Addiction ~ on selfishness and disease and earned consequences – OR – no one has a monopoly on tragedy.

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Every time a celebrity dies of a drug overdose, I brace myself.  For the inevitable I-don’t-give-a-shit-if-someone-kills-themselves-with-drugs-those-selfish-nogood-worthless-bastards updates and posts that are about to pepper my news feed.

I feel other things, too, of course. Sadness. Unease. Empathy. Frustration.

But the part that drags on is a simmering anger at the way that some people feel the need to lash out at dead addicts. Live ones, too, but the verbal vitriol hits a crescendo when there’s a celebrity who is no longer alive on whom they can focus their dispassioned rage and righteous indignation.

One post, the day after Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death, from a friend who has a knack for setting me on edge (so much so that I’ve hidden his feed more than once), sat in my gut like a boulder and circled in my brain for days. This is no tragedy, he said. Sad, sure, but tragedy is the father who dies of cancer, the police officer or soldier killed in the line of duty, etc etc etc.

Others, more often friends of friends, railed against the bad choices, the selfishness, the sheer rudeness of someone killing themself that way. Especially with young children. Those assholes don’t deserve sympathy. They killed themselves. They didn’t even care about their kids.

Here’s the thing that always, also, rings in my head over and over and over.  If you never once tried drugs, or alcohol, or ate so much that you may have potentially compromised your health, or inhaled the sweet smell of rubber cement a little too long when you were in elementary school or drove home after a few drinks and realized the next morning that you were not in any shape to have driven – then line yourself up with the handful of other people this might be true for and pat yourselves on the back for being shining examples of The People Who Never Make Bad Choices.  You all deserve a badge or a parade or something.

But.

The rest of you (myself included): shut the fuck up with the hate and venom and dissmissiveness.

Seriously.

Take a moment to imagine that it is only sheer luck, not your higher moral standing, that separates you from the dead ones. The strung out ones. The loneliest of the lonely.

I have family who are addicts.  Some dead, some alive.  Some clean, some not.  Friends, too.  One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I made most of the same bad choices they did.  You probably did, too. More than once. At least once.

When my sister was in her first stint in rehab, we talked a lot about the difference(s) between her and I. Why she couldn’t stop until she was almost dead.  Why I always could.

Why I could try something and then decide I didn’t want to do it anymore.  There are all kinds of possible reasons and none of them explain it.  We both have addiction riddled on both sides of our families.  We both used various things to excess.  I could always get to a point where I made a rational decision to walk away from whatever it was I was abusing.  She almost never could.

Why her and not me? There’s a lot of that question that can never be answered. Is it a disease?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Does she have a genetic predisposition that I somehow dodged? Doesn’t even matter to me if it is either of those things, insofar as my compassion for those struggling with addiction is what it is and will not change whether we uncover an ‘addiction gene’ or not.

None of us know what makes you an addict and keeps me from being one.

What I do know is:
I did the same things as her when I was younger. And I do not struggle every day with a desire to use. I never have. And it’s not because I am better than her. Or even smarter. Or a better citizen and sister and daughter and human.

I remember reading a quote in an article around the time that Amy Winehouse died.  To the effect that addicts don’t use to try to kill themselves – they use in order to try to live.

To try to live.

No addict, in my opinion, puts a needle in her arm in order to vex the people who love them.  Russian Roulette? Sure.  But so is eating processed foods over and over and over.  So is texting while you drive.  And on and on and on.

I won’t even spend time going into the ways that the self-medicating of undiagnosed mental illness often leads to addiction.  Or the ways that overeating and eating processed or ‘unhealthy’ foods can lead to disease and that one could call that selfish and deem you a bad parent if a diet-induced heart attack takes you away from your children. Bad choices, all of us, all over the place.

I don’t see a difference, really, between those of us who quickly kill ourselves and those of us who do it slowly and legally. Except in the swiftness and severity with which drugs isolate people from the ones they love – temporarily or permanently.

Except in the way we treat an addict’s death as open season for judgment.

Except in the way some of us use an addict’s death to feel better about our own lives, our own choices.

I have had to cut people out of my life, my sister included, at times where her ‘choices’ were something I couldn’t condone.  I know the knee-collapsing pain of kicking her out of my house because I couldn’t allow it even one more time.

My compassion for addicts does not exempt me from intense anger at and pain from what addiction does to a person, to a family, to friends. I have never thought, though, that she (or anyone else struggling with addiction) should just go ahead and die. I have never felt the deep sadness of a family member dying from an overdose lightened by saying that they deserved it. I have never felt the need to diminish the epic sadness of an overdose.

And sure, celebrities are easy targets. They have fame. They have money. They have fans. How could they not be happy?

And sure, we don’t bombard social media with sadness and compassion whenever a homeless person in our neighborhood ODs. Some of us, though, if we knew that (when we know that), would (and do) feel just as sad. Just as scared. For those we love. For those we know. For what might happen to them. For the loss of a life at the hand of something so invasive and tragic.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is just the most recent, recognizable face to have lost a battle with addiction.  And so we mourn.  Some of us. To varying depths.  For the loss of a life. For the loss of some stunningly beautiful acting that we will never see.  For his children.  The tragedy no more or less had he died suddenly of a brain aneurysm that we could smugly say was not his fault.

I will not apologize for my sadness. I will not apologize for not thinking that someone was too weak to quit.  Not, either, for seeing that we are all too weak to make all the right choices all of the time.  And some of us (thankfully, me) made a lot of bad choices and with an ease not afforded all, could walk away and start anew. I could just decide to do that. For that, I am not sorry, either.

Go ahead and refuse the reality of addiction.  Sit high and smug and separate.  I hope you never need prescription pain killers for an extended amount of time and realize, when you find yourself hoarding more and more and more, that the Russian Roulette you played was believing that the gun had no bullets at all just because you were smart enough not to load it yourself. I sincerely do.

Sometimes, you don’t realize you have a gun in your hand and there’s a bullet tucked in there, waiting for you, until you do. And, sometimes, that’s not soon enough.

The stupidity of picking up that gun at all in the first place doesn’t negate the true tragedy of addiction.

If you want to dismiss the death of someone because their struggle was with addiction, then keep your bullshit to yourself. Please.

You have a right to think whatever you want. That’s true. But there’s no crime in allowing others to grieve when they feel grieving is necessary.

Death is sad. However it happens.

Loneliness – and that is what is at the core, in the last moments, for nearly every drug overdose – is tragic.

Tragedy is not the wrong word. Not if, to me, that kind of death is a tragedy.

And it is. Always.

The Exorcism of Courtney Love ~ I am no longer your pawn, daytime TV

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More than three years ago, I flew back to Portland from a busy and tear-filled weekend in California. The second one in a row flying down to the sunny state and spending time researching a project I would let fall by the wayside as my life disintegrated, a dust bowl of my own making, one I didn’t see coming even if I should have.

I kept busy on both trips, but especially during the last one – to SF and Oakland and Santa Cruz – I cried every quiet moment I had alone.  I realized, fully and in that full-body-chilling kind of way, that when I got home, I needed to end my thirteen year relationship.  I drove to Twin Peaks after crying all along Market street, and tried to find solace in that view that I love – the one that always used to calm me and help me breathe when the air would be too shallow for my lungs to take in, when my ribcage was so tight that breathing was a chore and a pain.  But the wind rocked my car and the air was hazy and I sat in my car crying before calling it a night and returning to my hotel room to try to think of anything except what I knew I needed to do, what I knew there was no way out of now.

I flew in on a Tuesday morning and I took a cab home to an empty house, except for the dogs and the cats, and I bathed and changed and tried to keep from crying.  I didn’t want to have swollen eyes when she came home and I had to have the talk.

So I turned on the tv.  I started to make some food.  I tried to keep my eyes and my ears and my hands busy.  I didn’t even care what was on, really, so I left it on whatever channel it was on.  It was a morning talk show.  And Hole was about to play.  A new song from their first new album in years.

As they started to play, I found myself paralyzed, leaning against the door jamb between the dining room and the living room.  And the song – Pacific Coast Highway - hit nerves I had no idea were so exposed.  Each verse seemed to tear a new hole in my skin. The tears came fast and hard.  And then I thought:  I am at one with Courtney Love right now. And I cried more. And thought: Who the fuck am I if I am nearly brought to my knees by a Hole song? What is going on with my life when I see myself in Courtney Love?

Through the next two years, as my world fell apart and reassembled itself several times before stabilizing in the way of real life – mostly static and sometimes chaotic, but not the rocking seas of deep, true transition – through that time, my Courtney-Love-edness became a barometer.  How much that album resonated, how much that song made me cry, or cringe, became my gauge. How fucked up am I? Right now? Still?

I hadn’t thought of that moment in at least a year.  I hadn’t heard a single song from the album in at least that much time.

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A friend had just left after a short visit. She hadn’t been to San Francisco since she was eight, and even then it was just for a day. She was separating from her husband.  The move out still new. She was in the middle of the pains that come as shocks in the beginning, still new and startling and raw. She was on edge – far more prone to emotional swings than she wanted to be.  I ached for her, as a friend, but also as a woman who knew the muscle pain of that kind of shift in your body, in your world.

I took her to Twin Peaks.  We looked over the city together, the expanse of it laid out all around you, Sutro towering above us all, still, even atop that mountain. She took it in, sat down on the concrete barrier, even though scared of the plunge, and looked, her head full of what I can only imagine, some other, personal version of what I have waded through. What she has, too, before. But each time, no matter how many times before, aches differently and tears ours bones apart in unforeseeable ways.

A couple of days after she left, I plugged my old ipod into the car stereo.  Mostly out of laziness – I didn’t want to keep taking my phone out of its case to play it through the AUX hookup. I picked the playlist that had the most songs and hit shuffle.  I wasn’t even thinking that I had made that playlist all those years ago, during that time. Love’s voice came in strong – that song, those words.

And did you know I’m drowning. And did you know I’m drowning.

I listened to that song, fully and intently, for the first time in a very long time.  I was nowhere near tears.  There were no chills, no real body connection to the pain and nausea and disorientation of that time.  My rib-cage seemed to expand. My shoulders dropped slightly.  I was relieved. Grateful.

Happy.

In a quick rush and without much pain, the song and that moment of pure stillness and tears had come back to me.  But I wasn’t sad or teary or aching. Mostly I just felt a slight twinge of embarrassment. A little bit of melancholy, but not even inching up on true sadness. A large heaping amount of relief. I am not, anymore, any little bit of Courtney. Not in that way, not now.

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As I watched the sun fully set and the red lights whizzed on ahead in front of me on the 880, I said a prayer for my friend.  That her route through this chaos is fast and with fewer upheavals.  I know she is already making smarter choices than I did.  I know that she has less stability in store, but she knows how to make the most of that. She is embracing the change and taking advantage of what it has to offer, so she is way ahead of me already.

I prayed, for her, that Courtney Love never becomes an image she sees in the mirror. But also, that if she does, she finds the ways to wipe that smeared lipstick off and comb that rat’s nest and put on a more fitting dress – without having to resort to plastic surgery and rehab and Woody Harrelson movies and all of that other stuff Love did.

If we do this thing right – this life we have – then when you flip the calendar pages, you are glad to be heading into the future and not into the past. You do not mourn the discarded pages so much as see how they have stacked up in your marrow, created an intricate fabric of air and water and salt.

Most of all, if you are lucky and you make the effort, you will now know how to not be knocked down by the musical guest on a late morning network gab-fest.  You will know better. You will be better.

Time is only time. If you let it roll over you, then you look tattered.  But if you pedal your feet and look at where you’re going, then maybe time will be two points on a line, from there to here and not back again. And the songs that sear will become bittersweet reminders of where you no longer are, who you no longer are, the nerves that are no longer exposed.

Oh, Courtney Love, I do still love that album. All who want to can judge me for it.  But it is not me.  I am not that album, that song, that singer. And for that, I say thanks.  And goodbye to another year. And then, in the same breath, hello – to a life I’ve worked at getting. One that so far does not require a life jacket. To a life.

Cheers, 2014, let’s do this.

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Sorrow, once removed

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“Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that.”
― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

Toward the end of the workday on a Monday, I got bad news.  But not bad news directly related to me.  Someone important to the man I love had died.  The day before.  He had just found out. I had never met this woman and yet my heart ached. A big booming thrust of an ache.

She was the sister of a man who was probably his closest friend. A man who had died about seven years ago.  Sister to a man who was like a real brother to him.  Like a sister to him.  Both dead.  Both dead too young. Way too young.

My aching, at first for his own pain, came on with a boom and then spiralled out and out until it was about death in general and getting older and the ways that life is just one big suckfest of good people suffering through horrible things.  Melodramatic? Sure. How I roll? Yes.

Were her parents still alive? How do you survive losing two of your children? So young and to cancer? How much can one family take?

The questions circling larger and larger until it was as though the thought of her was surrounded by at least a hundred dead, hundreds of ghosts looming large around her, the pain of those left behind like a dense fog enveloping them all.

Death. A reality. For all of us. An inevitability. As we get older, a far more common reality. The news out of the blue almost to be expected.

And nothing can be done about the pain of death. Nothing. At least not to stop it. There’s just getting through it. Waiting until it wanes enough to feel less disabling.

Feeling deep sorrow yourself is horrendous.  Awful.  Missing someone dead is a completely helpless feeling. You can’t change it and yet the ache is mostly the desire to do just that, the heart wrenching urge to make them undead, radiating in your very bones and muscles.

In this sadness, this time, I can feel the weight of all of those future aches to come. With time, this kind of loss only seems to get worse. There’s no getting used to it, no sense that you’ve been through it and so it doesn’t hurt as bad. The weight piling up of all of those people you’ve lost and will still lose before all is said and done can start to feel like a weight that will never be off of your shoulders.

When it is your own sadness, there is at least the illusion that you have some control over it. It is an illusion, no doubt, except to the extent that we can prolong our own sorrow, make things worse or heavier or more crippling for ourselves. But our own sadness at least allows us to feel in control.

Watching someone you love feel that deep body ache has to be right up there with one of the worst feelings a heart can hold. To see it and hold them and know that there’s nothing to be done. Nothing at all. You are incapable of making it all go away, of taking it from them, of doing anything to minimize it at all.

When someone you love is reeling and all you can do is be there, it feels like an enormous amount of not enough. You can’t make someone cry less or more or speed up or slow down the waves of sorrow. You can’t close up the hole left by another person. We try, though. We try. Again and again and again.

So you hold them when they cry.  And you make jokes about how extra salty really manly tears are – and in that flash of a moment where there is laughter, the weight feels smaller. For just a second. You touch them when they can’t sleep. You wrap yourself around them in the wee hours of the morning when they toss and toss and toss. You touch them as much as you can, remind them, anchor them to you. It’s all we can do, any of us, in the face of sadness. And somehow, it is enough. Probably because it has to be.

Our hearts, aching and helpless and old, grow arms and spin themselves out, in any way we can, and we hope against hope that it matters. When not enough is all you’ve got, then it’s what you give. And somehow, for those we love, it becomes enough. It becomes the thing that helps most.

Happy is Not a Place ~ on life and the pursuit of happiness, nevermind all that liberty stuff.

IMG_5648The buildup to turning forty sent my emotions to the surface.  A lot of retrospecting.  A lot of thinking of my mother.  A lot of thinking of my youth – from the time I can remember through my early twenties.  It was like every memory was just below the surface, ready to erupt. I was a tinderbox just under my skin.

I am also in a (relatively) new relationship that is, truly, long term, for the first time in almost twenty years. I am facing, weekly, the ways that old shit keeps coming up. The way I react to that shit can be too much, even for me. It’s an old story: the different ways we each get in the way of our own happiness. An old, tired story told in a million different similar ways.

And I don’t mean Hallmark happiness, or Disney happiness, or even that movie ending kind of happiness that you know lasts as long as the credits and then gets really complicated, again, like life always does.  I mean the life we can have, may very well already have, that is fulfilling and funny and rich with love. I mean: living with someone who makes you smile. I mean: loving people, both young and old, who know you and still love you back. I mean: finding the ways you can offer that back to people.

I mean: stepping our of your own way.

But I also mean: pursuing and preserving and protecting all of the things in your life that matter. That really really matter.

I’ve always, since I took the time to find words to name my thoughts on the matter – I have always believed that we are all broken.  To different degrees and in different ways. For different reasons and with varying outcomes.

Life breaks us. In all sorts of ways.

Broken.

It’s an interesting word to lean on. It begs the response: well, fix it.

That is a tricky prospect.  And while I don’t typically invest myself in binary notions, to a certain degree I do think it is a human’s personal responsibility to try to fix their own brokenness. Not as though we can become unbroken. But just to find the ways we can be least broken, that we can be patched together, so that we can connect with other broken folks in order to commiserate and make life better.

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It is really all of the ways in which we are broken that brings me to writing. To fiction, in particular. I can look, closely, at the ways we are broken and find true beauty in it, in the ways we still manage to make connections at all, sometimes. I can, even, at times, romanticize certain aspects of our collective fucked-uppedness.

What I don’t admire, can’t find beauty in, though, ever, is not at least trying to stitch those broken pieces together.  Rambling on in life and dragging that pain and hurt around with you, snaring others in it, breaking, yourself and others, as you hobble along. People who wallow in those crippling fractures and refuse to believe that there is any fixing to be had.

As I get older, I find my already thin patience with this attitude practically disappearing. If you cry about what hurts, what is sad, what you find hard to live with, but you don’t do anything to change that, to own up to your own place in that hobble – well, I get tired of standing next to it. I get impatient with your cries. I get, sometimes, really fucking pissed that you keep on running in circles and complaining that your shins ache.

I’ve started therapy. For the first time in my life as a solo project. Where writing and thinking and processing with good friends has worked in the past, I now need more. My thirties were traumatic. And the outcome, mostly, has been amazing. But I am nearly half a century old. Sort of. Well, almost. And the shit I carry with me just gets heavier and heavier. I owe it to myself – and the person who lives with me and everyone who loves me – to be less broken, to still keep working on being less broken.  To quit crippling myself. I thought I had done that already – and I had, to a great degree – but life keeps handing out shit stew and so we have to constantly mend up the holes and patch the seams.

Early on in this relationship, I began to think of the old shit that would rear itself up as an appendix full of old fights and hurts and betrayals. I wanted to imagine I could get an emotional appendectomy – excise the garbage from my body, get rid of it once and for all. Start clean. Start fresh. Scarred, but clear.

Impossible? Yes. Enticing? Absolutely. A fix. In true American fashion: cut out what is bad, live without it, toss it out. A scalpel, a pill, a chant, something something something. Make it vanish.

Broken, though, can be beautiful. It’s not inherently so. When we think so, we continue to run into walls, bruise ourselves, cradle people who only ache and ache and ache until their ache doesn’t only seem like your ache – it is your ache, big and swollen and stretched to snapping.

Almost nobody says that wounds are beautiful.  Gaping and bloody and oozing. Flirting with infection and death. A wound. Flesh opened up and fat and muscle and bone pushed out.

We say it about scars. Some of us do. Some of us can find great beauty in scars, in the magic of them. But they are not wounds.  They used to be.  They are the places where our body was wounded and then healed – different, but functioning. Marked, but sutured and sealed and cells locked in to keep us safe and healthy.

Life is a scar, in some ways. But it can so easily be a weeping wound that we allow to pull us away from what we really care about. So do what you can to scar it up. Get whatever help you need to pull the edges of the pain together and allow your body and your mind and heart to do what they want to: mend. Stop limping around and telling me you can’t afford a crutch. I’m pretty sure there’s some on craigslist or freecycle or something. There’s always always always someone there to help you find what you need.

Ask. Look. Fix.

It’s what we owe each other.

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Forty After Forty ~ sizing up four decades & mapping out four more.

IMG_2576During my twenties, I lost my family.  Not all of it, but at times, it felt like it.  I was, for all intents and purposes, orphaned into the world, left to carry myself and make of my place in the world what I would. I graduated college, twice, better slow than never, and then left my home state and made a home and a life in Oregon. Adrift, but rooted, I carved out my own space in which to be.

When I turned thirty, I had achieved exactly one of the two goals I had set for myself. And I felt fine with that.  And my parents floated back into my life, only days into the start of my fourth decade. Family became more than the friends I had built around me in my new life. My thirties, from the onset, felt like swimming, like a place to spread out and move, arm by arm by kick by kick. A place to move: half afloat, half pure kinesis.

Throughout the last ten years, some of them harder than any in my life before, I found old friends and gained more than one family. I waded through muck, both figurative and very very literal, until I found myself in another state, physically (but, also . . .), my life a picture of palm trees and small town urban life and big rig trucks. A life thirty year old me couldn’t see coming. Hundreds of images filed into the drawer marked ’30-39′, both obscene and divine.

And, at 40, I’m right where I should be – right. Exactly. I am fortunate enough to be immersed in love, surrounded by people who mean the world to me. To say something nebulous and unclear – I feel the most myself I think I ever have. It’s a good place.

But things are not easy. And as I get older, it seems that in some ways they get harder.  At one point months ago, three women who meant something to me growing up (&still) were in the hospital and then my boyfriend’s mother was as well and I thought, this getting older thing is total bullshit. Total fucking bullshit.  All of these women are still kicking, but some are in and out of the hospital regularly, a constant reminder of how fragile our bodies can be, how tenuous a hold there is between being and not.

One day, I was overwhelmed by imagining, from the perspective of one of these ‘old’ women, what it is like to bury more and more of the people you know (and love).  What it must feel like to be standing, thankfully standing, but watching the life you have dwindle on one end and grow on another. More and more babies coming into your life as you feel the end of your own ramp up and taunt you – hospital tubes in the thin skin of your back hand, tubes in your nose and pulling air in, to speak, through lips lined and lined and lined with all the words you’ve said in the last eight or nine decades.

It’s as though I can feel time revving up around me. As friends of friends – some of them younger than me – have passed and others are facing chemotherapy or radiation or physical therapy to overcome unexpected and devastating injuries or illnesses, I feel acutely – painfully and with a particular core-deep low humming fear I hadn’t known yet – the numerous clichés we have for the way life can change, or leave, in a gut-busting second.

We only have today. Don’t take any moment for granted. You never know.
Blah blah blah. On and on and on.

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And my mother is a long-cast shadow in my life – my own guilt about our (non)relationship heavier than anything else and yet, still, I can’t bear doing anything more about it. I can feel the weight of that shadow in my life in a whole new way, as this somewhat arbitrary ‘big’ age looms larger and larger on the horizon. When madness comes to your mother disguised as a 50th birthday present, the landmark birthdays take on new weight.

And I’m walking into forty more disillusioned with people than I have been in a long time. I have been separating, slowly and intentionally, in small and big ways, from people in my life who don’t give enough, who mean well and who I love and care for, but who make life harder, in the ways that don’t end up evening out. I am pulling away from the people in my life for whom no matter what I do, it’s never the right thing, it’s never quite the right way. Life is hard enough and sometimes it is better to just ease back a little rather than force what is seemingly unbendable.

I trust fewer people (with those things in life that are real and important and sacred) than I have in years and years.  With the exception of a (large enough) core of people in my life, I feel more isolated and protective than I have since my early twenties.  During the seismic shift of the last half of my thirties, I came to trust new people with a naiveté I didn’t even have in my twenties, believing that age had done for them what it has done for me.  Believing that people, at this age, mean what they say and are who they appear to be and tread lightly when it comes to another person’s confidences and trust. I have been wrong a few times in ways I thought I was too old for. I have relearned old lessons.

This locked-down place in my life is not a bad thing, but it is a space to be navigated and understood and to occupy with care and intention. After a swelling of people in the last half of my thirties, it is time to pull tight the doors and care, deeply, for the ones left inside.

It is yet another cliche, but I absolutely feel I am at a crossroads. Not a fork in the road, but a mass of avenues and I have to decide which ones are navigable. Which ones will be worth the inevitable disorientation and (even temporary) strandedness that comes with human relationships. Which ones.

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I thought forty might freak me out. I knew it probably would.  But what I thought would bother me is the start of your face sliding into something that, eventually, you won’t be able to recognize against younger pictures of yourself. Your whole identity shifting focus.  And not because of the wrinkles, more because the face I’ve come to know will start to leave and in its place will be something that becomes blurred, less distinct – myself and others less likely to be able to see, in a baby picture, how I look like me.

Turns out I was wrong.  Maybe I’ll freak out about that at fifty. Probably.

What is freaking me out right now is that staticky feeling of time revving up.  Of the past starting to outnumber the present, or just the possibility that it already does. I’ve lived forty years. Forty fucking years.  And before I know it, it will be fifty. Then sixty.  And when I’m there, will it feel like only days before that I was worried about forty? About thirty?

In the same way that 25 felt serious, like a time to take stock and assess where I was going, so does 40. What do I want? What of that do I have? What do I not want? What of that do I have?

A dear friend recently said that forty definitely feels significant. And it does. It definitely definitely does. Numbers are not, ultimately, arbitrary.  Numbers stand for time, for pounds, for pressure – one is not ten is not fifty.

If nothing else, forty is a mark to measure against – the life you have against the other ones: the one you thought you would have, the life you don’t have, the life you want.

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Ten years is a long time, a seeming lifetime in some ways. But it is also a span to be held in the hand. So small I can rub my fingers over it and count the ridges. See the tremors in the rings. See the lines eeking out from the corners of my eyes and count the gray hairs that are, finally, tentatively daring to grow with real abandon.

I had a forty bucket list that I started at thirty-eight. I did some of it. I didn’t get to some of it. And that’s fine. I fell in love. I spent time with the little humans who keep on growing, no matter how much I want them to stay small enough to hold and carry and cradle to sleep against my chest until my arms ache with sleep. I don’t think I’ve wasted time, even when I was wasting time.

But what do I want of forty? What will I make of it?

I want to scuba. Finally.

I want to travel. More. For real.

I want to not fuck shit up. Too badly.

When I do, I want to fix it. I want to own up.

I want the people I love to know that I love them.  How much I love them.

I want these gray hairs to chill the eff out. (Not really, I’ll probably dye my hair for forty more years, gray or not, so nevermind, scratch that)

I want to stay healthy long enough to see all of these amazing children in my life turn forty (and fifty and on).

I want to disappoint the people I love (and who love me) as little as possible.

I want those people to say, she was always there when I needed her.

I want those people to say, she made me laugh.

To say, we had so much fun, even if, especially when, things were tough.

Mostly, I don’t want the next forty to fly by, with my eyes half closed, while I pay half attention.

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I will turn forty while sipping a mojito in Puerto Rico, a decision made on my 38th birthday that I am making a reality (at the expense of other things I could have or do instead) and when I wake up that day, I know I will be the same woman I was when I went to bed.  But I will also be one day different.  As we are every day.

I will kiss the man I love and lounge on the sand and put my feet and then my body and then my head into the ocean and say, OK, ominous fifth decade, what you got? And I will float on the salty water and probably, almost certainly, swallow some water as the waves roll under me. I will taste the thirst-making bitterness of that lukewarm, beautiful blue Caribbean water.

Forty is coming whether I want it to or not. So I will meet it at the shore. Where earth and air and water meet.  I will meet it.  I will.  And then, right before I wrap my arms around her, I will tell that bitch that she better be nice. Or at least a little bit kind.

Split Personality, or I need to take up more virtual space

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As this beast has become a little unruly – and in an effort to create a more writerly space for myself – I have carved out a new site in the interwebs for my writing of and about fiction.  Please check it out and follow there, if you are so inclined.

Here is where you can begin at the beginning:
http://inkremnant.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/prologue-analise/

Civility and Honor ~ Making Up the Rules Myself

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We were three women standing side by side – taller and older and far more weathered versions of the eleven-year-olds we were when we first met.  Life, that bitch of a word, had happened in the last nearly thirty years. A lot of it, that two of us do not know about each other. The woman in the middle, the bride, had tied a string to both of us, held us close and far and close again, from half a world away, and so we were both here, as she started her life over, again, with a man who makes her smile in ways I remember from those years before high school, before the tight lips and drunken eyes of our black-clad teen years. But there was no wistful nostalgia in that three woman circle. Not for me. And so there was no group hug, no warm embrace to close the circle. Because of me. The one who would not budge.

If you know me at all – in real life or even just here – you know that I am an opinionated person.  I believe certain things without waver.  I am also able to see a thousand shades of gray and can understand the reasons behind mistreating each other. But seeing them does not make me forgive the ways we (myself included) wage war on each other day by day. I also believe, deeply, in being kind to people. In giving someone the benefit of the doubt, in knowing that I have no idea what they are facing, that very day, that may cause them to be short or rude or glib. And from arm’s length I will forgive that for almost everyone.  But I will not be your friend if you think less of me than any other human on this planet.  I will be civil (that loaded word of antiquity) but I will not have real conversations or share my life or act falsely happy to see you.  I will be what I call real. What often just looks bitchy.

I am a compassionate person.  And if you mean enough to me, if we have enough history, and the loss would be immense, I will fight tooth and nail to work out our differences, to find a place to meet, in the middle or just to the side of it – wherever need be – in order to stay connected. In order to be friends. But my face hides nothing.  It is virtually impossible for me to pretend when it comes to real emotions (which, perhaps, makes holding to my convictions, if not easier, more necessary than for some people).

So when this long-ago friend came up to me as I was talking, for the first time that wedding day, to the bride – to the woman who links us both now – and acted happy to see me and put her arm around me and asked how I was, I answered, good, but I kept my arms at my side and my face neutral.  Against accepted social order and politeness.  Against expectation.  It’s such a small thing really – what I did not do.  I did not hug back. I also did not pull away. Or make a scene.  I simply stood still, smiled a small upturn of my lip and let my arm remain at my side.  And she said, oh, we don’t want a hug, do we? while she stood up and stiffened and looked me in the eyes.

What I did do, though, was keep my mouth shut except to say no, not really, but thanks. Out of respect for the bride and the moment and the space we all filled that day, one of love and lightness and laughing, I walked away while answering her last question, which included what to me sounded like a back-handed stab at the bride for having left this woman’s mother out of the festivities.  I smiled at the bride and walked back to my table and my friends and those I love. Instead of saying what I wanted to say. Instead of saying what I would have said had the moment been different. Instead of defending myself, for that moment and all the ones before.

I sat down next to my boyfriend and told him that Sasha was in full effect. Sasha Beesh. What we call me when I am being, seriously or otherwise, a bitch. It is a pet name. But it is serious, too. I draw lines.  When I need to, I will. And I will, if the situation is right and I think there is use in it, tell you why. And then I will think, sometimes say, that I am such a bitch.  Wherein bitch is firm. Wherein bitch is rigid. Wherein bitch is honest.

Naming it that, naming myself a bitch is simultaneously a prayer to the sky that I do not react roughly unnecessarily and a slice through to the comic of life – look at me, bitching it up everywhere – don’t look at me, I’m just acting up over here. It is a way to hold it at arm’s length, this way I am, to stare at it and laugh at it until I know for sure, each time, if it was the right way to be.

It was but a few minutes in the almost seven hour event. But it is the kind of encounter that can leave me conflicted, that can take up brain space for hours, for days, until I decide how I feel about my own actions.

Instead, I let go of that moment and went on to have a fabulous time at the wedding. And this long-ago friend sat at the wedding party table throughout the night and was composed and dignified and reserved. While my friends and I were loud and rowdy and danced ridiculously and laughed so hard that my voice was hoarse by the end of the evening. We could not have had more different evenings, she and I, although I would guess that, my presence aside, she had a great time, too. In her way. Just as I did in mine.

What has stuck in my brain, what is getting turned around and around since that night last month, is the question of how I should have acted – by my standards, by anyone’s standards, by her standards – versus what really happened and how the gaps between those expectations define me. Moments like these, which happen not infrequently in my life, force me to look at myself and my ways of being and to try to walk the fine line of my own personal code, balance between my integrity and ethos and trying to still be polite in the ways that I define that word, while still minding that others define that word very differently than I do. I do not want to hurt people.  I do not want to start fights.  I do not want to make a big deal out of things that need not be enlarged. Mostly, I don’t want to be an asshole unless being an asshole is the only acceptable option.

If I feel that it is worth it, I will make a mountain out of what I feel is a sheet-covered mountain.  I will call a spade a spade, to use another cliché.  I will describe its outline and fill in that shape, mark it clearly as what it is, and then feel good about not having tiptoed around a delicate moment for the sake of propriety or decorum or civility.

If not, I will walk away. Let it go. 

Sometimes, I will do the first and then decide later that I should have walked away.

And, you see, the details of why I won’t hug this woman or pretend to believe her joy at seeing me are as ridiculous and as serious as it gets.  So my response to her greeting is both disproportionately gruff and entirely too kind. We reconnected more than a decade ago at an event I was hosting in grad school.  Her husband was reading and I was shocked – and happy – to see her.  I could tell, without knowing for sure at that time, that she had returned to the religion of her childhood – Mormonism. I introduced her to my girlfriend and assumed that I would never hear from her again. I wasn’t sure about that, but I would have been surprised to have her be positive about this aspect of my life. Still I was honest and knew that those who fall away need to – that secrecy is no way to handle these reunions in life.

Years and years later, she sought out being my friend on facebook.  Ahhh, I thought, she is more open-minded than the majority of her Mormon cohorts.  But she quietly and covertly unfriended me after enough time to realize who I was and what I stood for . . . I noticed when we both commented on the same thing and it gave me the tell-tale how-many-friends-in-common link below her name.  And while it didn’t really matter, in the large scheme – I never figured we’d have a deep and meaningful relationship – it did stab. Why seek me out? Why make me think you knew me and still wanted in? Why do it so secretly? Why not just say, like a grown-up, that you found my views loud and offensive and judgmental and then I could say ok  and we could be cordial in public because I believe what I believe and you believe what you believe and que sera sera. When I noticed online that she had unfriended me, we had a small group reunion coming up in a few weeks and I wondered how much awkwardness would be packed into that day and night if she did, in fact, show up.

She didn’t. And hasn’t. To anything until this wedding. Until she had to in order to be included in such an important day for such a close friend. And instead of standing tall and keeping her distance, she feigned excitement and emoted too much and then recoiled when I did what I felt was most honest in that moment – held back and stood firm.

And what bothers me most is multi-faceted, of course. Initially, I was and am insulted that she dumped me. Not out of some personal pride, really. I was and am most offended by the fact that I find her religion an affront to my very being. I am offended (and hurt) by the money and rhetoric her church spends on attempting to negate the lives of people like me and people I love. Over and over and over.

And yet.

And yet I could have stayed friends in that virtual way of these times.  I could have, would have, been polite and respectful of her beliefs. I can not, though, – and did not – keep my mouth shut in my own little pocket of the internet universe. And that, apparently, is what she would have preferred. It is my virtual ramblings that sent her to the unfriend button, that made her tell a friend that I was judging her and trying to tell her what to think, that made her disappear instead of glossing over my words and standing firm in her own beliefs at the same time. It was her inability to hold that we can occupy space on opposite sides of the spectrum and still be friendly, if not friends.

The difference, though, between us lies exactly in that action and the encounter at the wedding. Where she shunned the confrontation of being honest and then acted against the honesty of just steering clear of me – where those things happen, where fake emotion replaces the truth of the matter is where I can not abide.  I detest phoney – phoney smiles, phoney friendships, phoney greetings.  Be real. Even if that might, to an onlooker, seem rude.  I prefer to know exactly where I stand with you.  And I will give you that same respect in return.  Don’t give me that honesty and I will still react honestly.  It’s how I know how to be. It’s the only way I will feel ok with myself later. Even if I wonder, in the moment, if I am being harsh. If I am being a bitch.

The chord that strikes in these kinds of social tangos is a deep one for me.  I struggled, long and painfully, to fully rid myself of the shame and guilt and embarrassment of living a life that makes people unfriend you, that makes people leer at you in public, that makes people say they have nothing against you but a portion of their paycheck goes to proving otherwise. Landing outside of that ingrained shame means I have no patience for, no play with, no space in my life for people who do not have at least the decency to be real with me. Having fought that battle with myself, I am virtually incapable of playing along with some social song and dance in the name of ‘politeness’ when I know you’d rip the rug out from under me if you could – and, more than likely, you are trying to with every tithing and every political donation.

I can only suppose that, for her, feigning joy at seeing me felt right. It felt like the socially acceptable way to behave in the situation.  That it felt like respect for the moment, for the bride, maybe even for me, as she sees me. I would suppose that there is a canyon between how she sees that moment play and the way I do.

I would guess that the biggest difference is this: my arms at my side was the most respectful thing I could do for her in that moment. Honesty is the kindest thing, for me, in moments like that.  For her, even. Respect for her beliefs and freeing her from the fake smiles and inevitable questions that lead to answers she doesn’t care about and doesn’t want to hear. Where she probably sees my action as rude, I see it as kind, to us both.

To be fake would be an affront to my own beliefs, too.  I would feel I was selling out the ethics and morals I stand for if I play kissy-face-greeting with someone who sees me as less than a full person. I would be saying: Sure, hate me, hate people I love, fight against our very being and I will still hold to decorum and embrace you as though there is anything real in this moment. As if when we part, you will not still wage war against me and those I love.

Bitchy? I guess so.

Polite? Not by most people’s standards.

But today, still, I feel ok with it.  I wish I hadn’t been forced into opting out of that hug, into doing that with the bride between us.  And I don’t hate her.  I truly don’t. I have a lot of feelings about how isolating it is to move outside of the lines of religions like Mormonism, especially if you were raised in it. But understanding it, feeling for people whose whole lives rests within specific codes of conduct, knowing the loneliness of people who leave such religions behind – none of that changes what is right, for me.

I make up my own standard of conduct. In a way, I make it up as I go along. But it is guided by a deep and abiding sense of what is right – outside of religion and commandments and holy creeds – what is right and true, as a human, as someone who believes in the sanctity of each person’s right to be and be respected. Dear Abby and Emily Post have no sway with me. I am incapable, really, of rote social grace. My code is constantly assessed and evaluated, but I will do what I must to be true, to myself. To say what needs to be said and to swallow what does not.

To say, without saying (if the time is wrong to speak), that I won’t play along.

To say, when it needs to be said: I know what you think.  And not only do I not agree.  I am offended – as a human, as a one-time long-ago friend, as an adult you tricked into believing you felt different – and so I will not hug you.  I will not kiss your cheek and make small talk.  I will hold firm.  And then walk away.  Out of a sense of propriety.  Out of my own code of civility.  To be honest.  With you.  But mostly, with myself.

An Agnostic’s Prayer is a Hazy Bubble ~ and, hey, I’m no dummy

My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and there are some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.

- Donald Miller

In educated circles, science is god. And by god, I really mean king, because if you are smart then you only believe in real people right in front of you who you can hear and see and smell and sense as their hands reach out to slap you across the face or their arms reach out to hold you or as their legs carry them right past you. You believe in logic and reason and that blood works through your body and water filters through the world in all of its stages to keep us all alive and that what a microscope can’t show us, then a computer can. If you can prove it, it exists. Logically then, if you can’t, it doesn’t.

It seems that being educated, unless you attend a religious college (which by regular college folks standards isn’t even the same thing), means having outgrown god, if you ever believed at all. God is a tool that is used to hold people down. God is a crutch for weak people.  God is like a childhood blanket that you leave behind once you are big and strong and know better.

And in educated circles, we are beat up all of the time for who we are and what we believe by people who hide behind religion, who believe in ghosts and miracles and stories about yeast and sugar and flour becoming living breathing fish. Crazy stuff. Unbelievable stuff.  Magic stuff. We are busy fighting off the mandates of people who tell us that God knows best. We are busy trying to live our own lives.  As a woman, as a queer, as a person who believes that god and government should be separated, Religious People are like a clone army sent to shackle us all to their religious texts.

I get the aversion. I was so anti-religion in my teen years that I threatened to writhe on the floor of every classroom at the beginning of every period, ‘foaming’ out of my mouth directly under the crucifix, when my mother threatened to send me to a Catholic school.

I got older, though. And I encountered people who I greatly admired who were smarter than me, more informed than me, more brilliant. People I deeply respected as intellectuals. As liberals. As humanitarians. And some of them believed in God. With a big G. Even, sometimes, a Christian one – the one I held in the most contempt, personally.  It was one of the loudest, most trembling moments of cognitive dissonance I have personally experienced. I could feel and hear and almost smell the heat and smoke and burn of cogs grinding together and locking up and motors starting to wrench themselves inoperable. In my own head. In my own heart.

Does. Not. Compute.

That’s when I started the slow and very personal journey of reconciling my own misguided notion that smart people aren’t religious. That educated people don’t believe in god. That to be rational and reasonable means you deny faith and, certainly, Religion. I listened to the ways that these smart people interpret their religious texts, to the way that they work to better their churches, really listened to what it is they believe and what it means to them.

It is a continual journey, really, in the way that we all need to be aware of and alert for the insidious ways that we fall back on old, weathered and mass-mentality notions of groups and cultures. That moment, though, shook loose the idea that one belief precedes the other on some sort of intelligence barometer and that the only way to move further along the path is to become educated. I lost the need to hold onto the idea that using your smarts and believing, in any god, were two particular stops on the same evolutionary line.

I have never been an Atheist. Even in my most angry, combative, anti-religion phases, I have found it impossible to believe that all that exists is what we can see.  There is too much in life that is real that cannot be seen or touched or slid between two slides and studied.  So I fall back on the term Agnostic.  The shape of my agnosticism has morphed many times in the last two decades. All kinds of shapes and densities.  It has veered remarkably close to sidling up to a notion of Jesus that has nothing to do with Pat Roberts or Fred Phelps or Al Sharpton but might startle anyone who knows me well. I don’t know where it will go in the decades to come, but I do know that it will be something my brain and heart work out together. I do know that intellect will not dictate the journey no matter how hard it tries.

You can talk to me of science and reality and make-believe and weakness. You can make a logical and rational case for atheism.  And still I will know deep in my human body and brain and soul (yes, soul) that there is more, for me, than science. There is more to this world and universe and life than a human ant farm that just magically appeared out of space dust.  And I could try to argue with you about that. I could try to sway you to believe, in anything at all, in any kind of force or nature or power besides science. But I don’t.  I won’t.  Because I don’t care if you think there’s nothing. If, deep in your core, you know that to be true.  I don’t need evangelism.  I recoil from it.  I believe in something and you can believe in nothing. And I don’t gauge your intelligence by that difference.  I don’t decide whether you are a good, caring and righteous person based on your non-belief.

But sometimes you do. Gauge my intelligence. If you are Atheist. If you also fancy yourself smart and rational and a good thinker. If you believe something must be proven in order to be true.

All kinds of religions judge me as well. But I care less about that. I am used to Baptists thinking I am going to Hell.  I am fine with that idea – me as Toto in Dorothy’s bike basket headed straight for Satan’s lair. I am used to Mormons thinking I am dangerous and lost and misguided.  I am used to the Bible being wielded like a sledgehammer against my right to live as I see fit.

But when my friends make blanket statements about the foolishness of believers. Of those who have faithSay things that make us out to be small brained, developmentally retarded, delusional people who believe in caped crusaders for salvation – that hurts. And worse, it is insulting. To me. To more people on this planet than not. It is as belittling as being made out to be a child-molesting moral-less pervert for wanting to marry the person you love.

It hurts me, yes, but it also pains me on behalf of the people I know and love who are not robots, are not sheep, are not unthinking weaklings who forsake intelligent thought and critical thinking in favor of an easy how-to guide to life. Who do not use their faith as a weapon against anyone unlike them.

Election seasons are particularly rabid in this area and we have just weathered a doozy of an election season where the Religious Idiots were thick and loud and full of some of the most ridiculous and shockingly offensive misinformation. But they are to believers what they are to humans – cartoonish and extreme and not the mold. The Mitt Romneys and Pat Roberts and Ann Coulters create a compassionless vacuum into which falls the voices of people who I care about, who I believe care about me, saying believers are dumb and they’re all idiots or various versions of: faith and intellect are exact opposites.  

These politically charged times create a climate in which the insults are thrown from both sides and to be an agnostic who fancies herself rather enlightened and intelligent and rational is to feel bruised from all sides. To feel as though your very core is being dismissed. Someone like that, like me, is drawn with loose pencil loops into a squat, awkward cartoon – a Mr. Magoo-like befuddled caricature who stumbles around reciting facts and data while going home to kneel at the altar of superman, offering rocks painted green that are set under a light to make them look like genuine gems. A bumbling idiot dressed as an intellectual.

It is to be called stupid, over and over and over.  As though I have to make the choice between being smart and having faith. I must give up one to keep the other. I must denounce uncertainty to be considered wise.

It is not a large leap, in fact hardly a leap at all, for me to move from believing in love (all sorts, all types), that inexplicable, almost magical truth of life – to move from that to having faith that there are invisible, unnameable, unseen things at work in this world. The gap between those two things is smaller than the jump a single synapse makes in my brain. I feel things that cannot be quantified. I know things to be true that have no place in a lab. Even science, God to the Godless, is an imperfect thing. Is an evolving thing. Is a process in the process of becoming more and more useful and precise and fascinating.

I want to say: how is emphatically declaring that there is no god any different from a religious fanatic declaring there is one and you are wrong for not following? Is it simply because you are smarter? Because not believing proves that?

I believe in science.  But I believe in other things, too. I have the ability to hold a variety of beliefs that, for me, do not preclude each other. As we all do. Two of the ones I can hold in one hand just happen to be two that a lot of my friends see as being at odds with each other. For me, though, one without the other makes me incomplete, unsettles me, leaves my world askew.

I find a very precise kind of beauty in letting go of reason, as a straight-jacket or a scaffolding or a restricting litmus test of real versus nonreal – in letting go of knowing if it’s true and allowing myself the space to believe that it just might be. There is a grace in it, and not the strict definition of religious grace, but a type of slope and swing and levity that makes my life better, that feels a lot like the look in someone’s eye who thinks you are lovely and brilliant and funny, a kind of thin cotton cloth that feels safe and soft, that feels like home.

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns

- Anne Lamott

Sometimes I pray.  And I can hear a voice in my head that says this might be useless.  This might go nowhere.  But it helps.  And if that makes me weak – well, I am.  But so are you.  We all are.  We all need.  Different things.  In different ways.  If praying to something when I can’t even decide what it is makes me weak, I am fine with that. I really am.

But it does not make me stupid.  Or uninformed.  Or laughable.  Certainly not dismissable.  I analyze down to fine points. I see nuances and patterns and connections and if there is a way that I consistently think, it’s critically. To a fault, sometimes.  And I am educated.  More than some, less than others.  I am smart. Not the smartest, not by a long shot. But I am one of the sharp tools, that is one thing I will not disavow, ever.  And my faith that there is something beyond science and the dirt I can hold in my hand and press between my fingers, something more than the invisible (without technology) electrical impulses that shoot through my entire being – well, that doesn’t say shit about my intelligence.  And if you think it does, you do yourself a disservice and underestimate not just me, but millions of other people, of all kinds of faithful persuasions.

There are sheep. There are wolves. There are people who misuse religion for their own gain. There are people who are hungry to be told how to treat people, how to live, how to make meaning without having to work at it. There always have been and there always will be.  And I pray, in silent and unorthodox and non-ritualized ways, that people will think for themselves. That each person will use their brain and their heart and not allow other people to tell them how to live or not to live.

I pray, in a hazy and shadowy way, that evangelism goes the way of Betamax.

I pray, sporadically and selfishly, that hate gets sliced clean from religion, a scalpel of intelligence and compassion rending it from faith like the slimy viscera of a chicken breast being cut and then ripped loose.

I pray that Fred Phelps’ family and his followers find themselves face to face with someone they should hate but, for some reason, for any reason, they cannot. And they then have to pull themselves out of that fabric long enough to see that god (big G, little g, whatever) doesn’t have to be venomous.

Sometimes, I pray that I never ever accidentally hear another Celine Dion song. (That alone should prove that faith and smarts are not mutually exclusive, right?)

The truth is that I will believe whether my book-smart or street-smart or punk rock friends think I should or not.  I will continue to believe in something even if the religious right thinks I am unworthy.  I will be who I am in all of the ways that I am, regardless, because it’s all I know how to do.

I get tired, though. Of being reminded that my friends either assume I have no faith (if they think I have brains) or think that I have a good deal less smarts than I do because I believe in something that cannot be proved. It is tiring, and heartbreaking, to feel that for friends to know the truth means they re-categorize you. Faith really is the Evil Gay of intellectual circles – the biggest academic closet. I am sure that you all have really smart friends who believe in God, whether they feel like telling you that or not. Who they pray to, whether they pray or not, is to their intelligence what atheism is to yours – a whole separate issue.  Plenty of stupid people are atheists.  Some really smart ones, too.

No matter what, I pray. Silent prayers like blades of grass pulled up mindlessly while sitting out in a park alone.  That those I love are happy. That those who don’t love enough stay far enough away from me to let me live my life. That my family sleeps well and makes it through another day. That fewer people are sad tomorrow than today. That I do my best to be good. That I do my best not to hurt anyone. To remember that everyone has their shit. I send out words of thanks: for what I have found, for what I have survived, for the people I have in my life who stand with me and hold me up. And on and on.

But instead of dropping those prayers like blades of grass, letting them fall to the ground as I walk away, they float up and over and away from me: dark, messy, hopeful fragments of words. I am mostly unaware that I send out those filmy gray bubbles, wobbly and imperfect and unsure, permeable pockets of wishes and hopes and blessings. It is, at this point in my life, just like breathing or thinking or looking.

And whether you call it god or karma or positive energy or compassionate humanism doesn’t matter at all to me. We all send prayers out into the sky, we all send wishes and hopes and pleas. A prayer by any other name is still an invisible thing that can’t be dissected or graphed or filed. It is apart from intellect. Apart from science. Apart from learning. It is private and sacred and real, if only to the one saying it. I am smart enough to know that. Whether you see that in me or not.

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