religion

I grew up Catholic, then met a boy two years older who was smart and tall and loved me like I was his last breath. He was an atheist, but he called me his angel.

I have to give him credit, because I never questioned things before him. He made me skeptical. Later, cynical. I questioned the anxiety I felt at home, and why my family injected into my heart more fear than love. I questioned my future in “some sort of science” and realized my hands couldn’t stand to spend their energy with numbers and figures but chose art instead. I questioned even that: my writing was so frivolous and childish compared to his–his made me feel emotions I never thought about when writing my silly science fiction and high-octane adventure. Eventually, I even questioned our relationship. We broke it off after maybe half a year or so.

I was an atheist. Then an agnostic. I used science and logic above all else, and when others touted faith I labelled them as ignorant.

That lasted awhile. It’s hard to be an atheist when you’re afraid of ghosts. Not necessarily that I believe in ghosts, but long hallways and creaks in the night do frighten me more than they ever would an atheist. Perhaps an atheist would be afraid of these sounds but first think of burglars, you argue. True, I say. But I don’t think of burglars, I think of ghosts.

Spirits, maybe. Spirits would probably be more politically correct.

Thanks to that first love of mine, I also stopped performing so much of my life. I had told him it would be hard for him to meet my friends, as I acted so differently around him than I did them. I told him everything, you see. He knew me better than I did, myself. He found this confusing.

Aren’t you yourself, with me?

Yes.

Then why aren’t you yourself with them?

Again, it was something I had never questioned before.

With this loss of performance, I stopped performing atheism as well. There are mysteries in the world we can’t explain, I said to myself but never out loud. I was afraid to out myself as a faltering academic to my scientific friends. They’d say I was going off the rails. Drama kids and their yoga bullshit. They’re getting to her, they’d say. Or not. I was so worried about what they’d say.

In any case, I was a secret agnostic, hiding both from my religious family and vehemently anti-regilious friends. And I stayed that way for quite some time.

Then I graduated college.

They say God comes to you in times of need. I turned instead to Wicca. Don’t people always? I feel like Wicca wouldn’t still exist if not for college kids experiencing some sort of crisis.

I put off job applications to learn tarot cards. I swept off the top of a bookcase to make my little alter and burned candles at midnight. I meditated with crystals clutched deep in the pit of my palms.

I don’t really believe in it. But what it has been doing is calming my anxiety–ah, did you notice the tense change? I’m still in this phase of life.

The thing about Wicca is it’s kind of silly, but isn’t all religion? What’s the difference, between praying on your knees or meditating in a lotus position? Eating Jesus’s bread and body versus lighting a handful of candles? Eh. Maybe it’s because Catholicism is so pagan, honestly. So many crazy traditions ripped from local religions. Maybe it’s me getting back to my roots after all, but roots that extend deeper than just the Christian ones.

It’s silly. It’s silly, and I know it’s a phase. And I don’t believe in the gods, and the goddesses, and that the elements are blessing me, or whatever…but I do believe in the calming power of meditation. And sitting in front of a candle with some pretty stones and plants and dried roses is like sitting before a gorgeous altar in a church. It makes things feel sacred and calm. It makes things feel right.

I need some ritual in my life of turbulence. It’s been so insane. I disappeared into the mountains to teach ski lessons after graduation, then decided to teach high school English and get my masters, and now I’m in limbo waiting for someone to give ol’underqualified me a job. Of course I turn to something for certainty.

Bottom line is that I don’t know why I’m doing this, or anything else. And you, metaphorical “you” who still reads this blog: you know I only come back to this place when I’m depressed. Maybe it’s manifested itself in strange customs and rituals this time instead of slicing open my thighs with a pocket knife. So this is probably healthier.

All I know is, it’s making me less anxious. And I’m not scared of creaks in the hallway at night any more. So. Who knows. Whatever.

suffering the heat

It’s 96? It’s supposed to be 96. Degrees. Outside.

Does that confuse people on the other system? Probably not by now. People must hate the United States, for many reasons, but mainly for its overexposure. That’s not the correct use of that word, is it? For a Word Major, I’m awful at words.

You can’t watch a movie without being reminded of the United States. You can’t watch the news, either…again, for many reasons.

I hate the news.

Sometimes I feel like people who aren’t depressed are the real crazy ones. How could you watch the news—any news—and blink and shrug and go about your day? How can you just know that there is so much suffering—

This is why I have a problem with “God,” anyway. And this is so typical, I know, such originality coming from good ol’Introvert Playground. But again, again, again, how could a God allow so much suffering?

I hate knowing that one day I will get a papercut and there is nothing I can do to stop it. Life is full of papercuts, and bee stings, and stubbed toes, and broken hearts, and funerals, and shampoo in the eyes and splinters in the thumbs and dead people taking up all the slots on TV.

Television is suffering. Even the fake stuff, the shows and movies, they’re all about suffering. Even comedy is about suffering. It’s like we know we live in the gallows but only the depressed people feel like talking about the elephant in the room. And then everyone gets mad at them for doing so.

“What can be done? Just don’t think about it.”

Okay. I won’t think about the world. But can I think about myself, and all the disappointments I can’t prevent for myself? Failures, rejections, heartbreak?

How does any girl live past thirteen? She feels the pain of a menstrual cycle for the first time and is so happy. It’s the second month that it sinks in. It is going to hurt this bad for so-and-so days every month for forty years. It’s a prison sentence.

I feel trapped by my body. It is strange and alien to me, a vessel to hold my pain.

Stages

Obviously, there are life stages. Teen years, puberty, middle age, and so on. However, I submit to the jury that there are several smaller stages that fit arbitrarily within these stages, regardless of age. Perhaps most prominent and widespread is the stage where you wore black and listened to metal and were mad that your mother wouldn’t let you dye your hair.

In my experience, many people go through an “atheist” stage. It makes sense to question one’s beliefs now and then, but that’s not what I mean. I’m not talking about a healthy time spent in philosophical thought, I’m talking about those three or four months when people turn into super atheists.

I went through it, as did many of my friends. Thankfully, I grew out of it, and even retracted many of my atheistic ideas, settling on a firm stance of “I don’t know.” Now, I like to learn about and explore all types of religion, but in my atheist stage I couldn’t stand it.

There’s also, for the younger generation especially, the Social Justice stage. This one has always been around, but it’s especially spread with the advent of social media. Whether they’re called social justice warriors or tumblerinas or whatever, many people go through a time where political correctness and open mindedness are their top priority.

Are people who are like this bad? No. Can these things be stages? Absolutely. I went through both. The best part about these stages is that you tend to get highly invested in them, and then they fade away, leaving only a small mark on you. I’m glad my stages happened, because now I have a wider lens with which to look at the world.

They’re not bad things at all. I had a healthy eating stage, and a reality tv stage. I had a Buddhism stage, an anti-Kindle stage followed by an e-book stage, an all-natural stage, a gym rat stage, a musical stage, and numerous stages where I questioned my political standing, sexuality, job goals, relationships, and general future. And all of these stages, these short-lived obsessions, affected me positively afterward in one way or another.

I love when I can recognize someone in a stage that I had already passed through. Oh, you’re in the stage where you think any song released after 1970 is crap. Been there. And look, that’s the stage where wearing sweatpants every day didn’t feel gross. I…kind of wish I was still in that one.

It’s sometimes said that people can’t change. How wrong that is. Stages are proof that people change. We try on different hats to see which fits best. We get to choose different facets of our personality and change how we are seen by the world. That’s amazing!

It’s hard, when you’re in a stage, to tell if it’s a stage or not. Is blogging a stage, for me? Is sign language, is biking? I suppose any new interest could be a stage. Alternately, it could become a permanent part of you. The best part of life is its uncertainty. Embrace uncertainty, and embrace your stages with reckless enthusiasm.

Better to have several hats you don’t wear anymore than no hats at all.

Things that blow my mind about humanity

Sometimes, when things are tedious and saddening and gray, it’s nice to remember all the amazing  things about the Earth.

Like how the water you drank this morning has traversed the oceans and rivers and lakes and glaciers of this planet since it was created. Like how a snowflake you caught on your tongue floated down from a cloud and happened, by chance, to land right in front of you. Like how the Earth itself was created out of stardust, out of outer-space travelers, out of chance and luck. Like how life rose from particles to cells to fish to humans, and how those humans grew to conquer the elements, to flirt with the edges of their understanding and broaden their horizons.

I hate the Ancient Aliens TV show for many reasons, of which this is the most prominent. Why don’t we give our species any credit? Can’t we take credit for being the sole species to imagine, design, and build the pyramids? To create vessels that can transport us through land, sea, and air at remarkable speeds? Can’t we be proud of our species for all it has accomplished? For landing on the moon?

Yes, acknowledging the badness of our species is important, but so is acknowledging the goodness. Humans are amazing. We work together to create things we never could alone. We are amazing thinkers, creators, inventors.

When you’re feeling discouraged, try to remember: it was a group of humans no more special than you that invented photography, and that painted the Sistine Chapel, and that built every monument in the world. Aliens didn’t do that. WE did that.

It’s easy to forget. To take things for granted. To focus on the negative. To see yourself as separate from the thinkers and the doers. But you’re not. You have a universe of potential humming in your fingertips. When that potential is used for good, you become amazing.

If you’re inside, align your vision for a moment so you can’t see any windows. Almost everything in your sight was created by other humans.

I find that inspiring.

This too shall pass

I told someone last night that because yesterday was such a good day, today would likely be terrible. I was right.

Maybe today is only bad because I expected it to be, like when you assume a new food will taste bad and it does, but the things that have gone poorly since I woke up about five hours ago are so many and so monumental that I would have a hard time accepting it was all placebo.

Beyond having several things go poorly at work and during the drive in, I also found out someone very close to me in my personal life had been lying and hiding something from me for over a year and a half.

It’s times like these that I ponder what makes the universe tick. Is life truly all a random smattering of events, strung together loosely and caused by nothing but atoms bumping into one another? Or is some higher power pulling the strings, throwing this or that at us in strategic ways?

Sometimes I feel like a science experiment. What happens if we give her one extremely busy week followed by a week doing next-to-nothing? What happens if we make everything go right for twelve hours and then make everything fall apart?

Maybe it’s karma, or some other balancing force that operates on rules I’m not accustomed to. The problem with the theories of higher power or experimenters or cosmic forces is that I feel too unimportant for them to care about me. What would an all-powerful force want with me, anyway? An introverted blogger who spends too much time in front of a computer writing about herself is hardly an interesting subject.

I don’t know. I’m having a hard time focusing. When I’m feeling down I always write these deep, existential blog posts about what the meaning of it all is. Like the one about how there’s never a happy ending, life just keeps happening. Or the ones about how I feel overwhelmed and anxious so often.

I guess what I have to keep in mind is that this too shall pass.

No one ever uses that phrase on happy days, do they? Happy graduation…this too shall pass. Congratulations…this too shall pass. But it’s no less true. Everything passes. Things happen, and then they end. Nothing is forever, which is both comforting and terrifying.

This too shall pass.

Young intelligence

I am constantly amazed at what children can do. When I was a kid, I always got annoyed when people underestimated me, so I try not to act too surprised at children’s intelligence. Even so, it is certainly easy to assume they don’t know much.

Maybe it’s because sometimes kids do stupid stuff. When a two year old shoves a bean up his nose, it’s hard to remember that he’s pretty smart.

But then again, I do stupid stuff too. Maybe I don’t shove beans up my nose, but I still hit “reply all” or lose the phone that’s in my pocket or accidentally use body wash when I meant to use shampoo. I think that’s why it’s easy to forget that kids are smart: because I’ve lived way longer than they have and I’m still pretty stupid.

Kids are smart, though. I just learned of a boy scout troop consisting of 9 year olds that are building prosthetic hands for kids in Haiti. My five year old cousin is learning to code at preschool, and knows all the ins and outs of Minecraft. I mean, this is stuff that I’d have trouble doing!

Not to mention my two year old cousin who can navigate an iPad and even find his favorite songs, even though he can’t read.

A while ago, I did an article on babies learning sign language. They were hearing babies who were at the age where they wanted to communicate but didn’t yet have the vocal control to do so. They could learn to sign “milk” and “hungry” and “more” to their parents at 5 or 6 months old, far younger than they would be able to say the words aloud. This cut down on frustration and crying for everyone involved.

Kids are so smart. I’d love to have one of my own someday, to help them learn and grow. I have a feeling I’ll be doing far more learning than teaching.

Pat on the back

Introverts tend to learn by observation. I know that I sometimes watch people from afar like a stalker, and then copy how they do things rather than just asking them. It’s just easier to have someone to learn from, especially as a beginner.

I guess it’s never obvious when the beginner is no longer a beginner anymore. I slowly weaned myself off the learner’s manual, and now—just months later—I’m expected to train my replacement. Am I even slightly qualified for that?!

Maybe that’s my introversion showing, too. After all, there has to be a point where I accept that I’m not bad at my job, right? Even there, in the previous sentence I was going to write “good” but then deleted it. It’s hard to have confidence without it seeming pretentious or braggy. How can we be expected to succeed if we aren’t allowed to be proud of our successes?

I’m not a beginner anymore, I know that. I’m…good. I’m good at my job. Why is that so hard to say, or to believe?

It’s always like this, I guess. Even when I was doing well in class I always acted like I was scraping by to my friends. Why aren’t we allowed to love ourselves and our accomplishments?

Ah, maybe it’s because they’re not great. Everybody gets a trophy, but kids aren’t stupid. We grew up knowing that praise doesn’t mean much. I grew up with my parents said I was smart, and pretty, and funny, but I knew that they had to say that. They were my parents. That didn’t mean I was smart or pretty or funny. And I lied enough to people to know that even a sincere-sounding compliment wasn’t always true.

Maybe we all have this nagging paranoia. It’s a deep fear in all of us that everybody secretly hates us. Those people do exist, after all…how can we tell if we’re only tolerable?

I think these thoughts are bred from our culture of stifling pride. Sure, everyone can say you’re beautiful, but if you agree then you’re suddenly vain. It’s a catch 22, that.

Let’s be proud of ourselves, shall we? Let’s acknowledge our accomplishments as well as our short comings. Let’s be bold and complimentary to ourselves, let’s support the radical notion that we’re kinda cool. Self confidence isn’t self absorption…so let’s pat ourselves on the back, already!

Mama needs a new pair of shoes

…but I would have preferred to keep my old pair, because my new shoes are far too small.

I hate shoe shopping. I end up going through the whole store: this pair isn’t in my size, this pair feels weird, this pair has too high a heel, this pair is the wrong shade of brown…and so on. Maybe this is why I wear my shoes until they wear out.

My favorite pair of boots, ones that fit perfectly and went with everything, recently kicked the bucket like only shoes can. One shoe was fine, but the other fell apart and refused to be put back together. I tried boot glue, krazy glue, even sewing with a needle and thread. Nope. The sole of the shoe hung off like a slacking jaw. Then the zipper broke, and I decided that was it for that.

My second favorite pair of boots died the same week, with one too many holes. No longer waterproof, I decided it was time when sidewalk dirt began to seep in through the holes.

Now, I could handle the boot scenario fine—it’s spring, soon boots will be too hot anyway—if my summer shoes weren’t ready to go as well. I’ve already sewed one pair of canvas shoes back together, and another pair is beginning to get a hole as well. What gives?!

So, new shoes. I have no problem finding cute high heels, but thing is I never get to wear them and, honestly, the pain isn’t worth it. But I did find one pair that looked pretty cute and very versatile. They fit, they didn’t fall off, and they were just a little tight. I’d have to wear them in, but I couldn’t leave the store without buying them. After all, it was so rare that a shoe would fit all my criteria.

And so I sit at the office, alternating between flexing my feet in all crazy ways to break these suckers in to taking them off entirely to let the blood flow back to my toes. It’s okay though. I’ve had much worse.

There was the time I was late to a job interview and had to run in new heels that were already giving me blisters. The interviewer then decided to give me a tour of the (huge) building, during which I tried my darndest not to limp. I would have walked home barefoot, but I had to take the subway, and…ew. So I made the blisters even worse by wearing them all the way home.

Then there were the few years of pointe ballet I took in middle school. The shoes were made of solid wood and nails and who knows what else, and one had to balance on those torture contraptions with weightless arms and a graceful smile.

There were the few weeks when I started working at Chipotle over a year ago, before my work shoes came in. I had to run around the kitchen in Crocs three sizes too big for me because they wouldn’t let me wear non-company mandated sneakers.

Shoes. How could something so simple have so many problems? I suppose it’s a lesson in taking things for granted. I never appreciated my good shoes, or even gave them a second thought, until they broke on me.

As my internship winds to a close and I prepare to train my replacement, I wonder if she will fit the Globe like a new pair of shoes. I wonder how I will fit my new job. There will surely be a need to break in a bit, to get used to routine, but after awhile there won’t be any more blisters and it will all be second nature. Or, alternately, it may just be a bad fit. No matter what though, we won’t find out until we try them out for a few days.

An extension of your arm

“Let the sword become an extension of your arm.”

I’ve never used a sword before, but that phrase is said so much on television it’s practically common knowledge. The same phrase goes for tennis racquets and cooking knives and dumbbells; they’re all “extensions of your arm.”

I recently began practicing bike riding. I was never very into biking, but since I’m going to the Netherlands in the fall everyone said that I should relearn, as, “they bike everywhere over there.” So I took the bike out for a spin on Sunday. Besides a seriously uncomfortable seat, it was a pretty good time.

I’ve been trying to ride more like a grown up, steering primarily by leaning instead of using the handlebars and stopping with the handbrakes instead of skidding my feet. I’m getting there.

The interesting thing about steering by leaning is that I began to feel the whole “extension” thing, as if I was a part of the bike. It was me making the bike turn, not the bike itself. It felt more responsive, less wild and dangerous.

I’d always treated my first car like a living being, mostly because she acted like one. She was temperamental and sometimes didn’t do what I asked her to. She also only went up big hills if I gave her a pep talk. I didn’t feel like she was an extension of my body, unlike the bike. She was always something I was working with, like I was riding a horse.

When I used to do archery, I shot best when I cleared my mind and let the bow do the work. Instead of the bow becoming a part of me, I became a part of the bow.

We should probably pay attention to how we interact with things, because it says a lot about who we are. Every object represents a relationship. Do you tend to use people the same way you use objects? When your computer is frustrating do you slam the mouse on the table? Or shut it off completely? Or wait for it to come to its senses? When your car won’t start do you punch the steering wheel or beg it to work with you? Do you ever stop to admire the beauty of the way your pen writes?

There are no wrong answers; it’s all practice in being mindful, and applying our internal relationships to the external. Try to relate how to treat objects to how you treat people. You may be surprised to find which of your loved ones you treat as an extension of your arm.

On Waiting

The worst part about having something to look forward to is how long you have to wait for it.

Count the days a thousand times, divide it into multiples of five and ten, calculate the weeks, number the Mondays…it doesn’t matter. No matter how you dice it, you have to live every day in between, and nothing can make a day shorter.

We wait so much we have entire rooms for it in hospitals and airports. We despise it but we do it all the time. How many hours have I spent in a line?

The months ahead seem unbearable, but I can always manage ten more minutes, and then ten more. Things are only boring, or painful, or long, or terrible when I admit that they are. Complaining, swearing, crying. They’re all cathartic, but only temporarily. It would be better if the day to day wasn’t so bad…then again, it probably isn’t.

Ah. Always waiting. I’ve recently gotten into Fullmetal Alchemist, and one of the main characters’ friends asked if there was anything she could do to help, besides wait for them to need her. Well…no. Sometimes the best thing to do is wait. Sometimes, it’s the only thing to do.

Maybe this is just me, being an introvert and not wanting to bother other people with my troubles. My introversion is certainly why I avoid confrontation, perhaps it’s making me avoid comfort, as well. Waiting isn’t so bad when there’s someone to talk to.

Whatever the cause may be, I’ve realized that I’ve got to stop living for the future, for some pre-determined event, and focus on the present. To live mindfully, even if being mindful hurts sometimes.

It’s a little change, but I’ve taken to crossing off the date on the calendar at the end of the day instead of the beginning, as if to tell myself: the day has just begun. The next step is turning that phrase into a positive thing.