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.

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

 

The Yahrtzeit

Don’t call me. I know you’ll all want to when you hear what I have to say. I am leaving tomorrow to go to Houston for the first time since my mother’s death. But stop yourselves from reaching out to give Lindsay and me room to grieve on our own. If we end up getting together with friends at any point, I’ll make sure you’re included. But we haven’t gotten that far. We’ve only planned what we’re going to do on the actual anniversary of my mother’s death on the second, besides attending my cousin Hunter’s wedding the day before.

Because I thought I’d be in DC during the wedding, I did not RSVP, so I hope they can haul ass to the kitchen, rearrange the food, and squish in a place setting to welcome a “Haiti-an. It actually is important to me to go to this wedding. It’s my mother’s brother’s second child, so I will get to see everyone on that side of the family at a time when we really need each other. Of course it is Hunter’s day, but seeing each other is an excellent added bonus. Plus, the wedding is in Tyler, Texas… the perfect amount of road trip. I haven’t done a real road trip in ages, so even that in and of itself is perfection.

When we get back, we’ve planned to go to the cemetery and just sit with Mom. We enjoy it because the cemetery we chose is so tranquil and peaceful it is an escape from the rest of the city. It’s also been a year since I’ve seen “Fred,” the infant-sized tree planted last year that will one day surround my mother’s grave in its majesty. I’m only sort of glad I waited this long, because I don’t think I would notice as much of a difference in “him” if I’d seen him every week.

Lindsay has said that she’s not crazy about the name “Fred.” I can’t wait to see what name she’s come up for “him.” For me, “Fred” was an easy choice because every plant I’ve ever had has been named “Fred….” and this Fred has people to take care of “him” that actually know what they’re doing. I don’t have to worry that I’m accidentally going to poison “him.” Plus, this time of year the weather should be pretty good… no pictures of the headstones with a “light dusting of snow.” We’ll eat and drink it what is hopefully sunshine and not threatening grey weather. But rest assured that I would carry six golf umbrellas before I missed going to see my mother’s grave.

It is such a bittersweet experience, because logically I know that I am just talking to her shell. Emotionally, she feels very real and present…. not in a viscerally physical way, just that her spirit is near.

It was that spirit which brought me to my knees. I didn’t want to spend that day alone, either, because I didn’t want to spend it with anyone but Lindsay and she’d already come and gone for this week.

She and my father both worked on this idea to let us have our time to laugh and cry, and the fact that they thought it was important enough to spend their hard-earned money and/or frequent flier miles to make sure it happened is exactly the kind of thing my mother would have wanted.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what it is she actually would have wanted, and yet I know this one hits the nail on the head. Now if Forbes, my stepdad, needs to get his internet fixed or his cable is down, that would just be the icing on the cake. My mother assumed my entire adult life that because I work in Information Technology, if it plugged into the wall, I could fix it. She once actually flew me to Houston just to fix her computer because it was exactly the same price as taking it to Best Buy,™ and she knew that I would be nicer to her than they would because I wouldn’t try to upsell her on anything. 🙂

As it turned out, I couldn’t fix the computer after all, because it was a hardware problem and not software… but I still earned my keep. I told her that for the same price as getting her old computer fixed (emphasis on old), she could buy a cheap throwdown that would do everything she wanted it to do and I could transfer all of her files for her, or just install her old hard drive as a secondary drive in the new one. I ended up just transferring her files because I didn’t know whether the hard drive was about to blow, and thanks to her excellent grasp of “the Mommy Save,” it was ridiculously easy. The term “Mommy Save” is an old IT Help Desk joke that refers to people who have no idea how directory structures work, so everything they’ve ever worked on is an icon on the desktop. Mind you, not folders created on the desktop. Individual files that cover every possible millimeter of desktop real estate so it doesn’t even matter what the wallpaper is… you can’t see it, anyway.

And, of course, my mother also had no idea how installing peripherals worked, so of course things that were simple to me, like installing the printer/scanner/copier driver, seemed like magic to her. She really thought it was magic when I discovered that her PSC had wireless and set up every computer in the house to print to it, and enabled file sharing so that she didn’t have to e-mail Forbes everything she wanted him to see.

I also locked down her router so that no one in her neighborhood could steal bandwidth from her using the router’s default username and password, the one that had been on it for, like, two years. I think I gave it the SSID “Baker’s Dozen,” because Baker was her married name…. but I TOLD her it was “Carolyn’s Tattoo Parlor and BBQ Pit.” Because she’d known me my whole life, she knew I was just kidding… and I knew exactly what she was thinking…. my Godyou are way too much like your father. I don’t think I am….. he’s WAY more funny than me. Just more practice at it, I guess…. or at least, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Perhaps one day his little grasshopper will reach satori, but I am not holding my breath.

Although this story may come close.

I love temporary tattoos, because there are lots of tattoos I like, but won’t commit to them forever. I was out shopping and found some really cool ones- tribal representations of animals, armbands, etc. My mother, however, did not like tattoos AT ALL. So, I wake up before she does and put this GIANT tiger temp tattoo on my neck. Not even an Oxford button-down will cover it. She comes into the kitchen a little while later and I can see the wheels in her head turning, trying not to explode as she thinks through all the jobs I’ve just lost. She tries so hard….. when did you get your tiger tattoo? If it’s on your neck, it must’ve really hurt. Do you think your job will care? How did you manage to hide it? I didn’t even see it last night…….. Your mom is going blind in her old age……. I let her twist in the wind for a few more minutes before I took some cotton balls and a small bottle of baby oil out of my pocket and rubbed it off. It was nice to see some blood come back into her face, and she laughed- not necessarily because she thought it was funny, but because she knew she’d been had and it was exactly the type joke her firstborn would play on her…. but not before trying to convince me that she’d known it was fake all along, that she was just trying to keep it going, etc. I didn’t buy it for a second, but it was hilarious to watch her backpedal nonetheless.

My mom was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but because her brain worked on a very high, creative plane most of the time, jokes often went over her head. She had bigger things to think about than whether her daughter was pranking her or not, which made her an easy target, especially since she was so willing to laugh at herself.

One of the times she absolutely lost it laughing at herself was when my dad took my mom, sister, and me to our friend Hardy Roper’s vacation house in Galveston. It had a dock on the bay side of the island, and Lindsay and I were doing a half-hearted job of fishing, using cheese as bait (or as my sister said, “WE’RE GONNA CATCH FISH WITH CHEESE!!!!!). I was wearing my favorite loafers, which happened to be pretty expensive, and my mom just knew I was going to drop them in the water while my feet were dangling over the side. She rushed over to me and said, hand me your shoes. If you lose them, we won’t be able to replace them. So, I hand them to her, and for whatever reason, at exactly that moment she was thrown of balance and promptly dropped both of my precious loafers into the bay. We laughed until we cried…. which is exactly what I want to do at the cemetery.

Of course I miss my mother, and it is incredibly sad, but it is a good thing that part of grief is the uncontrollable laughter of reminiscence.

If there’s anything I hope for during this trip, it’s that nearly every sentence begins with do you remember the time when Mom……………… It is the best opening line for me since once upon a time………….. because once upon a time, I could not laugh like this. 2017-09-30 00_53_56-Mourner's Kaddish _ ReformJudaism.orgI was too engrossed in survivor’s grief, not allowing myself joy because it did not seem appropriate to have fun. I felt that the only thing I deserved was to look down in sadness, tear my clothes, and even though I’m not Jewish, say the Kaddish (also known as The Mourner’s Kaddish) in her honor. If you’ve never heard it, the graphic to the right is the prayer in Hebrew. What follows is the English:

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.

May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be God’s great name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen.

I ask all of your blessings as two Christians try to make their own theme & variation on a yahrtzeit that weaves my mother’s personality throughout. The concept of the yahrtzeit is extremely meaningful to me, because it is not the first anniversary of a loved one’s death, but all of them. I tend to steal borrow from all faith traditions as I try and navigate the largest unknown I’ve ever faced. Making things better probably won’t come out of one book, but many. I mean, not everybody can be Doug Forcett.

I would appreciate each and every one of you holding space for Lindsay and me as we survey dark wilderness…. because maybe next year, having some contour lines will help.

In the meantime, I am praying not only on the words, but the spaces in between. Often, the wisdom is in the pause.

#prayingonthespaces