Thursday, September 24, 2009

False Thinking Number One

I have no idea just how many posts about "false thinking" I could or may eventually write. Trust me, I have no interest in actually sitting down to analyze, categorize, and count up! And trust me again, we all might get a little fatigued and bored if I wrote about every last itty bitty one.

I'm sure there are lots of variations on false thinking that will crop up as I proceed, so it's likely there will be more posts related to this one.

The kinds of false thinking I'm thinking about usually relate to fear. Fear, especially the unacknowledged subterranean kind, conjures all sorts of stories, scenarios, reasons, strange logic, and the like, all designed to keep us safe and sound, and for me that usually means, stuck, hidden, playing small kinds of stuff.

A perfect example cropped up a couple of weeks ago after I saw the movie Julie and Julia. I called it "The Julie/Julia Syndrome" and blogged about it over on Trusting Delight. The basic gist of it was this, the fruit of the old, familiar deadly comparison game:

"Well, clearly I haven't got the right kind of blog to become a big hit and turn into a book and a popular movie starring Meryl Streep, so . . . why bother?" and "I keep reading and being told that no one reads blogs anymore, so . . . why bother?" and "Blogs are SO passe internet phenom, so . . . " You get the rather repetitive idea."

The current example (so, I suppose this should be called "False Thinking Number Two" or maybe even Two Thousand and Twenty-Nine) is the suggestion--no, it's more than a suggestion; let's call it a forceful, pig-headed opinion (and I mean no offense to pigs).

This particular stubborn and false-thinking opinion holds that I have no right, no authority from which to tell my "journey to freedom" story until I have gotten to the promised land. What do I know about the way to freedom if I haven't really gotten all the way yet? (Questions like how will I even know when I've gotten "all the way" are not considered relevant by the manager of the false thinking factory.) Why should anyone trust me?

Even though trusted friends as well as people who barely know me seem to agree that the real, raw story of traveling to freedom is what interests them. That is, the pitfalls and false starts and wrong turns and the keeping going make for a more compelling, real, and accessible story than if I were to write from some obnoxious higher ground of invulnerability or perfection.

And there's always that possibility that the process of writing the story little bit by little bit might also be part of the key to freedom, might even be the last little vessel or vehicle needed to cross the last bit of territory. Because writing, like most every creative endeavor, has the power to carry the creator to new and usually unexpected, or at least hard to control, "places".

"Places" such as the promised land and freedom are of course not really places on a map, places to arrive at where you plunk down your bags and set up shop and stay put happily ever after. Freedom, to state the obvious, is much more likely to be an ongoing process, a matter of personal commitment to keep facing my fears when they arise, to being open to learning new tools and practices for staring down, or better yet, befriending the fears and moving forward with them rather than waiting for a time when they cease to exist.

Moses is said to have seen the promised land from afar just before he died, but he wasn't allowed to cross over and actually to set foot in it and on it. But really, the promised land, the territory of freedom (happiness, joy, creativity, and so  much more), is an inside job, not an outside location. And that means we get to be there now, moment by moment. And that's plenty to sing and dance about right now! And now. And now.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's a Blog Story: Baby, Just Say "YES!"

*[Note: the title of this post is an adaptation of the last line of the refrain of Taylor Swift's song "Love Story".] This post is being simultaneously published on my blog Trusting Delight.

On June 9, 2009, I started a new blog called Freedom Diaries (that's this one). But I didn't tell anyone. In fact, I thought I had selected the blogging options that would keep it out of search engines and the like while I tested the idea and got a feel for it.

I began with a grand proclamation. (Is that an unfortunate hold-0ver from my clergy days--that I tend to make grand pronouncements from time to time? Probably. It was one of my default ways to end an otherwise weak sermon, I must confess--the grand rhetorical, homiletical closing flourish.)

Anyway, back to the story. My first post grandly proclaimed:

Earlier today I decided that sustaining two blogs was one blog too many. Now, at the risk of becoming the poster child for some sort of multiple blogging disorder, I'm starting another one a mere four hours later.

But this one's different. This one, in fact, has already been written. Just not published.

This blog already exists as entries in my various journals--most in spiral-bound notebooks, handwritten in Parker's washable blue fountain pen ink (most of the time); some in bits and pieces in my computer's memory. All that needs to happen is for me to choose and copy journal entries from one format into blog format, and presto! The Freedom Diaries will become a reality.

In the next post I tried to work out my approach, and then I promptly stopped. Totally bogged down in the muck of those old journals. No, that's not quite right. Totally bogged down in justthinking about wading through the muck of those old journals. I really and truly just stopped the blog.

In late July an email from someone I'd never met landed in my in-box. Someone who had somehow read my abandoned Freedom Diaries blog, the very blog that I thought was invisible to internet searchers and surfers. (It turns out I only thought I had chosen those options but never actually activated them!) The email let me know that at least one person out there in cyberspace wanted to hear more about this story. She had even left a comment on my first post: "Please keep writing...reveal more." Music to this blogger's ears and heart.

But for whatever reason I got scared, and went back into hiding. Like the proverbial groundhog, I had actually cast a shadow, had dared to stick my neck out into the light of day and had enough substance to be seen by someone, and back underground I went.

Fast forward several weeks to early September. On September 6, perhaps in the spirit of a new school year starting, I wrote: "I don't exactly know what's going on here, but I find myself wanting to resurrect this blog."

I even wrote two posts on the same day, and then another, then two more, and it seemed as if I was rolling. But I had deliberately once again kept the blog under wraps (or so I thought). I was enjoying just writing in blog form for my eyes only (or so I thought).

But it turns out that some things aren't what I think they are when it comes to Blogger's blogging platform (if that's the right term). It didn't occur to me that certain things that apply to one of my blogs would also apply to another one. And so while I thought I was writing and even "publishing" blogs for my eyes only, some of my followers of Trusting Delight were getting emailed versions of Freedom Diaries delivered to their in-boxes. Which I didn't know until after I had published several totally unguarded, supposedly "private" posts.

Again, I beat a hasty retreat and returned several of the posts to "draft" status, thereby removing them from the eyes of random internet surfers and friends alike. And I felt pretty stupid, really. I even wrote a post about being a "techno-ignoramus with techno-egg on my face." Though I also vowed not to beat myself up over it.

Slowly it dawned on me. There are at least two ways to look at this strange trail of events. One is to see this as a story of my hesitation and timidity and desire to hide, and, yes, my obvious incompetence with certain aspects of blogdom.

The other is to imagine that this is a story that wants to be told, a story whose time has come. Or, to take a more active ownership in all of this, to imagine that for all of my conscious desire to hide the story, to test it out and then retreat, twice, there's another part of me that must really want this story to be told and that really wants me to be the teller of it because I alone can be the teller of it and the creator of it.

Maybe it's kinda like old Jeremiah, who tried to refrain from speaking for and about God, and discovered that when he did so, "there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot." Maybe. Some kind of cyber-Jeremiah. (Hmmm....interesting idea, a blog written as if the blog of Jeremiah, or Jesus, or Mary... I'm sure someone's done that already. You think?)

Except in this case it's not a matter of speaking for God (I tried that for 22 years); it's about speaking for myself. To step out of the shadows and into light, out of hiding, to become visible, finally, as I tell the unfolding story of my journey from living by the rules and "being good" to living (more or less) free and being happy, from Episcopal priest to free-lance human being.

I am quite sure that this is not going to be a chronological account of my story. It will swing back and forth from present to past and back again. I don't plan to try to make this a smooth and seamless narrative, but to let it emerge as it will, blogpost by blogpost. As I've said before, I'll just have to give it a go and see what happens. And I always reserve the right to adapt and change as I go along.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Techno-egg on my Face

I thought I was so smart. I thought I got this Blogger stuff, the way to change settings so that the blog wouldn't actually be published on the internet. That's what I thought anyway.

And smart though I may be in many ways, I was wrong about this one. I didn't read the settings options very carefully, so now I seem to have been posting posts to the world wide web that I thought in my blissful ignorance were only being seen by me! Which would have been true if I had only saved them as "drafts," but no . . . that's not what I did.

It also turns out that Blogger's blogging software is simple to use because it's . . . well, simple. Which is to say, unsophisticated. Which is to say, I thought I could have some things apply only to "Trusting Delight" while others could apply only to "Freedom Diaries" or to any other blog I might choose to create.

Wrong again. Which means that about ten of you have been getting email versions of these posts I meant only for myself. Hmmm.

So I have techno-egg on my face, and I'm wishing I hadn't posted some of the posts that I posted as personal experiments. What more can I say?

I'm feeling humbled and sheepish, and I'm also not planning to let this be the occasion for a whole lot of self-flagellation or recriminations. Guess I'll just say for the moment that for all my seeming facility with blogging, I'm actually something of a techno-ignoramus. With techno-egg on my face. Forgive me!

There's an interesting lesson in all of this for me, beyond the technical one. I really do write differently when I write for the public than when I write for myself. I suppose it would be strange and even inappropriate not to.

But I'd like to try to close the gap between the public writing and the private writing a bit, or maybe even a lot. To be freer (after all, this blog is named the "Freedom Diaries"), bolder, come out of hiding more. Take more chances. Aim for a bit more vulnerability and see what happens. This might just be a reasonable place to start!

So there you are. And here I am. I'll just have to see how I move forward from here.

Working Things Out

So, what would it mean to try to write regularly and more often in this blog? It feels somehow exhilarating to contemplate. As long as I can continue to write from a place of relaxed ease. At least most of the time.

As I've said before over on my other blog "Trusting Delight", my goal--as that name implies--is to stop doing things when I begin to sense I am doing them from a place of struggle and burdensome effort. Which, I now see more clearly than ever, doesn't mean that I have to stop doing them entirely and utterly.

It may mean quite simply that I take a break. Go for a walk. Chill out. Look for another way forward. Or as one of my once-upon-a-time favorite monks once said to the mother superior of a neighboring convent, "Lighten up, Sister!"

I honestly believe that doing this gets to be fun, at least most of the time. When I'm tracking well, I remember a photo that Martha Beck included in a blog post on this topic. It showed a dog leaping in the air to catch a frisbee whizzing toward it. Maybe the dog's jaw was just clamping down on the frisbee.

And underneath Martha had written the words: "It gets to be like this!"

And she meant it. Which makes me want to find a photo of a dog catching a frisbee (or if it were my dog's happy endeavor it might even be his eating a pile of his own s**t, but that doesn't make me happy, so . . . never mind) or of some other creature unburdened by self-doubt or excessive self-consciousness or religious crap doing what it loves to do.

Which reminds me of some of Walt Whitman's lovely lines in "Song of Myself":

"I think I could turn and live with animals . . .

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth."

So doing this blog in the way that I wish to do it (at least most of the time, so that I don't come to hate it and wish I'd never started it and decide to abandon it, again) requires vigilance. I think I hear the refrain of Mad-Eye Moody to Harry Potter, "Constant vigilance, Potter!" Am I making that up?

Or maybe I could find a lighter, more fun-sounding word than vigilance, yet not as airy-fairy, new-agey sounding as "awareness" and not as teacher-scolding-kid-daydreaming as "pay attention"! Maybe. This finding of a lighter word may not happen overnight.

The thing is, I am finally (not "finally" as in "for the last time because now I really get it and am an expert and will never falter" but "finally" as in "it's about time") getting that this requires not only vigilance but really, really taking responsibility for myself, for noticing my states of mind and body and being willing to do something about them. Not waiting for someone else to do it. Not waiting for some magic potion solution. Not thinking that I've arrived somewhere (like "enlightenment"?) and now am exempt from having to pay attention.

It's part of valuing myself, honoring myself, loving myself, and especially it's part of staying committed to my own happiness (and from that, I believe, my own living with generosity and compassion and making my best possible contribution to the world).

And while I could beat myself up a bit or talk myself down a bit for not having figured this out before now, for not having gotten it all pulled together in my thirties or forties the way Elizabeth Gilbert did, or Natalie Goldberg did, or Christine Kane, or any number of my other personal heroes, that's just a big waste of time and energy and a violation of all that I've just said above.

To the best of my ability I commit to being done with that. At least I'm getting it at age fifty-five instead of sixty-five, seventy-five, or whatever. At least I'm not dead yet.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What you drag around

Earlier this morning I wrote: "Even if I were to shred, burn, or dump these journals, if I haven't made peace with the person in them, the person who wrote them, whose agonies, miseries, neuroses and phobias, and, I might add, creativity and cleverness, brilliances and breakthroughs, appear in them again and again, I will still be dragging them around. I won't be free."

That talk of dragging things reminds me of a poem, two poems, really, that I wrote a few years back. In the spring of 2006, to be exact. At the time I was working for a local non-profit whose niche was the intersection of "green electricity" and trying to activate churches and other faith communities to combat global warming.

I was really a lot more interested in the green electricity part that the faith community part, and if I'd been fully honest about that from the start, I would never have taken this supposedly "perfect for me, no-brainer" job. But since I was ordained and had a passionate interest in the natural world and in fighting climate change, I looked like just the right kind of person (which is different from being just the right person) to be reaching out to religious folks about climate change and caring for the earth.

But since I wasn't being fully honest with myself, or at least had let the need for income and fears of financial ruin influence my decision, nearly every moment of every day of that job found me at war with myself. It was exhausting.

From time to time during those months I told myself and my intimate circle that if I still wanted to be ordained and to be functioning as an ordained person, using the influence and the "authority" of being a professional God person, I would have stayed where I was, in the deeply familiar, well-loved congregation where David and I had been co-rectors for nearly fifteen years and which we had left only two or three months before. (In fact, looking back and realizing I was then only two or three months down the road from that move, I'm sure I was still deep in grief, not a good time to think clearly about anything. And the grief from that move was pretty messy and complicated, too. But that is definitely another story.)

One of the things I never really liked about being ordained and never felt I managed to deal with very well was the way people project so many of their needs, wants, desires, and religious fantasies onto just about any "professional religious person," especially the ones closest to home, the ones most easily targeted as substitute parental unit of the psyche, or something like that. It's not that people do this consciously or intentionally most of the time. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. (One clergywoman colleague I know speaks of "the big tit" phenomenon--which is perhaps more about people wanting to feed off of you, suck you and your soul dry rather than be responsible for their own souls, than it is about projections. But they often go together.)

It's not just that the symbolic role felt too heavy and burdensome to me; it's more that I often felt it threatened to obliterate me. To suffocate me, strangle me (that damn collar! I swear it came to feel smaller and tighter every time I put it on!)--the real me, the me that was, to quote Monty Python, "not dead yet" but was perhaps almost ready to be heaped on the pile of corpses. To be numbered among the multitudes of the half-dead and the nearly-dead, those whose best indicator of still being alive was the pain of quiet desperation.

On a regular basis during my tenure in that job, especially right after board meetings (funny, that sounds so much like "bored meetings"), I would feel the immense weight of such projections again. I would cringe at what I thought (it could have been just me, of course) the intense, nearly desperate dreams of some members of the board that I as their ordained staff member would have the right words, the perfect biblical know-how, maybe some special connection to God, and je ne sais quoi d'autre to recruit hordes of enthusiastic church-goers to the cause.

And each time I would react internally with my own equally desperate wish to escape, to toss whatever I was fielding right back at them, and to head for the door, shouting, "I'm done! No more! I want out!" But being an adult professional, more or less, I behaved with proper public decorum and ended up tied in knots inside.

In just such a state the first line of a poem presented itself to me and wouldn't go away until I acknowledged it and conversed with it awhile.

"I am dragging around a ball and chain called God." It was so clear, it was pretty hard to ignore. Here's the poem that evolved from it.

Ball and Chain

I am dragging around
a ball and chain called God,
shackled to my right ankle,
thudding down the stairs behind me,
banging at my heels,
slowing me down when I try
to run.

No matter what I do
I can't get rid of it. 
People keep shackling
the dead-weight ball of God
back onto me. I don't want to keep
lugging their God. I'd rather be
godless, unburdened,

Terrible, lonely, leadball God,
hand me a hacksaw
and I'll cut you loose,
let you go,
risk moving on
alone, without

It's time to start over--
to know what I know
and feel what I feel
from earth and skin,
blood and bone,
blossom and leaf bloom.

I'd like to think we can part
on good terms, you and I.
Godspeed, I say.
We'll both be better off
this way.

An Act of Faith and Courage

I don't exactly know what's going on here, but I find myself wanting to resurrect this blog. And to change it considerably. I'm not going to promise going back through my old journals the way I did when I started out. For the moment that feels way too laborious and way too depressing, to put it bluntly.

I closed my second post back in June saying: "I will just have to see how this goes and how it feels." And it felt, in a word, crappy. So I stopped.

I will confess here that I've recently come very very close to tossing the box and a half of said journals into the recycling truck some Thursday morning. To be done with them once and for all.

Which is to say, to be done with those years of my life once and for all, and to be done with who I was back then (as if that's not still a part of who I am now).

Partly this comes with the desire to really seriously clear out clutter and debris accumulated over the 18 plus years we've lived in this house. I really really really want to start over, to start clean and clear. To start free.

Probing a bit deeper, I have to admit to myself that I also don't really like the thought of anyone else reading these journals some day. I'm afraid there could be things in them that are hurtful to people I love, especially David, Bekah, and Anna. In fact, I'm sure there are.

And, of course, a lot of that stuff in those journals doesn't exactly polish my own public image either.

And that's kind of the crux of the matter--(crux, crucis, Latin for cross. Think crucial, and crucify, and cruciatus curse).

But here's the thing. Even if I were to shred, burn, or dump these journals, if I haven't made peace with the person in them, the person who wrote them, whose agonies, miseries, neuroses and phobias, and, I might add, creativity and cleverness, brilliances and breakthroughs, appear in them again and again, I will still be dragging them around. I won't be free.

It even occurred to me that since most people don't want to hear or read the story of someone whose life has been all smooth sailing, these old journals of mine might really be a gold mine. Not that anyone else wants to read through all those repetitive, self-reflective (self-absorbed?) pages (that's my job, I guess). But here and there in them is just what I might need to really write my story, to write my life, in a way that sings.

If I'm courageous enough and loving enough to do so.

I titled this post "An Act of Faith and Courage." I've just mentioned courage (to look at what I don't particularly like looking at) and love (for my old and new self in my full humanity, and maybe even love for those who might some day gain from this narrative); what about faith? I guess the faith is what got me to start writing this morning. And it ain't no faith I can put words to. 'Cept maybe faith in myself.