Monthly Archives: December 2010

Are You There God? It’s Me, Mo. (And other notes from the Bible Belt)

Aside from mounting student loan debt, a revived love for vending machine coffee, and a free pass to use words like “prolific,” my status as a grad student afforded me the chance to unearth old diaries from my parents’ attic over the holidays. The time travel experience was sponsored in part by the southern equivalent of a snowstorm and a desire to remember the days before 21st century kindnesses like  “delete post” and “remove tag.”

In addition to discovering a letter I composed to the president using only Bette Midler lyrics, as well as copious sketches of George Burns and Groucho Marx, I had the pleasure of remembering that my tales of a sixth grade nothing were not directed to recipients like “Dear Diary” or “Dear Abby” but to “Dear God.” As evidenced by an entry dated June 1994, my middle school exchanges with the Deity were as awkward as lunchroom conversations with the popular crowd:

Dear God,

 

Hey! It’s doubting Maureen!! OK, so that isn’t funny. Sorry. … So here’s the deal. If I keep my end of the bargain up, then you work in my heart.

Until next time,

 

Mo

The few times I wasn’t writing like a bookie to the Big Kahuna, I made brief departures to record vastly important entries such as this one in a notebook from 1995:

Dear Journal,


So, it’s like 1:40 a.m. and of all the times in the world, I can’t go to bed w/o writing something…

 

Are you ready for what had me sleepless in South Carolina?

I just finished watching this great movie called Sabrina. It sounds superficial, but I wish that some fashion-sensible, makeup know-how person would come along and transform me like Sabrina was. I wish I could know what makeup and clothes to wear to look attractive, but CLASSY and FASHIONABLE. For now I’ll just keep writing and dreaming.

 

Until next time,

 

Mo

 

Snowstorms and school breaks aside, the other reason I decided to search for my pre-teen confessions was due to learning about Mortified, a project that began in the late ’90s “in pursuit of personal redemption through public humiliation.” Adults, from amateurs to professional performers, use the stage, the page, and the web to “share their most embarrassing adolescent journals, letters, poems, lyrics, plays, home movies and art in order to reveal stories about their lives.”

It’s fantastic… and not because awkward is lamented, but C E L E B R A T E D.

Before flipping through the pages of my past, I anticipated giving thangst for growing older, wiser, and ever-so-slightly less dramatic. In truth, though, it made me miss the urgency and honesty with which I moved through childhood and adolescence… how I wrote and loved and lived and didn’t feel the need to self-edit. As adults, we might have a lot of things to be mortified by or ashamed of, but out of the mouths of babes? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Advertisements

Spoiler Alert

For Robert Earl Keen, it’s margaritas when the eggnog’s gone, carved turkey and a ball game on, but for my family, there is no Feliz Navidad until we’ve seen one of the worst movies of the year together.

I’m sure you remember Haley Joel Osment and his ability to see dead people, but maybe you didn’t have the holiday pleasure of seeing A.I. (also known as Artificial Intelligence), in which the creepiest kid before Dakota Fanning played a sci-fi Pinocchio of sorts, hoping to become real to win the love of his human mother. The only other thing you need to know about the movie is that the cast also included Jude Law, who played a robot male prostitute named Gigolo Joe. Now that was a Silent Night.

The following year, we tried and failed again with Solaris. The film had all the makings of a perfect comedy—George Clooney playing a psychiatrist in space—except it was a drama/romance. The best line of the movie, spoken by “Friend #1,” was, “The pope is a wonderful woman!”

This week, the impressively unintentional family tradition continued with How Do You Know. I’m not the biggest fan of Reese Witherspoon, but I had high hopes for a reel with Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, and Jack Nicholson sharing screen time. Unfortunately, the movie starred Witherspoon as an Olympic softball player who has just been cut from Team USA. The plot revolves around what she’s going to do with her life, her chief decision being whether to date a major-league douchebag/baseball player or anxiety-ridden corporate executive who has just been indicted. I’d like to say my family didn’t know these details beforehand, but in our defense, the holidays put us in unusually good/generous spirits. That said, to spare you the exorbitant cost of a movie ticket and two hours of your life, I’m going to reveal the one redeeming part of the film that was worth seeing with or without Raisinets.

For the ex-softball player’s 30-something birthday, Rudd’s character follows Owen Wilson’s gift of a diamond watch with Play-Doh, the (true) history of which turns out to be even more endearing than its smell. He explains how the substance was originally used to clean wallpaper but this particular need for the product grew obsolete after the introduction of vinyl. The company’s owner, Joe McVicker, who was 25 years old and dying of cancer at the time, needed to think fast to keep his family’s business from going under. Around Christmas 1954, McVicker’s sister-in-law comes up with the idea to make ornaments with her preschool students using the doughlike material. The company followed suit, removed the detergents, added color and an almond fragrance, and one of the most beloved toy products of the 20th century was born. Witherspoon’s character, unsure of her connection to the modeling clay, finally absorbs the point of Rudd’s gift when he says, “We’re all just one small adjustment from making our lives work.”

Admittedly, I teared up at the end of Toy Story 3 and immediately change the channel when Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA commercial comes on, but what’s not engrossing about the reminder that who we are is enough? The right “ingredients” are in place; sometimes we just need a shift in attitude, time, company, or direction for our passion and purpose to be realized and put into motion with who we’ve always been and what we’ve always had.

Feliz Navidad.

Dreams vs. Reality

DREAM ACT by Santiago Uceda

Waking up the morning after the Senate’s vote to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” felt a lot like the time I woke up to discover that I, in my adult beverage-inspired genius, had chosen to use textbooks to soak up spilled drinks at a party I threw in college. Facing the realities of details I managed to miss during the celebration literally and figuratively put a damper on things… a red, sticky, irreversible damper.

Make no mistake, I fully support the landmark decision to let gays serve openly in the military and thereby enjoy at least a fraction of the rights that they fight to protect for others. However, my heart hurts for the more than 65,000 youth the Senate let down on the same day by blocking the DREAM Act.

Children who had no choice in coming to the United States, but who have paid the same dues alongside peers in surviving and succeeding in the public school system, continue to be denied the chance to be considered “American” in a country that, for many of them, has been the only one they’ve ever really known.

If the legislation had passed, students and soldiers—not criminals—would have been granted a conditional pathway to citizenship, one that was contingent on completion of a college degree or two years of military service within six years of temporary residency (more than we ask of other citizens).

This bill was not about allowing unrestricted immigration, but acknowledging that youth being punished for the dreams and decisions of their parents deserve rights and opportunities to pursue their own. Right now, it’s hard for me to say I’m proud to be an American when, at the end of the day, the truth is that I’m just lucky to be one.

Click on the link below, select “play episode” and fast-forward to minute 46:34:

JUST ONE THING MISSING: The story of a college student in California with good grades, an excellent work ethic, but no possible way to get a legal job. She’s lived in the U.S. since she was little, but her parents are undocumented; and she is, too. As reported by Douglas McGray on the radio program This American Life (“Nice Work if You Can Get It,” Apr. 6, 2007).

Christmas Presen[ce]

When stretching my spine in a 105°F room recently, it was a little unnerving to discover the only person who kept coming to mind was Bill Clinton circa 1998. My yoga teacher had just revealed the secret to happiness as “Being OK with what IS,” and as much as I wanted to be the person in the room with green tea pumping through her veins, all I could muster in that moment of sweat and silence was Slick Willie’s famous last(ish) words: “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is.”

Even as a child, I had trouble being present and content with my coordinates, as evidenced by the portraits hanging in my parents’ dining room. Although my mom and dad had wanted to capture me and my brothers in a single professionally-taken photograph, I felt my blue velvet dress was born to run and thus forced the man behind the lens to opt for three individual shots instead. The boys were preserved as their most angelic and gentlemanly selves, while I was caught with a “Here’s Johnny” smile and Jack Nicholson hair, straddling a stool and not even partially looking at the camera.

As an adult I’ve learned how to pose better for pictures, but still I walk fast, hold tight, feel claustrophobic during long car rides, and think of what will be for breakfast during dinner. I’m often trying to change what has happened or control what will be, but I find it very difficult to be OK with what IS.

In AA, the serenity prayer begins with the request for God to “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Zen Buddhists recite, “No praise. No blame. Just so.” Therefore, it seems this desire to be OK with what IS is hardly an original thought, blessing, or burden.

After my first exposure to bikram yoga this summer, I remember one particular class in which the instructor reminded us to be gracious with ourselves and not become frustrated when we weren’t able to stretch as far as we wanted or had been able to before. Even though the 26 postures associated with the practice never change, he said “Today, each one will be exactly what you need for it to be and will take you where you need to go.”

What I’ve come to recognize about each of these statements is not the advocation of complacency but presence. It’s not about giving up or giving in, but choosing to take hold of exactly where you are and what you have to learn and love and work with in the moment. Of course it’s easier said than done, but as Rilke writes, “Those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult; almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious.” I want to be OK with what IS, no matter the meaning of the word.