Sunday, December 27, 2009

December is About Music

Music is number two on my list of the five best things in life. Number one is love. That includes both friends, family and lovers. But music is number two. I love jazz, rock, some country, folk and blues. I love hearing new stuff. I'm not a fan of hip-hop, but I could be. I love learning-I just need someone to help me select the good stuff---whatever does not include cocky people rapping about how much money they have, or bitches and hos etc. But I digress. Having grown up in the late 60s/early 70s, I guess the classic rock genre defines me the most. Early in December I watched the HBO special "Rock and Roll Anniversary Hall of Fame Concert." Mostly I watched it because of the presence of my musical hero, Stephen Stills. But several more of my lesser heros also showed up, and it affected me to the soul. Their faces are weatherworn, and their voices are careworn., but the music....ah, yes; the music. If I had to pick some songs that defined me, they are probably all by Jackson Browne. I remember in 1972, when "Doctor My Eyes" came out, it made me stop and sigh. I know that adolescent teens are pretty impressionable, but that song hit me hard. It made me a rather unlikable person in some ways because it gave me permission to stop thinking about issues and decide where I stood. I was very sure when I got to that point. Very unshakably sure. Since then I've realized that some of those things I was so sure about were wrong, and some just evolved over time. And it has led to me wondering at times which comes first, the teen angst, or the songs about it? By the time he got to "Running on Empty" and "The Pretender," I was done for. After Jackson Browne played came Simon and Garfunkel. Their songs have also stirred me. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Sounds of Silence" were the songs that all the guitar playing girls in my high school performed for the talent shows...and all the other high school girls in the audience sang along. But "The Boxer" made us weep. All those feelings came rushing back through the three hours of the concert. Bruce Springsteen came along at the end of my teen years. I was never a fan..."stadium rock" was not at all for me. As you can probably guess, the 80s were not good musical years for me. But I have a great deal of respect for Bruce when I hear him perform his blues/folk style. I'm became convinced that he simply followed the wrong muse, though with all his fame and money, why he or anyone would care about my opinion is beyond me.

Of course, it could be that my lack of gainful employment, the holiday season, the short days simply made me nostalgic for a time when my life was in front of me and regret was something I couldn't imagine. But it could also be that the television is on too much, and the concert provided a much needed "sanity break" from the free credit report and commercials. When I see that beautiful woman in the white coat singing, "O, o, o, the big, big O" to the tune of Jingle Bells, I wonder what my husband would think if I gave him a gift in a box with a "big O" on it. Would he think, "Cool, I'm off the hook," or "What is she complaining about?" "Where the ads take aim, and lay their claim on the heart and the soul of the spender." These rabbit chases aside, the song that has haunted me ever since that evening is "The Pretender." Yes, I've reached an age when looking back and seeing both what was and what wasn't is a frequent activity. And like the pretender, I had some big dreams that never happened. In all honesty, each one of these failures is ultimately because of one decision or another that I made, so this is not a whine about how life has let me down. This is about how a few great artists have captured the feelings of regret and disappointment that come at times with looking back. "I want to know what became of the changes we waited for life to bring. Were they only the fitful dreams of some greater awakening. I'm aware of the time going by. They say in the end, it's the blink of an eye. And when the morning light comes streaming in, we get up and do it again." It circles in my mind when I walk my dog, and when I look for a job or cook or put laundry away. "I'm gonna rent myself a house in the shade of the freeway. Gonna pack my lunch in the morning, and go to work each day. And when the evening rolls around, I'll go home and lay my body down. And when the morning light comes streaming in, I'll get up and do it again." I was going to be an actor. A writer. I was going to study environmental science and public policy and work to make the US greener. But I'm looking for jobs as a secretary. Or in a retail store. Or a call center. Anything, because I'm "caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender." Ever the egalitarian, I've always held that there is nothing to look down on about honest work of any kind. So why do I feel that I should have done something "bigger?" Is it because of the self-esteem movement? Because I'm a Leo? Because I spent so much time reading books and seeing movies about people who achieved huge dreams through sheer luck. It doesn't really matter why, "where the sirens sing and the churchbells ring and the junkman pounds his fender. And the veterans dream of the fight, fast asleep at the traffic light..." How long does that veteran dream of the fight once the war is over? Is he able to find another way to define his life?

I've been writing this posting in my head for a month. I began putting it down earlier this week, but tellingly, I'm finishing it on New Year's Day 2010. I've been unemployed for four months, and had only one interview in that time. I try to stay optimistic about finding a new job, but that is tough sometimes. Like so many others in this country today, it just seems that I'm spinning my wheels and my unemployment is about to be cut by twenty percent."They strike at the world with all their might, as the ship bearing their dreams sails out of sight."  But this is not only the first day of a new year, it is the first day of a new decade. There are so many reasons to feel hopeful, and not to feel hopeful. On Monday I am very sure that my phone will begin to ring, and some of these applications will begin to play out. I wonder where the "Pretender" is, thirty years on? Could Jackson Browne give me any words of hope? Or does he know someone who is hiring? Because "out into the cool of the evening strolls the pretender. She knows that all her hopes and dreams begin and end there."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Good Movement Gone Bad

Vonnie Shallenberger/ 14 November 2009

I hope none of my liberal friends read this. Many years ago I was working third shift, and occasionally would turn on the TV overnight and watch Rush Limbaugh. I was taught that it helps to fight an enemy if you know his position, so I gave him a shot. One night he got it right. Of course he ruined it later on in the same show, and he hasn’t come close since, but that night in 1993, he said something that I agreed with, and have come to agree with more and more since.

The self esteem movement started out with great intentions. Most social movements do. But then they go too far and lose the truth of the initial premise. I was on the side of the attempt to make children, especially minority and poor children, feel better about themselves. I still am. But the movement lost its soul when it went from trying to help children feel as if they are as good as other people, to being a way of giving children the notion that they are awesome and that the rules set by our civil society do not apply to them. Whether it is simply because children aren’t able to process the information fed to them, or if parents haven’t been taught where the boundaries lie in this message, I don’t know. But it seems to have led to a generation of spoiled, narcissistic young people bent on ruling the world on their terms.

A couple of examples I have personally experienced:

1. A former teacher who is a friend of my family told the story of having corrected a young student in his classroom. This story would not have meant much to me except that the student involved grew up to become Miss America after she graduated. The mother of this student came to visit him, and scolded him for “damaging her self-esteem.” This man responded with, “Madam, nothing could damage your daughter’s self-esteem.” He was not teaching in that school for long after that.

2. I was supervising a third shift call center. I was over three males and one female. The female tended to order everyone around. So one night she gave me an order, and I said, “Please and thank you!” She proclaimed that she did not say please. Please is a begging word and she does not beg. I said, “No, please is a polite word.” She said, “I asked nicely-I don’t need to say please.”

I think where the movement went wrong is in allowing "as good as" to be interpreted as ‘better than,’ which has lead to the crass notion that everything one feels should be aired because every feeling is valid. This has led to a loss of concern for how others feel, a loss of manners, empathy and decorum, and a belief in one’s self that just may not be supportable by the facts. Limbaugh’s remark was that, “Self esteem should be based on something.” I agree-children need to be taught that they are just as good as anyone else. They are neither inferior nor superior to anyone else. Everyone deserves respect-rich, poor, black white, EVERYONE. Every person has a gift. That gift should be encouraged, and children should also be encouraged to explore their interests and discover that gift. But no one can pick a gift-Dad can’t expect Junior to be great baseball player just because Dad was at that age. But the idea that every child should consider him or herself King or Queen of the World is false and dangerous. I recently heard a psychologist talking about self esteem when he was presented with the idea that perhaps serial killers have low self esteem. He said that most serial killers are just the opposite- they tend to be narcissists who believe that the world is not treating them as they deserve. So these people have obviously not been taught that other people deserve respect, have they?

So while Rush Limbaugh may not have learned the lesson he was preaching on that fateful night in 1993, his premise was actually correct.

Marry Me?

I grew up in the south. After I was grown it became known as more “southwest,” but a local humor writer proposes the theory that the “south” is any state that seceded during the war of northern aggression, so Texas counts as the south. My mama is Baptist, and came from rural Arkansas to west Texas, then Fort Worth, where she married very young and raised her five children, four girls and then a boy. I am the oldest of those five. And a dreamer. Always a dreamer. I was going to be an actress. But I am a dreamer. I lived my life in books and movies and dreamed. I emphasize this point because being that much of a dreamer can lead to being that instead of a doer. And those dreams not coming true can lead to great disappointment in later life.

So, besides being a famous actress or writer (or a great writer who gets to star in the movie of her ‘great American novel?”) what do girls growing up in the south in the late 1960s dream of? Marriage. Being a housewife-having a husband who will take care of her financial security, while she takes care of his more personal needs- freshly pressed shirts, happy babies that know how to behave well when Daddy comes home to a delicious meal and lovely dessert. Of course, this family is the pillar of the community and active in the church. This was what every girl dreamed of and planned for. The big wedding with lots of flowers and bridesmaids and the perfect, happy life after. The girls who didn’t dream of this perfect family life got ‘talked about.’ No one wanted to undress next to them in P.E. The ones who didn’t turn out to be gay were simply thought to have something wrong with them that prevented them from meeting that expectation that everyone held to be the natural progression of our lives. I can remember once going to a movie alone; something I still don’t mind doing, and my maternal grandmother saying, “Why, don’t you have a boyfriend to take you to the movie?”

In this day of ‘social networking sites,’ I have been privileged to discover that this dream happened for some of the girls I dreamed with through our high school graduation in 1975. For many of us, though, it didn’t happen quite that way. For me it certainly didn’t. Many of us, including me, greater happiness came the second time around. Some have had to try more than that-some have not found that ‘soul mate’ who can provide the realization of all those dreams.

Now many of us have daughters, and some have granddaughters. What will they dream about? I hope that we are a little further removed from the ancient writings that have led so many of us to that grave disappointment in life that the young girls growing up now will not believe themselves to be lacking in any way if they simply decide that they do not wish to follow that same path. Patterning ones’ life after the expectations of others can only lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

I had a conversation with my nephew a couple of years ago. He will be 29 in 2010, and is a very highly “evolved” young man. He has never been a serial dater, but tends to have one long, serious relationship at a time, and they typically last about 3 or 4 years. The relationship he and I were discussing ended a few weeks ago, but on this particular evening I asked him if he thought that it would end in marriage. His parents were divorced, and his response was, “You know, everyone tells me what hard work marriage is, but no one has come up with a reason that it is worth doing.” We talked about the usual reasons (apart from the moral teachings of the church, which we have both left behind) such as children that marriage is worth doing-besides being partnered with someone you love for a lifetime. He said he believed he could do that without the ceremony…the same answer applied to having children.

Nieces from another sister feel the opposite; they want to get married and have babies. So while there is hope that this won’t continue to be what defines women, it still haunts the edges of our consciousness.

When I began to question the faith I was raised with, one of the things that I noticed about the writings in the bible on wifely behavior didn’t sit well with me. Then I realized that all of them were written by men. I also noticed that men seem to get more out of marriage. I read that women are more likely to describe the relationship is unhappy, and women are more likely to file for divorce. “Of course,” I thought. Marriage was designed by men, and benefits them more-why should they want to end it? Those men spent over 6000 years telling women that they were property, and that they must submit to the authority of their husbands. Why didn’t god tell women that? It just seems suspicious to me for someone to say, “Hey, God told me you have to submit to me or else.” Had I not figured it out on my own, and someone actually told me that, I probably would have to respond with, “Yeah? He’s got my number-tell him to call me himself!”

Women live longer, and work harder to take care of themselves. Women work full time jobs and still wind up with more responsibility for taking care of the house, the kids and elderly relatives. Women have been going to college and graduate school more than men for the last several years. Women have come up with life changing inventions and scientific, mathematical advances, and have worked harder to prove that they are just as smart in math and science as their male counterparts. And yet, women earn .73 to each dollar a man makes, and women still feel inferior if they can’t find someone to marry them? It is time for this paradigm to change. I know that at least one generation after mine still has the notion that traditional marriage and family is the best life path for a woman to take. So my generation may not have been the last to hold this notion, but I do hope it is being chipped away at, and before long, we will not be defined by our ability to find a man to marry.