Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Superlatives

These are days when even the smallest of accomplishments, like brushing my teeth, or making the epic trek to the coffee shop for a spot of breakfast and human interaction, are worth celebrating.

My Mom says I think in black and white.  It would be perhaps more accurate to say I think in superlatives.  Things are either the best or the worst, thrilling or excruciating or wondrous or harrowing--never just goodish or okay.  And when I do something, whether it's thinking or writing or teaching or hiking or crocheting an afghan, I always want to do it more or further or differently than anyone has before.  I want to find something new, make something astonishing, be something brave.

Perhaps it comes of having a large vocabulary.  Average is such a boring word.

But in these days, these short dark days of midwinter when brain and body rebel against the lack of warmth and sun, my superlatives work against me.  The Pit of Despair is far too ready a cliche--and though I don't mind cliches as a rule, I'd rather not live in one.  So pitlike and despairy, with no running water or anything.

Just makes it that much harder to brush my teeth.

So I try to lay aside the superlatives, at least a little, and to be content (another boring word) with the reality of accomplishing very little things, in very short spurts and with many rests.  More than that, to congratulate myself for doing so.  To celebrate it.  Because I have made the effort.  I have kept on trying.  I haven't given up or given in.

Perhaps the superlatives are useful these days after all.

I mean, suppose I were to judge the things I do, not on their impact on the world at large (who cares about that anyway) but on what goes into them?

If the amount of effort spent on a task were reflected in its impressiveness, I've probably climbed Mount Everest at least once this winter.  I've definitely slain a few dragons.  Maybe written a novel or two.  Probably gone whitewater rafting, and ballooning, and to Mars.

I can live with that.  I can live with a trip to Mars.

The folks there know just how I take my coffee.  It's great.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Can't Hurry Love

Every year, between Christmas and New Year, my family organizes a ball with all our friends and acquaintances from under The Hill and over The Hill and across The Water.  A playlist to end all playlists is made, there's a chocolate fountain, and we dance for five or six hours straight, starting with formal-ish waltz and jive which slowly morph into a raucous freestyle by the end of the night.  It's wonderful.

My one sister is going with her fiance and my other sister is going with her boyfriend of a year and a half and I'm half-ashamed to admit that I so, so want someone to go with, not just anyone, but someone obvious like that, someone to make silly inside jokes with and laugh till our stomachs hurt, and mess up the dance steps but not care because we're having too much fun, and cuddle in the corner and take smiling formalwear photos with and kiss goodbye at the end of the night.

Some years I don't go because I want those things so badly and it hurts that I don't have them, and I am ashamed of that too.

Because I know: that thing I want, it's not the most important thing.  I don't need it in order to love God, or fulfill my duties, or be a wonderful, learned, joyful, fascinating, interesting, holy person.  It's not my time yet, and it may never be my time, and that's okay.

But I want it, and I want it so badly that sometimes I can't think about anything else, and sometimes I can't hang out with my sisters and their fiances and boyfriends because being the third (or fifth) wheel all the time makes me want to cry, and sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me, if I am really so awkward or ugly or off-putting that no one will ever want to miss the steps with me, and if maybe I'll die alone in a flat that smells of cats, and sometimes I am angry with a God who has the divine gall to think He can decide the state of my love life and never mind what I think about it.

Sometimes I feel as if I can't possibly be whole as long as I am on my own.  Or as if it is all my fault because I didn't try hard enough, or did the wrong thing somehow without intending it.

I'm going to the ball this year.  I'm going to put on my prettiest dress and do my hair and nails and makeup, and I'm going to dance alone if I have to, and mess up the steps and laugh and joke with my sisters, and let my little brother try to do a lighthouse spin even though he's too short to twirl me under his arm.  I'm going to have fun.

Then I'm going to come home and put on my comfy jammies, and make a mug of tea, and pray or watch Buffy or cry, whichever helps.

And wait.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Day Before Christmas Eve

The world is tired today.

I went shopping for some last-minute Christmas gifts (read: most of them).  The shelves in the stores are in disarray and half-empty, the cashiers are strained and tired from working long shifts, and the shoppers, so many shoppers, harried and brusque, annoyed by the crowds of which they're a part, focused on finding that last item that will make Christmas Day perfect for them or a loved one.

I had to stop by the welfare office, too, and everyone there was grumpy.  The security guard was grumpy because one of the gentlemen inside had parked his electric wheelchair in the wrong place, the gentleman was grumpy because she told him so, and the lady behind the desk was very grumpy indeed because apparently you can't be intelligent enough to be an online tutor and still have trouble understanding your government paperwork, and if you say you do then it means you are most likely a fraud and are trying to rip off the government.

It's such an unpleasant, embarrassing place to have to be, especially this time of year.  I wanted to buy everyone there a hot chocolate and tell them it would be okay.  (Except maybe the lady behind the desk who made me cry, she might just get a chocolate ball or something.)  And the shoppers, and the workers in the shops, and the old men who stand on the street corner downtown or at the edge of the highway with hats in their hands, begging.  I'd like to buy hot chocolate for the whole world and tell it things will be okay.

But I can't, and they won't.  This world is too broken even for all of the hot chocolate to fix.  When I ask God a million times a day if everything will be okay, I know it won't.  There will still be things that hurt, and people that cry, or die, or hurt themselves or other people.  Even Christmas Day won't be perfect, despite all our efforts to make it so.  One person in my family will snap at another, or burn the gravy, or spill wine on their new shirt.  Someone will cry.  Somewhere, someone we don't know will die, or hurt himself or someone else and be so very not okay, even though we all want so badly for this time of year to be happy for everybody.

After River Song gave up all her regenerations to bring the Doctor back to life, Amy asked if she'd be okay.  And the Doctor replied with one of my favorite quotes ever--he said, "No."

"She'll be amazing."

We're never going to be okay.  I'm not, you're not, nobody is.  Okay is for stuffed animals, mannequins, and the smiling people on billboards: things that can't hurt, and can't love or hope or be happy either, because they have no feelings.

But amazing?  That, we are.  Not because of anything we've done, but because we are.  With all our capacity for hurt and love and hope and joy, we choose to keep on being.  We don't let the hurt, the not-okayness, have the last word--partly because we're a bunch of stubborn idiots, and partly because we have something better than okayness to hope for.

Jesus wasn't okay.  Things went wrong for Him from beginning to end.  And when things go wrong here, when someone snaps or spills the wine or burns the gravy, I think He smiles.

"Here," He says.  "I came up with this stuff.  It's called hot chocolate.  Try some."

"You'll love it," He says.  "It's amazing."

And we do.  And it is.

And so are we.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Risks

I love the days when the fatigue is bad enough that I wonder if I can manage the walk home from the grocery store, and find myself praying that I don't keel over halfway there and spill my groceries all over the sidewalk because people spit on the sidewalk and spit has germs and I don't want to use mustard from a bottle that might have touched somebody else's germs even though I love mustard.

I love the days when it's dark at four and I go on a bike ride in the beautiful rain and get wigged out because I can't see the path and because let's face it, I get wigged out easily.

I love when I'm a little dizzy from the meds and come this close to a massive wipeout that would almost definitely wreck my favorite pair of jeans.

I love taking the first sip of my Americano never knowing if Starbucks might have accidentally made it not decaf like they did that one time and I had a panic attack in the middle of my Latin lesson.

I love when I haven't done any housework all day because I'm a professional procrastinator and then at seven in the evening something happens and I just decide I'm going to wash my dishes, darn it, and I do.

Sometimes I even take out the garbage, too, and feel like a total badbutt because I just know the fruit fly population fears me.

I love it when I look someone in the eye, which is hard because people are so intense all the time, and they look back and smile and it was worth it after all.

I love when life is just insane enough to make me feel alive.

I know, I know.  Never let it be said that this girl is not a risk-taker.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Intolerable

As a kid, did you ever wonder if maybe the way you perceive the world is fundamentally different from how everybody else perceives it?  Like maybe what you call red, someone else sees as what you call green, but you'll never know if they do or not because you both refer to the first color as red.  Or maybe when someone else eats a pickle, they taste what you taste when you eat cilantro, and that's the reason not everyone likes pickles.

I've had one of those questions floating around my brain lately, so I'm going to share it with you here and maybe you can tell me if I've got it wrong--or at least try, keeping in mind that you might only be able to see it as red and I as what you call green.

It's this: what with all the preaching of tolerance these days, it sometimes seems as if people are willing to tolerate anything except intolerance.  

Now, I'm someone who tends to be closeminded, self-righteous, and not infrequently judgmental.  It's the product of a perfectionist personality, I think: it can make one harshly critical of both oneself and others.  

However, logically speaking, self-righteousness and judgment of other people only make sense if I believe myself to be better than other people.  I would like to believe myself better than other people, but I am frequently, like at least once a minute, reminded that I am not better than other people.  Hence, self-righteousness and judgmentalism have no place in my life.

I don't know about tolerance, though.  It just doesn't seem like enough.  All the wonderful people who exist around me, my friends and my little brothers and the homeless guy in front of the grocery store, how am I supposed to just tolerate them?  They don't need tolerance; they don't deserve tolerance; they deserve love.  They need love.  Anything less than that seems more like an insult than anything else.  You tolerate a hangnail, you don't tolerate a person.  You smile at them or hug them or share your pickles with them, whatever you can manage each moment to show them that they have worth.

Now, having absolved myself of the need for universal tolerance and replaced it with the much heavier need for universal love, I'm going to unburden myself a little further.

Here goes:

I'm okay with tolerant people. 

I'm also okay with intolerant people. 

But I am deeply, deeply not okay with self-professed tolerant people who won't tolerate the intolerants.  It's one of those inherent inconsistencies that drives my little logic sensors up the wall.  

Bigotry, I think, is no more nor less than thinking oneself better than others, whether because of one's beliefs, race, gender, political views, or anything else you can think of.  

Which means that it's just as possible to be a tolerance bigot as to be a religious bigot, racist bigot, sexist bigot, political bigot, or any other kind of bigot.  

All it takes is thinking your tolerance makes you better than other people.  

On that note, would you care for a pickle?  I have red ones and green ones.  You might have to help me figure out which are which.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Avoidance

So, Lord, You've been trying to get my attention these past weeks, I know, and I've been desperately ignoring You.  I haven't been praying, and when I do, it's a rushed sentence or two, a help me! followed by an immediate return to whatever I'm using to distract myself at the time.

It gets worse.  I haven't just avoided prayer.  I've avoided cleaning my home and organizing my calendar and creating order in my life, because order creates a space for You, and I didn't want to have to deal with You.  I've fixated on unhealthy activities, surfing the net for hours at a time, staying up all night so I'd have an excuse not to be functional the next day, "forgetting" to eat or exercise or take my pills, choosing entertainment that wasn't beautiful or good, that didn't bring me joy or help me discover truths about You, or myself, or the world.

The last is the worst: I watched three seasons of House in two weeks.

There's nothing wrong with House, particularly.  Some people enjoy it, I hear.

I didn't, though.

It depressed me.  It bored me.  It made me feel like there was nothing worthwhile in the world, or in other people, or in myself.  I watched it obsessively, episodes and episodes on end.  I didn't have to think about You, that way.  I didn't have to do the work of listening and responding to You.

The only moment in the whole three stupid seasons that I actually felt was worth my time was at the end of season three, when the young female doctor finally gave up her codependent crush on the miserable cynic that is the show's protagonist, and got together with the imperfect but relatable guy who actually cared about other people sometimes.

At which point I stopped watching it, because it had failed to serve my purpose of distracting me from anything and everything important.

And I drifted, for a few days, trying to find something else to take its place, and finally I found myself staring at my laptop again at three a.m. and I was so angry with myself for spending so much time ignoring You without even knowing why.

So now I'm here, and I'm ready to hear what You have to say.  I expect it will be something hard, or I wouldn't have spent so much time trying to ignore it, but I'm here, and I'm sorry, and I'm listening.

Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.  Or, as my Mom says: shoot.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Early By And By

Five-thirty a.m.  My bedroom window is still dark, but I thought I heard birds chirping a little while ago.  Sleep is absent, so I'm writing instead.  

I'm beginning to think I fall too precisely into the dysfunctional artist stereotype.  Maybe I should consider trying on responsible grown person, or even stable adult sometime, just to shake things up, you know.  

Does everyone have this insistent, insatiable, overwhelming urge to try and connect with other souls through art, so strong that if they don't try to obey it, they start to suffocate inside?  Do they squash it, or ignore it, or find some way of managing it, somehow?  I'm so glad I'm allowed to teach now, because it's a kind of art, or at least it feels so to me.  It doesn't suffocate, the way some of my past jobs did, and that is a relief.

I've spent hours and hours this past year typing words into my computer, or revising my already-written words.  Hours more analyzing lines, memorizing, rehearsing, performing.  My last play ended a few weeks ago, so I auditioned for two new ones.  It wasn't really a choice; I had to.  It didn't matter that my desk was a mess, my calendar a study in chaos, my dishes and laundry piling up, and some bill or other probably overdue.  The theatre was calling.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe it all boils down to simply wanting to be somebody--or a somebody.  A desire for recognition, adulation...fame.  After all, it is quite pleasant to be greeted after a performance, hugged and complimented and patted on the back, or to see the pageviews climb into the dozens after an especially good post, or to hear someone recite one of your poems from memory, because they liked it that much.  To think how cool it must be to be a Rowling or an Allie or a Tatiana, to create and to create so well that thousands of people know your name.

To be a somebody.

Then again, that's a very silly motivation, because I already am.  There is no relative scale of existence; I wouldn't be more alive if more people knew me.  I wouldn't even be more loved.  Infinite love is the only thing holding me in existence, causing me to be, and if I strip away all my petty human desires for recognition and praise (but of course I never can completely), that's what I truly want: to be, to experience infinite love, and to be a channel for other people to experience it, too.  

It's amazing to be allowed to love truth and goodness and beauty in the form of a Person.  It's like something out of a fairy tale, not a normal fairy tale though, maybe like an Aristotelian fairy tale where the prince isn't a toad but a philosophical ideal.  If I were a princess, I would totally kiss a philosophical ideal.  An ideal has no warts, and also I think my metaphor is getting away from me.

My point is, God is amazing, and He made me to exist and that is even more amazing, and He made me able to make beautiful things myself and share them with people and that is the most amazing thing of all, and I don't care if I'm dysfunctional, I just want to do it all the time.

Compliments are great too, of course, don't get me wrong.