Wednesday, April 19, 2006


"Hi Monica!"

During my 14th year, strangers in my relatively small hometown started greeting me this way, mysteriously often. The first few times, I felt like I must be imagining it: Did I just get called Monica? Again? After about the 8th time it happened, the mistaken identity began to bother me.

"Who's Monica?" I asked my friend Leah.

"She's that other redheaded girl," Leah said. "She goes to Marco." Marco Forster Junior High School was the public Junior High School in town. I went to the Catholic school. Leah played fullback on the AYSO soccer team where I played goalie. We'd been Brownies and Girl Scouts together in Elementary. We were also in National Charity League together during high school. Incidentally, we also went to the same college, although we didn’t room together. Leah liked nothing better than to hang out and chat with me in the backfield while our forwards were running the ball furiously toward the goal. (I owe much of my former soccer goalie prowess to Leah's sieve-like defense of the goal box.) Leah went to public school; therefore, she knew this Monica. "She's taller than you are, but you look a lot alike," she said.

Instead of playing soccer, Monica danced ballet, which explains why our paths took so long to cross. We finally met when our different National Charity League subchapters convened at a common house. The girls in Monica's subchapter were debutantes. This meeting-nay-party was all about how to give ourselves manicures -- a very useful skill, like typing, for example; how to arrange flowers; how to sit down in a chair properly and what to do with your legs while sitting. My own subchapter did community service together: we candy striped; we patterned a local quadriplegic girl who had been paralyzed since birth; we delivered meals on wheels, read for Head Start students, walked together, along with our mothers, in the Swallows Day Parade. A few times, we met with California stateswomen, like Marian Bergeson. I have to say that as noble as these things were, I remember more from that one meeting where I learned manicure skills (always file in one direction), flower arranging skills (cut the stems under running water), and sitting etiquette (back up to the chair until the backs of your legs brush the seat; sit straight down; fold your ankes around one another and let your legs lean together to one side. Never! Cross! Your! Legs!).

It might have been through our participation in this group that my parents found out about Young Republican Camp, where they sent me when I was 16. But that is a totally awesome memory that I'm reserving for a future writing.

The moment I saw her, I knew I'd met my match.

"You must be Monica," I said.

"You're Christa!" she said.

"We don't look alike at all," I said.

"No," she said.

We stood staring at one another, trying to belie our greedy need to find our difference in one another. Then, recognizing our awkward silence, we tried to start talking again.

"I guess our hair color is kind of similar," I said.

"And it's cut sort of similar," she said. Our haircut resembled the cut that Tracy Austin, the 80's teen tennis star, sported in the 70s: longish, with bangs and slight feathering around the face.

"Yeah," I said.

Monica and I didn't say anything to each other for the rest of the party, and I never saw her again.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fate and Free Will

Lately, I've been wrestling with fate. That is, I've been contemplating the concept that one's existence requires her to behave in accordance with the life choices she has made. I'm operating here under the understanding that the life choices people make constitute their "destiny" or fate.

Ideally, we make our life choices consciously; for example, a woman may love many, many men in her lifetime; however, when it comes to choosing a mate, she combines as much awareness as she can muster with a generous dose of dumb luck and chooses one man. What results is the life she leads as a married woman to that particular man; i.e., her "fate." Likewise, a woman gets pregnant with her husband (they are poor artists, they are "not ready," they have decided to wait; nevertheless, she gets pregnant the old fashioned way--without "planning") and chooses to go ahead and become a mother, knowing that having children will complicate her life in the deepest way. She lives, in short, with her eyes and heart open to the experiences she's having; she does not crash or thrash through her life, complaining that the life she's creating for herself -- whether consciously or unconsciously -- is unfair. She does not become a victim of her fate.

Sometimes, while contemplating my fate, passages from Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being seep into my consciousness, passages like "The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become" (Kundera 5).

Before I became a new mom/shut-in, I enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle: I played in a band; I wrote and produced original performances; I acted in plays; I taught English Literature; I traveled the world. My husband and I spent a lot of time out with our friends. We attended parties -- pool parties, cast parties, democratic parties, garden parties, galas. We even threw a party now and then. Mine was a relatively light existence, a troubled existence to be sure -- whose isn't? -- but free of irrevocable responsibility for the most part.

Not so much these days.

Recently, my friend Jason asked me if I wanted to be in a play -- the world premiere rock opera by Daniel Johnston and Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Jason is directing it. It's gonna be amazing, and I would love to be in the play more than most anything else. But I had to say no. No. No. No. Because not only am I a wife, and the mom of a fourteen month old daughter, but also because I'm carrying another baby in my uterus. These three things are major responsibilities, each one compounded by the next. Being a wife is easy; being a wife and mother is exponentially harder. Being a mother of two, I've heard, is exponentially harder than being a mother of one. Besides the responsibilities to my family, there's the reality that by six p.m., I can barely stand. The only thing I'm successful at during the evening hours is passing out from exhaustion.

Is it worth it? Is giving up this extravagant, seemingly expansive lifestyle for the limited, burdened one of family worth the exchange?

Yes. It is. I think. I hope.

I used to think of the Fate phenomenon as the opposite of Free Will. But over the years, I've learned that Fate is a result of Free Will; there is no versus between the two. They are intimately connected, in the same way all great oppositions are connected: dark/light, male/female, parent/child, heaviness/lightness. There is no one without the other.

There is no extravagance without burden.