It’s 11pm and I can’t sleep

RegAnnGlastonburyTor

My husband and I atop Glastonbury Tor. 2013

10 Years ago I started this blog. I had just graduated with a Master of Arts in English and I missed the writing and research part of my university experience. I wanted a place to track my thoughts and not write a journal, per se, but interesting articles about my thoughts on various topics. I was not ready to give up writing.  I’m proud of some of the things I’ve written, especially movie and book reviews and my struggles with religion, namely Christianity.  I feel that I’ve lost the heady thrill of college writing and the joy of discovery.

Well, a lot has happened since. It’s been almost a year now since I moved back to the States after splitting from my husband and it’s been almost a year since he died of cancer. The former was planned but the latter was a surprise. I have not written about it except in my personal diary because it’s a long embarrassing and painful story.  What I thought would happen didn’t and what I never thought would happen did. When I left for the UK, I followed a dream. However, that proved to be exactly what it was; a dream. Unreal. Fantastical. Too good to be true. Did I mention I’ve become bitter as well?

Ironically, the only job I could find at my age upon returning to my home state of Illinois, starting completely over again and even with a Master’s degree, was a job in a church doing admin and financials. It pays better than I expected, and even though it IS a church, I don’t think I believe in God any longer even though I give it a half-hearted attempt now and then for old times’ sake. Sure, at work I can talk the talk as good as any of the pastors. But my heart’s not in it. In fact, my heart’s not in much anymore.

I no longer believe in the democratic process once a supreme corporate asshole like Trump got elected. No amount of umbrage on the part of journos, politicos, or anyone with any Washington clout seems able to change that. I tired of being outraged a few months ago. Also, for the first time in 45 years, I’m not attached to the hip to any boy/man that I’ve attempted to earn love from by jumping into the sack first thing. I’m no longer giving everything I have to a relationship that doesn’t give a shit about me. The self-sacrifice I’ve spent my life on has yielded exactly … nothing. In fact, the only thing I look forward to now is not dying of breast cancer or heart disease, both of which have visited me in my life at various points.

I now spend my time working, playing Red Dead Redemption 2, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and reading books. Those things are my favorite things (except the working part).  I don’t think I was ever cut out to do great or even semi-great things. I just don’t have the energy to invest. I’ve spent it all. I don’t have, nor will I have, any significant goals. I wish that, like Thoreau, I could find my cabin (read electronically wired house) in the woods and retreat into Nature. My best years are behind me, and if that sounds depressed, perhaps it is. Perhaps, too, it’s just reality.

Maybe I’ll write more now. Maybe that’s the therapy I need. We’ll see.

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Politics Isn’t Worth the Effort

Amish schoolchildren

Image via Wikipedia

I must say that in all my 50 years, I’ve never been so disgusted with politics as I am now. I’ve always voted, but I’m not going to any longer. I’ve felt guilty for not voting, but no longer. I’ve kept abreast of events that have happened and read all sides of political arguments, but no longer.  The only thing that I can see clearly at this stage of my life is that politics breeds rancor and hatred. All of it is an age-old battle between those who think they are right vs. those who think they are right. There is no such thing as partisanship. There is no consensus and nothing moves forward. The less people knew the better. Now the internet has fueled a giant war of words and hatred ’round the world. The one interesting news story that caught my eye today was this one:

WESTCLIFFE, Colorado (AP) — A new road sign cautions drivers to watch for Amish horse-drawn carriages in the valley beneath Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo mountains. Highway pull-offs and dedicated horse-and-buggy paths are in the works.

Amid the serenity and isolation of southern Colorado, hamlets like Westcliffe, La Jara and Monte Vista are welcoming Amish families who are moving West to escape high land prices and community overcrowding back East in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“The reason we moved out West is the farm land is a little bit cheaper and it’s not as heavily populated, a little more open space and a little more opportunity for young people to get started with their own farms,” said Ben Coblentz, a 47-year-old alfalfa farmer from Indiana. “The general public seems to have a little slower pace of life than what it was back east. Everybody here respects us.”

And respect them I do. I respect anyone who stays above the factions of modern life and sticks to principles such as hard work, community building, and respect for one’s neighbor. They’ve been a consistent witness without ever saying a word in public for our consumption and I long for that kind of peace and silence. I started this blog to expose “the mystery of iniquity that doth now work…” and it seems to be working overtime. There’s something in society that’s rotting from the inside and I don’t want to be any part of it. I want to live life rather than observe it.

I see none of the peacefulness of the Amish while reading the news.  I see none of the ethics that religions espouse when I see vicious slander against public figures and groups purposely fomenting riots. I see no one with the wisdom to hold their tongues when it’s unwise to speak (me included!) I see people who cannot abide others who think differently. I see politically correct language police. And I see that none of it has made this country or this world better than it was 20 years ago. If anything it’s worse. Am I a curmudgeonly “old woman?” Perhaps, but the advantages of getting older is being able to speak one’s mind without fear of reprisal. There will always be haters. I don’t want to be one of them. I can no longer read that hateful mishmash called “news.” I can no longer go through an election cycle that drags hatefully on for years here in America. It wears on me and makes me mean, vindictive, and hateful. I can’t stand that about myself and about what makes me that way. One can never write honestly without being labeled. One can’t sympathize with those who are unjustly attacked without being equated with a particular “ism.” It’s like being in grade school again!.

Like other bloggers who I respect greatly, I’m going to stop participating in the political game. It was intriguing for a while. In fact, I thought it would do some good to show up the misleading mischievousness and hatred of both sides. But pointing these things out doesn’t do that. It entrenches the camps. It only makes sides dig in further and flames of hatred burn hotter. And I’m only adding small sticks to the fire. Do people pay attention to what I write? Of course not, but I have to write this somewhere, and a small seed has to be planted somewhere.  I’ve seen some good examples from religious folk who stay above the fray: Amish, Quakers, Episcopalians, nuns, monks, etc. They’ve shown me that a personal ethic is all that is required to live an ethical life. It’s not my place to speak about injustice.  Some people have that role. I’m sure I don’t. My seed will be to refuse to add those sticks to the bonfire already raging. There are too many voices already; so many that it’s impossible to be heard. I think the internet has been a good thing for getting information out there, but I see that because of it, we are more polarized politically than ever. Good information is out there. Unfortunately, there is more bad information than good.

Will anyone notice my lack of posts about politics. Hell no! But I will, and what a relief that will be. I’m not sure what will be the focus of this blog with it’s main mission when I started it. Perhaps a few more reviews of books, movies, television. Perhaps I’ll blog about my family and my new life in another country. Or perhaps it’s really time to shelve it and move on. Not sure. I’ll take it one day at a time, hopefully silent ones.

The 11th of September

September 11, 2001

Image by wallyg via Flickr

I remember where I was on this day 9 years ago. I was working at a brand new job that year. I was down in the print room of my workplace and the business manager came downstairs and asked me if I’d heard the news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At this point, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever thought what the World Trade Center was, but I knew they were tall buildings. I thought immediately that perhaps a small plane had gone off course and was going to land but had accidentally hit the building. Then I went upstairs to turn on the television that someone had dragged out of storage and set up in the kitchen.

When I saw the images on television I knew it was going to be bad. And then I saw the images of the planes flying into the two towers and I knew it was deliberate. Images of people flinging themselves out of the highest floors, clouds of smoke and debris taking over lower Manhattan, people were running and screaming, some covered in ash and god knows what chemicals… I remember asking my boss, who had joined me in the kitchen to watch, “How many people had to have been in there at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning?” He just shook his head. All day we kept the radio on, listening for news, and monitoring the internet. The news kept getting worse. There was a crash at the Pentagon. A plane went down in Pennsylvania. One learned to expect anything next. I watched President Bush on television being told on camera about it and I remember that he couldn’t have handled it better. He was calm and in charge.

Over the days and weeks following the event the anger began to set in. I was one who cheered when President Bush announced a retaliation against the cowards of Al Qaeda in their hideouts; Afghanistan and Iraq (and now Pakistan and Iran). I’d never been to New York but I suffered vicariously with its citizens that day, as did millions of other people. I tried to imagine what the spouses, mothers, children, and friends of those who had died were thinking and feeling, not only at that moment, but later when they had to relive the last moments of their loved ones’ lives over and over in their mind. Memory is a cruel master. I became angrier when Osama bin Laden gloated on video about crippling our nation by this act and angrier still each time a video came out of Al Qaeda beheading some poor victim of their fanaticism and filming their agony for all to see. I thought they were barbarians then and I think so now.

My anger really hasn’t diminished all that much since that day.  Before September 11, 2001, I gave no thought to Al Qaeda, the Muslim religion, imams, or anything about that part of the world. Now I can say that after that date, I know more about them than I wish to and I still harbor no good feelings about them. I know no Muslims. I’ve read the Koran and remain unimpressed. While there are some good sentiments in there, like the Christian bible, women are deemed as possessions and men are encouraged to “discipline” them as needed. Infidels (unbelievers in the Muslim God) are to be tolerated if they wish to convert, but eliminated if they do not. Peace is assured to those who accept this God as their God. Like those who take the Christian scriptures literally, the lives of those who don’t agree with their God’s diktats mean little. I understand this is a matter of interpretation and I have no problem with Muslims, who like their Christian brothers and sisters, do not take their scriptures literally, fanatically, or unquestioningly. Critical thinking about supposed “inspired” scriptures is a must for reasoned dialogue. My anger has indeed made me rethink how I view the world and the world’s religions. It’s brought home to me how much more civilized some nation’s people are than others, how much more freedom we have here in America than anywhere else, and how much more freedom of religion.

The big difference I think is the way we use our religion to further our own political agendas. Surely, religionists have to ask themselves, “what is my religion for?” Is it to cleanse the world of everyone but your own kind? That’s fanaticism. Is it to assure yourselves that those who rule religion will rule earth? That’s fanaticism.  You don’t have the right to make that decision for everyone else, especially if they disagree with you. Our response? We can ignore religion or not. Radicalism demands that we do not ignore it. Some choose to ignore it from a position of a-religion and ridicule, imagining wrongly, that this will suddenly hit home to such fanatics that they were wrong all along. The a-religionists imagine that eliminating religion will eliminate the hatred in people’s hearts. I don’t believe this for a minute. Religion is merely a tool of the human sins of pride, greed, and selfishness. Until we can all coexist peacefully, religion or not, we will have these kinds of acts.

Some choose to view religion from within a more progressive, open, and evolutionary stance which means that it’s open to new insight from the Divine in a spirit of cooperation and love. In this case, religion is transformative. Allowing your own heart to be changed is the key, not trying to force others to change theirs. Transformation begins at home, so to speak.  I’m still trying to process my feelings stemming from that day. I can honestly say that I’m not Christian enough or rational enough to put my anger aside and see it clearly. I was not injured in that attack. My loved ones were not killed. If they had been, it would have taken a herculean effort on my part to learn to forgive. But I’m still learning and hoping I can change my heart enough to do so. But, it’s just too fresh of a national wound. Until I can, I will continue to think America’s the greatest country in the world with the greatest people in the world. Unimaginable acts of compassion have resulted from this event and it gives me hope. Call being in this country what you will, accident, fortune, whatever. For that I’m thankful.

“The True Meaning of Pictures”

Today I watched The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Addams’ Appalachia, a documentary about the Appalachian people of Kentucky. I found this documentary strangely compelling. I felt a huge kinship with these people, living poorly by our standards, leading simple lives, and making music to amuse themselves. I think I feel such a kinship because my grandfather’s people come from the hills of Tennessee. Grandpa Brown was a man of few words with a wry sense of humor, and who could fish like nobody’s business. He made his own fishing lures and then stuffed the large fishes he caught. One that he stuffed was displayed on the wall in the house where I grew up. My grandfather played the fiddle and my Grandma played the piano. I remember listening to them both playing hymns together and my aunts and uncles sitting around clapping, singing, or dancing.

My grandmother’s people came from a long line of God-fearing preachers of the independent Baptist variety here in Illinois. Many a night we listened to Grandma talk about the farm she grew up on and the chores she had to do. The tale she tells is of seeing my Grandpa for the first time coming over the hill toward their farm looking for work. He had walked and hitched rides to Illinois from Tennessee. He was 19 and she was 17. They were married a year later. My favorite picture of my grandfather is one where he is sitting on the floor of a porch attached to a cabin in the middle of a forest. I believe it’s the actual cabin where he grew up with his mother and father and sisters and brothers. His knees are drawn up and his arms are resting on his bent knees. He’s wearing a hat and staring off into the distance. The lines of outdoor work are heavily etched into his brown, leathery face. I have a great respect for those who can capture true emotions and lives on film and Addams can do that. When Addams interviews people outside of this culture, there are those who express suspicion, stereotypical attitudes, and fear of the subject. It points out to me how much people fear things outside of their own sense of place and familiarity and the patronizing attitudes that comes from such an attitude. And that works for rich and poor alike. I have a huge respect for documentarian filmmakers who can share the experiences they have lived with us. There are those who wish that the stories could have accompanied the pictures and perhaps we would lose some of the stereotypes if we knew those stories.

I think the reason this film resonated so much with me, by listening to their speech patterns and observing their faith, I can so see myself and my family members in them. There are some that want to politicize the subjects. Oh what education could do, they ponder. It becomes like a media zoo when someone goes into the woods or the midwest or into small towns like a modern-day Margaret Mead and “observe the natives.” Oh what shall we do about poor white folk? Look at those strange beliefs! Oh my God they still slaughter their own animals! We should feel sorry for them! Is it exploitative? When you photograph them, put them on display, and walk through such galleries and thank the powers you no longer believe in that you aren’t that poor, it’s easy to make fun of things you don’t know anything about. It’s easy to romanticize poor lives or imagine that they inbreed or other unnatural things. It’s easy to imagine you have just what they need to “fix” them.

And what shall we say about religion in Appalachia? Addams’ explores the serpent handlers of this area, whose practices are based in the last chapter of Mark. They believe in the signs of the Kingdom of God literally; speaking in tongues, handling serpents, and drinking poison. The folk in this area handles rattlesnakes even though it’s illegal in a public area. Churches are considered public areas, so they have services in their homes. They also drink strychnine. Addams captures the stories behind such beliefs and thankfully provides just the stories others are asking of them. I’m glad he did that, because I can’t say I wouldn’t be one of those who made a snap judgment if I just observed them in a book. When you think of all the popular cultural stereotypes, especially in the movies, about people who live in ‘hollers’ and those in the woods, I can only say I’m glad these folks are unaware that we use their family lives as fun fodder for our movie going habits.

All I could say after watching this and reacting with such a gut reaction is, these people could be my people. Oh, no doubt, these are very, very hard lives. They are dirt poor. They live in shacks, and they are often dirty, missing teeth, or sick with some disease. My family would be considered several rungs up the social ladder from such a life, so I count myself among those that stereotype easily. But as I get older, I have learned to empathize with so much that is different from my world. And I thank those people who have shown me love and encouraged me to do just that. I’m glad I watched this film. I encourage you to do so as well.

What Transforms Us

Quill and ScrollI have a germ of an idea snaking through my consciousness; about writing, about transformation. Yet I cannot articulate it well unless I begin the process and tease out this idea which has come into being.

The process of writing is rarely talked about outside of academic classrooms or MFA programs. In college, I did not take the Creative Writing courses that many of my fellow students did because I tend to think of Creative Writing as narrowly encompassing poetry, fiction, and even some imaginative biography. Instead I chose to concentrate on Literature because we did no less the amount of writing that the Creative Writing student did, perhaps we did even more. I wrote 3 or 4 papers per class, per semester and I enjoyed every paper I wrote. The process of preparing for writing was the most fun, the most rewarding, and the most transformative act in my college career than any other projects we were asked to do.  I cringed at public speaking and quaked at the acting required in Medieval Drama, but I did them and cannot say they did anything for me except make me nauseous. No, the part that I enjoyed the most was research, research, writing, and more research. It was like digging for gold or discovering electricity or meeting up with another tunnel that one dug through those mysterious tunnels of ideas in one’s brain. No, I loved the writing process itself.

The sheer joy of reading and research is hard to explain. I think my earlier forays into fundamentalism inside the nuclear family unit to which I was confined in the 80s and 90s fed that need to read and research, even when one’s spirit in that religion was confined to the leather-bound pages of a book said to be the inerrant word of God. One did not have much use for knowledge outside this book, we were told. All we needed to know was in there. Protect your mind from other things, tainted sinful knowledge that had no truck with the bible. But the mind, the curious mind, cannot be confined to such as this. College opened a whole new world for me and truly transformed me far more than religion did. Here was a whole library full of research to be done! I was in my element. Oh I learned my scriptures inside and out as a religious fundamentalist, but when that proved increasingly unsatisfactory, I had to look elsewhere. And I think that what religion did for me in those early years of young motherhood, literature, history, and philosophy did for me later. I needed something to spur me outside my comfort zone. I needed to be pushed to limits not allowed by religion.  But once I had done that and soaked up the knowledge I so greedily feasted upon, then what? Did that transform me? And if it did, in what way was I transformed? I can say now that religion transformed me, but not necessarily in a good way. I needed something more.

Like going to a grocery store with far too many options to choose from and overspending, going to university tossed ideas at me in a similar fashion and left me just as bewildered and spent. There’s this to contemplate, but what about this? How does this relate to that? Some live and die by this ideology but others live by that? Defend this, but ignore that. It was, in some ways overwhelming.  There were far more “isms” to worry about and many more we weren’t supposed to question or offend the proponents of. Writing helped clear all the clutter from my brain when it got to be too much. Keeping a journal for over 30 years has been as transformative a tool as any amount of meditation has (or medication for that matter). Writing on blogs has similar purgative qualities. But are we only purging? What is the intentional writer and how can it be meaningful in a society full of those talking more than those listening, those writing more than those reading?

Susan Yanos makes a very good point in “Wielding Thor’s Hammer, What it Means to Write as Ministry:”

Because truth lies within each of us, the creative process is the discipline writers embrace in order to encounter the mystery of the truth of their experiences and of their beings.

In other words, I write to know myself. I read to reveal the truth in myself in sympathy with the author’s words. I write because I want it to change my own personality somehow, not just to be a better writer but to be a better person. Yet, I am so often discouraged not only by the sheer numbers of good writers out there, but by the outrage attached to much of it, especially in blogs and online news editorials.  I am hesitant to jump out there with an opinion because I feel there are those lying in wait to pounce on every opinion and rip it to shreds. It’s an attack that feels very personal and the armor instantly comes up. I feel like that poor water buffalo at the watering hole. Every other elk has hightailed it out of there because of the tiger crouching in the weeds, licking its chops and I’m left pondering to myself, “What? Where’d everybody go?” just as I get eaten or taken down by the throat. I leave my opinions unwritten and safe in my own head. Yet, the need is still there. Is this why some of the best bloggers sometimes wish to remain anonymous or to find safer blog waters in which to swim? Is this why they disappear? I think so. But I must slog on. Yanos writes:

What I do think Whitman meant is that when poets undertake the search for meaning, for truth, in such an intentional way, they not only write poems that capture that truth, they actually live the truth, they then become the truth themselves. When Abraham bargained with God over the outcome of Sodom, he discovered, not that God could be bargained with, but that good is far more powerful than evil. Even ten good men could transform and save a city. And whenever Moses complained to God about his inability to perform the ministry God had laid before him, he learned that God could transform his perceptions of himself as a murderer, as an inept prophet, or as a leader separate from the sinful actions of his people….

The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno once said that we will be judged not so much by what we have done as by what we hoped to be. Now we may be tempted to reply to him that the way to hell is paved with good intentions. However, Unamuno is not talking about the difference between intention and action. If we truly hope for something, we will make every effort to achieve it. Our desire will be the center and motivator of our lives. Our desire will possess us until we become that desire. Whether we accomplish the goal is irrelevant because we have become the goal.

Assuming that there is a God to which we have to answer, this is comforting, to know that we turn into what we hope for to become the goal itself. If I hope to be a good writer, someone who will make a difference perhaps, then my striving to do so will accomplish the very purpose I so much want to see. Transformation will take place and so slowly I do not notice. I can only hope..

Watch Out! Twitter Comments Open to Investigation

Check the laws in your state before you criticize anyone on Twitter or any other social networking site. Apparently, it could put you under investigation by politicos. We always knew this, but deep down, did we ever think it would come to that? Are they being investigated for a crime? Which one? When does criticism become reduced to slander or libel? If criticism is the only criteria then there are many left and right wingers that should be open to a good investigation.  What does this mean for free speech? Free speech for me but not for thee?

Quaker Worship and Love

Well, and here is the crux of the matter: an excellent explanation for why non-theists can worship with Quaker theists.  The bit that stands out is this:

Before letting George Fox speak to us about silent waiting, I want to help nontheists as well as theists to hear him — and to hear each other. Because, as 1 John 4 asserts, God is love and love is God, and because, as Paul asserts, Christ is “the image [in whom we are made; see Gen. 1:27] of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), we can define worship in a way that speaks to theists and nontheists by simply substituting the word “love” for “God” and “Christ” in the source texts. That substitution has been made (except when the meaning would not be clear, or when mythological agency is attributed) in the following passages from Fox.*

And this is to all that would learn silent waiting upon [love] and silent meeting; for none shall ever come to [love] … but as they do come to that of [love] in them, the light which [love] hath enlightened them withal; and that is it which must guide everyone’s mind up to [love], and to wait upon [love] to receive the spirit from [love], and the spirit leads to wait upon [love] in silence, and to receive from [love].

Other than waiting patiently and trustingly for the working of love in our hearts, then, we perform no action in Quaker worship. Our worship is essentially passive. Therefore there is no object toward which our worship is directed, toward which we proffer reverence. We’re simply waiting to feel the motions of love directing our lives. Thus do we avoid the error of attempting to objectify, to reify, God. And thus do we, if we are theists, avoid the error of secretly thinking that we are pleasing God by the work of worship.

Now that makes perfect sense to me. God/Goddess/Spirit is Love.  No scriptures required. No action. Just receive and live. Period.  End of story. Refreshing.