Here is why I’m fucking off of Twitter, probably for good. I want to make abundantly clear: These are entirely personal reasons.

Shortly after the Pulse nightclub massacre, I wrote out a post about my feelings on gun violence and gun ownership, because my social media feeds got swallowed up in the same pro-gun/anti-gun debate that (uselessly) follows every mass murder in America. I cannot now find it, because Facebook exists to make memories disappear, but what it came down to was this:

I grew up in a place where a lot of very well-meaning people legally owned and carried guns. The vast majority of them used them only for hunting, or sharpshooting, or target practice, and kept them responsibly and safely, and always had their concealed-carry documentation on them in case of trouble. Most of them would never cause trouble. They wanted to be ready to protect themselves or others when trouble came – really and genuinely. I know that the image of the gun-toting maniac redneck screeching about his Second Amendment rights is not all-encompassing. I know that those people exist, but also that the cultural norm of gun-owning in the state I grew up in only looks like that in weird, classism-charged political cartoons.

What scared me about people with guns, I explained on Facebook, was the decision-making process required to get as far as keeping a gun in your glove compartment, or your purse, or your concealed holster. It unnerved me, walking around and knowing that many of the people around me – kind, good people – had looked into themselves and understood that there were circumstances under which they would feel able and justified in pointing their concealed weapons at another person and pulling the trigger. They had done the mental work and taken the time to decide, affirmatively: Yes, under these specific circumstances, I could end another human life.

I know there are very few murderers in the world – really cold-blooded, remorseless murderers who want to see other people die. They exist, but the people around me who own and carry guns are not those people. They are not secretly hoping they get the chance to shoot someone someday, most of them. It’s not that simple. Their relationship to the question is itself something I don’t fully comprehend, having grown up outside of it.

And, I explained on Facebook: I can’t find my way inside that worldview. My understanding of the issue is necessarily incomplete, because I can’t empathize with that. I cannot put myself in the shoes of someone who has that understanding of themselves and their limits when it comes to violence, because my own personal limits, due to my own upbringing and experiences and temperament, are “no one” and “never.” It’s not even a moral judgment, it’s just a statement of fact: I don’t understand it and I don’t know how to.

The deaths in the news about which we are the most angry these days, the ones that have left me feeling sick and despairing, the dead black men and women and children whose vigils I’ve attended – it always gets emphasized, it seems, that the person who did it wasn’t a murderer. That he was a guy doing his job, which included making the necessary judgment of whether his own life was sufficiently in danger to justify killing another person. (It’s why we keep refusing to indict them.)

But it’s an accepted fact, in the modern liberal worldview, that one doesn’t have to be a cold-blooded murderer to end a life. One only has to have the implicit, unconscious understanding that that life is worth less than other lives. You don’t have to want to kill someone, we say, in order to be more likely to pull the trigger when it’s their face in front of yours. Something in you, way deep down, just has to have accepted already that it’s less bad than normal if they get hurt.

I think that’s probably true. I think it’s probably human nature, especially once we’ve begun slotting people into a calculus of who does and doesn’t deserve to get hurt, to take over that process on some kind of unconscious level. On an instinctual level where things feel right, this feels right to me.

With all of that in mind, here is my current relationship to the violent rhetoric immediately surrounding me:

When the conservative gun-owners in my community explain to me that they are not murderers, but people with a cultural investment in gun ownership and a desire to defend themselves only under certain extreme circumstances, I believe them.

Despite believing them, I am afraid of them, because I have never understood the attraction of owning a lethal weapon with the understanding that you may someday use it on another human being.

The idea that good people in my community, who own guns, have largely, as individuals, already determined the circumstances under which they could kill someone else scares the shit out of me.

The rhetoric of my chosen political movement has, for years, included the idea that some people harm other people because, unconsciously, they see them as less human and more deserving of harm.

Because I am a person who belongs to a group more likely to fall under the “less bad than normal if they get hurt” category, having people around me with guns who believe themselves capable of physical violence against others scares me, regardless of their intentions.

For a few months now, I have been watching what feels like every single goddamn person I know fiercely, aggressively, publicly announce the circumstances under which they could inflict physical violence on other people.

The people I know are scaring me.

The Internet, Twitter, this Nazi-punching social media fad, is causing me to think of people I love and care for and respect as violent people, because I created an echo chamber of people on my own side – knowingly, I did this – and now every voice in the chamber feels like it’s saying one thing, over and over again, endlessly, that sounds like everything everyone on my Facebook feed with a gun has been telling me for years. I wouldn’t just haul off and shoot a guy, but of course I’d shoot at somebody breaking into my house. I’m not a violent person, in fact I’d call myself a pacifist, but if I saw a Nazi I’d be more than ready to run up and punch him in the face. 

I know that isn’t what people mean when they say and retweet and re-proclaim that they are ready to inflict physical violence on hypothetical other people. I know that as clearly as I know your average gun-owning conservative would never in a thousand years shoot me in the face, as clearly as I know it really is the hypothetical nighttime prowler he’s so worried about. But being ready to say this thing that scares me, loudly and constantly, has come to define every online social circle I have right now, and—so, fuck it. I’m not going to stay in the places that make me think the people around me are violent people. I know they’re not. I know this. So I’m going to stop bathing myself every day in the waters of The Wellspring Of Declarations That One Is Ready To Inflict Physical Harm On Other Human Beings, and go do something else.

I know the history of violent protest on the Left as well as I know the history of nonviolent protest. I’ve sought out and listened to the arguments for and against in the Nazi-Punching Discourse. I came to this conclusion based on my understanding of myself and what I am and am not able to engage with; based on what I know about how social media works, and especially the weird emotional places Twitter can take me if I’m not careful about using it.

I have this hope that this specific rhetoric will belong only to these online spaces, to this historical moment. That we’ll abandon this meme soon. We may or may not! Things don’t stop being things because I don’t like them. But either way: I’m stepping back.

Hit me up elsewhere, guys! I love you all lots.

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One time at church camp

Hey! Long time no see!

When I was in middle school, I went to church camp a few years in a row. No need to be too specific about which one – it’s a Catholic camp, service-focused. The first year I went was the first year my church participated. They’re on their 11th year now. (God.)

I’ve told this specific story before. As of this week, it has a second part, though not yet a conclusion, maybe.

It was a wonderful camp – youth groups moved into vacant schools in the summer and spent days doing supervised home-improvement work in low-income neighborhoods for people who had expressed a need. Not evangelical; nobody told us to bring the Gospel to anybody. They just told us to do the work of Christ: To work hard and diligently and to learn how to do the things that people needed us to do, fixing screen doors or shoring up sagging garages or cleaning out the undersides of trailers or painting rooms. Talk to people if they wanted to talk; let them alone if they preferred just to see the work done. Evenings were prayer gatherings and group singing and, you know, church camp things – making us Emotional About The Lord, encouraging us with ringing invective to do amazing things with our lives. Quoting the Pope a lot. Being carefully apolitical and reverently enthusiastic.

The shower system, though! Three hundred teenage girls, working under the southern summer sun for eight straight hours in the dirt and the dust, having squealing paint fights and hauling bags and boxes of tools across swampy front yards, and we all needed to bathe in one middle school gymnasium, and our water allowance was ninety minutes. The way this worked was: Five girls showered at a time. We had it down to a science. Everyone slip in, hit the water, shuffle in a little circle, wash one piece of your hair, scrub one leg and then the other, wash under the bathing suit–

–because they all wore bathing suits into the shower. This was new to me, in middle school – this was expected, and I didn’t know it. I hadn’t brought one. I didn’t know what to do that first day, my towel wrapped around me and waiting in line, realizing I was the only one with no straps over my shoulders. Middle school – you all remember that. The instant you realized you’ve misunderstood a social cue every single other person around you remembers. And it was like a bad dream! One of the ones where you look down in the middle of the day and realize the reason everyone is looking at you is because you aren’t wearing any clothes. Can you imagine my sinking horror, twelve years old and about to be the only naked person in a room of 300 pre-teen girls?

My solution, in the end, was to find the one other person who’d missed the modesty memo. She was like me – her parents had never taught her that her nudity was shameful, that there was something embarrassing about being naked to bathe in front of other people. No one was allowed to shower alone, so we made a pact – we’d pretend to have bathing suits, we’d just shower together, and no one would know. Three minutes in, three minutes out, our towels clutched around our shoulders, slipping into the back of the locker room to toss t-shirts on before anyone could figure out our transgression.

Of course they found out. They were pre-teen girls. They found out, and that was the reason my youth group believed, for the entire rest of my time among their number, that I was a lesbian who went to church camp to get naked with other girls in the showers.

I didn’t know it for a while – not til camp was over and we got back and I was told about it, overheard whispering. I wasn’t a popular roommate after that, even years later. I never learned the extent of it, and I don’t know why that particular rumor lasted so long, but I never found friends in that group again. On my class Confirmation retreat, five years later, I would glance over my shoulder and see people mutter to each other, look quickly away, fall silent when I moved closer. Because when I was twelve years old, no one had taught me that my naked body was an inherently sexual thing.

My younger sister is attending the same camp for the first time this year. She texted me from her first day: “Okay, I absolutely see what you mean about the shower thing.” A little later: “I was the only person who didn’t wear a bra to go to sleep. I feel like they’re scared of their own boobs.”

They are afraid, even among each other, to wear only one layer of clothing to sleep. Even experiencing no lust for each other; being children, to whom it would not occur; believing, most of them, as I did, that they could not and should not feel that kind of attraction anyway; and they are still afraid, among each other, to be naked. To acknowledge the simple fact of their bodies. The fact of the naked body, they are taught, is a sexual fact; to be naked is a sexual act, and it does not even require another actor. They don’t fear their own nakedness because they believe that other people will be looking at them; they fear it because being naked can only mean that they intend other people to look, and that is their shame.

(And when someone near them bears that shame– when another girl doesn’t bring her bathing suit, when two girls are naked together for the three minutes it takes to wash the dirt of Christ’s work out of their hair and scrub the humidity out of their pores– then they remember it for years, make a guilty, gossipy obsession out of it, look at that girl in the months and years to come and always ever after see her naked.)

It is such a strange doublethink, and I have never understood it.

My sister sees it for how strange it is in a way I didn’t and couldn’t have. She’s older than I was, old enough to have learned otherwise. She’s got stronger convictions than I did as a kid, and a better self-esteem. But she also knew to bring a bathing suit.

I don’t want to make some sweeping societal statement, here. I haven’t kept in touch with many girls from Catholic camp. I know of a few of them – some of them did end up lesbians, actually! and some didn’t. A lot of them grew out of their shame, I’m sure. Not all of them are still Catholic. Some still are. Turns out they’re all individual people, whose personal moralities were only shaped to a certain extent by what they believed with all their hearts when they were twelve years old! Turns out there are a lot of directions for lives to go, and most of them probably don’t remember what they thought of a girl at church camp who they didn’t know personally, who someone whispered to them about on a Ski Trip For Jesus in sophomore year.

…Still. I remembered it, when it came up again today. No conclusion to be drawn here: A story without a lesson, without an ending. Maybe I’m the one, of all of us, who built too much out of that memory? Maybe I’m the one on whose personal morality it had the greatest effect, after all. Because, you know– even when I thought I didn’t care, I remembered. I didn’t go to youth group for a few years, because every time I was with them, I still felt naked.

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Jesuit homilies, self-compassion, and mediocre poetry

So: It’s the Jesuits who’ve dragged me out of my blog-silence. Damn them! Damn them and their gentle urging toward the contemplative life! Damn them, making examination of conscience feel so necessary and treating self-reflection as an act of divine love! Ugh! Ridiculous!

Anyway. This post is happening for two reasons.

First: Because I heard a homily that knocked my socks off this morning, based upon John 10:18, which is the famous Good Shepherd parable (here in part):

I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.”

The central motif of this homily came from the above, and from the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who said, “Love consists in sharing what one has and what one is with those one loves.” The homily’s train of logic is one I’ve already failed to articulate once this morning, but I’ll try again to communicate the structure of the priest’s argument as best I can:

1. Love is sharing what one is with those one loves.
2. God shared what he is with every individual on the earth (all of whom he loves) in the most perfect possible way: The sacrifice of Christ, who is God, for the redemption of the world.
3. Sharing what we are with those we love is, therefore, the closest way to imitate the way God loves humanity, which is good, because there is no love higher or more absolute than God’s.
4. In order to share what we are with those we love, we must love what we are. There is no way to imitate the love of God unless one begins with loving oneself in the same way that God does.

It is a beautiful circle, and I threw my mind into it and let my thoughts follow it back and forth like tracing knotwork with a finger. It is not a philosophy that requires perfection. It assumes an underlying goodness in all of humanity (which must exist, because humanity was made by God, and in imitation of God), without specifying that a godlike love must come from a perfect soul. It’s the act of sharing that is love– the act of being oneself and engaging with other people and being willing to let other people share themselves with you. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me; to love like Christ is both to know others, and to let them know you as you really are.

The idea of grace is in this, as well. There is nothing you do or can do to earn the love of God. It just exists. God shares himself with the world in perpetuity. No imperfection can blunt that love, no change in yourself can increase or decrease it. That, too, must be something to imitate, the priest suggested – love for yourself, like the love of God, must always be present within you, right? No change in yourself should make you love yourself less. And, you know, human love for self or others can’t be as perfect as God’s love, but there is value in striving for this. There must be.

…Look– I feel deeply self-conscious about throwing around phrases like “to love like Christ” and “in imitation of God.” When it comes to my own ill-formed theological leanings, I have a tendency to force my feelings and my thoughts separate, like a five-year-old who won’t eat her peas and carrots if they’re touching on the plate. Also: I will be the first one to admit that I know sweet fuck-all about theology in general, and Jesuit theology specifically. I have not studied any of this. My research credentials are Usually Remembers To Go To Church. I only have what I’ve always had: An ever-evolving tangle of the Catholicism of my upbringing and the secularism of my personal and academic and political life, and then my own half-baked revelations ground into the mix, uncatalogued and flowering only when they feel like it. So I don’t mean to try to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

I only mean this: That combination of verse and writing and logic hit me hard this morning. I grew up under the Jesuit charge to be a woman for others; to achieve perfection by self-sacrifice, by dissipation of ego. I always struggled with the guilty feeling that I would be a better person if I cared less about myself. And so it was powerful for me, to be told that love of others had to begin with love of myself. That I, I, by the act of being myself, am already in closer imitation of Christ than I ever actually thought I could be.

Which brings me to the second reason this post is happening.

This post is happening because I have been working in the past few weeks, with the help of my counselor, to develop a habit of self-compassion. When it comes to my own mental health, I tend not to be kind to myself; I tend, even in my good moments, to be cruel to myself in a way that I would not be with anyone else who came to me with an identical problem.

For example: Someone who asked me for advice on overcoming correspondence anxiety would not get a reply of, “Just write the fucking email, you absolute moron.” Someone telling me they felt a persistent fear whose origin they couldn’t perceive and whose physical effects they couldn’t shake would not get a reply of “Get it together. You’re being an idiot.” I wouldn’t award someone who successfully fought off an intrusive thought with a big medal reading “CONGRATULATIONS: I GOT OVER MYSELF.” But these are things I tell myself, even in my best goddamn moments. I try to make my anxiety a smaller problem than it is through the power of gentle self-deprecation, and fail to notice when See? This problem isn’t as big as you think it is turns into Normal people who don’t suck aren’t bothered by this problem, and the fact that you are means you suck.

And so willful self-compassion is something I’m trying to make a habit. The affirmative act of not being angry with myself for not measuring up. Treating myself with the love and kindness and compassion that I want to have for the people around me. Seeing love for myself as a reflection of the love I try my best to feel for other people. Believing that love is the act of sharing myself means believing that there is something in me worth sharing.

I don’t mean to make this about anyone but me, because not everyone’s a Christian and not everyone cares about Jesuits and not everyone is willing to start with the assumptions underlying this philosophy, which are most of the reason it was able to hit me as hard as it did. But there’s the connection between the two thoughts, between the homily and the counseling session, there’s my train of logic: If I believe that the imitation of God is the truest way to a good and fruitful life, and if I believe that the act of sharing what I am is an act of love in imitation of God, and if I believe that I cannot love others in imitation of God until I love myself–

–then I think there’s not a straighter or more powerful road to self-compassion, for me. Not in this moment, anyway. The beauty of this idea overwhelms me. The thought of it is a comfort, in the way an open door is that lets light into a room, when I hadn’t even noticed it was getting darker as I sat alone inside it.

The Jesuits gave me a free book as I left church this morning, of prayers and poetry written by priests as companions to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Some of the poetry is hilariously bad! Some of it is pretty good. I liked this very very short one by Anthony de Mello:

“Behold God beholding you, and smiling.”

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The anxiety attack of January 25th knocked me flat on my emotional ass. Not my functional ass, which got itself up out of bed in the days following, and was back to completely normal function within a few days. But it’s been almost three weeks, and only this week have I finally been in a mental place where it’s productive to think about it. Where it doesn’t start to spiral into frustration and anger and self-disgust again. I am in a good place; “a good place” being here defined as a mental state where I not only know that my frustration, anger, and self-disgust are unfounded in any reality, but believe it.

I drive myself nuts trying to find out where anxiety attacks come from, because I’d really love to find a way to prevent them. I have this idea that there’s a formula – a list of triggers, a combination of circumstances that is more likely to set them off, and prevention comes from controlling those factors I can and trying to make sure that when I’m feeling tense, the right circumstances don’t come together to start me rolling down that awful hill. When I find this formula, when I can prevent almost every anxiety flare-up by this force of will, I will be cured.

When I went to a counselor last summer, I told her at the beginning of our first session together that my anxiety was self-inflicted. I have always believed this. I always say it in a self-deprecating kind of way: Hahaha, yup, I’m an overachiever, yup, I’m kiiiind of neurotic, yup, I work myself too hard, have since high school, just an unfortunate quirk of personality, isn’t it kind of funny how I wind myself up! In our last session together, after two and a half months of my talking and talking and talking, a few weeks before an anxiety attack that would leave me paralyzed for an entire Sunday, I asked her, tentatively, whether she thought my anxiety was self-inflicted. “Some of it,” was her reply. “Some of it is, honey, and some of it… really, really isn’t.”

Some things always set off my anxiety. Steady as clockwork. Moving is one of these things – whether across the state or the country or the world. I could always count on a really vicious anxiety attack before I moved back to school from my parents’ house at the end of the summer, and my most recent one before the one that hit in January was in the week before I moved to Chicago. Interpersonal drama among my close friends always triggers anxiety. Applications, for schools or jobs or internships or whatever. Having to send emails to people I don’t know. Obviously, these aren’t things I can avoid, and I have gotten better about most of them – been able to see the storm coming, and found ways that allow me both to function as an adult in the world, and not suffer a breakdown every couple of months. This is better than it used to be.

But when I had my anxiety attack three weeks ago, nothing like this had happened. I remember how baffled I was by how I was feeling, in the days leading up to it. Because on the one hand: I was in a good mood! Nothing I was doing in school was frightening me. I was feeling on top of schoolwork in a way I hadn’t. I was enjoying what I was learning. I was bopping to good music on the train and getting out of the house on time. Correspondence wasn’t getting me down. I was in a good mood.

…and at the same time, I wasn’t sleeping soundly. I chewed my lower lip bloody sitting in class, and tapped my foot and couldn’t stop. I couldn’t nail down my focus except in a kind of guilty attempt at distraction. I was convinced, convinced, that a close friend whose behavior toward me hadn’t changed remotely was secretly furious with me. And I’d see myself feeling this way, and I’d try to stand outside myself and laugh it off, in a positive-affirmation kind of way – “Oh my god. You’re fine. You’re fine. Calm your shit, babe. You are doing okay.” When that didn’t work, I’d do the mental equivalent of repeating everything I said in a high-pitched voice to make it look stupid. “Waaah! I’m Sarah and I’m upset about fuck-all nothing! I had a great day so now I’m nauseous and angry at nothing! I make so much sense!” When that failed to produce results, it turned into bemused, irritated commands: “Jesus Christ, Sarah. Get it together. You’re being an idiot.” And somewhere, imperceptibly, that turned into actual insult, riding hard on the back of self-disgust; a week-long chant of There’s nothing to be afraid of, you absolute moron, there is literally nothing wrong, you have every reason to be happy, get over this shit already, will you, why are you so goddamn pathetic, why can’t you just fucking function, why can’t you just get your goddamn shit together–!

…Until I found myself stuck staring at one place and breathing as deep and slow as I could, telling myself over and over again that I was fine even while my pulse skyrocketed and my hands twitched and my stomach lurched and every muscle went tense and I sat down and curled up in a ball and sobbed with helpless terror for a straight half hour, and then spent two days feeling fragile and frightened and inches from crying.

I wrote in my most recent post that I was going to take my anxiety attack apart, once I had the brain for it. I thought I was going to look back on it and find the thing that Caused It, the reason for my bad weekend, the thing I wasn’t going to do again or let happen again.

But there’s nothing to take apart. I had a great week, and I was anxious anyway. I was happy and productive and social, and I was anxious anyway. I got shit done and made good plans, and I was anxious anyway. I need a new way to approach this, is what it comes down to. “Find the reason and kill it before it comes” is not a strategy that can work in every case. In some cases, maybe – but not in every one. Sometimes, this is just going to happen. Sometimes, I’m just going to be anxious anyway.

It’s stupid. I don’t want that to be the answer. I don’t want to look into the future with a helpless shrug when it comes to my mental health. But I also wonder– is not fighting it something to consider? Like– what if I did this revolutionary thing, which sounds so obvious as to be embarrassing now, where, when it happens, and I can’t think of a solid cause for why it’s happening, I don’t… get angry at myself for not having a reason to be anxious? Like. What if I did that? What if I didn’t call myself an idiot for being pointlessly anxious, because my mind is obnoxious and prone to housing spiders? What if I… made that a habit? Would that make it happen less? If I stopped worrying about making it happen less and worried more about, you know, my mental health while it was happening, would that be better…?

Immediate instinct, of course, says “Yes.” Will report back when I know how that’s working out for me.

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a few songs that I quite like

Man! What a weekend! I had my first anxiety attack since August! It was lame as hell!

I gave a lot of thought to whether or not I’d confront that in my blog this weekend; I had a few ideas for ways to go at it, some things I might say about it, some ways I might try to make it feel smaller and less awful than it was. In the end, though, I decided it’s not time to take it apart yet. It’s better, at the moment, not to be experiencing it; it’s better to make a little distance before I chase the particular brain spiders that birthed it out from their dark corners.

Instead: Here are some songs! I find find them comforting, and they make me happy, including when I am trying to hide from velociraptors that aren’t there.

Shearwater: Animal Life
Charging down the maw of the ocean
I want to come close; I want to come closer
I held your name inside my mouth
Through all the days out wandering

Alt-J: Dissolve Me
And pulse to pulse: Now shush
She makes the sound the sea makes
To calm me down
She makes the sound the sea makes;
I’m tired now

Dotan – Let The River In (a… not great video, but the best audio available)
I hear the breaking of bricks and mortar
I feel the rhythm of the water
Oh, let the river in
Burst the dams and start again

Kate Rusby – Underneath The Stars
Underneath the stars I’ll meet you
Underneath the stars I’ll greet you
And underneath the stars I’ll leave you
Before you go of your own free will;
Go gently

(J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Return of the King, describes a sound as being “sad but not unhappy;” I think of that when I hear that last song. It is a better way to be sad than being unhappy; sometimes, when things are bad, it is possible to replace one with the other in a way that is still sad, but better.)

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more about the symbol i paid a man to carve eternally into my flesh

Hey! Do you follow me on social media? Do you follow me on any social media AT ALL? Have you spoken to me or interacted with me on the Internet since Friday? NO?! DID YOU KNOW?! THAT I GOT A TATTOO?!

The joke is: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I swear this is the last place, I’m going to fucking stop talking about my fucking tattoo, just– just this last one, okay, this is the LAST TIME you will see this stupid picture–



–ANYWAY. I have put this picture on Twitter, on Tumblr, in text messages, on Plurk, and the actual tattoo in the eyes of every person I have come across. This, my blog, is the one place I’m going to let myself be That Person about what it ~*~*~*~*~means~*~*~*~*~.

*(Props to the artist, btw – this was done by Memo Espino, who was told “This is what a Mjolnir-thing looks like, and I want something in this shape and sort of like that, except, like…. what you think would look best, and, like, this big,” and he gave me what I have, and it’s stunning! So!)

Continue reading

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Look: I’ve been trying not to complain about how cold it is. I’ve been trying not to be That Person, whom I have come to hate after almost fifteen years living south of the Mason-Dixon line; “Sure is cold!” I would have the audacity to say in 25-degree weather, in the presence of people who had ever in their lives been to Minnesota. “Golly! It was 50 last week! Don’t know what happened!”

“YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT COLD IS,” they would snarl, those momentary Minnesotans. “YOU’VE NEVER EXPERIENCED COLD. YOU LIVE IN THE JUNGLE.” They were, of course, right; but I always resented them for this nonetheless. I was allowed to be cold. 25 degrees may not be the coldest recorded temperature ever experienced on the surface of the Earth, but it’s pretty damn cold.

I fear to be mistaken for one of those people, and so I have been trying to keep my exclamations/whining fairly quiet. I don’t want to coldshame people, especially my friends in the South – when you live most of your life in 50 degrees and up, 25 degrees is half as warm as you are used to finding comfortable! That’s terrible! Especially for people who usually don’t bother owning winter coats! I feel sad for puffy sweater-layered people stuck in cold weather.

…That said, it was -23 degrees in Chicago this week, and– guys. GUYS. THAT’S SO COLD. THAT’S SO COLD.

The coldest temperature I’d ever experienced before this was -6, in a cold snap in Oklahoma in the winter of 2013-14. That was cold and windy and terrible, and all the residential streets had two inches of ice on them, and it all also went away after a day or two, because no weather pattern stays in Oklahoma for more than about fifteen minutes at a time. That was cold! I had to do a lot of walking in that cold. I had a professor take me aside once and tell me that if the temperature was less than 5, I could take an excused absence from his class rather than make the 40-minute walk to school over the frozen streets.

This week. It was. Minus twenty-three degrees. That was with the windchill, sure, but– without the windchill, it was still minus eight.

I’m relearning what “cold” means. I have an understanding of how much air can hurt that I never had before. I went out, last week (it was -10), and walked not far from the lake (unavoidable – I live not far from the lake), and counted the seconds it took the breath condensed on my scarf to freeze solid in the wind. The number of seconds was not in excess of fifteen. There are cliffs of ice instead of a beach, a block from the apartment; the sand partially freezes between waves, and has a strange crunchy, slippery texture not quite like snow. It was beautiful, blinding in the sunlight, and I turned my face into the wind and after about ten seconds had to bury my face in my mittened hands because I could not feel my eyes.

Look – this is not to say it wasn’t cold other places that were not AS cold, or to invite any comparisons of other people’s cold, which I’m sure was much worse cold. I’m just saying: Oh my god! Oh my FUCKING god! It! Was so cold! SO! COLD!

Today, it was 26 degrees, and felt like 19. I went out wearing only a couple of sweaters, and only one pair of pants under my pants, and only one pair of socks, and gloves instead of mittens. I stood on the train platform and marveled at the difference – how manageable 19 felt, next to MINUS FUCKING TWENTY-THREE. How I was… chilly. A bit chilly. Not urgently so. Not in the way that made my lizard brain screech helplessly, WHYYYY ARE YOU EVEN OUT HEEEERRRRRRE. There is a universe in between -20 and 20, and I have known every star in it this week.

It’s going to warm up this week, by which I mean it looks like, for the next few days, both the weather numbers, with and without windchill, will be above zero. I am so excited. I am going to go outside.

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New Year’s Resolutions

I have two. They are: To go outside more, and to correspond more reliably.

The first doesn’t require much explanation. Chicago, it turns out, is an absolutely terrible place to exist in the winter. The number of degrees it was today was 3. It will not be many more very often in the weeks to come. It gets dark at about 4:30 in the afternoon, and my delicate constitution responds to this by telling me to hide inside where the dark and cold can’t get to me, sinking deeper and deeper into a warm and suffocating lethargy that saps my energy for weeks at a time. Outside is good! Outside wakes me up, even when it is a bit miserable. Outside will happen more, even when the air hurts my face.

The other one is… weirder. That’s an issue with deeper roots, and stranger ones; I don’t understand myself where it comes from, entirely, my fear of reminding other people that I exist.

Because that’s what it is, in large part, my fear of replying to emails, my bizarre phobia of listening to voicemails, my guilty pile of unanswered facebook messages. There remains a part of me, however mentally healthy I get, that is convinced that the only reason anyone likes me or engages with me is because I’ve managed to foil them thus far into believing that I am not the fuckup I actually am. The more correspondence, the more involved the professional or personal relationship, the more likely a fuckup on my end; and, of course, a fuckup on my end means that whoever catches it would be totally justified in breaking off all contact with me forever, maligning me to everyone they meet, never thinking well of me again, etc. etc…..

…It’s stupid. It’s deeply stupid. I know.

See, I don’t usually think of it in those terms. Those are extreme terms for a stupid problem. I don’t stare at emails in a panic, thinking to myself the words I am a fuckup and if I fuck this up they’ll know and they’ll hate me. It doesn’t get that concrete, ever. See, there is a sane and rational part of me that looks at those words and goes, “Sarah! That’s fucking crazy! Don’t do that!” and then stops doing it. No, I just– I just don’t reply.

Sometimes, I don’t even open the emails. Oh, God, I have spent literal weeks not checking my school email, back in undergrad, allowing it to remain Schroedinger’s responsibility – the correspondence I didn’t read didn’t come with a danger of outing me as a failure, didn’t drop any new weight on my shoulders. Of course, waiting to reply to emails, especially professional emails, just makes replying more cringeworthy as time goes on. It spirals naturally into a truly stunning guilt-whirlwind. It gets big enough, I’m often ready to drop the relationship entirely rather than send an apology email – because! As it turns out! Only people who have Fucked Up have to send apology emails! And thus would I prove myself right, and start the whole cheerful cycle over again, with new proof to hold up against myself in the caucus of my idiocy.

There are other factors too, of course. There are many people I know not-so-well but well enough, people whom I have liked a great deal, and people who have tried to know me better than they do. I’ve lived in many places, and lost contact with many people. There was a time, in the third or fourth place I lived and liked people, when I found the idea of keeping contact was wearying; I feared liking people for my memory of them, and resenting them for not being as good over a distance. I feared, again, that knowing them better would destroy their image of me, which was only possible because they hadn’t known me well.

There are people I love a great deal and know very, very well, and to whom I fear to give an inadequate answer, to offer less than I feel they deserve to them in exchange for their continued love of me. These, I don’t even fear to fuck up so much; I only fear doing fine, and not enough. I fear not for myself in those instances, but for them, who would trust me with their thoughts and not get nearly enough in return.

All of these things are stupid. I know. Sing it with me, the anxiety anthem: ~Knowing that a response is irrational does not stop one from experiencing it!~

I am, however, in a place now where I recognize how stupid this is. I can watch myself doing this, and choose whether or not to avoid it. This is a big step in a stupid, stupid journey. The next step, then, is the resolution: To adjust my big baby diaper and stride resolutely forward into the world of Just Fucking Writing The Email, You Absolute Moron.

The resolution is twofold: The first is Just Fucking Replying To The Email. Not letting professional, academic, or personal correspondence sit more than two days. Even if the reply is “Sorry, things are busy, I need another day or two to respond properly!”, the response will go out. I will set aside time for this, every day or couple of days. I will find time, before I go out and do something else, to respond to the humans who reach out to me. (ANXIETY MIND TRICK: Schedule your stressful correspondence for right before you leave to go do something else! Reorient your mind and change your physical surroundings to prevent minor stress from turning into a hate spiral!)

The second is Just Fucking Reminding People You Like Them. Getting back in touch with people and deciding, actively, not to give a shit about how long it’s been. Sending them something meaningful, and asking meaningful things about what they’ve been doing. Not living in a goddamn hole for fear someone will notice that I am a human being with human issues. Getting out of my own damn head, and choosing to think about how much I like the people I’ve associated with, and how many good things there are about them, and how wonderful it is to get to hear about what they’re doing, instead of my own dull imagined failures.

People rock, man. That’s so much more interesting a worldview than the one I’ve mired myself in. 2015: The year I internalize that; the year I finally let actions speak louder on that particular front.

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i like my religion like i like my tumblr sidebar: badly formatted and politically fraught

On the one hand: I get really disgusted by the interference of religion in politics. I don’t fucking want prominent politicians showing public support of Israel because a prophecy says that the Second Coming of Christ can only happen when the Holy Land is at war. I don’t want people making laws that hurt my ability to do what I want and need to do because they decided that’s what Jesus would want them to decide for me. I don’t want politics tangled up in any religious belief except “Love people; be good to the poor,” and I want them to do that anyfuckingway, not because any book told them to.

On the other hand: I get really disgusted when a priest makes a homily in which he carefully avoids taking any side whatsoever, whether or not I agree with it.

It happens so often. It’s amazing the routes a priest can take to avoid alienating anyone in the congregation in either direction. I think of the homilies in the weeks following the shooting of Trayvon Martin, of Michael Brown, when the intercessionary prayers all skirted the edge of saying something– “We pray for justice for ALL people,” emphasis on the ALL. Prayers for justice for all are good and necessary; but then they’d pray for “a solution” to violence, without making any statement about what the cause of the problem was, or what form a solution might take. Something they’d get as specific as “A solution in keeping with God’s plan,” which, again, absolved them of having to contemplate what that solution might look like.

In his (otherwise very good) homily on the Feast of the Holy Family this week, the priest at my home parish spoke about the “challenges” to the Catholic institution of marriage. “There are… many threats,” he said, with an all-encompassing hand gesture and an uncomfortable smile, “to marriage as it should be.” LIKE THE GAYS? I briefly considered shouting up into the vaulted ceiling; come on! Say it. We all know what you mean. Say it. How does an institution as old as ours get away with that kind of passive-aggression? Isn’t this the church that birthed liberation theology?

Earlier this month, I attended a protest at my university in response to the failed indictment of Michael Brown’s shooter. It was hosted at the cathedral on Loyola University’s campus – a motion of solidarity with dozens of churches, all denominations, in the south and west of the city. Mass would be followed by a march. The church was crowded when I arrived, and it filled up more and more as the service continued; standing-room only, front to back. The priest’s homily was short. In it, he said the word “Ferguson” (a word I’d heard avoided and avoided and avoided in the weeks preceding, when they prayed every Mass for “an end to violence in our communities”). He said “injustice.” He said join us. He said that it was the mission of the Jesuits to seek justice; that it was the reason for the university’s existence. That what the students crowded into the church were doing was right and just.

The speakers from the community stood at the pulpit, up beside the altar, to talk to us all. As we exited the church, they rang the bells – installed just a week before – for a funeral.

It was a political action. It was a political gesture. It was a political statement, and I was more moved than I had been by my church in years. I felt– for once, briefly– less like I was putting up with the institution in the hope of seeing it change, and more like I was watching do what it was intended to do. I am leery of saying things like I felt the presence of Christ, but– I felt, at least, the example of Christ.

What does the Church have to fear from saying something, every so often? What can an institution this vast have to fear from speaking about specific events, about living in the time in which it exists? A priest whom I very much respect spoke once about this to me – about the struggle the Church experiences, as a behemoth meant to stand firm and unchanging in values through the centuries. About the caution required in deciding whether an issue is persistent enough to give the Church an official stance on it. About the danger of making the Church a mouthpiece for any single person, any single political issue or opinion – about the tenuous hold on the millions of opinions making it up it has, our Church whose name means universal.

I don’t know. I’ve always thought that the Church forgets, sometimes, the extent to which it has its foot planted firmly in the world. Its pointy miter, its crooked staff, might stir the clouds in Heaven, but its mouth, its hands, its feet, are here on Earth. There comes a point where we are too large to have an opinion just starts to sound like an excuse.

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crazy: a retrospective

You only realize in retrospect, sometimes, that you were a little crazy.

I felt like I was coping with my finals season astoundingly well. I slept so much more than most of the people I was in class with. I didn’t cry. I never lost my shit at anyone I loved. My only-for-emergencies anxiety medication stayed in the cabinet, and I never even thought seriously about breaking it out, because I didn’t feel anxious. I took time to see people, when I could, and went out on occasion, and had fun. I really, really felt like I was doing well, and from a certain angle, I think I really was.

And, you know, I also wasn’t. My last final, which was seven days ago, feels like it was a few years ago, because I do not feel like the same person. The way I felt going into that final and the way I felt the evening after it, alone at home and doing nothing in particular, were so different as to be startling. So many vast and looming problems felt so much smaller. I… realized how little I’d liked myself, for the past month. How very much time I spent giving my own psyche a weary side-eye. How I felt divided against myself, a sane and intelligent person trapped in the same body as someone useless, who had to be dragged every step up that last hill. I felt distantly, vaguely ashamed, that first evening, of who I felt I had been.

I wonder sometimes – I come out of stressful times and back into “normal” ones, where the amount of work I have to do is more than manageable and I feel bright and creative and rested and engaged with everything around me, and I say things like “I feel like myself again.” And in so doing, I imply that when I am stressed and hiding from people and spending too much time staring dead-eyed out of windows and failing to cook my own food and thinking vicious things about people I barely know, I am not myself. That there is some other person, made only of the moments that I am ashamed to exist in, existing separately from me and formed entirely as a result of forces external to me.

This is, of course, bullshit. I remain myself when I am unhappy. I remain myself when I am not dealing well. That person, who drops all contact with her friends and makes excuses to hide from her classmates and treats as most important the possibility that someone might find her a mild academic disappointment – she’s me! I’m her. We’re the same person. I’m as much myself complaining at the air and failing to go outside as I am when I’m not.

I wish I were better at understanding when I’m not dealing well. I wish I had been able to look at myself in those past few weeks and say, “Well– You’re doing okay, but you need to find out how to do well.” I wish I could think of a way to deal that isn’t “Stop going to law school and never challenge yourself again;” I wish things could be difficult for me, without rendering me so, so much less than I intend to be.

I am disgusted, sometimes, that I can’t be a rational human being under stress; that I do not seem equipped to handle engaging with other people in a way that is as fair to them as it can be, when I am even the slightest bit caught up in my own (always tiny) problems. I do not know what I look like to other people in times like those; I don’t know what I look like from the outside, because I know the mind’s tendency to lie to itself. (I wonder if it’s still lying to me – I wonder, all the time, what about myself I’m not understanding.)

This is something I would have talked about, if I’d understood it for what it was as it was happening. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have hidden this. I wonder sometimes if, following undergrad, I still don’t understand what normal feels like – if I have accepted something as normal that was never meant to be, and that’s why I’m blind to my own slow slides into a place that is not always unpleasant, but not– not good.

When I am given time to recover, in comfortable places full of people I love who love me, and have time to try to figure this out from the outside, I always think I’m not going to be be that other person again, and inevitably, I am. I look forward to next semester for so many reasons; I wonder, optimistically, if maybe this time will be different. If this time I will figure it out and stop it as it’s happening. It is not the world’s most confident hope.

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