No matter what filter you use, she still sucks.
So there's this .gif I love . . .
I first saw this a few years ago captioned thusly: "There are two kinds of people in this world . . ."
That caption has stuck with me as much as the actual .gif has. I think about it a few times a week. Who runs toward their fear? Who wants to ride a rollercoaster, much less jump out of a plane, wrestle alligators, or attend a live taping of Dr. Phil? Not I.
And yet, I've been wrestling with fiction again. The same novel I came a hand's breadth from selling in 2010—God, it's such a long story; buy me a beer—still claws at me, and I've decided I'm going to finish what is now my third rewrite of it as soon as I can, because I want to move on to writing other stories. This one's had its turn, and it needs to get off the swing set.
So I was writing away tonight, and it was one of those kinds of sessions where you're doing a word count after every paragraph—torturous. Nothing seemed to want to come. I'm in a weird sequel spot in the big, creamy middle of the book, about 25,000 words in, and that's where every fictionist eventually gets mired down.
And I was writing out what I knew needed to be the next little bit, and suddenly—I'm not big on plotting much out ahead of time beyond the broadest of strokes, and I don't know how this thing ends yet—a plot development hits me that I didn't know was there. And it has to do with so much of my own trauma, stuff I spent years in therapy processing. And I knew—knew—this was where this story had to go. This was where this story had been begging me to take it all along.
I struggle with fiction in part because I suck at putting my characters in real peril. Oh, but peril beckoned. Peril, in this case, demanded, and I'm ready to oblige. But this means a lot of processing of old, bad stuff for me—stuff I feel pretty settled and okay about but that still isn't pleasant—and I feel a little like both of the two kids in this .gif above.
Run away to a safer, cleaner, more well-lighted room where terrifying dolls fear to tread? Or run at this fucker full-speed and punt it all to shit?
There are two types of people in this world.
For today, I know which I choose. Today, I lace up my shoes and run.
The idea of a Colorado trip for our anniversary came up today—Glen Phillips has some tour dates up that way that same week—and it sent me looking back through photos from our previous trips there. I took this on a golf course in Summit County in 2008.
I don't have a lot of people I talk to about matters of faith. That's by design: I'm a natural introvert who needs to need a lot of time to work things about before being ready to talk about them, and I tend to find it easier to write about things on my own rather than process them verbally with others.
But I do have a few friends with whom to talk about these things, and I was on the phone with one of them recently, talking about why I don't go to church and don't care to. And it was one of those moments where I could hear myself talking, saying something I've said a thousand times, and realized what I was saying was all wrong.
I've heard people describe this as being "stuck in your story." And I think that's what happened to me. I realized I've been saying something for a long time that doesn't really ring the bell in its truest spot, so to speak. Not that anything I was saying was dishonest or deflective; just that it wasn't quite the right way to say it.
It occurs to me that this is precisely why I don't like talking very much about spirituality: Most of it, for me at least, defies words. I like the verses in Matthew where Jesus encourages people to keep their giving private and their prayers quiet. My soul is the dearest part of me; the idea of showing it to just anyone grates. I prefer to show it through my actions, and, to a lesser degree, through my writing.
There are those who've called me "secretive" for this. But the word secretive implies shame and an attempt to conceal. Nothing could be further from correct. My soul's a bit of a tangled knot, like a gold chain kept too long in a drawer I'm working, slowly, patiently, to untangle.
To be honest, I don't see my life's Sunday mornings involving worship services. Sundays are so wonderful at my home. I do the New York Times crossword puzzle. Bri makes brunch—he's a creative and able chef, and it's always delicious. I schedule a week's worth of vox poetica posts and catch up on whatever other work needs to be done for that site. We do laundry. We clean. We shop for groceries. We take it easy. When it's warm, we go for bike rides.
I seek to live a life of generous, openhearted, hard-working, big love. Will church ever be a part of that? For now, no, and I feel very deeply Okay about that. Maybe someday, that'll change. Maybe it won't. But here I sit on a Sunday, at home, and for right now, it's the holiest place I could be.
NOVA: The Invisible Universe
This episode of NOVA—still one of the best shows on television—made me actually weep. The Hubble Space Telescope is one of the most amazing—if not the most amazing—things humanity has ever done, and this look back at its history is deeply inspiring. Nancy Roman's face should be on money. Watch the whole episode at the link; the preview is below:
The Wayward Spawn of a Dead Star?
It didn't turn out that the first interstellar asteroid detected traveling through our solar system was an alien spacecraft, but 'Oumuamua still is revealing its secrets even as it zooms back out into the galaxy, never to be seen again. The science behind this newest hypothesis is a doozy, and as always, Phil Plait does an excellent job of explaining it.
Ring In 2019 in the Kuiper Belt
Not really, of course, but this NASA preview of the next New Horizons flyby—of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69—has me excited to see humanity once again push the boundaries of exploration. Think about the engineering marvel this spacecraft is and the impossible needle it threaded to send us the first-ever up-close images of Pluto and be inspired.
The tree is down, the lights are off the outside of the house, the presents have found their way from novelty to routine, and the days are ever so much longer than they have been. You almost can't tell the difference in the light, but if you look—and I'm always looking for more light—it's there. The morning and evening stretched, roomier, just enough—always just enough.
So that brings the collection of religious symbols in this household down pretty much to the things in this photo, unless you count the Jesus Action Figure in Brian's office, which, naturally, I do.
I did stumble across a few truths these last few weeks through the writing of these pieces on Advent, belief, and identity. I saw that by adopting, even for a moment, the label of "None," I was falling back into an old pattern that felt very unnecessary: I was trying to create an identity out of belief—or, in this case, a non-identity, which is just the same thing. It's like people who label themselves "outsiders." Aren't they, too, just joining a club? A club of the unwanted?
The fact is, I don't belong to the Nones. I do believe in the Resurrection. It's right there in my soul, and I don't know exactly when or how it got there, but I know I didn't put it there. I've been rereading the Bible a lot lately—I'm trying to read the whole thing this year, and I have an app and everything to help me not lose track. I just read the Beatitudes in Matthew, and though the ones in Luke hold a greater degree of emotional satisfaction for me in today's political climate—"Woe to you who are rich," Jesus says! Wow!—I did find myself getting emotional. Interested. Wanting to know more. God cares about the poor in spirit. What an idea. Those who mourn. The meek. The ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The pure in heart. The peacemakers.
This describes no one in the triumphalist American Christianity that seems to wear a Jesus mask everywhere I turn in 2018. Nor does caring about those people seem to be quite in fashion in America's church these days. Maybe ever. So though I believe, my belief makes me not belong. As a friend once said to me, "It seems like Jesus lives in your heart." But it'd feel disingenuous to call myself a Christian. I long ago lost the password to the clubhouse, and I feel no push to find it anew.
I do believe in—and attempt to follow—the Noble Eightfold Path. Imagine: Our belief, our thought, our speech, our action, our livelihood, our effort, our mindfulness, our concentration. They mean something. They get us somewhere. They're not right for no reason. They help the world. I value my meditation practice these days as much as any part of my daily life. I can chant a large part of the Lotus Sutra.
But I'm not a Buddhist. It's a culture and a faith that's not mine, a distant bell tolling for someone else. I'll always be a guest in that world. That's how it should be.
And I'm not a None. I believe things. I'm not a nihilist. And though I'm not sure I buy into the idea of a God who's so small as to be contained by a theology of humans, I don't think it doesn't matter—on the contrary, I think it does matter. I think it matters what and how we conceive of the world and the forces that move it. I think it matters where the world goes, and so I think it matters where we think the world should go and why we think it should go there. I believe deeply that we of the many faiths and non-faiths can do great things together despite and because of our differences, but our beliefs, our thoughts—they shape us. I don't think our world is beyond saving, but if I'm honest, I don't think anyone's coming to save us.
There's a great old story. A man goes to a poor country, and he's walking the streets seeing scene after scene of suffering, starvation, disease, and despair. He cries out, "How could a loving God see all this and not do anything?"
God says, "I did do something. I made you."
Identity is such an interesting thing, isn't it? We aspect these names to ourselves, and I wonder sometimes how much we do that to avoid being known by our own names. I've always bristled when people start describing me, because identities are dressing; I'm under them. There are bumper stickers, but they have nothing to do with the cars we drive. There are labels on clothing, but they have nothing to do with the hearts beating beneath. Adjectives modify; nouns identify.
So this is me, throwing off the box. I believe many things and know very few. I couldn't if I tried deny that I believe a man emerged from a grave a couple thousand years ago. And I couldn't deny if I tried that since I learned about the Eightfold Path and started a meditation practice, my life has improved a hundredfold. I sense more than a cold, indifferent universe before us. I sense something on the other side. I don't fear death.
Beyond that, I don't know. One day, hopefully a very long time from now, I'll lay dying. Someone may ask me, where are you going after this? I'll say, I don't know. I'm not sure how much control I have over that anyway. My better sense tells me it's little if any. In the meantime, I'm going to try to find the least of these and care for them. I'm going to continue to seek out the right thing to do and embody integrity the best I can. I'm going to aspire to greater kindness, harder work, deeper authenticity, better health, bigger love.
That's not nothing. That's everything.
I once thought I'd hate living in the tropics. I can see now—as every morning run stings my face and cracks my skin—how very, very wrong I was. The trick is retiring to somewhere that electricity costs $0.60 per kilowatt hour and the cost of living is three times what mine is now.