Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Being Good, Divine Eros and Lots of Bitching:
A Gloomy Lenten Post

Here's a very good observation that I certainly agree with:

But the chief lesson I’ve learned is this: no matter our income bracket, geographic location, political affiliation, ethnic background, religion, etc. human beings are fundamentally the same. We all harbor hopes, dreams, aspirations, insecurities and prejudices based on stories we tell ourselves and think of as true. We are all deeply concerned with what other human beings think of us. We all desperately want love. And we have all created ingenious defense mechanisms to protect ourselves when we feel close to rejection or failure.

Those defense mechanisms are what gush like blood through burst arteries from every enraged comment, nasty e-mail or snide article that I’ve come across about myself or my current path. Threaten people, however inadvertently, and they’ll bare their fangs and crush their windpipes against the metal leash in their rush to attack you back. Every single one of us carries around a mental suitcase filled with pride, and an intense need for validation. I am a good, smart, worthy person, and to prove that I need to be RIGHT. I need to make the RIGHT choices, have the RIGHT opinions, the RIGHT career, the RIGHT life. Someone comes along telling us that no, actually what you think is right isn’t right for me, and what’s our first reaction? Tear the motherfucker to shreds.

I think this extreme defensiveness and pride in many (most?) cases comes from a deep-seated existential feeling of insecurity and unworthiness. We need to be told we're good and right because deep down, we're not really too sure. We're not even sure what it means to be a good person. So we vacillate between distracting ourselves with trivialities and adopting and hiding behind some set of ideas we've deemed to be RIGHT, both in order to hide from ourselves the insecurity that looms. Those ideas could be religious, political, ideological, whatever. But neither approach really works well:

I don't know about anyone else, but Pascal's "distraction from wretchedness" becomes more and more my motivation. I find myself singing, not because I like the song, but because old iniquities are coming to mind and I don't want to remember them. I read while I watch movies, because with only one distraction I might notice my fallen state, and the knowledge of how low I am is intolerable.

The only reason I ever do anything good is because the idea of being caught doing something "not good" is so humiliating. It's like "good publicity," rather than public scandal. And I always have the TV on, too, in case my mind wanders from the book I'm reading or the essay I'm writing. and if I sense that a moment is approaching for which I have nothing to distract me from the jagged chasm that is my undistracted mind, I check my email.

I won't attribute the quotes. I'm not sure the authors want to be named. Let me know if I'm wrong.

Now the somewhat odd thing about this insecurity that is so prevalent, especially in this country, is that the majority of this country still claims to be Christian. The central tenet of Christianity is that God is love and that God loves us more than we could ever imagine. Think about that for a second. The gospel says, "For God so loved the world. . . " not, "God tolerated the world most of the time," or "God didn't hate the world too much." Further, it's not simply a disinterested, inert sort of love, but a love more intimate and personal than any we can imagine. God doesn't just love humankind in the abstract, he love individuals: jack, Kate, Larissa, even odious. At least, that's what's preached. But how much do any of us actually believe that? I think more of us, deep down have an inherited, nagging belief in a nasty, heretical sort of god who is angry, vengeful, exacting, and leaves no room for mistake, freedom or love. If we really believed, I mean really, experientially believed that we were personally loved by the Being Who created the universe, would we really be bothered if someone disagreed with us, belittled us, or really, harmed us in any way? Would it matter? The insecurity that compels us to lash out in despair would finally be resolved. Why would we need earthy validation if we knew that our real selves -- not the narrow mean selves we're forced into being -- were forever irrevocably loved.

Love is the lowering of our guard, the setting aside of all those defensive mechanisms because they're no longer needed. It's letting that inner, vulnerable, authentic self act. And it's terrifying. But how can we love and set aside the crutches, the facades, the stratagems if we're terrified? We can't. And here's the paradox -- you can't receive love unless you throw away all that crap that lets you live in this sad broken world. But we still have to live here. You give your best to some people and it gets spat back in your face. You let your real self act only to be forced to a hastily retreat. Hide, lick your wounds and recover, while the protective armour grows ever thicker. This cycle is bad enough when it comes to other human beings. When it comes to God it's nothing short of evil. We have this picture in the back of our minds of a horrid god. You can't love this god, so you try, for awhile, maybe, to appease him, to look good for him. You do all the RIGHT things. But you know it's not you. Your real self retreats further and further and becomes more and more inaccessible to the real love that is the Real God. Or maybe you turn away outright, rebelling with all of your being at the blasphemy that such a monstrosity could govern the universe. But still, you seek love, you hope there is good, real good, not merely rightness, at the back of things.

Worse yet, the fear and insecurity eventually can, and does, deform the soul, making it smaller, less noble, less recognizable as a being that, as C.S. Lewis says, "if you saw it [a transfigured soul in all its glory] now, you would strongly be tempted to worship." At that point, it's not a matter of rightness, or fault, but what the soul has become:

'But it can't be that the Lord will lay sin to our account," said the woman; 'He won't charge it to us, when we're forced to it; he'll charge it to them that drove us to it.'

'Yes,' said Tom; 'but that won't keep us from growing wicked. If I get to be as hard-hearted as that 'ar Sambo, and as wicked, it won't make much odds to me how I come so; it's the bein' so -- that ar's what I'm a dreadin'.' Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

And that ar's what I'm a dreadin' too.

Where to leave this post? I know, with the deepest part of me that it is real goodness at the back of things. But how to reach it? Still, I fear and am reluctant to "become transparent," good advice I heard not too long ago. I don't want to admit, even to myself, the shortcoming, the frustrations, the lack of love on my own part. Why? Because I'm afraid someone (God?, myself?, society? some psychological fragment from the past?) will say, "See, I was right all along. You've admitted it. I always knew you'd prove me right."

The real tragedy in Eden was not that they ate the fruit and disobeyed. The real tragedy was that they believed a lie about God -- that He wasn't good. Any real attempt at change, progress or repentance must start with healing that fundamental wound.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Here's something funny: the spell check on blogger doesn't recognize the word "blog." Go figure.

Bored at work today, I succumbed to temptation and started checking out the server blogs. I've been a fan of the Waiter's for awhile now, after discovering him after a very trying shift last summer. I think I read almost the entire blog at one sitting, cheering and laughing hilariously (I'm sure the vodka didn't hurt). From there I've clicked around to Server Stories, The Insane Waiter and Bitter Waitress (and she's not kidding!). I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I am a bit, at seeing how it's the same job, whether you're in NYC, the Midwest, Oregon or New Mexico. The verbal tips, the uncontrolled kids, the awkward dates, the mind games, the nasty passive-aggressive menopausal women who hate you because you're still young and cute and won't let them sit there until midnight when all they've eaten is a cup of soup and a half a salad between them. But we have our own cast of characters here in Santa Fe that I haven't seen on any of the other blogs. We call them the crazies, but there are sub-groups: crazy old hippies, crazy yuppies, crazy tourists and crazy old regulars. They're not just obnoxious and clueless, but there's something about them that makes you keep just a bit of distance from the table and always have the wine key close at hand. Sometimes very close. Open, even.

After turning my brain to mush at my new non-restaurant job, I needed a break. Inspired by my blog reading I went by the old restaurant to say hi and see who had gotten fired since I'd left last month. It was a slow lunch so I was talking to the hostess when another waitress came up to say hi. As we were chatting a couple left, a man in his fifties and a lady who appeared to be his mother.

"Everything was great," she says. "Too much food but great."

We smile and say something mindless and they leave.

"Wasn't she all dolled up?" says the hostess.

And she was too. In her 70s or 80s, heavy makeup, brightly dyed hair (or wig), with a sour, petulant look on her face, carrying a large, black purse with that fluffy trim that looks like a small fuzzy animal is trying to make its escape.

"Did you see her eyelashes?" the waitress asks, "Well, she took them off and put them on her plate! I thought they were a spider or something until I realized what they were. They were all sparkly."

Eyelashes? I can see wiping off lipstick when eating or even taking out a retainer if necessary but eyelashes? Maybe she was having a hard time seeing her food.

We had a lady one night who asked for grenadine in her water, to "give it a kick." Water, mind you, not sparkling water, not club soda, flat tap water. When the waitress went back to the table the lady was passing it to her two dining companions, all obviously excited about this new culinary sensation.

Then there's the lady who takes her toy poodle with her into restaurants, dressed up in doll clothes and jewels (I hope they're not real, but you never know). If anyone complains she has a doctor's note, saying she needs the dog for "health reasons."

There's more, oh so much more, but it's getting late and I just had to re-type the half of the post that the computer just ate.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Listening to Irish punk while drinking beer (no whisky in the house, probably a good thing) is a great way to celebrate St. Paddy's day and lift one's spirits a bit after two weeks of Lent. Of course, the Catholics get a dispensation for corned beef today. No such luck for those of the eastern persuasion. I'm tempted to sniff and feel a bit superior until I remember hearing that the ancient Irish monks were allowed game in honor of the saint -- a huge boon, since traditionally monastics don't eat meat at all, especially during Lent! Certainly one of the beauties of Christianity is its insistance on the ability of the material to represent and even interact with the spiritual. I had a somewhat coherent post in mind, but as I try to order my thoughts my sweet husband has taken to singing the praises of whisky with the closest equivalent in the house: tequila, e.g. "There's nothing like whisky to make maidens frisky."Oh dear. Maybe a coherent post will have to wait until tomorrow.