Monthly Archives: November 2014

Gratitude Attitude

gratitudeIt’s true, spending time thinking about the things going right in your life does shift perspective and lead to better outcomes. It’s not always easy, but I highly recommend it. Sometimes things are overwhelmingly negative and challenging in our lives, and those are the moments this exercise can create critical change. It’s not about putting a coat of sugar or gloss over bad situations, it’s a willingness to look beyond the immediate negatives in search of what is good. And it’s there. Continue reading

Holiday Survival or, Just Say No

holidayThe holidays have come back around again, seemingly more quickly than they did last year. It feels like they are happening every year now…wait. Yeah, they’re a thing. I know people who look forward to them with great enthusiasm each year, counting down to special traditions with friends and family who make each other feel warm and loved. I know others who would rather crawl into a hole in the ground, emerging sometime in the first week of January, because the holidays evoke painful family memories and gnawing loneliness. You may believe the holiday decorations went up before Halloween this year, that there’s a war on Christmas being waged, retailers are choosing to open on Thanksgiving, crass, crazed consumerism is rampant, we’re all at risk for gaining weight and developing alcohol problems and type II diabetes by the time this whole season ends. Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, pour a cup of spiked eggnog, stream A Christmas Story, gather with loved ones and roast chestnuts, reveling in the love and beauty of the season. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the last two months of the year are a time when energy and tensions run high. My mantra for staying sane: just say no. Continue reading

Better Living Through Atheism, Pt. 2

Atheism 2(Continued from Tuesday)

I tried again with Catholicism on a few occasions, in times dark and desperate. At sixteen I was chronically sick with Strep throat for a year and no medical treatment was working. I went to mass and took communion as a last-ditch effort towards a healthy body. I started exercising regularly around the same time. I’ll let you decide which healed me, because I was indeed healed.

At seventeen I had sex for the first time and was promptly dumped, then chronically used by the boy whose penis was the first to enter my vagina. I was terribly attached to him, and miserable from his rejection, yet desperate for more physical interaction. I went to mass to beg for strength, hoping it might be poured over me, so I could make myself whole. Kindly and sensitively, my dad discreetly took me to a Saturday night service, where a younger, anonymous-to-us crowd prevailed. He never asked why.

At eighteen, my new college friend group felt it was important for us to attend mass around Easter, so I went, to fit in. Many of them had grown up Catholic too, and felt it important to honor family traditions while away from home. The social pressure was there, so I thought I’d make one more honest go at belief, and while the rituals were familiar and reflexive, I felt nothing but boredom and restlessness. I looked down the pew at my friends, who sat quietly, going through the motions. I couldn’t tell what they were getting out of it, and we never talked about it.

I lapsed into a passive agnosticism. I prayed at night as I was falling asleep, and it was mostly a list of the people for whom I was grateful. I didn’t give much thought about whom I was directing this litany of thanks, really a superstition against bad luck, lest I appear ungrateful and court it.  I knew for sure I wasn’t religious, and while I continued to celebrate Christmas, I didn’t consider myself Christian. In secular Seattle, it was easy never to consider one’s spiritual/religious beliefs, because if you had them, you didn’t discuss them in the circles in which I moved. There was no impetus for religious conversation or contemplation. Once, a fellow student approached me on campus to ask me a couple of survey questions. The first, did I believe the Bible was written by god, was easy. No. The second, did I believe the Bible is the word of god, took me back to my Catholic school days where that belief was the foundation of every lesson. No, I said, realizing in that moment what I believed.

During my master’s program we were instructed to understand and explore ourselves as cultural beings, while building awareness of the resulting biases. This work was the foundation of the program, for the purpose of educating culturally sensitive, self-aware mental health counselors. We were urged by our professors to seek a clear understanding of our ethical and moral values and their origins. I spent that two year period thinking deeply about my beliefs, and came to grasp my atheism. The evidence from the visible world, as I understood it, indicated a lack of a guiding force outside physics. There was too much fucked-up shit throughout human history up to the modern age for me to reconcile with a concept of a higher power. I truly, totally felt there is no god, no afterlife, no guiding higher power, no pre-determined script. My belief that the universe is a random and chaotic place became unshakable, an idea both fearsome and comforting.

Throughout the course of my life I have not felt a connection to a higher power. There were fleeting moments during middle school, but I see now that those flashes were about wanting to feel something, to fit in. My values came from my parents, from conversation around the dinner table that centered on kindness, empathy, reflection and forethought. We didn’t read the Bible, we didn’t invoke religious or spiritual teachings when problem solving, searching for direction or explanations. For ninety minutes each Sunday we sat next to each other in a pew, going through the motions, lost in our own private thoughts. Religion didn’t enter the home, it was an external event.

As time has passed, my atheism has strengthened. Our endless, easy access to information about the world’s suffering is one reason. I simply can’t understand how a loving god would allow most of the horrific things that have befallen humanity throughout history. My feeling is that if there’s a god who is all-seeing and all-controlling, who master-planned this shitshow, they are an asshole. I reject the term “worship”. Why, if god is the end-all be-all, all things to all things, the alpha and the omega, why do they need to be worshipped by people? Like, if your self-esteem is that low, why would I look to you for guidance and truth? How is it that the clashes of the world’s religions cause some of the worst violence? To me, a loving god would intervene. I just can’t put stock in an almighty power when the world is such a revolting place. There’s no way I can look up to a being so insecure I’m expected to stay in constant contact, put them first in all things, and care about them more than anything else.

I need to believe no one is in control of this hot mess, that we are all plodding along together, collectively not very intelligent even for our big brains. I feel a greater sense of urgency to live in the moment, to practice patience and kindness, to exhibit the behaviors I want to see in others, precisely because I believe this is my only life. If not me, who? If not now, when? I strive to be a better person and to treat others well because of how I feel inside, not from a sense of expectation. I feel internally compelled to be good because I feel better when I am. Because I believe I am walking an uncertain path, alone, I’m driven to seek the love and company of others, and to develop coping skills and resources. I’m my own protector, caregiver and motivating force. I’ve been tested. I’m resilient and strong. I have myself to thank for that, and the people who have helped me along the way. My life is here and now, and I show myself the way.

A Is For Atheism

Atheist_Atom_Symbol_ArtI never liked the word atheism. I never understood how someone could be atheist. I always thought, “how could someone that doesn’t believe in god or an afterlife live happily? Wouldn’t they feel incomplete thinking that this life is the only one? If someone didn’t believe in heaven, hell and almighty consequences, what would stop them from doing bad things?” Writing these thoughts out now makes me cringe, but (as you may have guessed) I was a devout Catholic for four years (and a “Holiday” Catholic for the years that preceeded them). In the grand scheme of things, four years is not a long time and it by no means makes me an expert in Catholicism or religion, but it did teach me a valuable lesson. Continue reading

Better Living Through Atheism, Pt. 1

Atheism 1As a young child, my family didn’t have religion. We did a tree at Christmas, and a basket of candy at Easter, but that was it. I wasn’t baptized as an infant, my parents didn’t talk about god, and we didn’t attend religious services. My mom was raised Southern Baptist in Atlanta and my dad Catholic in Northern Minnesota. They seemed to have left their respective religious upbringings behind when they moved to Seattle as young adults. My earliest exposure to religion was during summer visits to my grandparents in Atlanta. My deeply religious grandma would read to me from the book of Genesis in the Bible to explain the creation of the world. “We didn’t come from monkeys, as your parents tell you,” she would indoctrinate, “we came from Adam and Eve, whom God created.” I can remember feeling skeptical as a six year-old, thinking that while the stories in Genesis were gorgeous, they didn’t really jive with my academic parents’ explanations of evolution and sexual biology.

Continue reading

Fashion Citation, or Adult Mean Girls Strike Again

20141106_220018A colleague handed me a sheet of paper on which she’d scribbled notes to herself, turning it over to expose a “fashion citation” card. She suggested I blog about it and I’ve accepted her challenge. It’s a checklist of potential fashion faux pas, which would be funny if it didn’t sit under the heading “Did You Dress In The Dark?” followed by a short paragraph about how fashion infractions are a crime, “remember that the rest of us have to look at you.” I am so over this lookist, women-on-women social violence, that I’m entirely unwilling to have a sense of humor or irony about this small slip of paper. It’s emblematic of the ills facing our society in the current moment, and I want this adult mean girl phenomenon (see: you can’t sit with us) to stop immediately. Women need to be putting other women up, treating each other as teammates, and looking deeper than the surface. Our survival and quality of life depend on it.

Let’s take this negative, filthy little piece of paper line by line and blast it to bits, shall we? Not interested? Pick up an US Weekly or head directly to Continue reading

Confusing Drama with Happiness

dramaI’m a big fan of the TV series Parks and Recreation, which I binge-watch on Netflix. It means I’m always a season behind, but it’s worth it to keep pressing “next episode” rather than waiting a week for a new show. In a recent (to me) episode, Nick Offerman’s character, Ron Swanson, a gruff, rugged man’s man remarked “do what you want with your life, but don’t confuse drama with happiness”. I’d seen the quote on Twitter, but it wasn’t until I saw it on the show that it impacted me. I thought, oh my god…that’s absolutely what I went through years of doing…no wonder I was so fucked up and unhappy. I consistently mistook the chemical rush of a drama-filled life, where I rushed from crisis to elation to crash to buzz and back again, with happiness. Yeesh. Continue reading

Round Hole, Square Peg

RoundI’ve previously discussed my often overwhelming need and desperate attempts to fit into various groups over the course of my life–the cool kids at school, the hipsters in my neighborhood, my family, etc. Being myself didn’t feel like an option. Not only that, I hadn’t the first clue about what that would mean. A blank space existed where my sense of self belonged, and it wasn’t until I was near the end of my twenties that I began to attach certain truths to it, like some sort of existential pinterest board. I started thinking about this struggle again recently, prompted by a friend’s facebook post, where she posed the question: at what point should an outcast try to conform? Continue reading

Peripheral Predators

PeripheralI have a theory that when we’re in a vulnerable position, certain people come in from the margins, or near-margins of our lives, sensing an opening that might fill their needs. When we’re in a good place, we’re blind to the peripheral predators, some of whom move in plain sight. A friend told me at a wedding reception that her only fear about getting married is meeting someone else. I don’t think it’s possible to “meet someone else” when you’re in a relationship that’s honest, where both peoples’ needs are being met. If the relationship’s at risk, sure. That interesting person might be incredibly attractive and available, because you are putting out the call. If the relationship is working, the same person might pass by without the faintest notice. People stalk the periphery of our lives, looking for an opening, a way in, for various reasons. I advise my friends to keep a close watch of their inner lives, lest they attract the notice of one. It’s less complicated in the long run to make a decision based on personal honesty, than through another person. Continue reading