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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fathers' Day

My dad was not a Fathers' Day dad. While he always appreciated gestures of love and kindness, he really kind of liked them to happen organically and not because the calendar said it was Fathers' Day, or his birthday, or Christmas. Last year on Fathers' Day, I stressed because I really didn't have the money to drive down to visit him (last summer was tough), and he said, "Don't worry, really. I know you love me!" and that was that. I don't even know what he did that day. Since my brother lives in town and has his own three young children, I assume they spent time hanging out together. It's nice. I didn't think twice about it, because my dad had given up guilt trips years ago. I thought maybe this year things would be different, I could take that Sunday off work and go hang out with my dad.

And now I don't have a dad to hang out with.

The typical, expected things trip me up, of course. Sunday's looming and I work retail (all weekend, in fact). Fathers' Day stuff is everywhere. My mother moved out of our family's home and into one she had built herself just yesterday. I thought about how I'd never stand in the same spots as my father now that another family is living in that house, and I did break down for a few minutes. I was alone, and it was okay. (Crying makes people uncomfortable, even people who love you very much, and I understand the discomfort.) But I'm not as sad as I thought I would be at this point. In August, I was certain the world was going to stop, at least for a couple of days. Now it's just Our Lives, minus Dad.

I've been trying to think of what to do on Fathers' Day this year. My kids will be with their own dad, and I'm sure my spouse and father-in-law will try to take some time together. Now it turns out I'm working that evening, and I think the time between church (which I might skip because reasons) and work will be spent doing things around the house and not thinking about not having a dad. I should call my brother up and tell him Happy Fathers' Day. He is such a loving father to his three kids. I might even tell my ex-husband Happy Fathers' Day since, even though we disagree on a lot, he is also a loving father to our kids, giving them new experiences in the outdoors and ensuring they have a good relationship with their Taiwanese grandparents.

I'm so grateful I had my dad for thirty-six-and-a-half years. I think the only thing worse than missing a parent is having had one who wasn't worth missing. A lot of my adolescence was spent with us yelling and misunderstanding one another, but I spent the 21 years I lived in my parents' home waking up and falling asleep in the knowledge that they loved me just as I was.

If you're estranged from a loved one, no matter who you think is at "fault," I promise you that there is no day like today to bridge the distance. You might not get the response you want. But as the cliche goes, we are not promised tomorrow. Being right isn't always important. When it comes to a parent, child, sibling, or dear friend who might not be what we want them to be, our convictions don't matter nearly as much as being sure they feel our love above all other things. And if you have a dad, tell him you love him...even if he says he doesn't care about Fathers' Day!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer Reading Log: Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America

I just finished Jeff Chu's Does Jesus Really Love Me? last night.

I enjoyed the book, but not without reservation. I found myself getting angry at him for playing devil's advocate with the Phelps family of Westboro (but I also learned a lot about them that I didn't know). I felt he was taking the easy way out with some of his questions, but then I came to his interviews with Ted Haggard and Jennifer Knapp.

Those two sections alone are worth picking up the book.

Ted Haggard (I'm not even going to try to link to him, so many horrible things were said about the man that you might not find a worthy link) speaks so humbly about grace and acceptance and forgiveness. I found myself tearing up. While he may still be in denial about a couple of things regarding his own sexuality, he absolutely has opened the door to community and grace for anyone. I was expecting a hardened, inflexible wooden man, but Chu paints him in a beautiful light.

Jennifer Knapp is open, intelligent, and wants to help the hurting. Her heart for those who have been cast out, or who fear they may be, is burning brightly. She talks of her coming to faith in college and then her desire to be able to live a full and open life as a Christian and a lesbian.

Chu also interviews a lot of people who, after coming out within the church, eventually left not only church but faith all together. I'm not convinced it is related to one's sexual identity but has more to do with the way people are treated in what are supposed to be "safe spaces." Plenty of fervent believers eventually leave Christianity and move on to something else, or to nothing at all.

 The conclusion is of course Jesus loves you. But church is human, and humans fail. I feel Chu's book should make my fellow Christians strive more for love and acceptance, and return repentance to its proper PRIVATE place.

Summer Reading Log: Stories from Jonestown

As a kid, I had some strange and varied obsessions (my children have followed in my footsteps): ghost stories, urban legends, the supernatural, and Jonestown and the Peoples' Temple. When we finally had cable, I was able to indulge not only in books about my favorite subjects but made-for-television movies. I watched Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones every time it came on television. Powers Boothe captivated me as the charismatic leader, and I would wonder in my head if I would ever possibly find myself following someone like that. The members of the Peoples' Temple seemed like smart people. I was a smart person. How did smart people get in situations like that?

Leigh Fondakowski and her partners do a great job capturing stories of people who are survivors of Jonestown, either because they left or because they were in Georgetown the night of the mass killing, or because they are family members who watched daughters, sons, grandchildren, sisters, and brothers leave for Jonestown. They are the ones left behind to tell stories.

The format is a bit dry but works well for telling these tragic stories. Fondakowski is a great reporter and journalist. She worked on The Laramie Project.Survivors share repeatedly how demeaning it is to say the members of the Peoples' Temple were "brainwashed," and how they cringe when someone uses the careless phrase "drank the Kool-Aid." You'll find that many believed in the utopian, Marxist society Jones said he was trying to build. Remember this started in an era of racial turmoil, in Indianapolis, which was known for its racism.

Interviews with Jones' children are especially enlightening.

If you're interested in getting beyond the sensationalism of Jim Jones' charisma, drug abuse, and sexual conquests, and instead want to read heartbreaking and hopeful stories from survivors of his society, Stories from Jonestown is a good place to start.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer Reading Log: The Dangerous Animals Club

I read the first half of Stephen Tobolowsky's Dangerous Animals Club in the waiting room of a Firestone store in Pelham, Alabama. We got there at 6:55 for a 7 am brake appointment and had the pleasure of staying until 9:45. Surrounded by Men's Men (too old to be Dudes), my spouse passed the time listening to my sometimes-nearly-uncontrollable laughter.

Stephen Tobolowsky is funny. You've seen him in things.

Dangerous Animals Club is full of funny. Life is funny. Hopefully, you laugh a lot at things that happen to you now, or you can at least look back and laugh at things that happened to you Back In The Day. Tobolowsky tells lovely stories from early childhood (he had a happy childhood in Texas, a loving family, and stable relationships, and STILL somehow manages to be funny). But he doesn't spare us the uglier side of his early days in Los Angeles, including drug use and accidentally speaking inappropriate Spanish in a children's theatre production.

Chronicled heavily is his relationship with playwright Beth Henley, which lasted for fourteen years. He also talks a lot about his wife Ann and their two sons. Something that piqued my curiosity is that he mentions the first time he married his wife. I didn't see any other details about that, but it was intriguing to me. Hopefully he'll write another memoir and talk about how he and Ann met.

Some moments caught me off guard with their emotional candor. I enjoy a funny book peppered with sweet and somber moments. It's so reflective of life, isn't it?

Perhaps the best thing about this book is that you do not have to read it in sequence. I'm glad I did, but the chapters are arranged in such a way that while the previous information may be useful, it's not necessary to get joy out of the story. My attention span is often so spotty that I need to keep more books like this on hand.

You'll get a picture of this wonderful character actor as a whole child, a clumsy but talented adult, loving partner/spouse/parent, and curious Jew. You'll get some neat little Hollywood stories that aren't sycophantic but instead inspiring.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Summer Reading Log: The Alchemist

My first summer book (yes, I know it's still spring) is Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. It's the story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy, and his quest for his destiny. On his journey to discover this destiny, he encounters a king, a thief, a crystal merchant, an Englishman/student, and, as the title suggests, an alchemist. Each character plays an important role in Santiago's discovery.

The Alchemist is a simple book, and I am late in reading it. It was released in the 1990s. I remember seeing it in bookstores, reading about it in magazines, hearing friends talk about it. Perhaps I wasn't ready for magic of the story. Maybe the personal revelations that come about when one reads a story like this were going to be too much for me at the time. My subconscious was right in having me wait until age 37, this particular point in my life, to read about Santiago's journey from Spain to Egypt.

In Santiago's story, every movement, word, and encounter are vital. Before I read, I wondered if this was just going to be one of those "young man" stories that I'd read a thousand times before and found only halfway relatable. Indeed, The Alchemist focuses on a young man's journey and his heart, but his yearnings are universal: purpose and love.

With its simple and magical language, The Alchemist brings alive the search for meaning and all the human trappings that humble us along the way. I am even recommending this story for my rising fifth-grader, who loves fables and fantasies.

Have you read this book? What do you think?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Summer Reading

Now that I am mostly over my haircut trauma (but only mostly, as my patient spouse will agree), I can focus on logging all the books I'm reading this summer (summer being the time between school getting out and then starting back up again). I am not really a great book reviewer, but I am going to blog about the books I read and my opinions of them for those who might be interested. The other night, my mother-in-law asked me if I'd kept a notebook of all the books I'd read in college and I was sad to report that I didn't. Some I am sure I must have enjoyed beyond just their academic value. But it's been almost 15 years and I don't remember a lot of them.

I'm keeping a log of the titles to turn in at my local public library, which has a great adult reading program with gift cards and Kindle Fires as prizes. I've talked in the past about my trouble with reading fiction (I lack the patience), so I've been forcing myself to read a fiction book each month. My book-heart is really in memoirs that aren't all feel-goody and then in books about nature, especially birds and bugs. I was never interested in being a field biologist, so I can't explain my fascination with those books except that when I was very young, my mother worked at the University of Kentucky bookstore and got us this little set of beautifully illustrated reference books specifically about bugs and birds. I spent hours looking at them as a child (even as a teenager) and still, when I am at my mother's house, like to pick them up again.

My girls are doing the summer reading program here as well (they have a GREAT prize room for kids!), and our library offers free movies in the comfort of their lovely indoor theater, so we can escape the heat of the day. Earlier this week, my spouse and I went to see Grease on the big screen there.

I really think my favorite thing about this move has been moving around the corner from the library.

Check back here in a couple of days for the first few books in my Summer Reading Blog!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Maybe I Am My Hair After All

I was really excited to go to my hair appointment on Friday. My mother had unexpectedly made an appointment for a big family photo late on Sunday afternoon. My signature curly, past-the-shoulder tresses were starting to get weighed down by frizz and, well, length. Compliments on my hair were like currency for my self-esteem. I'm a big girl, and not slender, so any mainstream attractiveness was attached to my hair. While I didn't like people touching it (they did without asking, all the time), I never got tired of compliments.

Friday I decided to have it cut. I'd discussed it with my spouse to be sure it was a good idea (I have lots of ideas, but only about a third of them are ever good, and that's on one of my smarter days). After some encouragement, I went in to my appointment with the woman who has done a fabulous job with my hair for at least the last four years. She did her thing, and did it well.

And I hate my hair.

I don't hate it because it looks bad. It looks great. The just-below-the-chin length is perfect for my face. My spouse seems to love it. My curls are back. There's no reason to not like this hair, except that I don't. I've been thinking hard about why, and I think I figured it out.

The years my children were young, I kept this same hair style. It's practical. It's still stylish. But those were not happy years for me as a woman. Every area outside motherhood in my life was terrible. I felt subservient and walked on by everyone. I didn't know how to assert myself (and for those who had known me in years past, that might be hard to believe) and I let myself be yelled at and ignored, insulted and disrespected.

It took a tense moment in my home tonight to figure out that this was my issue with hair. It reminds of bad times. Right now, even with the lingering sadness of loss and the stress of making ends meet, I am not not in bad times. My life is wonderful. I have love and affection and affirmation and respect. I am fulfilled in ways I really never thought I would be.

My job now is to turn this new hair into the hair of a new and liberated woman, so I can feel comfortable in it. Empowered. When I looked in the mirror this morning, I saw an overworked and underappreciated Dusti, expected to handle any and every complaint and emergency silently. Tomorrow morning, getting ready for work, I will see a Dusti who can handle her life, and who is not expected to care for others but wanted for that reason, because she is good at it, and because she has the love (if not the temper) required to do these things.

What would your new haircut say about you?