Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Bit of Perspective is In Order

I've been in a melancholy mood this week and really wanted to dump all of my issues on you. It makes for good reading (she says facetiously):
  • My cleaning lady quit because I was a pain in the ass.
  • My hair dryer died a violent death on Monday and I still haven't replaced it.
  • I've had several bad hair days in a row.
  • Upon noticing my increasingly gray hair, my son announced "wow, you really are old."
  • I've caused trouble. Again.
  • I have a zit on my forehead that could pass for a third eye.
  • The neighbors have erected an ugly wire fence that I have to look at every time I pull in the driveway.
  • My so-called friends figured out that I'm turning 44 tomorrow, when all this time I thought I was going to be 42 or 43, tops.
Now that I've put it all out there, the reality is that no one really cares about my issues. We all have our problems. I think what I need is a little bit -- or a big dose -- of perspective. So this weekend I'm going to drive more than nine hours to Banner Elk, NC where I'm going to spend a few hundred bucks for food and lodging and use a week's vacation to immerse myself in a reality that's quite different from my own; one in which cleaning people have no role and a fence is the least of my concerns for my neighbor.

One of the things that makes my church, Media Presbyterian, so special is its commitment to our neighbors -- both around the corner and around the world. Our members have traveled to Chester and Philadelphia and to Ghana and Liberia to make a difference in communities that need a helping hand. Western North Carolina has long been our family summer mission trip with youth and parents working side by side and the little ones taking on their own small projects and learning what it means to share the love of God by serving others. This year, 72 of us are making the long trek to work on two Habitat for Humanity builds, address the needs of of a couple other home owners, and bring a bit of joy to children living in a homeless shelter.

To be honest, I haven't gone on this NC trip in several years. The drive is too long. I didn't want to "waste" the vacation time. It just wasn't convenient. But this year, even before the church was rocked by the resignation of our senior pastor, I felt called to join my church family in Banner Elk. And in light of the painful reality of what has transpired at MPC and the rebuilding that is taking place, I think this mission trip is exactly what we need. Again, it's about perspective. If we return to our foundation of serving others, we will be reminded of why the church exists in the first place. We can take the focus off ourselves and put it where it rightly belongs.

So I'm going to serve next week. And I guarantee that on Day One I'll be asking myself what the hell I was thinking driving down here to work for someone else when I don't even like to do that kind of work for myself. I'll be whining about the heat or a chipped nail (hey, I just stopped biting my nails, so breaking one is going to be a big deal). The lodge beds won't be comfortable and I won't like the food. Ian will get sick and want to go home (the precedent is there). But I guarantee that by Day Three (I'm leaving some wiggle room in there by not promising Day Two) I'll be weepy when I count my blessings. I'll be hugging members of my church family (and even my children, if they let me) and tearfully telling them how much they mean to me. I'll even have gotten over my irritation with how slowly Cathie drove on the trip down.

If you too are struggling with those day-to-day issues that drag us down, consider doing something for someone else. It doesn't have to require a nine hour drive, but it does require your head, heart and hands, which ultimately sets you free, at least temporarily, from your own problems.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hey! Look at Me!

Last week I shared details from my recent trip to Pittsburgh, which included the "furries" who stole the spotlight from a visit with my college roommate, time with our friends the Boyds, and the Phils v. Pirates game. Truly "a trip" to remember. If you haven't seen that post yet, I encourage you to start there; at least check out the pictures if you don't feel like reading.

At the end of "Now That Was a Trip" I confessed that I had genuine reservations about photographing the freaky furry people animals. It seemed rude, most likely because I knew I wasn't taking the pictures in respect or admiration for what I was seeing. I was basically photographing something bizarre that I needed to share with others so that together we could enjoy a good laugh or at least a disbelieving shake of the head. As I considered the appropriateness of snapping those photos, I had another thought, one prompted by a video I watched recently about the evolution of the swimsuit. Yes, you read that right. Stay with me here.

In The Evolution of the Swim Suit, swim suit designer Jessica Rey presents Princeton University research which studied men and their reaction to photos of scantily clad women.. The study found that men do not see women in bikinis as women, but rather as objects. "Some men showed zero brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that lights up when one ponders another person's thoughts, feelings, and intentions." Translated, these findings mean bikinis are a bad idea if women want to be recognized and treated as human beings by the opposite sex. You're probably wondering how this relates to computer geeks in unicorn suits.

Well, both scenarios lead me to this undoubtedly controversial conclusion:

When we choose to dress, adorn, or style ourselves in a manner that stands out from the crowd, we invite attention. That attention may include having our picture taken by complete strangers.

Does that mean you should try to look like everyone else? Only if the attention bothers you.

Like it or not, dude, you've got some
stares coming your way
If you decide to dress like a unicorn, appear half naked in a skimpy bikini, tattoo every exposed part of your body and pierce everything else, or wear a ball gown to a baseball game, chances are that folks are going to look your way. And you have no right to complain. How we choose to look is a statement about who we are. Your look may scream dork, centerfold, non-conformist or "desperate for attention" but it's "screaming" because you made that choice. And choice is an important word here. People who are born with physical differences are off limits in the "check that out" category. As are people who dress differently for religious or cultural reasons. I know the Amish look really interesting in their dress and mode of travel, but that doesn't mean we should gawk and photograph them like they're a tourist attraction.

Saying that your choices open you to attention, does not mean your personal space should be invaded or compromised. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't be treated with respect, dignity or consideration. I'm just saying when you opt for a lifestyle that lends itself to dressing like an animal, a sex object, or a Klingon, you can't get pissed off when people stare or snap your photo with their smartphone.

So there you have it. The connection between furries, bikinis and the Amish. I'm sure you were wondering how I was going to get there.

No doubt at least a few of you will find my conclusion offensive, so I look forward to hearing your counter response. (Wouldn't this be a great debate topic for a high school competition?)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Now That Was a Trip!

Last Monday Rob, Abby, her friend Bethany and I set out on a road trip to Pittsburgh. Despite state cops as thick as mosquitoes on the turnpike and my nagging Rob incessantly about watching his speed, the drive across the state was blissfully uneventful. We even made our way out of the seedy side of town without getting shot (I guess those pops could have been fireworks) when my GPS took us to the wrong Penn Ave. After arriving at the Westin downtown, we locked the girls in the hotel room and headed to the bar where we found a few of the Phillies broadcasters. I felt very special when Larry Anderson bought us each a beer. I left Rob there, returned to the room, and crawled into my Westin heavenly bed, thinking that this road trip was looking promising indeed. The girls sleeping until 10:30 the next morning didn't even faze me.

But this is a Freakin' Angel blog post, so you've learned to anticipate the drama.

Sure enough, on Tuesday morning after our sleeping beauties decided to grace the world with their presence, we started the long search for breakfast. It could have been quick and painless, but Rob has a stubborn streak and so we covered a mile of the Strip, tripping over vegetable stands and Korean food, tiptoeing past Pirates paraphernalia, and avoiding stuff that smelled bad. It was after 11:30 by the time we found anything resembling an eatery, and naturally Abby insisted she only wanted breakfast food. Did I mention that the girls were wearing flip flops and not happy about their choice of footwear after walking forever? By the time we selected an acceptable spot, Abby was beyond miserable. Which pissed me off. Which made poor Bethany look as if she wanted to cry, wondering why in the world she had subjected herself to a long-distance road trip with crazy people.

Abby whined that she wanted to do something fun. Like go to the beach. Which she knew damn well didn't exist in Pittsburgh. I asked her why she came along on the trip she asked me if she had a choice. Good point. I thought she was being an ungrateful brat for failing to appreciate that she was on a "fun" road trip to see the Phillies play in another city. Apparently baseball games, regardless of the city, are not worth a five hour drive and two mile flip-flop walk for a bagel. Turns out a side visit to Beaver, PA, a tour of Mark Boyd's church, and a visit with my college roommate Kathie wasn't the fun Abby had in mind either.

Thank goodness for the freaky people.

When we'd left the hotel on Tuesday morning, we noticed a handful of odd folks. "Odd" as in wearing tails. And not the kind that go with a tuxedo. There was one individual dressed in full "critter" gear. But at that point we only had eyes for breakfast and didn't pay much attention. Later that afternoon, after our Beaver visit, we returned to the hotel before heading to the Phillies game and found the critters had multiplied exponentially. Some had only furry heads. Others preferred tails or similarly inhuman bottom halves. A dozen or so sported a complete look, most appearing to belong to the feline category, though I spotted a few bears and foxes and others that defied classification. Abby, having become increasingly brazen in recent months, decided to do a little research by going directly to the source:

Abby: "Why are you wearing a tail?"
Fox (clearly uncomfortable being spoken to by an actual human): "Because I'm a fox." (He shows her his fox badge.)
Abby: "Is there something going on? Some kind of event?"
Fox: "Anthrocon."

Anthrocon, according to the event website, is the world's largest convention for those fascinated with anthropomorphics, which are humanlike animal characters. They claim these folks are "a collection of artists, animators, writers, costumers, puppeteers, and just everyday fans who enjoy cartoon animals and their kin." And you'll be happy to know that membership is open to any and all who "like to imagine what it would be like if animals could walk and talk as we do." Where do I sign up?

You'd like to think that there are no more than a few hundred belonging to the "Furry fandom," but if attendance at Anthrocon is any indication, we're talking thousands. More than 5,000 attended last year's event alone, pumping millions into Pittsburgh's economy. It makes sense that hosting the convention should be profitable for a city - even worth the freak show. You have to figure these people spend very little money in real life. Remaining single and living in your parent's basement keeps expenses low. Sorry, that's conjecture. I have no proof that these folks are less likely to marry or lead typical American lives. Actually, as evidenced in this group hug photo, it's clear that they are friendly creatures:

Some were nice enough to wave to us. They seem much more comfortable if their heads are covered. But hey, who isn't? 

I took a few more photos of our furry friends, but not without hesitation. I honestly struggled with whether it was "right" to photograph them for being "different." These were just everyday folks who happened to be in touch with their animal side. Don't they deserve their privacy? Would I want to be photographed for appearing to be strange slightly unusual? I'm actually serious about this. In fact, in my next post I'm going to consider when and where our differences make it acceptable for us to be the subject of blog posts and photo opps. And I'm going to tie it in to bikinis and the Amish. So for now, please enjoy these pictures before I decide they're inappropriate: