& i know i will carry it with me for a long, long time.

i’ve been passing as a guy now for 2-4 years now, depending on the situation (and people still think i’m a lady on the phone).  which i guess means that’s what i really am now.

i was thinking about that the other day and this huge feeling of responsibility came over me.  because now that i am who i want to be, i have to remember and take care of who i’ve been.  even though the world sees me as a straight, married man with a baby, i have been a girl, a woman, a lesbian, and a non-passing transguy.

and even if i had never been any of those people, now that i am in a place of much greater privilege, i really need to be a really good ally.  because as strong as we all are, we need each other to have our backs, because the world is not an easy place.

driving lessons

i got my driver’s license last month.  i am 32 years old, have been teaching for the past 3 years, and am engaged to my pregnant partner, and i got my driver’s license last month.

when i was 12, i read that 50 simple things kids can do to save the earth book, and then immediately after it read kids can save the animals: 101 easy things to do.  i was finishing it in the car, and decided to become a vegetarian.  we’d been running errands all day, and my grandparents pulled into mcdonalds.  horrified, yet lacking creativity, i ordered my usual cheeseburger.  soon, i decided that i would cut out red meat and until the middle of my first year of college declared myself a “partial vegetarian,” eating fish, chicken, and turkey, but not beef or pork (that mid-first-year of college moment was when i decided to be a total vegetarian– now i’m more pescetarian).

the books made me more patient with the fluorescent light that took forever to turn on, in my great-grandma’s bathroom, and it made me an easily thwarted crusader for paper, rather than styrofoam for my school’s lunches.  (after a letter to the principal, i got called to the office for i think the only time of my entire school career, for a conversation that went something like this: principal: “i hear you want us to stop using styrofoam but instead use paper instead.”  me: “yes, please.”  principal: “well, the styrofoam is a lot less expensive than the paper, so we have to keep using it.”  me:  “yeah, i guess that makes sense.  thanks anyway.”)  i bought the greyish, fibrous recycled looseleaf paper, and used it religiously, horrified when the boy i had a crush on complained about it.

i had seen the old lorax movie many times as a child, and i knew i was someone who cared a whole awful lot.  i didn’t do everything right, but i did what i knew about, as much as i knew how to do it.  to this day, in my head, there is a dying person in a hospital bed during the nuclear apocolyptic endtimes, who’s life is either prolonged or ended by the extra lights i turn on in a house (but only lights… and refrigerators and cars… trigger this thought– computer use, temperature control, stereos don’t).  i was responsible for life to continue on this planet by my choices.

early in my sophomore year of high school, there was a horrible car accident involving some of my classmates, and one of them died.  we weren’t friends, but i felt the loss, because i thought she was cool but i was too shy to talk to her.  around the same time, one of my pen pals also lost a classmate to a car accident.

so, as i neared my 16th birthday, and people started to ask me about getting my drivers’ license, the combination of environmental responsibility and terror of dying a horrible fiery death took away all motivation.

when i was 19, i did try to learn.  my mom and i went out in her pick-up truck, cruising around some school and church parking lots.  but as soon as we went on the road and i saw another car (across the median, in the furthest possible lane), i pulled over and burst into tears.

i’ve never been clear on my relationship to driving.  as a passenger, i’ve tried as hard as possible to limit myself to trips people were making anyway, getting a ride to errands with people already going on them, or asking for a block detour to run an errand i need to run.  realizing how terrifying riding the bus can be sometimes, and then biking more, helped me get over a lot of the fear aspect, but there’s always been resistance.   i cannot figure out if it’s self-righteousness, fear, god, prescience, preciousness, or what.

then at the end of last school year, i had to make a choice.  i could either follow my amazing colleagues and the wonderful students at my school to a school that is entirely inaccessible by bus (up a giant hill, it is a 45 minutes walk from the nearest regular bus stop), or i could gamble on a move to another school– and it looked like it was probably going to be a middle school.  meanwhile, t was pregnant, and i decided that the responsible thing to do was to get a drivers’ license.

i hate that kind of responsibility.  that decision between “how do i help the people closest to me?” vs. “how do i help the whole world?” (and it sounds like parenting is a lot of that)  there have been times where i’ve wondered if my time waiting at bus stops was getting in the way of my world-saving time, but in general, i’ve always felt really good about my decision not to drive.

now, i have a drivers’ license.  i get up in the morning, get ready for work, and then drive through the woods to get to my job.  it is gorgeous.  sometimes there are deer.  sometimes there are turkeys.  it’s crazy to remember that i’m even in oakland.  my favorite part, though, is listening to music.  i’ve been resurrecting cds from my collection, bopping along to wonderful and hilarious selections, like the disney peter pan soundtrack, a lot of ani difranco, and the andrews sisters’ greatest hits.  i relish my dorkiness as others pass me.

but my exercise has gone way down.  i’m trying to fix that in other ways, but the balance hasn’t been reached yet.  and it’s stressful.  it’s really really stressful.  riding the bus, you aren’t in control of this giant thing and sometimes you hear scary people say scary things, but you can retreat into books.  you don’t have to be present and in decision-making mode the whole time.  one of my friends whose been teaching me to drive, outside of that context mentioned that she read a study about how people in modern american society all show symptoms of ptsd, and she thought that made sense.  i do too.  and during one of our drives together, i asked her if she thought a lot of it had to do with cars, because i do.  these giant metal death machines that move with the merest touch of a foot but that are fueled by greed and war should NOT be how the majority of our country gets around.  i am now one of those people, but i am not okay with it.

AND at the same time, i am remembering that a good part of the reason i didn’t want to drive was because i thought that there was a possibility i’d like it too much.  and part of me really does like it.  it is sort of fun.  it is sort of easy.  i get to pick my music.  it is fast.

in the first couple of weeks of the school year, t expressed concern that maybe i was drinking too much coffee because i was so stressy.  but then we realized that i’m actually drinking less coffee than last year.  and there are definitely plenty of things to be stressed about right now so i chalked it up to adrenaline.  but at the birth class last weekend, as the teacher was talking about endorphins, and oxytocin, and adrenaline, i started to put a lot of it together with my driving.  my fight-or-flight time is way up, and my exercise time is way down.  just like much of america.

*sigh*

“i want to blog this weekend.  i have so much to say!”

“about what?”

“well…  driving… and gender.”

“what about it?”

“well, i want to write it down first, because it gets all garbled when i try to say it out loud.”

in other incarnations of this post, in my head, i’ve had really good segues and connections between these issues, because parenting is part of why i’m driving and part of why i’m thinking about gender a lot right now.  but i ended that driving part pretty nicely, so i’ll use that dialogue and this monologue to change the subject.

“what are you having?”

the question is like nails on a chalkboard to me right now.  it is a complete overreaction, i know, but when i hear it, part of me wants to snap back an adolescent (adrenaline-filled?) response about how that very question goes against the very fiber of my being and all of my beliefs, and how could they ask me such a thing and and and and and!

i don’t know.  and i won’t know even when i do know.  and i still think it’s totally irrelevant to who this little person growing in t’s tummy will be.  unless they want it to be relevant, and i know there are times when it is vitally important for them, and that’s fine.

it’s hard when there is something that you believe in so strongly that is so counter to mainstream thinking.  i remember a woman at a school i worked at in seattle, who was so upset about a family raising their kids to be vegan.  “how can they impose their values on their child like that?”  i didn’t say it (i basically never say “it” btw, whatever “it” is), but i had this epiphany.  if you don’t raise your kid by your values, you are raising them by mainstream values.  you are saying that what the mainstream believes is fine and ok.  and maybe it is.  it might be.

and then in my case, it’s so tricky, right?  i don’t actively want to have a transgender child.  i don’t NOT want a transgender child, but i don’t plan on raising our kid to be trans.  binary gender assignments seem to have worked more or less okay for most of the population for quite awhile now, so i can’t assume that any bit of it will chafe on my child the way it has chafed on me.  but i really want to counter all of the messages about what is and is not okay to be that our society feeds to all of us all of the time.  that is vitally important to me.  and the idea that our favorite colors, things, and way of dealing with the world are pre-determined for us, now even before we pop out of our parents that have the right plumbing to pop us out, makes me itchy, scratchy, irritable, cranky, tired, and sad.

how do i make my child’s self as filled with possibilities as possible, without limiting it by deciding that that limitless is important?  how does my belief in that limitlessness limit my child in a world that believes so gosh-darn fiercely in those limits?  how do make sure to honor the possibility that our kid could be totally gender-normative, without just going along with the culture’s assumptions that that is how it will be?

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
–James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

this is one of those times that i’m posting when a number of posts and themes have been rumbling, boiling, roiling, and bumbling around in my head, and i’m trying to see if i can distill them all into something cohesive, together. 

recently, i finished reading the bible for the third time.  the first two times were in high school, one right after the other.  what the three reads have in common is that they were relatively textually easy editions that i read at night, before bed.  this reading was the message: remix, meant to be read in small chunks, over either 1, 2, or 4 years.  i took a little over 3 years, reading at a variety of paces throughout that time, sometimes missing a few days to a week at a time.  i found myself baffled and concerned by the frequent old testament battles and the bloody imagery throughout.  i felt disconnected from the frame of mind of early jews, trying to translate my own experience into this entirely different worldview.  the bible resonates the most with me when treated as metaphor, but there were so many stories and events, and long narratives, that i couldn’t find the use in, and that seemed to run counter to my own ideas of morality and god.

one piece of that that’s interesting is that in my quaker journey, i’ve found a lot of resonance in contemporary jewish writers, sometimes more so than in contemporary christian writers.  it’s actually through jewish writers that i learned to feel more comfortable looking at religious stories metaphorically.  and a reality about myself is that whenever i’m in new york, i get self-consciously giddy by all of the jewishness.  i am worried about my tendency to romanticization and exotification as i press my nose to the bus window going through hasidic neighborhoods, but my justification is that i am fascinated by that ability to live one’s faith out loud like that, jealous as a white kid who believes he has no culture.

shortly after finishing the bible, i was part of a conversation where someone was talking about his atheistic respect for this person who had actually read the bible and lived by it, despite how ugly it was.  this person and the person he was referring to were thinking about the bible of the eternally angry god.  i was saddened by this, but unable to counter it, both because of my natural timidity in conflict, the power dynamics involved, the level of alcohol consumed, and my awareness of the confusing ugliness i’d found in the bible.

one thing he said was that many christians don’t acknowledge how hard it is to actually live by the bible.  and even as i create the bible in my own image, unsure how to grapple with the pieces that make me deeply uncomfortable, i still find it difficult to live by the pieces that i absolutely believe in.  god is love.  there is no fear in love.  love your neighbor as yourself.  who is my neighbor?  the good samaritan.  these things can be distilled into fluff, i guess, but at their core, they are terribly terribly hard.  if we all succeeded in living by them, i believe the world would be a much better place, but they seem to be ignored by the people flocking to chik-fil-a, boycotting funerals, and engaging in warfare.  these people have their own piece of the bible, too.  how do i justify my piece of it, in the face of the other side of things?  is it fair to take the bible piece by piece?

i will probably continue to live my piece of the bible as much as possible.  my view is something like that comic strip that says something, “what if it’s all a hoax?  what if we fix up the ozone layer, replant trees, and make the world better, for no reason?”  that is the world that i want.

confessions of a professional grad school applicant, part 2

i started out, thinking that i’d write about schools two at a time, but that hasn’t really happened.  i’m really actually near the end of my trip now, but the insights changed.

as you probably know, i fell in love with UGA and athens. georgia, and did not fall in love with georgia state.  both of those responses were deep and gut-level.

we both spent a little bit of time in durham with j from the internet.  then t and i went and visited with her family out in rural raleigh, where we were well-fed and t and her tummy were well-loved, and then t and her dad and her dad’s girlfriend drove off to carolina beach and i stayed with j from the internet.

the following day, i got together with some of my loveliest friends from college, and they gave me the “pretend i live here and want to walk and bike to as many places as possible, where is the best place for me?” tour of carrboro.  they also brought me to this store in chapel hill with a shrine upstairs that made me feel like i was taking a tour inside francesca lia block’s fabulous glittery head.

that night my mom arrived from her trip along the blue ridge parkway from asheville, where she had been visiting to unsuccessfully escape the florida heat.  she was pleased to be in a house with cats.

she drove me to my appointments at unc-chapel hill and north carolina state.  i hoped she would find a place to park and wander, but the lack of free parking, understandable navigation, and cool breezes made it less of a fun adventure for her than i’d hoped.

my first appointment, at chapel hill, was with a professor who was meeting me with permission from his wife, who makes sure he spends enough time off and with the family.  i wasn’t sure how to read him from our brief emails, but he was very friendly and someone i could definitely work with, and the program sounds like what i want.  unfortunately, funding sounds like it’s very iffy and very year-by-year, which is not how i see my budding family thriving.  more recently, on the bolt bus from dc to new york, i quietly talked on the phone with a recent grad who talked to me about all of the pros and cons of the program, saying she was glad she went, she grew, and that the program is in a better place than it was when she started it– but that she had to spend some serious time educating some of the faculty about african-american and feminist issues, which is of course a red flag for me.

next i met with a faculty member at north carolina state.  t and i are much less excited about raleigh than chapel hill, so that’s the starting point for that.  i entered campus and immediately found a student yelling from the bible under a tree.  i walked for half an hour through north campus before i found the building i needed to be at and then found myself chasing up and down stairs to find the professor who was moving offices and to whom i’d accidentally sent a confirmation email with the wrong time on it.  she was very friendly and excited and convinced this was the perfect program for me.  after i left she connected me with more people and resources, so that’s awesome, too.  funding is slightly less iffy, but i’m just not sure about raleigh.  all of that area seems so spread-out and car-necessary, which is not at all what i want for my life.

then we drove to carolina beach where we spent time with t’s family.  one day, t’s dad took us out for a boat ride down the intracoastal waterway to the boardwalk area, and after we got donuts and walked down to the beach, i took off running, abandoning everyone to just get in the water.  having a pregnant lady in my life makes me think some about swimming and the womb, and the deep connection some of us feel with the ocean.  the next day, my mom kidnapped me for a day at the beach in front of her hotel.  there has been less swimming this summer than i would like, but that day made up for a lot of it.

we went down to florida to see more of t’s family and then we flew up to washington, dc.  as soon as i got off the plane, we hightailed it on the metro to the foggy bottom stop so i could meet with a professor at george washington.  he was wonderfully friendly and answered all of my questions, and the program sounds great.  i’m also really enamored with all the brick oldness of that area.  to me, birds of paradise are a little passe, because i grew up in florida, but old brick buildings are exotic and fascinating.  for t it’s the opposite.  i had another appointment, this time with a student, the following day, still feeling good about the program.

but one of the best things was the childhood support network that t has there, family friends who love her.  i think it would be really hard for us to find affordable housing, but we’d have people who love t around us, which is very important.

i took a train to delaware to visit the university of delaware in newark.  one of the things that struck me about dc, besides the old brick buildings was the comingled diversity.  i saw this on the buses in newark as well, but it had a grittier more industrial, poorer feel than the diplomats and doctors who bustled around me in dc.  the campus looks like what books and movies make you think colleges are supposed to look like, and i ate yummy food.  the professor there was wonderfully friendly and helpful, walking me up and down stairs and showing me all sorts of rooms and people and labs.  i think it could be a really good program, but between arranging the appointment and going to the appointment, t had pretty much vetoed delaware.

the next day, we took the bolt bus to new york.  before i met t, new york to me was the new york of crocodile dundee, dangerous, gritty, and full of angry executives in fancy clothes and angrier punks with leather jackets and enormously tall mohawks.  but the new york we always go to is the brooklyn loft of her bff, where we sit around and chat and eat for ours, and go on mini-excursions that are remarkably unstressful and always delightful.  this trip has been no different.  one day, i got together with a friend who went from student to faculty of cuny recently, and he gave me a tour of the bright hallways and closed darkened offices of the graduate center.  his partner had a bad experience at nyu, so she gave me the jaded tour of those blocks.  but my head is currently full of a fog of daydreams of a quietish new york spot for our family, and trying to make it work without feeling like a broke kid in a candy store.  it is entirely impractical, and reminds me of those crushes on dangerous boys in high school that feel so compelling and necessary to one’s blood at the time.  but like dc, what new york has is people who love us.  and although it’s fast in its way, it has yet to be overtly rude to us.

well, we are coming into philadelphia on our megabus, and then we are going to get our rental car for penn state.  it’s an odd time to visit, but so far this program seems to be one of the most promising for all of the bits of coziness, affordability, nice folks, and close to people we love.

Published in: on 16 July, 2012 at 9:58 am  Leave a Comment  

on wednesday, my 5th graders “graduated” from elementary school.  in what was technically a promotion ceremony, my students and the general education fifth graders at my school, one of the five elementary schools closing in oakland this year, charmed the crowd with their sweet spirits, huge accomplishments, and tearjerking songs and speeches.  it was a tremendously touching ceremony and if there were any dry eyes after the kids sang “true colors,” the principal fixed that with her speech, reminding us how these children have raised us as much as we’ve raised them.

last saturday, i went to a different graduation.  on thursday, it suddenly dawned on me that if i hadn’t already missed it, i could probably go to the graduation of the high schoolers i’d worked with two years ago.  out of my caseload of 28, about 20 were 10th graders, which meant that this would be their graduation year.

when i graduated high school, i was very smug.  it wasn’t a big deal to me, just a rite of passage to get past to get onto my real life.  and it’s difficult to say this in a way that won’t come off as smug or condescending, but in the past few years, i’ve learned so much about how hard graduating high school can be.  reading disabilities, bureaucratic hoops, cops watching, friends and relatives getting shot, no money for food, low expectations, and huge household responsibilities were not anything that i had to deal with in high school.  there were suicides and attempted suicides and alcohol-related car accidents and a sense of depression and ennui, and getting through and past all that was a challenge in its own way and i think high school is a challenge for pretty much anyone.  but in the end, the assumption was “of course you graduate high school.  that is what you do.”  but when i went to the graduation last week, i was immediately struck by a sense of deep pride and joy.  “we survived and conquered.  we fucking did it.”  it was a holy space.

and what was so exciting was that sense of “we did it.”  not “i did it,” which is i think what i thought of my graduation, but instead, “we did this together.”  in one of the graduation speeches, the speaker talked about her classmates as her rivals who were also her backbone.  yes.

the camaraderie among the faculty at that high school was huge.  when i went back to teaching elementary school, i compared the relationships forged at the high school as being like those on a battlefield.  and despite race differences and gang rivalries and all of those things, there is a deep bond between the students at the high school as well.

it’s funny, right.  the way that god is found in those places that hurt so much.  the pain is inexcusable.  causing that pain is inexcusable.  causing that pain with our inequitable laws, prejudices, and greedy fears is absolutely inexcusable.  the world needs to be better than that.  and so it’s ironic that those deep pain moments are the places where i see god the most.

though it also makes sense.  these “comfortable” lives of ours with on-demand tv and microwave dinners, that are based on the sweat of workers we don’t even think about and that smooth over oppression and negative emotion, cannot be the kingdom of god (or the gateway to the kingdom of god if you believe that heaven comes later).  neither are the experiences that would make for that deep sense of celebration for even surviving high school.  that is not the kingdom of god either.  but being in that place of togetherness and joy, if we could just keep that instead of working for trinkets and pushing past each other for what we think is ours, then those inequities and fears could stop.

this post seems equal parts white guilt manifesto, hallmark card, and sermon.  i believe what i’m saying and i also think i cannot put it into words without simplifying people’s experiences and without simplifying god.  i was excited about posting this, but now my lack of appropriate words makes me wonder if it’s worth it, or if it will just go into the collection of words written by good-hearted white liberals that repeat each other and are based on unrealistic idealism.

so i’m going to change the subject to something related but different.  now i’m going to start writing about the morality of lgbtq rights.   because i rarely post and this is something else i’ve been wanting to post and i think i can actually make a good point at the end of all of this.  and at least i know if i idealize the lives of lgbtq people, i’m idealizing my own life.

i’ve been thinking about lgbtq rights as a moral issue in a totally new way recently.  i suddenly realized what a moral nonissue the right to love who you want to love is, and how the focus on that takes a lot of the heat off of everybody, queers, queer-hating folks, and queer allies, to actually fix real problems in the world.  i suddenly started thinking about all of the things lgbtq folks could be doing with their precious and dynamic time, energy, and hearts, if they weren’t stuck being so busy defending their rights to love who they want to love.  again, i am totally idealizing a whole lot of things, but just think what could be done if people weren’t fighting so hard over their ability to hate, or to not be hated.

bah.  it’s coming out all wrong still.  it seems so vitally important, but the words are not strong enough.

i am thinking a lot about that part in huckleberry finn where huck decides that if helping jim makes him a bad person, well then, he might as well just get used to being a bad person.  and we sadly chuckle because we the readers know that he is actually a good person, he just thinks he’s a bad person.  and in the same way, all this angst about the morality of queerness is just totally beside the point of what life and morality is really about.  not that we shouldn’t fight for queer rights.  that’s not what i mean at all.  but the whole hatred of queerness thing just suddenly seems like nothing more than a colossal waste of energy.  god does not want us using our time and energy on justifying our hatred or our self-hatred.  that cannot be what this world is about.  the question suddenly reframed itself from, “queerness: good or bad?” to “why would anyone spend any moment of their time trying to convince people to hate others, rather than just helping people who need help?  who came up with those priorities?”

being quirky with cubbie.

yesterday, when i was at the wednesday evening meeting for worship (i’ve been to our meeting’s evening worship 2 or 3 times, probably all revolving around plans to talk with someone before or afterward), my mind kept getting filled with conversations in the comment sections of articles i’d been reading. i rarely read the comment sections because they are usually so full of vitriol that i find them emotionally exhausting and unhelpful overall. and when i do, the interactions stick with me for a long time. i have internal arguments with commenters over and over again, but continuously come to the conclusion that they will misunderstand what i’m saying and that i don’t have the fortitude or interest in the argument enough to fight it out. that may be a weakness of mine.

but my meeting for worship epiphany (and i’m a little freaked out about how as soon as it came to me i wanted to blog about it but not stand up and say it) is that those conversations are so often about “those people.” no matter who is arguing or what they are arguing about, the argument is always about “those people.” the visual that came to me was a long stream of comments with “those people THOSE PEOPLE THOSE PEOPLE THOSE PEOPLE!” getting bigger and bigger and… screechier and more frantic, if text can get screechier and more frantic.

and then the screeching stopped when it came to me that the hope of jesus and christianity for me is that jesus said we are all “those people.”

my facebook presence is full of a lot of reposting of pictures and links. they are sometimes goofy and fun and shallow (two days ago i was over the moon because i’d found a lisa frank version of the mona lisa immediately followed by sofia vergara’s impression of fran drescher within minutes of each other) and sometimes they are political. whenever i post a political post i try to see it through the eyes of my… um… two or three? politically conservative friends and decide if they would see it as a personal attack. i never ask them, and i’m mostly convinced that they don’t even look at most of my posts, which i’m okay with because i like our friendship. i also sometimes forget to think about this. but i really don’t want my facebook presence to be mean. i don’t want it to be unchallenging either (am i really philosophizing about how challenging my facebook presence is?), but seriously, i’m not seeing anything useful being brought about by mockery, shame, or calling the other side stupid. the people who disagree with me didn’t come to their disagreement through lack of thought, and if there is any lack of thought, i attribute it to the lack of thought that occurs in fight-or-flight mode. when you are being attacked, you don’t think straight. (when you are an exhausted teacher, you also don’t think straight or as much as you would like to, and when you are working horrible minimum wage jobs that the government and media have convinced you are what you are stuck with until you win the lottery, you also don’t have a lot of brain power left. not because you are stupid, but because our current cultural situations are sucking us dry.)

we are being sold a lot of crap. i believe that and i am guilty of buying into a lot of it. i also believe that we can’t change anyone’s mind by attacking them. my mind has never once been changed by an attack– attacks have only ever further convinced me that i am right. if we want to change anyone’s opinion, we have to see that they are doing the best they can with the life experiences they’ve had and we have to remind them that so are we. and then once we are both finally human, then we can transform each other.

i want to ‘lectrify my soul.

yesterday at meeting for worship there were a lot of tears. and when somebody spoke/sang about the belief that there will be laughter even after people go, my natural tendency toward making people laugh when times are sad, went into high gear.

i wanted to tell the “hilarious” story of my first quaker meeting. i was an american tourist in whitby, england, and i had a cold. i tried to get tissues before the meeting started but nowhere was open, and that hunt took so long that i got to the meetinghouse just as meeting was started so i couldn’t find the bathroom. so i dashed in and sat there, for my very first hour of silence. except thanks to me, it wasn’t silence. the silence was regularly punctuated by my sniffles, as i tried to sink into the worship in some way. as i remember, there were multiple doors into and out of the worship room, and so even if i had felt brave enough to get up to go to a restroom at such a mysterious and holy time, i didn’t know where any of the doors led. so i just sat there. and sniffled. and felt american.

at the end of the worship time, the elderly woman next to me, kindly turned and told me that she wanted to offer me a tissue, but they were all up her sleeve and she wasn’t sure if that would bother me or not, so she hadn’t offered me a tissue.

what i got from reliving that story in my mind yesterday, was actually less about the funniness of the story but of the tissues we all have up our sleeves that we are too self-conscious to share.

but i didn’t tell the story or the lesson i had learned from it. there’s this flowchart that’s somewhere in our meeting’s seeker’s packets that gets referred to sometimes, and it’s about how to test whether to share a message. the part that i remember the most is that you can ask yourself if the message is just for you or for the group.

here is my embarrassing and guilty quaker confession:

what keeps me from speaking at meeting for worship, more than anything, when i have these “enlightening” moments is that as i start asking myself if the message is for me or the group, another piece comes in, which is, “am i willing to live by this?” and sometimes i’m not sure. sometimes the idea of living by my own grand advice that seems like it’s from god to the group, with me sort of tangentially involved, is so terrifying or exhausting-seeming, that i keep it to myself.

also, yesterday, i finished reading a pendle hill pamphlet by ben pink dandelion, “confident quakerism.” when i went to return it to the library, the library committee member behind the desk asked what i’d thought. and it was hard to answer, because i’d started the pamphlet months ago, read half of it, and then read the other half today. as i recalled, the beginning had been somewhat irritating, but yesterday’s reading had been useful. as i recall, the beginning dealt with some theological mistakes the author had made, and something in how they were presented had irked me. but there was a sentence near the end about how conversations about our spiritual mistakes breaks open things between people. in my conversation, i hypothesised that maybe our mistakes our better talked about than written about (and now i am writing about that idea). maybe they crystallize a little out of context, when you see them in print.

but it was interesting to read that yesterday, because besides theological mistakes, another place where stuff breaks up in important ways, is when people talk about race and oppression. i’m looking at ph. d. programs right now and i just discovered this week that there are education programs that have whiteness studies as part of it, and that has gotten me really excited. so i got all excited about that as a theological exercise, too.

but of course i don’t want to mix up an academic field with worship.

but probably the core of my belief system is that god is there when you are open to the truth. and frequently that is messy and awkward.

(and at the same time something i am continually learning is the boundaries of one’s own messy-and-awkward and others’ messy-and-awkward. as a writer who has very little filter, i must be mindful that others have filters and boundaries, and they are there for a reason.)

after meeting for worship, my girlfriend and i trekked over to ocean beach to see gillian welch, old crow medicine show, and emmylou harris pay tribute to warren hellman, the man who had started the hardly strictly bluegrass festival, a free music festival in golden gate park. i can never be convinced to go to the festival anymore because it is too crowded and full of alcohol and pot, even if i think it’s a good idea. but i liked the slightly smaller (though still robust) crowd of this event, the considerably rarer instances of people lighting up anything near me (though i did have this funny interaction on the phone with my mom between sets. she said, “we’re lighting a fire in the pit out here,” JUST as pulled out a pipe and lit it right next to me, and so i said, “yeah, someone’s got a little one going over here, too.), the explicitly respectful vibe of the event, and the beautiful escape valve of the roaring ocean just behind me. i was actually able to enjoy the music.

life is sadder than sometimes i’d like to admit. and it’s hard. and growth is hard. but there is god in the music and the laughter and the time shared together and the solitude of the ocean and the mistakes we make and our ability to open up about those mistakes. and if there’s not, there’s something really close, pointing to what god really is.

living through the dry, oaty bits.

the first week of 2012 has been full of paradox for me. or maybe not paradox, but big… confusion. big… holding of awkward truths.

objectively and retrospectively, i’m a big fan of breaking open. the change that comes after the world has shattered you and you come back. in the moment, though, it sucks. in the moment, while you are breaking or watching someone break or the world seems to be so irreparably broken, it just needs to stop.

at the same time, sometimes when things are breaking, things also slow down and get soft. circumstances beat at your heart but people who love you are gentle. when my dad died, i had a rotating circle of friends who shared my bed, cuddling me to sleep. right now, things are like that. our house is a house of dazed, sad confusion, but the guests give us love and laughter. as we keep watch in the dark, our friends are the lights.

that is one thing that is going on.

the other thing is the bus ride every day. every day i get on the bus at 6:18 am, close my eyes and open them again at about 7:05 on the last stop. usually i don’t fall asleep, but sometimes i doze a little bit in the middle. then at the end of the day, i stand in front of a gas station and wait for the bus to pick me up.

thursday in the late afternoon, with me at the bus stop was a family. a young woman, a young man, and two kids, one in a stroller. the adults talked about drugs and sex and the baby in the stroller screamed. then the woman took the baby out of the stroller and got in it herself. on the bus, the baby screamed, the young man got off the bus, both children screamed, the young woman hit them, they continued to scream. i’d just finished a day that included one student’s near-violent screaming meltdown that ended with his parents being called and him being picked up early.

friday morning, there was a woman on the bus talking to anyone who would listen. 20 minutes before my bus stop, she started yelling at me to wake up and then at the bus driver about how she was worried this woman wouldn’t wake up. i opened my eyes and grouchily told her that i wasn’t a woman and that i did this all the time and had never missed my stop. she apologized. then she apologized. then she apologized. i closed my eyes. then she told me about her heroin addiction, selling methadone, setting a car on fire, jumping off an overpass, and getting her leg amputated. multiple times. in multiple ways.

these moments make me want to stop, to move away, to live somewhere where it is not so hard. i think what i really need is to become less permeable, to stop carrying these things around. because really my job, as a teacher, is to make sure my students don’t become these people. that’s like, the biggest, scariest job in the world.

all the bus stuff has been rolling around in me for a bit and a clever blog entry title that i came up with was “wrapped up like a douche,” like the misheard version of “blinded by the light” and my desire to wrap myself cosily away from all the bad things in the world, like a selfish jerk… but that’s a little too self-deprecating and crude for a title.

and, lest you think the oakland city bus makes one give up all hope, last night, as i was going to see friends downtown, i walked onto a very crowded bus, and the first thing i witnessed was a girl, about 8 years old, singing to an appreciative woman who i could tell had been a stranger before this meeting, “happy birthday to ya, happy birthday to ya, happy birthday to ya.”

god’s work isn’t done by god. it’s done by people.

oh, right. there was another part of christmas eve that i forgot to write about.

over vacations, i like to work at an independent bookstore in bernal heights. i used to work there regularly before teaching, but now i don’t have the time or energy– except during long breaks from school. since it’s my “fake job,” it doesn’t feel like work as much as just a fun thing to do. the only part that feels like work is waking up and getting there. once i’m there, i have a great time shelving books, talking to customers, making me to-read list even longer.

i’ve got another friend who works in retail around here, but it’s her real job and it’s a bigger store. not just a little neighborhood bookstore with loyal customers, but a department store downtown. as i was leaving my shift at 3 on christmas eve, i texted her something about being in the home stretch.

she didn’t respond until i was walking down 24th to the christmas pageant. i felt my phone buzz and looked to see she had sent me a text message that said, “dead god.”

it turns out that she meant dear god, but from a large retail perspective, christmas eve is about as “dead god” as you can get. not only is god dead, but you’re about there, too. i remember when i worked at jo-ann fabrics and crafts, etc. just how soul-sucking it all is.

and that’s the irony of the season that we all know. christmas corporate retail may be the biggest reason for atheism there is. “THIS is how we celebrate god’s birthday!? f*** that. if he was real, he wouldn’t let this happen for any reason, let alone for him.”

so, i laughed a lot out there on 24th, about getting “dead god” text message on my way to a christmas pageant. but then, that christmas pageant, with it’s men in angel wings and a real live baby for jesus, reminded me of the aliveness of god. in fact, there was a line that we in the congregation said, “christ has died, christ is risen, christ will come again,” which can metaphorically describe that paradoxical moment, the paradoxical moment we all live in every day. every day we are killing christ, and every day… we can be christ.

after i got home from the pageant, i discovered that the issue of “western friend” i was about to read had a big section on the occupy movement. and from someone who is either not called to actively participate in that movement or who is too lazy… i see that christ aliveness in the occupy movement.

we always say that if we had been there, we would have been right there with jesus, or we would have fought the nazis, and then there are those moments where we realize we might have just been cozily at home instead. would that have been a moral failing then, and is it a moral failing now? or is that the wrong question?

you say “well hey, it’s about time” and i say “no, no it’s about love”

there’s a post i’ve been holding onto for months, maybe years. i’m actually sitting here trying to write it and have managed to get halfway through it twice before highlighting the whole thing and hitting delete. i think of it as the post that’s gotten in the way of writing here regularly anymore, but it just won’t come out either.

it’s about my confusion about accountability to myself, from others, and to my meeting. it’s about calling and that falling away or shifting and not knowing where it went and not knowing how to ask for support and feeling bitter that it wasn’t just offered and feeling guilty for wanting other people to follow all of my whims and fluctuations. it’s about my desire to be more aware of others’ whims and fluctuations. it’s about accidentally almost joining a cult. it’s about the death of a member of my clearness committee. it’s about diversity and social justice and the question of if quakerism really is for everyone. it’s about how still and all, the majority of my friends are white. it’s about struggling as a teacher. it’s about crying at the meeting retreat two years ago because i just desperately wanted to give all of my students the type of experience i was having right then. it’s about how i don’t understand the valuable experiences my students have. it’s about wanting to write more. it’s about wanting to be more of what i think a quaker should be. it’s about living far from my meeting. it’s about feeling far from my meeting. it’s about feeling close to my meeting. it’s about unexpected phone calls from members of my meeting when i am feeling low or am across the country. it’s about feeling distance and then suddenly feeling overly close. it’s about being a grown-up. it’s about trying to infuse my teaching with quakerism. it’s about leaving and coming back. it’s about bitterness and angst and self-recrimination. it’s about deciding. it’s about not deciding. it’s about confusion, sadness, and joy. it’s about days slipping by. it’s about living.

maybe now that that’s all out of the way, i can start focusing on god again.