May 2008

Today is the day! The beloved gals from the HBO series Sex and the City (SATC) have reunited on the big screen, and today is the day those of us who have wondered if Mr. Big could finally commit to Carrie finally get to see for ourselves. I’m starting to understand that in this life, there are 2 kinds of people — people who get SATC (and Eat Pray Love, by the way), and people who just don’t.  Thankfully, I’m one of the former.

So I just read this MSN article about the lessons there for the learning in the HBO series SATC. Despite that naughty word in the title, there are so many great nuggets far beyond that subject that can be gleaned from the series.

The best tip from the show surprisingly omitted from the article, is the concept that “He’s just not that into you,” which was detailed in an episode and a book with the same title written by some of the show’s writers and consultants. While that information is great to know though hard to swallow in a dating relationship, it applies just as significantly to other types of human interactions. The concept presupposes that one’s behavior, obvious or otherwise, provides an indication of your status in that person’s life, and the acceptance of your actual status despite your preferred status will eliminate the negative self talk, anger, confusion, etc. that inevitably occur when you try to figure out why things aren’t as you thought they were or hoped they would be. I do love this idea.

For example, I was leaving the park on Monday with my dear friends when an acquaintance from the church I once attended pulled up beside me, and greeted me like we were long lost soulmates. The truth is that she and I were in a small group together, worked out together, and hung out together for a good part of 2007, and we were in the process of developing a good friendship when the craziness of that place came to a head. She sort of dropped out of sight, and, out of necessity, I also dropped out of sight, eventually leaving that place. I contacted her a few times in the early part of 2008, but never received a response. She’s “just not that into this friendship,” right?

So on Monday, she gushes about how much she missed me and how she’s been meaning to call. And then immediately asks me where I’m going to church [note to the church folk: find a different opening line, please. that one’s getting old.] It would not have been truthful to respond to her repeated “I’ve missed you” with the same. That’s not something I throw out there unless, of course, I mean it. Gratuitous niceties are really just lies we feel justified in telling others (and ourselves) for the purpose of fulfilling someone else’s expectations of us, and I have too much respect for myself to lie in the silly hopes that my lie might make them feel something that, in the end, really only makes me feel better. Anyway, time and behavior has demonstrated that neither of us is really that into the friendship, and that’s okay.

Don’t get me wrong. We all get busy with life, distracted from the simple pleasures of spending time with our friends, and go through times when the communication and contact is far less frequent than we’d like, so sometimes it does take a few attempts at contact to actually connect. I suspect that most often when people say that they miss us, they really do. And the depth of the interaction is certainly a factor in determining how accurate this not-that-into-you concept is when applied to a particular relationship. After all, we know our friends and loved ones, extend grace to our friends and loved ones, and realize that they do the same for us. All of this to say that lack of communication does not immediately indicate that one is not into the other, but it is a useful communication tool.

Still, there are times when action doesn’t quite line up with the words, and some level of mind reading comes into play. That’s a shame, really, because the same mouth that chooses to lie could actually tell the truth. The same secretary who calls to schedule you for an interview for that job you think you want could actually be directed to call to let you know that you didn’t get the job, instead of evading the inquiry calls you make after weeks of hearing nothing. The same girl who bumps and grinds with the dude on the dance floor during whatever hip hop song is hot for the moment could just admit that she’s not into the slow dance vibe and doesn’t prefer strangers touching her, instead of feigning dire thirst and leaving the fella in the midst of the club looking for a partner.

We’ve all done it — said something we didn’t mean because we either didn’t have the courage to say what we did mean, or we didn’t have the respect for the other person, and subsequently ourselves, to do anything but lie. And who is served by the lie?

And, sadly, we have all put someone in the position to have to lie to us instead of choosing to look at the evidence presented, and making a fair assessment of the situation at hand. The “just not that into you” concept eliminates the need for that. If people would just accept that they didn’t get the job, or that the first 3 dates were fun but there’s no need for a fourth one, or that your voice blends well in a large group but not so much as a solo act, and choose to forego the hurt feelings and dashed expectations, life might just be that much more pleasant… tolerable even.

And what’s the worst thing that could happen if people understood and accepted this whole “just not that into you” business? The worst thing that could happen is that you’re right, but imagine how nice it feels when you realize you’re wrong!

I count myself as one of the many people in the country who is happy that David Cook won the 2008 season of American Idol. And even though I had nothing to do with that, I think it’s refreshing that he won. Unlike the winners in recent years, and really, unlike the winners of most “talent” based reality shows, he really was the better of the 2 finalists. Not only does he have a great voice, but he also has a believable and appealing stage presence and he’s an entertaining performer. He is, in fact, the whole package. That concept is rare, and not just in reality tv.

Lately I’ve noticed how seemingly easy it is to accept the partial package without ever considering that the whole package might actually exist. One look at the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will tell you that people stopped desiring the whole package at least 8 years ago, and followed that up 4 years later with the pursuit and acceptance of something they knew wasn’t close to the whole package. Have mercy!

Several weeks ago, a few friends of mine decided to get together for dinner at an Indo-Chinese restaurant that my friend Baha suggested [protecting the name of the not-so innocent here].  It took about 20 minutes for the waiter to take our order, and when he finally did, he laughed at some of our food choices — not our pronunciation, but the actual food selections. When the food was delivered to the table, only 3 of 4 the entrees were prepared, so we had to convince the waiter that we had actually requested the food that was missing. At the end of the evening, I ordered a cup of coffee, and the waiter returned 10 minutes later with a cup of ice cream and brown sauce. When I told him that wasn’t what I ordered, he sent the manager to talk to me. The manager insisted that they didn’t serve coffee and that I must have ordered ice cream. [hello, i’m lactose intolerant…] Eventually the waiter delivered the check, and to no one’s surprise, the bill was incorrect. Baha said that we should just pay the bill and leave. [Clearly, she doesn’t know me well.] Then Baha said something along the lines of:

“… yeah, well, the one thing that I saw in the reviews for this restaurant is that the service is terrible…”

Um, that happens to be a great reason not to go to a restaurant, but Baha was just so hopeful that the food itself would distract us from the horrible service. Yeah, not so much. I have to believe that I can go to restaurant where the quality of the food and the quality of the service are accompanied with reasonable prices to produce a wonderful dining experience.  After all, if I’m paying for it, I want the whole dining out package. And if I had never been to Sequoia or Fleming’s or that place in Rome where Dimitri was my waiter [and subsequent private tour guide–holla!], then I probably wouldn’t know that the whole package was possible, but I do.

Lately I’ve realized the importance of the whole package in a variety of areas in my life. Just when I think that most of the whole package is enough or all that is available, something happens to remind me that I will not be satisfied or best served with anything less than the whole. This is especially true when I know that the whole package is out there for me, not just out there, but is available and present for me.

I wondered where I learned to look for the whole package, and to no surprise, it started with my parents. Both of my parents looked for the whole package in a variety of areas — in life, in careers, and of course, in relationships.  They knew what they wanted, what they didn’t want, and did what it took to have and maintain the whole package, and fortunately they shared that quest with their children.

Another large factor in my desiring the whole package comes from my awareness of and relationship with Christ. My God isn’t part of the spiritual package, or even part of the package of life. He, instead, is the all in all. He is the powerfully patient, disciplining and divine Lord of Lords, who can (and does) answer my prayers, instruct me for life, comfort me when sorrows pop up, shake sense into me when I’m acting crazi, command the winds and the waves around me, save me from myself and others, and forgive me when I’ve forgotten that I am not, at present, the whole package that He wants me to be.

I figure as long as I look at the ultimate whole package that is Christ, I’ll do a better job of seeking out the whole package in other areas of life. At the very least, I won’t ever go back to that awful Indo-Chinese restaurant.

This morning when I woke up, I did what I usually do — from the warmth of my bed, I plan my day’s outfit in my mind. Most days, the in-bed planning works out best for me, and I seldom deviate from the plan. But this morning, I could only determine that I would wear a skirt.

I popped out of bed [read: slowly and reluctantly rolled towards the closet] and turned on the light in my closet. The first thing I saw when I looked up was a pair of taupe sandals, 3.5 inch heels with a strap around the ankle, braided leather at the base of the toe. I pulled them from their plastic box — yes, all my shoes are housed in individual plastic boxes for storage and protection from dust — and slipped my now alert feet into them. In the words of Carrie Bradshaw, all I could think was “Hello, Lover.” Oh, those shoes felt good on my feet, like butter really. It is amazing how a beautiful pair of shoes can make a woman this woman feel.

Needless to say, I planned my entire outfit around the shoes. When I walked out of my home, I had a spring in my step and I was full of energy. Sure, there was a bit of a sway in my hips [no comments, please], and just a touch of added confidence. My day was busy, but I felt great just walking around in the shoes. And it wasn’t just me that felt good. The ladies in my office seemed to enjoy my shoes almost as much as I did. I was talking to some coworkers about the events of a ridiculous meeting I had to sit through, and in the middle of my rant, Josie [not with the pussycats] said, “Yeah yeah yeah, but you are working those shoes!” Like butter, I tell you.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand these are just shoes, but I do enjoy a good pair of pumps, high heeled sandals with my freshly polished toes on display [just in case That Dude feels the need to comment]. I think I’m happier in heels, definitely more productive in heels, absolutely more confident in heels, and yes, funnier in heels. No other kind of shoe gets me that sort of high, and I ride that high like a champ. I dig heels. If I had the funds for some Manolo’s or Jimmy Choo’s, heaven have mercy. All shoes are enjoyable for me, but nothing, truly nothing beats a pair of high heel shoes. Like butter!

We all have something. We all have some guilty pleasure we feel NO guilt over, some item we collect long after it’s met our initial need, some person’s time or affections we keep indulging in long after we know they are no good for us, something that feeds us in a way that no protein shake or Snickers bar could ever nourish us. I have tried to limit my indulgence, and I have to admit, I have limits. But every now and then, I’m in a shoe store [read: weekly], and a pair of heels calls out, “Hey, Sweet Caramel, can I come home with you?” and all I can do is say “Yes.. yes… yes.” (can you picture Sally from “When Harry Met…”)

I might just have a bit of a problem…

It’s late. Very late. Late enough that my butt should be in bed sound asleep… but it’s not. I’m wide awake, and why, you may ask? Well, some hooligans are in front of my building out here in suburbia talking like nobody needs to go to sleep. Now, in days long gone, I would have opened my window and sent those rug rats home with a stern yet sassy sentence or two. As recently as a year ago, I would have called the police to come remove them. But now, I’m resigned to sit in my living room, computer in hand, typing my thoughts instead of pouring water on their up too late for their own daggone good heads.

Clearly, I am getting old.

Why are they still awake? And better yet, where are their parents? Are their parents awake? I wish I wasn’t still awake.

Lord have mercy, I’m getting old.

The movie Rent was on the television last week. I loved the Broadway show Rent and the original cast recording, but I’d never seen the movie. I know all the songs by heart. The first time I saw the show, there were people in the audience singing along with the songs during the show. That annoyed me. The second time I saw the show, I was one of those people. (And not for nothing, if Adam Pascal’s wife ever puts him out, and he’s looking for a sweet chocolate occasionally neurotic aspiring writer with a bit of manageable baggage and (sadly) no church, I’m your sweet caramel.)

But I digress…

Rent was not the first Broadway show that I saw, but it was the first one that I fell in love with. What impressed me was the quality of the cast, the intensity of the music, and story behind the story. Jonathan Larson wrote this brilliant show, with much of the content inspired by his own life’s events and, of course, Puccini’s La Boheme. He had spent years of his life pursuing a dream, and the night before the show was to debut on Broadway, Larson died before he got to enjoy its success. Still, I have to think that he enjoyed the process, and that he knew, as he attended the final dress rehearsal, that he had accomplished something extraordinary. That must have felt pretty good.

There are so many storylines in the production, and really each one makes me cry. I saw the show the first time with my first real love, and I was like Mimi without the great body and drug habit, and he was probably more like Benny, but he looked more like Roger, and there were times when we were both a bit of Joanne (“a snob and over-attentive”) and I’m sure I moo’ed like Maureen, was blocked from pursuing my dream like Mark, desperate and eager in my expressions of love like Angel, and … well, I was probably never like Tom Collins. And all of that is probably what made the production so popular. No, not how it related to my life, but how everyone could relate to the feelings and sometimes even the events portrayed in the show.

My favorite song in the show is I’ll Cover You, sung by Angel and Tom Collins. Angel has nursed a recently mugged Tom back to health, after the two were instantly drawn to each other. Tom’s coat has been taken, and Angel takes his/her money to buy Tom a “new-ish” coat. The two precede to pronounce their love for each other in song (duh…it’s a musical), and what comes out is a beautiful love song.

“Live in my house. I’ll be your shelter. Just pay me back with one thousand kisses… I’ll cover you with a thousand sweet kisses.” – Jonathan D. Larson

I think that’s the kind of love that Larson wanted to experience and believed could be experienced and likely did experience, and probably that’s why I like the song so much. I’m a hopeful romantic, knocked down a few times, but still plugging away at life in search of my dreams. Maybe I need to get mugged…

So, Rent closes on Broadway on September 7th. There’s a part of me that would love to be there, but I don’t think Adam, Jesse L., Anthony, Taye, Idina, or any of the gals from the original cast will be on the stage. That’s probably a good thing, because after I rushed the stage, I’m sure there would be too many restraining orders against me, and who wants to deal with that madness?

Anyway, I like the memories I have from Rent and the feelings that rise up inside me whenever I hear and sing along with the songs. More than that, though, I like the passion of Jonathan Larson, and the inspiration he is for writers of all kinds.

“The church is there for support and guidance. It’s not about the person beside you. It’s about the conversation between you and God. You can be in your office and that can be your church.”

These words came from the administrative assistant in the department in which I work. She stops by my office periodically for a laugh, which, for some reason, she always manages to get from me. Recently she brought up the Papal visit at the National’s Stadium in DC. Like me, she doesn’t understand why Mass in a baseball stadium is necessary, but we both understand that one’s religion, and religious beliefs and practices are personal and, therefore, valuable. However, unlike her, I struggle with the purpose of church in general. She is Muslim, and I have, up until recently, termed myself as Christian, and she was well aware of my intense involvement in my former church. She was quite shocked to hear that I no longer had a church, and that I was unsure of the merits of church at all. That is the context of her words.

I consider myself a Christ-follower rather than a Christian, mainly because the term Christian has been bastardized and cannibalized in the main, and I don’t like the current connotations of the word. It seems to me, now, a word tossed about by idiot politicians, philandering preachers and athletes, and aspiring writers, actors, talk show hosts, etc. eagerly attempting to manipulate those whose eyes may or may not ever be on them. I just want to follow Christ with fervor and not with flippancy.

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out what church is supposed to be for me. I like the idea that it’s a place of support and guidance. Certainly in the past I have attempted, with limited success, perhaps, to lend support and encourage guidance, but I think that may be where things went awry in my understanding and experience of church. Even though my motives were pure, and the desire of my heart was truly to serve first My Heavenly Father, and then, at a close second, the people in whose path He placed me, there was, perhaps, too much of me in the mix of things. After all, from my childhood, I have attempted to be, have been and have accepted the role of caretaker. I have always wanted to care for people, and I have always done just that. There’s no doubt that God created in me both the heart to care and the ability to care. But perhaps there’s more to this whole following Christ business than me and what my role in church is. Could it possibly be that church is about Him working in His people…including but — wait for it — not just me?!

Maybe there are those whom God has designed to pour out His love, and those whom He has designed as receivers at the same time (who, theoretically, pour out that love on others when they are able to). Maybe it’s a cycle. Maybe it’s my time to step aside, and let Him pour into me through others, and maybe I’m fighting that a bit. I don’t know what it’s like to step aside, to not serve in an “organized” ministry, and as much as I love sleeping in, I don’t actually do it. He’s showing me the green pastures, and directing me to lie down, and clearing a path for the restoration of my soul. This I know, but where does the church fit into His plan for me?

I wonder if instead of a church, rife with its building funds, prolific speakers, and musical tributes to sometimes even Jesus, He might just use some other entity, organization, idea, place, etc. to share the message that He has in mind for those who are quiet enough to hear Him. I wonder if, given the current state of contemporary churches, His message can be found elsewhere, without distractions — perceived or real. I wonder if His message is in the conversations I have, the blogs I read, the books I enjoy, the music I listen to, the classes I attend, the people in whose company I spend my time, and the experiences to which I am exposed.

I don’t know… anything, really, with regard to this matter, but I’ll be quiet, and listen to the Shepherd’s voice. And prayerfully, I’ll follow… to a building, a congregation, a gathering, and even the privacy of my own home. Church is … still a mystery right now.