Observations, Self, Spirituality

the grand return! (confessions and a new apartment)

Confession Number One:

For the first time in like four years (humble brag), I haven’t kept my new year’s resolution. Which makes me normal! But I liked that I wasn’t normal in that way! Dammit. I’m back on track (with one day under my belt), but man oh man did I cheat the past few weeks. Until around January 7, I was like, AWWWW MAN I’M DOIN GREAT. I’d set an alarm for myself, browse gossip sites and interior design blogs for 20 minutes, and sign back off. What felt like oodles of free time popped up out of nowhere. I was forced to be alone with my thoughts, and it was uncomfortable but refreshing. But slowly, what with the fact that I’m moving and have to buy a bunch of home goods/ moving supplies, I stopped setting the alarm, and minutes turned into quite possibly hours of adding things to various web carts for my new apartment. Which has led to:

Confession Number Two:

I’ve also been bad about keeping of my finances in the past few weeks. I had to borrow some (a lot) of money to make this move happen, and aside from keeping track of what I owe my friends, I’ve gotten lax about all the little purchases from day to day. Allergy meds, a coffee, that Uber ride: I’ve tried to keep unnecessary spending to a minimum, but somehow that’s translated into sort of pretending I’m not spending anything at all. I am very likely being a perfectionist, but there it is.

And Confession Number Three:

Not really a confession but an observation. I had a moment of grace this morning on the subway. I was journaling about the ways I continue to use the Internet to avoid facing my thoughts/ feelings, and how what I’m realizing I’m actually attempting to avoid is God. I’m trying to avoid letting him speak to me because I’m afraid he’s going to be all kill-joy. I’m afraid that as soon as I tap into prayer, what I’m going to hear back is a list of the ways I’m messing up (dating the wrong people, dating at all, being unkind to my family, telling too many white lies, trying to do life on my own) and preventing him from doing his thing for me. Which might be true!  I might be fucking up (I am, trust me)! But I don’t believe God would meet my approach with an instant list of wrongdoing. Instead, I started writing, maybe I should stop putting words in God’s mouth. Maybe each time I pray and then get discouraged by God’s seeming disapproval, it’s really my own guilt talking, not God. Maybe what God has to say to me is simpler than that: I love you, Melissa. My grace is sufficient. My love covers all.

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Observations, Self, Social Justice, Spirituality

hello, st. louis!

I’ve got 20 minutes to create this post with the airport’s free wifi, but I wanted to give a shout out to mahself because it’s my birthday on Friday! The big 2-5. I’m currently sitting in SLA waiting for my (late) brother to pick me up; we’ll spend the day here in the city, then drive back to Columbia where he lives with his girlfriend (whom I’ve never met until now!) They met in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso and then upon their return to the US they moved almost immediately to the Midwest. I plan to treat this excursion like a real vacation: hopefully I’ll get to do a little writing, go hiking, yoga myself to sleep, and enjoy time away from screens.

Tritely, I can’t say this year has turned out like I expected. But in many ways that’s a good thing. I broke up with the bf, and while that has been a much more twisty, complicated process than I wanted it to be, it was absolutely the right choice, and didn’t leave me feeling as confused and hopeless as I thought it would. I have begun attending a new church that draws on good scholarship, art, and embodied experience, that serves its community, and glorifies God with as much humility as I could hope a church could. I started this blog (!) to keep me accountable for noticing the world around me, and it’s done that. I have kept my New Year’s resolution of exercising 30 minutes/ day (!!!). And I have finally started shelling out for grown-up foundation that doesn’t make my face break out and actually draws people to compliment my skin (which still, lol, is rare, but has never happened before a month ago.)

My prayers for next year are big-picture: for wisdom on where to live after I quit New York (which won’t be toooo soon, but is certainly on the horizon); for more friends in the city with whom I can talk issues of justice and race and gender; and for career guidance on what sort of job roles I should be searching for. But mostly, they’re for the harmony of strength and peace and joy that (sometimes–dry spells are a real thang) accompany the pursuit of truth and justice in God.

Much love,

mel.

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Spirituality, Writing

the best book i’ve read this fall…

…is The Spiral Staircase, by Karen Armstrong. Well, er, I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s too good not to share rightnow.

Ostensibly a spiritual memoir, it’s also a harrowing account of the British mental health system in the 1960’s, an ode to the life-leading power of literature, and a powerful rumination on eating disorders. Armstrong joined a convent at age 17 and left just before the Church modernized, immersing herself in the Church at its worst, most traditional form. It’s impossible to know whether Armstrong would find herself drawn to the Church now that it’s taken a more progressive face. But her experience of it– likely shocking to those of us unfamiliar with Catholic history– as austerely, oppressively anti-human and anti-secular, forever colored her views on God.

Armstrong left the order because, in her words, she could not pray. She had never experienced consolation; she could not find God. There were little other spiritual paths available to her after such a totalizing experience of alienation, and she turned to scholarship to occupy her fragmented inner life. While reading English at St. Anne’s college and then Oxford as a graduate student, Armstrong came to understand she had never really believed in God. She describes her newfound secularism in gentle, matter-of-fact language: her slide from faith seems inevitable and almost reassuring, as though she had finally been released from its punishingly nonsensical grip. But a new reality quickly replaced it: her undiagnosed epilepsy, descriptions of which glide in and out of snippets of literary analysis and records of relational woes, cased frightening hallucinations and lapses in consciousness that made her feel as though she was living as a shadow.

I’m currently at the part where it seems her life might take an upswing: Armstrong is able to recognize herself and her ghost world in the poem “Ash Wednesday” by T. S. Eliot.

“Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again”

That image of turning again, even against oneself, forms the spiral staircase Armstrong envisions herself climbing toward wholeness. I keep comparing my own journey through and away from and back to faith to hers, and I can’t wait to see where her next step brings us both.

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Design, Nanny, Observations, Self, Spirituality

odds and ends (and i got a job!)

Happy Friday! Are you up to anything fun this weekend? My week took a crazy turn because I started a new job– that makes four! I’m doing communications for a breast + ovarian cancer charity called SHARE. So my weekend will be filled with all the errands and social life I don’t have time for during the week. (ha… social life…)

Anyway, here are five links that will help your weekend get started right.

Gorgeous, eclectic mid-century modern design. 

The most meaningful and intimate (and delicious!) church service I’ve been to.

An obscure German philosopher on the necessity of leisure.

Should we quit forcing children to share?

This movie looks hilarious. JEMAINE 4EVERRRRR.

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Observations, Self, Spirituality, Writing

introducing: an advice column!

Writing on this blog and working my way through The Artist’s Way have been helping me figure what it means to be a writer. I used to believe only novelists counted as writers. People who wrote poems were poets, people who wrote for newspapers were journalists, and people who wrote online were bloggers (and hacks). The esteemed title of “writer” could only apply to those who dealt in that fearsome world of Real Literature, aka Books with Long Ass Stories aka Novels.

Except that the novel was originally considered dumb and low-class anyway. And I barely read novels anymore, making them feel less relevant. Also, if I didn’t write–in my journal, here, or in my writing notebook– I would feel lost. I wouldn’t be able to process my life– writing things down is part of my identity. Besides, isn’t writing just putting words on stuff? And I put a lot of words! And this one time I was even paid to do it! So damnit, I’m a writer!

One of the writing forms I used to poo-poo especially was that of the advice column. When I was struggling with my writing identity in college, a friend recommended I read “Dear Sugar” at The Rumpus— which I recommend you do also– and I thought it was heavy-handed, flowery, and superfluous. The advice column is not an art form, I maintained. Advice is what you dish out over a second bottle of wine, and only when your friend asks for it. It’s sloppy, honest, personal, loaded, off-the-cuff– and oh wait. That sounds like fun!

I guess every advice column ever will be compared to Dear Sugar’s. In case you live somewhere very far away from the writing world (bless you) its author was the real-life main character of the movie Wild (read the book of the same name. Way better, way inspiring.) But instead of comparing mine to hers, I’m going to focus on giving my own advice, in my own way, and I hope to never mention Sugar again except as unrelated to this.

THAT ALL BEING SAID!

I’m starting an advice column.

I get asked for advice sort of a lot in real life (hahahahahahahahahaha no) (well kind of) (more like lots of people tell me their problems and then I give unsolicited advice). And I’m going to transfer some of these questions to written format and answer them here.

Or you can also send me your own: mwant1390 at gmail dot com.

Pretty please? Let’s do this together.

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Self, Spirituality, Writing

the artist’s way.

Have any of you used this book before?

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(Also, have any of you struggled when typing the word “artist’s”? I misspelled it like five times. No? Just me? Ok then.)

I heard of Julia Cameron through her book The Writing Diet, which I picked up on the bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble back in the early 2000’s. I’d been struggling with disordered eating for several years and was desperate for anything to break me out of my funk.

That book was both helpful and not. Julia, bless her heart, is a lunatic.

No sugar, she advised. Absolutely none. She was ahead of the clean eating bandwagon. But the relapses she admitted to having– splitting a dessert at a restaurant with friends–apparently led to major regret and sugar hangovers. If clean eating meant I would get sick every time I ate a dessert– nay, SHARED a dessert– I wanted no part of it. Still, I tried. I lasted less than a day.

However, she also plugged her signature strategies, Morning Pages and Artist Dates. Cornerstones of the emotional healing required to resolve eating issues, Morning Pages and Artist Dates were the one techniques she said were non negotiable.

So they were the one thing I didn’t try. I didn’t lose any weight.

Fast forward to now, when a dear creative friend of mine, Nandita, invited me to join her in working through Julia’s best known work, The Artist’s Way. I prepared myself for lots of pseudo-spirituality and anecdotal evidence and admonitions to move to New Mexico, where people just get it. 

And now I’m on chapter 6, admittedly far behind in the schedule Nandita and I set, and I have to say, it’s working!

I’ll be writing about it more in depth later, but for now I’ll say that the major theme I’m taking away is that we live in an abundant universe where God is waiting and eager to bless us a thousand times more than we can imagine. He’s extravagant. He’s effervescent.

“We have tried to be sensible– as though we have any proof at all that God is sensible,” Julia writes.

OH MY GOD, I felt like shouting. HE’S TOTALLY NOT! THANK YOU FOR SAYING THAT! BECAUSE THAT HAS BEEN MY MAJOR CRITIQUE OF CHRISTIANITY!

‘There is not one pink flower, or even fifty pink flowers, but hundreds. This creator looks suspiciously like someone who might just send us support for our creative ventures.” And you know what? As soon as I started working my way through this book, I landed my first ever paid writing gig. And while it’s not panning out the way I thought, it was enough to encourage me to seek out other paid writing gigs.

(SO, LOL, hire me! Kidding. Well, not, I’m not, but, ya know.)

So the universe does seem to be encouraging me creatively. Thank you, Julia. Thanks for being so woo-woo you. I’m curious: have you used this book, or Julia’s others? What’d you think? 

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Observations, Self, Spirituality, Writing

..aaaaaand she’s back!

I came back this blog for the first time in ages yesterday and realized that those ages were even longer than I’d thought. March?!?! I didn’t fall off the wagon. I apparently jumped off, was trampled, and ended up forty feet under.

March is when my life started moving too fast. I was still in grad school at the time, and around halfway through my thesis advisor had gotten in touch with me for the first time since the previous June– to let me know, casually, that my paper wasn’t media-studies-y enough and I’d have to do it over.

“You might think it sounds like I’m telling you to trash all but the last four pages– and I am— but know this is part of the writing process,” he said in his email.

Cue me attempting to cobble together any usable sources and passages from my original paper (on draft 6, by the way) and writing an entirely new thesis on a different subject in a month.

So that was happening in March. And things with the boyfriend were becoming perilous. He wanted to get engaged sometime soon; I didn’t. Our differences in spirituality and values were putting on weight.

And then I miraculously finished my thesis and graduated, and to fill that loss I picked up a few new jobs– began tutoring ESL and taking this elderly woman for walks. And then I broke up with the boyfriend. And packed in a yoga membership, another teaching gig, and some copywriting.

Basically, I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts. Because they were screaming all kinds of scary things at me.

Like: “Boyfriend loved you like no one else ever will, and you’re selfish not to let this God thing go for him.” And: “Grad school was a waste of time, and you’ll never pay off your loans.” And: “You have no identity anymore. You have no friends.”

At the time of writing, I’m still scared. I’ve been on a few dates, and they’ve ranged from mediocre to borderline dangerous. The copywriting gig is tenuous at best: I’m a total newbie, and my boss has hesitated again and again to give me the client access I need to do a good job, which makes me think she’s about to pull the plug on our relationship and just go back to doing everything herself. Also, I’m only nannying for three days a week now, for Margaret and another little girl I’ll call Winnie. That means a helluva lot less money, and a helluva lot more time with my scary thoughts.

Plus, my parents, who have struggled financially for the last five years, have finally been served with foreclosure papers.

I told that to Bryan, a dear friend, last night. When he took my call he could hear I was crying so he went outside and shut the door behind him, and he told me to try to trust that everything was going to be okay. He’s not religious, but I took it as advice to trust God. Which has historically not gone well for me. In the past, trusting God meant demanding he resolve situations in a particular way and then resenting him when he didn’t.

This time, I tried to listen to Bryan. I hung up with him and sat on my bed, telling myself to trust that God wants me to experience joy, and that he is eager and able to provide my parents with what they need. I tried to think about who God is, and trust that in all this mess, most of which I’ve built myself, some kind of ultimate goodness and joy is guiding me to itself.

That lasted about five seconds.

So here I am again, hoping to get out of the dirt and back on the wagon, but with a new set of concerns. I’m doing a good job of being present to the world. I need to get back to being present to myself.

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