i went to a quaker-led journaling workshop this week. it was at the berkeley meeting, which is just a short bike ride away from my house. it’s based around a book by parker palmer, who i’ve read and enjoyed as an educator.

i showed up late to the workshop and people were already journaling about a poem called “fire” by judy sorum brown, and i was given some potential prompts and asked to think about the fire in my life.

first i rambled in my journal about where i was, what i was doing, why i was late, trying to get myself acquainted with the page. then i started writing about how i’m not 100 percent sure what the fire even is. if it’s in my job, then it seems like the fire is just going whether i want it to or not. later, we had the opportunity to share our thoughts with another person, and i analogized my situation to a trail of gasoline. at the end of it is a bigger bonfire, and that’s where there will be spaces for oxygen to tend to the fire, but right now it’s just a running trail and i’ve got to go with it because there’s no other option.

but is that my “spiritual fire” or not?

then i wrote a list of all of the things that i conflate together although they are not the same:
god,
quakerism,
quaker meeting,
christianity,
prayer,
service,
spirit,
responsibility…

& wrote about how i find myself making internal statements like, “i’m not as connected to god as i used to be because i’m too busy and sometimes have to miss committee meetings.” which brings me to the only theological question i seem to ever ponder these days, which is:

was i more connected to god when i had so much free time at my disposal for explicit contemplation, or am i more connected now, when i’m too busy doing what i think is god’s work for me to stop and contemplate god all that much?

… every day, though, in the thick of it, more than last year even, i find myself asking over and over again, “make me an instrument of your peace.”

because that’s what you have to do when a 12 year old girl is defiantly screaming at you about how you are a sinner because you have a tattoo on your wrist, right after you asked her to please start the math work that everybody else is almost done with. and you’re pretty sure it’s going to happen again after lunch, too.

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take what you need and leave the rest.

today, i officially became a quaker.

i’m pretty excited. it felt right in a new big way. after my rocky time in between clearness committees, and going to quarterly meeting, and starting to actually really figure out what sort of role i have in the world/quakerism/my meeting, and having so many conversation dates and phone calls, i really REALLY feel part of this whole thing, in a way that i didn’t before i started the membership process. even the one month of seasoning, after my membership request was brought to last month’s business meeting, seemed to add to the richness of the moment.

it was pretty delightful. the elderly gentleman who was sitting next to me (who has come to the used bookstore i work in & who i visited in the hospital and loaned a book to that he keeps promising to return…) leaned over to me when my membership request was announced in business meeting and said, “i don’t know who that is!” and i laughed and pointed to myself and said, “that’s me!”

the moments afterward felt big somehow in this way i wasn’t expecting. it’s more of a formality in a way than the clearness committee, i think, but it felt less formal than that initially felt. i can’t express it except that i felt like we were really all part of a each other, and that i was really loved and respected by them (and i loved and respected them as well), which was so good.

and then it came time to ask who would be part of my welcoming committee, and the friend to my left offered to be part of it.

***

i sent out a text message that i was officially a quaker to a couple of people– and got a response that the person thought that had already happened and that i should blog about more nonquaker things. they’re right, i think, but i think i also just need to blog more in general. it’s hard, though, without internet in my own home, and the weird busyness of my life lately. frequently, when i get online now, i have to DO things– organize things for the young adult friends group, having email conversations about the state of our meeting in terms of race, diversity, young people, service, and a whole lot of other things, organizing one one one conversations about those things and others, organizing social justice conversations with people from my job, trying to find a bed on craigslist, applying for a summer job, figuring out what i need to do for employment in the fall… the list goes on and on. and isn’t super interesting as a list, i don’t think.

but here are some non-quaker things in my life right now.

* as of yesterday i have a bed and will no longer be sleeping on a folded in half shiatsu mat that my feet go off. it was free from this really great woman in oakland. yesterday, my ladyfriend and i took a zipcar truck to go get it and to move a couch from her friends’ house to hers.

* since the bed was free, i splurged and got 2 new pairs of pants and have set aside my ersatz attempts at trouser crotch patching for the time being.

* i’ve been having some really fun breakfast dates with a girl i went to college with who recently moved to the city.

* i’ve been eating beets as much as i possibly can. and have discovered how amazingly i can change a “just pasta, red sauce, and cheese” dish, if i put it in a casserole dish in the oven.

* i’ve had a lot of days off from my job at the school due to various holidays, including chinese new year.

* i scheduled a social justice conversation at my house on monday but the only person that showed up was my co-facilitator. that was sad, but it’s nice just drinking tea and chatting with someone in my house, and i should do more of that.

* my housemate had a friend stay over on our floor for a few days, and i kept getting into really long conversations with him in a way that’s totally different with how i interact with my housemates.

* yesterday, that housemate was diagnosed with one of those really scary staph infections that are resistant to basically everything. she doesn’t seem as worried as she did when she thought she might have it, so… that’s good?

* i’ve been booking up tons of my evenings and mornings with conversations and meetings and stuff and it’s been really good.

* my school job has been by turns frustrating and amazing. i’d say way more about that except for confidentiality and… TIME!!!

and then there are the myriad things that are going on in my psyche & soul that are not really quaker-specific in the grand scheme of things, but that have been hugely helped along by my quaker practice and community (with plenty of help from spiritual books from various traditions, conversations with non-quakers, co-dependents anonymous literature, and life in general). i want to write about those, too, and will some day, hopefully. but now i have to clean the store.

october.

in 2nd grade, my best friend and i planned our suicides. i don’t remember what exactly we planned to do, or even exactly why, but we talked about it a lot.

5 years ago, on halloween, my dad died of a drug overdose. i don’t know if it was on purpose or not, but… the way i’ve been thinking about it most recently is that he finished killing himself on that day. drugs and self-loathing were such a part of him, for as long as i can remember.

finally, for the first time, about a month ago, which was about a month after i had a “woah! maybe i’m not actually crazy!” realization, i finally thought, “woah! suicide is not necessarily an option.” for as long as i can remember, when things get bad, i’ve held hands with the idea that i could die if i really wanted. and finally finally i’m thinking, “or actually not.”

the last few octobers have been hard. particularly at the beginning of the month– i see the 31st at the end of it and i dread it. eventually, and actually well before the day, i make peace with it, and then on the 31st i’ve been more okay than i thought i would be. sometimes the 30th has been really hard.

this year, october has felt mostly okay. i was even thinking of dressing up. for logistical reasons, i think i’ve decided not to, at this point, but i’ve been actually weirdly excited about the day. but in the past day or so, it’s gone back to, “no, really? does it actually have to come this year? couldn’t it just pass? can’t i just sleep all day?”

i don’t know what the day will actually bring, but those were some of the things going on in me during meeting for worship today. and there was some ministry about death and lost people.

at some point, i clasped my hands and realized that my fingers are getting thicker. they’re harder to put around each other, which is strange. and my carpal tunnel was acting up a little. and i thought, “i am so much both of my parents.” my dad’s thick fingers, my mom’s sad wrists.

and i thought about how when i was first contemplating testosterone, i freaked out a lot about the concept of looking more and more like my broken, damaged, dead father. could i actually face that… face?

but really– and maybe it’s the effects of these hormones and maybe it’s growing up and maybe this gender really is a skin i’m comfortable with and maybe it’s the peace of quaker meeting– or maybe (probably) it’s a combination of all of those– and maybe it’s not permanent– i no longer terrify myself. and that’s pretty nice.

reading karen armstrong’s the battle for god and ann brashare’s 3rd sisterhood of the traveling pants book, girls in pants, i was startled to find a similar theme. the them and “moral” of both, seems to be that… when people feel bad about themselves and/or when they feel threatened, they get mean. this is, i guess, sort of obvious, but… i think we miss it a lot when we are dealing with difficult people. i thought about it a lot today at the peace vigil outside the federal building. mostly people who passed were really positive, but we had 2 really angry people, too. when i was hearing the happy honks, i thought about the idea i’ve heard some that “the tide has turned” and the way that this is linked to people’s frustration (mine included) that it took other people so long to realize that the war is wrong. i’ve heard (and i think said) “how could they be so stupid for so long?” but maybe not’s the right question. “why are they so hurt and scared and angry?” might be the right one. ministering to their hurts is probably the best way to win them over… but i’m still speaking of us & them…

and, also, i was a total grouchy brat yesterday, so it’s not like my insights into human nature are doing me a whole lot of practical good right now.

….

in other news, i was going over some quotes i marked from the battle for god and these got me thinking about quaker plain dress:

“Western observers were particularly dismayed by the spectacle of women returning to the veil, which they had seen as a symbol of Islamic backwardness and patriarchy since the days of Lord Cromer. But it was not experienced in this way by those Muslim women who voluntarily assumed Islamic dress for practical reasons and also as a way of casting off an alien Western identity. Donning a veil, a scarf, and a long dress could be a symbol of that ‘return to the self’ which Islamists were attempting with such difficulty in the postcolonial period…

Where Western men and women attempt to bring the body under the control of the human will in their gyms and workouts, and cling to this life by making teir bodies impervious to the process of time and ageing, the veiled Islamic body tacitly declars that it is under divine orders and oriented not toward this world but to transcendence. In the West, men and women often display and even flaunt their expensively acquired tans and finely honed bodies as a mark of privilege; Muslim bodies, concealed under layers of very similar clothing, emphasize the equality of the Islamic vision. By the same token, they assert the Koranic ideal of community over the individualism of Western modernity.”

… it’s funny because it gave me insight into my own trouble about plain dress. how plain dress and plain speech for me right now involve revealing all. all of who i am… believing that that’s important.

… i have more to say about both of those topics, but i have to go.

whoa!!!! that post that i thought i lost at the library? it has been saved as a draft this whole time. so it is here. it is about 3 weeks old:

back from florida & san diego. puck’s computer is still in san diego with them, so i am at the library. i didn’t write anything in my journal all trip, but i did bring it. i didn’t bring the one i’d recently filled though, which is where most of my posts have been coming from here. so today i thought it was very important to bring it with me to the peace vigil because i was coming to the library afterwards. so my water bottle stood next to me as it usually does, but this time, it was propped up on a little brown book with a picture of a sock glued to the cover.

… i had a really cozy morning, and was very quiet at the vigil… and things felt really good. and then i had a lovely panic attack about 5 minutes later… is that supposed to happen? *laughs* i know there is no real such thing as “supposed to” but it really felt unfair to be like, “peace is nice… oh no! world is going to eat me!!!!” i’m not sure who was being unfair, actually, but… i didn’t like it.

i’d like to say more about that, but i don’t know what. if anybody has any thoughts on spirituality and anxiety and why they can coexist in the same body, i’d like to hear them, thank you.

… from november 25th’s paper journal entry:

“why is it so important to me to ask the questions i’m asking– to ferret out the difference between acceptance & inclusion– to decide which is preferable, which is acceptable.

i am thinking of my friends as i go toward quakerism. how do i do this without alienating them? how do i explore these truths & find them true, without saying, or even implying, that their truth is wrong. (and if i think their truth is wrong, what then? how can i hold that conversation without being or appearing smug?)

jesus is just such a sensitive word. i feel like so many peiople have been clubbed over the head with jesus. how do i fix that? how do i fix that? do i fix that? can i fix that? should i fix that?

i want to flip ani around & say that this weapon is a tool– though jesus as tool is totally not all of it.

and now i’m all ‘how do i talk to other people about jesus?’ when the unanswered question is ‘how do i talk to myself about jesus?’ but ‘how am i’ & ‘how will i?’”

& 11-26

”things have been challenging. i am not equipped for this kind of life. i am too human & too dazzled by my humanity.

i have been practicing. practicing practicing practicing. where are my instant results? they were there, but now it is hard slugging, inward battles– & i question them, too. aren’t i always doing inward battles? this constant state of inner puzzlement — this constant unfolding — this constant reinvention– is it authentic? shouldn’t i have answers by now? will i ever have answers?

and why doesn’t my head ever shut up?

stop feeling ‘better than.’ and stop feeling ‘worse than.’ and start feeling equal.

…the god vs. self dichotomy is so puzzling. i want to bring my richest, best self before god, but i need to be careful not to descend into self-worship on the way. or forget it all & descend into self-loathing, which is equally my way.

my favorite people have always been those who seem to have their eyes uplifted. literally.”

i’ve been struggling with some stuff lately.

one thing is that i decided to write a letter to richard dawkins, author of the god delusion. i wrote it and it lives on our kitchen table until i work up the nerve to read the book and write more after having read it.

the same day i wrote that letter, i read a piece in an anarchist zine that seemed to equate right wing christianity and… christianity as a whole. and i was like, “i think i feel like i can handle this challenge. i think i can tell this person, who i already know a little anyway, about my upsets at the mass media’s portrayal of christianity as closed-minded, selfish, and cruel.” and so i wrote this impassioned email. and he wrote back. and something, i don’t even know what, hit my giant doubting button. no wait. nothing he said. but me trying to figure out how to respond.

how do i tell this person, whose calling is to be anti-authority, that there might be an ultimate authority… and that things still suck a whole lot?

and so i’ve been going through the “so much suffering, why why why?” thing… and the “what DO i think of god as authority” thing. and then last week i had that brilliant idea to skip out on the group where i can talk about this sort of stuff.

the second thing i’ve been thinking about is my greeting experience. and the way that it has become a kind of giant thing. and how i posted about it as a tangential bit to a post about the amazingness of giving vocal ministry for the very first time and it got put on quakerquaker as being about my greeting experience. and people from meeting still keep coming up to me and checking in. and i dunno… i am fine. my pride was wounded and confused for awhile, and i’m excited that some discussions are starting about how we greet… but i feel like i’m being treated like a victim of something… but when i start thinking of victims in this case, giant issues about poverty, mental health, and how to really be kind and respectful to someone all come up. and i don’t think i’m ready to tackle them. and so i am kind of grouchy about the whole thing. and confused. and i should probably have some more out loud conversations about it, rather than just stewing about it all and getting angry at people for caring about me. i appreciate the care. hugely. i feel a part of the meeting in a different way now. and i like that. i just feel like the person i’m worried about is the guy who i let in. and i hate that i feel totally helpless about him.

the third thing i’ve been thinking about is sex. and not in a pondering deep meanings kind of way. except then i start wondering if i should be. except then… i find that i can’t.

puck and i have a mostly-previously-unexplored poly-friendly relationship. and a few months ago, i started dating a very nice lady. and she and puck are also getting along well. and things are very cozy and happy. and i am a giant ball of hormones.

plus, i have apparently started getting hot flashes. seriously. boy puberty and menopause all at once. it’s fascinating.

(this has way oversimplified the whole relationship. i have been having many talks with myself and with others about how to do this relationship in the best way possible, and i’ve been praying about both of my relationships so much. and i am doing my best to be mindful and prayerful and careful and everything. but the point of it being in this post is that my attention span for deep issues keeps being trumped by my inner teenager.)

i only work 43 hours a week. there are people that work way more than that. way way way more than that. the thing, though, is that those 43 hours are split between 3 jobs. 1 hour is for one job, so that “doesn’t count.” except part of the reason that it all counts as much as it does is that i walk to work. and i love that, mostly. but then, when you are taking stock of your days and seeing that it took two and a half hours of walking, plus the 8 hours split between two jobs… you start to understand why your time seems so full. and why your feet are so tired.

i make a point of getting up at 7 in the morning to have silence and worship and a really good stretch. the past few mornings, though, i have been worn out. and sleeping seems so much more tempting than getting up to do those things. so i’ve been sleeping. and thursdays are my one day off a week, and i go to the vigil for peace and the quaker study group on that day. but yesterday, i just laid in bed. mostly. i did the dishes and took out the recycling and ran down to the corner market twice and changed the catbox… but… i also played a lot of video games and finished reading the ridiculous novel that i’ve been reading. and it was all meant to be very refreshing.

but instead i got all grouchy and tight and sad. it wasn’t until i was getting ready for bed last night that i realized that in my quest for time off, i’d taken time off from the things that actually refresh me. because they are the only things i can take time off from.

Published in: on 12 January, 2007 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  

from 11-14-06’s paper journal:

“i am always so concerned about making sure my time is Truly Worthwhile. usually it keeps me happier than when i spend a lot of time aimlessly. and in my definition of Truly Worthwhile, there is time for relaxation and nourishing self-care. as long as i know it is for a bigger purpose. i think it’s good, but i don’t know. and i get confused & distraught when i feel like i am wasting time– or when i view others as wasting time.

but life is so short. the idea of wasting a morsel of it is utterly terrifying.

that is probably the problem. the giant fear. my desire for a worthwhile life comes from a love of life and that’s good. but the terror of a not worthwhile life is dangerous. it is where my self-injurious panics come from. like when i lose something– finding it is Wasting Time and at that moment, punishable only by death. Talk about wasted time.

if my fear of wasted time comes from a fear of mortality– death should not be the immediate punishment….

in discussions… at quaker study group, i had an insight about myself, which is how critical i am of people i’ve been in the past. it is so easy because we are past that stage in ourselves. but we are not past that stage in other people. that is what i need to remember. their growth is not about me & what has & hasn’t worked for me. i can share insights, but i should not judge. their peak could be my low & still be higher than my peak.”

and the next day:

“listen.
be aware.
look up.
remember to look up.

the best thing about the ‘now i walk in beauty’ thing is how it reminds me to look up. there are other best things, but that is the thing i’ve remembered least when not doing it. beauty is above me– in the sky in all its moods, in the trees, in the decorations of the buildings i pass.”

well, first off, this. it’s about the die-in after the peace vigil last thursday. i was at the vigil but left before the die-in, but i’m excited about what happened… and there are pictures!

from 11-22:

“i have a hard time centering down when doing my kitchen solitary study. i think it is because i think of it as a study time. and also because my solitary silence is much more empty-feeling than the silence at Quaker meeting. it is full of the loudness of my own thoughts– & i cant figure out how best to do it. there is so much in my reading to mull over– there is this journal to use to unfold big thoughts,– there are cozy cats– there is the lack of feeling of community. i feel lost & frightened when left to my own devices. and at quaker meeting i know i am supposed to be worshipping, but here, worship feels like a lazy break from the importance of study (especially today with my bleary sleepy eyes), especially because it is still so stuttering & new & confused. i know how to read & think & write alone at a table. but meeting God here, i don’t know.”

i like that i leave some time between when i first write in my journal and when i post it, because i get to look back at what i wrote and see where i am. and fortunately, much has changed in my morning practice, since only 2 weeks ago. i’m not sure if it’s a for good change, but that lost feeling has been less.

Published in: on 12 December, 2006 at 10:24 am  Comments (1)  

from 11-11-06 in my paper journal (which i finished today. i’ve been writing in it since june 7, 2005):

“the last two day were exhausting becaue i’ve been working really hard on me & feeling like i’ve got some good tools to make my life so much better, but they take so much work &… that’s exhausting. i also think my theory of the flu shot was correct & added to the exhaustion.

i keep trying to find non-Christian Quaker texts. i want to know about that faith. i know about the redeeming power of Christ. i’m not ready to hunker down into it until i’ve seen my other options. jesus is not the only truth & i’m not certain he is my truth. he is a truth. he is a way & a truth & a light to The Truth, but i do not believe he is solely it. i believe that that belief– that there is only Christ– shrinks our souls, diminishes our connections with thos who have never heard of Christ, those who cannot accept him, thoe whose truths are just as beautiful, just as True. i think it splinters and breaks us to cling to that.

i, who clutch so much, ‘preaching’ against holding onto your god.

i just read an essay about letting go of ourselfs to get God, to be filled by God. i can’t do that yet. i am still learning to like myself. & i do. i love myself.

so frequently, religious leaders talk about how our culture teaches us to value ourselves too much. i don’t think that’s true. i think our culture teaches us to devalue our selves. we are never enough for it. i’d like to believe that we can meet God with our broken complete selves.

and i’m not sure how much we can give to God if we aren’t there.

i think this is because i’ve been contemplating vocal ministry so much. and how each person i’ve heard brings their gifts. and how each person brings their gifts to the world. and i think that’s the most beautiful thing in the world to me.

and if that’s not God, i think i might think it’s more beautiful than god.

by my definitions, i am pantheistic. God is so much everything. that is why ‘Now I walk in beauty, beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, above & below me’ & ‘all will be well & all will be well & all manner of thing will be well’ are so important to me. they remind me that no matter what is happening, no matter where i am, there is God & that is beautiful & that is well.

this is particularly helpful in the tenderloin.

every moment can’t help but be holy if you are surrounded by God. God is in this paper & this pen & this table & my bones & my cells & my soul. & everyone’s bones & cells & souls. & every awareness of that is worship. & it is easy & it is hard.”