Thursday, March 31, 2005
I'm struck today by diversity. I just finished several stories that spanned charismatics to traditionalists, Chinese to Sudanese, student advocates to medical doctors. And, of course, there's the age thing.
While I'm absolutely convinced that with age comes wisdom, I think the wisest thing I've ever done is be open to diversity. And I learned that one early on.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
This holiday is one of the islands' most recent. The government granted a public holiday to the group known as the Spiritual Baptists to commemorate the repeal of the 1917 Prohibition Ordinance. The repeal was granted in 1951 after the Spiritual Baptists, particularly the group known as "Shouter Baptists," were outlawed by the government because their practices (bell ringing, loud singing, chanting and praying) were considered a disturbance of the peace. The day is marked with several religious rallies.
Can I get a shout out for those crazy Baptists?
*This falls into the category of "little known facts learned on the Internet."
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Having now indicated that I'm socially and culturally savvy enough to realize that if you continue reading you may be equally bored with my verbal snapshots, I will nevertheless share them. Because, hey, that's what vacations are for!
(Please insert the chk, chk sound between items for the full slide show effect. And for you literalists out there, no, there are not actually slides to be seen somewhere. There's nothing wrong with your computer. I'm simply using metaphor, ok?)
Let the show begin:
- Here's one of J and I standing in the line for taxis from the airport. It stretched across 14 taxi stands, that's the length of more than 14 cars and it wound back and forth for five lanes. I had flashbacks to the rides at Disneyworld and wondered why we didn't have those neat TVs entertaining us while we waited. Then the Taxi Stand Manager got all "I'm only going to say this one time" on the crowd and things became a bit more amusing.
- Here we are with one of the three Ethiopians we encountered during the weekend. Taxi driving is definitely a draw for our friends from Africa. But only the girl behind the Zumanity sales counter seemed remotely impressed that J and I had actually visited her country.
- Yep, that's exactly what you think it is . . . a pyramid. We stayed in a pyramid. And we didn't ride elevators, no that would be too plebeian. We rode inclinators. I was inclined to tell them the whole "theme" thing could be taken too far, but I decided to ride it out.
- My winnings started early on . . . a whole $8 at a two cent slot machine. Touch that, will you?
- Before I move to the next slide, I'll warn you, it's not pretty. J got blisters. You try walking through the football field of our casino three or four times a day (do you know how many wrong turns you can make in a pyramid?) then making your way down the Strip and stopping in on every new themed way of housing beeping slot machines in a new pair of tennies and see if you don't come away with some Momma-sized babies on your tootsies! (What's that? You wouldn't wear new shoes on a vacation. Well, take that up with J. I'm just reporting the facts.)
- Here's the Tropicana. Tacky just doesn't get any better than this, does it?
- Here's the Siberian baton twirler stretching before his 11 a.m .free performance. We were sitting at the quarter slots at the foot of the "stage" entrance and engaged him in a limited English conversation about his ability to handstand horizontally on one hand -- which wound up being much more impressive than his actual performance.
- I had to get a shot of the Hispanic men and women on the streets trying to give baseball cards to the men. Can't tell you how many times I heard one of the recipients say he was going home and creating a display of his numerous opportunities to call a "model" to his room. I even saw a couple of guys "trading" cards. Never actually saw the photos but I did see the free magazines offered in "newstands" on the streets and if those are any indication, there must be lots and lots of contortionists in Las Vegas for all those Cirque troupes to choose from!
- Here's a yardstick tall margarita, followed by another drink in a Paris hot air balloon, and yet another in a replica of the Eiffel Tower. Free drinks, tall drinks, theme drinks . . . there may be a drought in Vegas but it has no effect on alcohol intake.
- When you think of Vegas, don't you just automatically think of wildlife? Saw at least three tigers, two parrots, and any number of drunks while I was there.
- Ahhhh . . . chocolate. Who knew they could fill four stories with M&M memorabilia. Oh, alright, make it three. The third floor was devoted to the Oscar-ready production of the case of the missing "M" and in 3D no less.
- Here's one of the dancing fountains. I loved it when they used Faith Hill's "This Kiss" and choreographed full on water explosions at just the right spots.
- Speaking of right spots . . . here's the whirlpool in the women's spa at the Luxor. Notice how I took extra care to hide the fact that swimsuites were optional here?
- And here's one of the river stones that warmed my tensions right out of my back. Now this something I don't mind paying for by the hour.
- Here's one of J getting carded at a show and a blackjack table.
- Here's one of me not.
- This is the line at the buffet, at another taxi stand, at the roller coaster ride, at the wildlife exhibit . . . all things I didn't do once I saw the line.
- Oh, I love this one. It's the 10 ft tall glass flowers at the Bellagio. Omigosh, exquisite! Anyone who doesn't appreciate fine blown glass . . . well, I scoff at them!
- Here's me looking for something to do to kill time until the next show. Yes, I succumbed to a slot machine. Yes, I put my money in. $5 as a matter of fact.
- Here's me looking around to see if anyone is watching me win $800.
- Here's J with her mouth open. She was on a quarter machine. I won on a penny one.
- The next series is from the show Zumanity. Any children reading this blog should turn away from the screen at this point. We begin with the peep holes you could use as you walked through the lobby. Yes, there were photos on the other side. No, I'm not going to tell you of what.
- Next there's the accented gentleman (from who knows where) who exclaimed that the beautiful women were making his ticket taking job very difficult. And that it pained him to have to give us away to his cohort who would show us our seats.
- This is his cohort. No, I'm not taking this shot from a weird angle. The guy's a dwarf.
- This is our seat in the theatre. Yes they were good. Yes we paid dearly. Yes, I found a way to sit by at least two of the gay guys in the audience.
- Here's the two obese women in thongs and fishnets serving strawberries to the crowd. No, I'm not making this up. I don't have this kind of imagination.
- And this is the lounge lizard who had scales on the back of his jacket. He liked to do things with his tongue.
- There's the two women who swam in the champagne glass, the dancing gymnists who seemed to be doing a living illustration of all the Kamasutra positions, the blonde and the other dwarf who flew through the air on a ribbon, the nude comics with the strategically placed pom poms, the bodybuilders who wound up in a cage and ending up kissing, the blow up doll who came to life and lived up to her name, the drag queen emcee and all the audience members who wound up the butt of several jokes.
- Here's the buffet at the House of Blues on Easter morning. I was all about the shrimp and salmon.
- And here's a shot of our little bit of heaven that day. Koreans to the left of us, Russians to the right, and a little child leading us. Couldn't ask for a better reminder of the Kingdom.
- Here's a shot of when we finally "crossed over to the dark side" and started playing blackjack. The casino actually felt darker, quieter around the tables. After my big win, we figured why not. Soon I had the answer. I walked away even at one point and the next day lost $50.
- And this is us in yet one more line . . . at the airport on our way home. I'll forego the usual sunset over the wing shot. You'll just have to imagine that one.
(Brief aside: Don't you just love the idea of "Good News Blues"? I've been playing with that one since my Sunday morning bread pudding.)
In general, I'd say of the experience:
- I saw more cheese than sleaze in the big LV. Yes, there were non-English speakers lining the sidewalk and interestingly enough popping their stacks of baseball card like advertisements against their hands in the hopes that you would be startled enough to stop and accept the information on how you could have a . . . ahem . . . uh . . . "model" come to your room. But otherwise, it looked and felt like Disneyworld. I mean after one stroll down the strip I'd been to Paris, Italy, New York, Egypt and the Tropics all in one day!
- Gambling is too nerve racking for me to call it fun. But it is intriguing. And I can't argue with using 25 cents of a $5 credit to win $800 now can I? (Ok, so after that line you either hate me or are smiling big time. I've gotten both reactions when I've told people.)
- What must the fall down the entertainment evolutionary ladder feel like to the singer who finds himself now emceeing the 11 a.m. free show at the Tropicana perched just above the slot machines and having to simultaneously cue the one-step-above-a-boom-box-CD player for the girl who has mastered dozens of hula hoops and the Siberian man who twirls hockey nets like batons? The long hair wet look and Harley belt buckle wasn't really helping his image either.
- Fun times can always be had if you are smart enough to travel with fun people!
While I have now "been there and done that" and really feel no need to do a return engagement to Sin City, I can honestly say "a good time was had."
Thursday, March 24, 2005
I'll create three categories:
- Diving in
- Two steps forward, three steps back
Under each, I'll consider action steps that would set or keep me on that path. What would it look like to dive into the potential change, no holds barred? What would taking opportunities to breathe, pause, reflect look like? What types of things would put my life on hold or even feel like I was going backwards?
It's a plan. Let the lists (or mindmapping) begin!!!!
That's not entertainment but it is thought-provoking art. And provoke it did.
As my friend and I recapped the drama over a late night snack, I shared how it had reminded me of this or that reaction from my own exit. My friend saw parallels in his life. We chatted for quite a while and then we agreed that relationships are work . . . lots and lots of work, that the thrill of the initial hunt/chase/infatuation-turning-to-love was absolutely necessary in order to give the worker bees in later life something sweet to remember and want to build upon.
He was the first with the confession. "I don't know that I have the energy or the desire at my age to work that hard again. I like my life the way it is."
I concurred, "I'm at the point where I could fit someone into my schedule but I'm not willing to do all that's necessary to fit them into my life."
We liked that line.
We also liked the idea that while it's true, we still hold out hope that there is someone for each of us who will create enough chemistry that will in turn ignite the emotional energy that could lead to the "making of space."
Call us self-centered, selfish, self-something if you want. I prefer to think of us as pragmatic optimists.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Challenged by a friend to provide a bit deeper conversation that is sometimes the norm for us, I decided that I'd take part in CT myself last evening. So ultimately there were five us at the table and our topics ran the gamut. The only "rule" was that we weren't about arguing but rather about hearing from one another. Here's some of the subject matter covered:
- the government's intervention into the Shiavo situation in Florida
- is there a "body count" quota that the media deems must be met in order to offer the same degree of coverage (or even remotely near it)to a reservation in Minnesota as was given to Columbine?
- self-loathing and how to deal with it in someone you care about
- is a 40 hour work week a guide or a parameter? In other words, if you can get the job done in fewer hours or if you occasionally need a mental health break in order to be more creative, shouldn't you allow yourself that freedom . . . sans guilt?
- when is lying ok . . . if ever?
- pet peeves
- when does grace become compromise?
Feel free to weigh in . . . .
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Monday, March 21, 2005
Bikers in bandanas, what looked like a convention of no-neck mafiasos, apparent regulars of old/young ballroom dancing couples who practically had the songs choreographed, Rice football players and their dates -- they were all there at The Big Easy on a rainy Saturday night. They were all there to hear the blues.
What makes a guitar a living entity like that? Capable of entering your soul and touching places you've long since allowed to go numb? What makes a graveled voice older gentleman become a soothsayer of sorts, telling you the secrets you've hidden from yourself? What generates the heat that melts bodies into one so that they flow rather than dance across the floor?
God, I love live music.
Note: Generalization ahead. Stop now if you are easily offended by such.
Cyclists are rude! Cyclists wear multi-colored spandex, lean forward in their own little worlds or swarm like a hive as part of a similarly clad club, speeding by without or with little warning, and do not talk.
I sit high on my seat . . . looking at the world I'm riding by, engaging other riders/walkers/runners in conversation or at least a friendly-yes-you-are-a-fellow-human-smile.
After 20 miles on the city-sponsored Tour de Houston, I am resolved. I will wear a helmet (though until this weekend I didn't own one). I will continue to add distance to my journeys. But I will never become a cyclist.
I ride a bike.
"Would you bmrphff brmrphff?"
"Would you like to dance?"
That was the last time I spoke to him save for the response to the question he asked as we exited the dance floor. That question was clear -- my name. And I simply responded.
In between the first and the last query came the dance. The elderly blues guitarist was in his groove. The bass player was in my eyesight and smiled knowingly (but then again, don't all bass players smile knowingly?) at this new "couple" dancing near him.
He is black. I'm white. He is thin. I'm whatever. He has gold teeth. I don't. He talked while he danced. I said nothing and simply smiled.
I smiled because I was dancing with a man . . . never mind that he was a stranger. Never mind that due to the fact that I never looked into his face during the dance, I couldn't describe him beyond what I just said. Never mind . . .
Because in that moment I was dancing. Yes, he was a means to an end. I was on the floor, not simply watching the bikers, ballroom dancers, and BMOCs from Rice from the side. I had a hand on my back, my hand in his, my face near enough to his shoulder that I smelled cologne and the faintest hint of a TicTac. He wasn't big on footwork which was probably good since there was no space. But he moved me. We swayed. We bent. And his commentary was consistent but not enough that I wanted to leave.
I mean really, hearing "I like it" isn't all bad is it?
I said no to a second dance. Once was enough -- enough to help me remember. Funny how the feeling of someone's arm around you, someone leading, someone enjoying you enjoying the moment, someone holding on . . . can fade. You'd think you'd remember.
Saturday I did. And I smiled.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Well, one guy always orders a small at Starbucks even though he knows he's supposed to call it a tall. Seems that whole grande, vendi thing just steams him.
Another one asks Dominos to deliver a small even though he knows there's no such thing at Dominos. It's the little things that mean so much, don't you think?
A woman always selects zero out of the computerized voice message options because it will take her to a human. Even when she knows the extension, she chooses mankind over machine.
If all those cards falling out of a magazine have you on a tear, you could copy the guy who saves them up and once a month returns each and everyone of the postage paid cards -- without a single piece of information included on the card. He's satisfied in knowing that they still have to pay. Yet another guy wasn't satisfied that his message was getting across when he did the same thing with junk mail so he started stuffing the envelopes with as much weight as possible so the postage would be higher. He swears his mailbox is lighter now.
While I appreciated how out of control many of these people felt, "I never minded about the little things" (I'm quoting Ann Bancroft's character from an 80s flick) and so mostly I just marveled that they would take the time to take a stance.
I did admire one group however. The article also included the story of Poland's Solidarity Movement. Seems when the government took control of the televised newscasts, people took to the street during the broadcasts and made sure that they were visible by wearing their caps backwards as they strolled. When enough folks were doing it to garner the government's attention, a curfew was established for the exact time of the nightly broadcasts. Not to be topped, the people simply turned their sets on and placed them on the windowsills, facing the street where the only people who could watch would be the police enforcing the curfew!
Made me wonder what would I make my voice be heard for? I attended an awareness event last night calling for an outcry against what is going on in the Sudan. While I appreciated the enthusiasm of the young adults who organized the event, I don't have this compelling sense that letters to congress (or President or UN) are going to make that much of a difference.
I think I'm a rebel in search of a cause.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
- A Spanish/English discussion of the power of the message, the need to claim a cause, differences among worldviews, and how to assist immigrants
- A lunch with a woman in ministry who speaks my language in more ways than one and who is gracious enough to share her journey with me
- Consultation with a coffeehouse minister
- and a Chinese youth leader in search of a ministry opportunity
- Lost Boys of the Sudan at yet another coffeehouse church to spark ideas and . . .
- A discussion with fellow advocates as to what the church can do to offer systemic change for immigrants arriving in the city
"Oh," he said. "I just think it would be cool to hang out with them. We'd not want to change them."
Monday, March 14, 2005
I shared a wonderful quote from Walking a Sacred Path by Lauren Artress. She's doing the quoting but doesn't provide the source: "Religion is for those who are scared to death of hell. Spirituality is for those who have been there."
As I scanned the table, I realized every person seated there was on intimate terms with such spirituality. One dear man said he liked the thought and then quickly asked, "What's your definition of spirituality?"
In a burst of what I hope might have been inspiration and with barely a pause I uttered a response I've never used before but wouldn't mind having a chance to explore again, "I think spirituality is the honest pursuit of something bigger than ourselves."
I paused as though I might add to it and then couldn't think of what that might be.
So there . . .
Today I experienced an excellent metaphor for how this step-by-step stuff really feels. In one of my most spontaneous gestures to date (and that says a GREAT deal), I called a spring breaking friend when my morning meeting was cancelled and we took off to a state park near Austin for a hike we'd been planning for later.
The park is nice. The trail wasn't difficult. But while the ride there was one burst of color after another as we called out the Texas wildflowers that are already bursting forth along I-10, the park was brown . . . very brown. Pine trees are what it's known for and we saw plenty of them and a forest floor of needles -- all brown. No flowers. No wildlife. Just brown. 8.5 miles of brown.
At several points along the otherwise well-marked trail I began to see the metaphor emerge. I would turn a corner and before me was a vast expanse of the aforementioned brown and only the slightest, and I do mean slightest, indentation in the needles to suggest that the path still did exist. I'd pause, get my bearings, heed the suggestion and strike out. While sometimes questioning myself, I nevertheless knew that somehow I was safe.
We finished, tired, pleased with the extra exertion of the day and while we may not have walked in line with those who went before us or those who would follow, we arrived at the destination . . . home.
The journey continues.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
The AIDS Walk this year was blessed with perfect weather. Clouds kept it cool but the sun would shine forth at just the right moment to highlight the sea of T-shirt colors. No clearly lined rainbows here . . . just the kinds of splashes of color to suggest a whirlwind in a Sherman Williams store.
Tonight as the sun was slowly lowering behind the towering evergreens surrounding the labyrinth, I walked with my community of faith. Round and round we went . . . they for the first time, me as guide. I've walked indoors and out, on crude and uneven paths and sans shoes on canvas. And the labyrinth never fails to calm me, move me, generate new thoughts and prepare me to return to my day in day out journey.
God, I'm grateful for a life that encompasses the diversity of this day.
I raised money for the first time. That was new for me. Because I signed on with Shell as a "team member," they will match my contributions. So . . . drum roll please . . . friends and family helped me contribute $1210 to the cause!
To these friends and family I say a BIG thank you. I kept my promise and took you with me . . . even read a list of your names to the folks I was walking with. Because I don't use names here, I'll list you in a way that captures at least one of the reasons I thank God for you:
- You saw how bad an athlete I was when we played softball together and not once did you ever make me feel less than for it
- With each book, email, or surprise note in snail mail, you encourage me to find the humor, the possibilities, the power of words
- Once you sat across a table (ladened with tasty treats from both your cooking talents) and heard me confess what I imagined was the darkest of my secrets and you offered me unconditional love
- You never fail to laugh at my jokes or conclude a phone conversation without having made me feel creative
- When I approach your ages, I pray that I will have touched half the lives you have touched with your compassion
- In the turmoil of a life littered with other people's sorrows, you have created a work of art from the remains and you don't even seem to know the impact you make daily
- My faith is made stronger as your roots grow deeper and I see the integrity with which you both live your lives
- You are not through learning and with children nearing independence your hey day of ministry is just beginning
- As one of the most practical women I know, you still recognize the value in the pursuit of ideas and the support of people
- You find your niche and you serve well . . . usually behind the scenes and anonymously, but very well
- With you I feel like royalty, with you there is always a crowd, with you beauty is easier to behold in people, places and things
- You love my sister and support her sister even when the miles separate us
- You help me know that Bart never really left me (ten years ago this week) and that "brothers" can come in all shapes and sizes
- The two of you have made a place for me in your home, in your hearts, and I strive pretty regularly to give of myself with as much intelligence and sensitivity as you give to others
God bless each of you as you have blessed me. Step by step we make the world a slightly better place. THANK YOU!
- Owned a U2 or Beatles album, CD, 8 track or anything else they might have put out
- Wanted to have a baby
- Been on the receiving end of a pick up line
- Written a fictional short story (outside of a class assignment)
- Broken a bone or been hospitalized
- Asked to speak to the manager or written a letter of complaint to an editor or politician
- Felt like no one cares
- Understood why I had to take geometry in high school
- Sought revenge
- Worn a cocktail dress
- Knowingly benefitted in the work force from being first in my class
- Lacked for anything I truly needed
I'm not listing what I want to do but have never done, just a few things that might surprise or illuminate. What about you? Care to share?
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Did I mention I was speaking Spanish???? Did I?
For all those who have refrained or understood or simply waited and wondered, I thank you. Yet again, grace reigns.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
At the end of the day, I realized he never once asked me a question. He couldn't tell a soul a thing about me other than what I do for a living. At the end of the day, I knew I'd tried to be culturally sensitive, tried to learn from him as well as share learning. At the end of the day, I was tired.
Monday, March 07, 2005
Focus on someone's attention
"Attention short-term shoppers
discounts available for pick up"
Expectations of anticipation
Every change changes everything
Open arms, open mind
Too close to kiss
Something sensual this way comes
Somewhere between meaning and matter
In the moment/Not a moment too soon/
Spur of the moment/Momentary lapse/momentous
Holding on for dear life
That said, I'll recount the plays . . . The Movie Game at Theater Suburbia, The Crucible at the Alley, and Children of a Lesser God at Kingwood College. Thursday night it was community theater at its best. Friday we saw folks familiar with Broadway carrying off extremely difficult, thought-provoking and still very timely though written decades ago material. And Saturday night it was an astounding effort by college students -- some of whom are deaf and hard of hearing -- as well as some local talent interacting with a work that demands we pay attention . . . to our own prejudices, our own communication models and our own relationships.
One play was a gift -- an experience given to those who give of themselves as volunteers at Omega House, the AIDS hospice. One was the result of volunteering as an usher. And the other cost all of $10.
3 Days . . . 3 Plays . . . $10 -- I'm blessed!!!
Thursday, March 03, 2005
No spoilers here. I'm not revealing a thing about this well told story. Tragedy of sorts is on every fifth page or so -- the tragic reality of longing.
The two main characters are deeply in love, yet there is none of that sappiness that I usually relate to a "love" story. Though the term is never used (perhaps one of the reasons the book doesn't rate high on the sappy scale), these two might be described as soul mates. And yet because of the subject matter these who seemed destined for one another are accompanied on their journey by Longing. Often separated, they long to reunite. In the reuniting, there's the knowledge that the next departure is guaranteed and again Longing takes the stage.
The sobbing was due to many reasons -- some physical in that it was late and I was tired and some emotional in that I related well to each character . . . Henry, Clare, and Longing.
Which leads me to a question: Is longing more often due to the absence of what was or the anticipation for what will be?
A simple act of kindness
No grand parting of the curtain
Or bowing to the crowd
Just a moment
Are important enough to me
The specifics forever unchronicled
A part of history
Let us applaud
For the pleasure
Is in the knowing
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
One avenue of truth-telling for me has been the very blog you're now reading. So here's the invitation . . . tell the truth. Using the comments option and keeping it anonymous (if you wish, 'cause really this is for you), tell something you've kept hidden . . . out of fear, shame, embarassment, whatever.
I remember the first time I admitted something for which I had harbored so much shame that I truly felt chains binding my body. And, amazingly enough, with the admission came not judgement, but grace.
That's the gift I was talking about. Grace. Like a lover who knows the nape of your neck and the meaning behind the furrow of your brow, grace awaits. Having said that, I will acknowledge there really is a dare here. I dare you to believe in grace.
Jot down in a list the first thing you see when you ask yourself,
If I were a color, what color would I be? (From red to the inside-of-a-watermelong-seed color.)
What shape would I be? (Whatever you see -- an airplane wing shape, a boot shape, a parallelogram, a cone, a diamond.)
If I were a movement, what movement would I be? (glide, hop, wiggle, spin)
What number? (infinity, googoplex, eight, sixteen)
What car? (Details: year, color, condition)
What piece of furniture?
What musical instrument?
What element in nature? (dust, galaxy, waterfall)
What kind of tree?
What's something I'm afraid of?
What's the word hiding behind my eyes?
Put down the words I am . . .
Write about yourself using answers to the questions above as well as action words . . . Just pile on words. Don't think. See images. Daydream with words. Wander. Gor crazy defining yourself. There are no rules and there's no audience. Be silly, serious, wry or overdramatic.
If you get tired of I am, start lines with
- I will be
- I want to be
- I used to be
- I let go of
- I've forgotten
- I remember
-- as long as you're writing about yourself.