What to do if you have 90 minutes this weekend

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Last night I watched a movie that made me wish I still believed. Not because of the strength of the convictions or arguments of the film, but just because I know that if I still believed I might have some standing to argue that Christians should see this movie. But I’m only a heathen and I have very few Christian friends these days. So instead I will talk to the great wide internet.

The movie is 1994’s Priest and it is a deeply faith-based movie. There will be some spoilers in what I write here, so if you’re concerned, probably you should go watch it. Over the past few years I have watched dozens of “Christian” movies and have found them to be offensively shallow. I may be starting a new blog once I graduate in a few weeks and there may be some reviews on those.

The point is that Priest is not that film. A young priest named Father Greg who believes with all his heart that God has called him to this work. His new parish has an unconventional priest, played to perfection by the wonderful Tom Wilkerson, who sings karaoke with the community and has an ongoing relationship with his housekeeper. Father Greg is gay and when he goes to a bar one night and home for a one night stand, he is horrified when his partner realizes he’s Catholic. His partner only shrugs, “Takes one to know one.” Father Greg runs out the door as fast as he can go.

I assumed this would be a gay romance using the trope of a priest (or maybe two) but this is a much deeper and more painful film than that. While his sexuality is a grappling point for him, it is only one of many. The more central point really comes when the daughter of a parish family confesses to him what her father is doing to her behind closed doors. The man shows no remorse, and Father Greg is sickened and horrified by his choices. What can he do? He tries to drop hints but no one picks up on them. The girl begins having fits at school, her mother works as a secretary. When her mother is with him, he knows the girl is home, with her father.

There are many ways this storyline could have played out. It is the fact that the film takes his pain so very genuinely that makes it successful. Am I frustrated that he doesn’t just call social services, that he doesn’t immediately tell her mother? Absolutely I am. But Father Greg is anguished over his decision, wracking his brain, begging God on his knees to do something, tell him what to do, shouting at him. This is no man following tradition blindly, this is a man torn apart by what he believes is his calling and what he believes to be right.

It is this fearlessness that makes the movie dangerous and sincere. We see him making out with his lover, but it is not a graphic movie in any way. Mostly we see deep and complex conversations about the meaning of faith and the impossibility of being human. Father Greg walks with his lover down the beach, agonizing over this child, and talks about how Christ may have gone to the cross but he went with certainty, he went with the absolute knowledge that God and heaven existed, and that’s not really the same, is it? “He wasn’t human enough,” he says with frustration.

But make no mistake, in spite of all the potentially sacrilegious questions it poses (or perhaps because of them), this movie ends on some of the most deeply sacred acts of love I have seen on film. If I still believed in a kind of Christianity, it would be in the last 10 minutes of this movie.

I know that no Christians I grew up with would watch this movie. There are multiple scenes of men kissing, and they would see much of what was said as a dilution of holiness or what was important about God. But to me, this is the best that faith can be in the midst of horrible circumstances. It is a true representation of someone struggling genuinely with his faith in opposition to what he has been taught, with what he feels the love of God must encompass if it is to have meaning, and with what he believes God has built on earth. These exact things go to the heart of many of my own problems with institutions of religion, but I do believe the members of those institutions should be more often portrayed as real people seeking genuinely.

I don’t know who will watch this movie. My reach is pretty limited. But I hope a few people do. It expires on Netflix at the end of the month, but I’m sure it’ll be around. It’s worth the time.

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Musings on Privilege

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I had a good discussion with a friend today and I was confronted with the reality of my privilege again. We were talking about school and how they were having trouble going back because they would have to work and I asked, confused, if they didn’t get loans. They are very kind and answered that they did but it wasn’t enough.

I listened for a while as they sketched for me the life they were living right now and what that life cost and why and I was really convicted, and angry. Not angry at them but at a system that would force this brilliant person to have to make these kinds of choices. And I start thinking about how lucky I have been.

I have not only been able to go back to school, but I have had a tremendous amount of help. My network is no minor thing. I separate myself from my family but they are so much a part of my existence, like it or not. When my car broke down my aunt loaned me money for a new one. When I needed money to pay for summer tuition up front, my aunt loaned it to me. I have been living in Bellingham for two years in a quite large apartment, free to come and go as I please, paying nothing but a small portion of the utilities, all thanks to the generosity of family members I literally almost never speak to.

When my friend talks about the reality of class and how they have just in the very recent past begun to realize what that means for them, I realize just how intangible it has been for me. I have not had to work hardly at all in the last 4 years. My mental health will always be something I keep an eye on but it is vastly improved and that is certainly largely because of how much my life has improved. And somewhat just pure luck of the draw, I imagine. Even now, as I plan to head off into the “real world” to find a job and such, I am moving in with people I love who are established and who give me a cushion.

I am stupidly lucky, is the moral of this story. My life continues an upward trend not so much because of my hard work and brains, but because I got dealt a good hand. It is stupid and it is unfair that my friend, who is certainly every bit as talented and intelligent as me (if not more so, honestly) hasn’t had the same opportunities because of systemic things that have nothing to do with them.

I feel frustrated and at a loss. On finding out that Trump is the pretty much for sure Republican candidate last night, I felt a sense of profound dread. But talking about it today, I wonder what that means and why. I am a middle-class white girl who will soon have her first degree. Yes, I’m queer but not in a particularly noticeable way. What am I afraid of for my life if Trump becomes president? And if it’s not for me, then am I preparing to use my voice, face, and whatever power I’ve been granted to fight for the people who will almost certainly be disproportionately affected? Am I doing that for people who are being disproportionately affected by things now? Is there a moral obligation to my own position  that I’m not meeting?

I don’t know the answers to any of these things. But I’m asking out loud because I’m hoping that will make it harder to ignore.

Mental Health Musings

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One of the things I never took into account when I was younger was that mental health was not an either/or kind-of state. As a teenager I, like many other teenagers I knew, held onto my depression and anxiety as markers of who I was as a person. I was concerned about medication or the idea of “getting better” because it seemed threatening to my identity.

In the past few years there have been a lot of changes and most of the time I think I come across as a relatively stable person (certainly comparatively). I don’t spend most of my days depressed, I’m very accomplished (most of the time), my anxiety seems well managed, and I feel in general on solid footing. But what I’m gradually coming to realize is that depression doesn’t necessarily go away, so much as take on different, hopefully more manageable, forms.

These days the pattern is pretty predictable. There is a catalyst. It might be a big deal, like my chosen grad school putting off my application (and me correctly being certain it meant I was not going to get in). It might be something smaller like me ascertaining that the girl I’ve been on two dates with and have fairly fond feelings towards has probably decided things aren’t going to work out. Whatever it is, I spend most of the first day rationalizing it. I explain to myself all of the reasons this is a good learning opportunity and all of the things that I will be able to derive from the experience. A lot of them are often even correct, but probably not at the moment. I think about writing a blog, sometimes I do, but usually I put it off until later. I explain to a lot of people why I am fine and all of the many clear reasons that is true.

Then, by the end of the day I feel that part of things end and I start to spiral. I wouldn’t say it’s negative self-talk, although I suppose that occasionally comes up. Mostly everything just seems grey and I feel incredibly, overwhelmingly sad. I can bring myself to interact with others, and sometimes even to be charming but it takes a lot more out of me and I end the day collapsed on the couch staring at the television.

Once that happens I have realized there’s basically nothing I can do to get out of it. I also know it isn’t really about whatever the thing was that happened. My brain just takes that as a reason, or with whatever the catalyst is I go down the path my neurons have the most well-worn? Whatever it is, once I’m to that point I am aware that we just are where we are and it is time to hope it passes sooner rather than later. The one about school took I think close to a week. This one took two days.

I have a lot of frustration about the whole thing when I think about it. Like in some ways it feels out of nowhere every time. The cycle is predictable once it starts but the catalyst isn’t and it always seems like maybe this long period of being okay is the time I have thought my way out of it. Maybe this is the time I have finally made myself “better” (whatever that means). In fact this is far better than it was before. It is predictable and relatively rare. Knowing that it will pass makes it mostly easier to get through and my awareness of what is happening typically makes me more open, which makes people more supportive. It really is a far more sustainable world.

But I think there was some part of me that always just assumed I didn’t get better because I didn’t want to. Like obviously once I decided to get better, I should be totally fine. Except as it turns out that’s not true. I don’t know how many times I will have to realize that I cannot out-think my own brain. But it’s always disappointing.

So you know. Here we are. Everything is fine, and it will be fine. It’s just been a long couple of days and I am somewhat annoyed.

Scattered Thoughts

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Well, the quarter is in full swing. Last week I spent every day doing something, often many somethings.

I have had sewing class, which is very exciting. I can’t say I have changed my world or anything yet but I did make a hat my very own self this week out of a sweater. So that was an accomplishment. I feel kind-of genuinely excited to try more things, which I think is probably the biggest hurdle.

I have not purchased a guitar but I bought one from the school. I haven’t done a lot with it except wonder how on earth people’s fingers are so flexible! But I’m still determined to keep trying.

It’s a weird thing to have so much going on and not know what to write about. There’s so much all at once but also it’s a lot of little, day to day things. I still feel nervous not knowing what I’m going to do for a job but I’ve started the process of reaching out to people and hoping it’ll pay off.

I discovered a new tool for research, thanks to a teacher, called zotero. It allows you to collect all kinds of research into various folders, make notes and tags on each piece. It can be PDF’s, photos, videos, podcasts, anything at all really. At least for me, it’s ideal. And I think it’s good for collecting for all sorts of reasons, whether you’re in school or not. Zotero.org if you’re interested.

I also have been doing work on the Catholic hospital research. There’s a lot and it’s all depressing. But also fascinating. I definitely want to keep researching on it for basically forever.

I don’t know. Life goes on. Everything feels scattered, but generally good.

Wild Geese

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Title in reference to Mary Oliver’s poem, which I have been thinking about a lot this week.

So first things first — I did not get into grad school. I actually thought this would make my next steps very clear. I would just have to get a job and apply again next year, but it turns out it is not quite that clear. I mean, I will have to do those things but now there are other possibilities for applications and maybe nothing will go quite like I thought. It is very possible that in ten years I will look back and realize that not getting in and having to change and/or uproot my whole life was the best imaginable thing for me, but right now everything is uncertain and confusing and I am so not great with transition.

Do you know what is even worse than transition? Anticipation of transition. Ugh.

The day that I found out I wasn’t accepted, I actually was not really that upset. I think it was a relief to finally just know. And my reaction that day was that I had to talk myself down from buying a sewing machine and a guitar. I did not do either because I did not have money yet. But I will have loans either tomorrow or Friday.

I will not be buying a sewing machine yet. My friend and I are going to be taking a sewing class together for the next three Saturdays and I am figuring that by that point I will have a clearer idea of whether I want to pursue that or whether sewing makes me want to die. But I’d really like to be able to make myself a lot more hair scarves. I only have a couple and they look adorable on me, plus they are easy to make (supposedly). Maybe someday I could advance to more complicated things.

But I am going to buy a guitar. I have always wanted to learn to play guitar. There’s really no reason that I couldn’t, probably. So I am going to try. Maybe this year while I am trying lots of new things I can gain some practical skills. I am excited to try.

Meanwhile this quarter is shaping up to be a whole thing. I have three on campus classes, and a couple of independent studies. Tomorrow I get to go out and gather data. And, because I am trying to figure out my whole life, I also get to meet with so many people.

I am crazy grateful that I have so many people to meet with. I know I am incredibly fortunate to have access to so many resources to discuss my future education and employment with. But also it makes me nervous and I have to work on my informational interviewing skills, which have never been great.

So much happening. Not bad things but a lot of things. Life is a weird and confusing place. And adulting is a strange business.

Update

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So I have not been great at follow-through this quarter. Too much going on, I suppose? I was actually just reminded of blogging because one of my classmates made a blog for our class project and I was super excited. Hooray blogs! Someday I will be good about this on a regular basis. Maybe.

I can’t quite give you all a run-down of my quarter yet, or rather I refuse to. I still have one paper left to write and it is obnoxiously hanging over my head. I am not done until those 1500-2000 words are completed. It had better be today. We’ll see. With any luck you’ll get some updates over the next few weeks. I will try to prioritize.

What I can do is update on my last entry. Obviously it has been more than a week, so the question hangs — am I in grad school? The answer is… no. But not no, I am not but no, I don’t know. I was sent an email on that Friday informing me that it was “too close to call” and that I would have an answer regarding my future by March 24th, if not sooner. They are super sorry.

In case you are wondering if I was annoyed, I can assure you that I was not NOT annoyed. But at this point I have returned to a state of zen pretty much, I think. There’s nothing I can do and the next couple of weeks will pass one way or another. Currently my only wish is that I will not be denied this coming weekend, which I feel like would sort-of put a damper on my whole birthday party thing. I am at least grateful that it’s supposed to happen during my spring break so that I can adapt to whatever the decision is before I come back.

So that is my current update. I promise I will talk about more things over the next couple of weeks. Perhaps I will do an entry for each of my classes. We will see!

This Week!

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This is the week. At least, I am relatively positive it is the week. The grad school I have applied to says that they will be letting those of us early applying people (like me, that would be me) know by February 28th. And that is definitely this week.

I don’t even really know what I am waiting for. The website says that they may contact you “via email or postal mail” and why on earth would they choose one over the other? Do they mail out rejections? Do they mail out acceptance letters? Do they only use email for international students? I feel like it would have been great if they had been a bit more clear, but here we are.

I know that everything will be fine, no matter what the answer is, but there is no question that it will be a blow if they deny me. Right now I feel like I am on a good track. I am heading towards something and my general vision of that thing is getting clearer and I will feel derailed if I don’t get to progress straight into grad school.

Who knows what could happen! I will have to find a job either way (although I will be looking for a part time one if I get into grad school).  Anyway. The official countdown has started, I guess. I am feeling nervous. So I thought I would post about it.

Poetry

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So for my Writing Nature class last week we had to turn in at least three poems with some kind of connected theme. We have a “place” that we are choosing to focus on for the quarter, spending as much time there as we can. I have been focusing on a graveyard in my area, which has been really great in a number of areas. But I think my favorite part so far has been writing poems again.

I used to write poems all the time. They were terrible, pretty much universally but I have five books of them. In my 20’s I wrote them occasionally and they weren’t the worst but I’ve not done great at sticking with it. But I’ve written a few for this project and at least one of them I really like and the other couple are maybe okay. So I’m gonna share them because it’s my blog and that’s what I get to do.

Abandoned Cemeteries

The first time I saw the desert my mother told me it was ugly
but I thought
God must be like this
stark and wide, full of clean lines,
his edges unblurred by peat moss.
Maybe that’s why cemeteries never make me think of heaven.

February at the Graveyard

A riot of reds, blues, purples
white, and pink –
but most often red.
Does red seem most alive?

Will pink fade in the sun?
Will silver tinsel hurt the birds?

How does one choose
the perfect plastic heart
to grieve with?

Process

It feels like a waste
all that process,
mechanics.
Who are your parents?
Did your mother breastfeed?
Are you gay
or straight
or do you check a different
box?
How much money did your father make?
What was your first traumatic experience?
When did you first fall in love?

All of that
and thousands more
factors,
nature vs. nurture
as they say.
All to end up with
“Always in our hearts.”

Recover (From) Faith: Christmas Letters

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So when I arrived home after the holidays this year, I found a Christmas letter from a friend with a personalized note for me. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while but I’ve held off to see if anything further developed on the story before I did. It’s possible it still will, but it’s seeming less likely and I’ve decided to just go ahead.

This friend is someone that I met at my former church. She and her husband (we’ll call them Mary and Joseph just for fun) are extremely kind people, in fact I would say they are examples of the best that evangelical Christianity has to offer in many ways. They are extremely openhearted and warm, they bring people into their lives quickly, they love those around them with great sincerity. Their faith is an integral part of their lives. When I met them I was at the tail end of a relationship with my parents and they were both very kind to me. Mary in particular took me under wing in a very sweet way and that meant a lot to me. I very much needed someone to mother me at the time.

When I realized I no longer believed, she was one of the people I emailed. It was awkward? We talked about it a little but not a lot. In the last couple of years we’ve fallen into a strange place — kind-of how I had always imagined how things would be with my parents if I had parents who were more just everyday Christians and less narcissistic and abusive in their reactions. We mostly just avoided it. We talked about a lot of other things. I could always tell she was uncomfortable and I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable but I also didn’t want to not talk about my life… it was just difficult. Needless to say, I haven’t seen her as much in the last few years.

So the note she sent me basically said that she had really enjoyed seeing me over the summer but that it was awkward. It was awkward because there was a lot she wanted to say to me but never did, that she felt like God had been presented in the wrong way to me and she wanted to do it better, that she kept hoping I would see the error in my ways basically. She sent me an article by Rachel Held Evans and hoped maybe I would read it, and maybe I would read her book and we could talk about it.

I had a lot of conflicting feelings about this note. On the one hand, I honestly thought it was quite brave of her to be so open about her feelings like that. It’s not easy to talk about those things. Also it made me realize that considering where we stopped talking, there was probably a lot she didn’t know. After all, when I first sent out those emails I just didn’t have it in me to say “I just don’t believe in God at all anymore.” I wasn’t sure that was true. I wasn’t sure what was true exactly. So from how I phrased it at the time, it did seem like maybe it could be a phase. I could see that.

On the other hand, it is so frustrating. It’s so frustrating to have my experiences discounted. It’s so frustrating to know that she is convinced (and very possibly always will be) that the only reason I left the church were because of bad experiences or because my parents sucked. It’s so invalidating, even when I know that she means well.

It’s true it started out that way. When I first ran, I was just running. But I wasn’t just running away, I was running towards things. And I found things, a lot of things. It’s hard because of course my background has contributed heavily to what I want to do and what I am interested in. But I don’t feel like I am damaged or broken. I feel like I found good things, like I had experiences that were wonderful and those are what shaped my current life. The bad things contributed but, like I’m sure is true for a lot of people in any system of belief, it’s really the good things that make you stay and push forward.

So I wrote her an email back. I tried to be loving and kind, because she is a loving and kind person and I care about her and she deserves that from me. I tried to explain what maybe I hadn’t said before. I tried to explain that this wasn’t on her shoulders, that I didn’t not believe in God because she had failed to show me something. I tried to be firm, to make it clear that I wasn’t coming back to the church but to leave the door open for conversation. I’d be happy to talk. I’d be happy to communicate. I’m happy to have discussions about this, even if they’re hard. I still love you. You’re still important to me.

I said at the end of the email that she could write back whenever she felt comfortable. It’s been a month now and she hasn’t. She still could, of course. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. But I do feel the window is starting to close.

I am not angry at her, or even really hurt. I feel like our relationship has been stalling out for so long at this point that if it was over I could accept that without too much grief. But I am disappointed. There’s only one person from that life who I’m not related to that I’m still friends with, and she’s definitely what my parents would disdainfully call “a liberal Christian.”

So we’ll see. I’m not expecting anything anymore. It’s just sad and disappointing to know that this really was the breaking point for multiple people. I honestly didn’t think that would happen.

Pugs and Nonsense

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Today I got to pet a four month old pug puppy named Bowser. It was the best two minutes of my year so far. Which is not to say that my year has been bad — it has not been. I have had several problems this year that have been ridiculous problems to complain about.

Things like that I am too interested in all of my school topics. I’ve actually never had a quarter like this before? I mean, generally I start at least the majority of my classes hoping I will like them obviously but that rarely works out for me 100%. This quarter I actually started out fairly nervous because I had statistics which… I don’t know if you know this, but things that involve numbers are not my favorite thing.

I will say that as far as statistics goes, I am not without concerns. Although I know it will be fine, it is definitely a lot of work and I have already hit a point where I seem to have done something wrong with the math. Grumble. This concerns me as we are only two weeks in. But my teacher is really great, and I feel confident I can go to her if necessary. It’s actually weirdly frustrating because I feel like it is all kind-of right on the edge for me? Like it all almost makes sense but it has not come quite into focus yet? It’s hard though. My brain is not used to thinking that way. All of that said, it is also super interesting and feels very useful and if I am able to get it to come all into focus, I will feel extremely accomplished.

My other classes are all also very interesting, including all of the reading for them (at least now that I’m done with Thoreau which, fuck that dude). AND my research assistant ISP is setting up to be so fascinating. I get to help out in minor ways on a study to do with social anxiety and also one to do with micro-aggressions against Asian Americans… IT IS ALL SO INTERESTING.

Which again. Is such a stupid complaint. It just is making it like harder to prioritize than usual? I am so interested in everything that I want to spend more time on everything than I actually have. I also end up with so much homework and spending so much time with it all that I am doing homework almost every day of the week. Basically it is a lot to juggle and I am still trying to work on my time management. But you know. I also know that I’m very lucky.

My other ridiculous problem is that my birthday is coming up and I have too many friends and no idea where to take them. I am not complaining about my number of friends. I am so ridiculously grateful for all of the wonderful people in my life, seriously. But also I think that if everyone I would like to see were able to come to my party (which I’m going to end up having late because my birthday is obnoxiously the week before school ends so… you know, I’ll just wait a week and have a blow-out then), it will be like 20 to 25 people. That is a lot of people. I don’t want to take them to a restaurant because then everyone gets kind of stuck at their place at the table and I don’t get to see everyone. And none of my friends have big enough houses to support that. Sigh. So I’m hoping I will get a brilliant idea in the next month or so.

So, that is my update. Life is good. And did I mention the pug? Because seriously. The pug. #pugby40