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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yes hello I am in the process of finishing wedging a semester’s worth of civil procedure down my gaping baby bird maw

my last final in my first semester of law school is innnnnn about 12 hours???

last night I dreamed that I was writing an essay about claim preclusion

send help



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A short break

This is not the third in the series. I’m still thinking on that one, after the last came out… disjointed, and not really communicating what I hoped it would. I have not found my way sufficiently close to the bottom of that entire mess yet.

But! I got my cello back this week.

I need to buy rosin for it, and a cleaning cloth, and new strings. I haven’t played it in way too long. But it’s heartening, how much is still there – what my hands still remember, not only about what I used to do well but what I used to do poorly. I still remember what I had to work on, what I needed to do better. I know my own sound as well as I ever did, lacking in distinction as it is.

I’ve finally found a place where I don’t associate playing the cello with any guilt whatsoever. Not guilt about not practicing enough; not guilt about not playing well enough; not guilt about sounding out-of-practice. It was always difficult to play it at home, because someone well-meaning would hear and say, “Well! How long’s it been since you played that?” and not mean it badly, but make me feel afraid to be overheard nonetheless.

My cello teacher at college, back when I studied cello performance, told me that once: “Sarah, you have a good sound and a good instinct for interpretation, but you play like you’re afraid someone is going to hear you.” It was the truth, and much of the reason I did not graduate with a degree in cello performance – even sitting in the practice room, soundproofed on every side, I played like I was afraid that someone was going to hear me. I never overcame that.

Time changed that, I think. I used to be amazed by the sounds I could produce, in the few places I was not afraid to make all the noise I wanted to. The cello is an instrument that, if played even the slightest bit correctly, does not sound bad; I have spent half a straight hour just running scales, astounded by the rumble of the vibrating string. I got to have a good moment earlier this week, where I gave up on reading notes on a page and played a song I’d taught myself a couple of years ago (this one). It made me tremble; my heart didn’t slow down for a few minutes afterward. It felt like a performance, and a good performance.

Not a lot of things I do right now are creative. Law school, at the place I’m at now, is not a creative pursuit – it is memorization on top of memorization, and interpretation is not only discouraged but kind of dangerous. I spend most of my time staring at words, on a page or on a screen, and it is so refreshing to have something to do that can be done with closed eyes.

hashtag: goals.

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guilt, part one.

Happy first of Advent, yo!

This is the second in a series about why I am queer, and also still Catholic.

I was sixteen when I began to question my sexuality in a real and serious way. I was sixteen when I fell head over high school heels in love with a girl. Not a momentary attraction, not a jealous friend-infatuation, but months-long-high, mood-swing-fueled, furious swooping swooning tempestuous love. It was half a year before my Confirmation. I went to Mass every Sunday and youth group every Wednesday and church camp every summer. I was most of the way through my two-year-long full readthrough of the Bible and had just finished The Imitation of Christ. I prayed every single night.

I kept a journal, as well. The girl I loved was the main topic of it for almost two years. I prayed in that journal, too– I usually ended entries with a prayer. Most often, I prayed for my friends, or for strength or wisdom or patience to get through whatever stupid high school problem I was dealing. I prayed to God, and to my patron saint, and to the patron saint of the girl I loved (because she was Catholic as well). I thanked God for her. I thanked God for the feeling of being in love with her. I thanked God for every day I spent with her. I asked God what good I had done to deserve her.

When I was seventeen, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to go to Confession, but I wasn’t sure if I should confess having failed to stop myself being in love with a girl. I wrote the words, “I don’t think loving her is something I can be absolved for.”

I never once prayed to God to make me straight– at least, not in that journal. The night my mother made me break up with her, I sat under a tree late at night and sobbed, and I prayed to God to make my mother understand, and to make that girl understand; I prayed that my family would not hate me, that she would not hate me, and I prayed for strength and comfort. I never prayed to God to take my desire away from me. I wrestled with guilt for all of those two years, because of my fear of what my family would say – but something in me never once believed that I needed to feel guilty before God.

This is, I think, most of the reason why I stayed. I don’t know why I never had any trouble reconciling my love of God with my attraction to women. I could not point to any one moment where I sat down and wrestled this out. The angel Gabriel never came to me to offer a thumbs-up and a ringing of trumpets and a solemn Thou shalt gaze upon tits with impunity and rejoice!, but for some reason I never needed him to. The God I had always prayed to, faithfully and with real love, was one that I had been told from a young age loved me no matter who or what I was. I could not conceive of a God who would decide whom to love based on something that seemed to arbitrary; the few times I’d tried to bring my thinking about my queer friends more into line with Church teaching, I’d felt guilty, as though in so doing I was loving them less.

I guess, in the end, my options were to hate myself; to make the conscious decision not to give a damn about God; or to allow my God to be different from the one I had the vague idea most other people around me believed in. I could not make myself stop giving a damn about God, because the joy and comfort that my religion and my spirituality gave me were real. I did not want to hate myself, and couldn’t think of a good reason why I should. So I allowed my God to be different.

I felt guilty for that, sometimes. It felt like a cop-out. A way of shoehorning my inequities into my religion. It felt like making a God to suit me, rather than doing the real work of changing myself to suit God – which, in quite a few traditions, is rather the point of religion. –But still, still, I never felt guilty for being queer. Not before God.

There’s half of it – the divine half, and maybe the bigger half. But, you know, I could have joined a church whose God looked more like the one I allowed to love me. I could have split off and joined the Episcopalians, or the Presbyterians, or any number of non-denominational churches. But I never once considered that. I am a queer Catholic, and never wanted to be anything else.

More on feeling guilty before the Church next week.

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what change looks like

Here are some facts:

This weekend, my mother and my sister attended a retreat in Decatur, Georgia, hosted by a nationwide organization called Fortunate Families. The organization is one dedicated to bringing LGBT people into communion with the Catholic Church. They hosted a retreat for the parents of LGBT children who have fallen away from the Church. Speakers – the children of Catholic families who had been unable to reconcile their sexual orientations with an institution that, at its most accepting, pretended they didn’t exist – led group discussions and talked about their experiences.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about homosexuality:

2357. [T]radition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358. [Homosexuals] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.

2359. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton D. Gregory (the man who Confirmed me) was in full support of the Fortunate Families retreat. He published an article in the (staunchly conservative) archdiocese bulletin, in English and Spanish, in which he spoke of “the distinction that our Church makes between orientation and behavior, which admittedly needs reexamination and development.” He expressed his joy that the Bishops’ Synod in Rome was beginning that reexamination. He attended the retreat – he said the opening Mass. He stayed afterward to speak to the people in attendance. He said, with word and action, that this was important to him. He did not want it to go unnoticed.

My family heard about the retreat because it was posted in our parish’s bulletin, three weeks running. Some parishes published it only a week in advance, well after the available spaces had filled up. Some refused to publish it at all.

The congregation of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – among Atlanta’s oldest and most beautiful churches – is, by the estimate of the deacon who spoke to the group about the need to make the Church not only a tolerant but a welcoming place for its LGBT members, probably twenty percent gay.

The waiting list for the retreat on the final day for registration was 25 families long.

Here are some observations.

My mother called me an hour after she got home to tell me about it. When they asked her to introduce herself, she stood up and made a speech – she said (in contrast to every other parent there) that she had not been happy about my coming out. She hadn’t said immediately I love you no matter what. It had taken her years to do that, and that was why this forward movement was so important to her. She talked about the importance of keeping LGBT children in the Church. She shouted that it was about time the Church was doing something. Everyone applauded.

The deacon turned around after she was done and said to her quietly that, well, for most of the people there, it was less about keeping their children in the faith than bringing them back. She hadn’t realized: Of all the families in attendance, of all their children all over the sexual and gender spectra – I was the only one who stayed.

Mom heard statistics about LGBT youth suicide rates and homelessness. She asked me if I had ever been suicidal. (I hadn’t; she was relieved.) She described the face of the speaker, a young woman, lesbian activist and writer, talking about her inability to reconcile the good Catholic girl she was known as with the lesbian she knew she was – Mom said she got statement after statement wondering, with varying degrees of gentleness, why she couldn’t get over it and move on. “I knew what was on her face,” Mom said. “She didn’t get emotional, she just… She was stone-faced. I know it. I’ve seen it on you before. I could just see her thinking, You have no clue.”

“So, that’s my question,” Mom said. “And you have time to think about it. Maybe we’ll talk about it when you come back for Christmas. I want to know: Why did you stay?”

Here is a fact: I am the only one I know who stayed. The only one not only still here, but still practicing. The only one who never failed to reconcile my beliefs with my identity. It is three and a half weeks before I fly home for Christmas.

This post is the first in a series.

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