A Note

Ever since my mother died, I have had trouble singing. I can’t think of anything that is more loaded with emotion, mostly pain. I haven’t set foot in a church in nearly two years, also in my grief. I know damn well that this is temporary, that my love of church will return when my spirit calms. It is important to have a faith community that loves me through good times and bad, people that I can turn to in both extremes. Right now, though, when I walk into a church I don’t see comfort and joy. I see the ghost of my mother’s past. It is not peaceful for me. It is a white-knuckling, stomach churning experience of just trying to get through the service without a complete goose-honking cry of a meltdown. And the thing is, I know that would be okay, too.

It is my own fear of being that vulnerable in public that stops me. Perhaps fear is the wrong word, but anxiety. I am trying my best to keep my head above water, avoiding the things that will actively help me to stop functioning. Walking around in my mother’s inner landscape, even for a couple of hours, leads to me losing the rest of the day. I have to sleep it off in those depression and anxiety-fueled naps that last hours, even when I’m not sleepy. And even in my dreams, I’m thinking “I don’t have time for this.” The clinical term for this is “decompensating.”

According to dictionary.com, there is both a medical and psychological meaning.

Medical decompensation is “the inability of a diseased heart to compensate for its defect.”

Psychological decompensation is “a loss of ability to maintain normal or appropriate psychological defenses, sometimes resulting in depression, anxiety, or delusions.”

It is funny how incredibly close those definitions are, when you look at the heart metaphorically.

I feel that I should say for the record that I have never had a delusion, although I have come close by taking someone else’s crazy statement and believing it as fact, incorporating it into my reality to disastrous results… What turned their crazy into my crazy was not stopping for a moment to evaluate said statement for objective truth, because in a lot of ways, it was what I wanted to hear…………………

Objective reality slipped beyond my grasp, living in a reinforced bubble created by fantasy. I was living as high as one could possibly be on dopamine without taking a drug to raise it chemically.

Later, when the bubble burst, I came back down to earth. It was an amazing feeling to see life for what it was, instead of my own version. What was happening in the world around me no longer carried a malleable haze.

I present with depression and anxiety, though I’m Bipolar II, so I do get a few hypomanic days now and then. But the highs are not so high. They’re just enough to make me feel like I’m living without depression and can be extraordinarily productive, sometimes foregoing sleep to get things done. Part of this is chemical; the other part is not knowing when I’ll be hypomanic again, and trying to use that time wisely.

I am extremely lucky that my fluctuations in mood just go from not depressed to extremely depressed, and medication makes those swings even easier to manage. Whenever I feel sorry for myself, I simply think of the people who are much worse off, the people who have no trouble swinging between suicidal plans and megalomania…. or have poor impulse control akin to buying five cars in one day.

I have no doubt in my mind that I was hypomanic when I decided to audition for the Washington National Opera chorus, but again, it was just being productive. Had I been truly depressed when I learned that the auditions were in a month, self-doubt would have eaten me alive and I would have lacked the courage to sign up altogether.

Which brings me back around to church and my mom. I need to sing again. I need to be in a chorus with other great singers who will raise my own game. I’m not much of an actor, but I’ll learn. In a gargantuan way, this is all about finding a replacement for church choir while I work on my daily ups and downs during the devastation of grief. I know I will still feel it. How can I not since my sister was in the children’s chorus at Houston Grand Opera, and I have such fond memories of my mom and Lindsay “on set?”

I counter that with all the hair, costumes and makeup. If I audition and get in, I will have the chance to be someone else for a while. Lots of someone elses if I get a contract for the whole season. The operas happening after my audition are Eugene Onegin, Faust, and Tosca. The links are all to their respective Wikipedia pages, because opera is so much more accessible when you know the story before you buy the tickets.

As I was telling a friend the other day, I hope the writing that comes out of a successful audition is work that brings younger audiences to opera. It is not dead thanks to the old and the rich, but if that trend continues, opera will be less and less popular over time. Opera has such a rich history that I cannot imagine losing it. Lots of them are novels that come to life, and generally more accurate than the movies.

It’s also a great break from technology, as it is entirely immersive. You have to read the supertitles to understand the language translation, or in the case of operas in your native language, to be able to pick out the words from the music. Hard to look at your phone and comprehend at the same time…. plus, the ushers will get mad at you because of the light. If your phone actually rings, good luck. God bless. 😛

I’m not starting singing again with arias, though. Today I did some breath control exercises and sang along to Merry Christmas from the Family (the Dixie Chicks and Rosie O’Donnell version as opposed to Robert Earl Keen, because it’s in a higher key). It’s such a funny song that for the first time in years, as I was singing I felt……. merry. It reminded me of the funniest parts of being a Texan, because if you’ve ever lived there, especially in a small town, you know this family. They live two doors down. There’s a broken swing set and a rusted car on blocks in the front yard. Both have been there since you moved in, and will be long after you leave.

The backyard looks like a garage sale all year ’round. On a serious note, even though they have just short of nothing, they’ll give you the shirts off their backs and the shoes on their feet if you need them, because they know what it’s like to literally have nothing and they’ll do whatever they can to help. There is no better place to live than small town Texas, because even though you can’t take a step out of your house without all 2,000 people knowing where you’re going, that’s not a bad thing. They sniff out trouble like bloodhounds, and just rally around you until it passes.

However, if you are selfish in any way, you don’t belong there. Community comes with responsibility.

Which brings me to another important reason why I’ve dropped off the face of the earth in terms of church. I’m empty. I’m all tapped out. I have nothing to contribute because I am struggling to keep my own head above water.

And the thing is, it wouldn’t bother the church at all. They know that when I’m in a better place, I can do more for the people around me. It’s all my own “stuff” to work out, because I cannot abide showing up to a potluck without a casserole, capiche?

I have high hopes for this opera audition, even though I won’t be crushed if I don’t get in. I know for certain that I am a fourth as good as the people auditioning who’ve been singing arias for years on end (I’m not a pessimist, just a realist). The high hopes come from joining a community in a new context, without the baggage I carry when entering a church. I see the glory of God in classical music, which, to my mind, is running towards spirituality instead of away…. making my way slowly, but surely, back into the world communion.

I am surprised that this has been my reaction to grief, because for the first two or three weeks after my mother died, walking into the sanctuary made me feel as if she were right there, so close I could touch her again. Then a pointed sermon on grief made me absolutely lose my shit with anxiety, just crying and shaking as if exorcising a demon. I didn’t want to be comforted, I wanted to be invisible. I didn’t want anyone to see my grief laid that bare. On top of my anxiety, I am quite shy and introverted. If you think otherwise, it’s from years and years of practice at hiding it away. I can have entire conversations that end with you knowing nothing about me, because my go-to is deflection. I ask so many questions about your life that you don’t have a chance to get a word in edgewise to ask me about mine. In that scenario, I can be extroverted and gregarious, because I’m not revealing anything. It also cuts way down on me giving answers I think of as crazy or stupid so I don’t have anything to beat myself up with later.

Trust me, if I was weird to you 20 years ago, I still have the ability to obsess over it. It would be an absolute relief to be onstage as a character in a group, completely forgetting everything in terms of who I am and pouring everything into letting me go for a few hours a night. I am hoping it will give me enough clinical separation to see myself more objectively once the performance is over…. because then, I might be able to turn my anxiety about being vulnerable in public back into needing other people for support, and rising to the occasion of giving my own support to others.

My new copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias is on its way. May it be the first step forward onto holy ground.

The Molotov Cocktail

I don’t believe that people don’t listen when someone throws a Molotov cocktail at their own preconceived notions of how wonderful they are.

This quote is from an e-mail reply sent to me when I was explaining a particular problem with which I am internally wrestling to the ground… like I do, in a “hold on, I have to overthink about it” sort of way. It was so astounding in its clarity, such a succinct rocket propelled truth grenade, that I felt it deserved top billing. This is because yes, I can apply it to this situation, but moreover, I can apply it to myself and the journey I’ve taken over the years to become a better version of myself.

I’ve mentioned before that being panicked all the time allowed things to come out of my mouth that never would’ve otherwise, and when someone threw that Molotov cocktail at me, at first I was angry and popped off even more, because in the moment, that’s all I could think to do. But once the cortisol wore off, I did indeed take those words away and think about them, making them a part of my heartbeat and using them as fuel, onwards and upwards.

Things calmed down somewhat naturally, but when I started taking Klonopin,™ the adrenaline I felt during conflict all but went away. It allowed me to shoot water at the (very, very tall) flames. I could sit back and remember the day I wrote that the fire inside me could not be contained with water. I had to bring in a much bigger fire, and then rest and relax in the ash-enriched earth. Before that, anxiety kept my own fire burning, and those words got lost in the middle of the mess. It was a wonderful day when they came back.

In case you’re wondering, I do read my own blog like a stalker ex-girlfriend at 2:00 AM. Mostly because after time has passed, I am so divorced from my own words that they seem as if someone else wrote them. It’s deeper than that, though. It’s about learning to rely on myself and, God forbid, take my own advice. There are some entries where I legitimately say, “that’s so wise. I wish I had written it.” It’s a shock to my system to realize that it was me, just a different iteration.

The truth bomb for me was learning that my anger at the world was rubbing off on people in ways that I both didn’t intend and indeed wanted to inflict the pain I was experiencing. This is because sometimes there were innocent bystanders, and sometimes my yard felt threatened and I went off like a rat dog with a Napoleon complex (at 5’4 and barely 125, the description is apt). I still occasionally say things that have consequences I don’t understand, but so does everyone else. There is no way to predict or be responsible for someone else’s perception of reality. The difference now is that I don’t feel threatened, because most of the threat was my own perception of reality and not external stimuli. It’s my medication, though, that I credit with allowing the anger within me to dissipate, because without the suppression of anxiety’s physical symptoms, I didn’t have time to coolly and calmly calculate my next move. There was no, “I could say this, or I could say that.” It was just the “think it, say it” plan. Sometimes it worked well for me, because for all its faults, it was definitely authentic. I didn’t have time to put on the mask of “everything’s fine.” What really forced me to examine my thought processes was the old axiom that hurt people hurt people… something I knew logically, but hadn’t instituted emotionally. Making the connection between heart and mind had previously eluded me. And while I am still intensely cerebral, I feel that now I am using more parts of my heart than I used to be capable.

This is because once I “relaxed in the ash-enriched earth,” some of the dead spots left by years of emotional abuse as a teenager started to grow back… and I won’t lie, those neurons were at first part of the problem, raising my threat level to DEFCON “OH MY FUCK!.” Though I take full responsibility for my thoughts and actions, I also can’t ignore the context… because as I say often, I won’t make excuses, but I hope I can provide understanding of why something happened, because nothing happens in a vacuum. And that is where writing really helps me, because I don’t generally lay out that context for the people themselves, but on my own. It is not their responsibility to understand. It’s mine.

It is amazing, though, how much pleasure and happiness have come back into my life via self-reflection. People have seen me heal and have drawn their own conclusions, just from trying to explain me to me. I am no longer a tight knot of fear ALL THE TIME, which was my modus operandi for a number of years. Seeing how it was failing me allowed my life to expand, taking a detour when my mother died, but not stopping progress altogether. I just had to find different sources of unconditional love, because it’s the one thing my mother was capable of doing that no one else did (though they do now, because with my friends, there’s a recognition that it needed to be replaced somewhere). My mother was the only person in my life that was constantly on my side, never ever saying “what did you do?,” but “what have they done to my baby?” And this was even after I reassured her I was being a right tool and I deserved every bit of the karma coming around. It just never mattered to her. She was always on my side, no matter how I behaved, and I think that’s a mother’s love in a nutshell.

For instance, I think she’d hate that I don’t go to church anymore, because it’s not a comforting experience. However, I think she would understand, because it’s me. My belief that God is the source of every story ever told, that we are all subtractions of the divine, has never faltered. But when I walk into a church, all I see is her. She’s at the organ. She’s in the choir. She’s sitting in the congregation. She’s pinching my hand hard enough to draw blood when I’m laughing so hard I just cannot keep it together… and if she’s in the alto section and I’m far enough away with the sopranos, she’s giving me the death stare instead. If you’ve never seen my mother’s death stare, you just won’t even know the half of how…… effective it could be. Therefore, every single church service I attend doesn’t feel uplifting. It feels like a knife in my front.

I am sure that as time passes, so this will, also. But I’m not there yet, and if there is indeed a heaven and she is watching, I hope she realizes this… that life is always in forward motion, and belonging to a faith community (or starting one) will happen in its own time.

My theology dictates that there is no heaven or hell, just which one we’re bringing to the life we’re living right now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine it. I can also imagine, as I do in all things, that I could be wrong. It has been known to happen…..

…which often leads to the examination of how wonderful I think I am, and adjusting as necessary, because I listen.

The Goldfish

Easter is a hard day for me in terms of grieving my mother. Because here is what is supposed to happen today. We’re supposed to wake up early so that Lindsay and I get our Easter presents, even when I’m not living in Houston and open my presents with her while she’s on the phone. Usually, it’s money and a metric tonne of chocolate, including a hollow bunny for the annual drinking of the Dr Pepper. Then, my mom and I both go off to our volunteer jobs. For a lot of my life it was playing my horn, and for the rest, singing in the choir. The first year after my mom died, I went to Easter services and cried all the way through it. This year, I am not even thinking about leaving the house. We’re having a to-do with “the family,” and that is enough.

This morning, Hayat and I sat around drinking coffee and eating Milanos, but first, I talked to my dad as he was on his way to play his trumpet at Second Baptist.

It’s kind of cool that between TV and Facebook Live events, I can actually hear him play, and sometimes see him in the background. It makes me happy because he is just as good as he was in high school/college. I, however, am not. Some of my fondest memories are of being on the brass line, so it’s nice to live vicariously through him.

Before there were church jobs for me, though, there were trails of plastic eggs filled with candy and/or malted milk eggs to our Easter baskets filled with that fake grass that gets damn everywhere. Black_Moor_Goldfish1In third grade, I asked for a goldfish, and I got it. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with a present, because it was a black moor, and he was so incredibly cute. I managed to keep him alive for probably two years, a miracle since at that time, I didn’t know that goldfish desperately need an aquarium to breathe properly. He just had the classic bowl setup. I’d sit in front of the bowl and just stare at his googly eyes, wondering if he was lonely and deciding that no, he was okay. He had me. This fish is absolutely the reason I’ve kept goldfish most of my life, and will continue to in memoriam…. both for that fish and the one who gave it to me. I wish I could remember what I named it…. I’m usually pretty good about these things. For instance, I remember that Dana and I had a whole tank that we gave eastern names- we had Samir, Saeed, and Zain. Saeed came from Lindsay’s high school boyfriend, Zain was his cousin, and Samir just fit with the theme. But third grade is so long ago…. I’ve slept since then. I want to say it was Malcolm. Don’t quote me on that.

I wish I could remember other presents I got, but I only remember the candy. This was the big highlight, so the one that sticks in my memory the best. I thought it was hilarious that my mother was so big on giving us chocolate for Easter, but never really ate any herself. However, I think she enjoyed my goldfish as much as I did. I often wonder what made her pick the black one, or how she knew they were my favorite. But my mother was sneaky like that. She had the memory of an elephant, so I could say that I liked something and it would magically appear up to three years later…. and I never found any indication that she wrote stuff like that down.

I would make wish lists on Amazon for Christmas, and she never bought anything from any of them, preferring to listen to me and surprise me with things I’d forgotten about long ago. But Easter hasn’t been about presents since I was little. It’s been about hard, hard work. Hours upon hours of rehearsal and laryngitis and my embouchure being plain worn out after several services in a row. The trumpet descants were always better than the soprano ones, so when I gave up trumpet, I would sing those descants as a soprano instead….. unless the organist surprised me by playing his/her own modulations and the descants didn’t fit into the chord structure anymore. I think that only happened once, though, so I pretty much got away with it every year.

As you can imagine, even entering a church is difficult for me now, because I just see my mother everywhere, and it is not as comforting as one might think. It is just a reminder of despair, because there is no better synecdoche for my mother than a piano… or an organ…. or a choir robe…. or a really great alto part….

It’s hard to swallow because I miss choir, but I don’t miss feeling like crap every Sunday because I cannot rise above grief (at this time).

Perhaps the answer is in thinking that my mom’s resurrection is within me, carrying her music into the future.

I’m just not there yet. I mean, I haven’t even bought a goldfish.

The Resurrection Has Begun

Yesterday was red-letter for me, albeit a bit scary in multiple ways.

At 1:00 PM, I met with a recruiter in downtown Silver Spring face-to-face, something about which I was incredibly anxious. I felt the fear and did it, anyway. My comfort zone is Zip Recruiter, LinkedIn, and the hundreds of e-mails that come to me from recruiters in the area because my job profiles are listed as “actively looking.” I’ve gotten lots of bites this way, but as my father reminded me, my personality is usually what gets me jobs- impossible to show off over e-mail… well, not impossible, because I’m generally funny and engaging in cover letters to stand out, but the whole package is somewhat hidden.

I got lucky because the recruiter had literally gotten a call not an hour before about a job, therefore I was the first and so far, only candidate. He looked at my resume and thought I might be perfect for it, given my wide range of past experiences. He said to call him back on Monday at 11:00 AM and he’d tell me what the employer said…. but he didn’t think it would be a problem. My only issue is that it’s a contract that only lasts until August, so there are two things I need to do in response. The first is to continue my job search starting in June, and the second is to try my best to make myself invaluable so that there’s no reason for the contract to end…. possibly getting hired as a full-time employee.

The job itself is part customer service, part marketing analyst. It is responding to surveys in the Office of Government Affairs given to it by the Library of Congress, and creating new surveys after the response part is complete. Basically, the Library of Congress wants to know how it’s doing when people visit. I’m a voracious reader and writer. The Library of Congress is my jam. If I get this job, I will be over the moon. It will be a chance to showcase what I do best- talking to people and writing content for both web & print. You’d think I’d be awful at talking to people, but I am engaging and funny and not anxious at all when the conversation is for work. Anxiety about cold-calling is not an issue, because I don’t have to come up with things to say on the spot. Writing? Amazing. Off the cuff? Hit or miss (in the moment, it is often “I’m sorry, what are words again?”). Plus, working for the government I’d get more days off than everyone else. 😛

The hourly wage is more than I’ve ever made in my life, but there’s a reason for it. Because I’m not a full-time employee, I have to cover my own insurance. At that rate, I cannot continue to be on state-run programs. Now THAT irritates my anxiety. No private insurance is as good as the one I’ve got now. All my doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions are free (no-copay at all), and my medications are a dollar a bottle. Plus, Vesta does not take private insurance, so I’d have to leave both Leighton (my psychiatric nurse practitioner) and Sarah (my therapist).

I hate the thought of starting over with a new therapist, especially if I do not get a job right away after August and am back with Sarah again, having missed over eight months with her. Perhaps that will not happen, though, because this recruiting agency seems solid, and even if I have to go a couple of weeks to a month without a contract, that’s ok. I can save up enough to float me if necessary, thanks to that insane hourly wage. I have no doubt that my hourly would go down as a permanent employee, more than made up by a government benefits package. It’s exciting to think about embarking on this new path, because for over a year, I have felt dead inside.

One of the hallmarks of a parent dying is that a part of you dies, as well. The will to live life to the fullest is wrested away from you in favor of “what’s the point? They’re not there to see it.” Looking for a job is the one area of my life in which I have no problem, because applications are rote. Trying to fund my own dreams is another thing entirely. I’d like to work for myself by starting a homeless ministry, but that is the point at which I’ve felt the most ennui. My mother will not be there when I graduate from college and grad school, will not be there for my ordination ceremony, and will definitely not be there to play the piano and direct the choir while I find my own “Ed McMahon.”

Things looking up has provided me a way to start believing in myself again. This has been a garbage dump of a year, being so close to getting several jobs and then not, fighting the worthlessness of having nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Well, that’s not entirely honest. I’ve enjoyed working on myself and several different writing projects that may or may not earn money in the future. Time will tell once they are finished. I decided early on not to do NaNoWriMo this year, because it requires an entirely new idea and not a work in progress, as well as a time commitment I planned not to have. My works in progress are more important to me than trying to come up with something new. I dropped working on -frog.-, however, because the original idea was to explain the trilogy of Dana, Argo, and me in fiction…. and I just don’t have it in me to spend that much time thinking about them anymore. However, my memory is long, and maybe I’ll go back to it in five or ten years, once the grief has faded and I can look at the situation without exploding the land mines therein.

My main work in progress is a child/young adult novel called Fish Ralph, of which you can read an unedited and entirely off-the-cuff first chapter. I sent it to several middle school kids and teachers. The feedback I got encouraged me to not ask the teachers anymore. They thought it was too wordy, and something kids wouldn’t like. The kids ate it up.

Restarting that work was just one more step in raising my self esteem, especially when my sister said she was dying to hear what happened to Sarah and David Michael. One note- when you get to the part about geez, is the bike ok?,” I stole that from a story my first boyfriend, Ryan, told me about his dad. Now, his dad was just being funny. Sarah’s dad is just that clueless. Credit where credit is due.

On to the rest of my yesterday.

At 3:00, I went to donate platelets. I was pleased when I found out that my iron level had gone from 11.7 to 13.9. I passed with flying colors and they hooked me up to the machine. I wore all the winter clothes I could find, because when you’re giving platelets, your body temperature drops significantly and you cannot stop shivering. About 30 minutes before I was done, my body temperature spiked and I was so warm I had a vaso vagel reaction and almost fainted and vomited at the same time. They gave me some ice cold paper towels and orange juice, but it did not help, so they brought me a trash bag in order to try and keep me going. It didn’t help, either, so they stopped the treatment early. Because I was only 30 minutes from finishing, I don’t know if they had enough platelets to be useful, but the important thing is that I did it. It was excruciating to get ready, because you cannot take any NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug- basically anything in the aspirin category) for two days before you give, so my arthritis was extraordinarily painful despite Tylenol. Plus, it was pouring down rain, so I took an Uber pool both because I did not want to wait for 30 minutes for the bus in the rain, and because I was running a little short on time. This backfired, because two other people joined my pool and I was dropped off last, making me 45 minutes late for my appointment. You only have a 15-minute grace period, so I was lucky they took me at all. Sometimes a couple of dollars cheaper is not better.

Even though I felt like death warmed over, I pushed through to make it home on public transportation, because Uber was spiked at that hour. Even a carpool was $20. I was so out of it, though, that I added time on my commute because I completely walked past Farragut North and ended up at Farragut West. However, that’s not important. I wasn’t trying to make it to another appointment, just home. My biggest concern was not throwing up on another passenger, which I thankfully did not. By the time I reached Silver Spring station, the Uber spike had ended, so I gratefully paid the four bucks to get home. My Uber driver was new to the area and despite navigation, missed every turn. But that was okay- we were having a wonderful time talking. I wish I had gotten her number, because we could have talked for another four hours…. and what person new to the area doesn’t need friends?

We were in the same boat- she’s two years older than me and still has a year and a half left on her Bachelor’s thanks to having two kids very, very young. Now, her kids are both in college and I told her that was somewhat lucky, because as a young empty nester, she actually has the energy to work and go to school. She laughed and said, “truth.” She said her youngest just started at Howard, and I became animated- “that’s where I want to go!!!” I started talking about my dreams to finish my degree and go on to their UCC-affiliated seminary, and for the first time in a year, I felt passion about it.

It’s funny how things change. When I first got to Maryland, I wanted to go to seminary in Virginia to become an Episcopal priest, jokingly joining what they call “the Virginia Mafia.” What changed my outlook is that I did not want to use the Book of Common Prayer at every service, because I am talented at writing my own liturgy. In the Episcopal church, this is just not done. My ultimate goal is to create an Anglican-inspired service, because there are elements I love. For instance, the choir will have to be in cassocks and surplices. There are just no other options. For starters, they are WAY more comfortable than those polyester piece of crap robes. Plus, most cassocks have slits where you can reach your pockets. Invaluable to me as a singer for Kleenex and cough drops, as well as being able to pull out my phone for pictures, video, and recording the sermon…. although I don’t know how I feel about recording everything I have to say. Sometimes my sermons are brilliant and engaging. Sometimes I feel as if I am a danger to this profession…. there is no in between.

It is weird how the sermons you think are total pieces of crap you phoned in are sometimes the ones people like, and the ones you think are brilliant and engaging just don’t connect. Every Sunday is just a complete crapshoot, and pretty much every preacher alive would agree with me. I remember a story from long ago about a bishop who was asked the best thing about retirement. He said, stopping the interminable march of Sundays. It’s funny ’cause it’s true. Coming up with sermons and liturgy is not unlike the writing schedule at Saturday Night Live. Sometimes your best ideas come to you at 2:00 Sunday morning. Even better ones come to you the moment you step down from the pulpit. 😛

All I have to say in conclusion is that it’s nice to feel something again…. regaining the piece of me I thought was lost to history, feeling the resurrection coming in the middle of the mess.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Shoes

I screamed at God for the starving child until I saw the starving child was God screaming at me.

-Unknown

I am getting more and more angry that responding my thoughts & prayers are with you is becoming a sarcastic joke. I live by two axioms. The first is Anne Lamott’s saying that there are really only three prayers:

  • Help
  • Thanks
  • Wow

The second is what I call “the Donna Schuurman corollary.” Now, Donna is a personal friend and I doubt you’ll find this in any of her published books…. but she says that there is one perfect, end-of-the-rope and it’s fraying prayer…. Shit, God.

I suppose that it would fall under “help,” but just doesn’t have the same impact…. but it helps. It’s the prayer I prayed when Dana and I got a divorce. It’s the prayer I prayed when Argo said, no more. It’s the prayer I prayed minute by minute, hour by hour to get through those first few days of my mother’s death…. although I will say that I found “thanks” and “wow” when I bothered to look.

I will be the first to tell you that I have no idea what happens when I pray on the other end of that connection. In the words of C.S. “Jack” Lewis, I don’t pray because it changes God. I pray because it changes me. You, and only you, have to decide if it really matters whether some celestial being is listening, or whether the function of prayer is to find your own still, small voice, uninterrupted by the noise of the world. In that space, something happens. Does it matter whether it comes from an internal or an external source? I believe it does, but not enough to be rigid about it.

My philosophy 101 class was very interesting. We spent the first half proving that God exists, and the second proving that God doesn’t. Of course, I use “proof” in the geometric sense, not that there is any real evidence one way or the other. Pete Rollins, in an interview with Rob Bell, said something that’s stuck with me for over a year. He said that atheists and theists are one of the great love stories, that each needs the other…. that there is God/Not God, and the truth is in the slash…. but before I ever heard of Pete Rollins, I discovered that religion was not unlike sexuality… a spectrum in which some people stay at the poles their entire lives, and some move freely back and forth.

This is because too much happens in the world for most people to eschew doubt…. and still others in their piety are too ashamed to admit that when the shit hits the fan, they wonder where in the hell God has been, is, will be………………..

I have said it before, and I will say it again. I choose to believe that God is not the Actor. God is the Responder. Where is God as people are being gunned down in the streets, at concert venues, movie theaters, schools… or worse, in a place that has long been identified as sanctuary…. literally and figuratively. When you claim sanctuary, that is the moment that violence is supposed to stop. Because it didn’t happen to me, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have that feeling ripped away. We of the Religious Left chose to move away from Jonathan Edwards’ now famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, long ago. We do not believe in the hand of God that would drop us, but catch. So if you ask where God is, know that God is weeping with the families of the dead, and supporting the injured in their hour of need. Not only that, if you need to feel angry with God and rail at all the injustices, go right ahead. God is big enough to handle it.

I am tired of seeing “thoughts and prayers” as some people’s choice shitty retort. This is because thoughts and prayers mean two things to me:

  1. We live in a dangerous world with many injustices that will not get fixed overnight without our help. I hold space not only for my own responses, but for the worry and care of first responders. I am not fire, police, military, or diplomat. Prayer is a way to get in touch with the part of me that bleeds for the people in front of and behind the news. As an empath, I feel pain all across the world, and it needs somewhere to go. Every single person I’ve known in those dangerous fields has said not to worry- if something terrible happens, we will have died doing something we trained for because we love what we do. I have found over time that those words bring me little comfort, but my worry is not their problem. Whether or not there is a God, it brings me peace to pray for the lives of the victims and the people in charge of rescuing them and getting them to safety, or getting their bodies back to their families so that they may say a proper goodbye.
  2. Prayer is not always solitary. Once you find the center of your being, your True North, it is time to act. One of the greatest prayers I’ve ever prayed was walking downtown with thousands and thousands of women as we fought for our rights whether anyone was listening or not. I was one of the first “crazy liberals” to march like hell against the Iraq war, before the rest of the country caught up to what we were screaming. I’ve talked to homeless people in my own city, asking them what they need, rather than trying to guess. Prayer is almost nothing without shoe leather, but one has to beget the other. It is the first line of defense against pouring from an empty cup.

Prayer is holding space for the safety and security of the people you love, as well as being able to go deep and figure out what you really think. Some people call that meditation. Some people enter that space while exercising. I am not worried about the semantics, only the function.

I will never be worried about the semantics, unless you (plural) are using it as a euphemism for lazy. Like Jesus, I go into my room to pray and close the door…. but I emerge with my shoes on.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

 

Meditation on the Tenth Doctor

I sometimes wish I had a TARDIS that would be willing to let me cross my own timeline. Every time I think about the loss of Dana, Argo, and my mother, I hear the Tenth Doctor say, “fixed point in time. I am SO sorry.” I have to believe that losing everything is what is meant to propel me into greatness, but so far, I have seen no evidence. Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant write in Option B about post-traumatic growth, and except for blogging every day and trying to put my emotions out into the universe (which I hope is helping someone), I have done nothing except fold into myself in fear.

Fear of crowds, fear of friends, fear of going to church after the one time I LOST it. You’d think I’d be willing to forego my fear of my friends, but sometimes it becomes so awkward it’s onomatopoetic. Sometimes it’s that they say things I don’t want to hear. Sometimes I’m just uncomfortable for no valid reason except it sometimes seems as if my mother has just died, and she didn’t. It’s been months, but I have flashbacks all the time that seem incredibly real. Fear of church is natural. My mother was a church musician her whole life, and every time I go in, no matter what church it is, I panic with an intensity I’ve never felt before. I can see her at the piano or organ bench. I can see her in the alto section. I can’t stop the pain and anxiety, so I avoid it altogether. My choir wants me back, and I can’t seem to explain well why it’s not a good idea. I thought that it would make me feel better to be a soprano in tribute to all the work my mother has done.

Well, not so much.

I have always been anxious around huge crowds, hiding behind Dana, and then my friends once we divorced. I went to a party last Friday, and I had a lot of fun. I had drinks for the first time in months, which served two purposes. The first is that it acted as social lubricant so I could actually be funny. The second is that it kept me from feeling guilty that I was having fun at all. Mourning people that close to me makes me feel like I am not deserving of fun.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I deserve.

I lost my mother through absolutely no fault of my own, but I can’t say the same for Argo and Dana. It is an uphill battle to forgive myself for all the sin and cortisol I felt coursing through my body, because now I can’t apologize enough, I can’t achieve enough, I can’t send enough gifts that make it all better. I thought that words didn’t matter without changed behavior, and as it turns out, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference either way.

I wish I could stop caring. It’s been three, almost four years with no relief… not that I haven’t tried, but in the meantime, those two years have been a shitshow of enormous proportions. I haven’t had time to really stop caring about anything, even if they “deserve it.” By that I mean that I am not angry, I am just sad, because it’s appropriate to let go of people you want to show up for that don’t want to show up for you.

Toward the end, every single time that Argo showed up for me, I felt like she wouldn’t give me the benefit of the doubt. She’d take one phrase out of an e-mail and blow it up into enormous proportions… the last communique re: we’ll never be normal and then cutting off all contact when it brought up some feelings of past shame for me and asking her why she thought that a phrase like that wouldn’t come across to me as “we’ll never move on.” I think she thought it was going to start another fight, when in reality I was breathing through those words like labor, exhaling anxiety and inhaling both peace and “now what do I do?” Part of it is that when I said that, she wouldn’t work it through like I’d hoped. Part of it was that I never meant to “poke the bear,” and even more shame rained down on my head.

And yet another part is that it would have been so damn easy to fuck off from e-mail and have a conversation in real time, so that we could actually see the other one “e-mote.” There’s such a difference between a) writing something into the ether and waiting with baited breath for a response and b) hearing what the other person says and being able to say in real time, “that’s not what I meant. I meant THIS.” I truly, honestly believe that if we’d ever taken the time to see each other’s responses, our whole deal with each other could have been cleared up in less than 15 minutes with some active listening.

But, despite how busy either one of us is, you make time in your lives for the people you want to see. For her, I am not one of those people. For me, I have nearly constant distress, brought on by a whole host of other factors, that words like “always” and “never” make it into the conversation. I am not “always” and “never” anything… and I am betting neither is she. We’re both complicated in our own ways, probably what made us attracted to each other in the first place. And I do not mean romance, I mean magnets that click together instead of repelling each other… that came much later.

Again, what I wouldn’t give to be able to go back in time.

I’d like to tell her what’s going on in my life, I’d like her XOs of support, I’d like the normalcy that came with me thinking she hung the stars and being the moon for her. More than talking, I’d like to go back to the days of listening. If I had everything to do over, I’d listen more and talk less. I’d breathe through her anger at me rather than “clicking off safe” and returning it full force. I am a believer in grace, and I didn’t offer her much… and when I did, she couldn’t believe in it, anyway.

The reason this is hitting me so hard after all this time is that if I hadn’t been such a “judgmental dickhead,” I’d be able to express grief and joy in equal measure. I’d still be able to have a full range of emotions in front of her when I really need that safe space to be able to say everything I won’t publish here. There is something therapeutic about pen pals, especially those who have no bearing on your daily life and can look objectively at what you’re saying because they don’t have a horse in the race. It cannot be equated to attending therapy, because you’re not talking to a trained professional. But you do get that friend whose advice is not tainted with taking anyone else’s side, because they don’t know them….. and don’t care. They’re not there for them. They’re there for you.

Most of all, she never met my mother.

My contribution is that I’ve never met anyone in her life, either… and I’d step in front of a bus for her if it meant she was safe… the same way I’d react for anyone in my family… because before our blowout, I definitely considered her as such. When truth and honesty traveled our chord in both directions, there were deep and lasting feelings on both sides of the equation. The rub is that it seems to have been a lot easier for her to disengage than it will ever be for me, because hold on…. I have to overthink about it. I am not willing to say it WAS easier, only that it came across to me as such. Perhaps her grief is only in her private moments to which I am not involved, and shouldn’t be. I have to believe that there is grief on her end, because she doesn’t take anything lightly, not even me.

I wish that it WAS easy for me. It would open my life up and make room for other things, and it is happening slowly but surely. But when I feel bad about something, I am inconsolable. When I met Argo, it was winning the lottery, and ended with consolation prizes akin to a 1972 Amana side-by-side refrigerator freezer (bonus points if you get the movie reference).

Again, I believe that this entry is all about displaced grief, because Argo is alive and my mother isn’t. It’s easier to focus on my grief because with my mother, there is no chance in heaven or hell that she’ll respond. I feel, in some ways, the same way about Argo… with the exception of the smallest hope imaginable, like a candle that’s at the end of its wick and the flame is so small it is barely there. With my mother, the candle has already been snuffed with the bell end of the candle lighter I used to carry as an acolyte.

The trick is how to change all of this post-trauma into something with boundaries in which I can live. Right now, there are none. I can’t compartmentalize, because nothing keeps me busy enough to forget, even for a moment. But this is not a journey I can take with Argo, only about her. I would be mortified to learn that she was still reading, and relieved at the same time, if that makes any sense at all. My words are just the rambling I’m feeling at the moment, and not representative of all of me. I have more depth than this… no, really. But sometimes I’d like her to know that I remember her with such clarity… that even after all this time, I wish her nothing but the best in her pursuit of happiness… that I pray she is happy, healthy, and alive with possibility.

As I have said, her kindnesses are written in marble, and her anger is written in sand… the rain having already washed it away… or at the very least, pushed it out of reach. I feel the same about my own anger… that working through all of this has nothing to do with how I feel about her personally, but delving into the past to create a future that does not include all the mistakes I made…. to know them is to keep them from happening again.

Maybe that’s post-traumatic growth in and of itself, and I am selling myself short- with the exception of being able to write about Dana in a way that truly lets go. I forgive her, but I do not forget. She told me to my face that I’d never amount to anything AND that she thought I had the ability to lead millions. I cannot reconcile those things, and they are words I can compartmentalize, because the former reinforced my opinion of myself, and the latter was just a WTF? moment… one of these things is not like the other. I stuff my feelings about Dana down so deep that I can’t access them except in small bursts, because I can’t take more than that. The buttons on my clothes hold in my feelings where she is concerned, because she is the river deep inside me where I refuse to drown… because I could, easily. I could wreck my whole life based on her opinion, because she was the most important person in my life. When she took my own insecurities and beat me with them, it destroyed a piece of me I’ll never get back… it has torched my ability to trust the new people that come into my life… because if I am vulnerable with them, whose to say they won’t pick up on those same hot buttons and push them? Everyone is wonderful in the beginning.

It leaves me asking myself how I can trust Argo without trusting Dana, given that both fights were just as terrible emotionally? My answer for this is that Dana saw what was right in front of her, and Argo saw what could be. She believed in me as a writer, one of the first to do so… to recognize that writing WAS a real job… that staring out the window is hard work for someone like me, and though I look lazy on the outside, am running a marathon at the cellular level… backbreaking emotional work that does not quit, not ever.

Outside of Argo, my marriage began to unravel as I became a writer, especially as I got more and more popular. One of our last conversations (the one regarding me being able to lead millions) was just as much about jealousy as anything else. In retrospect, it must have felt good to her to knock me down a peg… but she’ll never know how badly she burned the whole board. In this way, and this way only, I felt as if I’d grown past her. When I wanted to do more and be more, she was out.

Argo already had the type job where she WAS doing more and being more, so I wasn’t a threat to her. She was excited for me, that I was embarking on something she thought only I could do…. or at the very least, was rarified air. As much as it terrified and saddened me, leaving Dana’s choice shitty phrases behind and grabbing on to Argo’s belief was what I needed at the time.

But here is the rub for all bloggers everywhere. Unless you are writing something impersonal, like a blog for a business, it starts off with new readers thinking you’re amazing… then they get to know you and think you can write all things accurately except where they’re concerned. It is an immediate, face-cracking fall from grace…. when in reality, I am only telling my part of the story and would love to hear the other one. There are three sides to every story- yours, mine, and the objective Truth, which is usually somewhere in the middle.

With communication gaffes, it’s usually because people will not acknowledge Truth. We can both be wrong, and we can both be right. No one has a lock on what really happened, only our perceptions of it. People mistake perceptions for reality all the time… when Truth is the chasm between offended people.

Perhaps it is this displaced grief that is allowing me to think differently about everything in my life, because as much as I might wish for it, I can’t cross my own timeline.