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I tried to post this comment on Studio 360’s website, but it was too long.

I read this book last year when you first suggested it. At that point I was on the cusp of coming out to myself, but wasn’t there yet. I’ve also been drenched in conservative Christianity since birth. And I wrote my dissertation on African American history. So I was very eager to read this book, but it just didn’t click for me. The faith aspect didn’t work. I didn’t recognize the Christians I knew in the main character. He was so ambivalent about faith and yet controlled by it. The folks in Christian circles I know are so much more passionate about faith and gripped by this desire to be close to God.

But when I started thinking about writing this comment, I realized nine months of being out to myself might just have changed my perspective on this. I’m starting to realize how entrenched my own internal homophobia has been. I don’t care any more what the Bible says about stuff, but I do care immensely that I maintain a good relationship with my mom. How does one do both, when my wonderful mom believes that faith in God is the most meaningful thing in life, and indeed the only way to have meaning in life. She is more willing to accept my homosexuality as long as it doesn’t alienate me from God. Well, I’ve been alienated from a didactic God far longer than I’ve been aware of my own sexuality, and for many reasons other than sexuality (though that is a major piece).

So I guess I can understand better how the main character could basically be alienated from his faith in high school, but continue to feel controlled by it–something I couldn’t understand when I read the book initially.

I do think one of the reasons I had such a hard time with the book is that so many of my own objections to Christianity are rooted in my identification as a thinking woman. The kind of Baptist church I was raised in praised schoolwork, introduced me to the possibilities of literary criticism and multiple translations, and yet I walked away with this idea that becoming a scholar was one of the most demeaning of life choices. Really, an arm-chair intellectual, when I could be a missionary? (African American history has in some ways continued this line of thought–though replacing missionary with activist). It is hard for me to believe that my thirsty mind is the sign of health instead of latent wickedness that needs to be curbed.

But the main character in this book does not seek an intellectual understanding of Christianity, nor does his problems or wrestling with faith really arise from his mind. So I had a hard time relating to him, when I thought that I would perfectly relate to the book based on your interview. Maybe that is an indication of the success of the author in achieving this very particular narrator, who is not very smart–and how rarely, really, we read a novel written from that perspective.

But my biggest frustration was that I did not come away from the book with new insights into this thing that is such a close and yet often hated aspect of myself. I thought perhaps as an outsider, he would be able to introduce me to new aspects of the faith, particularly as it is explored in the South (I’m from the West).

I’m still not sure whether my frustration with the book is either the author’s fault of writing or my fault in imagination.

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Tattoos have become the ubiquitous cliché of subversive cool. Like kooky eyeglasses and statement haircuts, they are props for people who would like to announce to the world that they are interesting. But in the vocabulary of personal style, there is something jarringly inarticulate about a tattoo.

I feel all of a jangle these days trying to craft my new self while emerging out of 29-almost-30 years of experience of being half me and half someone else masquerading as all the stuff I thought I should be.

I want to be outre and cool and a hipster and have kooky eyeglasses and a statement haircut and a tattoo. I’ve tried to get the statement haircut twice now and failed–once because the Mandarin speaking hairdresser did not believe me, despite the fact that I brought in pictures. The second time I didn’t bring in pictures, relying upon going to an English speaking hairstylist. I told her I wanted an asymetrical cut, but instead she just straightened out the bob the previous guy had given me.

I want cool clothes, but nothing feels cool on this chunky, muscular body of mine. I got all these shirts with wild patterns and interesting cuts, so why do I still feel so dowdy?

I wouldn’t mind being a hipster, but I’ve never seen a large hipster. It seems they all are straight up and down, like modern day flappers.

I want to look gay and I’m terrified to look gay. I don’t know what fits me better–skirts and heels or more masculine clothes. Part of me would also love to be a crunchy granola type (I am, after all, relying entirely on bike, foot, and bus transportation!). But again, there are few XLs in that style and even fewer that look decent. Unfortunately, XL just needs a lot more structure to the top than organic cotton usually comes in.

And then I want to do and do and do, but I’m also pretty darn exhausted these days. From not eating well enough? From biking everywhere? From working longer hours and at a faster pace than usual? Is my body slowly beginning to release tensions that I have carried around for years?

And I’ve only been here a couple of weeks–why does it bother me that I haven’t plunked on down in a community yet? I mean, last weekend I went to three things (a gallery opening/cocktail hour, an outdoor play, and a minor league baseball game). Yesterday I went to a dance club (which was a big downer–probably at least part of the reason for my mood. The same group of gals I met online is going to a movie tonight and I just don’t think I have the energy to bike downtown again. I just got home from some afternoon errands/ finding a better web connection to watch my first hour of tv in almost 3 weeks).

And what do I want? Do I want to spend my off hours reading harmless lesbian fiction that makes me feel more connected to the lesbian identity that sometimes feels rock solid and sometimes feels very shaky? Is fluff harmless? Or reading something more in-depth, like the history books I don’t have time for in my job right now? Do I want to spend the off hours working on polishing chunks of the dissertation into publishable articles? Do I have any brain left after working all day? Or do I want to do art? All of these things are lonely activities. What about finding a tennis club, or a dance club, or something else to do with folks? Or go to movies by myself? Or get my library card and new license and sign up for the gym and find the rest of the furniture I “need” and all that house-setting up I need to do? What about spending time with my cat, who is lonely without someone home with him all day (either me, or E, or Grandma, as has been the case for the past 2 years) and who doesn’t yet have a good scratching post because I can’t find one. I went in search of a petstore supposedly downtown, but couldn’t find it. Should have called first before riding my bike all the way over there!

Why do I feel like I have to do all these things at once? Oh, and I also want to write–write for this blog, and for my professional blog, and in my journal, and maybe on the couple of pieces of non-history fiction and non-fiction in my brain, as well as polishing diss stuff. And I’d love to work on some kind of a comedy show or something to get me back on stage. The only thing I’ve watched this summer is Last Comic Standing and I’m starting to think a minor career as a comedian wouldn’t be so bad. Actually it’d be very fun. I love to make folks laugh and sometimes i can be the life of the party. But I need to start writing down my observations in a humorous way.

And then there’s stuff like just figuring out where to put all the clothes currently in some state of dissaray between my closet and the floor and my suitcases. For awhile I ran out of hangers and I don’t have a dresser, so suitcases it is.

All this anxiety about who I am is driving me back to images of self-harm. I thought I was done with those. I’ve also been feeling my heart in my throat–because I’m back on caffeine or am I having panic attacks? They don’t normally happen when I am any more or less anxious, but then I am riding on anxiety these days. I saw a psychiatrist here (took 9 miles of riding–which doesn’t seem a lot compared to the 42 miles in 2 hours my friend rode the other day, but I do have a comfort bike and she has a road bike!) But therapy doesn’t really start helping until you’ve established a relationship with someone–and the psychiatrist wants to know all about me, but he only prescribes medicine. I have to wait almost a month to see my new therapist (would have been even longer–almost 2 months, but I requested someone comfortable with LGBT folk and that person had an earlier opening). I was great, I thought, when I left CA. Why am I falling to bits now?

And who the fuck am I? And why can’t I meditate? Is it because I feel like I “should?”

And again I forgot to go to the store (stopped at the farm stand for fresh peaches and blueberries and ivy for my porch), so i can’t make more coffee b/c I have no filters. Tomorrow it is a must, because I’m out of two meds and will need to get refills. I hope the Kroger down the street has $4 generics! Maybe I should call ahead of time? Yathink?

I’m sorry I only seem to write here when I’m anxious or frustrated or angry.

By the way, I started this article off with the tattoo reference because it is another place where I feel jangly. I want a tatto0, but I’m too nervous to even go into a tattoo parlor. All these different places I think I’ll be laughed out of–bike stores for being too chubby, hiking stores for being too urban and chubby, boutique clothing stores for being too chubby, gay places for only having just come out and being too chubby and also kinda boring.

But I’m not boring! And I’m cute in my own way! But it is a sign of a depressive funk for me to have lost all my self-esteem. Gone. Out the window.

Which brings up another pet peeve and then I’m done. Folks my age and older complain about this generation of undergrads for having too strong a self esteem. Ummm, isn’t that we wanted out of the 80s? Isn’t it better to have self-esteem than this tearing apart of myself, ice-pick and butcher knife at the ready, that seems to happen to me? Is it because academics are usually on that precipice of insecurity/arrogance so they dislike someone who is just stably self-assured? let’s try to figure out a way to work with these kids as they are instead of change them into insecure manic producers like ourselves? ‘K?

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I really feel like I’m coming to all the gender discussions late. Growing up in uber-conservative Arizona made me a little scared of the Women’s Studies departments. And you know, I was probably running away from my identity–like somewhere in my psyche I knew that as soon as I started hanging out with aware women I would wake up to my real sexuality. And that was damn scary. This avoidance continued into grad school. It was also partly because women in history didn’t interest me in the way that men did–because it seemed like men did everything cool. So not true. Now I dearly love the women I’ve discovered through my diss and only wish I understood gender more thoroughly in my analysis. [I haven’t been talking a lot about my awakening on this blog out of respect for my estranged husband. It’s now so much a part of my life that I can’t keep it in and continue with this blog.]

That was one of my goals for the summer–to read some books about black women’s feminism.

So, to get to the purpose of the post (because it is impossible for me to start discussing anything without a personal caveat/background info…bad habit on my part). Today’s sermon by a guest preacher at my Grandma’s Methodist church gave a tribute to fathers. Not surprising, given that it is Father’s Day.

But the way he framed it got my brain really churning about the meaning and purpose of gender–what our society thinks it is and also what it should/could be.

The pastor opened up by quoting Obama (“don’t know what you think of our president these days” he begins) from his Father’s Day speech a couple of years ago noting that children desperately need a male presence in the house. Question number 1, is this true? Or is it the case that children need stability and love? Can two women raise healthy sons and daughters? One of my favorite blogs right now is “Lesbian Dad.” Her and her wife’s kids sound pretty healthy to me.

The preacher mentioned his experience in the local high schools through mentoring programs and how often the “at risk” kids come from single parent homes. Is this a correlation? What are the factors being correlated? The lack of a masculine presence? Or a cycle of children raising children? Or poverty? Or a combination of these and many other factors?

The pastor chose to see it as the lack of a specifically male presence. He then related this to the need for us to understand God as a “Father” in order to experience Him as a relational being. He recount his experiences in seminary breaking down the boundaries of patriarchy. In order to purge patriarchy from Christian discourse, he and his friends decided to change the trinity from Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to Creater, Deliverer, and Sustainer. He said that this change from relationship words to role words was the emotional equivalent to him of changing his greeting from “Thanks, Dad” to “Thank you, Breadwinner.”

The world is unarguably a gendered place. We can describe it as such. Should it continue to be so? Or rather, should sex and gender be so closely tied to each other? I remember a couple of years ago listening to an interview with a lesbian couple with many children and how they taught their kids that there were different kinds of energy–masculine and feminine (or maybe they gave them different names)–and that different individuals have those energies in different proportions. Cannot a woman teach a young boy how to be in the world? How to live and move and have his being? How to express the truth of his insides in a way that is considerate of others, responsible to society, and full of integrity?

See Lesbian Dad’s “Baba’s Day Proclamation.” One tidbit:

Whereas Baba is a wonderful parent whether or not she’s socially recognized or understood, but the truth of it is that things will be a heckuva lot easier for her kids if more people considered, ideally even appreciated, that the spectrum of gender, and therefore quite naturally the roles “mother”  and “father,”  includes a rich band of people smack dab in the middle;

Ok, so to the next question. Do we understand God more intimately by calling “Him” a “Father?” What do we understand through that that we would not by calling “Him” Creator? One of my great spiritual questions these days is just who is this “god” we speak of so much. I know lots of attributes of “God” and lots of roles He inhabits…but this feels like just so much facade or decoration. People look at me funny when I ask this question and rarely give me more than the list of names or attributes. So i gotta figure out a better way of asking the question. I feel like the preacher’s argument is a circular one–God is a relational god, so to understand him, we need to call him Father. Or the other way. Father is a relational word. God is the ultimate Father. Thus God is relational. Is this a problem of language? That the only way to understand God is to have a gendered noun for him b/c that’s the only way English understands relations? In the Filipino language (just forgot the name of it) all siblings are just siblings. You have to add an extra word to make them my male sibling or my female sibling. Now sibling and parent feel a little bit distant for us as words–but that is not necessary.

Grandma really appreciated the sermon because it made her think about how much she appreciated and loved her father, as I do mine. But I love my Dad because of the time he invested in me. Because of the ways he was different from my mom and so taught me a different way to move through the world. Not because he somehow taught me what it is to be a man. At least, I don’t think so.

My brain is in a muddle as usual.

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There is so much to update you on and not enough energy to do it tonight. Short recaps:

ran out of insurance coverage on my prescriptions. Anti-depressants cost 320 a month. All the scientific and faux evidence questioning the validity of anti-depressants come crashing through my carefully constructed shell. Try to wean myself down to a cheaper, smaller dose. Persistent sense of sadness returns with dizziness, exhaustion, and desire to eat a straight chocolate diet.

Went to an amazing play last night that basically captured my life situation and that ended on a very sad, hopeless note. Very prophetic of my own life at this point. Powerfully moving play, but not necessarily something to help me get up in the morning.

Went to a symphony tonight. Was very tired beforehand, but stuffed myself full of 75% off Cadbury mini-eggs (they are a menace I tell you) and had the energy to listen closely. My companion was disappointed in the music. I was sitting between her and an older gentleman with the sweetest face and the strongest odor. He kept trying to start a conversation with me, but I had a very difficult time facing him and breathing. I breathed very shallowly through the whole first half. Then I went outside and breathed deeply and took the opportunity to move forward a couple of rows. My companion chatted with him and I thought that was a good thing b/c they were of a similar age. Afterwards she tells me that he is a Holocaust victim in the week of the 60th anniversary of his mother’s death in the gas chambers. He survived, but was castrated (probably the cause of his odor, I imagine). I knew I should have had the moral strength to get through the smell!

Mom is doing much better with me. We are renegotiating boundaries and learning what to say and not to say. She is trying her best to love me while also freaking out. I am mourning the loss of her as a confident, but also trying to give her as much space as possible while also continuing to talk with her as I normally do.

The cat is healing nicely from his injury, wore me down to let him outside, and refuses to make any money to help with our quickly depleting resources. At least he seems to be staying away from other cats and their claws for now.

Still flightless to MI. Trying to figure out the best and cheapest way to travel. Would like to go to the alumni party for the free stuff and chance to meet the president. I’m a party person and its graduation after 7 years!!! Gotta get happy.

I’m teaching Sunday School tomorrow for the adults and woefully unprepared, other than a highly detailed dream about all that could go wrong. Will wing it tomorrow and see how it goes. *sigh* Want to use it as a chance to encourage the English speaking part of the congregation to think about the way they interact with other cultures and races, and also as practice for talking about my research in front of a non-academic audience. Still, should have prepared more carefully. Just couldn’t get my mind to settle when I opened up the appropriate documents.

Leading book club on Wednesday b/c it was Gma’s turn and she didn’t feel able to with the way her eyesight is “right now.” Bless her, I do hope it gets better, but don’t know that it will. It’s an interesting book, but also full of atrocities and in my fragile emotional state tends to walk right through the wide open door and make me miserable. Yet I try to read a light hearted mystery and get bored.

So much for not writing much. Ending now. Other than to recount my other embarrassments–cried on the phone to my advisor and told my roommate from college’s current friends a story about “when we lived together.” Not a big deal, except it was the first time I’d gone out of the house in a more masculine style and I realized the way it could be taken. She assures me all is well, but I remain embarrassed. So very much to learn and accept and project confidence through.

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Eating in Italy

Quotes from the Italy section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love that rang true for me.

Oh, Lord–responsibility. That word worked on me until I worked on it, until I looked at it carefully and broke it down into the two words that make its true definition: the ability to respond. …

Virginia Woolf wrote, ‘Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword.’ On one side of that sword, she said, there lies convention and tradition and order, where ‘all is correct.’ But on the other side of that sword, if you’re crazy enough to cross it and choose a life that does not follow convention, ‘all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course.’ Her argument was that crossing of the shadow of that sword may bring a far more interesting existence to a woman, but you can bet it will also be far more perilous. …

The Bhagavad Gita–that ancient Indian Yogic text–says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection. So now I have started living my own life. Imperfect as it may look, it is resembling me now, thoroughly.” …
“Yet I don’t get depressed here. I can cope with, and even somehow enjoy, the sinking melancholy of Venice, just for a few days. Somewhere in me I am able to recognize that this is not my melancholy; this is the city’s own indigenous melancholy, and I am healthy enough these days to be able to feel the difference between me and it. This is a sign, I cannot help but think, of healing, of the coagulation of my self. There were a few years there, lost in borderless despair, when I used to experience all the world’s sadness as my own. Everything sad leaked through me and left damp traces behind.”

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Dying to the self

A phrase I grew up with in evangelical circles was to “die to yourself” … in other words, to not be selfish and to take on Christ as your identity. I would get angry that everything “good” about myself should be attributed to God while everything “bad” about myself was my own. On some level, I thought this was a good level of humility to have, but at other times it was a major struggle for someone with already such a low self esteem.

As I continue to read the Jon Kabat-Zinn book I mentioned yesterday, I thought this was an interesting reformulation of the “dying to self” idea.

“By taking a few moments to ‘die on purpose’ to the rush of time while you are still living, you free yourself to have time for the present. By ‘dying’ now in this way, you actually become more alive now. This is what stopping can do. There is nothing passive about it. And when you decide to go, it’s a different kind of going because you stopped. The stopping actually makes the going more vivd, richer, more textured. It helps keep all the things we worry about and feel inadequate about in perspective. It gives us guidance.”

I still sort of wonder what the “it” is that is giving us guidance. Our inner selves, informed by what we read and our culture?

“Try: Stopping, sitting down, and becoming aware of your breathing once in a while throughout the day. it can be for five minutes, or even five seconds. Let go into full acceptance of the present moment, including how you are feeling and what you perceive to be happening. For these moments, don’t try to change anything at all, just breathe and let go. Breathe and let be. Die to having to have anything be different in this moment; in your mind and in your heart, give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are. Then, when you’re ready, move in the direction your heart tells you to go, mindfully and with resolution.”

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It’s a good thing I didn’t sleep through church today (Grandma had to wake me two times). The sermon today was pretty much directed right at me. (He said later that it wasn’t “just for me” and the texts were the ones on the liturgical calendar). Still, it was fairly clear that some of our conversations had spurred his thinking.

The Bible texts were about prophets being shunned in their own country. He talked about civil rights leaders, finding support even in times of struggle, and we sang the two most famous African American hymns (We Shall Overcome and Lift Every Voice and Sing–I tried to sing out so that the earnest little old ladies might know where we were going). He shared some of the times when he spoke the truth to people and they weren’t ready to hear–namely three times he realized during pre-marital counseling that two people weren’t suited, but they got married and then divorced. He also mentioned some things about why history is important, and suggested that “someone” do a study on the faith basis of the Civil Rights Movement. And indeed, “we” the congregation might have the resources to do just that (and looking right at me). Afterwards he asked if I would be interested in leading a couple of sessions on the faith of the CRM. I said I probably could in April.

I really appreciated it. I like it when people talk about living through suffering, and finding God there in the midst of it, rather than talking just about overcoming it. God doesn’t promise good people blessings for a life of faith, in my opinion (I know there are many Christians who think God does just that.)

Before we left, I started reading Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris. Acedia is an ancient word for a kind of temptation that monks in particular suffered (and by monks, I mean the desert fathers–about whom I’ve heard much lately and know very little). It was a kind of torpor, boredom, spiritual depression that people who work by themselves are particularly liable to. I think it may be an accurate description of the spiritual malaise that accompanies my depression, but I’m not sure. I’ve talked often here about how I feel like I do not give back enough–that I am too settled in a comfortable life. According to the amazon.com page on the book, Norris talks about how acedia can mean the paralyzing despair that liberals find themselves in when they discover all the world’s problems and how little mark we as individuals actually make on them. But there’s something off about my reaction to the book. It’s like Norris is speaking in a parallel universe, where I recognize that her words should mean something to me, but when I think about them, they actually don’t.

My spiritual despair has very little to do with boredom (though now as I say that, I do realize that I express a need to pursue new things quite often, and get bored when church is too repetitive). Well, repetitive in a way that I don’t agree with. At the end of every methodist service here, we hold hands in a circle and sing a song of blessing. When we give the offering, we sing the doxology. Those are things I don’t get tired of.

I have lots of other books sitting around waiting to be read in my time off–a novel by Carrie Fisher about a woman bi-polar whose husband leaves her for another man (which I may have lost patience with), the book on Women writing about the Bible that I mentioned before, the memoir Eat Pray Love because it’s been coming up a lot lately in my podcasts and I feel out of touch, a Terry Pratchett novel I started on the plane and never finished, Your God is Too Small by J.B. Phillips per my mom, an article on Marilyn Robinson in Christianity Today and a pile of New Yorkers. Oh, and a book on interfaith dialogue I got for Christmas. Then there’s the stack of half research, half keeping up in my field books that I’ve collected or brought with me–the new, and depressingly boring, history of the NAACP, a nicely written history of the Urban League, collected writings of Randolph Bourne, and on and on it goes. Then there is my art and the gym and the crossword puzzle (which is helping my google injured brain remember names and words without that look of pain that often crosses my too young face for those kind of memory lapses).

And then there is the always distracting internet. What to do with my bit of rest time on Sunday afternoon before trying, desperately, to get Chapter 3 done? Amazingly enough, it’s actually going fairly smoothly (given how many dozens of times I’ve edited the pieces of this, I am glad for that at least). I figured out the larger point of the chapter and just have to weave that through the rest of the text, write a new intro, a few mini intros/conclusion and a new conclusion. Plus I received a new bit of information after putting the chapter to bed that I need to make a bigger deal of. And evidently, I need to spend almost an hour typing away at my blog.

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