Controlled chaos, at the very least

I think I’ve figured it out. The reason why I’m in a very frequent state of existential angst. I feel like I’m going up a creek in many areas of my life. I’m looking for solutions, even proposing solutions, but very few seem to be picking up what I’m putting down. It could be me. But I have reasons for why I think it’s not just me.

Recently my sanctuary has been my couch, with cozy lamps and candles and husband and pup. Not to mention a bastion of blankies (pitties love blankies in case you didn’t know). I’ve been watching a lot of TV. Granted, we both were feeling under the weather this week. We had very little motivation for household chores or cooking or really anything.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to not be back to (ever) running a million miles an hour to get everything done…. for what purpose? Just to be busy? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m welcoming the shorter days and longer nights with open arms. I’ve been totally fine with heading upstairs to go to bed just short of 8 o’clock. This acceptances comes from the understanding that 1) I am an animal whose body responds to the amount of daily sunlight there is and 2) I learned some shit from the pandemic.

I can’t say the same for society. I am freaking disappointed about it, too. Everywhere I turn there is mass chaos, and I’m not exaggerating. Just come to the school where I work. Come to my local grocery store. Walk down the sidewalk adjacent to a busy road. Chaos is everywhere. (And excuse me for being a little vague in this post about from where exactly the angst is originating.)

One of the aspects of this particular chaos though is that it can manifest itself as quiet, insidious. It looks different than kids shooting up schools and assholes going 95 on 95 and EF-5 tornadoes in December (although we know that’s happening too…). This chaos looks like people not learning a damn thing from the pandemic. Being all too happy to “get back to normal,” as if their normal were actually good. It wasn’t. (Maybe I shouldn’t judge?) It was comfortable. It was easy. It’s much much more difficult to actually look at your pandemic-and-stress-riddled complexion in a mirror and decide to change your ways. It looks like doom-scrolling as if it’s your part-time job. It looks like bitching and complaining about things you could either change or walk away from. It looks like people still being marginalized and discriminated against.

While I don’t particularly feel a strong vibe of all types of chaos everywhere I go, I feel different aspects of it manifesting at different times in different places. Least of all in my own house. So that’s where I feel safe, that’s why it’s my sanctuary. And try as I might to bring some of this into the world, the world (or at least, my world) is telling me in so many words that they don’t want it. They want things to be “normal,” which in my experience is boring, irrelevant, too expensive, exclusive, pedantic. I don’t want that normal. Normal be damned, I say.

A great thing to come out of this pandemic is a lot of people like myself who are looking for something better. We’re trying to change the things we can, and when we’ve exhausted all resources trying to get people on board, we’re going for change.

Don’t look down

It’s what people say when you’re at an uncomfortable height. It’s advice and admonishment. It’s a warning against the inevitable void that will entice you to fall. It could be a bend from reality, a willful ignorance of what actually exists.

At some point, we have to look down and get real. We have to accept reality and take responsibility for our fear. And then we have to make a plan to face and conquer it.

I think this looks different for everyone, but I can surely tell you what it isn’t, especially as we move into what I call the “post-COVID” era. It’s not: not taking care of your body, not nourishing your mental health, not encouraging and lifting up others, not showing gratitude, not driving dangerously on the morning commute, being a continuous source of negativity.

This global experience is tragic, yes, but as Richard Rohr writes in Falling Upward, “Life is inherently tragic.” It’s a fact that too many have either not realized or blatantly ignored. What I see is an experience that has the potential to bring us together as humans. With seven billion people on the planet, what experience do we all have that is actually similar? Welcoming new life, grieving death, filling our bellies. That is what we all share, and can also be described as the human condition.

This is a unique time to be alive. But with this unique landscape comes unique responsibility. We have more evidence now than ever of what trauma can do to a person. We have multitudes of resources for mental health. We have the potential to be connected to practically anyone anywhere in the world.

What does “Don’t look down” look like right now? It looks like us harnessed in safely to the side of the mountain, prepared with all our gear. Helmet, rope, someone who can help us in an emergency. It looks like knowing how exactly high up we are and accepting the possibility that we are in a dangerous position. It looks like having enough training to be able to help another climber navigate to safety instead of being the reason they fall.

Let’s get it together, folks.

Breaking my COVID vows

It’s October 2021, and in case you didn’t realize it, 2022 is just around the corner. Almost two years since the world changed. I mean, the world is always changing, but a global pandemic will do a number on “normalcy.” Don’t worry, though, I won’t rush through the last two months of the year. Fall and winter are my jam. Hibernation, introspection… basically an introvert’s dream.

From Reddit

Hey, remember that time that the social landscape actually became the introvert’s dream? Yeah, me too. I am an introvert, and it was my dream to have an external reason to not do anything. By anything, I don’t mean keeping up with friends and family or planning meals or keeping up a house. I mean all the other stuff. Everything on the calendar seemed so superfluous at the time, and yet right now back in “normal” life (insert cat vomit sound effect here), it all seems very necessary. And I hate it.

Not commuting and packing a lunch and picking out an outfit really simplified my life. Those are just things on the surface, but removing that layer enabled me to get away from the low-frequency buzz of the clock, also called anxiety, that permeated every day to some extent. Obviously, the weekend days don’t seem to adhere to the clock as much, but once you get to about 4 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, you begin to live in the near-future rather than the present. I don’t like that feeling anymore.

It used to be a comfort to me, having one foot in the future and one in the present. Being beholden to the clock, knowing what was going to happen and when. But during the Great Shutdown, I found that days seemed to not just pass me by like a fast-moving train. Each day felt like an adventure. Some days were obviously less adventurous and the dress code was 100% comfort, but an adventure nonetheless. Things like making tea or a delicious meal were the highlights, rather than a fast-paced sprint to Monday morning filled with alarms and… ahem.. pants.

I will be the first to admit that I have already broken my vows to myself that I made during the height of the pandemic. Things like, “I will never allow myself to be that busy again,” or, “I will only commit to one activity on the weekend.”

Now that I’ve been living in “new normal” for a bit, I can see that I have made changes for the good, changes to keep my life more simple. My mindset is what constantly needs the shift. And trying to keep the anxiety and external noise quiet paired with implementing a true “work/life” balance with my demanding teaching job makes for a very hard paddle up a river.

I think I will find a good balance for myself. One that integrates the simplicity of mindset with the necessity of social and intellectual stimulation that we all need because it’s our biological imperative. It’ll just take time, and I probably won’t get there by 2022. Yes, it’s coming.

March wrap-up + the need for silence

Here we are in the beginning of April. Sure, spring technically comes in March, but April really shows the sun coming up earlier and going to bed later, like it’s too excited for the day to sleep any longer than necessary. Like it’s coming out of hibernation. I share the sentiment.

In March, we hit milestone: a year since COVID-19 joined our lexicon as an everyday word, since debates and discussions of the CDC and mask-wearing protocols and virtual school inserted themselves as dinner-table talk. Maybe also as breakfast- and lunch-table talk. Coupled with that milestone and the end of winter, my mind has been busy lately. And when my mind is busy, I need more silence.

Sometimes that looks paradoxical – it looks like more TV watching, less thinking. Or more thinking and less ambient noise. Or just working around the house without any music on (super unlike me). A result of needing more headspace has been reading fewer books.

This month I read a mix of a space opera, magical realism/kind-of fantasy, and meditation/poetry. While my attitude towards reading (or the books I read?) was kind of slump-y, I’m happy that I mixed up my genres.

Reading mountains of pages has seemed like a luxury throughout The Time of the Global Pandemic and the winter therein. It was easy to cozy up to books when it was cold outside. When more clothes and blankets and pillows were needed. When hot coffee or tea is protection from After a long day of virtual learning and working from home, it was easy to transition into a different headspace.

However, with the world (or at least Northern Hemisphere) opening up both seasonally and physically, it seems I should be doing something different than hibernating. Let me change that: could, not should. I could be doing something different.

Obviously books have a place. It’s a hobby I have really enjoyed and actually have found quite necessary. But tending the lawn and spring cleaning the house and purging the unnecessary also has a place that sometimes is just as important.

To be honest, I have dreaded this moment I’ve arrived at. The end of quarantine (or relative end… the end of strict quarantine), the end of a forced hibernation and hunkering-down. The beginning of more socialization and activities and meetings and…. well, there it is. The end of un-busy-ness.

The time and space created by a global health crisis is beginning to fly away, and I’m grasping on to it desperately, pleading with the world to not let it go. There is a place for shorter commutes and more time at home. There is a place for less aimless socializing and more intentional relationships. There is a place for less multitasking and more focused, high-quality work ethic.

While I’m navigating this difficult transition, I’ve allowed myself some space. For me, that looks like getting up earlier and going to bed later. That means letting go of control of some household tasks that I’ve held in my heart of pride for too long. That looks like ambivalence for committing to new activities, or restarting old ones. That means drinking in the stories I read, and taking time to curate the words I write. That looks like letting my brain rest, either with more running or sitting on the patio watching the birds or playing Nintendo or simply watching TV, accompanied by no other activities. Productivity is no longer my end goal.

I wasn’t quite sure how I would get here, but as they say, Necessity is the mother of invention, and where does invention start but in our own lives?

You are not your calendar

It’s okay to step away from something, even if you’ve been doing it for years. Especially if you’ve been doing it for years. It’s something I’ve been trying to tell myself. Unfortunately, some of my time that I’ve rediscovered as I’ve stepped away from commitments is steeped in guilt, kind of like the half-drunk mug of tea I left sitting on the end table last night.

I look at it, realize that it’s very uncharacteristic of me to just leave things like that around the house, undone, but then it only takes a minute to clean it up and get on with my day.

There’s always a new day, and a fresh pot of coffee.

That’s what it feels like to strip away the patina of the calendar – like that first sip of coffee. Though I’ve been looking at clocks and calendars my whole life, it feels new to look at a clock and not be rushing to the next commitment. To take that first sip of the morning and not be immediately pouring it into a travel mug.

Fresh starts were good; that separateness was where you could feel yourself, where you could learn who you were apart from everyone else.

Akwaeke Emezi in The Death of Vivek Oji

Don’t be deceived that this is easy. Lots of people go around telling people that all you have to do it say, “No.” Emphatically. Like you really mean it. If it were that easy, we wouldn’t have scores and scores of people in this country tired, beat down, exhausted, and fatigued from every day life.

I get that we’re in a pandemic right now, almost a year on, however this state of affairs only serves as a magnifying glass for this huge dare-I-say ridiculous and out-of-hand societal problem of “yes.”

I sit here, sipping my coffee, and this is the morning when my work-from-home dream ends. Never again in my career will I experience schools shutting down for a global health crisis (at least I don’t anticipate another pandemic…. but we’ll see what the Universe has in store). Never again as a public school teacher will I commute from my kitchen to my office, never having started the car or stopped for gas or even put on makeup like I used to.

The pandemic has helped me say no when I felt like I couldn’t. When I really, really, wanted to, but felt like guilt was holding me down. I was forced to just… stop. And breathe.

As my sister and I reminisced in a conversation recently (podcast episode to be posted this week), 2020 was a year. But it was also a good year. Which feels weird to admit. BUt one of self-reflection and growth and learning to say “no” and damn the consequences.

My whole life my identity has been wrapped around my activities and accomplishments. While it may look great on paper, my propensity for filling up my calendar is actually an attempt to fill a large gaping hole that is hungry for Guilt. And Self-Sacrifice. The only way for me to feed Guilt is to sacrifice my own self-worth and sanity. And I did it, for years.

And did you see the verb tense I just used? “And I did it.” Past tense. Not present perfect, not past progressive. But past. Because I’m done feeding that monster. I’m beginning to fill up that hole with reading and walking and pondering and conversations and relationships. Soon there won’t be any room at all for Guilt and its companions.

I am a worthy, capable, loving, generous, compassionate human being with or without filling up my calendar and saying yes to all the things. You are a worthy, capable, loving, generous, compassionate human being with or without filling up your calendar and saying yes to all the things. Let’s make our default “no” and carefully and cheerfully say “yes” to a few things that we can do well, and with that we will snuff out Guilt.

Choosing to not drink is easy; sobriety is hard

I don’t mean that the act of not drinking is so difficult. I mean, it can be, especially on the Saturday of a long weekend where I just feel good all day, and what could make it better besides a lovely cocktail or two? In all honesty though, overall it hasn’t been difficult for me to choose to not drink.

That said, after posting this at the beginning of November, the de facto start to the American holiday season, I did imbibe on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Neither time was crazy. I had maybe two glasses of good wine. No hangover, not really any disrupted sleep. But it felt empty. Kind of pointless without the high.

So since Christmas Eve, I’ve abstained. And the difficult part has been the actual state of being sober. The fact that I’m not using alcohol as a proverbial lidocaine to numb my feelings feels a bit like drinking water from a firehose. Emotions are no longer dampened or delayed. They scream in your face, wanting attention, wanting to be dealt with and examined. Right. Now.

Sobriety and self-regulation go hand-in-hand. In my experience (your mileage may vary), you can’t navigate one successfully without the other. It doesn’t have to be sobriety as in abstinence from alcohol, either.

Back in March of the ill-fated year of 2020, I remember feeling like finally all my hard work in therapy had paid off because the world was closing in around us (that’s quite hyperbolic… but that’s 2020 for you) and I felt sober of mind. I felt like I could see the world from up above, and observe my own actions and thoughts rather than be my actions and thoughts. And it was freeing and overwhelming at the same time.

I remember thinking that even beyond work done in therapy, I had come a long way, being able to withstand an undetermined amount of time of isolation at home. Uncertainty everywhere else. I’d come a long way from the child or teenager who when she just couldn’t stand it anymore (pick whatever it you want) she went to her room and slammed the door. Or walked out of the house and slammed the door. I slammed doors a lot.

The slamming of a door, proverbial or literal, is a symptom of emotional dysregulation. As a teenager, I let the annoyances, sadness, and frustrations pile higher and higher because “You will be Little ladies,” and “You don’t need a nap during the day,” and “I’ll give you something to cry about,” and “Do you want an attitude adjustment?” Instead of trying to enter the conversation, I was intimidated by whatever consequence awaited me (and I assumed there would be from prior experience). So I just grinned and bore it. Or didn’t grin. But definitely had to bear it. And then it would get to be so much that eventually I would yell so loud and slam the door so hard and cry so uncontrollably as I walked as fast as I could to my friend’s house across the church parking lot and present my emotional dysregulation volcano or dumpster fire or whatever metaphor you want. I made it someone else’s problem because I wasn’t given the skills or the safe space to practice. There was very little room for error, and especially since I was a high-achieving, super motivated student and responsible member of the family.

So now as a grown-ass adult, I am doing my best to realize when I am getting ready to slam a door, and being completely sober can make it even more difficult. But I don’t like slamming doors, or yelling, “I hate you!” or “I never want to see you again!” or “You don’t understand me and you never will!” so I try my best to make sure it doesn’t happen.

I’m still learning how to self-regulate. The third week in January, a four-day work week I might add, was one of great emotional dysregulation. By that Friday night, every single grief, worry, sadness, emotion was turned up loud. And the only way I knew how to navigate it was to just pull the plug from the wall. I’m still learning how to turn the volume dial.. like back in the day when you got a new boombox and the volume or tuner dial were oh-so-sensitive. Or when you accidentally gun the rental car out of the airport parking lot. Nothing under 90, amirite?

The problem with using alcohol or any substance to soothe is that the practice of regulating yourself is delayed. You might think, Yeah, I need to work through this, but not tonight. It’s been a week. I’ll relax tonight and deal with it another time. But doing that is only putting a kink in the hose. It’ll straighten itself out at some point and then where will you be?

I think one reason I don’t turn to alcohol when I’m confronted with negative experiences or emotions is that it isn’t my only coping mechanism. I think this is key. I write. I read. I go for a walk. I go for a run. I message a friend. I have other ways of turning down that dial, and those things have aided in my entire journey with alcohol.

A Memory Called Empire – Reading Blog (spoiler free)

January 8, 2021

I started this book soon after finishing a quick foray into the icy floes of the Arctic. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I don’t normally read “space operas” – in fact, I had to ask a friend what that even was. “Star Wars is a space opera,” he told me. Fair enough. I am familiar enough with Star Wars (at least the OG episodes) to understand. I have a deadline to finish this book – I am reading it for book club at the end of the month.

Page 100 – so far, so good. I can totally relate to this character’s innate flaw – the fact that she is trying to traverse and assimilate into the Teixcalaanli culture after years of study and even slight obsession. I make a connection in my mind to my slight obsession with Spanish and Latin American cultures, specifically Mexican. Fashioning the main character within a new world and language that is not her own is a great way to build suspense and conflict throughout – it will affect every interaction and event in the story.

There is a lot of talk about poetry and different structures the world employs to tell stories – history of the architecture, history of the world. It’s quite interesting, and definitely gives a sense that this world is steeped in culture, god-worship, and literature. Being a linguist myself (or at least, amateur), I so appreciated the line that says,

The Sunlit use of the first-person plural was unusual and slightly disconcerting. That last “we” ought to have grammatically been “I,” with the singular form of the possessing verb. Someone could write a linguistics paper, for girls on stations to gush over late on sleepshift–

page 98

Ok, friends. Have to get to work. I plan on reading quite a lot this weekend.


January 13, 2021

I stand corrected; I did not in fact read as much of this book as I wanted this past weekend. For some reason I imagine myself all coiled up on the couch with coffee for the entire weekend. Life has to happen, chorin’ has to happen. Another book caught my attention (Deep Work by Cal Newport) – and I finished that one instead. It was a good call because this week has been great at work.. so far.

Ok, I’m now at page 300.

For being a “brilliant space opera” (that is, not my first choice of genre), I am enjoying this book quite a bit. And I’m trying to figure out why. Maybe I should just accept that yes, I do like some science fiction, and let it be. But also I think part of a reading blog is to tease out the details of why I am enjoying said book. At least for me it is.

So much has happened to our main character, Ambassador Mahit Dzmare. It’s been less than a week into her assignment to Teixcalann from Lsel and she’s run into quite a bit of trouble. The synopsis will tell you that the former ambassador has died from unknown-to-our-protagonist causes, and that it’s up to her to figure out what’s going on before she gets killed.

We have a couple of allies helping our main character: Twelve Azalea and more notably, Three Seagrass, her cultural liaison. I don’t want to give much away because I want this to be a spoiler-free get-inside-my-head reading blog.

To that end, I will say that for someone who has not read hardly any science fiction in her life, the world building and immersion is supreme. Truly. Martine really has thought about all the aspects of a civilization and incorporated them into her created world. One of the most effective ways she creates this cohesion is by her use of epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. These range anywhere from transcriptions of flights, excerpts from scripts of a show or performance, quotes from seminal literature… all of those things help to create a well-rounded experience for the reader.

Below I’m including a few of my favorite quotes so far. I will say that generally when I pull a quote from a book, it is philosophical in nature, something that ties me down to the world I’m currently in. Interesting how created worlds still have so much to teach us. I will check in again after I finish the book. Toodles!

Better to take action than to be paralyzed by the thousands of shifting possibilities.

page 203

It is by such small degrees that a culture is devoured.

page 240

So much of who we are is what we remember and retell.

page 290

January 14, 2021

Patriotism seemed to derive quite easily from extremity.

page 304

Hmm. Interesting quote considering recent events.

I just finished the book today. I read 90% of it and listened to about 10%. To be honest, the big reason I listened to any portion of it was to hear the names read out loud.

That aside, the political intrigue and palace antics don’t stop before the end of the book, and they actually bring the plot right to the end. Since this is a spoiler-free blog, I won’t mention events, but I will say that this could be a stand-alone book as most things seemed to be brought to a resolution. Yes, there is a bit of romance, but nothing that overtakes the plot.

Overall, I would give this book 4.25 stars. A book full of political intrigue is generally not my number one pick, but then again, I read this for a book club. For me, one of the points of joining a book club is to be introduced to new books, new authors, new ideas.. so A Memory Called Empire definitely fits the bill.

I did a bit of research on the author, Arkady Martine, and based on her background in history, it makes sense how she came across all the ideas to meld them into this story. I also think it says a lot about an author when they can weave in different genres of writing, such as the poetry, play excerpts, and transcriptions in epigraphs preceding the chapters.

Finally, I identified and empathized so much with the situation of the main character, Mahit Dzmare, and the fact that she was finally immersed in a culture she’d been obsessively studying since she was a child. The way the author expresses Mahit’s experience of being multilingual is so spot-on. I think this part was maybe my favorite aspect of the book.

The sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, is on my To Be Read for this year. A couple of quotes to leave us with something to think about…

The world functions as it ought to and if I keep behaving as if it will continue to, nothing will go wrong.

page 378

Poetry is for the desperate, and for people who have grown old enough to have something to say.

page 387

Creativity for creativity’s sake

I think I underestimated the effect that reading so much would have on me. I forgot how a book can climb its way into your soul, into the very threads which weave you together. Upending your memories, thoughts, feelings, relationships. Turning over new stones of discovery and wrecking you in the very best way in the process.

At least that’s what reading’s done for me.

Some books go fast – I’m a witness to a story and being entertained. Other books train me to run faster and jump over hurdles I’d never encountered before.

Sometimes you see yourself in the characters. In this latest one I’m reading, Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy, the timeline that constantly jumps around actually makes total sense. Franny Stone, the main character, is 34 years old. Just like me. She has endured many traumatic events that I never have, but all within a day or a week or a month I can revisit so many versions of myself, replay hours of scenes in my head, recreate complete environments as if I were a computer program. The mood and tone this book engenders has tapped into some deep shit, that I will say.

One super unexpected result reading has had is that my creativity is blooming again. Other factors might include (but not be limited to) less screen time on my phone; more going for walks around town; less alcohol flowing through my veins and disrupting, well, everything; working through therapy and mining and carrying out all the things in my soul, beautiful and banal, enticing and eccentric.

I feel so much like who I was right before puberty and who I became right after – all the feelings of impending womanhood and adulthood and potential mothering all wrapped into one. A giant ball of creativity and longing that looks tangled, makes complete sense to me, but that the world wants to see wrapped nicely and symmetrically into a ball.

I also love the way our psychological journey can mirror our physical journey, and that’s what I see with Franny in Migrations. She’s on a quest to witness the last migration of the arctic tern, come hell or highwater (quite literally) and there are stops along the way that trigger memory of events from her childhood and young adulthood.

The moments I create in my own life mimic the stops I take along the way of my own migration. Midwest to west Texas to Mid-Atlantic, all physical places that mimic big changes in me as a person. Maid to mother to crone, the last of that list yet to be seen. It’s all connected. The things I create and bring to fruition in the world (read: not babies) will be the joys of my life, enmeshed with the experiences and individuals who helped me bear them.

I have to respond to the depths of my soul that cry out for air, that want to be made and created and shared. It’s creativity for creativity’s sake, yes, but also for my own life’s sake.

“Good riddance, 2020.”

I think so many people across God’s green earth would agree with the sentiment of “Good riddance, 2020.” “Peace out.” “Fuck off.” “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”


Twenty-twenty was a year. And damn, does it feel good to be about three weeks away from it, to have 2020 growing smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. One of the things I mutter under my breath as I drive away from the shitstorm that was 2020 is, “It’s the year you will always remember but the one you want to forget.”

However, I think there is a danger in really taking that to heart and erasing 2020 from our collective human psyche. Just like anything we put on the Internet, it’ll still be there forever.

I think many people, perhaps for the first time, experienced long-standing grief and trauma at all levels. To some extent, that grief and trauma are not quite done with us yet. The thing is, processing all that has happened and bouncing back to some sort of normalcy can’t occur if we pretend it never happened.

Historically (and not-so-historically), Americans are really good at pretending shit doesn’t happen. So much I could say here, but let’s talk about death and related rituals for a second. Towards the middle of the 1800s, we started outsourcing death and all its routines to undertakers and funeral homes. People used to prepare their own family members and loved ones for their eternal resting places, but that practice now seems absolutely absurd and, well, morbid.

We purposely distanced ourselves from the very practice that may have made the process of grief easier to begin by seeing our deceased loved ones and touching their bodies in order to prepare them for their burial. Instead, we may or may not see them die, or immediately after they’ve died, and it’s not until they’re pumped full of chemicals and hair and makeup done that we approach them.

For a long time, I was freaked out by seeing the deceased in an open casket in a mothy, poorly lit funeral home, attended by men in suits whom I did not know. I thought that after years of this aversion, I thought I should just “get over it” because it seemed silly. Did anyone else feel that way? From my second grade teacher Miss Renfro’s visitation when I was ten (which was on the heels of my uncle’s unexpected death earlier that year) to my great-grandmother at age 12, to my grandparents at ages 19, 26, 29, and 32, I really thought something was wrong with me.

As it turns out, embalming bodies is just unnatural. By definition. And no wonder I had such a hard time working through my grief – my loved ones were made to look as they did, in life, while they were breathing and walking and laughing and talking. But they were not alive. And had we had different practices surrounding death and what comes after it until they, or their cremains, are lowered into the ground, maybe I would have not needed so much therapy. (Debatable…)

The point is that the farther we get away from the events that hurt us, the less closure we have, the more we close ourselves off, the longer it will actually take us to even begin the healing process. Sure, that Year from Hell might look great as it disappears into the headlights and sunset behind us, but it might come back full-force as we’re trying to get to sleep, or when we see a picture dated “2020,” or when we remember a birthday or holiday from that year.

There is a different level of comfort for everyone when it comes to naming and claiming our grief. I think that’s a natural part of who we are as humans. We’re all on this journey together, but some of us travel through deserts, through tundras, through lush forests – that is, all of us have different experiences that may help or hinder our moving-forward.

But we have to. So many have hope that 2021 will be a better year. I think it really can be, but only if we truly allow ourselves to grieve, process the pain (and the joys! I’m sure you have at least one) and gently close the door with a wave and understanding smile instead of slamming the door and shouting expletives. Let’s give 2020 the leave-taking that it, and we, deserve.

Religion & faith in context: The Book of Longings

Let me start by saying, Wow. I was blown away by this book by Sue Monk Kidd, who also wrote the best-selling Secret Life of Bees (which I have not read). The Book of Longings was really a book I have needed in my life for a long time, though it was just released. It was my first finished book of 2021, but one that will be on my mind for a long time.

Here is a link to my review (spoilers).

Beyond the review of the book, I can say that I think I know why my therapist might have recommended this to me. She often recommends literary fiction, some of which I have read to the end, some of which I have DNF’d, and some which I have avoided, like Book of Longings.

I have been on a faith journey my whole life, beginning from the time I was four years old and our neighbor Anna Rushford invited my family to church, the church right across the alley. It happened to be a United Methodist church, and this faith tradition was heavy on both sides of my family. I had even been baptized in a different Methodist church when I was only 2.

Fast forward to now, when I’ve been a Christian for 30 years, having been a member and at times heavily involved with different kinds of churches, all the while with questions in my mind about who God is and what his relationship to me looks like. I also recently have been questioning where Christians get some of the ideas they do about the Bible, and then decide that what they have learned is the only way to interpret it, and THEN use it to degrade, judge, ostracize, and ignore others. That I’m angry about.

Besides the religious aspect of Book of Longings, I thought a lot about the plight of women rich and poor in the first century. Though my life looks quite different than women of that time, I can relate to so much. What I can’t understand because of my own time, place, and privilege, I can imagine. No matter the social station of different phases of life of our main character, Ana, she experiences tragedy and silencing of her voice. She has deep emotions and desires that are often in conflict with each other. Her experience showcases many aspects of the general human experience.

I did cry at a point in this book, and if you’re not familiar with the story of Jesus or if you haven’t read this book, stop reading! I saw Jesus’ betrayal and death through new eyes, but really, eyes that might have been there. I knew there was a group of women including his mother and Mary Magdalene, but never in my life had considered that his wife would be there, nor that she might have just barely made it back after a long absence to see her own husband put to death. For some reason, witnessing that momentous event through new eyes had a profound impact on me.

I know what love is, and I know what it looks like in the context of my faith. I believe that two people can be brought together for not only love, but for companionship and the betterment of the world. And I know what it feels like to be separated from that person for long periods of time. I know what it feels like to just have to get my voice out – that’s why I write. But I write on a screen, not on papyrus.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s all connected. For a long time, I have compartmentalized many things: my relationship with God, my experience as a woman, my sexuality, my wants and desires for life. But it’s really all related and part of my human experience. I think just as the Trinity – Father God, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit – cannot be separated, our body and spirit cannot be separated.

This union of elements for me has been a new experience, and one I’ve desperately needed as I find my way in the world as a woman with a body and a soul and as a woman without children. When I go places, I take both my body and my soul with me, always. When I experience happiness, it flows through my mind and also my body. I first learned about what the world was like through my body (attachment theory). How then can my body be separated from my mind or soul?

Today we still return to our roots in times of crisis; we look to the stories of our origins to make sense of things, to remember who we are.

In Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

Returning to my roots is not an option for me – I must do it. That means returning to the stories that shaped my childhood and my first views of the world – the stories of the Bible. For several years I have been the absolute worst scholar of the Bible, and maybe it’s just as well. The scholar hat really isn’t fitting well, and that’s okay. I just have to come at it from a different angle. I’ll get back there with time and care. It cannot be forced.

In all, The Book of Longings did something for me that I have needed – it has given me a context for understanding Jesus in a way that I can understand and relate to on a visceral level, in a way that can easily bypass my brain and all its questions – through the love of another human.