Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A perfectly ordinary transition...

Change is not easy.


I made a decision this week to leave the first job that I've kept for more than a year and a few months... a job that has influenced my view of myself and of my worth to the world for the last 6 1/2 years. A job that has seen me from my mid-20s to my early 30s... that has been there as a constant through a lot of life changes, a lot of bad decisions, and a few good ones, too. A job that has given me friends from all over the world, and where I have learned that I can be respected for my full, gently eccentric self. A job where I have really loved some of my students --listened to, prayed for, worried about, cried with and for them, and helped whenever and however I could. This is not to say that I was always successful, but my efforts were nearly always appreciated, and I was thanked many times with great sincerity for simply doing my job.

It is not easy to leave such a job. It is not easy to leave my students. When you don't have children but you have as much maternal instinct as I do, it is hard to imagine not having 1,200 "kids" to fret over.

Recent events, though, have turned my attention towards the passion I have for seeing justice done... particularly when it comes to the sexual exploitation of children and young women. I don't think I'd realized exactly how important this is to me until the subject was thrown in my face and I found myself totally ready to fight back. I've really had to think about this, and about what it means for my vocation and my work. Having this sudden opportunity just fall into my lap --for a job that would pay enough for me to realistically begin thinking of paying off my debts-- has started me thinking of what being rid of my debt could mean for my future employment... about the sorts of things I could do to position myself to assist in the fight against exploitation of those women and children who are too beaten down to fight for themselves.

So I took the job with this goal in mind, knowing that this goal will fade into near-nothingness within a short amount of time if I don't forcibly keep it in front of me... and that money can be very seductive. And I'm scared. I'm an idealist, and I'm afraid that I won't believe in this job, and that I'll be miserable as a result. I'm treated with a lot of respect and love in my current job, and it will be difficult to be back in the position of having to earn equal treatment and the care of others. I've also gotten into a routine that has been thoroughly reinforced for several years, and I will have to get used to a lot of new expectations and unspoken/unwritten "rules".

I will also have a massive dry cleaning bill, and will have to get to work on time. These things are probably the worst of all. :^)

So. Here I am... having decided to make the first real career change of my life, and feeling as I usually do, like I'm on Candid Camera and someone's going to pop out from behind something and say "Smile!" and I'm going to be totally relieved and be like "oh good, this was a set-up. Can I go home now?" I woke up in the middle of the night last night, mind racing, thinking "are you CRAZY??" To which I thought "yes. and your point would be...?" but that didn't help me sleep.

LORD God, help me take it one day, one step, one breath and one prayer at a time. Don't let me freak myself out. Stand with me. Carry me. Hold me in Your arms and make me sure of Your presence. I fear my own weakness. Help me to be strong. Keep me honest, LORD. Keep me focused. I need You.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shabbos, or Why Someone Should Publish Mike Stavlund's Book

So last night, halfway through reading the first of four of my poems at a public reading for the SPARK project, I started to cry, and could not stop. Not, at least, until I finished the poem by sobbing my way to the end --apologizing-- and everyone applauded and Patrick brought me some tissues and I made a dumb joke about how the poem wasn't about him and everyone laughed because they needed a tension breaker. I managed to compose myself then, and read the remaining three poems without further incident, but of course, with the bright red nose that hangs around for a good 45 minutes everytime I cry for even a few seconds.

The poem was about a relationship that ended badly, and about my bitter disappointment at being unable to overcome the strains and deep misunderstandings that come in many cross-cultural relationships. The crying... well I think that was about humiliation. The stuff I was writing/reading about happened four years ago. Standing there, reading it out loud in front of a group of strangers, I think it hit me that I was writing about a reality that is as present with me today as it was then. I am not really in a better position w/r/t romantic relationships four years later... except, I suppose, that I am single.

So I decided to take today for a proper Shabbos... the goy version, of course. I kind of stumbled into it, waking up to the sound of the phone as the one-and-only Vince Gamma --who had graciously volunteered to take me to church without my having to ask him-- called to tell me he was waiting outside. I didn't want him to be late to church and I really wanted to go back to sleep so I told him to go ahead... but it didn't take long for me to admit to myself that I didn't want to go anywhere today. I've done, I think, a pretty good job of distracting myself from certain things over the past couple of weeks, and this week provided plenty of other things to think about, some good, some not so much. So. Stay inside. Stay in your pjs. Rest.

Since I've done a fair bit of crying over the past month, I figured I could finally handle reading Mike Stavlund's yet-unpublished manuscript chronicling the birth and death of his son in 2006. It's been sitting in my apartment for months, like an anvil... heavy, solid. My guilt about it has also been heavy (I was, you know, a very good Catholic :^) ), so I was relieved to find that little door open inside myself. Yes, it's time. Pick it up and read it. This was due, also, to my extended meditation this week on the first parable of Pete Rollins' new book, The Orthodox Heretic. I don't pretend to be able to do a really good summary of it, but the bottom line for me was the juxtaposition of a life of saying you love God and your neighbor to a life of actually loving them. I'm quick with words, and I'd promised Mike I'd read this months ago... was flattered that he'd asked, even. Time to stop being a jerk and get to it.

So. This is not a review, because the book's not published and Mike didn't ask me to blab on the internet about it. I will say the following, though, for anyone who has not read the manuscript:

1) I read the 230 page manuscript in 3 hours the first time through. In other words, I couldn't put it down.

2) What I'd been afraid of all those months --finding myself in a puddle of tears the whole time I was reading it-- didn't really happen. I mean, I cried (I cry. It's kind of my thing.), and there are parts of the book that make you feel like someone's sitting on your chest (how could there NOT be). But overall, Mike does a fantastic job of juxtaposing the hard bits with bits that are more philosophical, or telling a connected but less heavy story, or just writing something funny that throws you off course. This is the mark of a truly gifted writer, and one with a sensitivity to his audience. He could totally wallow and no one would fault him for that, but he understands that the reader has limits, and he tries to respect those.

3) Mike Stavlund remains The Best Writer I Personally Know. I flew through the initial reading of the manuscript because he's just a damned good writer: intellectual without being pompous, emotional without being cheesy, poetic without being flowery. The only other writer I know that I can read with this kind of ease is Anne Lamott, and for basically the same reason: they are unapologetically real in the banged-up-awful-shittiness of what happened to them, but without losing sight of grace, and with a beauty and sensitivity to language that makes you whisper parts of their writing to yourself as you read. I can read these guys because they bring the True and the Beautiful together without jacking up or altering either one.

(SOMEONE SHOULD TOTALLY PUBLISH THIS MANUSCRIPT, ALREADY. Aargh. Frustrating to me that I'M reading it and not some big ol' powerful Publisher Person. (sigh) Anybody out there know some big ol' powerful Publisher Person??)

So... a cool and cloudy Sunday spent in my pjs, windows open, birds chatting to each other in the big ol' leafy trees just outside... reading and revelling in the giftedness and graceful brokenness of a friend I'm truly honored and grateful to have. I've finished my second cup of tea and my Chicken Tagine is finished cooking... so it's time to cook a little rice, saute some asparagus and have a meal, already.

A near-perfect Shabbos, methinks. :^)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Phrases that get stuck in a brain

"I wanted to get back in touch with you because you liked me so much and said such nice things about me." (Oh goody! You mean I get to praise you some more??)

"Even my f***buddy was nicer to my Dad than my [live-in] girlfriend. She was just my f***buddy, but she was trying to impress me." (stunned silence)

"One of the things I really dislike about you is how hard you are on yourself." (Goshdarn it!! I need to STOP being so HARD on myself!!!)

"You wanna go in the bathroom and make out?" (um, no... thank you.)

"I'd love for you to come with me to this concert series... until I can find some hot chick to start going with me." (Ah. I think I actually have a conflict.)

...and these are just from the past 5 days. and there are more.

I know I do it, too. I know I say things that hurt when I don't mean them to, and sometimes when I do. I know I make bad jokes. But the above statements are all from guys who are supposed to be friends or who are "interested" in me. I don't know why I attract people like this, but the convent is looking better every day, ya'll.

There's this book by David Foster Wallace (may he rest in peace) called Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. I started to read it a few months ago and stopped because I thought it was too cynical. I am, however, starting to think I could write the sequel.

Just thought I'd share. Sorry if this is a not-so-great post.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

An aural and philosophical delight

Honestly, I didn't think I could adore Pete Rollins anymore than I already did, but these recordings of him reading excerpts from his new book of parables over gorgeous ambient music are the best bedtime stories I could ever possibly hope for. Enjoy!!
God Joins the Army
Translating the Word
Orthodox Heretic - Introduction