Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Serious Spiritual/Religious Musings on Ash Wednesday

"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Pretty heady stuff. Tonight I attended my first ever Ash Wednesday service. As religious holidays go, Ash Wednesday doesn't get much press. Certainly not as much as Easter or Christmas. And nowhere, even, near the attention of Shrove Tuesday, which gets the admittedly awesome and more famous name of Fat Tuesday.

It's understandable, really, why Ash Wednesday isn't popular among the masses. Besides the fact that it is meant to be personal, and not done "for the attention of men," it just isn't nearly so fun. There are no parades, no cake, no widespread frivolity, no scandals. Solemn penitence, in general, doesn't capture the imagination of people the way candles, incense, and hallelujahs do. And I'm pretty sure Ash Wednesday has never been associated with gratuitous titty-flashing. Not even in the liberal denominations.

Ash Wednesday is, at its core, a reminder of how frail we are as humans. How fragile and dependent we are upon the next breath, how easily we can die. It's a reminder, too, of our moral frailty. It's a call to self-discipline and mindfulness, for many a call to sacrifice or fasting. I don't know about you, but self-discipline isn't my favorite exercise. Heck, exercise isn't my favorite exercise.

Of course it's not necessary to give something up to observe Lent. Mindful living can just as easily be achived through a willingness to take better care of ourselves or of others, to start a project or speak positively, to reflect on our actions before taking them, to live with intent.

It's a good thing, too, as I have so little left to give up this year. I've lost my home, my income, most of my possesions, many friends, even my health. And I have little time for indulgences. My friend Penny's reaction to my mention of Lent was a profound exclamation: "What are you going to give up? You don't have any vices!"

This is more or less true. I rarely drink alcohol, I take my vitamins, I attend church regularly, and don't have time for television. I'm not even dating (except, perhaps, in the loosest sense of the word). Speaking of loose, I'm not even having sex. If I were, I certainly wouldn't give it up for 40 days!

This year, I'm not giving up anything for Lent. I'm adding something. It's more of an attitude adjustment, really, a determination to steer my life in the direction I want it to go, to be my best self, in several different ways. It's something I've been working on, anyway, but having a particular season in which to focus on it, from a spiritual perspective, gives me, if not clarity, at least direction: For 40 days, I will make choices that take me in the direction I want to go.

There's that mindfulness, that evaluation of what's important to me, and it contains many aspects: rest more, throw away old baggage, avoid toxic relationships and situations, stop wasting time on pointless regrets, and yes, lose weight (more on that in a later post). It certainly doesn't require a Lent or an Ash Wednesday service to make it happen. But I love that there's that spiritual, religious acknowledgment that, yes, this is an important part of life, and--if we're not careful--we may just overlook it. Self-examination is encouraged, at least once a year, for 40 days--not in a morbid, overly critical sense, but in sober acknowledgment that, yes, we are human, and we are frail.

My priest puts it more or less this way: Ash Wednesday is the one day a year when we publicly acknowledge that, yes, we are imperfect. We embrace our imperfection, our humanity. We remind ourselves, through penitence, through liturgical practice, that there is no need to present ourselves as perfect, no need for pretense or false airs. We are all lacking, we are still striving. That is where we find grace.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Stuff That Deserves Valentines (But Probably Won't Get Them)

I'm kind of looking forward to being single this Valentine's Day.

I hope I'm not alone in this. Oh, sure, it means you're not expecting deliveries of balloons, stuffed animals, and roses. But think about this really lovely part: the people at the supermarket have no idea that that giant box of chocolate you're buying isn't for your sweetie but for yourself. And you don't have to share. You can buy the really expensive kind, too, thus completing two goals simultaneously: looking really generous and avoiding inferior candy.

When you're part of a couple, it requires great effort to avoid inferior candy. But not this year!

Another nice thing about being single is that there is no "buy something tacky for someone because it's expected" commercialism to deal with. I mean, that's what Christmas is for. Instead, I propose using this holiday as an opportunity to show love to those (both animate and in-) who are truly deserving of affection.

For example:

Your dog. Your dog loves you. Buy him a treat. Or better yet, scoop up some of that roadkill and let him roll around in it. Come on. You would if you really loved him.

Your laptop. All those hours of entertainment and/or wasted time. About time you got out that can of air and actually used it, right?

Your TV. Ditto.

Your refrigerator. It's the coolest appliance you have and you know it. It holds yummy stuff and serves as an impromptu art gallery. I suggest you show your appreciation with awesome magnets. Or just, you know, a hug.

Your mom. Okay, so she either criticizes you for being single, or criticizes you for dating the wrong kinds of men. But she is your mom. She deserves something. Buy her the cheap chocolate.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Few Tips for the Menz

A guy I work with asked me out on a date last week. He's been working up to it for a couple weeks. You know how it is...the faltering attempts to hint around, to test the waters, to stir up any kind of encouragement. The thing is, they're never so subtle as they think, those guys. And, unfortunately, complete lack of encouragement doesn't faze them, anyway. He still asked.

I don't want you to think I didn't let him down gently. Of course I told him that I don't date people I work with. This is not a lie. So far I've avoided that mistake, and I don't plan to start making stupid mistakes until I reach the point of dating desperation.

The obvious problem is that, no matter how true an excuse it is, everyone knows that, the "no dating people at work rule" only applies to unattractive people. If you like-like someone enough, you'll bend the rule in a heartbeat. Happens every time. So saying "I don't date people at work" is, in essence, equal to "I find you so repellant it overcomes my basic laziness in regards to hook-ups. I'd rather endure awkward conversations with near strangers, despite the high chance of them having weird proclivites."

Inspired by the awkwardness of this event, and a few other recent ones, I thought I'd make a quick list for any straight guys who might happen across my blog. Or you know what? Don't wait. If you know any straight guys, maybe you should print this list out and give it to them. It wouldn't hurt to distribute it widely. Consider this my humanitarian gesture for the week.

Pre-Dating Tips for Menz

1. Just go ahead and ask. Your hints aren't subtle. So stop it. And saying "You'd never go out with me" is a real turn-off, and likely to be true.

2. "I'm always looking for a beautiful woman to take out to dinner" is not cool. You don't sound like a player; you sound insecure. Because you are.

3. If you run into a cute girl at Driver Control and want to ask her out, it's probably best not to tell her you were arrested for DWI. Mentioning that you're in grad school will probably not change her opinion that you're an idiot, either.

4. If you believe "My psychiatrist thinks I'm ready to start dating again" is an acceptable opening line, your psychiatrist is wrong. Learn a few basic social skills first.

5. Horny old men: You are not funny or even remotely appealing. You're creepy. And keep your hands to yourself.

6. Button your shirt. Like, above the navel. Preferably higher. Like, over your face.

7. Tight jeans: not appealing. Especially when they make you walk funny.

8. Two words: Breath mints. Seriously. They're cheap. Go buy some.

9. Don't get yout ex-wife to ask a woman out on your behalf. That's wrong on so many levels. Really, if you need this tip, you should just give up dating entirely. Forever. In fact, you might need to just lock yourself in your house and confine your social interaction to the internet. Practice typing "The movie is far inferior to teh comic!!!" And don't forget the emoticons.

I was going to post ten tips, but you know what? Those nine should be enough for now.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Getting to Second Base

What is it about second blog posts?

The first post, as mentioned here is a bit like a first date. Maybe a little awkward, but with all the newness and excitement and none of the commitment. By the second post, though, you're wondering, "Can I be that smart and funny and sexy again? Is it even worth the effort? And exactly how much coffee should I drink before making the next post?"

It's not that interesting things haven't happened to me. It's more a matter of choosing which crazy story to post. I'm not sure if I'm a crazy magnet or if I just need to be more standoffish.

At any rate, I've made a second post. It may be just a bit of awkward fumbling, but that's what second posts are about. Getting it over with.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Am I Due for a Slutty Phase?

Mid-life dating is complicated enough without my friends and family throwing in their ten cents' worth. I thought I'd at least wait until the ink is dry on the divorce papers before throwing myself into the fray, but apparently my (potential) love life is the topic of interest in my social circle. I hadn't given much thought to dating until it was brought up multiple times a day.

The advice seems to be loosely divided into two main categories: Those who want me to "get back out there" and those who want me to hide myself in my bedroom for a couple years, and then emerge, like a butterfly from a chrysalis, with a ready-formed plan of attack for snagging "Mister Right."

They're all well-meaning, of course. And they deliver their advice with the intensity of religious conviction. Which is what makes it all the more hilarious when I consider how much they contradict one another. So far, I've been told:

1. Wait at least a year or on yourself...spend some quality "me time."
2. Remember, honey, you aren't getting any younger. Now is the time to do things that you'll regret in your old age.
3. You're young...You have plenty of time...You'll find someone else.
4. Make sure you totally allow yourself a "slutty phase."
5. Now, don't make any rash decisions.
6. Don't meet men in bars.
7. Go out to bars and meet people!
8. Focus on your career. Forget about dating. Buy a house and get settled in for the long haul.
9. Don't get too focused on your career...You know how that turns men off. Oh, and make sure you don't buy a house yet.
10. Date younger men!

Now, the truth is, the "wait and give yourself some time" people really do make sense. I spent thirteen years married to one man, taking care of his needs and dealing with his proclivities. I have far more "Mom time" than "me time." And I certainly know the perils of jumping from one relationship into another one so quickly. But no dating? Seriously? I mean, at all?

My friend Liza speaks from experience when she warns me to take it slow. Of course, she didn't listen when I gave her the same advice fifteen years ago! She chased after men, the hypocrite. And now it's easy for her to say, "Take it slow," now that she has found her Mister Right and settled down in her little house. Liza is wise. She's lived through that whole thing and her advice is sound. The only problem is that she forgets I'm not really like her. I'm flirtatious, certainly, but I'm not the man-chasing type.

On the other hand, the "slutty phase" people really get on my nerves. Their inherent belief that casual dating must equal casual sex or that--heaven forbid!--I must be "too picky" really irks me. Dating just for the sake of dating is tedious. If I have the choice of spending the evening with someone I don't particularly like versus spending it alone, I'd rather not wash my hair. Seriously, do these people assume I hate my own company so much that I have to go force it on other losers? In public?

Don't even ask me about the house people. I have no idea why "buying a house" crops up in these dating conversations so often.

And then there's my mom. My mom, in general, falls into the "wait and give yourself some time" category. She manages, however, to add that little twist of guilt to every comment. Some Momisms:

1. The most important thing right now is being a mom. You really need to focus on that.
2. I'm so glad I didn't remarry when your sister was young. Stepparents can be so horrible to kids.
3. He's a Presbyterian? Boy, when you left the Baptist church, you really left it all the way, didn't you?
4. The problem with so many women is that they think they have to have a man in their life. I know you're not like that, of course.

And it's the "of course" that irritates me. Basically, I agree with her. Clingy, desperate women who talk bitterly of their single status need to get a grip. Certainly I don't have to have a romantic relationship to be happy. I was married for thirteen years. I'm accustomed to having no romance in my life. But the implication that I would automatically be immune to "the lure of men" offends me somehow.

It doesn't have to be all or nothing. My mother, whose social circle consists mainly of family and women in their 50s and 60s, thinks of dating as husband auditions. Why date someone I'm not intending to marry? And if I'm not ready to remarry, why date at all? This attitude is all too prevalent among women I know, unfortunately.

But here's the thing: I like men. I like flirting, holding hands, and kissing. I like how transparently they try to hide their bewilderment under a facade of coolness. And I like those moments when they drop the macho act and show their tenderness underneath.

At the very least, men offer a different perspective, a different flavor of experience. And while I may never embrace my inner slut, I'm not ready to shun dating, either.