Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle– Repent?

I've been back in Eugene for a couple of months. Even though the cultural distance between this town and my "home culture" in the Denver suburbs is not so vast as some of the cultural canyons I've crossed, it's having the same effect on me, psychologically, as a journey to the other side of the planet. It's taking me by surprise and sometimes delighting me, sometimes bringing out my worst. 

My new home is right next to a riverside trail that's popular with walkers, runners, and bikers. Quite a few bikes that roll past have small carts attached. I've seen some of bicyclists unloading the contents of their carts at a local recycling center. "How cool is that?" I thought, "Not only do they recycle, but they go so far as to bring their recyclables in by human power instead of relying on gas and oil." Environmentalism runs strong around here.

Then today as I was coming home from a run I saw a shabby-looking cyclist of indeterminate gender in front of my neighbor's house, going through her garbage bin.

What?! These people aren't just recycling their own stuff, they're actually scavengers? Did this person go through mine, as well? Privacy also runs strong around here, and this I did not like. As my self-righteous disdain began to swell, I watched the neighbor's car pull into the drive. She got out of her car and said hello to the scavenger. "Is it OK if I take your bottles and cans?" the cyclist asked the homeowner, in a sweet, feminine voice. "Sure, no problem," came the reply with a smile, "Help yourself."

I'd forgotten Oregon has a deposit system for bottles and cans. It take a bit more work than curbside recycling but there's the added payoff, so those who don't do it will often pass on their cans, one way or another, to those who do. 

How would you respond? Would it bug you if someone went through your garbage? Or would you, perhaps, see it as a community service or an asset you're glad to share with others?

» Previous posts reflecting on life in Eugene include Far Out and Solid and  Leaves.

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's in the Bag (or Is It?)

My new bag
Some women are enthralled by cosmetics. Others collect shoes. And some love purses and bags.

If I could say my focus on bags is one of love, that might be a sign of shallow materialism. But what does it mean that I go into minor agonies about the acquisition of a handbag? It is with bags as it is with shoes, for me, I guess - love/hate. I seek not variety, but perfection: One bag that will hold all I need without encumbrance.

Mary Poppins' hold-all carpet bag would be ideal; remember it? Or Hermione Granger's bottomless clutch that effortlessly toted a large tent and many other useful items?

I've always been turned off by large purses. A few months ago a conversation with an imaginative man helped me put my finger on why.

I don't want to carry a big or flashy purse because I don't want to appear "high maintenance"! I don't want to send the message to those around me (or be forced to accept, myself) that I just might be one of those ladies who cannot get along without dragging a huge collection of stuff. Who needs a lot to make her happy. I mean, how shallow can you get? Guys aren't like that. (If you overlook their bulging pockets or the number of apps on their iPhones...)

But my unspoken assumption has been that cool women, women who can keep up with the guys, women who should be taken seriously in the world, they should not need a lot of stuff.

So it is that I failed to pack a right-sized bag for two weeks at school. I just couldn't decide. I brought my computer case as well as my small, unobtrusive purse, but what to do with school books, snacks, and umbrella?

The truth comes out. Perhaps I do need a lot of stuff, after all - maybe because I'm not the cool person I would like to be. I read somewhere that even a normal, healthy person usually underestimates the severity or effects of his/her weaknesses by about 30% (and overestimates strengths or capacity by the same amount). Sobering, eh?

Well, when shopping for anything that might be called a purse, I tend to pick something that would be fine if it were 30% larger. As a result, I often don't seem to have what I'm looking for, or I can't find it because things are crammed in there too tight.

The best answer may be an ergonomic messenger bag or backpack able to hold all I need without being cumbersome.

Well, what was I to do? In the interests of economy, I asked the classmate who kindly offered to take me grocery shopping if she'd stop by the dollar store on the way home. This purse/bag is the result.

I know, it's cheap, shiny, and doesn't quite look like the bag of a person who should be taken seriously. (It's better than the red, alligator-skin one that was also being sold for $5.) We'll see how long it lasts. But it's big enough for the usual purse things along with snacks, gloves, umbrella. Not the books, but I'm realizing that people who teach grad classes pretty much never say, "pull out that book you were required to read and turn to page XX..."

This week I'll try leaving the books and computer in my room and rely on my sleek iPad. And yes, that fits nicely in the new bag.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Theology Library Opens to Sound of Shofar

I'm back in school, a place or state of mind where withdrawal from the world and into one's ivory tower sometimes seems essential. I think I made it through my previous four years of college without knowing what the US president looked like: engrossed in my studies and relationships on campus, I hadn't been watching TV. Television is still my least-favorite news source I confess, yet I'm quite confident I could pick out President Obama in a crowd.

Several years ago the Christian university where I'm doing my graduate studies suffered a massive fire in - of all places - the library (!). What volumes that survived were moved off-site while extensive renovations were conducted. A temporary structure was erected to shelter some study carrels and a few librarians who alone had access to the "stacks" and fetched books for students on request. (At least, books that hadn't been lost in the fire. I know: breaks your heart, doesn't it?)

Repairs to the library are finally complete. Next week, on the first day of classes, it is scheduled to open for the first time since 2009. Sophomores (they've never used the library!) organized a special "occupy" style event. The CIU website reports:

"Students will camp out overnight in tents in a quad area outside the library and wake up to a celebration featuring music, games, and an outdoor breakfast. At 7:30 the library will officially open with the blowing of a shofar, a ram’s horn used in ancient times to signal a celebration. [The CIU mascot is the ram.] Once the library opens for business at 7:30, students will enter and be given a ticket for a drawing for Kindles and gift cards."

Since I'm on campus for two weeks I could actually join this library opening gala sleepover! No, I don't suppose I will. There is some question about whether my Tuesday class starts at 7:00 am (gasp!) or 8:00 am. And I'm getting most of the books I need for my classes in their Kindle editions, so I am less dependent on paper. All the same, I'm enough of a library nerd to be excited about getting the tour...

Friday, January 06, 2012

Never a Mommy

I find myself in an interesting spot, getting ready to marry a guy named "Dad." I mean, that's one of his names, and since he's had it for almost 18 years he's pretty accustomed to it. The kids have never known him any other way. Most of his friends and family members probably take it for granted that a dad is what he "is."

So what will it mean to be a dad's wife? Of course it will make me a stepmother. As the experts say (and my own experience teaches me), that's the kind of role you have to grow into. The kids seem pretty much OK with me but it may well  be years after the ceremony before they drop the mental note that "she's not really family." We'll see. I don't want to be maudlin or impatient about it; it's only fair.

I'm also thankful that they are well supplied when it comes to family relationships. They have a mother, grandmothers, an aunt or two, teachers, coaches, and more. So it's not like I have some big gap to fill. They don't need me for anything; whatever love or help or encouragement I have to offer may just be icing on the cake. That's kind of a relief. Plus I have the example of my own stepmother. Following in her footsteps, I think, will take me far.

One of my concerns since the beginning of this relationship has been how to deal with the knowledge that I don't really know what I'm doing. Marriage? Parenting? Sex? I haven't had the class; I don't have the years of training and experience under my belt. I have lots of other life skills, but am way behind  most of my peers on these things! I'm never going to catch up.

I do find it helpful, however, to count my blessings in this matter. I've had decades to pursue other interests. I have a broad - if sometimes not too deep - network of friends and acquaintances to turn to for help and encouragement. And by the grace of God that includes many dear people who want to see me do well and who are now reaching the stage in life where their lives no longer revolve around all those young-family issues that I missed out on. They have more time and energy - and notably, more wisdom - to help out an old friend like me as I begin exploring what is to me, brand new territory. 

Chris can't have any more children. I have always felt a bit ambiguous about the question, myself - certainly not so gung-ho as to pursue motherhood by any means and at any cost, as some feel led to do. Now it's pretty clear to me that even though I'm marrying a guy named Dad, I will never be a mommy.

As good as the mommy-life can be - as much as it can do to shape a woman's life and character and nurture the next generation - I think maybe it's God's mercy that this challenge is not mine. We'll be able to sleep through the night and pay the bills and have plenty of time and energy to serve each other and other people. Including his two mostly grown children. And while I'll never get to hold my baby in my arms, the grandmother thing? That could still happen and probably will.

For someone who's never been a mommy, what a gift.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Reflections on Solitude

When, almost two years ago now, I gave up my cubicle, it was with some trepidation. Not because I thought I'd miss the soft grey walls, squeaky chair, and lack of privacy - or my frequently dysfunctional team of coworkers (sorry, guys). I just had a hunch I might have difficulty getting my fill of people time. Time alone is good too, and some people - many, I suppose - have more trouble finding that. But for me, to feel like things are right with the world also requires getting a good two hours a day with other human beings.

For those of us who are single and working from home, sometimes that doesn't happen.

It all went better than I thought it might, though, at least when I lived in Denver. I had a roommate and a regular list of pleasant and convenient haunts; I frequently got together with friends, and my motivation to participate in church activities, go to the rec center, etc. was high enough that life felt pretty well in balance. It actually worked a lot better for me than the old office-cubicle arrangement, which tended to force me into awkward and unfruitful rhythms and drain me of the energy to take much social initiative. I had a lot of lonely weekends. After I moved out of the office, it was only if I was trying to meet a project deadline - or felt I should be - that I would I say no to meetings and other outings. If I played the hermit for more than a day or so at a time, however, I'd start feeling out of sorts and out of touch.

I left Denver 11 weeks ago, and I've been living alone for just three weeks. (See Experimenting with Autonomy.)

Man, what a long three weeks! Even with the holidays in there.

I do have a lot to do, so I'm trying to stay home and focus on my work.  I'm not being as productive as I'd like to be; it doesn't seem to be working. But I'm trying. Unfortunately my neighborhood offers no reasonable places to "office" any closer than a marginally pleasant Starbucks a couple miles away. I do need to work (and to study), and my work is solitary. I can't just pitch it all and go be social. But being alone so much is driving me crazy. I'm dying for people to talk to.

I guess I really do need those two hours a day with people.

Chris and I do our best to see each other daily, but he and the kids are all busier than I am, so it's hard to get much quality time. And to lean on just one person for it? Well, that's not the best idea. I'm looking forward to living together (being married) in June. I think my need for people time will go way down at that point. Though I will still try to avoid expecting Chris to meet all my needs.

My current housemates, Robert and Linda, come back to the States in early April. So that will probably be the end of my experiment with living alone. I'll be glad to see it come to a close. Meanwhile, between now and then, I'll be on the road about a third of the time. That's unsettling in a different way, and it may keep me from being able to put down deeper roots in Eugene. But it will give me meaningful time with human beings.

If you a person who prays, maybe you could pray for me to navigate this season of solitude with grace and openness.