Wednesday, March 20, 2013

On The JV Club, Episode 49 (Or, That Time I Sort of Threw a Birthday Party for a Podcast)

It's a dark and rainy day here in CDogland and I am in bed with a gnarly cold, so let's take a journey back in time about two weeks to another rainy day when I was mobile and not forced to breathe almost exclusively through my mouth.

As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I am very pro-podcast. Listening to them has expanded my world on all sorts of levels, be it by introducing me to new performers, informing me about events, or even just helping me think about things in new ways.

Two of my friends - Jennie and Natalie - recently mentioned that they'd like to get into some podcasts, but that the idea of just sitting and listening was unappealing. Always one to embrace a theme, I suggested that we start having podcast parties. We're crafty people (knitting, crocheting, baking, soldering - there aren't many DIY projects we wouldn't attempt at least once), so I figured why not pair creating with listening? And, on top of that, why not share what goes into each event with you?

The day of our first as-yet-unnamed gathering happened to fall on the one year anniversary of The JV Club podcast, so it seemed particularly appropriate to start there. Hosted by Janet Varney, the basic premise of The JV Club is that guest and host alike talk their way from adolescence to adulthood. It's a part of the Nerdist network of podcasts, and I found my way to it through them and through being a fan of Janet, who is one of the three co-founders of SF Sketchfest and voices the lead on The Legend of Korra, among other things.

Of my mainstay podcasts, I can say without hesitation that The JV Club is my favorite. Listening to it has made me laugh, made me cry, made me cringe - sometimes all within the span of one episode. It gave me the courage to throw this post out into the universe. No matter what else is going on, the hour and change that I spend plugged in feels like a safe time to listen and learn and let go.

So yes, it was a good place to start. As it was a Thursday, we met up in the evening after being released from our respective work environments. Nat and Jennie have been working on adding crocheting to their skill set, but opted to knit that night, having not quite mastered the former. I, naturally, had completely forgotten how to knit, so I offered to make dinner. On the menu: lentil soup and Mean Girl bars. Both happen to be gluten free, which I am not. I am, however, a vegan, and the twain often meet. Do know that I'll always mention whether anything I post is GF or not, and that any ingredient I mention is vegan, so I probably won't add the extra qualifier when listing it.

We listened to episode 49, which was recorded live at Sketchfest with Tig Notaro in February. I was in the audience, and being there sort of changed my life (note: if you know me, be aware that this is one of those times when I'm being completely serious about something legitimately changing my life and not like the time I saw From Justin to Kelly). I'd seen Jennie and Nat the day after for our Not-Quite-a-Super-Bowl-More-of-a-Showtune-Singing Party and couldn't shut up about it, so they were curious and I was ready to share. I prefaced the episode with Live, the recording of Tig's legendary Largo set, which will be the best $5 you ever spent, so hit that link and go get it now.

Heavy stuff gets tackled point blank, both in the episode and on the album, and maybe one of the greatest gifts of it all revealed itself when we paused to eat: we talked. Just straight up talked about what we'd heard so far and how we felt about it, and that kind of segued into us just talking about our own lives. These are people that I'm very close to, that I've known for most of my life, but sometimes it's hard to really dig in and go for it. It was nice.

We wrapped the evening with a very important first for me: I made a friendship bracelet. 26 years of living, and I'd never done it before. So, under Jennie's gentle tutelage ("Here's what you do. I'll turn away so I'm not watching and making you uncomfortable..."), I created what I'm sure will be the first of many bracelets, in the podcast's colors.

A successful first venture, and my friends are already on board for more (Jennie: "CDog, we want to have a podcast party where we make tea and scones and sit outside. Do you have an episode of something for that?").

Pics and recipes after the jump.

Monday, March 11, 2013

On Religion (Or, My Best Use of a Beyoncé Quote)

Allow me to begin with the...not disclaimer, I guess, but gentle note that nothing I am about to say is intended as an assault upon religion in any way. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a faith mocker or basher. However, I will not refrain from being respectfully honest about my relationship with religion, both in the past and at this point in my life. While I'd be more than happy to engage in a dialogue with anybody who stumbles upon this, I'd like to ask for the same respect in return.


Religion isn't something I talk about a whole lot, primarily for the same reason why I threw up that not-disclaimer at the beginning: I get pretty concerned about offending anybody. There's an overwhelming tendency to take opinions about this particular subject to an extreme, and that's your prerogative if that's where you want to go with it, but you should probably save yourself some time and leave this page, because that's not conducive with what I'm trying to accomplish here.

I can't speak to anybody else's experience, just my own. But, the thing is, I kind of wish I could've read or listened to the thoughts of another person who'd had struggles and doubts and questions that were similar to mine when I was growing up, so I feel like the time has come for me to toss this out into the cyber-ether with the hope that it may find its way to an inquiring mind who needs it. At the very least, I'll be able to refer back to it if I ever need to have this discussion with someone in my life.

I was raised Catholic, and all of my education was received in private, religious institutions - Catholic grade school, Christian Brothers high school, Jesuit university. As such, my religion was always very present in my life. As a family, we went to church on Sundays. At school, it was a part of the curriculum. The first time I spoke into a microphone, it was to do a reading at a school mass. You might say that's where I started developing my taste for performing.

Let me take a minute, before we go any further, to say that I received a fantastic education. It was not all God, all the time. I was taught about birth control (perhaps not as much as I should have been, but enough to be considered responsible), evolution, and all the rest. I'm also very pro-public education and don't consider myself to be better than anybody who did not go to my schools. Moving on.

Being Catholic didn't feel like a choice, no more than being Irish or tall or spectacularly nearsighted did: it just was. I was all right with that, especially when I was younger. God was initially presented to me as someone who would always be there, listening and never judging. Forgiveness and love and acceptance were the words that I associated with my religion, and who could argue with any of that?

As I got older, things started to get a little murkier. Forgiveness and love and acceptance were all still there, but they weren't being presented as quite so absolute anymore. Guilt started to enter the picture. Learning about hell and eternal damnation was pretty traumatic, and I remember being terrified when I was around nine or ten that I would screw up unforgivably and end up there. That's a lot to lay on a kid, the idea that your goodness or badness would earn you a ticket either to paradise or a fiery pit of torture. For eternity.

'Cause here's the thing, guys: children have a tendency to take things very, very literally. I was the kind of kid who trusted adults, particularly my teachers and parents, pretty implicitly: if they said it, I took it as fact. My dad has a bump on the back of his head. When I was little, he told me that it was a bear tooth that had gotten stuck in his skull when he had gone camping with my grandparents as a little boy, and I believed him. For YEARS.

Now, I'm not equating religion with my father's affinity for tall tales at all. What I am saying, however, is that many religions have very rich, nuanced histories and stories full of metaphors and symbolism that adults, or even adolescents, have a better chance of interpreting than a seven year old, who will be more likely to take what they're told at face value. Right around seventh grade, my teachers switched things up and started referring to the story of Adam and Eve as just that - a story, meant to illustrate a greater lesson of faith. Up until then, it had pretty much been presented as historic fact. Pardon my language, but this was a total mindfuck. To have been raised thinking one thing one way for so long, only to be told, "Hey, by the way, also this and mostly not that," was incredibly confusing.

The good thing is, this confusion kind of supported my developing mind and my new adolescent urge to question. The bad thing is, questioning already felt wrong. Remember that guilt I mentioned? As I was on the cusp of my teenage years, it had pretty much inundated my life, and was particularly tied to my burgeoning sexuality.

Yup, we're going there.

Once you hit 4th gradeish, right around spring and/or Easter, regular religion classes paused so that, "Family Life," could be taught. It was basically a super watered down version of sex ed, designed to help you understand the changes you were going through, or were about to go through. 4th grade was kind of a general overview of nature and life that I don't totally remember. 5th grade tackled a little bit of puberty and the physical body. The boys left the room (we had a female teacher) with copies of The Marvelous Male, presumably to go meet with a dude and talk about nocturnal emissions. The girls stayed in the classroom with copies of The Fabulous Female and learned all about menstruation - which, FYI, sounds really horrifying on paper.

Fun fact - during this time, I had the delightful distinction of being the first girl in my class to get her period. I was nine, it was not awesome, and in the middle of that trauma, my poor mother made what she thought was a harmless joke about me using myself as an example in class. I was less than amused.

6th - 8th grade guided us through sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and everything in between. I use, "guided," very loosely, in that we were told that pretty much everything related to sex was super wrong unless you were straight and married. This information was not delivered to us directly from our teachers, but rather through a series of videos that had clearly been shot in the mid-80s (I graduated in 2000). The host of these videos defined sexual concepts, then proceeded to explain how offensive and dangerous they were in a very serious tone.

These offensive and dangerous concepts included, but I'm sure were not limited to: masturbation, homosexuality, cross-dressing, "necking," "petting," "heavy petting," and sex.

Understandably, I was pretty terrified if a boy made eye contact with me, lest it be a gateway to heavy petting and damnation.

All joking aside, however, this method of education for sure damaged my own understanding of my sexuality. For years. Like, I've only recently started to recover.

And you know what? That's something that I'm pretty pissed about. I'm angry that I spent even a minute thinking that being gay was wrong - that's something I got over very quickly, but the whole experience of having that opinion foisted upon me by people I trusted left a permanently bad taste in my mouth. I'm angry that I spent such a long time feeling such a deep sense of shame about being a sexual being.

'Cause that's what happened, ultimately. I very clearly remember having my first explicitly sexual thought when I was thirteen. It was new and visceral and confusing and exciting, but what I remember most was the shame. There were physical feelings and reactions that accompanied these thoughts, but I couldn't ask anybody about them because everything in my head told me they were wrong. The video had said it, and the video had been shown to me at school, and I trusted the people at school, so there it was. My relationship with my body was all kinds of messed up, because as far as I understood, a bunch of stuff was only there for dudes to use (and only if the ultimate goal was babymaking).

Here's the thing, guys, and I know it seems super obvious, but saying it will just make me feel better: we are sexual people. There's no escaping it. And that is awesome. Having sex? Awesome. Not having sex? Awesome. Masturbating? Still an odd word to me, but totally awesome. In fact, few things are more awesome than embracing your power to explore and understand your own body and feelings. Expressing your sexuality, responsibly and on your own terms, is healthy. Repressing it because you think you've offended God for owning a vibrator or not having a ring on it is awful.

In high school, I hit another major roadblock when I learned that there were some sins that were considered unforgivable - among them, suicide. The explanation that was given to me was that life was the ultimate gift from God, suicide was the ultimate disrespect for this gift, and thus, it was unforgivable. This didn't sit well with me. I don't know about you, but I have never known anybody who just casually decided to commit suicide. To me, a person that broken and wounded seemed more than deserving of God's all encompassing love and forgiveness. To be clear, I don't think suicide is the answer to anything. Ever. But I also don't think it's soul-damning. I got into a disagreement with my teacher about it. He was not overly fond of me.

These are big examples of why my personal journey eventually led me away from the religion that was, at one point, a massive part of my identity. I came to the realization that I was starting to believe things that were different from what I had been taught, and from what the modern church had been telling me was true. My personal understanding of the world no longer aligned with Catholicism. I had a mini-crisis when this happened, right around college. For awhile, losing my religion (no REM pun intended) kind of felt like losing a vital appendage - it had been a part of my being, and who was I without it?

Eventually, I discovered the answer: not that different. In fact, maybe even a little bit better, because the parts of me that had been so confused and guilty and a little bit angry were finally at peace.

If I had to define myself now, I'd say I'm pretty agnostic with a dash of theism in there. I believe in something, or at least the possibility of something. Maybe it's God, maybe it's the universe, I don't know. And I'm pretty okay with the not knowing. For my part, I think that something so vast and potentially sacred should not be known, not in the traditional sense, at least. Because we're flawed, fallible people, and not all of us would use that knowledge for good.

I know I've said it a few times, but I absolutely respect everyone's right to believe in their religion* (or, alternately, to not believe at all). Much of my family and many of my friends are still practicing, and that's totally cool. For all of the parts that I did not enjoy, being raised Catholic was also a tremendous gift in so many ways. I've encountered tons of wonderful people - teachers, nuns, priests - who, along with my parents, taught me the importance of love, kindness, and compassion. I am a more sensitive, empathetic person for having known them. A strong sense of spirituality was fostered in me, particularly by a lot of my religion teachers in high school who I regret not having the time to talk about here, and I will forever hold onto and cherish that part of myself.

If I have to end this very lengthy post with something, let it be this pretty indisputable fact: no matter where you're from or how you were brought up, it's okay to give yourself permission to be who you are. Gay, straight, virgin, not a virgin, Christian, Buddhist, atheist, whatever. None of that makes you better or smarter than anyone else, nor does it make you inferior to anybody. It just means that you are you, and that is never wrong.

*Note: I should clarify by saying that, while I do respect this right, what I do not respect is any group or individual using religion as a justification for discrimination or disrespect of any other group or individual. That probably goes without saying, but now it doesn't have to, 'cause I said it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

On Anger (Or, I Think I'm Sort of a Grown-Up Now A Little)

So here's what's going to happen: we're going to shoot right past me being super lax in the blogging department for a thousand months and just move right into me getting a little deep on you for a second.

If you're someone in my life, you know that I had a bit of a rough summer. If you're not...I had a bit of a rough summer. There was a sudden influx of trials and tragedy, and I did not handle it very gracefully, in that I didn't really handle it at all. This is neither healthy nor recommended, but the reality is that, for about seven months, I was emotionally unavailable. My expectation was that a thousand more shoes were going to drop at any given moment, and switching off seemed like the safest option.

That went on until about a month ago, when I went to a recording of The JV Club podcast and got knocked back into my life. It's since been posted as episode 49, live at Sketchfest with Tig Notaro. I know I'm prone to saying that a lot of things are life changing, and I've had tons of best days ever, but know that I'm not being charmingly hyperbolic when I say that spending $15 to sit in that theatre was one of the most important things I've ever done. The things that spoke to me may not speak to you, but I do strongly encourage you to listen to the episode - it's funny and devastating and just incredibly special.

Funnily enough, I had listened to the podcast pretty regularly up until things took a turn. The things I loved about it were the same things that made me stop listening for awhile - it made me think and feel a lot. Since that afternoon, I've picked it back up and have been devouring every episode I missed. It was good that I stopped, because CDog the Emotional Shut-In was not at all ready to hear a lot of the things that guests and host alike have shared.

This whole confluence of events has made me take a serious look at myself, possibly for the first time ever, and one of the most important things I've realized is this: I was a really angry person for a very, very long time.

And you know what? Realizing that sucks. It makes me want to reach back in time and punch Past Me in the face, because she took a lot for granted and wasted so much time and energy carrying around such an ungodly amount of bitterness and fear that it's no wonder she had so many back problems.

Yet, as unfortunate as it is to realize that I treated myself (and some others, I have no doubt) so poorly for about a decade, there's something kind of glorious about the equally powerful realization that I am not that person anymore and have not been for quite some time. When I finally hit bottom, I got my head together enough to make a decision: tomorrow was going to be better. Whatever the day threw at me, I was going to take it and be happy. It was the first time in months that I felt like I was really in control of anything.

That was about two years ago, and I repeat those same words to myself every night, be it at the end of a day that was excellent or awful: tomorrow will be better. I will be awesome.

Now, I'm not naive enough to think that this automatically solves all problems, but it's definitely a vital part of the equation. It certainly helped me take the first steps toward letting go of a lot of things that didn't really seem to matter so much anymore.

Maybe what I'm saying, in a really roundabout way, is that life is full of ups and downs, and allowing yourself to surrender to both willingly might be the only way to get through it all. Opening up as a person, not taking a seven month hiatus from your feelings...these are good things.

Guys...I think that at some point in the past couple years, I sort of became a grown-up maybe.

Kind of exciting, isn't it?

Don't worry. I'm not going to stop wearing Spider-Man shirts.