Stephanie Lechner: Nametags and Hairnets

Failing career assessments since the 8th grade

Month: October, 2010

Wonderland

Let’s tie up a few loose ends here. Recently, I posted a blog about my adventures in online dating. While I wrote it with only the intentions of sharing a few stories about my attempt to put myself out there in the dating world, the aforementioned good date with no follow up came across said blog entry and promptly emailed me to explain himself. I managed to get an explanation from the guy who never called–score one point for the single ladies (and for blogging). I considered that a victory in itself, but we hung out a couple of more times, and while I was ultimately disappointed to hear he was not interested in seeing me again, I was grateful for the few conversations we had because they opened the door to spiritual discussions I had not engaged in for years. I actually visited his Messianic congregation for a couple of weeks and really quite enjoyed it–despite the awkward encounter I had with one of the female members who felt compelled to let me know that she heard how I became acquainted with my new friend (cough, online dating, cough) and suggested I check out the rabbi’s podcast about being single. oy vey. ANYWAYS, after processing the recent conversations I had with him and with some close friends, I wrote this little piece about my spiritual journey, a little glimpse into where I’ve been and where I think I’m heading. It’s all good stuff. I’m a little bit of a spiritual orphan right now and I hope that I will be able to find a place that I can embrace and call home, but for now, I’m just happy to be back on the path. Actually under different circumstances, I might have considered going back to the synagogue, but I have high hopes that I will find the right place for me.
so here goes:

“Anon, to sudden silence won,
In fancy they pursue
The dream-child moving through a land
Of wonders wild and new,
In friendly chat with bird or beast—
And half believe it true”
Lewis Carol, “All in the Golden Afternoon”

I suppose I should begin with my very first adventure in Wonderland. Seventeen and prone to fits of whimsy, I jumped down the rabbit hole and discovered a world at once completely foreign and mesmerizing. Unlike the dreary landscape I called my Sunday morning home, this place was full of wonder and joy. Suddenly my world was full of color as I explored the many spiritual mysteries that unfolded (Curiouser and curiouser!) God’s presence was everywhere. Stodgy parishioners were replaced by my very own mad hatters and Cheshire cats—delightful characters eager to help me understand my journey (even though they didn’t always make much sense to me).
The first couple of years in Wonderland were amazing and full of unbridled romance and excitement. My happiness there had yet to be challenged, but as we all know, perfection is an impossible feat, even in a place as amazing as Wonderland. Villains lurked in the shadows of my newfound home and they threatened to poison the integrity of my paradise, and I watched as my world got turned upside down. Suddenly those colorful characters made much less sense to me and seemed to also be grappling with their own disillusionment. God’s presence was harder to find. Wonderland grew dark. Confused and saddened by the disintegration of the place I held dear, I climbed back up that rabbit hole and returned “home.” I closed the book on Wonderland and told myself it wasn’t real. Just a fanciful reverie—a young girl’s foolish dream.
I moved on with my life, but as the years passed, I never forgot about Wonderland and all of its colorful mystery. Recently, though, I find that I have stepped through the looking glass to discover that it is, indeed, a real place after all. Sure, the people look a little different now and I see it through a more cynical eye, but there’s no mistaking it—I’m back in Wonderland. This time, though, I’m not naïve to think that there won’t be villains (or even just casual misinformed visitors) lurking in the shadows with the intent on robbing me of my place here, but this time, that doesn’t matter. Life in Wonderland with its share of obstacles is still infinitely better than a miserable life outside it, so this time I think I’ll stick around.

“In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?”
Lewis Carroll

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Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

So after a brainstorming session with a writing buddy yesterday, I remembered this piece I wrote a few months back. In the spirit of my last post, I decided to share it. It’s a little longer than my usual stuff, so my apologies.
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I remember sitting in French class senior year of high school chatting with my closest friends about our dating preferences (we were, after all, studying a Romance language). My friends and I decided to write down the characteristics of our perfect mate and we’d compare. My list was exhaustive, detailing several “must haves” and a few “cannots.” Some qualities were admittedly shallow—curly brown hair, piercing blue eyes, a clearly defined muscular build (without being too bulky) and the ability to play the guitar (my love of Aerosmith’s Joe Perry has run deep for as long as I can remember). Others were more admirable—intelligence, sensitivity, passion and unwavering moral fiber. I looked over my list proudly and handed it off to my friends, including a couple of my closest male friends. They gave it one look and informed me succinctly “Steph, that dude is gay.” Oh, to be young and politically incorrect.
I kept that list for a long time. It was so easy to hide behind the rigorous qualifications I had set before myself. I’d meet someone, then immediately size him up. If they fit the bill, I’d hurry up and wait until they asked me out. I’ll let you figure out how well that worked for me. The few men who passed the test were certainly not interested in asking me out. Isn’t that the way it works? Finally the voices of the naysayers got louder and began to make sense: I was too damn picky. So I threw out the list and decided to lower the hell out of my standards. You know, mix it up. Come what may, Universe! That’s when I met Will*: the pot-smoking Republican (!) who had spent the last couple of years waiting tables at a local chain restaurant in between his hours-long sessions of World of Warcraft. Sexy, right? Sure he had aspirations of joining the Peace Corps, but don’t all waiters have lofty goals never to be achieved? I guess now is as good a time as any to mention that I, too, was waiting tables at this same restaurant, so who was I to judge? He was hardly the type of guy I needed to be messing around with romantically, but he was good-looking and I was bored.
The first opportunity I had to see Will outside of the restaurant soon presented itself. He was heading out of town at an ungodly hour of the morning and none of his friends were volunteering to give him a ride to the bus station (servers are notoriously averse to mornings). While chatting in the drink station, I overheard him complaining of his predicament and before I knew it, I was offering to drive him to the bus station around six o’clock on a bitterly cold winter morning. He called me later that evening and offered to buy me breakfast in the morning as a token of gratitude. He was being courteous solely as a friend and me? Well I took it as a sign that he wanted me just as much as I wanted him. Just another example of my attempts at expressing interest landing me smack dab in the middle of Friendville. I pulled up to his sad little apartment complex while it was still quite dark outside. It was approximately 10 degrees outside and I was still adjusting to what the world looks like before noon. We decided on Denny’s for breakfast and I made my best attempt at being cute and charming over a Grand Slam breakfast. We talked about our plans for life after the restaurant gig and our shared love of Paul Simon, and then I dropped him off at the Greyhound station. With a warm hug and a goodbye, I was left with the lingering hope that he would be calling me upon his return.
Well of course he didn’t call because there was no factual evidence that he ever intended to call me in the first place. Us women, and our active imaginations. Despite the lack of interest, I still held out hope. After all, I was willing to drop my precious list and be more open-minded, damn it! I would finally be reckless and stupid, throw caution to the wind, make out with a cute guy who doesn’t always shower and often uses words like “avatar” in regular conversation. This was the sort of life experience that everyone was telling me I needed. The gang was heading out to our friend’s bar one night and Will was there. I sauntered up with my best flirtatious smile and he complimented my glasses noting a certain “sexy librarian” vibe. Tina Fey had really laid the groundwork for girls like me, and I welcomed the attention. I stepped away to get a drink and when I came back, presumably to pick up where we left off, the little hippie had run off somewhere. I didn’t think much of it until I realized that my friend Sara* was also suddenly missing. It is worth noting that Sara* was much more forward and aggressive in her male pursuits than I ever had any guts to be. However, I cast off my paranoia and continued to mingle. About 30 minutes later, I see Will step out of our friend’s office followed by Sara. He looked pretty inebriated and his long hair was in total disarray. It was obvious they weren’t helping our friend sort out purchase orders back there. Clearly the train had fallen off the tracks somewhere. I left the bar that night disappointed and confused. What happened? Would the universe not allow me one little fling? Even when I stopped being so picky, the guy still just wasn’t into it.
Thanks to both of them, I dodged a bullet. He was a very nice guy, but at the end of the day, he was not at all my kind of guy. I was willing to throw away all the years of patient waiting for a few make-out sessions in the back of a bar? Hardly the picture of romance I had envisioned for myself. I decided something that day. The list? While completely shallow and erroneous, it was helpful in the sense that there are several qualities in a man that I should continue to expect. The world would tell me that I’m too uptight and rigid in my expectations. But the world would also tell me that a series of casual non-committed relationships are completely natural and healthy. And that holding out for true romance is for suckers. No thank you, World, I’ll take my chances.

*Names have obviously been changed; however, if you worked with me during this time, it’s quite obvious who I’m referring to. I’m never as mysterious as I hope to be.

Where is the Love

I’m gonna switch gears tonight from religious holy wars and to the topic of online dating. It’s my blog–I can do what I want.

I make no secret of the fact that I’m just no good at dating (see here for a brief synopsis of my dating history). At the urging of a friend, I set up a profile on a free matchmaking website and watched as the matches came pouring in. The funny thing about meeting people online is that you come up with very simple descriptors for each guy based on the things they show in their profile thus reducing these dudes down to the most basic identities. The Doctor, The Messianic Jew, The Muppet Guy, or my personal favorite:The Meat-Cleaver-Wielding Psychopath (oh how I wish I was making this stuff up). Things started off a little rocky when I received a frightening message from a guy who thinks a good way to pick up a girl is to list in great detail all of the things you’d like to do with to her. Yikes! Lucky for me, I found the “block user” and plugged that leak right away!

But after settling into the groove, I ended up in conversation with a few pretty reasonable fellas. One turned out to be a flake who now keeps emailing me asking to meet him “please.” Sorry, guy, “please” doesn’t look good on a man.

Another guy seems really nice, yet he’s quite content to just email. Losing interest because I’m not really looking for a pen pal, ya know? Not everybody’s a writer, so yeah, I’m getting bored. Come on, Doc, pull the trigger already!

Which leads me to the one who actually made it into my 3-dimensional world. I can only count on one hand how many dates I’ve been on, so when I say this was my most successful date, that isn’t saying much (as long as he didn’t threaten to abandon me alone in the bronx and cost me $150, he had it in the bag). But still. The guy was an ABSOLUTE gentleman: opening all doors, not sitting until I did, and paying for everything. Even making sure to walk on the outside of the sidewalk! And did I mention he was cute? Adorable! After dinner, he suggested a walk around the west village where we broke the rules of first date conversation discussing religion and politics (and if you know me at all, you know that’s my kind of guy). As we walked, we stopped and he bought me ice cream. All I know about guy logic was indicating he was at least moderately interested, right? I mean, he could have cut and run after dinner (that’s what I do when I’m not enjoying a date–just ask that passionless tax accountant from last year). We discussed the possibility of him coming to see me perform later that week, hugged and parted ways. I sent him the show info, and as it turns out he couldn’t make it, but asked when my next one was. No big concern, so I sent him the info on the next show. And it’s been radio silence ever since.

blerg.

What’s the statute of limitations on first date follow up these days? All I know about dating etiquette I learned from Swingers, and Vince Vaughn thinks 3 days is kind of money, baby. It’s been almost a week. Spare me the placating–he’s got a blackberry, so I know he gets email as rapidly as I do. Say it with me everybody “he’s just not that into me.” So I guess I also take dating cues from Drew Barrymore movies.

I’m thankful at least that my successful date cancelled out the world’s worst date of the Red Sox v Yankees game of 2009, but I think I might cool it on the online dating for a minute*. This whole dating thing bums me out a little. If you need me, I’ll be hanging out at the convent.

*exceptions will be made for the doctor**
**Just kidding, I’m not that shallow***
***Ok, maybe that’s not true

Peace Like A River

I hate fighting about as much as a person can hate anything. Diplomacy is by far one of my favorite words. Peace, in the form of an olive branch, is literally tattooed on the back of my neck. Sometimes, to my own detriment, I struggle to keep peace between people and issues (causing me to sometimes sacrifice my own opinions in order to maintain the status quo, but that’s a topic for another day). And this is why religion is a constant struggle for me.

Prompted by the recent discussions surrounding the building of the Park 51 community center, I decided that it would be worth my while to look into the roots of these discussion with the hopes of better understanding each position. I knew in my gut that the rampant Islamophobia was wrong, but had little knowledge to back it up. I just finished a really interesting book, How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror by Reza Aslan, and it shed a lot of light on not only Islamic fundamentalism but also the long, sordid history between the big 3: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. And when you look back at the history, there simply is no truly innocent party involved. Representatives from all major religions have engaged in a cosmic battle, fighting at times what they believed to be God’s war. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction that I found interesting:
“The events of 9/11 by no means inaugurated the debate over religion and violence in the modern world, but they did render the issue unavoidable. It is easy to blame religion for acts of violence carried out in religion’s name, easier still to comb through scripture for bits of savagery and assume a simple causality between the text and deed. But no religion is inherently violent or peaceful; people are violent or peaceful.”

No religion is inherently violent or peaceful; PEOPLE are violent or peaceful.

I know I should not let the actions of the minorities sway at all my participation in a religion I believe to be the truth, but I can’t help it. I’m being really honest here–sometimes the hatred and the fighting I witness in the name of God makes me want to throw in the towel. I’ve seen religion not just tear apart countries, but I’ve seen it tear apart branches of my own family tree. I’ve seen scriptures weaponized and distorted to suit people’s own selfish agendas and I think to myself “This can’t be what GOD had intended for His people? What am I doing here????

But something keeps me hanging slightly on. Because that ISN’T what God had intended for His people. And I shouldn’t let the crazy or the violent or the selfish be the only voices heard. I’m only one TINY voice in the mix but I’m still A voice in the mix. So I will continue to try to be a voice of peace in the midst of fighting, but please don’t misconstrue my message here, I am very human and often fail miserably. But I guess, in a way, this is my own eternal struggle, my very own cosmic war.