one of those times, again, where going to quaker meeting is such an event.  i’ve been contemplating finding a meeting or church closer to home, but haven’t been able to even work up the energy for that.

the thing is: it’s the long, sustained attendance at meeting is what really makes me feel centered, but going to meeting is a 4 hour commitment, at the least, and it’s really hard to make myself do that right now.

and i’ve been feeling a little nutty, so i feel like i really need to go to meeting.  but unfortunately, frequently, by the time my one-shot meeting attendance is done, i feel more nutty, because my day feels almost over and my work week feels so close.

i’ve been thinking about church as opposed to quaker meeting a little bit, too, because my head is a wild and frazzled place, and i barely get past the wild and frazzled in the hour of worship.  having someone do the spiritual thinking for me sometimes works to get me out of my head long enough to hear god.

i HAVE been trying to up my home spiritual practice a little bit, though, but what that amounts to right now is just trying to remember the serenity prayer when my head and heart get too wild and frazzled.

quakerism changed my life.  and i’m not currently convinced i’m living up to that.  i feel disappointed in myself right now, in my ability or drive to take care of my spiritual needs right now.  and then, of course, i know that judging myself is not actually all that helpful, of course.

my dream still is of a community of quakers and a quaker meeting, just down the street.  i hate that i even have a choice to just drift away from meeting like this, from time to time.  i hate that it takes forever to get to meeting so i don’t, and that that is understandable and acceptable.  (i would probably hate it, too, if it wasn’t understandable or acceptable.)

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Published in: on 25 November, 2012 at 1:59 pm  Comments (1)  

confessions of a professional grad school applicant, part 3

and now i’m in seattle, and all of the visiting of schools is done.  the university of washington is a school i’ve been thinking of, on and off, but as i was shuttling up the east coast, the joy of the humidity plus the stress of coordinating one more visit was too much for me, and i never tried to make a visit to uw happen.  today, i’ve been wandering around my old seattle haunts, contemplating the dreaminess, beauty, craziness, sadness, and creativity that one finds here.  i am uncomfortable with the prevalence of mental illness and poverty as i walk around, and just want to sequester myself in bookstores, coffeeshops, and vintage things, which is of course ironic because i’m so interested in class and disability.  it is sunny today, but i think part of the discomfort is the grimy understanding that that person howling on the street corner could be you, and when it’s drizzling, it sort of feels like they are all you.  and of course i know that in new york, there are all those pieces as well, and it’s harder to just make it there, in many ways, but the time i lived in seattle was one of the saddest parts of my life, through no fault of its own.
anyway, after my last post, i quickly started to think of philadelphia as “the city of brotherly HOOOOONNNNK!”  getting the rental car was tremendously stressful, because we had to get out of a parking garage that was under construction, and thus had all of its signs pointing in directions to nowhere.  by the time we made it out, we were exhausted and stressed, especially considering the fact that we were also hungry.  so we got food quickly (getting honked at all the time) and then got on the highway to happy valley (getting honked at all the time).  we did not understand what lane to get in for the toll booth, so we got honked at some more, and in general the ride was high stress punctuated by quiet lulls.  every time things seemed to get into place, some minor disaster would occur, and there would be more honking.  in the middle of the drive, the gps took us to a starbucks that was in a weird shopping center, and t collapsed in an amazingly comfortable adirondack chair.  the adirondack chair life is something we both crave.  after some relaxing there, we went and got some gas, but that, too, became an occasion for stress and honking due to confusion about the location of the gas tank.

finally we made it to state college, which i decided must be like “stars hollow,” where “the gilmore girls” takes place.  our hotel was a decent chain hotel, with a friday’s out in the parking lot.  after unloading the car, we looked up vegetarian food, and there weren’t a ton of options, but a pizza place sounded good, so we went there.  i loved it in its salty, greasiness, but it turned out to be wrong for the pregnant lady.  we watched “friends” (on nick at nite, what!?) until we fell asleep.

the following morning, i went to my appointment at penn state, and was delighted by the kindness and enthusiasm of the professor i was meeting with.  she showed me around the impressive reading camp they were having (which made me think that: a) i am a terrible teacher and b) i was woefully ill-prepared in a practical way), and actually said out loud that she wants me to come to the program, so that was nice.  sometimes, though, i feel like i’ve tricked people when they say things like that to me after only a few emails and conversations.  anyway, i was impressed with the program and could be happy in it.
t and i met back up for lunch with a couple who i’d gotten in touch with via the lgbta grad association.  i’d emailed them and explained our situation, and was told that this couple had a similar situation.  they were kind and sweet and open, wonderful to talk with, and we learned a lot about family life in general, queer family life in specific, and how to connect with good doctors.  also, when i noticed that they both wore crosses, i asked about queer friendly churches, and soon the quakers were mentioned.  when i said i was a quaker, i was told that there was a wonderful quaker working at this bookstore/cafe, so we went there and i was introduced to a woman with vibrant and goofy energy, who i shyly and awkwardly greeted before t and i dashed away to get back on the road to the city of brotherly HOOOOONNNK! so she could catch her megabus back to new york.

my impression of the town and school was that it was quaint and old-fashioned, though with a definite college student presence.  later, discussing with t, who had been wandering around the town, the college student presence was very strong for her.

at the hotel, i’d bought t an extra megabus ticket for an hour later than our original booking to make sure she wouldn’t get stuck without one.  this was good, because we got there just after our original booking had left.  then, there were decisions about how much time the pregnant lady should stand out in the heat while waiting for the bus.  once we’d committed to standing out there, the bus wound up being about half an hour late.  i’d made an appointment for dinner with <a href=”http://robinmsf.blogspot.com”>robin</a&gt; and <a href=”http://chrismsf.blogspot.com”>chris</a&gt;, so i ran back into the station as soon as we saw t’s bus coming.

the city of brotherly HOOOOOONNNK! quickly became a maze of confusion transit options, and i wound up getting on the wrong one.  eventually i found robin, though, and we took the train to the house that her family was to move out of in a week.  ironically, the only other time i’d been to their house was right before another move.  my traveling dazedness made for some awkward dinner conversation, but i was treated to some delicious cheese and stir-fried vegetables, as well as a welcome popsicle.

then back to the train station where i settled in to a book before getting on my overnight train to boston.  it was an eight hour ride, which seemed perfect in theory, but since i could never get into a comfortable position for sleeping, and there was a teenager behind me histrionically vacillating between schmoopy phone calls with her boyfriend and angry conversations with her family who were on the train, i didn’t actually get much sleep.  but i think i slept through connecticut, so i don’t think it’s fair for me to really say i’ve ever been to connecticut.

i navigated the boston transit system much better than the one in philly, despite feeling exhausted, filthy, and unkempt.  i ordered breakfast at a diner with a young man who called me all those funny masculine names that i don’t understand (i don’t think he called me “chief” or “big guy” but it was things like that),  and while it was being made, i changed clothes in the bathroom.  i felt moderately less gross after that.  then, i went out into the heat to wait for the shuttle bus i’d been told about, but after waiting for an hour, i decided it must not run in the summer, and i got into a cab that had been sitting there the whole time.  the thing that stalled me the most from getting into the cab was that i only knew the name of the building i wanted to go to, not its actual address, but the cab driver knew what i meant.

boston college has free wifi for guests, which was nice, so i sat in a comfy lobby and de-sweated while i waited for my appointments.  i met with one professor who was very nice and then the really enthusiastic and friendly student who had organized my visit.  then, i got to sit in on the only class of this whole college tour– critical race theory, and wow is that something i want to do.  the professor of the class was poised and brilliant, and the students were open and also brilliant, engaging with the topic and each other in wonderful ways.

it’s hard because so many things i’ve experienced on this trip have not swayed me exactly from one school to another, but just further and further towards excitement about grad school.  i want to have those deep conversations and engage with people in the way that this trip has been opening up.  but there has not been one clear winner so far.

i took the megabus back to new york.  this megabus came to the regular bus bay, and so it was more comfortable than waiting in philly or new york.  but one megabus cruelly came and left 10 minutes before our bus was supposed to leave, and then the next bus came 45 minutes later, so i got into new york very late at night.  but t and her bff had delicious food waiting for me.

the truth is new york feels like love to me.  every person i know there is tremendously sweet and takes wonderful care of me, making sure i knew where i’m going and how to get there.  there have been few people angry at me or even angry near me.  sure, the subway rocks a lot, and the ground is disgusting, but i feel oddly buoyant and impermeable in new york.  it is clear, though, that t does not feel that way.  and that is fine.  i have such a romantic vision of new york, it is probably best to keep it that way.

my last bit of new york included visiting carroll gardens and getting swept away by cute shops and cafes.  i am easily swept away by cute shops and cafes.  the next day, t flew back to san francisco, which was very sad and i didn’t want to stop touching her belly.

i’d accidentally flaked out on some vague appointments because i got my dates mixed up, but i was able to reschedule one of them.  so after t left, i took the subway to another friend’s apartment away up in washington heights.  we set up my new air mattress on the floor and then went and got amazing pizza.  then we went looking for a place to get a key for me and to wander around central park.  sadly there was no key to be had.  but the wandering was nice.  eventually we went to columbia, where his office is, and i sat in the lobby eating snacks and using the internet late into the night.  this was funny to me, because i’m not looking at columbia.

the next day, i went to washington square and got a dosa and sat down at a park bench.  then i realized that speed levitch was giving a tour right next to me.  he was commenting on the sexualness of the arch.  i was amused because he spoke at new college a few years ago, and felt like this moment would have really impressed my 21 year old self.

then i went to the coffeehouse where i was going to meet an nyu student.  i sat in a seat near the front and watched the door.  i had the odd advantage of her google+ picture popping up on my email screen, unbidden, as i reread the email.  unfortunately it was arty and shadowed, so i only knew to look for glasses.  i saw someone with glasses go up to another young woman who shook her head no, so i went up to the woman with glasses, who barely registered me, i think because she thought my name belonged to a woman (this has happened a lot on this trip, btw).

we went back out to a park bench and she told me about nyu.  she was very serious but very friendly and answered all of my questions thoughtfully and enthusiastically.

i wandered around the area a bunch, slithering illicitly into bookstores (i’m not really allowed to buy books right now) as it started to rain.  one of my daydreams of new york life involves working in a bookstore again.  i miss it.

i met back up with the friend i’m staying with, so i could buy what he thinks are the best bagels in new york.  then, i went to my meeting with a cuny student.  we met in a two story diner with a waiter with a wry sense of humor.  the student i met with was very friendly and fun to talk with, and also very enthusiastic about the program.

i have a better feel for new york than i do for the two programs.  in some ways the websites for the programs are so vast that it’s hard to get a true handle on things.  but i’m excited about both, nonetheless.

and then yesterday, after 5 hours of sleep, i got up and went to my plane for seattle, stopping in salt lake city, utah, which was a shockingly pleasant experience.  the airport had a bike cop, easily accessible sharps containers, recycling, veggie burgers served by people who made sure i knew what was vegan even though i’m not vegan, and deep fried pickles.  land of contrasts, indeed.

so now i just have to decide.  admittedly, p.j. harvey’s rendition of peggy lee’s “is that all there is?” is sort of rambling through my head today.  there are schools i’m definitely, unquestionably excited about, but the adventure time is over and now it’s just negotiating applications and decisions, which is less fun than a trip up the east coast.  there are viable options for sure, but there was no clear winner, especially in the “where to live to raise a family” category of decision making.

i thought i would spend the flight to seattle poring over my notes and materials, but instead i’m kind of consciously taking a break from thinking about it, letting my subconscious shake some stuff out first.  we’ll see where it lands.  for now, i will just be here in seattle, thinking about my past, and planning for the wonderful wedding of two lovely friends.

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.

tonight, i followed my recent christmas tradition of visiting a new church for one of their holiday services. a few years ago, i managed to pack in 3 services in one christmas, but this year it will just be the one. i’m not going to make it to meeting tomorrow, even.

tonight’s service was at a church in noe valley called holy innocents. i started my decision-making process based on churches that would be near where i was today and that had an early evening service that wasn’t at 5:00 because I wouldn’t be able to make it for that. i found 3 churches that fit those criteria, via google, and then i decided on this one, because it was a christmas pageant and because the website invites you to come early so you can get a costume.

as i walked through the mission at 5:30, i marveled at all the things that were closed. there was sort of a nice hush over things. i have mixed feelings about holidays, but i like moments that are set aside for coziness, nonetheless. i know it probably sucks for a lot of people who don’t celebrate christmas, but the idea of everyone being still on some level is appealing to me. perhaps that is judeochristianically oppressive of me…

the pageant was wonderful. it not only told the story of the birth in the manger, but also the story of the first christmas pageant, which they attributed to francis of assisi, and we all got to be involved, in costume or not. i was a strange stranger, in my bright yellow bert sweatshirt, with an ill-placed coffee stain on my pants, and a “michelle obama, first lady of fabulous” totebag, but i still felt welcome.

ever since christopher hitchens died, i’ve been doing some extra thinking about religion. it actually happened as i was starting karen armstrong’s the case for god, and if you know me, you know i’m a much bigger fan of armstrong than of hitchens. the way i think of it is that armstrong and hitchens are in opposite camps, not because one believes in god and the other didn’t, but because of their very different conceptions of what god even means and what the debate over religion is really about. because to me christopher hitchens and “the religious right” are on the same side, because they think god is about going to heaven and believing in impossible things. but for me, and from what i’ve read by armstrong, for her as well, god is about living in such a way that the kingdom of god can be here and believing in god is more about trusting in the possibility of that world. and that kingdom/world is not about others going to hell but about merciful, inclusive love and justice…

one of the ways to bring about that world involves discipline, as i am reminded over and over again by armstrong’s tracing of the history of faith. at one of my first quaker meetings, robin m. spoke about discipline. at the time, i thought she was being too hard on herself about whatever it was she was speaking about, and smugly thought discipline wasn’t that important. but the thing with god, for me, i think, is that… things can be fine without god, actually, but they are so much better with god (like sex and love). there is some anne lamott quote, i think, about how god is sort of found by accident, but prayer makes you accident-prone. and so that’s where the discipline part comes in. i’ve been using a method of prayer i found in a book by brent bill recently, and even though i’ve been extra-aware lately of my lack of discipline, i think i’m getting better.

as a quaker and as a liberal, i have mixed feelings about holidays. as a quaker because everyday is sacramental and as a liberal because our society’s main form of christianity is pretty oppressive. and then there’s the whole commercialism aspect etc. but man, i love light in the darkness. as a weak, undisciplined human i love it. every christmas tree in a window makes me smile, every christmas song on the radio (except “do they know it’s christmas,” ugh) makes my toes wiggle, and i’m wearing a red-and-green set of pajamas right now.

anyway, before i left the church, i took a final restroom break before getting on the bart to go home. the toilet paper was running out, and so i hunted down a new roll. and i thought about how sometimes that better, kingdom-of-heaven world that is possible, gets it start from small moments of discipline, like the ministry of putting on a new roll. that sounds potentially sardonic, but i don’t mean anything disrespectful. i mean, respecting the next stranger who comes along, having no idea who they will be.