218. flak

depression Lately I’ve really been into John Green’s Crash Course: World History, a series of 42 videos that basically covers everything you should have been taught in high school about world history (but probably weren’t) in about eight hours.

There are a number of different courses on the Crash Course YouTube channel, from Psychology to U.S. History. There is also a course on Literature, which I’m watching (or often listening) concurrent with World History. I was particularly struck by this excerpt from the video on Sylvia Plath:

Dear suicide, You are a permanent response to a temporary problem, and you are a solution to nothing. I just want to say at the outset that there is nothing good or romantic about you, suicide. You are a tragedy. You are also, in almost all cases, preventable… So it’s very important to me whenever we talk about a writer whose life ended with suicide that we note that people survive depression—and also that Sylvia Plath wasn’t a good writer because she eventually committed suicide. In fact, her career was cut short, and I mourn all of the many wonderful books we might have had.

I live in the shadow of suicide. My grandmother committed suicide in 1960. As a writer, I’m cognizant of the corpses that litter the landscape of our profession: Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Yukio Mishima, Hunter S. Thompson, David Foster Wallace, Sarah Kane. To most, these are words on a page, a collection of letters and dates. But each of these human beings endured what must’ve felt like an eternity of bleakness and torment before finally gasping out their last breaths, whether head-first in an oven or looking down the barrel of a shotgun.

Up until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t fathom the idea of suicide. For one, it was an appalling sin, the ultimate act of rebellion against God. For another… well, I couldn’t even stick my own finger in biology class when we were testing our blood types. Plus, it seemed like such a cowardly way out, an option for those who just didn’t try hard enough.

Somewhere in my adolescence, probably around the time I started becoming aware of my sexuality but possibly as early as eight or nine, I started experiencing periods of darkness. As an Evangelical, these slumps in mood had a spiritual cause. The cure was more Bible and more Jesus. Once I started going to public school and took a psychology class, I learned that those dark moods had a name: depression. And it was different from “the blues.”

What I’ve learned over the years of living with depression is that it isn’t just a condition. It’s the way we view the world. Even the happiest moments are colored with gloom. The flavor of victory or celebration comes across more like sand than sugar. Well-meaning friends try to cheer you up and be supportive, not understanding that the problem is within, not without. It’s like having glasses inside of our eyes that pre-filter the light before it hits our retinas.

It took me a while to understand this and how depression was shaping my perceptions and moods; why the smallest setbacks loomed large like megaliths of personal failure; why tiny inconveniences would set me off as if they were crimes against humanity. Most people just associate depression with sadness. It’s much more.

You feel worthless. Powerless. Hopeless. Disconnected from everything and everyone in your life. At worst, it feels as if I’m trapped in a glass box, able to see everything going on around me but utterly untouched by all of it. Things that bring me joy and happiness seem gray and drab. Not even sex interests me. Forget about concentrating.

And this is how it’s going to be for the rest of your life.

In June of 2008, just months away from my decision to stop hiding from the truth about my sexuality, I started having random and intense thoughts of suicide. Things like driving my car into oncoming traffic. Slitting my wrists while working in the kitchen. Overdosing on pills I was about to take. At first, these thoughts were disturbing, as they should be.

Over the past couple of months, however, as I’ve settled more into the reality that death is merely the cessation of brain activity, that consciousness just fades, as I’ve struggled more with loneliness and exhaustion from dealing with the emotional minefield that is my past, the more alluring those thoughts of suicide have become.

For example, a few weeks ago I met this guy on OkCupid who seemed decent. We went on a date, had dinner and wonderful talk, and a few days later had a second date that seemed to go equally well. Then on Sunday night, I get a text from him saying that his ex boyfriend had just got back in touch with him and he was pondering whether he wanted to get back together with him. When I asked if he missed him, he said yes. They were together for eighteen months before the guy broke up with him.

Here’s how a normal person might view that: We went on two dates. It was fun. If he decides to go back to his ex, it wasn’t meant to be. Move on.

This is how all that looks through depression: I was crushed. Not so much by the (potential) loss of a prospective boyfriend. Yes, there’s disappointment. But it was more the persistent and growing thought that this is how my entire dating life has gone so far. I meet a guy who I like, and things might seem to go well for a bit, and then something like this happens.

Rinse, repeat.

So on Sunday night I decided that, if when I’m 35 and am still single, I’m going to kill myself. Because if I haven’t met anyone by that point, it won’t ever happen. I don’t want to be one of those single, older gay men constantly getting passed over or used as a one-night stand.

Again—there’s the depression talking.

The frightening thought is how comforting the concept of simply not existing is after all the struggle. Not having to worry about anything, anymore.

Then my reason snaps into gear again, like a bucket of cold water to the face. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? And the day after. Maybe I’m about to meet my future husband, and if I die, I’ll never find out. It’ll be like an O. Henry short story, where an ironic twist of fate causes two people to just miss each other at a train station. I think about that sometimes, while waiting at, say, stoplights. So much of our life is just waiting for the inevitable to happen. Then the waiting is over, and you’re off again to the next waiting.

But the depression is always there, casting Edward Gorey-esque shadows over those hopeful thoughts. “Who are you kidding?” they say as they turn crepuscular. “You’re holding out for a dream that might not ever come true. Your future husband could always be just beyond the next hill. Or the next one. And pretty soon, you will be wrinkled and gray, and your whole life will have passed behind you, and you’ll have nothing but white-hot regret to warm you…”

It’s like having a dementor for a best friend.


199. Le Pape

The Hierophant, reversedIt’s worth mentioning again in going through this Tarot series that I do not approach the cards from the standpoint of divination (i.e., fortune telling). As an atheist, I do not believe in divine or supernatural forces, especially those that may guide our fates. That some force or thing created the universe with us in mind, and that arbitrary positions of cards, stars or planets can somehow foretell a future or course of action to take is silly, at best—narcissism, at worst.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about life goals and directions, as what I’ve been doing job and living-wise has not been bringing me joy or satisfaction. Quite the opposite. This summer, during a moment of particular distress and depression, a friend of mine offered to do a Tarot reading for me. He is also an atheist, and approaches Tarot from a similar analytical perspective. It was he who first suggested that Tarot was really collaborative storytelling; that the cards themselves describe general but universal aspects of the human experience around which a codified “school” of reading and interpretation was defined.

I’ve always been deeply fascinated by Jungian psychology, and in particular the archetypal. As a storyteller, I find myself drawing on these images myself—the wise old man or woman, the cunning trickster, the child, the hero, the dark shadow lurking just out of sight.

The thoughts and questions that I’ve been contemplating lately are on the epic (albeit personal, so not huge in the grand scheme) scale. I’m in the process of doing in a couple of years what most people do over the course of their lifetime—or at least in the process of growing up. A few years ago, I realized that the foundations of my life were fictions. Though there are some mythic truths to be found, the stories my parents and teachers told about a holy and supreme god who made me and the entire universe; who has a divine purpose and plan for my life; who is keeping notes on every thought, word, and deed to determine which afterlife I’ll enjoy or suffer for all eternity—none of it’s true. And now I’m faced with probably the most important question asked by any human being: Who am I?

It’s an insignificant question compared to most of the problems we face. And most people never really give it a second thought. But when you realize that every premise you’ve based your life on (and experience you’ve denied yourself) isn’t true, you start to wonder: What do I believe?

All that to say, Tarot has been helpful the past couple of weeks in bringing up and beginning to confront some of these issues and questions of purpose. What do I care about? What do I want to do? The cards can’t tell me the answers, but they introduce a certain level of randomness to get me mentally unstuck.

One of the big questions right now is that of career. Because I don’t really have one. I’ve been doing office admin work since college, but that’s a job. I don’t care about data entry, filing, document formatting, or any of the pointless shit I’ve done for other people over the years.

What I care about is storytelling. And art—specifically, music and writing.

Late this past summer, I decided to finally explore pursuing a master’s degree in one of those areas: music composition. I somewhat hurriedly (and haphazardly) put together three applications and submitted them this past fall. And they were rejected. These rejections made me question whether this was even the right path I should be taking.

The cards told me what I’ve always known at the core of my being, but have been afraid to acknowledge. Follow your passion.

The Hierophant is an interesting card. It’s also referred to as The Pope. It typically represents tradition, conservatism, discipline, heeding the status quo or social convention, and education. Wikipedia suggests that “it is a warning to the Querant to reexamine his or her understanding of the meaning of things; of the structure of the world; of the powers that be.”

Another interpretation of the reversed card (which is how I laid it out):

The Hierophant reversed is about breaking the rules and challenging the status quo. You no longer accept the rigid structures, tradition and dogma surrounding you, and now seek out opportunities to rebel and retaliate. You want to challenge ideas and concepts that you once thought of as written in stone. (BiddyTarot)

A friend of mine posted a comment yesterday on my previous entry: You didn’t get into grad school because that’s not really your best choice; you’re comfortable in music, and so you pursue it. You have great eloquence as a writer, but you didn’t pursue a master’s degree in writing. Why?

Frankly, I still wonder if I did the right thing in doing my undergrad in composition. Deciding on it was almost a last-minute decision. My original plan was majoring in creative writing, but my father suggested that I had real talent in music. But was that reason enough? Music was always easy for me; and while one’s natural talents should be considered, no field will successfully hold one’s interest without passion.

The ideal would be finding a program where I could somehow combine my love for creating music with my love for writing. This is why opera always felt like such a good fit. In addition to providing the music, I also provided the text and the story, although I’ve always felt like more of a musical playwright than a composer when it came to it.

So that’s where things currently stand, stuck between a hard and a rock place and unsure which direction to go. What comes to mind is (yet another) lyric from Sunday in the Park with George:

“I chose and my world was shaken. So what? The choice may have been mistaken. The choosing was not. You have to move on.”

174. flashforward

separate waysSo it’s been a rather eventful last couple of weeks for me personally since last I wrote regularly.

My creative nonfiction class is over, and my writing project is slowly starting to emerge from the star nursery of invention. I’m gradually starting to put bits and pieces of my history together as more memories emerge from my childhood and young adult years that I forgot about. So it’s been a useful process.

Many of those memories I buried because they were too unpleasant and turbulent to think about, but it’s good to revisit them now as an adult, with a broader and more knowing perspective. The ultimate goal is to develop about fourteen essays on the themes of survival, acceptance, all around the dual journeys of coming out gay and atheist. From various reactions so far it sounds like a marketable story, but who knows.

Hell, who knows if I’m even good enough of a writer to tackle it…

The other big piece of news is that, as of a month ago today, I’m a single man again. This last relationship lasted for just about eight months. I’m feeling good about the split overall. It was the right decision and call to make, but it was still hard, and I’ve still felt like shit over it.

There were a couple of challenges to the relationship to begin with. One, he lives about an hour north of the Twin Cities, and for most of our relationship he didn’t have a car so every weekend I drove up to see him. He did get a car a few months before we broke up, but there was something wrong with the brakes or something and he didn’t feel safe driving it.

Another challenge was fibromyalgia. In case you’re not familiar, fibromyalgia is widespread chronic pain that’s usually accompanied by fatigue, trouble sleeping, and joint stiffness. During the summer when he was able to spend time outside he was mostly fine, but when any kind of weather shift happened he’d be knocked out flat. So once winter came along he was in a rough state.

As Esther Perel says in the TED Talk below, “There is no caretaking in desire. Caretaking is . . . a powerful anti-aphrodisiac. I have yet to see somebody who is so turned on by somebody who needs them. Wanting them is one thing. Needing them is a shutdown.”

I enjoy how she summarized responses she got from people talking about their lovers: “I am most drawn to my partner when I see him in the studio; when she is onstage; when he is in his element; when she’s doing something she’s passionate about; when I see him at a party and other people are really drawn to him; when I see her hold court. Basically, when I look at my partner radiant and confident, [it’s] probably the biggest turn-on across the board.”

With Jay, I so rarely got to see him in his element, or see him passionate about anything. When he was passionate, it was about sustainability or something that had to do with the outdoors or systems thinking. Which is great, but not something that got me excited.

Once we started getting serious, he started talking about marriage and moving in together. (Mind you, this is after about four months. Big red flag.) I was on the fence about whether or not I was ready to commit, but given my attachment issues, I wanted to give our relationship a chance and see if the feelings followed. (They didn’t.) My mistake was not being more honest about that.

When we talked about where we wanted to live, the primary factor he was considering was staying out of the urban circle of the Cities – as close to rural as possible. Since he was the one with fibromyalgia, his needs apparently outweighed mine. His argument was that since I plan to be a writer, I could work from anywhere.

A couple months later he was talking about moving to a dryer, warmer climate. I said that I wasn’t too keen on moving to the middle of nowhere, as it’s in the middle of nowhere and far from culture and resources. He dismissed that, saying that I need to be less reliant on stores and start growing my own food, and that I don’t need culture as much as I think I do.


So I was initially attracted to Jay because of his passion for the environment and the fact that he’s an unabashed nerd and a Whovian, like I am. And he’s an attractive guy. But the more our relationship progressed, the less we really seemed to have in common. There was also the fact that he never really wanted to do anything with my friends, or meet the people in my life who are important to me, even though I’d met most of his friends and family.

My biggest regret is letting it go on for as long as it did, and not listening to myself that it wasn’t the right relationship for either of us. Truth be told, I was afraid of being single again, because this time I’d be single, gay, and thirty. And I didn’t want to be alone.

What it comes down to for me is less about age, and more about the fact that I don’t feel desirable. I feel awkward, crippled by my fundamentalist Christian upbringing, mangled by my inability to flirt with guys I like, and hugely undermined by my brain, which usually makes me feel old and weird around the guys I’ve dated. In reality, they’re probably just not very interesting and consequently not right for me.

I also feel like a failure for still being single at my age. Most of my friends are paired off, and have been with their partners for years. So I wonder what’s wrong with me that I haven’t found someone.

Truth is, I’m just not good with uncertainty. Or being alone with myself.

169. intemerate

doorintheairIt’s strange being (nearly) 30 years old and contemplating going back to school. Or at least class.

Tonight was my first time back as a student in a classroom in just over eight years. (The last time was in early December of 2004, but most of that period was a blur as it was overshadowed by the gargantuan annual Christmas concert.)

Around Thanksgiving (actually, it may have been on Thanksgiving Day) I decided to quit dancing around the issue and actually register for a creative writing course. This was shortly after attending the intro session at Hamline University for the Creative Writing master’s program, and I was afraid of losing momentum, so with my boyfriend’s encouragement and support I signed up for a creative nonfiction course.

It’s so funny that after all this time I’ve landed in nonfiction and essay. As a kid and then as a teen I was a voracious reader and writer of fiction. Then music took over my life in college. Four years later and I was well surfeited of music to the point where I couldn’t even listen to it for almost two years. This was when I discovered audiobooks and public radio, and rediscovered my love of words and language.

All last week I tried not to think about the course very much, aside from the logistics of getting there and being prepared in terms of bringing materials. I didn’t want to have any expectations going in for fear of being disappointed once there. The course itself is geared towards writers working on book-length projects that center around personal experience. The minute I read the description it seemed perfect for me!

“Hmm. Do I have a compelling experience?” I rhetorically asked Jason.

He thought it sounded like something I should definitely go for.

I tried not to think too much about my future classmates, or the instructor, who they might be, how much more experience they might have than me, and how inadequate I might feel in comparison. After all, I have limited academic writing experience, and no training in literary theory or criticism. I’m mostly self-trained, with the majority of my learning coming from having honest friends read and edit my work (that is, friends who are readers and not interested in stroking my ego).

And then there’s my competitive streak, which is a mile wide, and armed with sharp teeth, claws and a degree of selfish ambition. I often describe this part of me as almost pure Id, my primal lizard self largely dominated by fear, and concerned chiefly with beating other lizards (or at least driving them off) and getting what it wants. It’s this part of me that set out to crush my younger sisters’ desires to pursue music, or at least to play the piano. That was my purview. Claws off, thank you very much.

It comes down to my own anxiety over feeling insignificant, and my sense of self-worth being tied into what I produce and do. It’s why I settled on composition in college. I was good at it, there were many other competent pianists there to show me up for the mediocre keyboardist I was, and it was an area I could easily establish myself in and defend against challengers. It’s sad to think how much time and energy I’ve wasted and how many relationships I’ve cheated myself of worrying about that.

The class itself was delightful. Writing courses are so different from other classroom courses. It’s less about listening to a lecture as doing and sharing actual writing. Our instructor did most of the talking tonight, as is often the case with the first day of any class, but aside from going over course expectations, we talked about writing, developing and describing our book/story project proposals, and working on the writing exercises our instructor gave us.

The challenge in writing personal nonfiction, she said, was moving from personal experience to finding meaning within that. It’s one thing to tell your story. It’s another to find the deep threads in it that will resonate with and inspire your readership. Why does this story matter to me? she asked. What’s at stake in it for me?

The first exercise we did was a sensory one, asking What have I seen that no one else in this room has seen? Ditto for hearing, smell, taste, touch, then to what no one else has done, been, knows, and are. What’s the exotic landscape or object that a reader can connect with? Basically, what’s the personal connection that will tap into the passion and love that will inspire people to keep reading? It’s not enough to know your story. Why is it worth writing about?

I was fascinated and excited to discover that the guy sitting next to me was also working on a story about losing his faith. The lady next to him is working on a memoir about going back to school as a radiology technician after the last of her kids left home, and she had to figure out who she was all over again while learning to work in a largely male-dominated field. Another woman has a first draft of a manuscript about her year recovering from cancer, but is struggling to find the inner story and the meaning within the experience.

As each of went around at the end of the evening, introducing ourselves and describing the subject we’re planning to write about, it was remarkable to notice some of the common links and themes between each story. Of course, the challenge for each of us will be finding what’s compelling about each of our stories, but it reminds me yet again how interesting people really are, how vital it is to tell each other our stories, and how much experience is lost to the act of getting through the day.

I have no illusions that this will be easy. But for the first time in a while I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.

97. ambivalence

Picture of story headline from CNN

Only three more blog posts away from #100. It’s hard to believe how long this blog has actually been going, and how long it’s actually taken me to get to a hundred posts. Most of that ground has been covered in the past couple of months as I’ve been using this blog to explore and document my journey from Christianity to apostasy, and the various ways in which my thinking has changed and grown since February.

For my hundredth post, I intend to write out an essay on what exactly I believe now, how I came to atheism (aside from the “born again” moment on my birthday, which I shall try to reference as little as possible), and answer some of the questions that have been posed to me since coming out as an atheist.

Since wrapping up NaNoWriMo on November 28th and feeling utterly drained creatively, I’ve been taking some time off to recharge, feed and nurture my creative self. Most of the time I drive myself like a machine, with the expectation that my mind is this factory of ideas that can churn out and turn over high-quality work in a relatively short span of time. The fact is that this is not the case, and that I’m more like a creative “shoppe” that needs freedom, flexibility and room to work. And I also need to love myself and my muse, and treat it with love and respect instead of with an iron fist.

My brain also undergoes something akin to the reversal of the earth’s magnetic poles every couple of months, switching from musical North to verbal South, or what I call different mental “modes.” Sometimes my brain thinks in words, and I’ll write stories and novels; and sometimes my brain thinks in music, and I’ll do a lot of composing and music. Right now, after a heavy period of verbal writing my brain is switching back over to music; and one project in particular has caught my attention again.

Back in 2007 I started work on a setting of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Aria da Capo, a one-act play which I’m turning into a one-act opera. My friend Larisa directed it in the spring of that year, and I was immediately taken with it. Aside from how well her words translate into music, what attracted me at once was both the beauty of the language and the chilling message that it offers. The difference between what I do as a composer and what most composers do is that for me, music always takes a backseat to story and to text (and/or to action, whichever is driving the piece). When I’m picking a story or a text to set, my first consideration is whether it will be served at all by being paired with music, and how my music can serve the words and the story. (A lot of the time I feel it’s the other way round.)

My composition professor in college gets a lot of credit for this perspective. He would say that “opera is a mind expressing itself at a critical point.” I take that to apply to music in general: That breaking into song or playing an instrument is the only possible choice that a character could take at that moment in time, so I’m very careful about how and where I put music. For me, singing in an opera isn’t an obligation, and I’ll think nothing of cutting music if it makes more sense to have speech. After all, song is just sustained speech.

I hope that makes sense.

Anyway, I’m getting to the headline at the top of the page.

If you haven’t already, go and read Aria da Capo. It’s well worth it, and a short one at that. The title comes from the baroque song form, which is tertiary, meaning that it’s essentially in three parts: A B A, where you have the first part of the song, followed by a contrasting section and then a return to the first part. The play opens with a harlequinade, with a farce featuring the Commedia dell’arte stock characters of Pierrot and Columbine.

COLUMBINE: Pierrot, a macaroon! I cannot live without a macaroon!
PIERROT: My only love, you are so intense! . . . Is it Tuesday, Columbine?— I’ll kiss you if it’s Tuesday.
COLUMBINE: It is Wednesday, if you must know . . . Is this my artichoke, or yours?

This goes on until Cothurnus, the Greek muse of tragedy, enters and kicks them off. He then brings on two shepherds, Thyrsis and Corydon, who insist that they thought they had more time before they had to go on.

CORYDON: Sir, we are counting on this little hour. We said, “Here is an hour,—in which to think a mighty thought, and sing a trifling song, and look at nothing.”—And, behold! the hour, Even as we spoke, was over, and the act begun, under our feet!

They also complain that the setting is all wrong (“We cannot act a tragedy with comic properties!”), but Cothurnus urges them on:

COTHURNUS: Try it and see. I think you’ll find you can. One wall is like another. And regarding the matter of your insufficient mood, the important thing is that you speak the lines, and make the gestures. 

The shepherds begin their own play, with Cothurnus standing by as prompter, a tragedy about two friends who decided to play a game that goes horribly wrong:

THYRSIS: Let’s gather rocks, and build a wall between us; and say that over there belongs to me, and over here to you!
CORYDON: Why,—very well. And say you may not come upon my side unless I say you may!
THYRSIS: Nor you on mine! And if you should, ‘twould be the worse for you!

Over the course of this play, this game becomes more real as Corydon realizes that Thyrsis has all the water on his side of the wall, and then he discovers jewels on his side. In the end,  the shepherds kill each other, with Corydon strangling Thyrsis with a necklace of jewels and Thyrsis poisoning Corydon with a bowl of water. Pierrot and Columbine return and discover the bodies. Pierrot complains to Cothurnus:

PIERROT: Cothurnus! Come drag these bodies out of here! We can’t sit down and eat with two dead bodies lying under the table! . . . The audience wouldn’t stand for it!
COTHURNUS: (Off stage.) What makes you think so? — Pull down the tablecloth on the other side, and hide them from the house, and play the farce. The audience will forget.

They then start the first play over again, with the first couple of lines (“Pierrot, a macaroon,—I cannot live without a macaroon!”). For almost a year I was working on bits and pieces of music for this, struggling with the meaning of the text, and it wasn’t until I saw the documentary The Devil Came on Horseback, that I finally understood. It’s a film about former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle’s experiences in the Darfur, documenting incidents of cease fire violations, and his eventual uncovering and exposing of the genocide taking place there. The last scene from Aria da Capo instantly came to mind as the story broke in U.S. papers but then quickly faded as a news item.

That film, along with the shockwave of 9/11 still relatively fresh in my mind, as well as the genocides in Bosnia and the myriad of other horrific events — murders, suicides, tsunamis, earthquakes — began to shake my faith in God and his supposed goodness.

So today I open my Google homepage, with a newsfeed from CNN, and there’s the headline from the story I posted at the top of the page (which you can read here). A 7-year-old girl was beaten about the head, stabbed to death, and thrown in the trash. Is that part of God’s ineffable master plan somehow? That somehow this all fits into his grand design?

Or perhaps that, as some of my Christian friends assert, he’s constantly working to restore the creation? In that case, God is looking more and more like a harried, overworked social worker, with an ever-growing stack of files on his desk, and more cases falling through the cracks than he’s able to keep track of, no matter how hard he tries to stay on top. That God deserves our pity and maybe even our assistance, not our worship or undying devotion.

However… this is the all-powerful God who created the universe and all life therein? The God who forgives sins, ushers the faithful into a blessed afterlife, and punishes the wicked with an eternity in hell? This is the deity Christians entrust their security to?

The more I look at that headline, the less plausible God (at least the Christian God) seems, even less plausible than he already seems to me. Again, I will cover more of this in post #100; and I certainly don’t believe in God anymore; but it is an interesting thought.

88. sicknesse

Ten minutes to go until the commencement of NaNoWriMo 2011! (That’s National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated.)

This is insane. I just finished editing my first collection of short fiction, and LITERALLY sent it off to a literary competition tonight at 9:45 PM this evening, and in less than ten minutes now I will be jumping into a race against myself to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days or less.

After a couple days of ruminating, I’ve decided to adapt a short story that I’ve been picking away at for over two years called “Relics,” a candid nod to Neil Gaiman and his incredible novel “American Gods,” set in a world where the religions of the ancient world are alive and well in the modern world, and where society and civilization have been shaped by belief in these ancient gods.

In this story, the gods return to (of all places) New York City to see what has become of the world they left behind over a thousand years ago, and what became of humanity’s belief in them. There’s a bunch of other stuff that happens too.

I already have the opening sketched out a little bit, but in the interests of staying on track I won’t be posting my usual writing here, but rather posting excerpts from the novel as they strike me as interesting and relevant. The novel is about the nature of belief, self-discovery and essentially growing up out of superstitious belief in gods and the supernatural.

So I’ve got my rum and Coke all poured, Björk all cued up, my Google document open and ready to go, and my Sour Patch Kids at my writing desk at the ready.

Here we go, kids! See you in 30 days!

53. journaling

Hi friends. Sorry, it’s been a while so any readership I once had has probably drifted on to more active pastures. As far as a quick update for those of you who care, I’m currently temping at a company in Minnetonka processing mail and customer rebates and for a couple of weeks while their receptionist is out sick. It’s thrilling. But it’s a job.

Let’s see, what else. I’m in the middle of the fall piano teaching semester and being challenged by my more advanced students, and am feeling slightly inadequate. But it’s good, and keeping me honest.

I’m gearing up for this year’s NaNoWriMo, trying to work on a few other short stories before NNWM commences, and kicking around two plot ideas for the Big Write. Got a few leads, but we’ll see what happens come November 1st. 50,000 words in 30 days. If the math is correct (and yes, I can do basic math, friends), if I consistently write about 1,700 words a day I should be able to meet the challenge, with extra time left over for editing. But for sure it’s going to kick my ass. Writing short stories is one thing; being able to hold a reader’s interest for an entire novel is a horse of quite a different colour. If you’d like to add me as a writing buddy, please do! My user page can be found here.

As you might have gathered from my last post, I’m venturing into queer theory and gender studies. Sociology and psychology have always been serious passions of mine, which led to my becoming a storyteller; but given some recent conversations I’ve had over the past couple of months, GLBT studies is (are?) becoming a real area of research interest for me, especially coming at it from a Christian perspective. I want to be able to better understand and articulate my own experience and relate it to my faith, as well as really plumb the depths of my own experience, put it into context, and not take anything for granted; challenge my assumptions—or, as Rumi put it, plow the earth and get moving.

My entry point was suggested by my friend Sand who writes over at his blog, FuckTheory: Judith Butler’s seminal treatise, “Gender Trouble.” I just started it today and haven’t even finished the preface yet, and am already astounded. She writes at the beginning (this is her writing in 1999 on the original 1990 text):

As I wrote it, I understood myself to be in an embattled and oppositional relation to certain forms of feminism, even as I understood the text to be part of feminism itself. I was writing in the tradition of immanent critique that seeks to provoke critical examination of the basic vocabulary of the movement of thought to which it belongs . . . In 1989 I was most concerned to criticize a pervasive heterosexual assumption in feminist literary theory . . . It seemed to me, and continues to see, that feminism ought to be careful not to idealize certain expressions of gender that, in turn, produce new forms of hierarchy and exclusion.

This very much echoes my current sentiments about the gay rights movement right now, that a good part of the movement has a dominant heterosexual framing.

So that’s the start. I’m also getting into Eve Sedgwick’s “Between Men.” This feels like learning to read all over again.

025. seeing clearly

Do not oppose the essential soul when it reveals itself. That self-revelation is constant. Even when the thickest clouds mask the soul’s brilliant light, it shines with all its power. It carries the world and every human being to the goal of his fulfillment—a goal that transcends all definitions.

The soul speaks without speaking. It acts without acting. With it alone do we ascend those steps to which we are impelled by the impulse of that which is truly life, in its most profound mysteries. “Then shall you rejoice in G-d.”

This is the secret of thirst and the mystery of its quenching.

— R’ Avraham Yitzchok Kook, Oros Hakodesh I, 173

A good friend of mine shared this with me just a little while ago, and it’s given me a great deal to think about since he went it. Now that I’m done with most of my projects and am in this annoying time of recuperation, I’m trying to make more time for writing and personal reflection, something I haven’t had much opportunity for lately with my busy regimen.

The above quote reflects something that’s been in my conversations lately, especially with my boyfriend—why we feel the need to quench who we are at our very core in favour of who we want to be or who we are expected to be. I think it illustrates a fundamental misconception of what it really means to be human; a failure to see ourselves as magnificently designed beings who are capable of incredible as well as dreadful things, as well as the capacity to change. We are not slaves to our instincts.

My apologies—I had a marvellously written few paragraphs a little while ago, and the fucking internet crashed on me just as I updated the fucking post, so I’m a little irked at the moment.

That, and I can’t type today.

So why do we settle for less than what we are capable of; for not meeting our full creative potential?

Fear? Very well, fear of what? Of venturing into uncharted territory? Of failure? Of disappointment? Disappointing others?

I think a lot of the time we also listen to the voices of those who settled for the comfortable job; for the convenient marriage or relationship because it’s safer than being alone; for staying in the small town because it’s all they’ve known. They say things like, “It’s just a restless phase” or “You’ll feel better as soon as you find a good job [or woman] and settle down.”

It’s highly doubtful that there are any statistics on how many people throughout history have settled for mediocrity because it was expedient; sons abandoning their ambitions for their fathers businesses; daughters dying silent deaths in fixed marriages that sealed deals or kept peace, birthing and raising children fathered by men they didn’t love; men and women who buried unvoiced desires and needs, and all because it was expected of them by society, by their family, or by their religion.

We are so much more than stone, sticks and bones, to quote Switchfoot. We start off so optimistically as children, ready to take on the world and not giving a shit what anyone else thinks about who we are. It’s when we become older and self-actualised that all that changes and we start worrying about being cool, or attractive, or smart, or funny, or likable. We compare ourselves to others in our local enclave and disfigure ourselves to “be like folks,” regardless of whether there is any defecit; like in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder,” where Miss Janet Taylor is afflicted with what we would consider beauty in a world where everyone is ugly—yet all she wants is to be hideous like the rest of her society.

These are just musings. No answers here.

Just thinking out loud.