Saturday, April 27, 2013

Born again?

About twenty years ago in one of my undergrad classes, I developed a crush on a boy. He was a tall fellow, with dark hair that fell seductively in his eyes in a kind of Hugh Grant way. (I also had a simultaneous crush on Hugh Grant, after seeing his break-out role in Impromptu.)

I'd had my eye on him but wasn't holding my breath. He was altogether dreamy and out of my league. But he was excellent eye candy, particularly if the topic of the lecture wasn't holding my attention. (Which it never seemed to do when he was around.)

That is why I was rather taken aback when he began to notice me. It was understated at first. Just a glance and a smile here or there. But enough to make my little heart go pitterpat.

Then things got more serious. He'd ask me a question about something the professor had said or would lean in close to make a quiet joke.

And before you knew it, we were walking together pretty regularly after class ended. I felt very Marcia Brady-esque, clutching my books and swinging my longer hair as provocatively as I could. (Though I've never been the provocative type, so heaven knows how ridiculous I must have looked.)

And one day, it happened. We were ambling over to our next class and I noticed that he seemed nervous. I felt pretty confident that he was about to ask me out somewhere on an honest-to-goodness date. (See? Marcia Brady all the way.)

"So, um, Katrina," he began.

"Yea?" I answered, super casually. (You must NEVER appear overeager.)

"Well, I was wondering .... Um ... " [smiles nervously]

(Here it comes!)

"See, well, I was hoping I could talk you into coming out with me..."


"... to, um, a meeting."

(Wait. What?)

I glanced at him confused. He pushed forward, now resolved to get through this all at once.

"Yea. Well, a bunch of us like to get together to study passages out of the Bible. It's really a lot of fun. Anyhow, I thought you might like to come and join me this Wednesday evening."

I stopped and turned to him, all calm pretense gone. "Wait. Let me get this straight. You are asking me out. To a Bible Study meeting?"

He laughed, "Oh man, no. Not that. No. It's not a Bible Study!" (Keeps laughing.) "No, we just like to look at the Bible together and then talk about it."

Are you confused? I was confused. And I turned him down gently, being a devout agnostic who gets kind of sleepy at the sight of a Bible. This fellow wasn't looking for a date. He already had a date. With Jesus. Who can compete with that?

Anyhow, I found out later that he'd had an interesting history before becoming born-again. (I'll leave it at that.) How I missed this, I don't know. I blame it on hormones. And his hair.

But I'd always been suspicious of born-again Christians and their seeming desire to convert people to their way of thinking. Now to set the record straight, I've been proven wrong on this before and have been very impressed with a few born-again friends. They were and are good people who never broached the subject of religion. They were funny, ordinary, and very thoughtful. The majority of born again Christians, though, freak me out a little. And that probably says more about me than it says about them. I'm not proud of it, as I realize it's pretty judgmental of me to feel this way. We all have something we're working on, don't we? :)

So why all this talk of born-agains?

In short, I sometimes fear that this is how people see me. That I see myself as born-again. That I am out to convert. That I have been brainwashed. That I have a book of rules I must follow.

But here is the difference between born-agains and my going vegan for ethical reasons. One need not follow any faith nor trust in any god. You simply open your eyes and click "play" to see what is happening to the animals we randomly call food. Animals who are just as deserving of life as our dogs and cats are. Animals who play. Who nuzzle. Who know fear. Who have nerve endings that work just as well as ours do.

It's not based on faith. It's based on documented reality. It's no longer denying what's really going on, no matter how awful it may be to initially watch and learn.

It's empathy. It's opening your eyes to what animal agriculture is hiding. (Why do you think they're falling over each other to create legislation that criminalizes those who film and expose the "industry standard practices," a new phenomenon called "Ag Gag"?) 

It's saying, "I would no more eat that bacon, which came from a scared and feeling being, than I would eat your family dog. I won't do it."

There is no rulebook nor set of guidelines. If I find a product hurts anyone, then I want no part of it. Nobody has told me I can't. I just won't. I won't hurt anyone if I can avoid it. And it's not hard to avoid.

Do I want to convert others? I don't know if convert is the right word. I want to inform. I want us all to know what we're doing. That we are paying others to hurt animals, in ways that are more devious that most of us could imagine. And if that information inspires someone to join the growing movement of people who are slamming their wallets shut against animal agriculture? If it makes them say, "Nope. You've lost my support folks. I won't pay you to do that anymore." Then I'm good with that, whatever you might want to call it.

No. I'm not born-again. I just unclenched my eyes and pressed "play."

And that's about all there is to it. No meetings. No newsletter. No church. No book. No faith.

Just facts. And a healthy dose of empathy.

It's really that simple.

Press play if you want to be informed. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Choice

My enthusiasm for holidays has waned with adulthood. I don't dislike them in any way, but I find more enjoyment in unplanned moments. A planned day comes with so many expectations (at least it has for me) that the real thing sometimes fall short, particularly when stacked against thrilling childhood memories.  Ryan and I stopped celebrating Valentines Day a couple of years ago, deciding to instead focus on surprising each other throughout the year. I'm not saying this is the right thing to do -- I admire people who go gung-ho making holidays sparkle -- but it works for me and makes me happy.

Patriots Day in Massachusetts, on the other hand, never disappoints. That is the day of the Boston Marathon. And while I'm no longer a runner (I did some bizarre damage to my knees back in high school on the cross-country team,) I find myself, year after year, completely mesmerized by the event. The day never loses its luster.

Last Friday at the school where I teach, a bunch of us were congratulating a colleague who was running it for the first time. In the midst of our excited chatter, we found out we all shared something in common: this annual Boston event makes us emotional, shedding proud tears for people we've never met.

The Boston Marathon brings out the best in humanity. There are no political candidates vying for attention. Nothing to buy. No gimmicks. No teams. Nobody we're told to hate. (I've never understood the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.) Instead, it's simply witnessing thousands of people run by you who knock your socks off. Each one has an incredible story to tell, and each is fulfilling a dream, right in front of your very eyes. And you get the privilege of cheering them on! It just doesn't get any better!

Some parts of the individuals' stories are more obvious. Like the person that looked to be in his seventies who had on the sign thanking his doctor for four glorious cancer-free years. Or the woman running in memory of her late niece. Or the endless people selflessly raising money for a cause.

Every year that I go to the Marathon, I leave elated, thinking, "I can be great! I can be better! " It's like you get jolted by the energy there and want to literally run home to accomplish your own dream. Everything seems so possible, you can practically taste it.

Which is why yesterday broke my heart. And broke so many hearts. This wonderful event that allows us to jump and cheer for people we don't even know, people who look back at us, exhausted and smiling weakly; this event that wipes out cynicism from our rough-and-tumble city for a whole day; this example that there is great hope for our species to overcome and rise above any kind of wrongdoing. This event was attacked from behind.

This was traitorism of the worst kind.

People who did nothing more than to go for a dream and people who did nothing more than cheer them from the stands, saying, "I believe in you! I'm so proud of you! I knew you could do this!" These people now lie greviously injured in hospital beds, many on the brink of passing over into death. Some have already passed. Those who survive will never be the same.

And the question I know we are all confounded by is "Why?"  And a close second is, "Who could do such a thing?" There are no answers yet. And though they will surely come soon, those answers will bring even more questions.

My initial reaction is to physically hurt the person or people who did this. It's a primal, vengeful feeling, making my face hot and my heart pound. It makes me strangely wistful for placing the guilty party in a Roman arena with the victims' families and letting them do justice in whatever way they see fit. It's not a feeling I'm proud of or one that I would ever give in to. But it's there.

In fact, the more I ruminated on it, the more I realized that this is the opposite feeling from the post-Marathon elation. If good and evil really exist, then each of these opposing feelings represents these polar opposites within me. I have a choice now -- we all do -- about which way we'll go. And while I could never envision myself actually being violent, I know that that hot anger can still exist inside me, eating away at me.

So which do I want to entertain?

I choose the former. I choose to continue to be inspired by the runners, every single one of them, from the last person to cross the line to the first. I choose to work steadily towards my own dreams, buoyed by their example. I choose to look upon those who did this and think, "You simply have no idea how great life can be, do you?" And while the perpetrator undoubtedly holds no merit in what I or you think, I hold merit in it. And I choose inspiration.

Runners ~ keep doing your thing. And we'll be there to cheer you on.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Behold, My Friend

"I'm not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens." ~ Woody Allen.

A sketch I did from my art class a couple of weeks ago. I love this pose. She looks so reflective.

I turned 42 this year, and something unexpected happened. I suddenly realized I don't have forever.

Some might call this a mid-life crisis. I see it as the opposite: a mid-life wake up, like a friendly caffeine jolt. I haven't bought a red convertible or gone for Botox. Instead, I'm just looking at everything with fresh eyes, much as I did in my formative college years, but with the realization that I've got a diminishing time limit.

It was during college, in fact, when I discovered an effective technique for putting things in perspective: visit a graveyard. It sounds like I'm trying to be funny (or morose), but I swear it's quite practical and effective.

The epiphany was accidental. One beautiful fall day, the warm kind that makes every one of your senses burst with wistful nostalgia, a couple of friends suggested doing gravestone rubbings. I'd never done such a thing, but the weather was inviting and I was in the mood to avoid my schoolwork. So off we went, with cheap paper and some lumpy charcoal in hand.

It was an old graveyard, perfect for exploring. We wandered under brilliant foliage  -- Amherst trees just have a knack for fall color -- tripping over gnarled old roots which had forced tombstones to splay at odd angles. We read the epitaphs with interest, imagining what the buried occupants had been like. And then I saw a gravestone that changed my life with these spine-tingling words:
Behold, my friend, as you pass by
So you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you shall be
I say prepare to follow me.
Ah!! I still get goosebumps over it. I made just one gravestone rubbing and hung it on my dorm wall. I kept it for several years, even as the edges started to yellow slightly. And though it eventually got lost, its message became tattooed in my brain.

That person was alive! And now they ...  weren't? When you take some time to ponder that, it gets a little freaky. And, as they suggested, I needed to come to terms with the fact that I would, indeed, follow them. Someday I will not be alive. Not be alive! Do you ever just think on that? It's such an incomprehensible idea. It should be simple, but it's like we can't accept that there will be an end to all our drama. Regardless of your thoughts on the existence of an afterlife, it can make your mind spin in dizzy circles.

After that day, I found my sense of perspective changed. When difficulties arose and I had to make what seemed like a hard decision, I'd pack a snack and visit a graveyard to reestablish some common sense. (During the day, of course. I'm no fool.) The solutions always became very obvious once I sat among the greying stones. "What would the deathbed-me advise the college-me?" I would muse. Ends up, deathbed-me's advice never steered me wrong. She always pushed me in the direction of taking the risk. I'd never heard of anyone lament during their last moments, "Oh man, I wish I had been more cautious."

So I learned to be brave. Maybe not rollercoaster-brave, but tell-the-boy-you-like-him-brave. Apply-to-that-study-abroad-program-even-though-you-have-no-money-brave. Did I make an arse of myself on occasion? You bet. But I never regretted putting myself out there. I knew that I would regret the what-ifs. Those kind of regrets have always scared me. I never wanted wallow in what-ifs during my last moments on earth.

Ends up, though, the boy eventually liked me back and we spent two wonderful semesters together. And I found some hefty scholarships that made a year abroad eating French bread a reality. And if I professed my crush to a boy and it wasn't reciprocated? Well, I wouldn't have to always wonder if he'd been the one. He wasn't. Next! (And to save you the suspense, I found him. He was worth the wait.)

See? It's a very practical strategy.

As we get older, we sometimes forget these earlier lessons, and I'm no exception. I've found myself becoming more cautious as the years passed. Until I hit 42. And then the college-me knocked on the door and said, "Um. Is it just me, or are things getting a little, I don't know, safe?" 

College-me and deathbed-me now hang out around here in a helpful way. And I'm looking at things in a new/old perspective. For example, where will my rekindled love of art lead? I haven't a clue. And I don't care, really. I just love drawing. Goals no longer feel important as they once did. The process, as so many have noted before, seems to be the real gold.

I notice that writing is playing a bigger and bigger role in my life, and I'm not sure where that is going either. But I want to make more room for it, because it somehow just feels right.

This month, I've been going through my possessions and realizing that I don't use most of what I have. And I'm learning to let go of those things. And when I do, I feel my life open up a bit more to who I'm becoming.

That sounds all fancy-pants ethereal, but I'm not sure how else to describe it. This is clear, though: you've got to clear the spiderwebby things out if you want good things to come.

Gotta love a graveyard. 


 Five minute sketches. I love these because they force you to just go quickly and not get mired in the detail.

A longer one. There is something so relaxing about drawing these calm poses.