A Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Right and Responsibility

I don’t know how I got so lucky that when session ended in Annapolis, Lindsay’s job moved her to working on federal legislation. She still comes to DC on a regular basis, though not quite as often when she was trying to get a bill passed in Maryland state congress. The bill made it through the House and on to the Senate, but was defeated. I don’t want to write about the bill itself, or the company where my sister works, but what I will say is that the legislation in question made perfect sense and there is no sane reason why it shouldn’t have passed, especially since in 49 other states, it’s already law. The only comfort in this is that perhaps the bill will come up next year, as some form of it has for the last nine years, and she’ll come back just as frequently as she did this year.

I know it’s hard for her being so far away from home all the time, but selfishly, it is exactly what I need. Watching her work activates my “go button,” the part of me that’s interested in government and how it works…. or not.

Voting in local and state elections is abysmally low, and turnout is key. I don’t understand why others don’t understand that local and state laws directly affect their lives so much more than the president ever will. My county (Montgomery) is important to me, as well as my state. There are lobbyists pushing legislation through that would raise ire if there wasn’t so much apathy toward it. Outrageous things get passed because no one notices… and on the flip side of the coin, really good legislation gets passed over because no one is calling their state representatives to tell them what they want, because they have no idea what the issues even are, much less care.

National laws are important, but not nearly as crucial as “small things,” like the school board, how/when the trash gets picked up, and the way the local police treat people. The local issue that really cramps my style (being the tender-heart bear that I am) is that in Montgomery County, homeless shelters are closed from April to November. Obviously, it’s sometimes very cold in October, but April is no picnic, either. Plus, it gets every bit as hot in Maryland as it is in Houston during the summer, and to me, being outside all the time is local legislators not caring whether people suffer horrendous sunburns with blisters.

Thanks to Maryland state-run health insurance, homeless people have access to free medical and psychological care, and medications that are only one dollar a bottle. But for homeless people who do not have jobs, one dollar can seem like a hundred. It’s a misconception that homeless people do not work. When you’re poor, the idea of first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit, especially in this area, is unobtainable. If people manage to only stay on the streets for a few months, it is less likely that they will suffer permanent mental health damage, but the longer people go without basic necessities, it is a chicken and egg situation. Did they become homeless because they were mentally ill and unable to hold down a job, or did being on the streets do them in?

I would say that it’s different in every case, but I can see how being reduced to absolute survival mode can do so much damage in so little time…. especially if said homeless person is arrested and thrown in jail. Jail is not a happy place, especially when you’re put there due to circumstances beyond your control. People get arrested for all kinds of inanity, such as loitering, because where are you supposed to go when you don’t have an address?

Add that to the inequality in both hiring and sentencing leads minorities down a pipeline of enormous proportions. The first is that a resumé with the name Michael Smith is so much more likely to get an interview than one with the name Tyrone Washington. The second is that minorities are more likely to get harsher sentences than whites, so something that should have been a misdemeanor is adjudicated as a felony, and that always looks good to hiring managers.

Nothing makes my blood boil faster, because even if the minority is guilty, that does not mean that he/she deserves to be treated more harshly than anyone else. It’s white privilege at its finest.

My pastor, Matt, said something interesting regarding this very thing. Minorities are allowed to be prejudiced against whites, but there is no such thing as “reverse racism.” That is because prejudice in minority communities is relatively harmless, a way of dealing with earned scorn toward whites for the systematic oppression of minorities that they’ve endured for centuries now. There is no comparison whatsoever, and to do so is to willfully ignore the difference. Prejudice is personal bias. Racism is institutionalized from the top down, with no end in sight. No matter how much we march and protest against it, President Trump isn’t going anywhere, and neither are his goons satisfied with the status quo.

That does not mean that protesting is useless, however. With enough people in the crowd, it’s hard to be ignored by Congress or the media. There is also the community that comes together with a common goal, the creation of safe space…. the seeking out of like-minded people that is a lifeline when there is such a feeling of hopelessness.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that Sunday morning at 11:00 is the most segregated hour in America. In a lot of ways, this has not changed, but it has changed for me. I am blessed to have a community in which whites and minorities worship together under both a #blacklivesmatter and a rainbow flag. I am blessed to have a community that shows up for marches demanding equality for all people, despite the violence that has occurred as a result. The scariest was when our #blacklivesmatter sign was vandalized and pictures of the reporters shot in Roanoke on live TV were taped to the side doors.

It led to one of the biggest turnouts on Sunday morning that I’ve ever seen in any church anywhere, because we were there to say we were not afraid. Looking for succor, yes, but there was power in showing up. Jeffrey Thames preached that day, a sermon I’ll never forget called The Certain Samaritan. It was built to comfort us in our distress and distress us out of our comfort.

We will not back down from attending church because of this threat. We will continue to do the work of peace and justice that we always have, because it defines who we are as a congregation………………….

We will continue to let people rest and recuperate as they need. We will continue to clothe the naked. We will continue to feed the hungry. We will continue to make people of all faiths and origins our friends. We will continue to fight without a fight. It doesn’t take violence to respond. It takes certainty.

It was a beautiful illustration regarding now that this has happened, what are we to do? Applause is for a performance, not a worship service, and yet he deserved a standing ovation. He pointed the way from pain to promise in a way that people will not soon forget.

Whenever you think local politics don’t matter, remember that law & order starts in your neighborhood and branches out. When the leaves are turning brown, remember that it is your right and responsibility to turn on the sprinklers.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

To This Day

Dana and I were just having the most interesting conversation about Doctor Who and the Bible, because the canons are strikingly similar. The conversation started when we remembered The Master.

I said:

I hope they show The Master as a little boy, looking into the schism for the first time. You know who it reminds me of? Moses and the story of the burning bush. God actually tells Moses not to look at him because the sight is too overwhelming. When The Master looks into the time vortex, it’s like getting an answer to the question “what would have happened?” Keep in mind that since I am not a fundamentalist, I am not talking literally. There’s just a lot of wisdom in looking at them together.

And Dana said:

The Doctor is a Christ allegory because in dying for our sins, he’s still protecting us to this day. For years, the story has been that the doctor is atoning for the sins of killing all of his people and the canon has changed to now having locked them in a slice of time so that he can rescue them one day. And he’s over 2,000 years old now.

My eyes started to bug out of my head.

I love being married.