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.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Date Night

For a long time, I used to really hate myself.  I'd call myself the most awful names inside my head, and berate myself constantly for things as minor as dropping a pencil, or laughing out loud at something I found funny.  A big part of my recovery from depression has been learning not to hate me.

Some time ago I read somewhere (probably on the internet, but I don't recall where or I'd link to it) that you should never speak to yourself in a way you wouldn't speak to your best friend.  That really resonated with me, because it highlighted just how horrible so many of the things I was saying to myself were.  I started trying to put it into practice.  When I caught myself muttering self-deprecations, I'd stop, and look at myself in the mirror, and tell myself I was beautiful, or smart, or strong.  I'd give myself a little pep talk, reminding me that however bad I was feeling was only for right now, and it would pass eventually, and we'd get through it together, the two of us, sane Clare and crazy Clare.  

It sounds terribly corny, not to mention a bit odd, but it worked in that I eventually started to believe the things I told myself, some of the time at least, and slowly began to hate myself a little less.

Then I took it further.  I've always struggled in social situations, but I used to dread being alone too, because it meant I had no one for company but myself and my dismal thoughts.  I decided that had to change.  So I started spending time with myself on purpose, going to interesting places like coffee shops and bookstores, and doing fun things, like writing stories, or creating playlists of my favorite Broadway musicals, or sitting in a park somewhere and reciting poetry aloud till it got dark.  Taking myself on dates, essentially.  

It was a way of getting to know myself again, since the negative internal monologue had been going on so long that I really didn't have an accurate idea of who I was any more.

I found out I was actually a pretty awesome person.  I started to enjoy my own company.  By treating myself as a friend rather than a problem, I discovered it actually was possible to love myself, and began to re-learn how.

And now...well, now I can't imagine not spending those precious hours with myself each week.  Writing, reading, thinking, browsing, reciting poetry.  Fun, happy, blessed hours.  Me hours.

Today was a bit tough, a bit panicky, a bit depressed.  So tonight I had a me night.  And because someone else might find it's what they need, I'm going to tell you what a me night consists of.

1) I do something nice to my surroundings.  Tonight I took out the trash, because it stank, and hung up some flowers that were wilting in their vase, so they can dry and look pretty and Victorian on my wall.

2) I do something nice for my outside.  Usually that's painting my nails, or giving myself a facial, but tonight I decided to re-dye the ends of my hair bright purple.  (Now the inside of my bathtub looks like an Easter egg.)

3) I do something nice for my insides--preferably, something that tastes nice and is still good for me, so I don't end up feeling like crap.  Tonight it was a blackberry-and-dark-chocolate smoothie.

4) I do something nice for my mind.  Usually this involves sci-fi of some sort.  (MORE Farscape!  ALL the Farscape!)  But sometimes writing blog posts works too.

That's all.  If you ever catch yourself calling yourself names, you might want to give it a try.  It works for me.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Criminal Class in Duncan

Someone broke into my truck last night.

They didn't break anything, just forced the back window, which I always leave the teeniest smidgen of a crack open in case I lock my keys inside, as I've been known to do on a frankly embarrassing number of occasions.  I always figured that if someone was sharp-eyed enough to notice the hundredth-of-a-millimeter crack, and somehow dishonest enough to break in that way while still being nice enough to not simply take a hammer or something to the windshield, they probably wouldn't bother breaking in for the sort of stuff I keep in my truck.  Evidently, I was wrong.

As far as I can ascertain, they took:

a monk's robe I had lent to someone for the play;

my sunhat;

my seven-dollar sunglasses from Target;

a bottle of rubber cement I had bought at Staples and intended to return;

and the cassette tape of North Country by the Rankin Family that my roommate bought me.

Which was in the player.

Incidentally, who steals a cassette tape nowadays?  Seriously, who does that?  You can't even find them in the secondhand shops, they just throw them out because nobody (besides me) listens to them any more.  I've been trying to think of possible alternate uses that might prompt somebody to steal one, and all I can come up with is that maybe they intended to pull out the ribbon inside and use it for something, like tying up a butterfly so it couldn't get away.  And then they could use the outer case to, say, hammer a thumbtack into something very small and delicate, like a piece of toast.  I've used the back of a hairbrush for that sometimes, only it wasn't a piece of toast, it was a sewing machine and my laptop.  You know what?  Never mind.

The thief very kindly left a forlorn ginger ale bottle, the empty plastic case for North Country, and the library's copy of Love and Responsibility on the truck's seat.  Regarding the last, all I can think is that, despite being desperate enough to steal a monk's robe and a bottle of rubber cement, they saw some irony in making off with a work of Catholic theology.  Or maybe they couldn't read.  Or had some sort of fundamental disagreement with Karol Wojtyla's works and felt they could not in good conscience have anything to do with his book.  Who knows.  The criminal class of Duncan is a riddle wrapped up in a mystery, so far as I am concerned.

They really must have been desperate, though, both to break into my parked junkheap of a truck (both mirrors are literally held on with tape these days, long story) and to take the things they took.  Whatever minor annoyance the loss of my hat and sunglasses caused has been more than outweighed by the amusement speculating about it has afforded me; I just hope that monk's robe keeps them warm tonight.

And please, if you see someone wandering around in a monk's robe, giant floppy hat and sunglasses, possibly holding a bottle of rubber cement, do ask them what they did with the cassette.  I'd love to know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Spark Of Madness

Robin Williams died yesterday.  You've probably already heard.  He's supposed to have committed suicide.  I happened to be at my parents' for dinner, along with all my brothers and sisters, so we watched RV and laughed and said a Hail Mary for his soul.  There was wine.  We made a toast.

Today and yesterday, my Facebook feed has been inundated with exclamations over his death.  People can't believe he's gone.  People are so grateful for all the joy he gave them while he lived.  People felt a connection with him, even though they'd never met him.

They'd never met him.

We'd never met him!  He's just a face on a screen to us!  A blue cartoon face with a goofy voice behind it.  An Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation.  A bathroom joke so bad, it's painful.  How can you mourn for that, how can you feel a connection with a face on a screen?  Isn't that an indication of how superficial we are as a society?

Nope.

It's not.

Here's why.

We don't love him because he had an amazing sense of humor--although he did--or because he was a talented voice actor--which he was.  We love him because he gave himself to us.  He took whatever gifts he had been given and he used them to make us happy.

Sure, he was well paid for it.  But he was paid because we loved him, not the other way around.  If you don't believe me, take some random millionaire and put them in front of a camera and tell them to make us laugh the way Robin Williams did.  See how well that works.

It's a mad thing to do, to try to make other people happy, because it invariably hurts us in some way, at some time.  Well-paid or not, ask any artist and they will tell you: art hurts.  It hurts to dig down to the raw, messy depths of your soul to find it, it hurts to sacrifice your sleep and fun and sometimes health to make it, and it hurts like hell to put your art out there where other people can see it with all its flaws and terrible beauty, on a page or a gallery wall or a blurry 90's television screen.

But when you are an artist, you do those things anyway, because you want to give more than you want to be whole.

And in addition to being a talented actor and a really funny guy, Robin Williams was an artist.

We love him because he made us laugh.  We love him because he gave us joy.  And folks, when you and I die, if the circle of people we touched with our lives, whether big or small, can raise a glass and say a prayer and remember us for giving them joy, I think that wherever we are on the other side, we will be blessed.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Stages

Confession: I waste time, sometimes.

Sometimes I curl up with my computer and loiter for a whole hour on Buzzfeed and iwastesomuchtime.com, or play four games of solitaire, or take eight silly online quizzes in a row.  Maybe I should feel guilty about it, but I don't.  The mindlessness is a way of letting myself pretend I don't exist for a while, and sometimes I need to pretend I don't exist, when existence gets to be too much for my little heart and mind and body to handle.

Tonight's a night off: I've finished this weekend's performance run, and now I get a few days' break, a few days to write, and clean things, and hang with my family.  There are a lot of other things I need to do too, but if I'm lucky those three will take priority.

I'm ready for a break, now.  The weekend was exhausting.  But come Thursday at a quarter past five, I know, I'll be very, very ready to get back in character and back onstage.

There's something so special about a stage.  The lights, the space, the hollow swish-and-thud of soft-soled shoes.  The characters, the stories, and the emotions, so many of them, real and fictional, all crystallized and condensed like clouds over a few square feet of black-painted boards.  You stand there long enough and you can feel them all.  You close your eyes and breath them in.  They dance like dreams behind your eyelids
--and then you open your eyes and exhale and suddenly the story is there, taking shape, and you move your hands and feet and make funny noises with your mouth and somehow those things make a bridge between you and the people watching, and the bridge turns into something real and alive, and it's not just you or them, or you and them, or even the stage and the other actors, but an entity in its own right.

Story.  The most wild, real, and beautiful thing in this wild, real, and beautiful world.

I say I love theatre because it helps me not to be so anxious, and people ask if it's because it's easier to pretend to be someone else instead of myself.  But that's not it.  When I play solitaire or take online quizzes I'm pretending to not exist, to not be myself, but when I'm onstage I am more myself than at any other time, save writing and prayer.  I can overcome my anxiety not because I'm escaping it but because I'm in love, so in love with existence, with That Which Is--and perfect love casts out fear.

Tonight I got my post-performance headache, which makes it hard to exist, so I curled up with my computer and pretended not to for a while.  I clicked through one of those silly quizzes, one that was supposed to say which Shakespearean character I was like.

I got Juliet.

Heh.