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.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Paradox of the Dollar Store

I've been really proud of myself this week because I've been do-it-yourselfing.

I looked up some articles on home organization, and spent $15 or so on frames and an old corkboard at the thrift store, some command hooks at Staples, and some wooden clothespins at the dollar store.

The dollar store, I've noticed, is really great for buying things to use for something other than their original intended purpose.  If you want to use dollar store clothespins to hang your laundry, good luck, because they will probably fall apart on the fourth use.  But if you just want them to look pretty and never actually open and close, then dollar store ones work fine.  Same with shower curtains.  I got some there for my shower and now they're all ripped, but they'd be great if you just want to get paint or glue or nail polish all over something and then throw it away.  It's a fine sort of philosophy as long as you don't start applying it to real life.

But I digress.

I used the command hooks, clothespins, frames and corkboard to make an organization space on my bedroom door, because I've been feeling disorganized lately.  I pinned my neatly lettered little sign reading This Week's Goals! to the corkboard, and in doing so I accidentally spilled thumbtacks on the carpet all around and under my desk.

I didn't pick them up right away, because I was trying to finish making my pretty little organization space, and that was two days ago now and every time I go to get something from my desk I step on one or more thumbtacks and say bad words like darn and ouch ouch oh my foot, because I forgot they were there and I still haven't cleaned them up.

Also, I cringe every time I have to walk on my carpet at all because it hasn't been vacuumed since the roommate left and hundreds of tiny particles of dead skin and fingernail clippings and heaven knows what else keep sticking to my feet.

Also, my bedroom floor is currently about a foot deep in clothing, because I started to reorganize my wardrobe for fall and never finished.

Also, my desk and craft table cannot be used for either desk or craft table purposes because they are currently several inches deep in craft supplies, mending, receipts, empty thumbtack containers, and those stupid frames I got from the thrift store, because I still haven't finished making the organization space that was supposed to help with all of this.

And I keep losing things.  I've probably spent two hours in the last few days just looking for things I need that are lost in the mess, like my keys, my backpack and my bra.

I've often found myself overwhelmed by my own disorganization, because cleaning is one of the things that stops happening when I'm anxious or stressed, but I don't ever remember it being as bad as this.  Which is funny, because I've been less stressed and anxious than usual this summer.  Maybe it's because I have more space to be messy in, now that I'm living in a flat of my own.  Or maybe anxiety was the only thing keeping my native slob in check, and now that it's diminished, the slob will just keep getting bigger and bigger until it takes over my entire person and glues me to my chair, unable to move or talk, and nobody will find me for days and weeks until I die there, alone, helpless and slobified.  Maybe anxiety is the only thing keeping me human.

Or maybe it's because every time I try to start cleaning something, I have a brilliant idea for a blog post that seems ever so much more important.

Which, come to think of it, is kind of like the dollar store philosophy, in that I'm writing for what it's not intended for (procrastinating), instead of what it is (making beautiful art).

Darn.

I guess it's time to clean up those tacks?

Monday, August 18, 2014

What?

People read my blog for the first time, sometimes, and then they give me kind of a funny look and say "So...you're Clare?"  And then I say "Yeah..." and that is all the explanation they ever get.

But my Lord has been pestering me to write more recently, and though only He knows if I'll manage to fulfill that directive, I thought perhaps it was a good time to introduce myself.  I mean, most of you know me anyway, but at least I can offer some sort of explanation so you can stop giving me weird looks.

So, regarding the name Clare.

When I was nine, I read a book about St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort and just like that, decided what I really wanted in life was to become a nun as soon as I grew up.  Eventually my ambition settled on becoming a Franciscan nun, a Poor Clare, and that was literally all I wanted for years.  While my friends were getting their ears pierced and nursing crushes on the teenage boys in our homeschool group and on Viggo Mortensen, I was all "I love black veils and ropes with knots in them and DOESN'T JESUS LOOK SO HANDSOME WITH A BEARD?"

I was so in love.

It turns out that they don't want you in religious life if you're not mentally and emotionally stable.  Not because you're not good enough or something (though that was kind of how it felt at first), but because trying to give of yourself in that way, when you're already fighting a battle like this one, is a recipe for disaster.  It would be like trying to climb Mt. Everest with a broken leg.  You can be as tough or dedicated or self-sacrificing as you like, you're still going to wind up hurting yourself.

Around the time I was figuring this out, I went to college for the first time and started hanging with this really cool group of misfits--um, people.  We discovered the marvellous truth that you can get away with playing pirates and princesses as an adult if you call it improv theatre, so that is what we proceeded to do.  There were only four of us, but our saga had a cast of characters numbering in the dozens at least, and a complex multi-century history to rival Tolkien.

My main character, the one I played most often, was called Clare.  I named her after Tennyson's Lady Clare and Clare of Assisi, and she was something like those two plus a dash of Lizzie Bennett and more than a dash of Emily Byrd Starr.  Somehow her name became my nickname.  And then my writing name.  And then my blogging name.

St. Clare was so named because her mother had a dream, before she was born, that her daughter would be a great light to illuminate the world.  It's from the Latin clara, meaning clear or bright.  In Italian, St. Clare's native language, it would have been chiara, but in English we say Clare.

I want to do that too.  I want to light up the world, in my own small way, in my little sphere.  Chiara did it as a nun.  I'll do it as a writer, or an artist, or a teacher, or a coffee-shop-server-girl, or as a crazy cat lady if that's where God takes me.  I want to light up the world, like her, and that's why I sign my name here in her honor.  Clare.

...and also because I think it's hilarious that I prayed for so many years to be a Poor Clare, meaning a nun, and I never got to be a nun, but I am Clare, at least here on my blog, and I am poor.  (Thank you, student loans.)

Let it never be said that my Lord lacks a sense of humor.  (Remember the tapir.)

Or that He doesn't look great in a beard.

Now stop with the weird looks, already.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fear of Falling

The days are getting shorter.  Have you noticed?  Fall is on its way.

Since I was a little girl, this has been my favorite time of year.  The cooler days, the smell of smoke and fallen leaves, the darkness that encroaches first on evenings, then on afternoons, making indoor places feel cozier than usual and the rain--oh, the rain.  I love rain.

It feels like a time of mystery and magic and adventure.  It always has.  I can't put it better than to share with you this poem by Bliss Carman.  I start whispering it to myself long before October, and when October ends, I replace it with this one by Dixie Wilson.  My Mom used to read them to us, and they always captured for me perfectly the almost indescribable feeling I get at this time of year.

This year, though, there's something that makes this time of year less wonderful, that tries to steal the magic and succeeds in some degree, if only because the very thought of it makes me freeze up in fear.

It's called Seasonal Affective Disorder, and affects some ridiculously large proportion of people in the northwest.  It affects me, and has for a long time now, although I didn't realize it for many years.

I can remember the first year it did, though.  I was sixteen, and I started feeling sadder than usual and angrier than usual and more nervous than usual in August.  In December I remember going to confession at the Benedictine Abbey in Mission, breaking down in tears and telling the priest that I thought everything I did was a mortal sin and would send me to hell.  When I left the confessional, the paper I had written my "sins" on was wet through with anxious sweat from my palms.  I remember that detail vividly.

In September of 2007, when I was twenty, I got a job at a coffee shop.  It was a lovely place to work, a family business, and my job was in the back, making cookies and washing dishes, so I didn't have to interact with anyone but my coworkers, which suited me.  I could have happily worked there for years, but as winter approached, I started making stupid mistake after stupid mistake--forgetting the sugar in a batch of cookies or slipping and cutting myself on sharp tin cans.  I was costing my employer money, and although she was very nice about it, and suggested "cutting back my responsibilities for a while", at the time I suspected gluten intolerance, which my sister suffers from, and thought all the baking might be somehow affecting me even though I wasn't eating it, so I quit.

In 2009, I went on a 300-mile walking pilgrimage with a friend.  I knew by this time that depression was an issue, but was completely unprepared for the mental and emotional breakdown that hit me that fall, setting off eighteen months of pure hell inside my head.

In 2012, medicated and partially recovered, I was at college for the second time, struggling with the required math and chemistry courses.  By the time I got home for Christmas break in December I had relapsed too far to face another semester, and dropped out.

Last September I got a job as a waitress in the restaurant down the street, working from noon till five each day--a miraculous fit with my crazy sleep schedule.  But as at the coffee shop, the longer fall dragged on the more depression dulled my senses, and my slowness and idiot mistakes got me fired before October was out.

And today, folding laundry in a glorious patch of late-summer sunshine streaming through my windows, I suddenly found I could hardly breathe.

This summer has been, quite literally, the best summer in years.  Normally I don't start to really feel well until mid-July.  This year, it was May.  For three and half glorious months I've been able to go out and do things and meet people, even make friends.  I starred in a play.  I was offered an online teaching position, and took it.  And I know there are things I can do to prolong the summer high, like increasing my daily exercise routine, taking extra B-vitamins, and continuing to involve myself in things that happen outside my flat, with other people, things I love, like theatre.

But I also know that with each diminishing day, the battle for wellness will get harder.

And I'm scared.

I'm scared I'll crash again, I'm scared I won't be able to pay my bills on time or cook meals for myself or get groceries when I need them.  I'm scared I won't be able to keep doing the things that keep me well, riding my bike, taking my pills, writing my blog, taking myself out for coffee now and then.

I'm scared of being a burden to my friends and family.

I'm scared of losing control of my own mind again.

I'm scared the suicidal thoughts will come back--even though I know by now that I am tougher than they are.

I'm so scared.

This is a horribly long, self-centered post, I know.  Well, I'm kind of long-winded and selfish, but I also want you to know why I'm asking your prayers.  Please pray for me, and for all the hundreds of people who approach this time of year with trepidation.  I know we can do this, but it's hard.

But we can fall and get up again and fall again and yet not be afraid of falling.