, February 2, 2009

On Poor Time-Management Skills

To borrow the internet colloquialism: I haz them.

I suppose this is my sort of apology for the inconsistencies in my posting. It's terrible, too, because I have at least six fully composed blog entries in my head, but haven't managed to discipline myself to take the time to actually write them out. Even now it's past my bedtime (which is extra important, as I'm taking the GRE's tomorrow), but I've been meaning to write this for days, so:

In a manner akin to how Mulier Fortis apologizes and fills space on her blog, I offer to you a photo of a sight which caused me a good laugh in the side chapel of a church I frequent (I apologize for the blurriness; my cell phone's camera is not the best):

Words fail me. I can't but laugh! (And yes, there's even a label on the base of the status that says "St. Jude." Now I'm really curious as to what happened to St. Thomas More!
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