Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oh! Trick or Treat!

“Oh!” Mom said, opening the door to my childhood home 2 years ago. I spent last Halloween here by myself – controlling Chienne as she desperately tried to make friends with all the happy children and passing out pound after pound of candy. But 2004 found Chienne and I abandoning my grad school city to watch the spectacle of trick-or-treating at my parents’ rural home.

“Are you supposed to be on some dance team?” She chirped happily as she reached for the bowl of candy. I looked up from my seat on the floor, clinging to Chienne’s collar, and cocked my head at the girl standing with her friend at the door.

She was probably 13 or so, though as I age I get worse at determining a young teenager from an older one. Dressed in a lacy black top, midriff bare, and a tiny spandex skirt, I wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be. But I did notice her scoff at my mother’s guess at her choice of costume.

“No.” The skimpily-clad girl said, with a roll of her eyes for her friend. I was inspired to roll my eyes as well. Save me from junior high girls who are ever so cool, yet out to gather free candy. Mom – perhaps from years of dealing with Brother and me (we were also very hip in middle school, if in no other place than our own minds) – was undeterred.

“So what is it you’re supposed to be?” She asked, smile firmly and politely in place, but eager to know what sort of non-dance-team costume this little outfit was meant to represent.

“I’m Gothic.” The girl said with a smirk.

“Oh.” Mom replied, her cheer fading to confusion as she surveyed the girl once again. She dropped candy into each of their bags with a final question.

“Aren’t you cold?”

She hadn’t shut the door completely before I started to giggle. She grinned down at me and shrugged before shaking her head.

“Those girls are too old for trick-or-treating.” She judged. “I only gave them one piece of candy each. And I don’t know what Gothic is.” Then she nodded once – decisively – before waiting patiently for me to stop laughing and catch my breath.

“From what she looked like,” Dad said from his seat in the recliner as he used the remote to increase the volume on his television show about cars, “Gothic is apparently another word for whore.”

I laughed harder and fended off kisses from Chienne – she loves people when they’re happy – and looked over at Mom as she considered her husband.

“She did look like a little slut-puppy.” She finally said. “I was trying to be polite when I asked if she was part of a dance or gymnastics team.”

“I don’t think she was impressed with your guessing ability.” I finally offered, and watched Dad chuckle.

“Well, I didn’t know what she was!” Mom defended herself. “And if I’m going to give her candy, I want to know who she’s trying to be! And anyway, I thought dance team was a pretty good try.”

“Maybe next time,” Dad advised – for he can’t let an opportunity for instruction pass him by for any reason, “you could just ask rather than trying to guess.”

But that’s not Mom’s way. So Dad and I watched fondly as she’d open the door.

“Oh! A ghost! How scary…”

“Be careful on the steps.”

“Oh! A princess! Aren’t you beautiful? Is that a wand? Are you a magical princess?”

“Oh, a cow... How adorable. Is he warm enough in there? I might have a little blanket you could use as you walk around.”

“You’re very welcome for the candy. Have a good night!”

“Ew, what an ugly mask! Can you breathe in there?”

“Oh! A clown! Look at your big red shoes!”

“Happy Halloween!”

And I tease because it would be difficult for me to admire or adore a woman more. And because I do the exact same thing – say all those same lines, frown when a costume befuddles me, coo when I see something cute. When faced with an evening filled with getting nothing done and missing the mindless watching of TV, it’s good to remember why I bought extra candy so I could watch the kids walk through the evening, all dressed up and eager for sugar.

I do it – I enjoy it – because my mom always has. She blessed me with many of her qualities and I’m pleased with most of them. As far as Dad goes, his advice was actually good. If confronted with a costumed creature I can’t recognize, I don’t guess. I just ask.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Because I'm sick.

As seen at The Clutter Museum and Seeking Academia. Though I don't do a memes very often, but this one was random enough to be appealing. And I really don't feel well enough to tell a story after writing all day (when I wasn't curled up in pain). Poor me...

Explain what ended your last relationship.

Depending on how loosely you define relationship, it was ended by lack of interest, I think.

When was the last time you shaved?
Just now - ten minutes ago.

What were you doing this morning at 8AM?
Washing dishes, basking in the bright, sunny kitchen.

What were you doing 15 minutes ago?
Taking a shower. I'm not feeling well and it's dark enough to go to sleep.

Are you any good at math?
Yes. Yes, I am. I almost had a minor in undergrad and would sometimes work integrals just to relax. I am not, however, so good at teaching math.

Your prom night, what do you remember about it?
I didn’t attend the prom. If memory serves – and it’s not very clear – I believe I stayed home and read a book.

Do you have any famous ancestors?
Nope. But I do have really good ones.

Have you had to take a loan out for school?
No. I had scholarships (I was a National Merit Scholar, I brag bashfully) for undergrad, then did an RA followed my an NIH fellowship.

Do you know the words to the song on your MySpace profile?
No MySpace profile for me!

Last thing received in the mail?
Bills, prints from a digital photo order, catalogs, junk mail…

How many different beverages have you had today?
4: Coffee with vanilla cream (bad idea), water, Diet Cherry Pepsi, Sierra Mist Free.

Do you ever leave messages on people's answering machine?
Of course, but I don’t like the phone so much.

Who did you lose your CONCERT virginity to?
The earliest show I remember seeing is Disney on Ice. (Wave the light wands when the bad characters appear!) Though it’s rather sad, I think my first actual concert was Matchbox Twenty when I was in undergrad (late bloomer, apparently). I went with my two roommates and it happened to be held in the city where I would eventually attend grad school. I had a fantastic time – we sang and danced and giggled together. Then Rachel’s radio was broken on the drive home so we decided to sing – in order – all the songs from the first CD from memory. It wasn’t particularly well done if I’m thinking objectively, but from my personal perspective, it was exquisite.

Do you draw your name in the sand when you go to the beach?
I have, of course, but I don’t always.

What's the most painful dental procedure you've had?
I hate dentists and dental work. Hate, hate, hate. I never had Novocain growing up, so every filling was quite painful. Icky, shudderingly awful.

What is out your back door?
My gas grill. My parents bought it for me as an Easter gift, and I use it sporadically. But it is shiny and pretty.

Any plans for Friday night?
I’m going home this weekend!

Do you like what the ocean does to your hair?
My love of the ocean means I will forgive any hair offenses. So I actually don’t mind the salt and curling and weirdness.

Have you ever received one of those big tins of 3 different popcorns?
Yes, though not recently.

Have you ever been to a planetarium?
Oh, yes. Those were good times in grade school. I liked the music and darkness and tiny, glimmering lights on the domed ceiling.

Do you re-use towels after you shower?
Yes, though I only re-use my own towels. Guest towels are freshly laundered before and after any use.

Some things you are excited about?
Huh. I can't think of anything. I think I'm still leery of wanting something too much - it can lead to extreme disappointment. So I'm trying to be mellow and stable about life in general. Which doesn't allow for much excitement. Now I'm a bit sad about that.

What is your favorite flavor of JELL-O?
I like red. It can be cherry or strawberry or anything, really, as long as it’s red. With mixed fruit inside. Unless I’m sick, and then plain red is just right.

Describe your keychain(s)?
I have a thin gold rectangle with the name of my undergraduate institution on it. I've used the same one for nearly 10 years now.

Where do you keep your change?
I carry some in my wallet. I used to keep quarters in a pretty glass bud vase, but now that I own my own washer, the vase is empty. I also store some change in my drawer at work so I can buy Diet Coke.

When was the last time you spoke in front of a large group of people?
June 9, 2006.

What kind of winter coat do you own?
I have a long gray wool and a short gray wool for dress. I have a lighter brown coat that’s very soft and fluttery. It makes me feel pretty. I don’t get to wear them though – it’s very sad.
Instead I have many sweatshirts and light jackets for the “winter” here in the south.

What was the weather like on your graduation day?
Quite windy for high school - it was my only outdoor ceremony and I took off my cap before giving my speech.
Quite hot for undergrad – I wore a cute sleeveless black dress with a wispy layer on top that had pretty purple flowers and green vines.
Quite cold for my doctorate – I don’t remember what I wore, but I do recall being bitterly and completely frozen in the short walk up hill toward the graduation location. The pretty roses Dad bought me froze on the walk to the car afterward.

Do you sleep with the door to your room open or closed?
Open – the animals like to come and go. Usually it’s just me in the house, so it doesn’t matter. But even when there are people visiting, the door is open at least part way.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


“Wow.” Boss said as he viewed the results that appeared on a screen. I looked up as well and cocked my head as I determined how I felt about our first run.

“That’s…really a lot of Chemical.” He said mildly, and I grinned immediately and decided what I’d write about when I got home. It’s a cute story, I decided. I can connect it to something else and it has a moderately decent point. Lovely.

I had to work this afternoon, and was expected to bring something. I wrote about my first attempt at creating said item, and my second attempt occurred today. I parked my car upon arriving at my institution, carried what was left of my gallon of distilled water in one hand, purse in the other, and unlocked multiple doors and turned on a few lights to find my way to my desk.

My plan was to purchase a certain seasoning blend that contained the chemical of interest. We’re trying to detect Chemical for this specific reason, and I had carefully calculated molarity – doing stoichiometry and everything! – and carefully measured and dissolved and made sure each container was rinsed with the distilled water in January.

This time? Not so much.

First, I’m not feeling very well. I’m actually having convulsive stomach cramps at times, which is extremely unpleasant. Luckily, they’re sporadic. So I’m semi-functional. I looked for the seasoning containing Chemical at three stores, growing increasingly sad when I couldn’t find it. Apparently ordering online is my only good option here in my southern town. But since the experiment started in a little over an hour, not even the fastest of deliveries was going to help me out.

I had a backup plan in place though, so I went to the capsules I’d used before. I read an email discussing how much of the seasoning to use in ½ L of solution – 4.4 grams. After finding each capsule held 630 mg of Chemical, I decided I’d use ¼ L of water and 3.5 capsules. I clearly subscribe to the “close enough” method of doing chemistry. This is a good thing, as we’ll shortly discover.

I do have a decent Chemistry background - though it was never my focus, but it was corrupted my years of employment in an environmental lab. Once I got a feel for the levels we were detecting, it was true that “close enough” was usually more than sufficient. So the bad news is that I abandoned precision and know enough to be dangerous. The good news is that I’m highly efficient and can often accomplish my goal with items at hand.

I counted on these skills once I arrived at the office, having only capsules, water and 2 ziploc bags for the transportation of my final product. Luckily, the idea was pretty simple. I wanted to take 4 capsules, cut one in half, then dissolve 3.5 of them in about 250 mL of water. I thought it would likely be really strong – of far higher concentration than was necessary. But screw it – I didn’t feel good, there was no reason it had to be perfect – we just wanted Chemical to be detectable and crazy-strong was certainly detectable. So I headed to the ancient kitchen on the way to my desk and set my bottle of capsules near the sink, then plunked my gallon of water on the other side of the faucet.

Something to mix in, I decided, was a good place to start. So I saw two punch bowls – pretty crystal ones – off to the side of the sink. But my relief at finding a suitable container was short lived. One was put aside as I touched it as briefly as possible. Who knew what those awful yellow specks were from?

I decided to use the other, though I was frowning at it as well.

“Do you contain any detectable chemicals, gross gray film?” I asked the coating on the bottom of the dish before squirting a liberal amount of dishwashing detergent (I found it by the sink too) in it and shrugging before scrubbing with a paper towel from the nearby dispenser. I got most of it out before making my icky face and calling it good.

I opened the smaller of the two bottles I’d carried to my disgusting little workstation and counted six capsules that I’d shaken into my palm. Replacing two of them and twisting the lid to seal it, I set the four white pills in a puddle of water I’d accidentally created when washing my punch bowl.

I briefly considered throwing them away and getting new – it was not my intent to get them wet.

“Yeah, Katie.” I chided myself silently. “Between the concentration you haven’t calculated, gross gray film and other errors we haven’t made yet, a little extra tap water is going to be your major source of contamination. Goose.”

So in their tiny puddle they lay while I tried to decide how to measure ¼ L of distilled water. No measuring cups, I deduced after a quick check around the room. I could guess, but my skill with measurements is about as good as my sense of direction. If I was going to figure out how to cut one of those capsules in half, I could at least get close to ¼ L.

So I opened the refrigerator.

The three gallons of ice tea weren’t going to help, I decided. Nor was the canister of yogurt or a sad, wilted apple. But I reached eagerly for a tiny container of chocolate milk located all the way at the back of the second shelf from the bottom.

236 mL. Close enough! But how was I going to use it? It’s impolite to steal someone’s milk, so perhaps I could devise some weighting system where I could pour an equal amount of water in some container in one hand, then try to balance the weight of the milk I held in the other hand.

Even I – with my “can do” attitude – thought, “how the hell is that going to work?” So I twisted my mouth and thought some more, turning the milk container in my hand.

“Oh, that’s gotta be rancid.” I said upon seeing the OCT. 6 stamp on the spout - it's almost November. “Fantastic for me!”

I opened the cardboard container, and – holding my breath all the while – dumped the milk down the drain and began rinsing the inside of the cardboard with tap water. I rinsed and rinsed, peeking inside to see how clean it was. Apart from a couple of chocolate stains, I think I got most of the residual contents out.

So I filled it with distilled water, then transferred the measured water to the semi-clean punch bowl. Then I dumped a little more water in, with “Yep, totally scientific.” nod toward another 14 mL.

“Now to dissolve these capsules.” I noted happily, pleased with my progress so far. I had about 250 mL of water and that was half the battle! So I started to saw through one of the pills with a steak knife I found in a plastic bin near the sink, helped along by the fact that the pill was rather damp.

“Fortuitous.” I complimented myself out loud.

Then I threw my 3.5 tablets in the water and poked at them with the tip of the knife. Remembering I’d heated the water to aid dissolution before, I made my icky face again when I opened the microwave.

“Aacky.” I said mildly, wishing I’d remembered to hold my breath again. But I set it to “frozen entrée” and waited while the water heated. After about a minute (because a frozen entrée apparently takes 2:45), I retrieved my punch bowl and set it on the counter, frowning down into the opaque white water.

“Is that milk or just really strong solution?” I wondered, then picked up the bowl to peer at the bottom of the dish. I could still see partial capsules lying sadly on the bottom, so I stuck my hand in, fished one out, then tried to cut it with the steak knife.

Slightly fearful I’d injure my thumb, I set the knife down after only 2 slices and twisted my mouth again. I tried to crush the pill between my fingers, but was unsuccessful.

Then I saw some salad tongs and smiled with what can only be described as giddy satisfaction.

They worked perfectly.

I also used them to stir my increasingly white mixture, pleased with my accomplishment. I held a Ziploc baggie open with one hand, then started to pour my concoction into it. I decided to fill one very little and the other quite a lot. No real reason – I just wanted to mix it up.

So I finished the small one, then carefully removed most of the air and sealed it. Then I prepared the second baggie, and frowned when I saw the large amount of white precipitate at the bottom of the punch bowl.

“That’s not good.” I frowned. “Swirl and pour. Swirl and pour.” And when the bag was halfway full, I decided that was good enough and sealed it. Then I cleaned the punch bowl, nodding at my ability to remove the gray film by some mixture of washing, mixing and microwaving, then put it back where I found it. I cleaned the steak knife and salad tongs as well, drying everything – including the counters – with the brown paper towels.

So, yes, my creation was really strong. But Chemical was detectable, which was my only real criteria. And if we happened to detect some indefinable compounds as well? It’s difficult to hypothesize from whence they came, and it doesn’t really matter for our purposes anyway. I had a goal and made it happen. We detected Chemical in a spatially heterogeneous pattern. Our technique and equipment work, and I have data I can process. Mission accomplished.

My point – and the reason I’m telling my chemistry story – is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Life isn’t neat and tidy and all measured and cleaned properly. Sometimes I slap something together. I look at the major goal and decide how much time I have to get there. I do what I can with what I have, then I hope for the best. If nothing else, I can learn for next time.

I plan to apply this “guess and check” approach to the medication I’ve been taking. My Celexa prescription ran out and I didn’t refill it. I think the depression was very related to an event that hit me very hard. Every time I’ve done very badly, it’s been related to some specific life change. Big exams. Being homesick for the first time. An injury to love and trust. Missing friends.

“I was trying to figure it out.” I told Unnamed Friend a couple days ago. “And my first thought was that I experience emotions – bad emotions – on a level more profound than other people. But that isn’t necessarily right. And it can’t be tested.”

She nodded. “You might,” she allowed. “But it’s hard to tell.”

“So the problem,” I continued after agreeing with her, “is that I seem to be less capable of coping with the bad emotions than normal people.”

But I’m more aware of myself and my limits. This episode was bad – I’m trying to ignore that, but my blog entries make that difficult. Writing during the worst moments might have actually been a good idea. I can look back on some of that – and I have – and recognize the truth in how agonized I was. Recall waking to moan at the severity of the pain. Shake my head over the hours I spent on the bathroom floor, desperate to find comfort and endure the time that was so very miserable. I remember. I know. It was very bad.

Now I feel better. Balanced and stable. Like myself again – and it’s been months and months since I could say that. So why not continue with the medication? I’m not sure. I’m curious, I think. I want to know how I’ll do without it in an environment where people know I have the ability to get quite ill and can inform me if I start to slide downward again. The people at work are now guarding against the worst of my moods, and I have every faith that Unnamed Friend won’t spare my feelings if I start to get morose and despondent. Even you’ll be able to know from reading, and I think that some of you would mention it might be wise to refill that particular bottle of capsules.

But it’s not always pretty. Sometimes there’s a weird gray film. Other times I use a milk carton when a graduated cylinder would have been more optimal. It’s good when I find salad tongs when I’m trying to crush half-dissolved capsules.

The question that just occurred to me is why struggle – or risk a struggle – when it’s not necessary? If I’d had a measuring device, I wouldn’t have even looked for the milk carton. Or if someone had offered me a container of ideally concentrated, perfectly formed Chemical, I wouldn’t have even considered making me own just for fun. For all my attitude and efficiency and education, I do what works. Which means I’ll make a different point than I originally intended.

I’ll refill the prescription tomorrow.

I don’t think I’ll take antidepressants forever, though I guess that’s possible. But I am going to take them for a little while longer. Because I am better. I think they helped. So I’ll let them help some more. Ideal or not, I can't tell from here. So I'll take the safe route for the time being.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Yawn, redux.

Mild sickness. Much sleeping. Followed by brief periods of being hazy and awake, during which I look forward to napping again. This also makes me tend toward starting blog posts, then failing to find the energy to finish them. But I did find new icons! I was mindlessly downloading them and changing the way my dock looks when Unnamed Friend called. It's all very exciting.

But I made a list and acquired items at WalMart. I returned home to eat panang curry since it was helpfully brought to me by my shopping buddy. If I happened to forget she asked for an Advil because I was distracted by the delight over my purchases (feather toys for Sprout! More cat food to go in the container! Tennis balls for Chienne! New cutting board! Food! Soda!), I apologize. It's an unfortunate side effect of this icky yet mild disease that I can't remember stuff for very long and am thrilled when I can focus on the mundane.

Oh! Like when I was cleaning earlier today. Sprout and Chienne have teamed up to destroy my kitchen. The cat gracefully leaps on the counter and elegantly pushes off anything he can find. The dog then eats or otherwise makes some mess with whatever has appeared from above. So there was a mustard stain and bits of egg shell (long story) on my floor. This did not please me. I informed the animals that I enjoyed cooperation in general, but did not approve of this project.

So I was scrubbing at the mustard stain and realized I created a bright white spot amidst a rather gray floor. And while I hardly expect to win awards for housekeeping skill, I'm not OK with living in filth. Apparently my swipes with the Swiffer Wet aren't adequate. So I frowned at the muddy footprints and residual mustard and layer of grime. Then I grabbed my bucket and mop and trusty Mr. Clean and scrubbed. I was very pleased with the results and smiled with satisfaction before heading down the hall to take another nap. If I still haven't started laundry, I'll blame it on being sick. I'm really very tired.

But errands were run this afternoon, which is really good. I put together my cheesy potato casserole after dinner (I'll eat it later this week), and the house smells like comfort now. Cheese and ham and potato. Sour cream and butter. I put in a Friends DVD (Harry Potter was on ABC, but it was scaring me) and am basking in a clean house filled with stuff I like and need. The animals have stopped playing with their new toys and are resting. I plan to do the same shortly.

I decided yesterday that if I couldn't post something of substance, I wouldn't post at all. That resolution obviously fell apart... I'll just hope for something better tomorrow.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Shhh... then Pounce!

I'm not feeling so well today. I couldn't get up this morning. I tried and shuffled back down the hall to rest some more just after 6. I just couldn't. I was so tired and achy and my head felt weird.

And there's the fact that I sleep so well when my precious puppy is otherwise occupied. So when Unnamed Friend is here, I'm relegated to "that person I know" in a certain canine mind so that she can dote on her new favorite friend. Which means that instead of cuddling with me, then sighing when I happen to shift positions (or nudging me awake to scold the cat when he attacks her), another human must cope with her. If I were a better person, I suppose I'd try to lure the dog in my room.

I'm not a better person.

So the story of the day is that Chienne went to the vet for her allergies - I adore my vet. Then I came home, attempted to get ready for work, then irritatedly put on pajamas and took more Advil and went back to bed. I'm all sick! Achy and nauseated. Foggy and sleepy. And I want to work - I'm not sad or afraid or anything other than suffering from some evil virus. So I slept. Chienne slept. But Sprout?

Sprout has a plan. He aspires to capture the tail of Chienne.

This plan can be enacted in any room of the house, and his target doensn't seem to mind his attempts at hunting.

"They play tail." Unnamed Friend said as I told her, pleased with their ability to interact, despite the sporadic hissing. "One cat will twitch her tail, and the other cat will chase. Moms do it for kittens. Friends do it for friends. It's fun."

"I don't think Chienne knows she's playing tail. But she seems happy enough to be oblivious to it."

The problem with any plan is that there are unforseen snags. And in what could be my favorite picture of sweet kitten, this is Sprout getting whacked with the very prey he sought. The tail wags at the will of its owner, and she's sometimes happy and sometimes sleepy. And the 2 states can morph rapidly, leaving a playful kitten to squint and dart away. Or get hit with a tail.

Either leaves me giggling and reviewing photos in delight as I lie on the bed with Klennex and a bottle of water.

But planning must be instinctual, for Sprout hasn't lived here long enough for me to train him. And while Chienne sleeps and whines and sighs just like I do (I can't remember exactly why, but I said, "You and me? It's like we have the same mind." To which Unnamed Friend replied - while giving me a look - "You realize you're talking to your dog." And I nodded happily, reporting that Chienne wanted to take a walk. I understand the dog quite well.)

I also admire taking a step back and considering your goal, which is what I believe Sprout is attempting to do here.

But then - great little creature that he is - he gets right back to it. He learned from his mistake, backed off a little bit, then stayed low to avoid detection (Chienne did know he was there - she just didn't care. I was petting her head and laughing, so she was quite content.)

Look at the concentration! The narrowed green eyes, the outstreched paw.

I'm so proud.

But, well, sometimes the best of plans go awry. The tail is taken away and you're presented with a head. You can glare at the head or you can avoid getting licked by the tongue that comes out of the head with frightening regularity.

The lovely thing is that I wasn't warning either of them to play nicely. They seem to have accepted each other, and we're coexisting peacefully (or playfully - it depends on the moment).

But since I do enjoy a happy ending, I thought I could conclude with the fact that the tail usually returns - in some form or another.

Sometimes Chienne turns around - not out of any altruistic feelings toward Sprout's plan, but because she was comfortable in her former position.

Sometimes Sprout stealthily moves again so that he is located at her back end, once more prepared to squint, focus and pounce.

I can only hope that I wake tomorrow feeling ready to do some squinting, focusing and pouncing myself.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

There, there...

It is difficult for me to watch someone in pain. I don’t like it – feeling helpless and useless in the presence of an unhappy person. I like to help – provide food and distraction and some kind of comfort. If you’re sad, I could make cookies. Sick? Do you have Nyquil? Or Tylenol PM? How about Kleenex – the kind with the lotion so they don’t hurt your nose if you use many of them? I could loan you books if you enjoy romance novels or pick some up if you’d rather have another genre. I can listen for hours while someone whines or cries. I offer genuine sympathy and soothingly pat backs or stroke hair. I’ve historically been rather good in these situations.

Elle’s boyfriend of 3 years ended their relationship at the beginning of senior year of college. She was devastated – absolutely lost and crushed and desolate. Rachel and I had opposite sleep schedules, so she would sit with Elle at night, then I’d wake around 3AM and shuffle out to brush my teeth, then make tea and find another box of tissues. Then I’d sit next to Elle on the couch and let her curl into me and cry. Poor, poor dear. I knew it was hard, and would make soothing sounds and understanding statements until she was able to sleep for a couple hours.

M had her wisdom teeth removed in grad school – I insisted upon driving her to the oral surgeon so she could have the anesthesia, then smiled fondly as she came out of it. Yes, everything was fine. Sure, we could get ice cream later. No, she didn’t look like a chipmunk! Well, maybe a little. But just slightly. And a very cute chipmunk at that. But I helped her to the car, picked up the ice pack she dropped and drove to fill her prescriptions. I woke her up when she slept on my shoulder while we waited for her pain medication at the pharmacy, then covered her with a soft blanket and did some reading as I waited in her apartment.

I excel at calming Brother. It’s a tone of voice with him – whether he’s enraged or sobbing, simple words in my gentlest way of speaking. Repetition is key – it takes a few times for anything to sink in, so if I say it over and over, he seems to eventually cling to the concept, repeat it, and find a place of calm. Mom sent me to get him one night – he’d gone to a wedding with his wife and had gotten dangerously drunk. Like Dad, Brother is quite different when intoxicated. His wife was embarrassed and wanted him to leave – calling Mom and reporting she was going back inside because she couldn’t wake him from his slump against a tree (and they wonder why I abhor the girl).

Dad was angry, Mom was shaking with fear. Neither was capable of making the 45 minute drive at nearly midnight, so I took the car and sped toward where I thought the party was located. I took several frantic calls from my parents along the way, arriving to find Brother being propped up between 2 friends. I unlocked the door and buckled his seat belt without undoing my own and put the car in drive before acknowledging the man knocking on my window.

“Are you his sister?” He slurred when I opened it a bit.

“Yes.” I said, looking over at Brother again and asking if he was OK. Barely able to open his eyes, he nodded and said he wanted to stay with his wife. He was worried she’d meet someone else, he said. I bit back my reply that expressed my hope that she actually would and glared at her for only a moment when she emerged from the building to say good night to Brother.

“I’m sorry.” The “friend” outside my window said.

“What?” I snapped, turning my glare on him.

“I’m sorry you’re his sister. That must suck.”

I looked at him, furious and worried, spat out that he should get away from me, then rolled up my window and started to drive home. I bought food Brother refused to eat, calmly took his phone when he tried to call his wife again. I pulled over when he threw up and helped him take off his shirt because it was gross. I cleaned up pure liquor in vomit form when I heard him being sick in his old bedroom, then slept on the living room floor, listening in case he needed me. My parents were frustrated and upset as well, so I took care of it.

Carrie’s grandfather died in grad school, and I closed the door to the office and let her cry as I smoothed her hair. I - months later - took boxes of books to her apartment after she had surgery. In another year or so, I moved in for about a week when her husband had to move away for work. We put furniture in different places and she was happy with the simplicity of her living space rather than morose over the lack of the dining table because her husband took theirs when he moved. I bought Mexican food and shared cheese dip after difficult group meetings.

Rachel is less willing to let people in, but we’ve spent hours on the phone. Even when our bedrooms had a common wall in college, she’d sometimes call and talk without having to meet my eyes. And I’d listen and soothe, joke and distract. Send attentive emails the next day and buy little gifts so she could smile even when life wasn’t so good.

I’m good when times are bad. I feel stable because I’m busy. I crave comfort so often myself that I find offering it to others – especially those I love – rather effortless. I just keep making offers and doing little things until something seems to work. Helps the time pass just a little easier between now and when everything looks just slightly more OK.

It bothers me – I’d rather everyone just be fine all the time – but I’d rather be around than not. I’m used to offering comfort, being present in times of pain.

I’m not sure what the problem is, but the severity of my recent depressive episode has left me rather awkward in these times of late. The desire to help is there. I’m not afraid of the pain on a personal level, but I feel very worried about making it worse for the one who is suffering. I have a great appreciation for how dark the bad times can be. I know nothing helped me on those miserable days. And while I recognize that coping with life events that should be sad is very different than dealing with a mental health issue, I’m still fumbling through reactions that used to come quite easily.

I still offer food with great regularity, but I now understand completely when someone is too sick to even consider eating. I don’t murmur “shhh” when confronted with tears because sometimes crying releases a bit of that awful negative energy. I don’t suggest going to work because sometimes that’s too hard. The very act of being in the office can be agonizing. I can’t even ask gentle questions – I just wait until the words come. And if they don’t? That’s fine too – I get it. I’ll suggest walks because I walked a lot when I was lost in pain. It helped, I think.

I feel better - in the mental health sense - for the most part. I’m working and making serious progress. I saw my parents and enjoyed them, despite the complaints. I love my cat – I find him to be very sweet and cute. He sleeps in one corner of my bed, even when Chienne abandons me for the office and sporadic house guests. How to incorporate my faith in some profound way still rests uneasily in my mind. I’m waiting for something to click and feel right. So I comfort myself that I wasn’t really that bad. And even if I was rather crazy, the worst is clearly over. I’m OK.

But there are lingering effects. I look at people differently. Step much more carefully when I was once open and confident when I felt needed. I just don’t know what to do – I feel timid and unsure. The desire to help is immediate. My worry and sympathy is as sincere as it is strong. But even when I’m sleeping through the time when I planned to wake and check to make sure everything was OK, I did not have a plan for how to offer aid should some be required, and that bothered me. I felt like I should have had some idea, and I didn’t. I kept praying for the knowledge of what to say – how to offer comfort without condescension. And found myself opening my mouth, then closing it without saying a word. I couldn’t come up with much.

I made complaints while walking – about Chienne alternately yanking me forward then pulling me to a stop when she wanted to smell something. I tried to distract with stories – many of them random. I listened without comment or suggestion a great deal of the time. I don’t want to make it worse and have no idea how to make it better. I bought food and was relieved – tremendously so – when dinner “sounded OK.” I panted my way up a hill I’d climbed once before, then huffily declared there weren’t enough red trees on the side path we decided to take on our second trip around the park. I drove far out of the way on the trip home because I didn’t want to sit in traffic. Then worried that I was irritating my poor friend. Don’t make it worse, I scolded myself.

“Time will help.” I said at lunch – likely the only statement that helped me all day as I considered the future. “It won’t be OK, but I think it will be better. You’ll adjust.”

The truth – for me – is that bad things do happen. Those that are devastatingly awful and can’t be comforted or eased or taken away. And somehow in letting it hurt, allowing people to help – or at least to sit while they can’t think of how to help, letting time pass so that distractions become meaningful, humor and joy return and it does become OK. We cope and heal and move forward because there’s not really a good alternative.

It’s a good concept for me to remember. I think my fear is that there are moments of despair and panic that are profoundly bad. I’m scared of them. But I’m also hopeful that there are moments of great happiness and understanding and compassion. In the times when someone has to transition between the two states – from grief and pain to normalcy, pleasure and peace – I hope I figure out how to conduct myself with a bit less apprehension and a bit more grace. It’s part of who I was and who I hope to be. I’m just struggling to locate the right balance – in this as in many other things – right now.

Unscheduled absence

It was a long day. Not bad (though there was a sad part and a rather frustrating section), but long. And my cute little post sits with only a couple paragraphs of a long story. And I'm so very sleepy. So we'll catch up tomorrow, OK?

Monday, October 23, 2006

On reluctance and faith

Honestly? I’m a bit embarrassed. I don’t really get self-conscious about what I write here. You’re free to read and think and comment freely. I don’t expect that everyone will like or respect what’s here and while I’d rather the anti-Katie people move along quietly, it’s perfectly OK to come every day so you can think about how you’re much more sane and competent than I am. I’m not exactly sure of the impression I’m making – I offer you a great deal more than I offer people offline. It’s a bit strange, but it’s how I work. I’m more willing to let people in through this medium.

I knew I struggled with writing my last post. I sinned. It was bad. I learned something from it. Hopefully that takes me a step closer to something good. So why get defensive over what people might think? Why pause to think about saving the post for later before I shook my head and published? Why hope that people decide to take the day off from reading me? It was difficult to write – hardly my most clear or entertaining post. I couldn’t decide what to edit out, so it was incredibly long. I was bothered by it – almost posted something this morning to move it away from its spot at the top of the page.

I think the truth is that I don’t want to be seen as overly spiritual. How terrible is that? I know God – well, to some extent. I love Him, though I acknowledge that He’s more aware of the extent of those feelings than I am. I'm glad He knows my heart - someone should, and I don't think I'm always honest with myself about what I feel. It’s confusing – the urge to move closer followed by a retreat when I feel He welcomes me to Him. It’s not unusual – I understand that. There are periods of religious strength then times of lethargy. Undulation. But to embrace those peaks and to display obedience in the valleys? I would change. Become a different version of myself. And, again, I don’t want to do that.

The pills and therapy. A closer relationship with God. Progress at work that indicates I’m operating on some level closer to faculty than graduate student. I’m digging in my heels or dropping to the ground like that toddler who doesn’t want to leave the playground, and resisting any changes for all I’m worth. And when I do try to alter something, it appears to be the wrong thing.

When my parents were here, I noticed that I’m different. It happened without my permission – I’m just not the same as I used to be. I had this urge to revert – to figure out what exactly felt weird so I could fix it. Move backward into the person I used to be and abandon who I currently am. But that’s not an option – not on a real level – nor should it be. I have to go from here. That post last night was true – I believe it to be correct to the extent that I’m able to understand right now. I also consider it relatively important. A point where I can decide which way to go – I’m currently thinking that there are countless moments like that. Where I can make the right choice. My experience is that God isn’t ever far away. If I ask for help – need guidance in making some decision – He provides in some way. I haven’t ever felt forsaken as much as understanding I’ve abandoned the assistance freely offered.

I felt badly about these feelings – the urge to remove what I said, to pretend everything was normal, to talk more of fun things. Projects at work! Shopping! Pretty pictures! Even loneliness and depression are preferable to preachy posts. People are bound to stop reading, I thought morosely. I do like my blog, after all, and I hate to see my audience dwindle if I start to become more of a shiny spirit. But regardless of how much I regret these emotions, I really am struggling with stepping on the path to being more…something. Spiritual? Peaceful? Centered? Focused on God?

In moments where I’m confused or conflicted, I do what has worked in the past. Since I’m struggling with identifying who I am versus who I was, I looked to the very recent past. And decided to read more CS Lewis.

Luckily, I had discussed him with Boss and his wife. Offered my appreciation for The Great Divorce and recommended it enthusiastically when hearing that neither had read it.

“I am reading The Screwtape Letters.” Boss said. “Have you heard of that book?”

“Heard of it.” I replied, looking away from his liver and onions with a slight grimace. “I haven’t read it.”

“It’s good, though it must have been difficult to write.” He noted. “Screwtape is a…what?” He inquired, turning to his wife. “Demon?” She shrugged, then nodded. “He works for the Devil.” He clarified, pausing to sip his water.

“So Screwtape writes these letters to a lesser demon - a tempter - named Wormwood. He offers all this advice on how to take over his assigned person. How he should keep this man from God and the truth and happiness by using all these tricks. It’s good – the stuff he mentions does distract me from God, keeps me from living the way I could. But it must have been hard to write – to turn everything around and make good seem bad and bad seem good. He calls the Devil something like ‘The Father Below.’ But I’m enjoying the novel.”

So I bought Screwtape from audible and started listening to it this morning. I abandoned America: The Audiobook – which is really quite funny – in favor of more Lewis. If you recall, I waited for a few weeks before reading The Great Divorce – I thought it would be difficult for me to hear some of the stories it held. It wasn’t – I was ready and gave over to it quite easily. It was just so good – so filled with light and grace. The angels who came to help the ghosts? They were so joyful, so eager to provide that peace and purpose to the souls who had just entered Heaven. And the ghosts just had to decide to take the trip. To get on the bus that traveled to Heaven from the gray town. Then to walk with an angel until they gained enough strength, lost their ties to the world, and climbed the mountain to reach God.

I pushed play on the iPod and began The Screwtape Letters with the expectation that I would be similarly infatuated with this story.

I’m not.

It’s exquisitely written and read – I’m completely focused on the words and story. I remember nothing about my commute to or from work today – only the 10 letters I was able to hear while I drove. I nodded along, recognizing some truth, wincing in shame when I noticed places I’ve failed – allowed these demons to win.

But it’s hard to read – terrifically difficult to hear. I’m not supposed to believe in demons – don’t know that I do, really. But Screwtape indicates I’m not supposed to – it’s better if I don’t acknowledge the existence of evil. It makes it easier for it to take hold. Screwtape would enjoy that I feel embarrassed and awkward about my recent realizations. A moderate faith, he says, works as well for their side as no faith at all. Which irritates me, honestly, because I don’t like to lose. Don’t like thinking of my particular tempter writing to a favored uncle demon, skipping with happiness because I sinned against God knowingly. That I ignore what I know and avoid learning more. That sin and temptation appear to be victorious for the moment.

The fascinating factor is that Screwtape only grudgingly admits to God’s power, though he calls Him ‘The Enemy.’ So this book feels very dark to me. It’s funny in parts and very compelling throughout (though I’m not even halfway finished yet), but it’s scary. Absent of much hope and light – the work of my tempter, when I think of him, seems so easy. I help him out so very much. Don’t think enough of God or faith – convince myself I’m tired or unable to comprehend some of the concepts. I should instead have some lunch, as Screwtape suggests, or perhaps watch television, read blogs, focus on earthly pleasures – how pretty the leaves are. How nice the soap at work smells. What's going on with entertainment news. Anything to retain focus on sensory information.

“You don’t win.” I said to my tempter, eyes narrowed. “I’m learning. I’ll pray out loud because Screwtape is right – it’s too easy for me to lose focus when I’m silent. I will obey even when I don’t feel God’s presence because you creatures hate that. I do have hope – I do feel amazing relief because God doesn’t want me to be anything other than me. This bright person He put here for a reason and wants to love. You and those like you want me to become nothing more than food for a collective of evil. But now I know. And I can fight back.”

People will think I’m crazy, I thought immediately. That this depression pushed me over the edge into some fanatic faith because I’m very lost. I need to be moderate – talk about something else for a few days, then return to my discussion of faith. That would be more sensible, but would ignore the truth I think I heard from my car speakers.

That truth? I think there’s a struggle. It exists within me, so it’s certainly possible that it also occurs on a larger scale. Good versus evil. Heaven contrasting sharply with Hell. How I spend my days and how that affects where my soul spends eternity. I obviously connect well with what Lewis writes - how he portrays our attachment to this world and his illustration of sin and temptation. It makes sense to me - I can use it to grow and change and become better.

There are all sorts of adjectives I could string together to describe my life, but complicated would need to be included. So, regardless of my true motivation or my feelings about doing so, I’m pulling my faith from the periphery and toward the center. While I certainly understand oscillating between spiritual and secular focus, when I’m offered chances to change – when I’m compelled to think and write and pray even though it’s more than a little uncomfortable – I can’t resist anymore. So I’m moving forward. It’s slow, and I keep looking behind me and perhaps ducking my head because I’m not as proud as I should be, but I’m trying to shuffle out of my slump. It just feels shamefully difficult right now.

Oh, and I'm listening to Screwtape again tomorrow if for no other reason than I think the damn demon would rather I didn't.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"May I kill it?"

An introduction
I have progressed past dragging my feet on this particular post. If you think of the writing process as some sort of path through the woods, I believe you’d find me off to the side, taking a nap. It’s been a long time since I’ve struggled to articulate my thoughts to this degree. My feeling is that it’s important to me – a lesson, a confession and knowledge that I require to move forward successfully.

But once it’s written, it’s real. I’ve said it – skipping parts and stammering through words. But there’s something about writing it out, changing the order of paragraphs, considering the points and the context surrounding them. Trying to tell a cohesive story and explaining my conclusions. My goal isn’t to make you understand anything profound – I have long understood that what works for me isn’t what works for everyone. My hope is that people figure out their faiths to the extent that they’re able. Which is what I’m attempting to do. I’m just finding it difficult.

My typical strategy when I can’t get something written is to start adding headings. They cut out the struggle with transitions. There’s just some bold text that says “Now I shall talk about something else.” And I acknowledge that anyone who reads is more than capable of fitting it all together. That being said, this post is going to be long, and it’s highly unlikely to be elegant.

You’re not obligated to read this, but I’d like it if you would. The one recurring theme is that my faith and thoughts are highly influenced by external sources. I have a great deal left to understand and always appreciate hearing what people have observed or discovered. But here is the current state of my thoughts.

A book report
In the preface of The Great Divorce, CS Lewis discusses how there must be a break from what I love in this world. Not a short-term blip where God becomes momentarily important, but an acknowledgement that I am not meant for this world. I believe there is something after death and that being here has a purpose. But part of life is distractions – very, very tempting ones. As I search for purpose – satisfying work, wonderful friends, the hope that I’ll be able to create a family, acquiring animals to cuddle and care for, searching for love to give and receive, finding joy and enduring pain – I find it to be so compelling. So vividly real that it naturally demands so much of my awed attention that there isn’t a lot left for the ethereal spiritual concepts.

Lewis flips that around. Puts world-obsessed souls in Heaven - a place so substantial, so dense and heavy and real, that you can see through the ghosts. They’re transparent, so delicate that the grass hurts their feet as they stand on it. The narrator is unable to muster the strength to lift a single leaf. And even in the presence of such greatness, the ghosts eventually flee - return to Hell – a grey town - because it’s more of a known factor – comfortable to some extent. As the ghosts meet the angels sent to help them upon their arrival, they give various reasons for wanting to leave the spectacular place – so full of light and promise and joy they can’t access for various reasons. One wants to continue to use his talents – paint and be acknowledged for his gift. Another demands freedom of thought. A woman is embarrassed by her inappropriate clothing and refuses to stay. Another tries to tempt the angels and flounces away in frustration when they fail to gaze at her with lust. Lewis examines parental love, a great deal of fear, and the concept of pity. It’s magnificent, honestly. Such a good book.

But there’s one character - a ghost who came from Hell - that stays with me. I got the feeling he was sick – his spirit was oily rather than purely translucent or vaguely smoky. And he was scolding the lizard on his shoulder as it spoke to him. When his angel approached, the man apologized. Told the angel he was terribly sorry for he knew this was inappropriate. The lizard wouldn’t let him come alone, but now that he was there, the animal refused to stay silent. So he’d have to leave.

The angel asks if the ghost if he’d like the lizard silenced, and the man accepts quickly until the spirit shares his plan to kill the lizard. The man shared my concern – the lizard appeared to be part of him, and though it was clearly making him ill, killing the creature seemed overly harsh. So the man backs away – he wants to wait until later, see his doctor back in the grey town and if it appears necessary to kill the lizard, he will return. The man never rules out the possibility – he simply isn’t ready yet. The angel insists he must decide now – that the lizard is bad for the man, and must be killed.

“May I kill it?” He asks multiple times, and I read quickly, both terrified and fascinated. The man is similarly frightened and the lizard encourages this fear, saying that the angel doesn’t understand, that the man needs him, acknowledges he’s gone too far in the past – encouraged bad behavior and pushed too hard for certain decisions, but he’ll stay quieter, be better. Killing him is unnecessary and scary and painful.

But at the angel’s insistence – his continued requests of “May I kill it?” – the man finally accepts – saying that dying is preferable to living with the creature on his shoulder. So the spirit reaches out his fiery hands and kills the lizard. It seems to cause the man excruciating pain, but then something spectacular happens. Amidst bright light, a spirit emerges from where the ghost had fallen in agony. He is vivid and beautiful and the narrator is distracted when the lizard appears to struggle as well. After his death, the reptile becomes a gorgeous stallion and the man – a shining being that emerged from an oily ghost – is able to ride the horse up the mountain toward where God lives.

It’s a moment of exquisite triumph and joy. I was breathless and brushed away tears – so moved by the mercy of the angel in helping the ghost, the terrified bravery of the man to lose part of himself because it was bad for him, and the incredible reward he received for his eventual willingness to accept help, to face pain, to achieve growth at terrible expense then to emerge as something incredible.

An analogy
Have you seen toddlers throw tantrums? When presented with a refusal to obey with their childish whims, they often lose it. Shrieking cries, faces wet with tears, stamping feet, clenched fists. The frustration and injustice is just so overwhelming that the little guys can’t keep it together. It can be entertaining or irritating or befuddling to watch. Sometimes I understand – I too have wanted a stuffed animal and been crushed with disappointment when denied. And sometimes I frown in line at the grocery store. It’s gum, kid. Honestly – find some perspective. Regardless, the pain is genuine and the desire that this display of angst will somehow turn the tides so their will is obeyed is intense. I like intensity.

I’m reminded as I write this in fits of energy, then frown when it doesn’t make much sense, of the little ones who just go limp. Faced with going to the doctor or leaving the playground, they fall to the ground and refuse to aid any movement. It seems embarrassing to pick up the dead weight of their tiny bodies – to forcibly move them to where they need to go. But as parents – or even as adults in general (since I’m not a parent) – we’re responsible for the tiny creatures. It’s an awesome job – to protect them as they learn, to attempt to teach while relegated to watching them make some mistakes on their own. Sometimes the most effective teaching mechanism is pain.

I’ve been told – when asked for criticism – that I tend toward being more than a bit naïve. So my comparison of my current state to that of a toddler isn’t meant to be dismissive of all I know or have accomplished. Children can be astonishingly smart and capable and wise. They approach some moments of life with such great hope, optimism and love that I’m awed by some of them. But they have a great deal to learn – their abilities to trust might be weakened, they might not be as open to love, the naïve trust that people should play nicely is replaced by the knowledge that cheating, lying and stealing often pay off. You can take advantage and get ahead. Or at least it seems so.

So when you teach children – or as I’m attempting to remind myself – to be good, and then to worry about success, there comes a point where you can’t just pick them up and tote them around. So you turn to reason – telling stories, imparting rules, setting consequences, introducing them to people and concepts so that they participate in making the world better.

I started with the lesson – I certainly can’t illustrate it better than Lewis, so I began with the lizard, stallion, ghost and angel. But some concepts can’t be embraced without personal experience. So now I have to confess and explain mine.

But I want that!
I have more blessings than I can mention. Well, I could mention them, but I don’t. Instead I focus on what I’m missing. Ignore all the toys and games and love in my room at home to fixate on that little stuffed animal at the store that I simply must obtain.

At any cost.

I have a desperate desire to love and be loved. To feel the warmth of someone as he sits next to me. To glow because someone might be thinking of me at this very moment. Those are natural feelings – to care for someone and basking in the comfort that he returned my admiration. Feeling safe, beautiful, important. Loved. That’s good – those things are all good.

But in the moment they became overwhelming – that my grip on them carried me farther from God – I believe they made my soul oily. So why take love – of all emotions with which to sin – and soil it? Make it ugly and inappropriate?

I don’t think God has a man in mind for me.

“Why not?” Mom asked gently as we drove home from the store one night. She understood about the lizard – the representation of sin that comes from inside me. She looked at me – very concerned – when I admitted I’d knowingly and egregiously sinned. I loved God – she’s seen the strength of that devotion and is shocked that anything could overcome it. Dismayed that I allowed this to happen. As am I. But it did.

“I’m not sure.” I answered. “It’s just a feeling. He loves me – I know that. And if I’m not supposed to be married, then it’s the right thing. If I were to get married, I might be unhappy or might love this man more than I love myself or God or anything good. So I understand – on some level – that I should rejoice in God’s love, feel grateful that I haven’t stepped too far off His path to return to it. But I’m sad – I want to be loved, to live with someone, sleep with him, have children, share myself and accept him. I think I’d be good at it. But it has to come with God’s blessing for it to be right. I think I know that.”

But it fails to make me happy. I’m moved by the thought that God understands the core desire that caused the lizard. That I chose a poor representation of love – a red lizard with beady eyes and a twitchy tail – over what is possible – a gleaming horse that eclipses the lizard in beauty, size and function. But if I’m a toddler in the store and see this exquisite toy, I can understand if it’s too expensive. That it is very nice, but it’s not for me. So my feeling is that I should pick something more obtainable and fixate on that.

And that’s what I did. In a moment that will be confessed momentarily.

A request refused
I heard a sermon in the early Spring. I enjoyed it, but I basically put my hands over my ears, scrunched my eyes closed and said “la, la, la!” so the message couldn’t take hold. But it stuck – I always knew it would.

“There are some questions I hate to hear.” My pastor said. “And the main one regards fasting. Whenever I make a doctor appointment and demand the earliest time slot available so I can go the least amount of time possible while fasting, they ask why a preacher can’t go without food more gracefully. And I shrug and give some excuse and keep whining until they give me a 7AM appointment. Because I love to eat! I can’t stand being hungry!”

He had decided that fasting was a good way to retain focus on God by removing some of his earthly focus on food. So he decided to practice before church that morning. He ate dinner on Saturday evening, had 3 servings of dessert to tide him over, then decided he’d have a huge brunch after the 10AM service ended.

“I couldn’t even last until 8:00.” He reported sheepishly. “I was getting ready to come in to greet the early congregation, and had about 2 minutes to spare. I used those minutes to raid the youth group snack closet.

“I found a can of peaches – one of those little pop-top snack tins. I didn’t even waste time looking for a spoon. I just dumped the peaches in my mouth and decided if I dripped on my shirt, my robes would cover it up while I was preaching. Those peaches were amazing. I can’t remember enjoying food more in recent memory – a cheap little can of peaches gave me an incredible amount of pleasure.

“But as I stood there, wiping juice off my chin, I thought about how wonderful it would be if I could hunger like that for God. Be desperate and giddy to be in His presence. Wait impatiently until I could pray. Look eagerly for a break at work so I could read my Bible. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could take the passion for the worldly things we enjoy – sports, television, friends, family, food – and put that energy toward God instead?”

So he encouraged us to do that. Spoke with passion and enthusiasm and urged us to think of one thing that brought us the most joy – that we were eager for and happy in – and to take a break from it. Just a small break, he said, telling us not to panic. We could still enjoy our favorite thing. But imagine what you could learn and gain if that energy went toward listening to God, loving our neighbors, learning His word, being with Him rather than focused on the world.

I didn’t obey. I understood the message for my little email relationship was very, very good at that point – God clearly said to stop with the online activity for a little while. Take a break from the email which I loved so much. Stop with the daily blogging that takes so much time and attention. Ignore site statistics and avoid reading comments. The eagerness with which I approached people online – spent time reading and writing and thinking, falling in love – should go toward God. Ask His guidance. Try to follow His plan.

My experience is that if I have something that God doesn’t like, He will eventually take it away. So in those moments when I decided to willfully disregard the warning, I knew my attention should be directed elsewhere. When faced with God’s first request to kill the tiny lizard He could see growing in strength, I knowingly chose present pleasure over eternal peace. Waved my hand at God and rested securely in the knowledge that I could eventually be forgiven if I were wrong. But if I could have a relationship, I wanted it – much, much more than I wanted to be right with God.

I didn’t share those thoughts with anyone – friends, family, or the man with whom I was falling in love. I didn’t want to be saved and I was afraid that someone in my life – given the truth of my thoughts – would insist upon their further consideration. But I wanted to love. So the lizard grew. And it made me very, very sick.

I’m not sure the lizard is dead, to be honest. Wounded, certainly, but perhaps still clinging to the control it held over me. And that lizard – even when directed at the best of men who could love me in a wonderful way – is bad. It’s inherently bad, I think. It indicates my lack of trust in God to know what’s best for me – to give what I need and withhold that which will harm me.

I want to be clear here. The lizard was born and started to thrive before anything went badly with Peter. This has absolutely nothing to do with him and everything to do with me and choices I made. I believe that given anyone in the same circumstances, I would have made the same choice. The problem was not that I picked the wrong guy. The error was that I didn’t trust God.

And it’s not the first time.

What about Grandpa?
I received a small booklet my freshman year in college. I believe it was from Campus Crusade for Christ, though I could be mistaken. There was a picture – poorly drawn in black ink on white paper – of 2 scenarios. There was a throne at the center, and 2 figures. One represented me, the other Christ. Scenario 1 had me on the throne and Christ somewhere near the bottom corner of the image. Scenario 2 placed Christ on the throne and me fluttering happily by His side. I rather liked scenario 2, so I decided to take the meeting they offered.

I sat on a sofa in a dim room in the student center. We talked about God and giving over to His will and trusting Him. Then my grandparents came up, though I can’t recall if it was at my urging or theirs. Grandpa didn’t go to church, and I ended up asking if he could go to Heaven anyway.

“He could. If he accepted Christ as his personal savior and knew that his sins were forgiven because that price had been paid for him.”

“And if he didn’t accept that?” I asked, narrowing my eyes in warning and watching the woman shake her head sadly.

That’s the only way to get there.” She said softly.

So I didn’t return – it was too absolute for me. I wanted to learn and ask questions and cling to the comfort that was offered by believing my loved ones were in a better place. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around the idea of Heaven – who gets in, who might be left out. It eventually came down to trust for me. I believe that God is a benevolent being. His love for me has been proven countless times and I feel him as a peaceful, hopeful presence. Though I understand He is capable of terrible anger and absolute power, I believe He badly wants us to come to Him.

So if I wanted Grandpa in Heaven, God must want him there so very much more. God knew every second of Grandpa’s existence. Must have tried many times to guide him in the right direction, allow him opportunity for love, happiness and purpose. If anyone could get Grandpa to Heaven, it was God. And I trusted that He tried. That if the right thing was for Grandpa to be in Heaven, that God would get him there. And I relaxed. I wanted to go to Heaven – I wouldn’t worry about who else was there. God could deal with them. I’d just try to focus on me.

But here's the tantrum part
I struggle mightily with giving over control. I beg for help when I need it, but then start to feel better and snatch my life away from God, huddle around it protectively, start thinking and planning and excluding Him.

There are countless decisions – moments where I should pause to pray, consider my motivations, think about consequences – that occur every day. I fully expect that I’ll mess many of them up. In my experience, the meager prayers and attention I offer God are enough to give him a bit of my consciousness so that I understand when He yanks me back. When the misery without Him becomes too much. When I’m left weeping and trembling and begging for Him to please kill it – to take whatever is causing me such pain, to forgive that I not only carried the lizard around, but that I saw it, chased it, captured it, and convinced it to stay. Fed it, listened to it, and allowed it to infect the way I think and act and live.

It’s scary. To look at parts of myself – the lizards on my shoulders – and understand they are damaging my soul. On my journey – for some reason - I don’t think I get the horse, and a lizard seemed better than nothing. What toddler wants to leave the store with nothing? I think God wants the horse for me though it may not be in the form I want – a man who could pair with me for my time here – but it will be in the form I need. But to be open to that horse, I need to allow the lizard to die. And I think I’m trying to keep it alive, nurse it back to health. Because it fits in my little brain. I understand what it looks like and how it speaks and how it feels to have moments of happiness surrounded by a life of sadness. Hope that eventually dims in the surrounding darkness. Because the lizard only takes – makes me sick and sad and turns me into someone I don’t recognize. Yet I stamp my foot and cling because he’s my lizard!

I don’t want to meet someone at church – those men tend to be too good. I don’t find them complicated or fascinating. Their impression is more respectful and kind than confident and sexy, and I’m drawn to the latter. I crave the thrilling flirtations, the nudges into sex – mental and physical, the dark shiver when I look at a man and realize he might be able to push me farther than I knew I could go. I’m trying to realize that those desires aren’t inherently lizard-like either. There can be passion and affection mixed with love and obedience to God. I don’t think faith has to be boring. In fact, I’m doing it wrong if it fails to excite me on any real level. I personally love God very much – want to do what’s right in His eyes. I simultaneously have more than a passing interest in sex, secular interests, and sarcastic humor. It’s not at all out of the realm of possibilities that there are men who are completely compelling who have focused on their faiths. Pushed other qualities aside – allowed certain lizards to be killed – to make room for the horses that replace them.

The horse and lizard can’t exist simultaneously. They come from the same desire – the same internal yearnings – and represent those feelings. It’s the dichotomy of my choices – when I screw up and find myself with a lizard, do I stick with the comfort of the familiar – I know how the lizard speaks and he’s not all that heavy to carry around? He’s part of me – I created him. And it will certainly hurt to have him killed. But his very existence prevents the possibility of something better. So faith must get me past the fear – the knowledge that God loved me in the past and will continue to do so. The horse will emerge out of the pain and trust from losing the lizard. I believe this to be true.

His rules are not about earning a place in Heaven or pleasing Him enough to justify His love and hope for me. He is rather an extremely loving parent. Seeking to carry me at times – forcibly moving me to where I need to go. Other times he sends people to give gentle warnings, to support me when I’m low, to offer rebukes when I’m wrong. When I ignore His warnings, I do so at my own peril. I waste time – which is finite – and fail to move toward the greatness I could obtain while I cling to the darkness I create on my own. I’m afraid of change – I really don’t want to give up some of those lizards – but I’m tremendously grateful that I might see them for what they are. His rules are built so I can be successful here - happy, full of purpose and love. I very much want to try to follow them.

In doing so, the hope is that I become more of an adult. And a good adult at that.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Saturday Snippets

The cat plays at midnight.
I’m told he’s a kitten and kittens are prone to biting fingers and toes, destroying their toys and wanting to play wild games in the middle of the night. My new flannel comforter is bite-proof, thank goodness, so the dog and I are safe as we huddle under it to find sleepy warmth. It does get hot though, so my feet emerge at some point, as does Chienne’s head. We are then vulnerable for Sprout’s less than subtle attempts to rouse a playmate.

Biting my toes is effective only for getting scolded. I don’t even feel guilty about chastising him since it’s hardly a habit I want to encourage. I was next awakened by a low growl from the dog as she rested her head on the pillow across the bed from my own. I rolled over to blink at her, wondering what was causing such a tired yet irritated sound, and saw Sprout standing over her, paw ready to swat her nose again. I stifled a laugh and shooed him away, patted her head, covered her shoulders, and snuggled into my own pillow again.

So on his first overnight chance at freedom, Sprout did some damage to my sleep schedule. I also think I’m trying to make up for missing rest due to the parental visit. Regardless, I slept hard for parts of last night – I don’t remember waking at all on my own. And a night limited to cat-related disturbances is a good night indeed. I tried to get up around 7:30 – that’s officially sleeping in for me. But I ended up back in bed until nearly 10. At that point, the day is officially wasted in my mind, so I accomplished very little. You could basically list any number of tasks and I would shake my head sadly. I didn't do much of anything.

Why get out of bed at all?
Answer: To help America’s youth. Halloween is approaching and I went through massive amounts of candy last year. In an attempt to help me out, Mom bought treats to for me to distribute and stored them on top of my refrigerator. I politely left the bags alone while my parents were here – thanking them for taking care of those purchases – but quickly went to investigate after they left.

My first find was Kit Kats, which were a favorite childhood treat. We would park the car on Grandma and Grandpa’s blacktopped driveway and enter the side door. I would climb three steps to arrive at the kitchen, then turn immediately to the right and open the second drawer from the bottom. After retrieving a Kit Kat, I would go to collect my hugs, and have someone open my candy so I could break off pieces and savor the crunch and chocolate. I do enjoy Kit Kats.

So I had a few of those. Well, more than a few. But I told myself that there’s some kind of childhood obesity epidemic and that I was only saving the dear kids from a future of diabetes and heart disease and all sorts of awful fates. Apparently this altruistic urge comes with the understanding that I might suffer all these problems myself, but will have enjoyed some high quality candy along the way.

Then I found the bag of Twix and the day went from bad to worse. I like Twix almost as much at Kit Kats! Which is why I buy any candy other than those for Halloween. M&Ms? Eh. Fruity candy? I’ll leave it alone. Hard candy? I might have a single peppermint. Anything peanut-buttery? I wrinkle my nose. But some sort of crunch – from wafer or cookie – and chocolate and perhaps some caramel? I’m all in. I have a feeling that this recent dilemma of my pants being too big is going to get solved posthaste.

Out for the evening
I did have plans this afternoon, so I finally took Chienne for a walk (though I’m not sure of the point when I’m consuming thousands of calories in candy) and cleaned the kitchen (had to pick up all those candy wrappers) and picked up the living room (um…more candy wrappers). Then I finished unpacking, sorted some clean laundry, gathered dirty clothes, fed the animals (they eat each other’s food. Why? And I gave them some leftover chicken and Sprout was delicately trying to eat his to provide contrast to Chienne’s inhalation method. He accidentally dropped his tiny piece of meat, and the dog quickly took care of that. And he hissed at her for the first time today.) and got ready to go.

I was sleepy and did miss my candy, but I had a nice time. There’s something about listening to English spoken in a lyrical Spanish accent that’s quite enjoyable. I drank sangria and thought about how nice it was to eat wine-soaked fruit. I considered how rarely I get to watch flames as I stared at the grill, then had an excellent meal. I met Unnamed Friend’s friend and several pretty cats. There was entertaining conversation and a tour of a very cool house and a declined offer of leftovers.

Then I drove home, opened Sprout’s door, accepted Chienne’s frantic greetings – she misses me ever so much when I’m gone, and took out my painful contacts. I really don’t like my new ones – they correct for astigmatism, but they hurt!

So after writing a rather lame but newsy blog post, I have to decide whether I can stay awake long enough to do a couple loads of laundry. And, of course, choose between a Kit Kat and Twix…

Friday, October 20, 2006

Look! Look at the pretty lighting!

Nope - can't get the post written. And now I'm at the point where I've worked on it enough that it should actually start getting good. Or at least making sense to me on some profound level. But some of the thoughts feel right, but I'm still lost as to what to do with some of my new knowledge. So there are pages of text as I've tried to write stream of consciousness and I'm not used to not posting what I've written lately! So I'm mildly frustrated with it.

I basically felt like I was chasing my tail today - with work and with blog writing. But Sprout likes to mess with Chienne's tail while she sits and watches him, confused as to what he's doing. I really hope they're going to be friends eventually. I'm quite proud of my pretty puppy.

And I'm quite pleased with my lovely lighting, so I took pictures. I'm guessing you all will rue the day I decided to buy a digital camera since you end up viewing more photos than most people I know. Sorry about that. But the new glass shades make the old lighting look so much better. Though it is still a bit dusty - I tried to crop those parts out, but I can only do so much without actually cleaning them again.

It's a bit sad that this is all I can think of to say, isn't it?

Please note...

I'm seriously considering - in what I can only describe as an effort to waste massive amounts of time - going back and tagging my old posts. All 300+ of them. I believe this will make them all show up in bloglines for those of you who use that to read me. So I'd like to suggest that you edit your subscription so that you ignore updated items. This proposed project also gives me a chance to read and fix typos for everything I've written here! Imagine the time that will take!

Chienne and Sprout can apparently live quite peacefully. They're both on the floor, staring at each other across the living room. Chienne knows she's not to hurt him and he takes shameless advantage by swatting at her periodically then scampering away. My little hound mix isn't a very good hunter though. She'll wander around, looking for her feline friend, not realizing that he's actually following her as she moves from room to room. Even as I write, his tail is twitching as he anticipates getting the best of his floppy eared housemate. But the hissing is rare. They're actually doing really well - all that worry for nothing.

My parents left early this morning and it brought the expected sadness for me. I don't like it when people leave. It's been lovely - for the most part - having the extra noise and energy and activity in the house. Yesterday - since some home improvement project is mandatory - we replaced the globes in some of the light fixtures. It made a huge difference - I'm really quite pleased. I hated the chandelier over my kitchen table with a passion, but putting these on made it pretty. My favorite are sort of like these on the fan in my living room. As far as gifts from my parents, I'm enjoying them tremendously. So while Mom would have stayed forever, Dad was ready to head north to deal with his car projects. I'm blinked back tears as they drove away, but returned to giggle over my animals and stare sleepily out the window at the cloudy day, contemplating playing with my blog while I run Matlab code.

I suspect there are worse ways to spend the day.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Spoken, not yet written

I started the post I've been meaning to write. I've been composing it in my head for a couple days now - choosing words, putting sentences together, puzzling over flow. It's not a story so much as a series of feelings, decisions and concepts. And it's failing to come together in the way that I want.

But I was putting together one of the pieces when Mom finished dinner. So I sat with my parents and ate, then stood with my mom and cleaned. Put away leftovers. Frowned at the cat as he sat on the table, and smiled as Chienne unsuccessfully hunted for him. He's been out all day - save the part where we drove around looking for something to do - and I think the animals are playing. They chase and Sprout swats and they spend lots of time looking for each other. But it's OK. It seems to work. Sprout is going to stay when Mom and Dad leave tomorrow. I have a cat.

So instead of writing more, I talked to my mother. Told her about the book - about the spirits who came from Hell and why they decided not stay in Heaven once they arrived. So many reasons. I understood most - if not all - of them. But there's a particular character that stayed with me in one of the most terrifying and triumphant scenes. And it's those few pages that I want to summarize - those which remain so vivid in my mind. So I talked. Watched her stare at me, focused, eyes wide because the story is so compelling. I used the same words too often - the conversation was hardly elegant. I spoke too quickly because I was so passionate about this topic - I stumbled and backtracked and missed some points. She understood anyway. Asked questions, offered gentle advice, sighed and considered me when I offered my tentative conclusions.

It was good - telling someone what I was thinking while I was struggling to write it out.
The thoughts are there and I think tomorrow they'll be here. But it seems more important to talk with Mom, cuddle because I'm not sure when I'll see her again, pet my dog and watch for my cat because he's prone to pouncing when I least expect it. I'm figuring it out though - I really think I'm making a tiny bit of progress on figuring it all out.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sprout finds freedom.

I'm sleepy. There was sightseeing yesterday (waterfalls! And I didn't even have to walk through a shooting range to see them!) with my parents. We drove a good distance, but it was well worth it. The scenery was gorgeous - more than enough for another blog template. I think that you'll be spared the photo posts here shortly. But for now? Look how pretty!

There was work today. Meetings where I actually contributed - apparently knowledge was gained at my meeting. I gave myself credit for finding the waterfall, but not for learning very much. But I picked up some information which I was able to share with my colleagues back at home. Lovely.

I also touched base with my volunteer coordinator - I'm one step closer to getting started. The Plan update 2 is looking good!

We have also opened the door for the kitten. It's going well - no blood has been shed, though the stares are not overly friendly. I just had to pause so that I could pet the dog located behind my knees and aim the spray bottle at the cat who was carefully planning his attack on her. I prevented said altercation successfully.

Little Sprout is rather... playful. I lost track of how many times he launched his slight body at the backs of my legs. Or tried to wrap his paws around my arm so he could bite me. But we're controlling Chienne and allowing Sprout his explorations. So he races between rooms, plays with his string, delights in startling us with his pounces. I rather think the animals will sleep well tonight. I hope I'll do the same.

I have posts in mind - 2 of them, actually. But I'd like them to be written well, and I can't come up with the time, energy or focus at the moment. Mom and Dad have decided to head north on Friday morning rather than Sunday though, so my typical wordiness shall return shortly.

In the meantime, I shall stare at my new graphics with utter delight. I hoped the brown would work well, and I'm ever so pleased with it. I want to add some categories, and think I know how to do it easily. I really just want to create another sidebar picture though - I like doing those for some reason. It's good to have a hobby I enjoy.