Tag Archives: Religion

Get to Know Me: COVID-19 Edition

Why not take a break from COVID-19 and learn about each other… Hat tip to all the people who’ve filled it out on Facebook and I shamelessly stole it because I had nothin’ for today.

1. Who are you named after?

My name was originally supposed to be Amanda Jane, and my parents were going to call me “AJ.” Then, my mother was sitting in a church service and the organist was listed in the bulletin as “Leslie Diane.” The rest, as they say, is history.

2. Last time you cried?

Two weeks ago, when I attended church through Zoom at Bridgeport UCC in Portland, Oregon (link is to the service, 10:30 AM Pacific). I saw some of my oldest friends in the world, and heard their voices. It was magnificent, and I was crying because I was filled with grief at my mother dying, and how long it had taken me to get back to the place where I was comfortable going to church again. For the first time in three years, I have now gone to church two weeks in a row.

3. Do you like your handwriting?

Absolutely not- it is a carpal tunnel pile of garbage that keeps getting worse. I use Evernote/Microsoft OneNote to keep track of my thoughts because if I write them down in a notebook, I can’t read them later.

4. What is your favorite lunch meat?

It used to be the disastrously unpopular olive loaf, and now it is the plant-based version of honey-baked ham (made into sandwiches on bread infused with maple syrup with Swiss “cheez” and margarine). I’m not sure olive loaf is even made anymore, but when it was, the grocery store never ran out…………………

5. Longest relationship?

I’m sure my dad wins this one, but if you mean romantically, seven years and change.

6. Do you still have your tonsils?

Yes, but I’ve had tonsillitis enough that they probably should come out to avoid recurrence. It is so unpleasant. It’s a good thing antibiotics work fast.

7. Would you bungee jump?

It depends. I probably wouldn’t do it on my own, but I’d never turn down a dare.

8. What is your favorite kind cereal?

The brown puffed rice at Whole Foods with real chocolate.

9. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?

Mostly yes, because I wear Converse All-Stars high tops more than anything else.

10. Do you think you’re strong willed?

It depends on who you ask. I don’t think I’m particularly obstinate unless I’m standing up for someone else. My friends think I’m stronger than I do.

11. Favorite ice cream?

Every flavor of ice cream I’ve had with plant-based milk is my new favorite. Almond milk with almonds and chocolate is probably at the top of the list right now.

12. What is the first thing you notice about a person?

Whether they like small talk or not. I’m not attracted to the small questions.

13. Football or baseball?

If these are my only choices, it’s Baltimore Orioles baseball. My real favorite is soccer of any kind. Doesn’t matter the gender or the league. I collect national team jerseys, and interestingly enough, I don’t have the United States. Oh, and I have one MLS jersey… DC United, of course. 🙂

14. What color pants are you wearing?

Uniqlo Extra Warm leggings and lounge pants made of grey t-shirt material.

15. Last thing you ate?

A Nutella and strawberry jelly sandwich.

16. What are you listening to?

  • Miles Davis
  • Lots of podcasts- too many to list, but if you want recommendations, leave a comment.

17. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

Dark grey or Cornflower, the colors I use the most often in HTML. The grey is #333333, and the blue is #336699.

18. What is your favorite smell?

I have two- tea tree oil and lavender anything…. although I had to take a break from lavender while reading the Outlander series. It turned my stomach for a while.

19. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?

My sister, Lindsay. She’s cooler than you are.

20. Married?

I used to be, and it would take an act of God for me to do it again.

21. Hair color?

Brown, with a little grey and white mixed in…. which is such a blessing because it stops me from looking like a ten-year-old.

22. Eye Color?

Espresso… well, brown, but I’m being, ummm….. creative.

23. Favorite food to eat?

Anything I’ve cooked myself. I’m good at it, and I get immense satisfaction with that kind of accomplishment.

24. Scary movies or happy ending?

Why choose? My favorite scary movie is “Get Out.”

25. Last movie you watched in a theater?

This is one of the funniest things that has happened to me in a while. I went with my friend Jaime to see “Jojo Rabbit,” and since I’d already seen it, I went about halfway through the movie before I got ridiculously thirsty. I leaned over to Jaime and said, “I’m getting a Coke. Do you want one?” She nodded and I left. So I come back and it is the most heart-wrenching part of the film and here I am stumbling in the dark to my seat while the rest of the row would have murdered me if it wasn’t illegal.

26. What color shirt are you wearing?

White. It’s not my color, but it’s warm.

27. Favorite holiday?

Any that involve a three-day weekend.

28. Beer or Wine?

Not much of a drinker, but I love anything Belgian.

29. Night owl or morning person?

It depends. I have a lot of energy at both ends of the spectrum. I also enjoy when I can’t sleep, watching the sun come up when I’m normally “not there” to see it.

30. Favorite day of the week?

None right now- they all blend together.

31. Favorite animal?

I am absolutely over the top crazy about Fiona the hippo. When it’s nice outside, I like taking my tablet and Bluetooth keyboard to the zoo and sitting in front of the giraffe enclosure.

32. Do you have any pets?

None of my own, but there are several dogs that live in my house. It’s the best of both worlds- puppy love and no responsibility.

33. Where would you like to travel?

I am consumed by the Middle East, both in terms of “walking the Bible,” and seeing things in movies I’d like to experience for real, like the Blue Mosque in Iran, the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, and the mountains of Afghanistan. My mom and dad went when I was very small, because it was safe to travel there for tourists (at least to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt). I’m not holding my breath in terms of my lifetime.

 

Sacred Ground

Yesterday contained a mountaintop experience for me. I experienced a high that I hadn’t felt in years, and I am so grateful. It is carrying me through the rest of my week, as mountaintop experiences are wont to do.

Last week, my old church in Portland announced that they were going to be livestreaming from Facebook and Zoom. Because Zoom has a native Linux client, I downloaded it and got it running. At the appointed time, I logged in. Instantaneously, I was connected to faces I’ve looked to for love for almost two decades. I was reminded of the days when I was preaching, the days when I showed up for church so low that everyone couldn’t help but notice, and the days when a hug from them meant more than anything in the world. And, as a Virgo (an earth sign), I am deeply tied to setting.

Looking at the sanctuary made me flood out, and I looked at the ceiling so I could stop crying. Right in front of me was the banner Sash and Lisa made for our performance of John Rutter’s Requiem, s-l640intense colors and “Out of the Deep” written in their own “font.” It was a blessing remembering the day I truly became a singer, instead of a trumpet player who faked it. I was the soprano soloist for the Pie Jesu movement, and I don’t think I would have gotten the chance to spread my wings anywhere else… as was the chance to pinch hit for the pastor.

I was lucky in that my very first sermon ever was well-received, so I got to preach more. I wasn’t always the best at it, but when I was on, I was unstoppable.

The service started and the people connected to Zoom weren’t shy about singing, and I heard voices I hadn’t heard since I moved away in 2013. It was exactly what I’d hoped would happen… that I would find myself wanting to go to church for the first time since my mother died, focusing on what was mine there instead of what had been my mother’s domain. I was not so wrapped up in grief that I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t feel comforted, couldn’t breathe…….. Waiting for the service to begin was one of the great Shatner ellipses of my life, and I was changed by it…………………………

God and I have always had a tight relationship, but church and I have been at odds. When I was little, my mother was everything in the church, from choir member to accompanist to children’s choir director. There was nowhere I could look that didn’t feel like a ghost rising, and I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t feel my own joy at everything I’d accomplished on my own that didn’t have anything to do with her. I think it was because I wasn’t in my element. I hadn’t lived in Silver Spring very long, so I didn’t have a connection that reached two decades down and had the ability to grab my hand.

I cried quietly, tears running down my face when Karen read poetry, Wendy sang, and Stacey’s mic was hot in the chatroom. I also laughed with delight, the kind of laugh that lights up your whole face and you can feel it with your whole body.

I realized afterward that it was also important that I was in my own room, with no one else to witness what was happening to me as I fell apart- and my congregation put me back together. I didn’t have to feel shy about anything, didn’t have to feel embarrassed. I could take it all in, letting the power of the Holy Sprit run unimpeded.

I do not think I am finished with this particular journey, but it was a step down on sacred ground.

A Major Key

Sandra Cisneros just floored me while listening to “On Being with Krista Tippett.” She said that the Sufis say life keeps breaking your heart over and over until it *stays* open. Words to live by, because heartbreak is inevitable in a multitude of ways, and to me, this saying gives it a purpose. It is a deep, lifelong learning.

It came up in my Facebook memories this morning that Dana and I broke up five years ago today, and so the quote was especially apt in that light…. I feel that heartbreak was so great, it is the one that keeps me open to the world. No one ever expects to start a marriage preparing for its end, but I felt especially blindsided by all the things I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) see. There were many things I took seriously, and things I didn’t take seriously enough. In retrospect, knowing which was which is still a mystery. I just know they exist and don’t feel the need to talk it out with her, like some sort of post-mortem closure. I don’t care to know how she feels. It is not a matter of feeling heartless, just done.

And in fact, I care even less about how our marriage came apart than I do about our friendship, which preceded marriage by almost four years. Though it’s not like we talked daily when I first moved to DC, we did talk a few times and laughed a lot. But there must have been too much pain roiling underneath to keep it up, and that is the beginning and the end of it to me. I don’t have need to cause her more pain just because of something I wanted. Her feelings do matter in that respect. But it was extraordinarily difficult to go from talking from the moment we woke to the moment we went to sleep to absolutely no communication, ever. I didn’t insist on it, but I respected her wishes. It was a large factor in my moving to DC, because I am not the best at emotional boundaries. I figured that with half a country in between us, it would be so much easier to find new people to fill the void, and I was right.

I met a swath of people who had no connection to me as a married person, didn’t think of me as “DanaandLeslie,” and for that I can be grateful. Friends who had no connection to my history at all allowed me the freedom to discover who I was on my own again. I was alone, but was not then and never have been lonely. I decided to move into a house with landlords on site and three other roommates so that I would not come home to an empty apartment every night. I figured that with my mental illnesses, living alone with no one to drag me out of my shell would be a very bad thing. The last time I lived in a one bedroom, even then I sort of had a “roommate,” this loud, brash best friend who never really wanted to go home because her own house was empty….. and I grew to love her company more and more every day.

Eventually, there were three of us, all single and looking for family. I don’t know why my apartment became the hang, but it did, and I was grateful. I knew ahead of time that in DC, I didn’t have the built-in connection of friends of friends and church and all that, which is why I opted for a group house. It would take at least a few months to reconnect with the friends I’d made here before, and to find a new church because with public transportation, my old church was too far away to really get involved on any kind of deep level (I was actually involved with two of them back then- Westminster Presbyterian in SE DC and Fairlington UMC in Alexandria, VA).

I realized I could make it on Sunday mornings easily, but not choir, and choir is far and above the biggest reason I love going to church. I feel that I am a much better soprano when I can feel the other moving parts under me, and even though I’ve done solo work (even well), it’s not my favorite (my favorite is actually singing in a quartet so I can hear myself think……..).

It was also important to me that I be free of any connections to Kathleen, my first wife, as well. I bear no ill will toward her, either- we never should have gotten married in the first place, but I was filled with so much hope as an early 20-something that it didn’t register that even though she was bisexual, her preference wasn’t women….. or at the very least, it wasn’t me…. and we’d attended both of those churches together. stone_labyrinthOne of my favorite memories of that time in my life was helping to put in the stone floor labyrinth, because, of course, you can still see my handiwork…. but you better get there fast because they’re about to build a new building. 😛

I also went to Foundry United Methodist for one Sunday just to check it out, but Fairlington was so much closer to my house and just as liberal (one of the first Open & Affirming congregations in Virginia).

Now, I don’t go to church at all (but will someday…. just be patient and stay tuned…), but do go to Foundry on Thursdays for a mental illness support group when I can feel confident about getting out of the house when I don’t specifically have to do so……

It also took me a while to get out from under the burden of people thinking I moved here specifically to be closer to Argo, because that was never the case…… just a persistent rumor that affected me greatly because it was never true. What was true is that I could have moved in next door to her and she still never would have seen me, because I tend to hole up, anyway. As I have often said, I mostly sit at my computer or tablet with my headphones blaring, so a bear ripping out the side of my house wouldn’t even have registered unless I was facing that direction.

Even though I thought of DC and Alexandria as my “home towns,” I still didn’t want to take the chance of feeding that rumor even more than it already had been, so I chose Maryland. It turned out to be the best decision, anyway, because my cousin Nathan (who is a psychiatrist in Alexandria) told me about all the mental health services available in Maryland that Virginia couldn’t even touch….. and even if I was perfectly healthy when I moved here, going through a divorce still would have required talk therapy, especially after a friendship of over a decade and a marriage of seven years and change. So I got hooked up with talk therapy and a psychiatric nurse practitioner that really worked with me instead of at me, which I require because I know enough about medicine that I abhor being patronized. Additionally, I have suffered enough that not only do I know the drugs that do work, I’ve been through the list of everything that doesn’t.

There are two instances where my nurse practitioner really shone. The first is that he wanted to change my SSRI to Prozac, and I shuddered. He asked me what was wrong, and I said that it made me so nauseous that I couldn’t function or eat. The second is that we were talking about ADHD, and he asked if I’d tried Stratera. I told him that it was interesting, that opioid agonists work on me, like Tramodol, but methamphetamine agonists didn’t. That was how our relationship matured quickly, because he raised his eyebrows at the fact that I knew the word “agonist,” and his tone quickly changed to “ok, we’re equals now.”

He really listened to me as I told him that I liked to do short courses of Ritalin or Adderall in order to get my coping mechanisms under control, then stop them until I felt I needed a refresher course, and I liked the lowest dose possible to get the maximum dopamine effects without the awful side effects.

At the time, I didn’t have any weight to lose. I was so sad that I wasn’t eating, anyway. I survived on drinks, because I had a block on eating. Things like Carnation Instant Breakfast, Slim Fast, Ensure, etc. were the basics of my diet until I felt better. I am now up to a healthy weight, but back then I looked like a heroin addict (which, for the record, I was not). I also stopped drinking alcohol almost in its entirety, because I noticed that I felt and slept better when I didn’t, and I really needed sleep to let my body recover from trauma. Divorcing from Dana was traumatic on so many levels, like the fistfight that ended our relationship permanently because I didn’t want to leave the house at all until the bruise under my eye was gone and the phantom pain wasn’t all day, every day.

And it turned out that the phantom pain lasted for months, because I was devastated and that’s how it manifested. It’s gone now- forgiven but not forgotten. But I was so weak in the moment that even a punch to the face didn’t stop me from wanting to get back our relationship at first. It was moving away and really reflecting on what happened that convinced me that while I could accept friendship, I could never accept getting back together, because I couldn’t live in fear that something like it would happen again.

I was not innocent in that fight in terms of emotional escalation, but when Dana broke the physical barrier, I went off like a rat dog with a Napoleon complex…. an apt description because Dana was over a hundred pounds heavier with a fist three times bigger.

And perhaps that is yet another reason I’m so much more willing to talk about Argo now than I am about Dana, because Argo has never hurt me…. I mean, she has, but less than I’ve hurt her and never in a physically threatening way.

I actually just put that together, that I can’t extricate myself from thinking about Dana without going back to that moment in time where my eye was bruised and my heart was broken….. and that with Argo, all I think of is love and laughter. It’s just so much easier to go back to those moments, because even when I try my absolute best to only remember the love and laughter with Dana, I still hang my head in shame.

Although I do hang my head in shame at the relationship with Argo crumbling at my own hand, because even though it was never true that I moved here to be closer to her, it would have been a dream and a half to get to know the real her instead of just the black and white version….. to include her in my family of friends rather than always being on the outside…. my Raggedy Man.

My body memory is so strong for both of those days, my love for both women an intrinsic part of me, just in vastly different capacities. I saw a funny memory on Facebook the other day about having to stop calling Argo my “wine and yoga pants-type girlfriend” because I kept getting ads for wine and yoga pants on my feed. 😛

It was an unfortunate side effect that at the beginning, my wires got crossed and I had a mountain of shit to work through regarding the toxic version of friendship that was presented to me at a very early age, the part where all close friendships initially made my teenage heart go haywire. But to my credit, I worked my way out of that hole, just not as quickly as I would have liked, because first I had to get rid of the toxicity that made me think those things in the first place….. and I did, very successfully. Now I am in great shape when it comes to friendship, being close and vulnerable with people I respect and admire without the emotional baggage of my own teenage “stuff.”

I feel it is apt that “Clearing Iranian Airspace” from the Argo soundtrack just started playing, because I am ending this entry on a major key.

Amen.

Nothing Stays the Same

I wanted to wait to post my next entry until I actually had something to say. I know that not updating my blog reduces traffic, thus dampening my quest for world domination. On the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t take time to think before writing…. anything will do, because it’s not about craft, it’s about attracting views, visits, likes, and followers. I feel like I have enough already. Not believing I have enough just leads to verbal vomit for its own sake… and to me, that just doesn’t cut it.

I mean, I’ve always been the type to just lay out everything on this web site and let people make their own decisions about what they read, and when I post often, it’s because having something to say comes along that frequently. It’s organic, never forced. Lately, I’ve realized that most of my ruminations are just continuations of things I’ve already said, probably more than three or four times. I promise that I am not regurgitating content. It’s the way my brain works.

I think about a problem right up until I don’t. The interesting part (or, at least, it’s interesting to me) is that I tend to start a couple of steps back and rehash, but when I’m thinking about something a second (third, fourth, fifth, 17th……) time, the overall arc is the same and different small details jump out, often changing the course of the dialogue… conversations that happen between me and me. Though Shakespeare was not talking about discourse with oneself, he might as well have been. The play’s the thing… especially in moments where I’ve caught myself red-handed…. infinitely more scary than feeling caught by anyone else. I’m better at kicking my ass than you are. Write it down.

I’ve scared myself for the past couple of weeks because I make it a point to look at my Facebook memories, and along with all of my funny memes is this mountain range of emotions. Note to self: more peaks, less valleys.

WordPress propagates to my author page, which means that I am equally stupid and brave enough to post things to my own profile. If I skipped doing so, old entries wouldn’t appear at all. It isn’t about torturing myself- many, many more readers click through from my profile because I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years. The “Stories” page has only existed since 2015, and as of right this moment, only has about 100 followers. After a decade, I have 745 friends and 38 followers. The platform is exponentially larger. My Facebook profile propagates to @ldlanagan on Twitter, and my author page to @lesliecology. Again, I have more followers on my own Twitter feed than the feed for my web site… the difference is that @lesliecology is nothing but a WordPress feed, and @ldlanagan is everything I post on Facebook, period. My profile is public, and my Facebook statuses are generally longer than Tweets, so anyone can click through to the original post.

So there’s the setup as to why I wanted to separate out my blog entries from my Facebook profile/Twitter feed, and why it hasn’t worked out.

Scaring myself the last couple of weeks has been about entries from four years ago, starting with PTSD as a teenager and it unraveling my thirties into divorce, losing a good friend, and so much compounded mental instability that I needed more help than my friends and family could give. Poet Mary Karr gave me the phrase “checking into the Mental Mariott,” and I’ve used it relentlessly since.

Joking about it covers up deep wounds, and that’s why I write about them instead of speaking. When I am writing, I have a bit of clinical separation. I can look at the land mines without detonation. I cannot say the same is always true for reading. Occasionally, I feel the distance of having grown as a person, so that the entry feels like it was written by someone else. More often, I am remembering every tiny detail about the setting and the arc of the story. Then body memory kicks in, and if my heart and brain were racing in the moment, I feel it again; it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It isn’t all bad, though, because I write in equal measure about how good I’m feeling, and those excited butterflies also return…. sometimes, but not often, in the same entry. The other plus is getting to decide if what was true at that time is still true today, and as a rule with some exceptions, it’s not. There are truth bombs that hit me just as hard now as the day I wrote them, but for the most part, this blog has been dynamic, and has changed just as often as I have (which is, like, the point).

Whether I’m reading an up day or a down, it is exhilarating to see that few things stay the same.

I will always have the regular, boring adult problems… and at the same time, my life is bigger than that. Managing Bipolar II, remnants of PTSD (anxiety, mostly) and ADHD so that I am not a ball of negative crazy keeps it interesting. I emphasize “negative crazy” because I don’t know anyone who isn’t crazy in a positive way. I am not attracted on any level to the mundane. Regular people with big dreams are often lumped in with “crazy,” because most people don’t dream big.

Even my dreams have been adjusted. I am still dreaming big, but the focus is not on starting my own church anymore. Perhaps in the distant future, I’ll think about it again. But right now, when I enter into any church building, consecrated or not, “my mother is dead” becomes an ostinato.

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

noun: ostinato; plural noun: ostinati; plural noun: ostinatos

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

“The cellos have the tune, above an ostinato bass figure.”

Even the sentence used to illustrate the word is appropriate, because you don’t just hear bass. You feel it.

I have written before that she’s everywhere I look, because over our lives together, I cannot think of an element within church life where she was absent. I cannot think of a single thing that was all mine until I moved to Portland and began preaching at Bridgeport UCC.

I have always been the Mary. She was the Martha.

There was no judgment on her part. I just mean that I have always been the thinker and she has always been the actor…. Actually, I take that back. My mother was one of the few people I’ve met in this life that had extraordinarily creative ideas and the ability to execute them, which is rare.

Few people manage to live on the ground and in the air at the same time (it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes).

In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is speaking to Martha, who has complained to him that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary’s just sitting on her ass while I’m doing all the work. Can’t you go rattle her cage?” And Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He actually says this to the woman that invited him and his entire crew into her house and wants to feed everyone. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve ever cooked and served for 16 (fairly certain Lazarus was there- unclear), but I can see Martha’s point and I get a little bit irritated with Jesus. It’s not that one part is better than the other. Thinking is not better than doing. Doing is not better than thinking. They’re just different mindsets, and the evening wouldn’t have been possible without both.

I am certain that Mary and Martha need each other. Martha is grounded, and keeps Mary from floating away. Mary reminds Martha to look at the stars once in a while.

So when I think about the work I did to investigate starting a homeless ministry in Silver Spring, what comes up for me is that my Martha is no longer with us. It rends the mental tapestry I created, and I descend into darkness.

I am still excited by theology of all types- Abrahamic, Eastern, you name it. But right at this very minute, I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing, sometimes posting sermons on this web site rather than waxing philosophic in front of a physical crowd.

What I do not know is whether I will always feel the same, or whether my time is not yet here.

What I do know is that the fight has left me. I am too mired in grief to get passionate enough to affect change. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m extraordinarily passionate about anything at all. When my mother died, so did several pieces of me. I know for certain that it would have been easier had I gotten to see my mother live a long life and there was no aspect of “dear God, they took her too soon.” I knew I would be sad when she died, but I was completely caught off guard by the rage at getting robbed.

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

I am still grieving the future that I thought I would get, and piecing together a new normal. It’s a good thing that on this day next year, I’ll read this again, and perhaps that new normal will have some structure. The concrete has been mixed, but I think I added a little too much water, because it just. Won’t. Set.

The Sook and the Book

I am starting this entry at 0613, and it is currently 28º (F) in the nation’s capital. Opinions are mixed as to whether we’ll get any snow this week. Being the snow lover that I am, here’s hoping. If we do get any, Capital Weather Gang is saying it will be the last little bit. Spring is coming early, and the Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled around St. Patrick’s Day.

As long as I’ve lived here (three years in Silver Spring, MD and, in 2001-2, 18 months in Alexandria, VA), I’ve never been. Perhaps I will brave the crowds this year just to take pictures. The Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial make an excellent backdrop for the flowers… so much so that there are plenty of photographers better than I am who’ll sell their images to the media for almost as much as an average IT paycheck. Maybe I’ll skip taking pictures and just “live in the now,” although my camera is an excellent way to be alone in the midst of a crowd.

Photography allows me to feel like I am floating above the fray, which is exactly the way I like it. I have a lot to do before I can think about pictures, though. As I’ve said, I’m now on my second book review. I’m not finished with the book yet, and I have to get a rough draft to my editor by Thursday. This book is also about a group of women, which I didn’t know when I offered to write about it. I was hoping for something completely different just based on the title. However, it is a little different in that the women are British and the slang doesn’t always translate well. Sometimes I can pick it up just from context clues, sometimes I feel dumber than usual. I also have no idea what any of the acronyms mean. I need to get in touch with an ABP,™ which in my own lexicon stands for “Authentic British Person.” That being said, I don’t have any friends in Manchester (I don’t think), and I don’t know how much of the language is regional. My go-to ABP is from Scotland, and I’m sure she’d help me out to the extent that she could, but I think I’ll actually finish the book and then think about reaching out.

I will say that the writing style is different and much more emotional. I got weepy yesterday, made worse by well, sometimes I get the menstrual cramps real hard… Quite frankly, this book makes my insides squish and I think about Argo intensely, because it’s about the kind of friendship we could have had if I’d not been so blind, fumbling around in the dark. I have others to fill the void quite nicely, but no one is her and it’s not like I can go to the Argo store and pick out a new one. The mold broke after she was made… and I’m betting she knows it. It’s pretty good odds. 😛

It also makes me think about Dana, but to a lesser degree. We did have that kind of friendship, but I have truly blessed & released her into the universe because we both broke each other’s hearts. In this case, we’ll never go home again. I am sure I have said this before, but because Dana and I had such a mutually assured destruction, I feel so much less guilt regarding her than I do about being such a loose cannon jackass to Argo. I “clicked off safe” and said things to her that I’d never say to anyone to their faces, so why I did it online weighs on my conscience heavily. It doesn’t work for everyone, but guilt, for me, was a powerful motivator to become a better person…. a constant reminder that I didn’t like that person and I never want to see her again, because she’s so mean……… often not even realizing it until the consequences arrive. Again, blind. Fumbling in the dark. Loose cannon jackass.

My actions remind me of the Billy Joel classic, Summer, Highland Falls……. they say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known, and I believe there is a time for meditation in cathedrals of our own. I can’t tell you how many times I went to the Episcopal church in my neighborhood just so I could recite this specific excerpt from the prayer of confession and pardon:


Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone
.

Those are the words that every week would beat me into submission, because I realized that although God might forgive me for these things, I couldn’t…. at least, not then. I’m doing much better with absolution now. I realized that I couldn’t beat myself up forever, because it was stopping me from moving forward. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you can’t make yourself put on boots in the first place.

But there are always going to be things that trigger me into the past, and I have to work hard not to stay there. I’ve always been this way. If someone sculpted me, they’d call it The Overthinker. Now, though, when rumination eats my lunch, I can find my way out… mostly through great music……

And books to review, because the rough draft is due on Thursday.

Forward (and Backward) Through the Ages

I’m starting to wonder when I decided I was old… not in words, but actions. I don’t look in the mirror very often, and my mind’s eye stopped adding years long ago. For instance, high school and early college don’t seem like they’re that far away, but 2016 was my 20 year high school reunion (I didn’t go, but I did note its passing). The past few years have slipped by quietly without fanfare, as I have become extremely introverted…. have always been, and yet compounds yearly. It takes more energy than I’ve got most days to get out and play. I prefer to read, write, and watch streaming video… in that order. No longer do I plan outings on a daily or even weekly basis. I plan outings around how lonely I feel, and solitude is addictive.

Alone, I do not wonder if I have said the wrong thing. Alone, I do not worry if I’m wearing the right outfit. Alone, I do not have to compromise. Alone, I do not have to share.

To paraphrase Hafiz, I don’t surrender my loneliness quickly, letting it cut more deeply to ferment and season me as few human or even divine ingredients can. It has been the only solution to overcoming emotional instability, and not because I don’t like people. Like most introverts, I’m hilarious at a party. I just need absolute quiet to recharge. What has been different over the last three or four years is that behaviors once acceptable to me aren’t, and I only truly enjoy being around people when I feel strong enough to uphold my own standards of excellence.

Wow. I just reread that and thought, so you’re curating your real life existence like a Facebook page? Shudder. And yet, it’s true. In no way am I ready to let anyone past the walls I’ve put up to avoid talking about all manners of grief. When I go out, I want to experience pleasure, which invariably means putting away all the things that have caused me to recede from interaction in the first place.

However, there is no barbed wire around my heart, no need to sting anyone if they try to jump the fence. If I feel like one of my boundaries is coming down, I question myself.

  • Do I want a deeper friendship with this person?
  • Does what I’m about to say improve on the silence?
  • How much do I care if this private thought becomes known to another person?
  • How much am I hurting myself if I don’t share my thoughts? No risk, no reward.
  • Is the idea I want to share appropriate for this friendship?

They are questions I can answer fairly quickly in my head before beginning to speak, and I believe that is the difference between the me of a few years ago and the me of now. I have always been intense; I have not always been the type to think deeply before I speak. The “think it, say it” plan wore itself out.

I am infinitely more measured than I used to be, because it took emotional disaster to make me realize that I could have avoided hurting friends and family alike by taking in everything they’re saying, and letting silence hang in the air until I have a chance to respond thoughtfully.

I don’t crave solitude because I’m afraid of getting hurt; I crave solitude because in it, I cannot hurt others. I feel I have done enough of that for a lifetime, and though of course conflict is unavoidable in life, there are certainly good and bad responses to it. It is my work to do to learn healthy coping mechanisms and implement them, lest I have a repeat of the end of vitally important relationships.

It’s getting to the point where people are starting to ask me why I don’t date, that it’s certainly been long enough since my divorce, etc. I don’t want to start dating just because it’s socially acceptable for me to do so. I want to start dating when I feel I’ve learned the lessons that the universe wanted me to learn before making any committment besides friendship. I find that I am learning plenty in how to be a responsible and responsive friend, and that is enough… mostly because in my struggle with grief, responsible is easy and responsive is hard.

If being responsive to friends is hard, I do not want to even think about romantic interests feeling ignored…. because, of course, nothing says I care about you like unanswered texts and cancelled plans. It is a morass in which I’m unwilling to engage.

This has much less to do with my divorce and much more to do with my deceased mother. While Dana is the greatest love of my life up to this point, I am and have been ready to leave the past there. I just can’t see inviting someone else into the deep grey haze my life has become. My friendships are helping it lift, but not enough. Not yet. My thinking is that you have to walk before you can run, and being a good friend is several steps in the right direction. A lot of people don’t give friendship its full due. I didn’t until relatively recently, and I will never make that mistake again. That warning is etched deeply into my bones.

My friendships are what remind me that I am indeed not as old as I feel, because laughter makes me lighter.

For instance, tonight I went with Dan & Co. to see Pitch Perfect 3. Fat Amy finds out that she has money, and wants to create more shows. I lost it at Fat Amy Grant…. oh, that’d be so good for Christmas. Now, most people would laugh at this joke. I howled so loud that I think everyone in the theatre heard me. For most people, they’ve heard of Amy Grant. Preachers’ kids of my age are STEEPED in her. I laughed for me and my mother alike. We would have run that line into the ground, and it would have provided us entertainment for years.

That moment felt like metaphorical communion….. a moment just for us, without letting anyone else in. I could feel her laughing inside me….. and for a few seconds, I felt….. young.

In Retrospect…

I’ve thought a lot about what I wrote yesterday, and having my mother die while I was trying to pull myself out of my own head was the best worst thing that could have happened. I got to see up close what it would have done to my family had I succeeded in my quest to get off the grid. I got to see the turmoil, the tears, & all of the absolute misery. I got to see how long it would have taken them to recover, if at all. Moreover, I wouldn’t wish anything I’ve felt on anyone else. It was learning everything I didn’t know I didn’t know.

There are some things that are impossible to experience until they happen. Thinking doesn’t prepare you for even a quarter of the ups and downs of grief. It doesn’t prepare you for either sleepless nights or, for better or for worse, dreaming. Sometimes I see my mother in her casket. At others, we are having the greatest time ever, in future fantasy or in past remembrance.

The first few days are just shock that strikes one dumb and deaf to the world around you… or perhaps it’s more dumb than deaf, because you can hear things, but you cannot comprehend or respond.

It is a delayed response. Everything you’ve heard builds up over time and you explode with the emotions seething under the anesthesia. Even people who are extraordinarily in touch with their emotions cannot possibly process all of it in the moment. And by “it,” I mean the most comforting things people around you have done, and the most stupid. But you can’t really get angry at people who say and do stupid things, because it’s never out of malice.

Very few people really know what to say, or worse, the people you thought would be there for you because you’re supposedly so close disappear, and the ones you never thought you’d hear from are johnny-on-the-spot. But you can’t get angry at that, either, because people tend to retreat out of fear. It takes bravery to confront the grieving…. to show up and say anything, even if it’s “wrong.”

In my own case, I didn’t really want anyone to say anything. I wanted silence and contact comfort. The behaviors I liked the most were friends simply saying, I’m sorry, and then just sitting there with me, an arm around my shoulder, and it being ok when companionable silence replaced conversation.

Everything about the situation was something I couldn’t explain, though through blogging, I tried. I did not have the capacity to reach out to people who would talk back. I only had the ability to write things out into the ether to try and capture how I felt so I could read it later. It didn’t matter to me if it made logical sense; I didn’t care what anyone else thought. Everything I felt about my mother’s death was my own story, and no one could tell it for me. I wrote even when I thought I couldn’t, because I believed in preserving that time in my life for posterity. I put in all of the crying jags, all of the private, angry, “fuck you” moments in my head because I couldn’t stand comments like “she’s in a better place.” Ummmm… I think her better place is with me. I had to bite my tongue through a shit ton of bad theology, and sometimes, still do. It’s also a horrible experience to handle pity. I feel sorry enough for myself without other people drawing attention to it.

I don’t feel sorry for anything in the past, because that’s useless. I feel sorry for everything I won’t get in the future. Actually, I take that back. The one thing I feel sorry about from my past is not being able to say goodbye…. like, what would I have said if I had known it would be our last conversation? Would I have said anything differently? I sort of doubt it. Black humor was never my mom’s thing, and it would have been my natural go-to. Although perhaps it would have become so, because what else can you do about knowing you’re dying but laugh? Sometimes the sadness is just too much. There has to be a release valve somewhere.

For me, that release valve was letting the Mento drop over the Diet Coke here, and for that, I am extremely grateful. Not only do I appreciate my own pensieve, I know this has gone far beyond me, reaching others who’ve lost their own parents. I know for certain that hearing how I navigated grief tapped into the way they did…. and nothing has ever been right or wrong…. just extraordinarily personal.

The one strange thing I’ve noticed in all my ruminations about what getting off the grid would have meant, I have never thought about what it would have been like to lose me. As an introverted writer, I am my own best friend, my own best company. Now I know that I would have lost someone close to me, too. I didn’t put that together until right this moment…. probably because I would have lost my best friend without even knowing it.

I wouldn’t even have thought to say goodbye.