Listening to yourself

I started this blog because often times I feel like I am still muddling my way through, well, more feminine issues. . .things that I don’t necessarily feel like a I can share with a wide or mixed audience.

I was really surprised by how badly I wanted in-put from my friend on my next round of work clothes, and the insecurity I felt — noticed, I’d guess it’s normally there — about my body and appearance.  Am I squeezing myself into too small of a size? Would this be a pretentious pair of shoes to wear to work? Are my arms too big for the rest of me? The picture taken from that angle makes me feel like I am a million pounds overweight. Am I trying too hard or not hard enough with my presentation of myself? Am I being honest, or attempting to present something I’m not?

(and, some of the flip. . .when I take the picture from this angle, dare I say I have a beautiful face? my hands look elegant and kind doing that. Maybe this dress is a good idea?)

I tell myself it’s just hormones, and while I’m sure there is a hormonal component, it also feels like there is something more than that. Why do we use “just” in front of hormones anyhow, as a way to dismiss what is going on? At the same time, it seems ludicrous to say, “no, this seems more momentous than hormones; there is something important going on.”

Still, I wanted this to be a year of listening. I did. I do. Part of listening is, you have to listen to all of the things. If you are already deciding what to listen to and what not to, you haven’t made listening the priority. I am not saying you don’t then make a discernment about what you have heard; I am saying if you decide — prior to listening/paying attention — what is worth listening or paying attention to, you’ve already missed the point of listening.

Only, I am finding, the listening and making up your mind about it go so close hand in hand that sometimes it is hard to tell where one ends and where the next starts. I think that’s why listening is so hard; you have to  be pretty vulnerable while you do it. Sometimes that means it seems harder to do that with anyone else around — hard enough to be that vulnerable even to yourself. Other times, it makes you really long for someone else, because you want someone to make you feel safe and understood while you try to figure things out.

I just spent an absurd amount of time looking at products I never knew existed to put in my hair and make me feel less bedraggled and hobo-like. And I want someone to say, “yes, that was important,” even though I can’t figure out why it was. I spend a lot of philosophical energy on how I’m not artificial and you just have to take me as I am, and yet I am being swept in a wave of wanting to be . . . more me. As though what I am actually isn’t what I’m meant to be.

It’s an odd feeling. Like when I feel so certain that the weight I am is NOT what I am meant to be; the guilt of being this weight is not a societal hand off but a strange sense of being in defiance of what I actually am. To say that seems both strange and awkward and somehow accurate. I need to lose weight, because that is actually who I am, and being who I am right now is sticking my fingers in my ears and trying to ignore who I am right now and also who I really am, underneath my going in a pigheaded different direction. It feels frustrating to say that, because I don’t really know what I mean by that or it’s implications: only that’s how I feel as best as I can hear it.

Looking at hair care products (or clothes or anything) that go right ahead and put “sexy” in the title doesn’t make me say, “yes, that is who I really am,” except kind of yes. It is a part of me that feels neglected. I am bogged down in bills, laundry and unpaid overtime, and there is so much of me that feels neglected, and yes, that is part of that. A part I am not quite sure what I mean by, what I mean by “is this dress a good idea?” It’s sassy and flirty and cuts a figure and I have no place to wear it while drowning in bills, laundry and unpaid overtime. Is getting the dress and putting in the closet sufficient? Is preparing for something that isn’t an act of faith or an act of delusion? And anyway, I really need to lose 5 more pounds for it to fit me better than a sausage casing.

It is a strange place to be, I think. Catching passing glimpses of maybe I could be stunning, but only stunning for what? Yes, you go right ahead and embrace stunning, and, and, and. . .don’t forget to sweep the stairs, and water the plants, and pay your taxes. Stay late doing paperwork no one reads.

There is a part of being yourself that feels awkward in that it is a denial of others. Throwing off (or gently prodding aside) the culture and expectations of others. With that comes an uncomfortable level of examinations. If I change the way I do my hair, everyone will notice and comment. At work. At home. I’ve hated observational scrutiny, from when I was 6 years old and losing teeth. Let me be invisible. Except also, let me be beautiful and unique, and kind of take your breath away in a subtle kind of way where you didn’t really expect it, but now that you look at me. . . This desire to be both seen and unseen is not one likely to be realized.

It is a thing that I think maybe is important, because it rises when I am full. When I am rested or at peace, I am more creative, more patient, more kind. . . and also more in desire of being aesthetically beautiful. When I begin to drown, creativity, patience, and certain amount of kindness go out the window. And so does my desire for aesthetic beauty, as survival quickly trumps any desire to present or attend to myself. It’s not like eating sugar that rises up as a monster as the stress swells inside of me. Nor is at grand plan that I plot for world dominion: it’s small things. Different socks. A different watch. A different way to twist my hair.

And then I stomp it all down because I am busy and struggling and who has time for that and dammit. Usually not that last one, but sometimes that is the only word I can find for how I am feeling. What do you want me to do, skip breakfast so I can do my hair before work?

It also makes me feel angry and frustrated, because logically, philosophically, it shouldn’t matter. It’s what’s inside the body that matters, right? Only we are still in bodies. And I’m not quite sure what that means. Only that even for all of the trying to ignore it, it still matters. It does. There is something here that is meant to be valued, by me. And that takes effort and defiance and hope. And sometimes hope is what I feel like I have the least of.

Nobody can do this for me except me, but in order for me to do this, something would have to be sacrificed. But what? And why is this important enough that “practical” things ought be sacrificed for it? And what’s the end goal, because I want to know what the point is.

Right now, all of that is beyond just listening.

 

 

Advertisements

Becoming Music

There’s some kind of powerful magic in someone who knows how to use their voice like it’s an instrument — not beat-boxing or what have you, but the recognition that their own voice is a powerful, potent creator of music. With the really well trained individuals, I find it’s not just their voice. Their whole body knows music, and at least how to play an external instrument or 2 or 7.

This is not something that is bound my music genre, and I’ve very nearly (and may yet) buy albums of music of genres I don’t care for, lyrics that don’t speak to me, only just because I hear the exceptional control and wielding of music moving through a human body.

There is something very important here that I want. I don’t want to make light of the word “sacred,” but nor do I want to understate the importance I find here: it’s something deeper than aesthetic. It’s something deeper than just skill alone. It’s something that is not a Pinterest/Instagram style romanticisation of music and those who make it. My own inability to speak well in the language of music leaves me feeling — not uncultured, but rather childish and lacking understanding of basic truth.

I keep circling around my failings in this matter. Surely some people are gifted more than others. Or had more opportunity than others. But really where I keep landing is looking full in the face of my own inhibition. To music (which is not a verb, yet the only word I know to describe the action), one cannot remain cloaked, clothed, withdrawn. Those two things are completely at odds with one another. Music, from a place of inhibition and refusal to be vulnerable or truly share, is just noise.

And I cannot. I cannot put aside the self-consciousness, the awareness of self and other, long enough to move to the music, let the music in me, through me. I keep thinking if I could just — get better, I wouldn’t be self-conscious. Or if I could just work with the music alone long enough, then I wouldn’t care who else heard it.

If you look deeply into anyone who is serious about their art, you will always find it turns into a spiritual discussion. I don’t think it is really possible to separate art and spirituality. Not from the poets or the painters or the sculptors or musicians or anyone else. Nor is there any religion that I know of that does not make use of music. And my difficulties with music do not come to “I’m not smart enough” or “I don’t understand” or “there is no way to learn.” It comes down to an essential human problem: how do you be vulnerable, and not die?

Some of us come into the world naturally less inhibited. Some find the need the chemically loosen up. Some of us struggle with our inhibited nature, knowing that inhibition is not always a virtue, but unsure of how to bridge the gap. Yet how can one engage in truth, in comfort, in beauty from a place of deep inhibition?

It is essentially fear and pride that hold me back. There is no way to move deeper into music without also confronting fear and pride. I do feel that the phrase “spiritual practice” is over used and under understood. But one does have to understand the problem to move toward any solution. The problem I need to tackle is not one of having an ear that is not trained enough or a lack of practice. The problem I really need to tackle is that I recognize deep value in those who can avoid fighting being an instrument, but I am more concerned with my own protection, and I am too cowardly to move forward. Both humility and courage are needed, and I think that is a definition of grace, a definite quality of music.

What we don’t know that we know

Sometimes people surprise the truth out of me.

One time was when, as I was struggling a mystery illness and frustrated by the lack of answers, one of my professors turned around and asked me, “But what do you think? What do you think is at the root of it all?”

I blurted out an answer I had never thought of, never considered, never reasoned — and to this day I still think it’s best explanation for what I went through.

It happened again the other day, I think. A friend asked me, if I quit my current job, what would I do?

Without hesitation, I was shocked to hear myself say, “A sabbatical.”

I’d never considered that, on purpose and deliberately. But as soon as I heard myself saying it, I knew it was the truth. I don’t have a baby to rise up inside of me, but my heart did. Yes. Please, yes. It’s been about a decade of working hard and being broken and I just want to rest and I’m over-due. Isn’t it supposed to be every seven years?

What, I wonder, do most people think of when they hear sabbatical? It seems most people I hear use the term sabbatical in a more modern concept always seem to travel during their sabbatical. I would guess they feel the need to escape the places and people that come with an undercurrent of responsibility. For me, I want to get away from mankind and closer to God, and the best way I have found to do that is to get closer to God’s creation. Truly, closer.

Lay on the ground. Sleep in the sun and the dew. Get wet and cold. Eat food from the ground. Singing with your own voice.

Does that not sound entirely comfortable? I am not sure that a sabbatical is supposed to be entirely comfortable — perhaps a vacation is. But a sabbatical, I think, is supposed to be life giving. And while sleeping on the clay ground doesn’t sound comfortable, you would be surprised to know how my breathing deepens and slows just thinking about it. God, and His creation, runs at an entirely different frequency and rhythm than the rest of the world, and my aching soul cries out for it.

I don’t want to tell people how seriously I think about quitting my job. It feels like a failure. It feels like not trying hard enough. It feels like saying, “you all go on ahead being adults; I quit.” But also, not thinking about quitting just feels like an exercise in delusion and denial. But if I quit, what next?

If I let go of the taut reins of “realistic” and “responsible” and “feasible” and “reasonable” and listen to thing I can best call my heart’s cry, rapidly I am thinking about buying a plot of completely undeveloped land, and living on it. Something like 5 to 10 acres that haven’t been used in long enough that it is mostly woods, with some clearings, and obviously there is a fickle stream. Preferable said land butts up close to state land. I want to save lots of money and NOT spend it all on the land, because that’s probably the money I’ll be living on a for a while, and besides, you have to save money to drill a well at some point probably, but for now my mind is already tracing rabbit trails of what containers would do well for hauling and storing water, what kind of cooler chests would keep wild animals out, the reality that I would probably still have to have a phone of some sort, and could I squeeze out three seasons if I built the equivalent of a wooden tent?

Around this part, I start rebuking myself for romanticized pipe dreams that everyone has, and no one lives, because hello, there are serious flaws with these types of things. But I wonder — why does everyone have them, if not because the life around is killing us from the inside out and we all know it?

It’s not like I think I would live out there forever. It could always be the sabbatical land. The largely undeveloped (I still think a well would have to happen at some point) fleeing-place, the land of refuge when this broken and ill world wears me (or others) down to the point that withdrawal must happen. I figure after a year or two, I would get it out of my system for a while and make another attempt at re-entry into society. Not that I would never leave the sabbatical land — how else would I take voice lessons, and pottery lessons, and learn how to swim, and mushrooming lessons, and unload pictures off my camera, and get more milk because how is a person supposed to live without milk, and see my family and friends, and get more books from the library, and more canvas to paint? Maybe, if reality intruded too much, I could even do some per diem work on the side, just to keep my cursed world skills and connections from rusting too much. But after that, after resting and restoring and learning and creating and Not Trying, maybe after that I could work a part time job and try again to find a rhythm and a balance that I could sustain. Where I didn’t cry my way home, didn’t wake up praying that this was a weekend not a weekday.

I’ve analyzed the problem from every angle I can imagine, and the root cause I come up with is: me. I’m too introverted to make this current course ever be successful. I can get about half-way through the week, and then I am peopled out and faking it, and by Friday I am gritting my teeth and hating it, and then on the weekend I want to just huddle and hide and not see anyone, because how else will I regroup enough to face Monday?

I tell myself if I can just make it to three years, I will have more options, more flexibility, more ways I can approach life. But if I push myself to three years, there will be no option left but to rest and leach out the miserableness. Some days, many days, I don’t even know if I can last that long, only then I go look at the prices of land and scare myself silly, and wonder what land is really worth, and if I’m crazy or if this is really the way the compass is pointing. Sometimes I think there’s no other possible way, and stopping my ears up to it is the greatest foolishness.

But the joy I feel at the idea of sabbatical is not without sadness: I thought I could do this, and I can’t. I wanted a family of my own, and I don’t have it. How meaningful can this time be, if the relationships won’t be lasting and I’m just trying to grit my teeth and save up money? There is a sense of loss, of mourning, of failure, of not being good enough, of (paradoxically) being rejected, of not being able to join with others, of not meeting standards. I want to run away and hide, but I know that act itself is so radical that it will push me so far from the socially accepted bounds of inclusion that few people will be able to relate to me.  I don’t want to be isolated; but I do want to be alive. I’m not sure that I have the courage and fortitude necessary to make the scandalous choices that bring me closer to being alive.

All I can think is that maybe this will flame out after the winter. Maybe things will be more clear after the spring comes. But deep inside, I do know I already spoke the truth, and I am just scared to act on it.

Defined by whom for what?

Enneagram.

So popular, so famous, so trendy, and, so far, the most complex and therefore accurate personality test I’ve stumbled over.

For me, the use of these are very limited and often result in little more than ego stroking or justification of one’s reactions to unpleasant stimuli. Somehow, I can’t resist taking them, always wondering how people see me, I guess, a preoccupation I’ve had for too long and still can’t let go of. Yet I rarely remember the results, because it doesn’t challenge my understanding of myself or how I should approach my life. Accordingly, I can’t really tell you if I consistently get the same results, even if I’ve taken the same test many times throughout the years.

Today I stumbled on my Enneagram results, because although of all the Types, Type 4 did not seem too off base, I resented what was described as their fundamental struggle — their basic fear or basic desire: That they have no identity. Worse than that, they basically said that the fact that Fours are swamped in too many shifting emotions is the root of what leads them to feel as though they have no stable identity.

I don’t want this to be true of me. But I think that it does ring true. This means that I have to grapple with it, the first time I think a personality test has actually done that for me.

I’ve long wondered whether  I was just a product of my environment, or if I were actually a stable entity of my own. I wish I felt like I had my own defined sense of style, my own home environment. In “real life” I am too busy keeping my head above the water, and those things don’t come together, but I always want them to. I have wanted to have a well defined role, except that I hate being defined as one thing, and I am much more complex than that. One of my biggest stumbling blocks is that it seems like there is no direction to my life, no arcing story line, no actual cohesion. In fiction, everything is so much more neat, or so it seems to me, since I don’t understand the context in which the Author is writing.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s healthy to spend your life looking for “an identity.” That’ s not what I think life is “supposed” to be about. Don’t judge yourself, they say. Accept yourself as you really are. The problem is, when all you see is fractured tiny pieces of nonsense, and no idea how any of the pieces go together, well, nothing is big enough to hold on to long enough to accept. That’s how it feels, anyhow.

Do I think that getting good at something would give me peace? No. Or a relationship, or a home, or defined sense of style? No, of course not. But do I envy the people who seem to have a strong arc, a strong sense of who they are, what they want, and the path that they are on? Yeah, I do. Well, would you like a different set of life problems? As we say in health care, would you like to die of cancer, dementia, or frailty and falls? No one ever said it was going to be pretty.

And I can’t escape the dogging feeling of needing permission to do what I need to do. What I most want permission for is permission to be weak. To stop trying to force myself to be responsible, dutiful, reasonable and hard working. To stop trying to go along with society’s expectations. And yet one of the things I most resent is when it seems like my identity is slipping into that of Invalid.

So what do I do? I read the blog of Christian woman with bi-polar disease, and I marvel at how much of it seems to apply to me. Not the symptom descriptions; the coping with life descriptions. The “actually, I can’t work full time, I am an artist, and it’s ok to go to bed early.”

It’s hard for me to say, “I can’t help you today, I don’t feel well.” But I don’t feel well. But couldmake myself do it? I mean, I could. I’m not dead yet. I have several people in my life who view not “making yourself” as laziness, as lack of commitment, as being weak, of having no discipline, not sticking to things.  So I want someone to say, you don’t look like you feel well. Because apparently I want someone to validate how I feel or otherwise it’s not the truth? But otherwise I’m fighting this guilt that I’m giving up too easily, have no will power or perseverance, no grit. This was not how the war was won.

I guess I am trying to shift my mindset to what I have experienced to be true, but it takes energy to fight all the voices (people, society, habits, previously held stances) that scorn that mindset. It’s hard to leave things behind.

But if my life is a novel. . .I’m beginning to suspect that I’m not the Heroine. Or that I have to learn how to write a different kind of Heroine. Because I’m not strong. I’m tired. I’m not the center of the story; I want to hide and to heal. I don’t make the world go round; I struggle to get through each normal boring day. I’m not leading anyone anywhere doing anything, although sometimes I remember to put tremendous effort into small actions to Not Be Part of the Problem.

“Not Quitting” is offered up as the gold standard; but maybe yeah, do quit? Not life. But maybe what life is described as. Where do we get this stuff from, and why do we believe it? I understand why some people want to take the path of minimalism and strip everything right down and see what still holds. So much garbage and so hard to see what is real hard truth buried in it all. We’re all dying, in that none of us live forever, but that’s not as clarifying as one would think it would be. Maybe, for some of us, quitting certain things takes more courage and bravery than Keep Going.

If none of this makes much sense to you, that’s ok. It’s the muddled meanderings of someone feeling feverish and sick, but not so feverish and sick that she can’t make herself go to work tomorrow. Not all introspection is either healthy or conclusive.

 

o so tired

One of the things that makes me angry about work is that I feel like it demands to be my god. I don’t “get to” show up for work; I “have to” show up for work. I don’t get to decide what is important enough to do. I get told what I have to do. And the rest of my life? The rest of my life gets the “leftovers,” after work has made it’s demands and I am ragged and thin and unable to really apply myself.

 

This is where most people roll their eyes and make a cutting comment about how being a grown up is so hard and welcome to the real world.

 

I don’t glamorize the tiny house movement, because in all actually, living in tiny cramped spaces is fairly unpleasant. But the truth is, living for work is really unpleasant, too. It might be a bit dour to say that most life is about choosing which unpleasantness you want to live with. I want to be able to structure my life around the things that I matter most, and work generally equates itself to money in my mind, and money is so very, very low on my list.

 

You have to eat, people say. Bills got to get paid, they say. But as anyone who looks around with even remotely half an eye open, some people manage to do that a good deal more frugally than others. Would I take living on rice and beans to actually be able to prioritize my life in an authentic manner to what I truly believe? Yes. In a heartbeat.

 

I wish I could not be so angry about this. I wish I could be a hopeful dreamer, a persistent laborer with the goal fixed before me. Instead, it seems I find myself stealing myself to do something both drastic and defiant. I don’t care what you think, I don’t care what you say, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. Which only explains exactly how much one does care. Defiance usually is an expression of fear, and I will confess I am that.

 

I’m afraid of quitting a job I labored for countless years to get. I’m afraid of what would be next. I’m afraid there wouldn’t be money for bills. I’m afraid I’ll be found an idealistic fool, who was incapable of doing basic math. But also, I am terrified of this crushing feeling of being trapped, a growing case of claustrophobia; a situation where everyone simply resigns themselves to being victims of fate. I hate that: vicitimhood and fatalism combined in one toxic dose.

 

That does sound a bit like childish idealism, doesn’t it? I know. I worry about that. I am enough of a responsible big girl to know that nothing is free, and this world down here is not heaven, and it is all laced through with the burden of the curse. But I also loathe the hypocrisy of saying I value one thing and then lamenting that I can’t actually live in such a way as I claim to hold to “because I can’t.” That sounds like a cop-out, the coward who is not willing to make sacrifices for what they believe in — and if you aren’t willing to make sacrifices for it, do you really believe it?

 

I don’t think major life changes should be motivated by anger, fear and defiance. But stopping doing the responsible thing in the witness of the whole world takes a tremendous amount of courage. Especially when you are currently more defined by what you don’t want than what you do want.

 

I have been thinking about life as a process of editing. Somewhere along the line, I swallowed the thought that becoming an adult was about having things in your name. The more I have actually tangled with real life, the more I find that the “things” are actually mostly silly. The grandiosity of the things of this life can’t actually hide the reality that we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we cannot bring anything out of it. In our mindsets, I think it would be healthier to consider what needs to be brought along for the journey than settling down and stock piling.

 

There’s a little bit of terror to not having enough and to running out. There’s also a little bit of terror to not being in control and running out. And, I think, for some of us, there’s a terror in living a lie or lying to yourself. I have a growing determination that after three years at my current job, I’m quitting. It makes me happy to write that, even. But I’m scared to say it outloud, because I’m afraid my unhappiness with my current situation is deluding me into thinking that something irrational is rational, something foolish is wise, something entirely selfish is God-led.

 

I don’t care, I say. I’m quitting. But who am I saying “I don’t care,” to? My employers, my co-workers, to whom I can offer no real explanation except that, “this isn’t for me; I’m done.” My family members, who are already incredulous that I took on legal responsibility for untold thousands of dollars of debt for a job that would never make sufficient money to clear the debt. My own self, who cannot bear the idea of walking away without some kind of understanding of what I am walking toward.

 

Then there is the quiet and intimidating question of what is faith. Is faith laboring for years and incurring large loans just to walk away? Is faith stepping away without know what you are stepping toward? One year down, two years to go. I have time yet to figure this out, to move from faith instead of angry defiance. It scares me a little that I have so much joy in the idea of quitting and no hope at all in “making it worse.”

 

But I also cannot deny that every time I hear my brother talking about me being in the profession for 10 years, I silently affirm that will never happen, cannot happen, will utterly kill me if I do. It makes logical rational sense to him. I know it will not be. I know it.

 

It would make rational sense to quit working for formal employers, be control of my own destiny via self employment. But I’m not at all sure that is right, either. From everything I have heard from small business owners, the small business tends to consume them from the inside out. I don’t really see my clouded glimpses of the future as one who becomes a motivated, “successful” business owner. In part because I don’t see myself as being defined by any one thing. Will my profession still have some role in my life, in some shape or form or quantity? Probably. But the whole point is that I refuse to be defined by my profession, self-owned or otherwise.

 

What, then, do I see my future looking like? It’s undefined nature is a large part of what leaves me tossing and turning and fidgeting within the shell of my current life. I have struggle with my share of 3 and 5 year plans and found they don’t really hold water with me. I dislike the unknown, but I find there is little in planning like that besides self delusion. Sometimes, I still try to peer through the fog and see what comes at me, vague ideas of what should be, what is worth coming into being.

 

— I want to put time and energy into feeding and growing meaningful, lasting relationships.

— I want God to be the intentional center, not the squeezed in leftovers.

— I want to be able to be more fully in the present, more aware of the beauty and grace created in each passing moment.

— I want to read, I want to create, I want to sing, I want to maintain less objects with more care.

— I want to attend to my own personal rhythms, resting when I am sick, being still to listen, and working with a great fury and passion only some of the times.

— I want to learn.

— I want to stay away from ambition and work hard on compassion

— I want to cook more, to nourish in all of it’s meanings.

— I want less hustle — meaningless hustle — and more texture and depth

— I want to grow and move

— I want to be outside more, more in communion with the creative handiwork of God.

— I want to have less things, a more edited, curated life that knows what to hold on to and what to let go of.

— I want time to reflect and recharge.

— I don’t know how much of that can be had in this life.

I Cry Out

December 2008. Almost a full decade ago. Sure, let’s go for a whole decade. 2007. From then, till now. The things that have happened, the things that have changed, the things that haven’t. 22 through 32.

I was still being a “full-time sister.” My youngest sibling was 5. I organized the berry picking trips, made all the bread and pickles, ran the vegetable garden in all it’s sad un-glory, cut the hair of 9 brothers, helped care for my aging grandparents, taught myself pattern drafting for sewing, handquilted and learned to knit socks, cleaned house for a neighbor, and basically, was slowly losing my mind. This made sense when I was 16 and my mom was in the hospital for a month on strict bedrest, and I tried to keep the small but very full household running. . .but it had been making less and less sense with every passing day. 5 year olds don’t need their diapers changed. 7 year olds don’t need help dressing. 9 year olds don’t need to be watched to keep them from running out into the road. I knew this had to end, something had to change, but I didn’t know what, didn’t know how, and no idea how to start.

Guys, I just wanted life to make sense. I just wanted it to be meaningful. I just wanted to know that I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing.

 

3 jobs

3 degrees

7 clinical rotations

6 moves (2 of which were cross-country), plus about 10 weeks of being essentially homeless, sleeping on couches and never being quite sure where I was spending the night next week.

20 lbs on, off, on, off and on again

3 close compatriots married off, plus a sibling

3 grandparents died

1 life-threatening illness that no one can satisfactorily explain

3 friends divorced in one year, and one more almost did that year, too

1 aunt and 2 family friends died

A family acquaintance accused of murder now living on bail in my family’s house

A tornado through my aunt and uncles property

My brother and his wife having multiple miscarriages. Also, a friend miscarrying

Also, my brother and his wife in their third trimester, and more friend babies than I can count

2 cars

2 car accident plus breaking down in the middle of South Carolina mountains full of wild fires

Cooking for 14 to cooking for 1

never having my own room and never having a space to think and yet being alone to being two days of long travel away from anyone who even knew my name, and being alone and then back again to no space at all.

being white knuckled with stress and terror just driving to my grandparents to driving across the country and staying in a random stranger’s house

the majority of my fertile years

friendships tentatively forged, now distanced by miles; friendship that used to be close now waning even as the space between contracts once again.

 

. . . and back to living with most of my family. A different house. My youngest sibling is 15 now. My commute is 40 minutes. I don’t know how to take care of my body or what I can eat. I feel lost, like a fractured dream, where everything feels both real and wrong. Some things feel so familiar, yet so disconnected. Superficial and fake, but with a hidden meaning somewhere. I feel almost more disassociated from my body than I ever have before.

You guys, I’m tired. And confused. And somehow no closer to find that elusive thing called meaning. I feel like an indentured servant, perpetually. Almost all of my somedays have never happened, and so much time has passed by that I struggle to hold on to any hope that my somedays will ever happen. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I thought I just had to survive, get through to the other side, and then everything would sort itself out and make sense. Only now I’ve gotten through to the other side, hung on and survived, and nothing makes any more sense. And in some ways, I feel like I’m running out of the hanging on, the trust that somehow things will coalesce and make sense. Slogging through only works when you see the end in sight, and I can’t imagine any end anymore.

And I don’t even know who or how to talk about the things that burden me any more, I don’t even know how to talk to myself. Yesterday, as I flushed, I thought, “well, there goes one more uterine lining down the drain. I wish I could be the one to decide whether I wanted to keep it or get rid of it.” And then I stood there in the bathroom running through name after name and trying to decide if there was anyone on earth I could actually say that to. (In the end, I just had a quiet internal conversation about how we talk about how important it is to preserve a person’s choice – their autonomy – and yet there are so many things, like age, that feel like a loss of autonomy because you have no choice – that is, you are mortal, and low in power.)

I’m so frustrated to have gone through so many years, so many things, and still be struggling with so much of the very same things. Other times I suppose that probably one of the consequences of staying so busy you forget how to breathe is that you never really deal with all the deep-down struggles, and so they just resurface uglier than ever whenever you do happen to manage to come up through the water. And I’m somehow saddened that now, unbidden — this never happened before, ever — I find myself considering over and over how maybe one of the main points of this life is just to get us so wearied of it all that we are looking forward to leaving the tabernacle for the permanent dwelling. That it’s like my mom, complaining that the third trimester is there to make you look forward to labor, and just being done. That maybe this life isn’t about finding joy and rejuvenation, it’s just about pouring yourself out until there literally is nothing more to pour and the drink offering is found to be an acceptable sacrifice.

I don’t know any more how to ask for the things that I’ve asked and asked and asked for, and never heard an answer.  And I feel like I’m just getting better at slapping a smile on my face and not sharing what’s inside, or just withdrawing moodily. Because what can anyone offer? Humiliating pity or a belittling assurance? We all know that there isn’t really any answer. That’s why “questioning the meaning of life” is such a cliche. It’s something everyone struggles with, no one really has the answer for, and all of us are at least a little tiny bit afraid of.

Maybe we should be more quick to share the tears that brim and roll, and less inclined to lock away and hide. Maybe there is a fellowship in sorrow as much or more than in joy. But in the moment, when you’ve had more than you can bear, it’s too much to try to also manage the response of others, whatever they may be. When one more breath is an effort, so is one more thought, one more sound, one more word, one more expression, one more silence. So the grieving is silent, but no less powerful.

o, my life! what are you? not what i expected. not what i hoped. not what i thought. not what i meant. but what i was given. and that is something, even if it is not any of those other things. . . something to be respected, something to be treasured, something to be held. but still. . . a burden at times a heavy one pressing down hard. the third trimester, the drink offering, the prayer in the garden, the bitter gall that gives you the strength to call out, “my god, my god. . .”

 

 

 

I lift up my eyes

Faith in God is as much or more about trusting Him with our past as it is trusting Him with our future.

I’m paraphrasing someone, and alas, I don’t remember who, but I do remember the thought, because it rang deeply true with me. In culture today, there is a strong current of “Hakuna Matata.” Your past doesn’t matter. Only who you are today matters. Even in “christian pop” songs, this theme prevails.

But experientially, that’s baloney. Experientially, who you are today is a direct result of the past. Decisions that were made or not made or out of your influence entirely live you — with children, or childless. Married or not. Penniless or with a few dollars in your pocket. Crippled from injury and disease or running a marathon. There are choices you don’t get to make now, choices you HAVE to make now, because of your past.

And it changes how you translate everything that happens to you. The context of your past imprints itself on how you perceive and react to every little thing — the weight of an unkind or careless word; the instability of a work place; walking up a flight of stairs, even.

No matter how much you endeavor to live in the present, you keep smashing into the past. And then you have to ask, “Why, God?”

How am I supposed to trust You with my future when I can’t understand why You gave me that past?

How am I supposed to trust You with my future, when my past still hurts so much?

How am I supposed to trust you to give me good things in my future, when I have been praying for good things endlessly for years with seemingly no answer?

How am I supposed to trust that You will use me to do good works in the future, when I sit here looking bleakly at the past and feeling like I’ve never been used to bear any good fruit yet?

You can’t trust God with the future without trusting Him with the past. Because if deep down inside you believe Him to have been incompetent or uncaring in the past, why should you think Him to behave any differently in the future? But hindsight being 20/20 is a myth. The past is still as clear as mud. And it being in the past doesn’t mean it’s good.

The thing is, we can’t go back and change the past. So if it’s uncomfortable, if it’s painful. . .avoiding it seems like the safest thing. It stinks, we can’t fix it, let’s just move on. But I’d guess that an awful, awful lot of having trouble trusting God with the future is actually having trouble trusting God with the past.

I trust God — with the things that I feel secure He has helped me through in the past. Cars breaking down, for example. Always felt very taken care of; don’t have too terribly much emotional trauma with the idea of it happening again. The stuff that God has always seemed to be far away and very quiet about? I struggle so hard to trust Him at all. It’s not the future I’m struggling with. It’s the past. Why, God? Why did you do the things You did? Why am I winding up where I’m winding up now?

I don’t need to put my past behind me and move on to the future. I need to put the future on hold, and slog through the past until I’m not scared that God is hiding from me. I need to seek God out in the past, just as much or more as I keep trying to find Him in the future.

God is good. Even in the past. Let us seek Him.

It’s a Pity to be Human

I’m holding the door open for the cat. It’s raining out, but the handmixer is running, and she hates the sound of it. Caught between two miserablenesses, she hesitates at the door, her ears laid back. I feel sorry for her and her miserablenesses, so I just stand there with the door open, watching her.

One of my brothers pushes past me, suddenly shoving his hand at her face, as though to scare her off the threshold so the door could be closed. She flattens herself to the ground, but doesn’t move.

“She wants to come in, but hates the sound of the mixer,” I explain, annoyed. I was busy feeling sorry for her, and he has no respect for my pity.

“Oh.”

But the ‘oh’ belies no understanding of the situations, because moments later, he steps past me and my open door, stands behind that cat, and nudges her through the door with his foot. Forced to chose one of the miseries, the cat dashes through the kitchen trying to escape the sound of the motor.

I am like the cat. I try to go outside to avoid the sound of the motors, and the people who are being morning people. It continues to rain, so I have to sit on the porch. Then a morning person comes out to be cheerful at me, and another brother comes out to start another motor (the ice cream maker), and my mom comes out, too, so she can offer helpful motherly advice.

“So much for my plot to escape the sound of motors,” I sigh, as the ice cream maker kicks on.

“Well, you can go someplace else,” my mom informs me. “The mixer isn’t running in the kitchen any more.”

“I know,” I say.

“The screened porch is cleared off now,” she continues to push.

“I know,” I repeat, irritably. I know. I helped clean it. The day I was practically doubled over with abdominal pain. You didn’t help clean it.

I am trying to escape the motors, and the rain. And also, I would like some pity, but these cheerful morning people have none.

***

Last night, my grandma came over, and asked me if I had a glowing halo. I stared at her at first, and then tried to cover my confusion by claiming full body luminescence. She was referring to the fact that I had just been awarded my doctorate degree, a fact so roundly ignored by people in this house that I had almost forgotten about it myself. My dad made a few jokes about it. One brother threatened to call me doctor, but I said he could only call me “doctor” while singing “Put the Lime in the Coconut.” He said it would be worth it to memorize the lyrics, but we both knew he wouldn’t. Mostly, two of my brothers will put in sly jabs wherever they can about how I would have to chose the degree with the most amount of school debt and the lowest salary.

Some of my family came up for graduation, but it mostly made the family dysfunction that much more apparent. A small handful of people, most of whom came along only because there was someone else to come along with, and a vague sense of guilt that they should want to be there. They spent hours upon hours sitting in a car, waiting through boring lists of names of people none of us knew, and cramming themselves back into the car. I got to see their miserable faces for a few moments, and I say miserable not as an adjective of the quality of their faces but of the expressions they were wearing.

Then I went to my friend’s graduation party, and sat quietly in the sunlight, watching her face light up again and again in the presence of her family and her friends. I watched her husband and her sister, dripping with pride and happiness. In the end, I walked myself back to my car a few blocks away, alone in a city that was both familiar and completely impartial to me.

***

This is normal to me. Not easy, but normal. Aside from precious isolated incidents, my memories of school, right from the beginning of my associate’s degree, are largely one bleak swath of loneliness. Of not fitting in with my classmates, and so always being the odd and awkward one in any group. Of my family not understanding why I would do such a thing, and only the more so once I moved a state away. The example set to me has always been, “if you move away, you’re the one making that choice; so you’re only getting the consequences of your decisions if it means you lose connection with people.”

I can’t say I really did any better with my brothers that went away to college. It seems far off, and your own life seems busy, and what do you say, anyway, when you’re a family of introverts who mostly socialize by sitting quietly in the same room? But I can’t say it’s an attitude I want to propagate.

This morning, my second attempt to get photos taken of me for graduation announcements fell through. And all though it hurt, I realized the feeling of a twisting knife wasn’t really about photos, or even about my imagined plans for my own little declaration of completion. It is more the pining to be understood, the pining to be celebrated, the pining to be noticed, the pining to have life go as I think it should rather than the way it predictably does. No, I don’t have a husband glowing with pride and happiness, taking pictures of me at my graduation party. No, taking pictures and sending out announcements is really no substitute at all. But it was something, and I didn’t want to have to fight for that something. Any more than I wanted to fight my family to come up and be miserable while they watched me walk across a stage and shake hands with a stranger.

***

The life we imagine doesn’t have us pausing hunched on the threshold between the rain and the tormenting motor. The life we imagine has a multitude of choices, some more pleasant than others, and always with the tantalizing assumption that if we’re very clever about dashing through the wet drops from the grey skies — well, that we’ll strike upon that golden scenario that is all smiles and no painful wincing. The life we imagine takes all of the best pieces we’ve seen from all the happiest lives, and mashes them together in this strange yet pastoral scene we tell ourselves is actually achievable.

The lives that we do have are pieces of joy and contentment that are beyond words, splintered apart by hurts internal and external, and wrapped up in painful obliviousness to what we are doing to others and even what it is that we ourselves need. And whether we like it or not, our brokenness is our humanness. We cannot escape the brokenness without superseding our mortal forms. Some mornings the pain seems more searing than other mornings, making our breath catch and our eyes unfocus in a lame attempt to ward off tears. But always it is there.

Maybe it’s faulty advice, but it is my advice: Don’t be ashamed of pity. Of giving it to others, of accepting it yourself, or even occasionally allowing the self-pity to wash over all of your raw places and then drip slowly away. You can even pity the cat sometimes. It’s okay.

Importance

Last night I listened to two people talking, and realized we were practically from different planets. She was raised with nannies — the first was from a town of only 300 people, can you imagine? (yes. . .yes, I can). The rest were from England. Of course. Don’t worry, she then became an au pair herself in France, 45 minutes outside of Paris, for 2 years.  Mummy dearest has bright red nails and an accent, and can’t imagine living in a small town for even two weeks, is a bonafide work-a-holic, and is considering getting a second home in Hilton Head, or if her brother buys a boat, anyway.

It makes my brain cramp. Because our lives are so different, yet we’re still just people. It’s not that their lives are charmed. Tales of divorce, counseling, drinking, endless streams of intimate relationships ending in broken hearts, longing for reconciliation, loneliness, and endless activity to avoid accidental self-reflection.

It leaves you thinking a little, what do they have that I don’t? Anything can happen in life. And then you realize, oh, yeah. What they have that I don’t have is money. I can’t just go home and buy a new car. I can’t just eat grass fed beef because it’s better for me.

It’s not that I’m without privilege. I do have privilege. I don’t have to start working the second I’m done with school, because I have family I can stay with, who will shelter and feed me. They have before, and likely will again, lend me the money to buy a car, which will be a far better deal than taking out a loan from traditional sources.

I just always wonder how far to push those resources. Because for a certain while, it makes sense, and after another certain while, it feels like taking advantage of someone. And it’s also a struggle, because it comes with a certain lack of identity. And both of those things eat at me.

I’m not saying I have to pull myself up by my own boot straps in order to be legitimate, although certainly there are temptations to be that way. But you don’t take things without giving things, and the more “support” you take, the more “autonomy” you give away. You have less and less control over living situation and environment, what you eat, who visits and when. It is further complicated by the thing about being alone vs being around people who care about you.

So this morning I started thinking about things like, how much money saved up is enough money? Is it better to rent or buy? How terrifying to buy. And things like, good glory, the amount of debt I have for my schooling could buy me 3 great American dreams. And that opens up the whole struggle I have about the school debt: when you know you will likely never pay it off, do you try? The pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps says yes, but it’s hard to convince yourself that in light of canceling any other aspirations for life.

I like life binary. I like right and wrong. Be simple and clear cut. It makes me so highly annoyed when I find out life is complex and confusing, and without straightforward answers. You might not get a diagnosis; you might just be stuck managing your symptoms. You might not get your dream lifestyle, but wind up living 15 different versions of making do, longing, and scheming to try again. You might get your education, but always wonder if it was worth it, or if it should have been went about in another way. (Right now I don’t think that, but ask me when I’m confronted with making payments.)

When it all comes down to it, I sometimes think I just want to stop being confused by life. I want someone to say, “this choice is the right choice, this choice is the wrong choice.” Armed with irrefutable conviction, I could then accept the consequences and carry on. But there is a niggling part of me I keep fighting with, the part of me that says, you can do a lot of the things you want, if only you had the guts to take the risks. And the risk adverse part of me says, “risk is stupid.”

I’m sick of doing what I’m supposed to do, and want to be reckless and do my own thing. But that is at war with the part of me that says conventional wisdom is both conventional and wise for a reason. There’s no good reason to not work for 2 to 3 years.

But I want to be in control. I don’t want to be riding on the waves of societies expectations and  social systems. I want to be busy being me. And when I talk about it as a defiance of society and the world, I feel so holy and I think I should find courage to make risky decisions. Other times, I wonder if I’m just fighting God. I want to be in control. I don’t want to be told what to do with my life. I don’t want to do those hard things, I want to do MY hard things.

I mean, just for supposing. . .suppose I turned down lucrative full time employment, in hopes of finding something part time? That’s a luxury only achievable by support of others. If I took full advantage of that support, and defiant risk in the face of all that’s responsible adulthood, I could do that. But I feel like I owe my support better than that. I feel like I owe my support a faster pay back than a part time job, too. And I’m not sure which is worse, feeling like your life is being ruled by money or emotions, but having it ruled by both at once sure does stink.

So while I try to resign myself to the idea of seeking full time employment. . .I also find myself looking for the silver lining. How fast could I save it up if I stayed with the support system? Could I outright buy a place I would want to own, and skip renting or mortgages? Would I feel too guilty not spending more toward school loans? Would I be able to save that much while paying back borrowed money for a vehicle? Could I manage the relative lack of autonomy for another two or three years?

And behind it all is the persistent longing that my life could be defined by more than my job. The one area where I feel like I have no control at all. I pray about it a lot. But I still have so little idea of what God has planned or why He has it planned. I don’t know why we wander, and I don’t know why we so often have to wander alone. I feel sad about where I am, but also certain, in some part of me, that God is good and gives good things.

Is that enough? I don’t know. But I think it’s the most important.

 

 

 

Light

I grew up under the rather Puritanical mindset and teaching that life is miserable, and you had better just start getting used to that now. In classical fashion, my first growth beyond that mindset was rebellion against the bitterness and anger that so filled the people who accepted that mindset. Being angry at anger doesn’t solve anything, but sometimes it is our first step in waking up.

It’s still a struggle for me, though. That’s why I’m writing here under pseudonym. The people I grew up with would still be quick to tear all of this apart as “too optimistic” and “naive” and even “delusional.” Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes I think people stay in the darkness because it seems safer. If we already expect the worst, we can’t be let down. And so they proclaim this darkness as “truth,” but it’s a self confirming bias. If you only take note of all the horrible and dark things that happen, than it certainly seems like “truth” is that life is made up only out of horrible dark things. These dark-livings then loudly proclaim that they have the truth, that everyone else is too childish to deal with. Maybe. Maybe not.

Even if we were to grant the dark-livings that they have the truth, or a portion of it, even, there is still this: But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love. And truth didn’t make the list. And if you put truth in the same category of fathoming all mysteries and knowledge (which I think is how the dark-livings are using the word truth, in that instance), then it gets the slam that it’s worth nothing without love. And love, we have plastered everywhere to the point that further words on it are at the moment rather unmeaningful, ought to be casting out the darkness.

But setting aside that worn path, what about faith and hope? The dark-livings would say that “if in this life only we have hope, we of all men are to be most pitied!” clearly implies that there’s NO hope for this life. It’s only in the ever-after that that there is hope, or fruit from faithfulness.

And there I part. There are a lot of hard and horrible things in life, and that I do not argue with at all. But they abide. Faith, hope and love. Now AND later. Some times you read about or witness or go through yourself some hard and horrible things that seem to be so pointless and endless. Other times, hard and horrible things and yet you can see the faith and hope and love shining through the absolute shit (in it’s literal meaning). If we are not the ones called to faith and hope in middle of all the darkness, who is?

So Faith is here. Hope is here. That is still hard for me to understand. I don’t think that hope means getting everything you want. But it has to mean something. And I think of the pillar of light leading the Israelites. Not everything was light. But there was that pillar, and it was bright. You have to have faith, though, or else you won’t follow it. The pillar of light goes wandering off, and you stay put, gritting your teeth for the darkness, now that the light is gone.

I’m not trying to imply there aren’t times when it seems like all goes dark and the veil is rent, and that is all. What I am saying is, when we do see light, do we shield ourselves from it, and from what it might mean? Or do we follow the light in faith and hope?

It’s easy to say the second. Not so easy when you have lived or seen others live through being so happy to see what looks like light, and then having their hopes dashed. What do you say? My faith is better than yours, so the hope that I have won’t be disappointed? That’s why this is such a hard topic for me to write about. How can you claim hope for yourself when you know other people have hoped and seen no fruit from that hoping?

And that’s where the anger and the bitterness come from. I understand that a little better now that I did before. But I still don’t think it’s right. We are no where called to be angry and bitter. So understandable or not, we have to reject the mindsets that inevitably lead us there: they aren’t really truth, in it’s ultimate sense. They can’t be.

Understanding the hurt that can and does exist can make us more fearful and doubtful of both faith and hope and even love. Yet even a fool can see that the greatest faith and hope and love is that which has withstood the greatest fears and the deepest darkness. So it cannot be naivete that causes us to stumble after the light, but rather courage.

I read the works of Emily P. Freeman once, and to paraphrase, she was putting forth that sometimes God uses both our human limits and our deep-seated desires to guide us, to actually lead us into what He had prepared for us to do. This both at once had the sense of being very liberating and a ring of truth, and also, completely against everything I have ever known. You fight and wrestle with human limitations. You are always called upward and onward toward more. You are never enough and must always keep striving. And you should put to death any of your desires for pleasant things, which you wouldn’t get anyways, and besides you don’t really need them, and besides, it’s probably just your fallen nature seeking after things you shouldn’t really be wanting anyhow.

Not that there’s any bitterness there at all or anything.

Ok, lots.

The thing is, it seems to me, a lot of darkness-living people are doing a lot more gritting of their teeth than they are praying. Not even asking for things is different than respecting the authority of God to have a better understanding than you of what is good. The darkness-living winds up being a lot more like the un-prodigal son, who is mad he never got to have party, even though he never asked. Or like the miserly servant who refused to do anything with his talent because it would all be taken away from him anyway.

And asking is different than setting an ultimatum. One of the most wondrous passages I’ve ever read is when it says that those who seek Him will find Him. And it seems to me that if we are finding Him, then we are finding His will. And it seems to me that part of seeking is asking. So if you have this desire in your heart, how do you know if it something you should be following up on or not, unless you ask?

And if you keep asking for clarity and direction and understanding and discernment, and the same thoughts keep coming up again and again, at what point do you allow that maybe the desire is the answer?

I don’t know the answer to that. But it does seem to me that the important step there is the seeking and the praying about it. Only you won’t ever do that if every time the thing that you want pops up, you stuff it back down because it’s obviously too good to be true. And if you accept the teaching that life is all about not having what you want and always learning to live with doing things you don’t like and are hard for you, then you don’t ask.

I have sometimes seen this line of thinking shortened down to “the desire is the answer.” That I do not mean. That implies that you wouldn’t be wanting anything, unless it was God’s will to give it to you, and I don’t agree with that at all. But what I have found is that instead of feeling frustrated and angry when the minute I get a free moment, my thoughts invariably fall toward some of the same old familiar topics and themes, what I should really do is take it seriously. Think about it. Pray about it, very specifically. And be at peace that if it stays, you keep praying about it. And if it goes, you got another kind of answer.

But it staying is a kind of an answer. You can’t really in good conscience pretend something isn’t important when the same thing keeps coming up over the course of your whole life. Even if it is what looks good to you. It’s real. It’s important. It deserves prayer. It shouldn’t be dismissed. It should be treated with faith and with hope even more than it should be treated with logic and rational thought and emotion. God is still leading, sometimes with a pillar of cloud, and sometimes with a pillar of light.