Oh, My Word

Note: This isn’t me asking for life advice.  It’s a state-of-the-author sort of thing, and I was hesitant to post it because I’m sure my long-suffering readers grow weary of hearing me talk about my issues.  But I used to be far more confessional and far braver, so, the least I can do is be honest about where I’m at.  Or not at.  Whatever.

Also I realize there are more pressing things going on in the world right now than my state of mind, but if you think I stand anywhere but against racism and bigotry in all its pernicious forms you must not have read anything I’ve ever written ever.  I feel like other people have much better things to say than I could come up with…partially because of my state of mind.  Hence:

“Disenchantment” is the word I’m looking for.

I keep a timeline of events in my life – a Word file tucked away where I make note of significant happenings each year.  New jobs, new friends, new meds, relationships ending, even a few world events.  Anything that will help me place that year in context later when my long-term memory, damaged by years of Ambien use and mental illness, fails to put things in order. 

Not remotely related to anything, but it’s hot as hell and I thought we could all use a laugh.

I’m turning 40 in November, and it’s already got me in something of a state – not so much at the whole “middle age” concept, as at the realization of everything that has happened in my 30s and how much I seem to have lost or forgotten along the way.

In my early 30s things weren’t perfect.  Depression has always been a traveling companion, sometimes in the back seat and sometimes at the wheel.  My 30s started only a few years after the sudden death of my brother sent everything I knew into a tailspin, but at least by 2007 I felt like I was starting to get a few things right.

The first three years or so of the decade so much happened.  I started it in a coven of amazing women, where I got to work with my best friend to create rituals – as a group we were powerful, devoted, and hilarious.  We had so much fun…until we didn’t. 

I started the decade in a relationship.  It was never perfect either, and over time I realized I just didn’t feel the kind of love I felt he deserved.  I might not be capable of that kind of devotion to a human being; I’ll probably never know.  But I ended it with all the skill of a toddler with nuclear codes, as is apparently my MO.   

But all of that loss was tempered, at least somewhat, by what was beginning:  my career as a novelist.  It was the only dream I ever really had; everything else was just an idle half-assed notion.  When I began writing Queen of Shadows I knew it was good.   And when I sold it, and its sequel, without an agent, I thought, This is it, I’m doing it, I’m on my way, this is gonna be so huge.  I can feel it.  It’s happening.  My life is happening.

I was naïve, of course, and I’m sure any other writers out there are sighing and shaking their heads thinking, “Boy were you in for a rude awakening.” 

Yeah, no shit.

But for the first time in my entire life I felt like I was headed the right way.  Like everything I’d learned and done and been through, even the worst things I was still afraid to write about, was going to be worth it.  The possibilities of the next decade, my 30s, my creative coming of age, spread out before me, gleaming like spires of marble under the moon. 

So I’m about to turn 40 and the only question that comes to mind is, What the fuck happened to me?

I’m not talking about my career.  I’ve got some amazing fans and I’m still writing novels, so, as far as I’m concerned my career is still chugging along, even if it’s not really chugging to anywhere.  It’s not going to be able to move forward until I come up with new stories, which as a matter of fact is part of what I’m talking about here.

Looking back at those early years the one word that keeps coming to mind is magic.  Whether it was Craft-with-a-capital-C or the feeling of life soaring out ahead of me on its very own wings, even the lows of those years felt magical.  There was magic in the world, in my life.  I had power, and I used it, and I reveled in it.

2011 was, I think, when I started to lose it.  Was it related to marrying myself, I wonder?  Did the hate I received over Shadowflame do more than just break my heart?  Did the mistakes I made online, which resulted in a lot of pain involving my family, compound that fracture?

That’s not to say everything after that sucked.  Far from it!  Some really cool stuff has happened since then and I’m grateful for every little bit!  But the last half of my thirties has been…well, kind of awful, to be perfectly honest, and again, not because of bad or good things happening so much as the feeling that none of those things really mattered.  I’ve started 100 new projects, I’ve turned over a thousand new leaves.  I’ve tried to affect my physical health, my mental health, my spirituality, and I’ve even tried doing nothing at all.  Every effort (or lack thereof) I’ve made to figure myself out or move in a more positive direction, or at least to figure out what direction to even try moving in, has met with disappointment. 

I’ve begun to feel like that’s all adulthood is – being tired, disappointed, and in debt until you die.

That’s a shitty way to feel! 

Nothing I hoped for in my tender years has come to pass.  Things I thought were a sure bet turned out to be nothing special.  People I love who should be doing really well are constantly beset with pain and trouble they don’t deserve.  The world is kind of going to shit all around us.

That’s life, right?

Is it?

And above all, there seems to be no magic left in my life.  I still meditate, and it helps me stay on a more even emotional keel (relatively speaking), but I feel no connection to spirit, no sense of the sacred in anything. 

A couple of years ago I opened the floor to any deity who’d have me.  “Hey Anybody,” I said, “Just slap me on the rump and I’m yours, we’ll work it out.”  I wanted to be Someone’s again, to have that relationship, to be inspired.   I was willing to work past the issues I’ve addressed before with mainstream religion if I could just feel something.

Nothing.

Not even at church on Easter.  In fact I found myself fighting tears for the same reason I had so many years ago, at age sixteen:  I wanted so badly to feel something, but there was only emptiness. 

Intellectually I still hold to most of the beliefs I always have about deity and the Earth and what matters in life.  Ethically I’ve become even more of a feminist bunny hugger.  But it’s a matter of justice now, not a matter of holiness. 

That hurts.

Thus, my word of the year is apparently one I didn’t choose, but chose me a long time ago and doesn’t seem willing to let me catch a breath of anything but mud. 

Disenchantment. 

The word came to me, oddly enough, in a Tarot reading.  I’ve kept on doing my monthly readings even though I didn’t really do much with them, and last month I got a new deck out of desperation.  My reading for August brought up four water cards, and the interpretation in the deck’s little white booklet stood out in black all caps:

DISENCHANTMENT

Literally, figuratively.

Utterly.

And until I can find a way to re-enchant my life, what do I do?

I finish Shadow Rising.  I hope it still catches my readers’ hearts.  I go to my day job, I come home from my day job.  I work overtime hoping to eventually have a savings account again so maybe someday I can get the fuck out of Texas.  I listen to the Hamilton soundtrack.  I donate to my causes and pray to Whomever might be listening (or not, how would I even know anymore?) that the world finds its way through its own dark night of the soul.  I take my meds, change my meds, adjust my meds, take my omega-3s and magnesium and rhodiola and B-complex and probiotics.  I check things off in my planner and make more lists in my planner.  I keep trying to be vegan.  I wonder at what point a crisis of faith becomes a permanent loss of faith.   I read.  I meditate.  I talk to birds and trees and don’t expect answers.  I fall in love with TV shows and lose interest ¾ through.  I look at cat videos.  I laugh at bad puns. I make stickers for my planner.  I remember what it felt like to teach, and to have something to teach.  I dust my altar.

And I wonder what it’s all for.

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Troubleshooting Your Goals (w/free printable)

That title sure does sound life-coachy, doesn’t it?

Trust me, I’m nobody’s coach. I’m not a role model, not a leader.  I’ve been those things and I wasn’t very good at them.  I’m a woman who screws up utterly on a regular basis and has more issues than Reader’s Digest.  What I do well, however, is turn those issues into something other people can use – my misadventures become something of a crack-addled GPS for people’s lives.

In 500 yards, turn left on Bipolar Blvd. Take the feeder road onto Existential Crisis Tollway. Head north toward Poisonous Envy, Texas.  Bypass Commitment Crossing.

Perhaps it’s foolish to try and think my way out of a depressive cycle, but the last med I tried made me horribly ill, and in begging my shrink to just let me stay on Wellbutrin by itself until our next appointment, I left a large part of my brain undefended.  But I’m so tired…so very tired…of trying new meds, going into the whole routine all over again.  Side effects, worsening, then letting up; hope building, sometimes even convincing me this particular cocktail will be viable for a while…until it isn’t anymore, and here we are again.  This, you see, is what kills us: not the depths of despair we find and are unable to dig out of.  What kills us is having to do it over and over and over again with no real assurance it will ever be any different.

I’ve been on this same bipolarcoaster since 2004 when, after my brother killed himself, A single gunshot two hundred miles away from me managed to blow holes in my entire life.  I’m still dealing with the fallout from that.

At any rate, as I was pondering a long list of questions whose answers have eluded me, I thought to myself, “I could make this prettier, and maybe other people could make it useful too.”

So, here we are – a single sheet download to help you think about any of those long-term goals you were hella excited about in January but have lost your zeal for now in July.  Consider the questions on this sheet and ask yourself, can any of them be rephrased or reframed to make them resonate more with your spirit?  So much of self-discovery is in the wording.

Take this and download it, print it, make copies, share them – just don’t get money for them and we’re square..  I hope if nothing else my design sense can help somebody  out there get her shit together.

What’s Holding Me Back

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Nosce te Ipsum, part 4 – Oh Jesus

All new updated selfie.
All new updated selfie.

I admit to some spiritual confusion of late.

You can infer several things from the stories I’ve told here:

I’m not a Christian. I haven’t been, except in name, since I was a kid.

But neither am I really a Pagan, at least not in practice.

And I’m not an atheist; the very idea terrifies me.

The story I haven’t told is one that I don’t think has happened yet: the story of where that leads me.

I read a lot of memoirs, and my favorites are spiritual memoirs of women. It started with Eat, Pray, Love, and after that I devoured as many as I could find. The thing is, most women who write these stories are devout Christians, usually ferociously Born Again, who talk at length and depth about their relationship with that one particular dude whose name carries more baggage than Carousel 2 at the airport: Jesus.

Here’s the thing. America is currently loaded with terrible, terrible Christians. I feel qualified to make that judgment because a) I’m an outsider and b) I know some fantastic Christians who make the rest look like the greedy intolerant weasels they are.

One of my lifelong best friends and her husband are very devout – they’ve done mission work, helped in refugee camps, she’s been to India to teach at a school for little girls. They are some of the kindest and best people I am privileged to know. They’re not at all in-your-face about it; they just do what they do, emulate the Holy JC as much as they can, and never expect to be perfect. They watch the same movies and listen to the same music I do. She’s one of my most devoted readers. (I have seen firsthand that the nutbars of Christianity do not, in fact, like my books. Go figure.)

Not long ago I attended their Christmas program at their “Denomination? What on EARTH is that?” church, and I had a good time, but my mind spent the evening cataloging the problems – not the problems in their church, but the problems that would keep me from wanting to be involved in it.

That’s the thing, you see. I would give anything to feel like I belonged somewhere. I have no spiritual refuge of my own – aside from that brief, beautiful period when I felt embraced by a coven, before the knives came out, when I felt like I’d found a place I could fit.

Not long ago, while writing these posts and exposing all of this in the hope that others would read it and see themselves in the words, I said to God, “Okay, here I am…I will happily accept and cleave to whatever form or doctrine you see fit to speak through to me. I’ll give it a shot, even if I’ve tried before. Just…talk to me. The writers all say that God wants your hand as much as you want his; I’m holding mine out as far as I can stretch. Just meet me, and you’ve got me. Trust me, I’d make a great whatever-it-is you need.”

Nothing. I’ve learned not to expect anything more.

One of these memoirs sounded very much like me: a child who grew up with weird superstitions beliefs about God eventually said “What in the FUCK are you guys on about?” and stopped believing. Then after a long while of showing the reader how miserable she was, she decides to basically “fake it till she makes it,” and starts living “what if” – what if God was real? What if Jesus was really the Savior? What’s so wrong with thinking that…and so on.

I had to put the book down. That was it? A cheap psychological trick brought this woman’s faith back?

Put another quarter in the Disillusionment Jukebox, which only plays Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

I long for the Presence of the Divine as some people long for college degrees or children. These churches I see now, of the type that my friends attend, are modern and interested in the real world, and somewhere amid their travels and adventures and toils my friends have struck to the heart of their faith; they know what they believe.

I can’t remember the last time I knew what I believed.

Here’s where it gets dicey, though. There are some things I know, and those things keep me from considering the “fake it till you make it” branch of the First Thespian Church of WTF.

I do not believe there is only one God, or that God is male. Or rather, I believe there are a thousand faces of God, some male and some female, and that none are more or less valid to their adherents. Think of it – a deity who loves Her creation so much that He is willing to put on any face they ask for, any costume that will help them speak to Her. God will be a hundred Gods to touch the hearts of a hundred humans. To me, that’s amazing, that God could love us enough to be so many things because She wants to hold all of us – to meet us as we are. The point is that to me, they are in fact all facets of a single diamond – the All that Is, the Great Mystery, whatever you want to call it. I am still, at heart, a panentheist.

I won’t go into any of the political issues I have with how the Bible has been used to browbeat our entire culture. I’m sticking to theological issues here, and my issue is that no, I do not believe the Bible is the full-on revealed word of God. I mean, seriously? If it is, God needs to get himself a better editor and a damn good agent. From my earliest religious studies classes in college (I was a philosophy of religion minor) I loved the idea of the Bible as this centuries-spanning anthology that gathered the experiences and wisdom of all these known and unknown authors. It painted this amazing picture of life in those times, and how human values have stayed true but human understanding of the world and of God has evolved…but I never once thought it was 100% Revealed Truth. Too many contradictions, not just in the doctrine but in the writing itself. I thought people could learn a lot about how to live, and how NOT to live (something about the going price of virgins stuck in my craw), and glean important spiritual wisdom, but taking it wholesale as word-by-word revelation?

I could get around most of that, though. Obviously there are as many ways of approaching the Bible as there are people to try it. What unites a church or any congregation isn’t belief as often as it is practice. We meet these times to do these rituals, because they bring our community together and help us all feel closer to God. I could tell you what churches my parents attended and what happened there, but if you ask me what my parents actually believed…I’d be guessing. There’s not a spot in most services for people to stand up and say “Hi, my name is Sylvan, and this whole I-Gotta-Have-a-Savior thing is just crawling up my butt like a swimsuit in a Jacuzzi.”

Because that’s where it all breaks down for me. Jesus. It’s not his fault, really; the historical JC is, as far as I know, a hell of a guy. Or was.

But the whole thing about God sending his kid to suffer horribly and make us sit through another freaking Mel Gibson movie to take away our wrongdoings…I just don’t buy it.

I’ve learned the importance of JC as an intermediary – God is huge and unapproachable, Jesus was a regular guy with an extraordinary family tree.   Catholics do much the same with Mary, and I’d be more on board with that (Goddess worshipping Pagan that I’ve been) except Catholicism kind of skeeves me out.

The idea that if I say “Hell yeah Jesus died for my sins and I’m all up on that!” I get this magical new life where JC is my friend and all my troubles I can hand over to him because clearly he has nothing better to do besides catch up on Orange is the New Black…nope, I don’t buy it.

The problem here is that this expects me to believe in a very specific entity with a very specific origin story who is the only person who can rescue me from the craphole my life has become and redeem me from my old ways.

I don’t believe in Batman either.

I suppose some of that may sound hostile. It’s not meant to. It’s genuine frustration. I want something to believe in. I want to find a place to hang my soul when I come in at night. I want to feel the sense of comfort and joy that those I know who have this remarkable relationship with JC have. I see the gorgeous sacred art on Pinterest drawn inside note-taking Bibles and I can’t imagine feeling that strongly about anything I’ve ever heard a god say to me. So instead I illuminate song lyrics and quotes by Rumi.

I would totally be a mystic if I had any kind of discipline, but it’s mighty lonely out there for a mystic. As I said, my problem is one of belief, but also one of connection. I feel very little connection to anything anymore:  life, the world, human beings, nature. I am a tiny boat adrift, using my wifi to make it seem like I have a life, when really, I haven’t seen land in years.

When I see memoirs written by women who haven’t even passed 35 yet I’m skeptical, because, how can anything huge enough in your life have finished enough for you to write a book on it before 35? Hence, these posts, which have no resolution…only more questions.

 

One of these days I should make a list of all the spiritual memoirs I’ve read and post it here. Hmm.

 

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Nosce te Ipsum: Part Two: It’s in the Water

All new updated selfie.

Let’s go back in time a little bit.

I was raised with a typically schizophrenic Protestant image of God:  one the one hand he was this all-loving daddy figure who wanted everyone to get along, but on the other, if you put a toe out of line he’d throw you into a fiery pit (because he loves you).  Honestly I never thought about it much; church was just something you endured until it was time to go home and have Sunday dinner.

During Revival season everything was turned up to 11.  If you aren’t Protestant or hip to the lingo, a Revival happens a couple of times a year to re-energize people’s commitment and uses charismatic speakers and guest musicians to try and bring new blood into the fold.  Sunday School had special lessons, got to watch movies, did cooler craft projects.  There were ice cream socials and all sorts of gatherings.  I always looked forward to Revival because people were a lot less dour – something about all the hallelujahs felt right, or at least more right than the muttered call-and-response of a typical service.

One year our teacher sat us all down and showed us a movie about something called the Crucifixion.  I’d heard of it in vague terms during hymns and sermons, but it never really registered that this was something that was actually supposed to have happened to a guy, and moreover, that God shoved his own kid off his cloud to be born, grow up, and then be tortured to death.  The nuances of the story and any sort of theological depth were of course lost on me – but the blood wasn’t.

Our teacher let us watch what amounted to a very mild version of Mel Gibson’s Jesus Chainsaw Massacre from a few years back.  It was definitely way more violent than children needed to see (this was back when people freaked out over children seeing violence, not just sex), but still fairly tame.  Still, I was cursed with a fantastic imagination, and the sounds of whips and taunting voices made me very uncomfortable.

(Looking back, the memory of that film reminds me very strongly of undercover footage I’ve seen of slaughterhouse kill floors.  Just think about that for a minute.)

What I wanted to know was why.  Not “why did people kill this good person,” because even at that age I didn’t need an answer to that one.  I wanted to know why any of it was necessary.

I was told that we were all sinners, and in order to save us, Jesus had to get the torture porn treatment.  Because God let stupid humans kill his son, we could get into heaven.  All we had to do was feel bad about it, then say we believed it was true.

Wait, what?

I didn’t really have the vocabulary or the mental acuity to work out why I found the whole thing just a little hard to swallow, but it didn’t matter: logical answers weren’t the currency of the Southern Baptist ministry.  The teacher began a long lecture, looking each of us in the eye repeatedly, telling us that it was OUR FAULT that Jesus had to suffer, and that ALL THAT BLOOD WAS FOR US, and LOOK HOW MUCH IT HURT, and YOU MADE JESUS DO THAT, AND DON’T YOU WANT TO MAKE IT UP TO HIM?

I’d never felt such soul-sucking guilt.  I felt awful.  Terrified, ashamed, small.  I thought that somehow I, a little girl in a ruffly dress with a heart full of secrets, had been so bad that my badness traveled back 2000 years and killed a nice man.

I cried.  A lot.  And whatever prayers or vows or penance the teacher gave, I hit my knees and did it.  I’m sorry Jesus.  I didn’t tell them to do that.  I would have told them not to.  I’m so sorry.

As I walked up the steps to the baptismal a few days later, in a heavy robe over my jeans and t-shirt, I had the weight of the world on my shoulders along with the scratchy fabric.

It had been a confusing few days.  Everyone was so happy for me, like I’d gotten an A+ in Savior-cide 101.  Didn’t they get it?  I personally was so bad, so fundamentally screwed up just by virtue of being born – let’s not even count actual bad things I’d done, or things that might have happened to me that I believed were my fault – that my badness forced God to kill his own kid.  I couldn’t even conceive of circumstances that would drive my parents to kill one of us for any reason. Sure, fine, we were all sinners and had fallen short and so forth…but I took it very, very personally.

There was no sense of joining a fellowship, no joy in finding a place at the Heavenly Father’s Table or even the Heavenly Kids’ Table.  I didn’t feel uplifted or blessed.  I wasn’t thankful for the great sacrifice that would lift me out of bondage.

I felt like a murderer.

I was nine years old.

I was so nervous when I waded out into the warm water (in case you don’t know, Southern Baptist churches that aren’t situated near a convenient dunking stream often have basically a wading pool up behind the choir loft, the walls around it painted to look like a riverbank.) that I forgot my teacher’s advice to hold my nose while my arms were in the dunking position; I sputtered and coughed, but everyone was yelling “Amen” and didn’t really notice.  The preacher, of course, righted me and made sure I was okay before patting my shoulder and sending me along so the next kid could have his turn.

Hopefully that lucky young man had no idea I’d just peed in the water.

Up next, Part Three: How to Lose Your Religion in Four Days

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