I Won’t Ask, But…

When I was growing up, the kids I went to grade school with would always ask each other “what nationality are you?” Since we were pretty much all Americans, what we really meant was “what ethnicity are you?” I guess we were going on the assumption I still have, that being an American is a citizenship, not an ethnicity, and we were curious about the various places our friends’ families had come from.

Maybe this was the genesis of my affinity for heritage and ancestry. Or maybe it just dovetailed nicely with an inborn need to classify my environment — the same way I always, always have to know what time it is.

I still wonder what ethnicity people are, unless it’s obvious. But I would never ask, because I’m afraid it would seen as a version of all the “things white people say to [insert non-white ethnicity here].”

And I also wonder about gender, when I see an androgynous person. I’d be even less likely to try to find out the gender of a person than I would their ethnicity. But I will spend an entire BART ride wondering about either or both of those things respecting fellow commuters.

The third thing I always wonder about is age. I like to orient myself as older or younger than whomever I’m talking with. I’m less likely to wonder about the age of someone I simply see, but I definitely want to know how old my friends, acquaintances, and coworkers are. It’s the thing that’s closest to my need to know what time it is.

I’m just curious; I just like to have information. I have had friends and lovers of various ethnicities and combinations thereof, and I’ve learned things about their ancestral cultures, so I would at least try not to ask stupid or offensive questions about ethnicity. And I’m not just curious about whether someone is, say, Korean or Japanese. I’m curious if someone is Dutch or German, Spanish or Italian, Chilean or Argentinian. I’m an equal-opportunity busybody, apparently.

I have no real need to know someone’s heritage, gender, or age, but my curiosity is simple and sincere.

And I know I sound like some cranky conservative kvetching, “These days you can’t ask a simple question without someone getting offended!” The thing is, I don’t want to offend anyone, and so I don’t ask any of these questions except when I know for certain it won’t be taken badly. Actually, I’d never ask a gender question, but age and ethnicity I will occasionally venture into.

Oh, and I’m English/Scottish/Danish, about to turn 47, and a cisgender woman. Just in case anyone wondered.

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Lukewarm

Although I’ve thrown my hands up about the whole religion issue, there are several Bible verses that stick with me. One of them I use when I am borrowing trouble and worrying about what will happen tomorrow and the next day and the next. One is the second half of Matthew 6:34 in the KJV rendering: Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

And then there’s Revelation 3:15-16: I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

I feel so lukewarm. And by that I don’t mean that I am apathetic (although lately I’ve been having spates of apathy). I mean that in so many ways I have completely competing desires, and I find myself flailing in the middle.

  • Ethically, I would far prefer to be a vegetarian. But I don’t find a vegetarian diet satisfying; it’s much harder to plan meals; and then there’s chicken, which I love love love. My wishy-washy solution to this is to eat only chicken and, very rarely, some fish. The fact that I don’t eat mammals (or ducks) is probably not a lot of comfort to chickenkind.
  • About that not eating mammals. I do wear/carry leather. I guess at least the animals’ sacrifices are much more long-lasting than a meal, but OTOH, do I need to have a leather purse? Shoes are harder — you can’t find many comfy, breathable, decent-looking non-leather shoes in 10WW. Still.
  • I wish with my whole heart I’d been born and raised in Europe — the UK or France for preference, but anywhere in the EU really.  I can’t read accounts of people who get to move there (unless this is pre-WWII stuff), because it breaks my heart in pieces. I tried to move once and failed miserably and I became discouraged. That was 24 years ago. Now I am firmly ensconced here, with a secure job and a house and animals, and if someone handed me an EU passport tomorrow I would be paralyzed with fear and might not even go. This is my biggest “I want two mutually exclusive things” issue.
  • For a long time, that’s where I was with religion — part of me wanted to be a pious Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian, while the rest of me was an extremely liberal feminist. At least I’ve finally given up that struggle.
  • I struggle between believing in Fat Acceptance and saying, “I’m me; get off my back” and applauding people who embrace their lives and bodies…and wishing I weighed 130 pounds. The last time I weighed 130 pounds I was ten. It’s never going to happen.

Of course I have normal conflicts like “I wish I were a morning person so I could get up, have coffee and breakfast before I leave instead of rolling out of bed 12 minutes before I’m in the car,” “I really should get up off the couch, off the computer, and do something around here,” and “I should go to the farmer’s market and get locally grown, cheaper stuff, but the time window for that is so small and the grocery store is open until 11 PM.” But that’s not the same thing, because I don’t really want to get up early, do chores around the house, or…well, maybe the farmer’s market one works.

I’m really not sure what to do when I want two completely mutually exclusive things, especially when both choices are equally attainable. With the Europe thing, I should probably just learn to live with staying in the United States, since one choice is my current reality and the other is seriously difficult to get (even if I could get over my paralysis).

Somehow I think I thought by the time I was this age I’d have more things figured out. My bedroom seems like an apt metaphor for this — when I was growing up, parents’ bedrooms looked like something out of a hotel or, at least, a motel. Neatly made bed, a dresser or two, nothing strewn about, only actual tasteful framed stuff on the walls. My room? I never make my bed, ever — never have. My dresser has random stuff dotting it. My nightstand is piled with books, and the floor next to my bed has more books, whatever purse I’m carrying, and a laundry basket on it. Often the rocker has clothes tossed over it. I do have only framed art on the walls, but one corner has no art on the walls, a big mirror propped against the wall, a chair, a foot pedaler, and a big floor fan. It looks like the room of a twentysomething.

Yeah. It’s an apt metaphor. Now if only I moved and looked like I was still in my twenties!

 

Caturday

Yesterday was a lovely, perfect day. I woke up amazingly early for me — 8.45 — and spent the day reading (I finished Autoportrait, about which more another time), putting Post-Its in my new Christmas-gift cookbooks (What Katie Ate, Smitten Kitchen, and Homemade Winter), knitting, blocking finished knitting, watching a little tv, drinking tea, and watching my housemates be this relaxed:

 

comfy alexander

I also had some assistance with the blocking:

 

feline blocking assistance

It was pretty much my ideal day.

Minor Ex Flail

Maybe.

With working in this new unit, I don’t get out of the office as quickly as I once did. So I have been getting a train home on the same line my ex-husband takes, assuming he still lives in the same city I last knew him to live in.

I basically keep my head in a book; I would be on the train before him, so he could see and avoid me. I give him the chance to do that by not gazing around the train.

Tonight I was sitting in the first row of seats, with the handicapped seats immediately in front of me, perpendicular against my knees. An older woman with a cane was sitting there until a couple of stops before mine. Then a guy sat down.

A little bit before my stop, I put my book away. And looked at the guy.

Hmmm.

Unlike a couple of years ago, when I very definitely saw my ex on the platform, I’m not entirely sure about this guy. He was playing on his phone and did not look up (which is what my ex-husband did on the platform that other time). He was heavier than my ex, but I haven’t seen said ex close up in ten years. I was trying to see his earlobe, which would bear the faint scar of a piercing, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t see if he had a wedding ring on. I was thinking, “I think D’s nostrils flare a little more than that… but this guy can’t grow much facial hair, which would fit…his hand on his knee. Does that hand look familiar? Is it weird that I was married to someone and I’m having a hard time telling if this guy is him or not? If he were wearing shorts I’d see the scars [from his ill-fated adolescent jump into a river full of rocks], but no…”

His eyes, in profile, were exactly like my ex’s, which was enough to make me uneasy. I got up before the train stopped at my station and I did not look back.

It felt weird, both because I practically had my knees jammed up against a guy who may have once been my husband, and because I could not quite tell if it were him.

The one convincing argument that it wasn’t is that he sat down almost on my lap. I don’t look that different — heavier, but essentially the same. And I have red hair, glasses, and a way-too-big chest — people do tend to remember me, for better or worse.

Home safe now though. And only one more work day this week! Hallelujah!

Square Peg

…which is always the first thing I think of when I think of Sarah Jessica Parker.

And it doesn’t exactly describe me, but I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing lately. I remember as a teenager reading magazines and I’d stress over them trying to pigeonhole their readership into things like athletic (no); studious (yes); romantic (sure); and various other slots. I never fit into any of them and it drove me nuts. I was insufficiently sophisticated to say screw it, these don’t apply to me.

That kind of thing segued into my “almost, but not quite” era. I went to a great women’s college — but unlike almost every other student there at the time, I didn’t live on campus. Unlike almost all the other commuting students, I lived with my parents.

Later I worked in Silicon Valley during the dot-com bubble — but I was paid less than anyone save the receptionist (maybe); I was certainly not buying houses or sports cars, and though I was married at the time, I was not honeymooning in Italy or sporting a big ring. Boy, did I not fit in there. (When we did buy a car — the cheapest model Corolla — people asked me “What does your husband drive?” Uh…the cheapest model Corolla. That Corolla.)

These days, it’s morphed again. I think about how my pretty traditional theological views clash with my very liberal politics; my deep-rootedness in the United States clashes with my visceral, painfully passionate desire to live in France, Belgium, or the UK; my loneliness clashes with my love of solitude; my firebrand feminism with my longing to be housewife.

To turn some of this tension to good account, I’m using this theme for my NaNoWriMo project. While I wish I could just freaking wholeheartedly commit to something already, I know I’m not the only one who is ambivalent about things, even important things. It’s at least something that gets under my skin, so I won’t be at a total loss on November 1. Which is Friday. Oy!

A Good Friend is Hard to Find (When You’re All Grown Up)

Seriously.

Someone on Facebook said that oh no, she finds it much easier to make friends as an adult since she no longer cares if people like her or not. She also says there are plenty of single people out there who want to hang out.

She and I live in very different milieux.

What I find it that it’s more difficult than it was when you had classes with people roughly your age with roughly the same interests, with whom you could fall into a going-to-coffee routine, or a studying routine, or a going-out-and-drinking routine, or whatever. And I also find that most of the people I meet are partnered, and from observation I’ve seen that partnered women are less likely to ditch their SOs and go out with their female friends for anything other than a daytime excursion than partnered men are to ditch their SOs and go out at night with their buddies.

That’s probably not true across the board, but from the partnered women I know I hear tales of their guys going out without them, but they never either tell me of going out without the guys or, indeed, go out with me without the guys.

Soooo, yeah.

The thing is, I don’t want to join a club or a group or something. A book club was suggested, which is a bad idea for me. I tried one once and it didn’t go well, as I should have guessed since I don’t care for genre fiction of any kind, except maybe mysteries sometimes, and my attempts to suggest serious literary fiction were met with subdued enthusiasm, shall we say. Also, I don’t want another obligation (“Book club Thursday at 7:30! Must read book first!”) or a recurring appointment I must keep. I just want friends with whom I can hang out, or go do one-off, non-über-organized things.

I may have to give that idea up and either decide that solitude (broken up by rare episodes of socializing when one of my partnered friends can get away) is the way to go, or that I have to take on obligations of the “club” variety in order to make some new friends.

I know I’ve said this before — maybe here, maybe not — but I used to watch Friends and think that although I wouldn’t like people barging into my apartment without knocking (and I’d lock my door), I yearned for a group of friends who all knew, liked, and socialized with each other. Obviously that was idealized, but I had a version of that in high school, when I was in Rainbow and my good friends were either also in Rainbow or in Job’s or DeMolay. It was a bigger group, of course, comprising at least one Rainbow Assembly, a Bethel, and both local and area DeMolay guys, and we weren’t all best buds, but there was a lot of common socializing both via our Masonic youth groups and outside but with the same group. My first real boyfriend (who turned 50 on Saturday! Ye gods! He was older than I was but still) was a DeMolay guy, and all our common friends were in the Masonic family.

But now I’m an adult and I need to find a new way. When I was married I was okay with hunkering down with my husband. Before that, most of my friends were single, so much more available. Now… it’s tough. I’m at a bit of a loss. Hopefully I can figure something out because while I do not want to be busy every night of the week (how exhausting), I am a little tired of the status quo.

Good times!

(Don’t suggest joining Eastern Star based on the above. I actually can, now that they admit Rainbow Majority Members, but I am way too far to the left. When I was in high school, politics didn’t really matter so much and we certainly didn’t discuss them at your average DeMolay Sweetheart Ball,  you know?)

This!

I was reading a Salon article about Miranda July and she said this:

I’m most interested in people close to me. I’m pretty scrupulous about not reading my husband’s email, but I always delight in getting a CC: with a long payoff and seeing how he engaged with someone else. … You’re seeing them in an unfamiliar way.

Have you ever run into your partner or your friend out in the world? It’s so thrilling! If you live together — it seems remarkable to say, I just saw you and you were walking down the street like a normal person!

I couldn’t agree more. I always loved, when I was in a relationship, to see my partner interact with people in an unfamiliar-to-me role. It could be seeing them at work, getting forwarded an email exchange they had with someone else, or even something like the time my half-Mexican then-husband and I were in his Texas border hometown and  went to a bakery in one of the entirely-Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. He was in search of a pastry from his childhood, and had the entire conversation in Spanish. I never heard him speak Spanish (which he only sort of speaks, though he understands) in normal life. It was deeply cool.

(He never did find the pastry. Had I been a better wife I’d have done some research and made them myself. Sorry, ex-husband.)

 

 

Whirlwind to LA

Two weeks before I went to PDX to binge on books, I went to LA to stay with a friend from college. I needed to get out of town, out of the house, out of my rut and routine.

It was awesome (pics to follow tomorrow, most likely). I flew from SFO to Burbank early Saturday morning. A picked me up and we dropped my stuff off at her lovely book-and-art-filled home. Then we went to have brunch, because I’d been up for way too many hours without breakfast, after which we went to the Getty Center. It was hot outside and lovely inside; we wandered and then had dinner at the cafe. That night, we went to the Farmer’s Market for a decadent dessert; I want to go back during the day when more of the shops are open, but the store filled with French items was open and I got the Opinel knife I’d been wanting. Then we wandered around The Grove, which is essentially a small Disneyland for adults (or shoppers of most any age).

After going back to her house and talking for awhile, we hit the sack, and got up the next day to go to the Getty Villa, which was having an exhibition of Greek art in Sicily. First, we stopped at A’s Beverly Hills office so I could print my boarding pass, which engendered two feelings in me: Wow, that I should have a friend who has a great job in a place like this and Wow, my office is absolutely nothing whatsoever like this.

After the museum and lunch, we got my stuff and she dropped me off at the airport early, as she had a work event to attend that night. Burbank is such a tiny airport that from the time I presented my ID and ticket to the first TSA guy to the time I was putting my shoes back on on the other side, no one but me went through security. Once through, there was a corner turned into a kind of kiosk for aspirin and magazines and the like; a bathroom; a Peets; and a bar. That was all. I read and had iced tea and sat and mused.

Though I was very happy to go to the museums and to go back down to LA for the first time in over ten years, I went mostly to get away in the psychological/emotional sense. It was perfect for that.

A is about as different from me as you can get in many ways — all of them good. She’s a happy extrovert — she truly likes people in general although she is very opinionated and probably even more liberal than I am.  She does not suffer fools but she is gracious and friendly and as long as the fool is not evil she doesn’t get too bent out of shape. She is not prone to serious depression. She’s a lawyer, though she  works in the entertainment industry not practicing law; she is also the nicest lawyer I’ve ever met and possibly the most unpretentious one in the state of California. (I do have other lawyer friends who are great people, but she’s just completely the antithesis of what you’d think “attorney in LA” would be like.) Whereas I have kneejerk “throw up my boundaries/defenses” reactions, she has “oh, this person may be interesting” reactions. She probably doesn’t get irritated when people in an empty bathroom choose the stall next to hers like I do. (I’ve been known to sigh semi-audibly, “Really? With all these stalls open?”) She chatted up one of the Villa security guards who told us stories about how J. Paul is buried on the property and one of his wives comes and leaves flowers on his grave every year. Had I been alone I’d have just smiled at the guy and walked on. That sort of thing. She’s stayed in touch with a huge number of people we went to college with — close touch, so she will travel across the country to a birthday party or other event to see some of them, and is privy to the everyday workings of their lives, rather than just their Facebook statuses. I have not done that. I am FB friends with several Mills alumnae, but A is the first one I’ve seen in many years. And I live one freeway exit from Mills.

Damn, there was another point I wanted to make, but the heat/carpool commuting during the BART strike/getting to work at 6:30 AM/etc. has apparently taken its toll and it’s completely slipped my mind.

Anyway, being with her made a certain problem that has been nagging me, depressing me, and making me cry, sort of dissolve away, at least for the weekend. Since she’s from my college past, it was also a reminder of a happy time when I was young and full of potential — and when I was surrounded by women who were passionate about ideas and full of confidence. We hadn’t been beaten down yet, and A still isn’t. Since I’ve been home I’ve tried to channel my inner A sometimes, and while it takes effort on my curmudgeonly, introverted, homebody bookworm part, it often turns out well. It was definitely good medicine for a tired spirit, in any case! I will never be quite like her, but copying some of her happy traits can only be a good thing.

Grabbing Life

I once worked with a woman who’d been in Africa in the Peace Corps, was a graphic designer when I knew her, and was in general the sort of adventurous, fearless soul you’d expect from a nomadic gal in her 20s.

She was always telling me — timid, anxious, still-living-in-my-hometown me — to “grab life by the balls.”

I remember sitting across a table from her in a pub in San Francisco when she reiterated her advice. Our coworkers were drinking beer and throwing darts. I’d had one ill-advised go at the dartboard and had retreated to a booth with my hard cider.

I didn’t even know what to do to grab life by the balls or any other part of life’s anatomy. Have a wild affair? I wished — this was just barely pre-Internet, when the sexual possibilities for the shy and not conventionally pretty were a lot more limited. Travel? I was a broke proofreader. I was not the Peace Corps type. (On the ground, anyway. In theory I was all over it.) Be creative? But… how? That’s such a vague directive.

Auntie Mame’s observation that “life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death” certainly applied to life-starved me.

I drifted through my 20s, married badly at 30, separated worse at near 35, divorced anti-climactically at 37, got better jobs, made better money, made the same romantic mistakes I’ve always made, and found life eventually calmer and less difficult for the most part. I finally preferred being single (handy, that). I indulged my intellectual curiosity in history and theology and literature. Finally finally finally I got to do more traveling — the one life-ball-grabbing thing that was both obvious and intensely desirable to me. I bought a townhouse, something I’d never wanted to do  — and it’s impinging financially on my wanderlust — but I’m enjoying it.

Life was a sort of balance between cozy domesticity of the kind I crave — cooking, puttering around the house, knitting, reading — and more outward-directed stuff — working in San Francisco instead of the suburbs, traveling to Europe alone, occasionally venturing out of my social comfort zone.

I’ve been reflecting lately on two things: First, whatever kind of life banquet you prefer, it’s generally easier to avail yourself of some if you have money (the exceptions being things like joining the Peace Corps before you take on obligations, being willing to live in some pretty straitened circumstances, or still living with your family, or perhaps being the sort of extrovert who has lots of friends, who may be able to slip you in places you couldn’t otherwise afford).  This in and of itself can be problematic. It does depend on what you’re aching to do, certainly, and some things are much more financially reachable than others. But if you’re truly skint, you’re probably thinking more about making ends meet. And if you’re just not flush with cash, your options are more limited.

Second, I’m feeling a little bored and unfulfilled. The aforementioned housing purchased has made me much less able to buy a plane ticket somewhere (although I am going to LA in two weeks and Portland in four — but they’re quick overnights, my lodging in LA is free and in Portland is only costing me $44). I’m no longer a broke proofreader, but I don’t have a large surplus of ready cash.

Another constraint is nearly entirely self-imposed: My age. I’m not old, and when I’m 75 I’m sure I will look back at 2013 me and think YOUNGSTER. Yet I was raised by older parents who were quite staid by my age. And in the back of my head I guess I have some pretty firm age-related categories: I keep telling myself I’m too old for X, Y, or Z — even though I still feel about 30 and I’m probably not really too old anyway.

Beyond finances and age, though, I’m back to the basic question I faced circa 1993 , sipping my cider and wondering how on earth I could even begin to take my friend’s advice.

So here I am at great length, wondering: What should I do? Given the fact that work + commute = ~12 hours a day, and I’m not rolling in money, and I can only go so long before I need some peace and solitude.

I have thought of four long-term goals (more on those later) although I’m not sure they are entirely what I’m going for here. Or if they’re even attainable themselves. But I don’t want to waste any more aimless years!

Still Mad

I’m still mad about that Ravelry thread where the European person said, “We don’t recognize you as one of us because culture is more than DNA and I really don’t understand Americans’ obssession with their roots.”

I saw red when I read that and I’m still angry and here’s why:

As I said in that thread, being American is a citizenship, not an ethnicity. My Mexican, Chinese, and black friends who hold that blue passport are as American as I am. We may all have been born here; maybe some of us weren’t. We may all have English as our first language; many of us don’t. We have the same citizenship and, to a certain extent, the same current culture, but not at all the same heritage.

So what does that leave me? I am from a country where there is no shared heritage, and the people whose blood and heritage I DO share repudiate me. So I got nothin’.

And she wonders WHY Americans are tied to their ancestral homelands? I really don’t see it as any great mystery. Other people feel, as I do, that where we come from matters and is, surprise surprise, WHERE WE COME FROM. When I’ve been in England, I feel deeply, viscerally, that THIS IS WHERE I’M FROM, THESE ARE MY PEOPLE, THIS IS WHERE I BELONG. I never feel that way in the United States where I have lived my entire life.

Whether Europeans such as she like it or not, I AM actually English, Scottish, and Danish. She can scoff and say, “No you’re not, you’re American; two to three generations in the US completely negates, for instance, your English heritage going back to the thirteenth century; we don’t care if you speak our language and your family kept European traditions and you look so British that when you’re in Europe people assume you are; go away and be a good little rootless American” but I angrily reject that.

I will probably always have to live here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t consider the places where my blood and soul come from my home in a deeper sense. And I needed to get this all out because I found myself thinking about this stupid thread from time to time and getting rather worked up over it. She will never read this, but I feel better anyway.