Friday, July 4, 2014

Progress

Sometimes when I sit down to pray, Jesus tells me to get up and do something else.  He did that today, quite specifically.

"Lord, I can't pray the Office right now but I want to give You some time today, so this is the time I am giving You.  I'm tired and overwhelmed and my thoughts are going places I know I can't let them go.  Please, please help me know what I need to do to get through this day."

And He said, "Go to the Garage."

The Garage is a coffee shop that caters to hippie sorts: organic cane sugar, vegan brownies, banners with vague hindu symbols painted in bright colors.  All the baristas have either dreadlocks or unnatural facial piercings or both.  I like it there because the atmosphere is cheerful and laid back, and it's just busy enough that I (with my laptop, Doc Martens and Mary Poppins coat) can disappear into the crowd but not so noisy that it gives me a headache, or so expensive that I can't afford to go.

...okay, so I a little bit can't afford it.

Back when I still lived in my parents' basement, I had an article from A Splintered Mind pinned to my wall for several months, until I gave it away to someone who needed it more.  It discusses ten ways to fight off depression, the first four of which are, in my own mentally abbreviated form: start fighting it before it starts; know when you are depressed; name the reason(s) for your depression; develop the desire to not be depressed.

I remember struggling with these when I first posted the list on my wall.  Each seemed separately and uniquely insurmountable.  But today, reading them over in the little bookstore that takes up one corner of the Garage, and is furnished with tables and chairs for those who like to drink their coffee surrounded by literature, I noticed something.

Even though I haven't looked at the article in at least a year, these steps have become ingrained.  Habit.  Every morning I take measures to keep depression at bay, whether I feel it coming on or not.  Every time I'm sad or anxious, I note it, like a birdwatcher, and I ask myself why--whether it's because of something that's happened and is upsetting me, or that I'm trying to do too much to the cost of my sanity, or just those pesky neurotransmitters misfiring again.  Every day I remind myself that more than anything I want not to be depressed, because if I am depressed I can't want anything else.  I don't even think of these as separate acts so much as an ongoing state of life.

And that, my friends, is progress.

So is this soy chai latte.  My Lord has such good ideas.

With His love,

Clare

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Girls Who Swear

I had two temporary jobs last fall, one in a kitchen with a girl whose per-sentence ratio of swear words to ordinary words was approximately 1:3.  Once I got over the culture shock, I found it rather amusing to hear her talk, occasionally (in my head, not out loud) interpreting her turns of phrase literally, and philosophizing about them for my own enjoyment.  In the other, a waitressing job, I worked with a woman who described herself as "happily practically married", which seemed to mean that she lived with a guy and mothered his kids but hadn't bothered with the marriage bit.  Discussing her relationship one day, she asked if I'd ever been in one.

"No," I said.  "I wanted to be a nun all my growing-up years, and then I was too sick to think about such things."

"Oh," she responded, lowering her voice.  "So, are you a virgin then?"

I wondered how to respond.  I could simply smile and say that was a very personal question and leave it at that.  Or I could tell the truth, generally my preference.

I started to say "Yes, I am," but hesitated, and I am still ashamed of that hesitation.

You see, it had only recently come to my attention that a virgin in her late twenties, to most of the world these days, is seen as rather pathetic, even sad.  It's evidence that you're not savvy enough, or pretty enough, or generally desirable enough to get a man to go to bed with you.  And though I don't see it that way, I also don't like to be thought of as sad or pathetic, so I stalled.

The first time I heard the word "virgin" used in a derogatory fashion, I was first puzzled, then angry, and then bemused.  I was raised in a culture--the wonderful subculture of mass-attending, confession-going, Chesterton-reading, truth-seeking Catholics--where virginity was, and is, revered.  My desire to give my own maidenhood to God as a nun was seen as a beautiful thing.  I was so set on it, from the age of nine until mental illness got in the way, that my friends all saw my entering religious life as a foregone conclusion, and I was never made to feel pathetic or sad for my ambition.

I've sometimes thought that, amidst all the hype about accepting different forms of sexual desire and lack thereof, something ought to be said for those who choose celibacy not because of, but in spite of their native desires.  For those who remain virginal, not because they think sex is bad or sinful or degrading, but because they value it so highly.

Chastity, that wonderful and terrible act, isn't a matter of repressing oneself, or denying one's nature, or shutting down one's passions.  It is taking one of the most beautiful things given to us in this life, recognizing and rejoicing in its beauty, then, because it is literally too beautiful to keep, making a gift of it to someone else.  If anything, giving it back to God is an act of greater passion than giving it to another person.  "Look," you say.  "Here is the subject of poems and songs and stories, wars and betrayals and heroic deeds.  But my love for You is greater than all those things, so here.  Keep it."

Purity is not a negative thing.  It is so positive that the only color that can come near to representing it is every color, shining together in one.

For those women to whom is given the grace of loving some other cracked and crumbling human being, who washes the dishes wrong and yells at the dog when he's angry and leaves his socks on the floor--blessed, blessed are you.

And for those girls who swear away their maidenhoods on the altar of the King of Kings, I'm so jealous of you, of your gift, your unhindered, passionate, transcendent love for Him who gave it you.

Pray for this bizarre, confused, unseeing world of ours.  And pray for me.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Of Endings and Beginnings

Thursday night, my roommate and I stayed up until three o' clock, talking.  It was one of those conversations which touches on anything and everything, which seems to encompass a hundred different possible conversations while still retaining a flavor uniquely its own.

From two till two-thirty it consisted entirely of quoting BBC's Merlin back and forth to each other, laughing our heads off at each quote.

I've been so blessed, these last five months.  There is only a handful of people in the world, besides my family, in whose presence I can be entirely myself, in all my quirky, neurotic randomness, and I got to enjoy the company of one of them for a hundred and fifty-one days.  She didn't mind my bouncing around the flat making squeaky noises when I was happy.  She bore with heroic impassivity my bizarre sleep schedule and compulsive need to have certain things just so.  When I had an anxiety attack, she asked if there was anything I needed, and doled out hugs, or mugs of tea, or let me talk myself out or just curl up quietly in a corner and say nothing if that was the best thing.

She left, Friday afternoon, for another province.  I was happy and sad.  Happy because I knew it was the right time for her to go, that our roads must diverge once more in order to reach whatever God has in store for us next.  Sad because it was the end of an epoch, and though I know such an epoch can never be recreated--that to try and cling to it would be to resist the beginning of my life's next stage--I'm allowed to mourn it.  I can't wish for the past to return, but I can remember it and treasure it and take joy in the memory.  

In Heaven, maybe, we'll look over our lives in all their beauty and quirky randomness, and quote them to each other, and laugh our heads off at each quote.  That would be a rather splendid way to spend Eternity, I think.  Of course, there will be so much to do and see and feel then; when I start to feel that life's too short to do everything I want to do, I often remind myself that there will be plenty of time after I am dead.  

When people talk about Heaven, they often seem to see it as rather a solemn place, but I think it will be fun.  All the people I love best, and God, all together for the rest of eternity and no time constraints?  If that's not a recipe for a good time, I don't know what is.

I'll see you there, shall I?  Don't disappoint me, Dear Ones, friends and family and readers and roommates.  Years from now, when I'm dying, I don't want to see a nursing home wall or a shattering windshield or the glare of surgery lights, I want to see your beautiful faces, quoting my life at me.  Maybe quoting this blog.

And I'll laugh.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Musings from the Wee Hours

I stayed up all night again.  I keep doing that.  It seems to be one part insomnia and a couple of parts bad habit and several parts sheer unadulterated terror.  I don't know what I'm scared of, exactly, just that some part of my brain too far down for reason to reach is convinced the fear will pass after just one more chapter, one more episode, one more click, one more link, one more minute.  I know it's not true, but I listen to it anyway.

At four-thirty I got up and saw that I'd left the living room window open all night, which probably wasn't very smart, since anyone could have scaled the wall to the second story and crawled through and stolen my books or my rocking-chair or something.  No one seems to have done so, though I have yet to double-check the bathtub for murderers.

Before closing the window, I rested my elbows on the sill and leaned into the cold air and listened as dozens of invisible birds chirped and twittered in anticipation of the morning.  A last lonely star, or a satellite maybe, glinted and winked just above me.  It was a beautiful gift.

God is very good.

Friday, May 30, 2014

To Earth, With Love

Some days I feel like I can't win.

Some days I feel like I'm caught in a cosmic hamsterball of anxiety and frustration and never having enough energy to do anything beyond deal with the anxiety and frustration and that next thing rushing at me that absolutely has to be done now or a catastrophe will occur and my rent will be late or my meds run out or my hair smell so bad from not having showered in five days that it will be in danger of spontaneous combustion OF SMELL.  (I know it's not possible.  Shut up.)

Today I watched a video of a woman wiping her face free of makeup and talking about how she had learned to be proud of her imperfections, even her acne.  Some days I'm too tired to put on makeup, but I will never be anything other than embarrassed and humiliated to go out in public with red splotches running up my jaw and across my cheeks.

Today I heard my roommate say it was past midnight, time to go to bed, and talk about getting up early tomorrow to grade a paper.  I stayed up into the wee sma's typing blog posts and reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and clicking random links people I barely know had posted on Facebook.

Today I got the dishes done, but left my folded laundry in piles on the floor, and didn't email the people I was supposed to email, and didn't file my ever-mounting stack of papers like I was supposed to.

I think this blog post happened because in my last one, I was talking about my relationship with God and what it is and isn't, as if I thought I was wise or holy or something, and I'm not, I'm not.  I'm just trying to say something out loud into the darkness and hoping the echo will make sense when it comes back.  Maybe instead of sounding like me, tired and scared and confused out of my wits, it'll sound like someone else, like a friend, maybe.

Oh, hey, it's you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Of Kisses and Chocolate Fondue

I've had a few crushes in the twenty-seven years I've inhabited this world.  Two or three serious ones.  I wouldn't say I've ever been in love, exactly, and I've certainly never been in a relationship, physical or otherwise.

I think I mentioned that I'm playing the lead in a local production of Romeo and Juliet.  I'll have to kiss the actor playing Romeo, and the idea of my first ever actual kiss being onstage, in front of other people, with a guy I'm pretending to be in love with and who is also pretending to be in love with me, is beyond weird.

Now, I don't particularly want to kiss this guy, but I recognize that Romeo and Juliet sans kissing would just be ridiculous, and I am an actress, in a manner of speaking, and I figure I can handle it and probably do a pretty good job, even if I've never kissed anyone before.  I have an amazing director and at twenty-seven I'm beginning to outgrow the worst of my awkwardness around any and all persons of the male persuasion.

But boy, would I like to kiss somebody.

In my teens (and later), my crushes were intellectual, emotional, not based on physical desires--or if they were, I wouldn't admit it, even to myself.  It's only very lately that I've started to recognize that aspect of my humanity; to realize that, even if there's nobody currently filling up the "crush" slot in my mind and heart, I still want the things that could go along with being in love.  I want to kiss someone.  I want a real, not-for-stage, lips-interlocking, wrapped-around-each-other-like-a-two-ply-strand-of-yarn, dizzyingly romantic movie kiss.  I want it very badly.  And that's not all I want.

But.

I want God more.  And He's given me a single life right now, and since that is what's in front of me and all around me, I know it's His will for me.  He doesn't hide His will from us, He plunges us into it, like pineapple into a chocolate fondue.  (That might have been a bad example, I'm hungry.)  The life He's given me is His will manifested to me as clearly as it will ever be, and God and God's will aren't two different things, they're the same.  And that means that loving Him and living this life to the fullest, joys, struggles, frustrations and all, are the same act.  There is no difference, no separation.

In trying to figure out how to play Juliet, I've found myself challenged by my own inexperience.  It's hard to play a love that all-encompassing without ever having lived it.  But then Jesus gave me a snippet of very good acting advice, which was to base my ideas of Juliet's love for Romeo...on my love for Him.

I've never kissed a man, but I've kissed the feet of the corpus on my crucifix.  I've gazed at the little red tabernacle light in a darkened church the way Juliet gazes into Romeo's eyes in that dark garden.  I've whispered impossible promises no one could hear except Him, and heard Him whisper back.

Would I die for Him?  Maybe not.  I've always thought myself the sort likely to turn chicken if ever faced with the visible, visceral threat of martyrdom.

A few years ago, though, I chose to live for Him.  Not just once, but many, many times over the eighteen months I was suicidal.  I don't know, but I think it might have been harder.

And well, now I'm all covered in chocolate fondue.  So what's with that?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Meditations of a College Dropout

It's the time of year when Facebook explodes with pictures of graduates in caps and gowns.  All my friends at AMU who didn't flunk out halfway through junior year keep posting about how they can't believe they DID IT, finished their degree, earned those two glowing letters to follow up their name like devoted lackeys forevermore.  I'm so happy for them, so happy, especially those with whom I was close enough to know their struggles, their doubts as to whether they'd really make it through.  I didn't realize until today that some small corner of my heart wasn't happy at all, but angry and bitter and resentful that I didn't get to wear the cap and gown, feel the butterflies in my stomach as my turn approached to walk across the stage and receive that precious piece of paper with SUCCESS scrawled across it in invisible ink.

Sometimes I'm tempted to go about life like a drawn-out procession to my own funeral, dwelling on everything I've ever done wrong or left incomplete: on the spot on my wall where a diploma would have hung, on the awkward pause after someone asks what I do for a living, on the taunting CatholicMatch junk mail that sprouts weedlike in my inbox.  A diploma and a job and a relationship: very simple, visible signs of success they seem, until I realize that if God hasn't willed them for me, they don't exist in my world, in my relationship with Him.  You can't mourn something that never existed in the first place.  Everyone's success looks different; mine happens to look like someone else's failure, maybe, but that doesn't mean it is my failure.  My failure would be to go about life sad.

I don't want to go about life sad.  I want to live it and love it, every bizarre, terrifying, tremendous, glowing moment of it.  When Gerard Manley Hopkins, priest and poet, who plumbed the depths of depression and spiritual emptiness far deeper and longer in his lifetime than I have ever done, was dying, he said, "I am so happy, I am so happy.  I loved my life."

The man who wrote the Terrible Sonnets--he loved his life.

I thought about him this evening as I walked through the late light to the Starbucks at Beverly Corners, ordered a tall Americano (my new substitute for a macchiato, since forswearing dairy), opened Order of the Phoenix (I rather like Angsty Harry, whatever others may say about him), and sat in the shop's sunny window and loved life to bits for an hour or so.

They have this awesome picture on the wall there of a coffee machine that looks just like a Dalek.

So there's that.

And there are the facts that I've been sleeping better and panicking less these two weeks than I have since September; that I've been chosen to play Juliet (Juliet!) in a local production of Romeo And; and that I'm currently rooming with one of my bestest friends in the whole wide world, with whom I get to do silly, nerdy, wonderful things like read Shakespeare aloud, and build fantastic blanket forts that take up the whole living room, and fangirl about God.

My dear ones, hang your diplomas like neon signs of your success, witness to your growing and learning and working and praying as hard as you know how.  I'm so proud of you.  I'm proud of me, too.  We've had an amazing time of it, haven't we?

Let's go have some more.

Glowingly,

Clare