Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On Being Devoutly Agnostic

“I wanted all things to seem to make some sense,
So we could all be happy, yes, instead of tense.
And I made up lies, so
they all fit nice,
and I made this sad world
a paradise”

-Kurt Vonnegut

I can't tell you how long I've wanted to write this post but have failed to ever finish it or post it out of fear that I might offend someone I care about.  And even though it's especially risky to talk about this subject during the holidays, it's the time of the year where the subject of religion weighs most heavily on my mind.  And when I think of religion, I'm always reminded of Mister Vonnegut's words, for they embody many things about what I believe - namely that people believe the stories they want to in the world to make their lives seem better.

Having been raised in a Christian household, Christmas was a time for church and worship and carols about Jesus being born.  As an agnostic parent (with leanings toward Hinduism) I now find that the things I grew up with are more difficult to share with my child without having to explain a whole lot of really intense concepts to her.  (Why, oh why do so many of the religious Christmas songs I know have to bring up that Mary was a virgin?  Yeah, virginity is not an egg I'm ready to crack with my 4-year-old.)  In fact, I've realized this year that the only carols I actually know the words to are religious ones - I literally don't know a whole verse of Frosty the Snowman because he was a pagan idol when I was growing up (magical hat, after all!) and wasn't ever allowed to watch the movie about him.

But that's not the point of this blog.  The point of this blog is to talk about freedom of religion and the concept of having respect for others' personal beliefs.

There is one major guiding principle that I have in my life:
There is no one right, universal way to live as a human being.  

I believe that:
There is no one right way to eat.
There is no one right way to have a family.
There is no one right way to run a country.
There is no one right way to read books, nor is there one genre that appeals to everyone.
There is no one right way to find personal, spiritual fulfillment.  (And yes, this concept is one of the main reasons I identify with Hinduism more than any other belief system.)

This is the essence of what it means to be agnostic: I do not subscribe to any one religion, but I see the beauty in the stories told by each of them, and I accept that they may be right for other people.  I firmly believe that everyone should make informed decisions about their beliefs and should seek to find the kinds of spiritual stories that make them feel happy, that give them purpose, and that make them want to be kind, loving people who help the world around them.

What is religion, after all, if not a series of stories that we choose to either believe or disbelieve?  The religion that speaks most to you may be the one you are raised with, it may be the one that your friend introduces you to later in life, or the one you discover on your own during a college course on world religions (as I did).

Sure there are ways to live that are better than others - don't mistake my open-mindedness for ignorance or condoning of murder or bestiality or __X__ other-awful-thing-that-liberals-must-believe-in - and I feel it's pretty clear to 99.9% of the population that believers like the Westboro Baptists are not really happy people inside. But just as it's clear that a diet of only fast food is bad for your body, there are beliefs and actions that people have that can be just as negative for themselves and the world around them. I find that too many people in the world use their religion as an excuse to be mean-hearted, to hold grudges, or to turn other people into "Them" or "Others."  Rather than trying to be compassionate, caring, and forgiving, they hide behind their holy books and use them to associate only with people who share their exact beliefs and to broadcast their hatred for these "others."

It is the actions that people take that speak to me most - you can talk until you're blue in the face about how great Jesus is, but then if you try to tell me that he would deny poor people welfare because they aren't trying hard enough to work for a living I have no choice but to decide that you must not have read the parts of the Bible where Jesus instructed his followers to give the poor the shirts of their backs.  (And, as a side-note: Major kudos to the new Pope, who seems to be the first head of the Catholic church who actually gets what Jesus was all about on that particular subject.)

I have some friends who are extremely wonderful, caring, proud Christians, and I am always so happy to see them working in their communities and teaching their children the principles that make them good people. These people do not seek out religious combat with their non-believer friends (like me), but instead let the world see how strong their faith is by their actions and the way that they treat others.  They let their lights shine brightly without using them to start flame-wars.  And I guarantee you, their influence over my opinions of religion is much greater than anyone screaming at me from a soapbox about how "god" hates homosexuals and that the political unrest in the Middle East is a sign of the end times.

And for me, the thing is: If you are happy with your beliefs and I see it having a positive effect on the way you conduct yourself as a person, then I am happy for you!!  You have found a way to bring meaning to your life and found a belief that makes you feel fulfilled, and to that I say YAY!  CONGRATULATIONS!  GO FORTH AND DO GOOD!  I will never seek to tear down your faith, I will never seek to tell you that you are wrong.  But I find that I am seldom afforded the reciprocal courtesy of their understanding of my beliefs.

If you ask my opinion I will give an honest answer in the most polite way I know how, for my conviction that everyone's religious beliefs are their own means that I do not like to tell Christians why I don't believe as they do because they often see it as an attack on their own beliefs.  (I wouldn't like to tell anyone that, actually, but I've only ever had Christians in my life challenge me on this topic.)  It's incredibly hard for me to say, "I don't believe that basing your life off of one text, written over 1700 years ago, that was translated multiple times and edited repeatedly at the whim of kings and other political leaders throughout the centuries, is logical" without offending the person who does take the Bible literally.  Or to explain that the four "omnis" of the Christian God - omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipresence - are impossible given the presence of evil in this world.  And honestly, I am quite tempted to take those two examples out of this blog so that I do not have to deal with anyone trying to refute these concepts or telling me that "God isn't logical" or things like that to try and convince me to join their belief system.  But I'm leaving them in there because this is my blog and I shouldn't have to feel ashamed for my beliefs.  NO ONE SHOULD.  That is my whole point in writing this.  I should be able to tell my friends or family "Hey, I respect your beliefs and I'd appreciate it if you would respect mine too" and then let that be the end of it.  Which doesn't mean that I expect them not to talk to me about their church activities or their Bible studies - all it means is that I want them to stop trying to convince me that their way is THE way to believe and to accept the fact that I am informed about Christianity and have made the choice not to follow it.
That's it.
That's all I want.

(Just like I'd really, really like my Paleo-diet friends to do, I might add!  Sorry, folks, I tried it and I know my liver is not cut out for that diet. And the next person who tells me "if you just gave up grains and legumes for good you'd feel much better" is going to a good, solid... laugh in the face.)

Instead, sadly, I've lost friends and been cut off from family members because of our differences of religious opinion. One of the people I cared most about in my entire life no longer speaks to me because I was not willing to join his family's new-found fire for Jesus. And even though I've done my best to stay respectful and neutral on the subject of religion, some people are just not able to do the same.

And you know, I get that they care about me and feel that this is the reason they need to "save" me.  Because they genuinely believe that I am going to hell when I die if they don't show me The Right Way.  But their good intentions get lost when every conversation is a sermon that turns into an argument and especially gets lost when they tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about.  Because I do.

I spent years taking religious studies classes because I knew that the beliefs I was raised with were not all there was in the world and I wanted to understand Christianity in a global context, rather than in the context of the small community and church I grew up in. I could write a book about my personal journey to find a faith that resonated with me (and I might, someday, because it's loaded with awesome stories about exorcisms and proving to someone that Satan didn't answer prayers by winning a video game), but I spent a lot of time doing research and making certain that my choices of belief were ones that I felt were most right.  Not everyone needs to do this, but I have always been a curious person who wants to be well-informed about life. (Gee, I wonder why I found a calling in librarianship?)

So when I eventually introduce my child to the spiritual ideas of Christmas, I will tell her about Jesus.  I will tell her about Yule.  I will show her how to spin a Dreidel and tell her about Hanukkah. I will tell her about how people around the year seek to make the darkest day of the year bright by cooking good food, lighting extra lights, and getting together with their families and friends. And if she decides to join a faith, I will be happy for her too, because I know she will have found what is right for her and I don't want her growing up with the same fear that I did: the fear of seeking knowledge and being yourself.  I want her to be free to find what calls out to her, and to learn that no matter what rhetoric she may hear around her, the holidays are about more than one religion's claim to own them.

Aaaaand on that note, after this extremely heavy post, here's my favorite Christmas song ever from my favorite episode of Community.  I hope you enjoy and, with all my heart, Happy Holidays, friends.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Finish Line

“Follow your bliss.  If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.  When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you.  I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.  If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else.” 
- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (Interview with Bill Moyers)

Monday, July 8, 2013

One F*$%ing Upbeat Piece of Blogging

It's awesome to finally be blogging about happy stuff again.
I looked back at my old blogs are realized something recently: I write a lot when I'm upset, and when I'm happy I just go about life being happy and only writing snippets of things in my mind.  
(Someday these snippets will erupt into a children's book of epic awesomeness. Someday.)

A couple of things have happened recently that have made life extra awesome.  
1- The clouds finally lost the battle and let the sun come out for about a week straight.  It was glorious.  I wore short sleeves.  I took Sadie for a small hike and only hit like 3 muddy patches. Which is awesome for up here.
2- During that sunny week, I got a job!  As you probably know by now since, let's face it, the people who read this are pretty much my friends who regularly see my posts on Facebook.
But yeah, I've landed an internship working 20 hours a week as a teen librarian for the summer at a rural public library, and I couldn't be happier about it.  
My approximate reaction in the car after landing the job.
And then I called my mom, of course.

It's a bit like combining the two major career paths that I've had in my life, since I'm doing a similar kind of reader's advisory work that I did when I worked at Barnes & Noble but I'm also combining library database and procedure knowledge that I've gleaned in my studies and my work at the UCSB Library.  

I'm also more intensely aware of the gaps in my knowledge base that I want to fill in, though.  I really want to be able to incorporate a lot of of Web 2.0 tools in my summer reading program, but I lack the programming skills to actually do the website work to make it happen the way my brain has it envisioned and it's a bit frustrating to not be able to make my own dreams come true.  I fully intend to continue this aspect of my education after I'm done with my MLIS, but if I'm going to finish this degree by the end of the year I really need to not let myself get distracted with dreams of CCS and HTML programming classes in the near future.  Apparently my 14-year-old cousin knows Javascript programming, though, so maybe I'll just ask him for help...
(Knowledge tidbits like that only serve to make me feel a competitive sense of "Oh yeah, youngin'?!?!" reactions in me lately.  Who knew I had a competitive bone in my body? Not me, that's for sure!)

The timing on the job is really perfect since I need to jam out four more classes by the end of December if I want to graduate, and this way I can do one class during the Summer and then three in the Fall and be done.  And since the job contract only goes through the end of August. I can realistically think of finishing those three classes all at once.  Maybe.  Hopefully.  One of them could be a thesis class, which is actually something I might welcome since I've had a lot of library-and-literacy-related stuff bubbling around in my brain for the last three years and I'd love a chance to just spew it all out somewhere.  
(Although the whole "organize and cite references" portion of it is admittedly less fun. But somehow it's not un-fun either... usually when I'm reading about the stuff I'm interested in it just inspires me further!  
It's really just the actually formatting of the citations that isn't fun for me. 
Because I'm a nerd like that.
A nerd that is in deep student loan debt because I did as Joseph Campbell suggested and followed my bliss. And the fact that I know I followed my book-bliss in the best way I could means that I will make payments on those student loans until I die and I won't regret a thing.)

(Longest parenthetical TO DATE!)

The kiddo also got to start going back to preschool three days a week now thanks to my job, which is really good for her.  I've loved ever minute of getting to just hang out and bond with her these last 6 months, but it's clear from her interactions with other kids at playgrounds and such that she really needs time to be with her peers right now too.  And now she gets to do just that.

Now, this post has been sitting idle in my "drafts" folder since April and it's July, so I'm just going to hit publish on it and start a new one now.  :)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Welp, Here we Are.

So I've been an awful blogger.
First I whine repeatedly for months on end about wanting to move.  Then I post that we're finally moving.  Then I abandon blogging for months on end.
There is a reason I will never consider blogging as a career.  (Well, that and it would mean trying to pimp my blog to people for money and I'm just not that kinda gal.)

But I guess it's about time for an update.  So here goes the most nut-shell version of one I can give you.

So the week before we were just going to move without a safety net, Andrew got offered a job at the Costco in Marysville, WA.  The same city as the house that my friends were so generous in letting us rent from them.  When they found out, my parents praised God for answering their prayers.  Andrew's mom said she was happy for us and had been doing Buddhist chants for us as well.  So I figure we really just had our bases covered there and the Universe went, "OK,OK, I guess I can stop stringing you along now..."  Between that job and the income we are getting from some things Andrew's wonderful Grandma left him we have been doing ok monetarily.  Not GREAT, but we can make it.  Stuff is a lot less expensive up here!  

So we rented my friends' house from them between Sept. and Dec. of last year, and although the place was really nice and it was tempting to try and stay there longer, we decided that we really needed to move to a place that was going to be "ours" for quite a while (since their house was for their vacation needs and we had to be out for sure by May).  So in mid-December we packed up again and moved to a townhouse community that is within a 5-minute drive of Andrew's work.  The timing wasn't optimal in terms of the holidays and whatnot, but we couldn't afford to fly home anyway so it was almost nice to have a distraction from the whole not-seeing-family-for-Christmas thing. Plus we got our Christmas tree so late that it only cost us $5. So now we're at least done moving for the next 11 months and have managed to unpack the majority of our boxes which is a REALLY nice feeling.  

So that is the nutshell about us.
As for me, here is what has gone on:
Mid-November I'd fallen off the "woo-hoo, we moved!" high and, having failed to land two other library jobs that I had interviewed for, I was feeling pretty low. And then I started having these weird heart-palpitations at night: I would lay down for sleep, about to pass out and suddenly this would happen:
Only I was in my PJs instead of a zoot-suit.
After 5 days in a row of crazy heart flutterings that I thought might have been related to the sickness I was fighting off, I finally dragged my uninsured self into a local clinic where they convinced me that I wasn't, in fact, dying of a heart tumor or something, but was in fact having panic attacks.  Which apparently hit people often at bedtime because your emotional defenses go down as you get sleepy and, when you're all emotionally repressed and don't realize how stressed out and sad you are, you can't actually calm your heart down by deep breathing.  Go figure, you can't actually just boss your emotions around by ignoring them and pretending that only the happy ones exist.  Which is generally how I handle things.  I hate dwelling on negatives, so I do my best to focus on the positive things around me and just talk my brain into feeling better that way.  But oh MAN did I feel like an idiot breaking down into uncontrollable sobbing in that clinic when they gave me a "standard" quiz to take regarding depression/anxiety.  Apparently seeing myself circle things on paper that indicated I was anxious was what it took for me to realize exactly how emotionally ragged I was feeling.

Moving to the new place actually helped the anxiety go down a lot since I wasn't in a constant state of panic about not messing up my friends' house anymore and didn't have another move hanging over me anymore.  And then at the beginning of December I actually got a job as a "nanny" where I helped two elementary-school kids get up and ready for school in the morning since their parents both had to leave the house by 6am.  Although the hours sucked and required me to be up by 4:45am during the week, this job gave me a bit of an emotional boost since I finally HAD a job, even if it wasn't in a library, and the mom was really nice and told me regularly what a great job I was doing.  Which was nice.

It's also really nice that I have a cousin and her family (so, some cousins?)  up here in Seattle and that we got to spend Thanksgiving with them.  Even though we weren't really close before the move, it's been great to get to reconnect with them and have some actual family up here.  
I also got insanely lucky in that I have one amazing friend up here - I'll call her the Masseusess because she is a massage goddess and might be weirded out if I started calling her by name on my blog - and her wisdom about transitioning from sunny California to drippy Washington has been awesomely helpful.  She has given me a free massage when my neck seized-up, she's forced me to start taking herbal supplements that really helped relieve my anxiety issues without making my stomach feel like it's digesting rocks anymore (like the stuff the people at the clinic prescribed did), and she's regularly made time for me and the kiddo to just get out and do things with.  If it weren't for her, there's a good chance I'd be curled up in an anxious little ball right now.

With the start of the New Year I finally got myself going to the YMCA to work out again regularly, then we had like a week and a half of sunshine where I got to take Sadie out exploring a lot and I was finally starting to feel GOOD again... like I was living again instead of just clinging to a piece of driftwood and hoping not to get smashed up.

Last week, though, the gal I worked for had her hours at work cut and now I'm back on the unemployment wagon.  Oh, and I found out that I was the 2nd choice for a library paige job that I applied for that same week (which, for those of you unfamiliar with library jobs, is literally the bottom of the job ladder).  Apparently I can't even get a job doing work that I used to hire other people to do.  (I was beat out by someone who already worked as a part-time paige in another library and already knew the system... but STILL.) (I should probably abuse some parentheses here again to mention that I might not be having so hard a time in the job search if we lived in Seattle proper, because the area I'm in pretty much just has the public library system to job-watch on and commuting to the city regularly just isn't an option for the part-time work I'm trying to find while I try to power through my last year of grad school.  Especially because the traffic in Seattle is truly horrendous and people in the city don't understand the concept of checking their blind spots before they merge...)  So between that and the constant illness we've had in the last two months I'm feeling pretty low again to be totally honest.

I knew the move away from family and friends was going to be hard, and I don't regret doing the move - we actually ended up in a fairly rural area that is still close to the city, which is really nice, and it's freaking GORGEOUS here when it's not raining and I'm actually used to the rain at this point - but I'm so ready to start feeling happy and proud of myself again. I never really realized how much pride I took in my jobs until I didn't have one.  I started working full-time when I was 17 and since then I've literally always had a job (not counting the leave I took after the baby came and the neck injury sidelined me), so this business of letting Andrew support us alone makes me really anxious.  Not because he can't do it, but because I'm not good at having to depend on someone else completely. 

But through all these emotional waves I've become a pretty bad friend to a lot of people back home: I've emailed them to say hi, then never responded to them when they wrote back.  Not because I'm trying to be a jerk, but just because I feel like I have very little to say that isn't like bringing my own little raincloud into their inboxes. (Ha!  Get it?  I live in Washington now... I can make rain jokes.) I've also committed to help a friend write a blog to help fund-raise for her brother, who is in a much worse place than I am, and I've barely even looked at it in the last month. Heck, I forgot about my niece's first birthday last month and just now realized I missed it. I've tried to make plans with a couple of my friends that were already up here when we moved, but after failing to actually meet a few times I've given up and just let myself start pouting that they never think to call me or text or anything like that.  Not that I have tried to contact them again or anything... 

In short: I'm a moping fool right now, people.  I'm stuck in a rut of feeling sorry for myself and I'm doing a really poor job of snapping out of it. I try to keep myself busy with the kiddo during the day and then I distract myself at night with tv or books so I can just get through each day without feeling overwhelmed by everything I'm failing at. It's completely paradoxical and stupid, but it's my rut and you can't have it.  

So all I ask is that if I've fallen out of contact with you or been a bad friend lately, please just understand that I am aware of how badly I suck.  And maybe try not to hold it against me.
Or the fact that this last part about me has been so damned long and nowhere near a "nutshell."  Because dammit, I write more when I'm drinking wine sad.

And mark my words, I will climb myself out of this rut.

 At this point I have to have caught every flu the PNW has to offer me this season *KNOCK ON WOOD,* so I will workout to get my endorphins up and keep applying to stupid part time jobs and I will kick butt at my classes this semester and I will get better soon.  I don't want this post to come off as me digging for sympathy because that's not the point: the point is that this process has been hard, we've had a lot of change in a short amount of time and even though I'm kind of a mess from it, it's still a work in progress. And it'll keep progressing until things are much better.  Or at least until I can get my act together and be a normal person again.