Monday, October 29, 2012

I watch the watchmen.

Exodus 20:12,  Romans 13,  Ephesians 6: 5-9

I remember clearly the moment I lost all faith in my mother.  I was thirteen and she had just taken me and left my stepfather, which was a really good thing, and we were living in a one-bedroom apartment together, driving each other crazy waiting for school to start up again.  I could tell her mood was shifting downward, when she made a confession that would change the course of my life forever.

See, my mother struggled with depression for most of her life, and she had my sympathy as soon as I was old enough to comprehend that Mommy was sad.  But on that one day, when I was thirteen, she told me that she knew she was getting more depressed, and she could feel herself falling down the same hole where she had already spent so much time.  But, that because I had been such a good, supportive daughter through her depression and the impending divorce, that she would stop herself from becoming suicidal. She said that she didn't usually bother fighting her depression because she was more comfortable being depressed anyway, but this time she would try to keep it from getting too bad.  For my sake.

I cannot ever remember being so angry, or hiding it so well.  I know that I must have said something good and right, made all the appropriately sympathetic noises, but inside I was quickly changing from a supportive daughter to something else entirely.  The only thing I can remember clearly was thinking to myself that I have to get away from this horrible woman as fast as possible.

Obviously, 'as fast as possible' turned out to be a relative concept, given that I was a minor at the time, and since I was an adolescent, naturally my opinion of my mother and all other authority figures had been eroding for some time already.  Everyone's adolescence is a parade of incidents in which we learn over and over that adults are not nice, not brilliant, and not trustworthy.  We all learn eventually that parents, teachers, and bosses are just regular old human beings with divided loyalties, holey ethics, and flawed souls.  We lower our expectations, and learn to get along.  We stop getting angry about it and, if we're lucky, start seeing our own flaws clearly enough to forgive everyone else and have rational adult relationships.

If we're lucky.  I am, apparently, not so lucky.  As extensively as we discuss my failures every week together, one of the major side effects of being an arrogant, perfectionist, judgmental, pedantic bitch which we have not yet covered is that I have a really hard time getting along with authority figures.  It's hard to trust people when you think you can do everything better.  It's hard to get promoted when every thing you do and say exacerbates your superiors' insecurities.  It's hard to see the boss as a person just like you when you spent your entire childhood worshipping adults, loving parents, teachers, and pastors with absolute trust and cannot get over the betrayal of finally having to grow up.

I am so sorry.  It occurs to me that some of my geekier fans (HA!), having seen the title of this post, are expecting a discussion of the graphic novel The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, or a review of the movie adaptation by the same name.  We're getting there.  Stay with me.

I have been fooling myself into thinking that my contempt for authority and those who try to wield it is really a positive thing.  That my constant criticism, both explicit and implicit, my disregard for directions I find irrelevant, and the serious amount of sass with which I communicate are a service I provide.  I keep my mangers on their toes, give them good ideas for improving the store, and show them that I am capable of grasping more than just my limited sphere of influence.  Oh God, it looks even worse when I see it written down like this.

Every time I get down on myself about this, I remember The Watchmen.  (This is the geeky part where I talk about how a comic book taught me that people in power must be held accountable.)  People in power must be held accountable.  No matter how virtuous they seem, no matter how pure their motives, people in power must be held accountable.  Accountability from above is just giving orders.  Punishment for failing to follow orders is an inadequate form of moral training.  Peer accountability devolves into either petty backbiting or a mutual admiration society: groupthink.  But accountability from below will always bite your ass just right.  Anyone who has ever parented a teenager would know.  Rorschach may have been an annoying psycho, but he was more right than wrong.

So my poor managers are going to have to put up with me working out my authority issues on them for a little bit longer.  Just until they fall in line.  And for the record, The Watchmen is a masterpiece.  Everyone should read it.  And I liked the movie, too.  It wasn't perfect or complete, but it was good enough for me and there is just no pleasing fanatics.  Besides, if an IMAX-sized blue penis is wrong, then I don't wanna be right.


Monday, October 22, 2012

I vote.

Early and often!  And by early I mean I take advantage of the early voting opportunities in my state, and so should you!  By often I mean that I try to come out for every election, and am practically elderly in my excitement about participating in each one.

So, there are no more excuses.  You can beat the Election Day rush and vote early.  Take your grandparents with you.  Then, go to brunch.  Make a day of it.  It can be fun!  But make no mistake, voting is a privilege that we should all take advantage of, and saying you're too busy or whatever on Election Day is just not good enough.  There are ways to get it done.  Take responsibility and go be a good citizen.

Besides, who doesn't like brunch?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I'm sure.

James 5: 12,  Hebrews 11: 1

One (just one) of my major pet peeves is when people ask me if I am sure.  You know how they do it.  Anytime you announce that you have completed a job, learned a skill, or have an answer to a question, some meddler in the room, possibly even the very person you are trying to help, asks: "Are you sure?"

Now, you all know me a bit from my writing on this blog, and we have discussed my tendency toward extreme quirkiness.  You all know that I am a know-it-all, (a title I have worn proudly since the second grade) and that I love to be right, and that I'm arrogant and struggle with looking down on people.  But being asked if I am sure offends me so much that I will occasionally temper my usual helpful, informative nature by saying 'I don't know' or 'I'm no expert' even when I do know and I am an expert, just because I'm talking to someone who I know does not trust me or is, for whatever reason, completely addicted to asking everyone they know: "Are you sure?"

Yes, you read that extremely long sentence right: I have dumbed myself down for these insecure wretches, these poor unfortunates incapable of believing anyone else could have the answers they are looking for.  I have downplayed my own knowledge and abilities in order to dodge the question: "Are you sure?"

I have denied myself the pleasure of being right.  I have forfeited the privilege of teaching someone something they didn't know, and I have gone to the trouble of double checking my work in front of a hostile audience all to avoid the the terrible inquiry: "Are you sure?"

Because the rage that simple question can trigger in me is scary.  I used to get snippy at just the first instance, but now I can be civil about it once, but just once.  Now, I get snippy at the second instance.  And yes, I know people who feel it necessary to ask even three times, when the edges of the world start to go black and I have to remind myself of those pesky statutes of limitations when I have endured three (in a row!) questions: "Are you sure?"  

And you know it had to lead back here: to my mother.  Yes, the original asker of the question, the one for whom this was considered the most advanced interrogation technique.  And for a while, when I was very little, it worked.  But I got tough, fast, and after years of being constantly doubted, constantly taunted by the inability to communicate and build trust with the one person who was supposed to love me most, the question came to represent an unbridgeable divide.  I was tired of not being trusted.  I was tired of every word I spoke being called into question.  I was tired of my mother bragging to all of her friends about how smart I was, but in private constantly disbelieving me, constantly getting right in my face about it: "Are you sure, BC?  Are you sure?  Look at me!  ARE YOU SURE?"

Now, I recognize that this was her problem, not mine.  Her inability to trust anyone, and her inability to filter information, her inability to tell the difference between a liar and someone trustworthy.  I see now that she only asked me over and over because she was so damaged she genuinely couldn't tell what was real and who was fake.  I see now that when friends and family, or managers and co-workers, or customers, ask, they are doing so out of their own need to be sure, a need that can never be truly fulfilled in anyone in this lifetime.

But I hope that they see me, too.  It sounds harsh, but the only reasons I can see to ask someone if they are sure are: 1.) you think they're lying, or 2.) stupid.  Otherwise, why bother?  I realize that I am contradicting myself in the previous paragraph.  First I say that I understand that no one can ever really be sure of anything, that asking the question is just a very human attempt to reach out for connection and reassurance, and then I turn around and take it as an accusation.  Yes.  That is it exactly.

I protect myself a lot.  A lot.  You can maybe start to see why after hearing this story, and others I've told.  Even though I have made slight progress with respect to my specific responses to this question, I still have a long way to go on the larger issue of general vulnerability, especially since I'm still not totally sold on the idea of walking around all open and receptive and stuff.  I actually work really hard to not ask the question, ever, of anyone, because it offends me so much, and I figure I can form my own opinions.  Does anyone notice that?  Does anyone else do that?  I don't know.

Okay, so this might be something a little deeper than a pet peeve, but it's also a little harder to explain than a pet peeve, and I don't know how to deal with that.  I can't just sit down and say all this to someone with whom I'm about to lose my temper.  A blog post seemed to be the best way to get it all out.  Blog posts seem to be a good way for me to get a lot out these days.  But that's an issue for another post, if you're still interested in reading about a self-protective know-it-all snob who can't take a simple question.

You are still interested in reading my blog?!  Wonderful!  Are you sure?      


Monday, October 8, 2012

I like Halloween.

Isaiah 8: 12, 41: 13, Matthew 10: 28, Jeremiah 10: 5, Revelation 3: 20, Joel 2: 21

When I was a little girl, I was afraid of everything.  I had terrible problems with fear of the dark, loud noises, and just about anything else even remotely creepy or supernatural.  October was a terrible trial every year, since you couldn't go into a store without seeing costumes or decorations for Halloween, and I was screaming terrified of all of it, no matter how tame.

I remember the first time I was scared out of my wits at Halloween.  I must have been three, and I was in love with the movie musical Annie.  My mother found me an Annie costume for Halloween.  I put on the little red plastic dress (which was huge on me, I was always a tiny child), and the stiff, eyeless mask.  Then, my mother told me to look at myself in the mirror.  Poor woman, she couldn't know I would go from ecstatically excited to completely terrified in an instant.  I screamed at the bizarre sight of myself in the mask, and could only be calmed by taking it off and leaving it off.  I had to look in the mirror again and again to be reassured of my own face.  I was okay in the dress, but somehow I was so psychologically unprepared for the concept of a mask, that it took years for me to recover from the trauma.

Trick-or-treating that night, (I was eventually calmed enough to be tempted by candy.) I was traumatized once again by what I recognize now to be a great, simple costume: a dark, hooded bathrobe and a green alien mask.  I started screaming again, the nice lady whipped off her mask and apologized profusely, and then we went home.  I was done with Halloween, I thought, forever.

And when we started attending church a couple of years later, it seemed all my fears were confirmed.  Every church we attended preached that Halloween was evil, a time of great danger from deviants and cultists, intent on killing and injuring children.  They told us a nasty, violent history of Halloween that left no doubt in our minds that celebration was to be avoided.  For years, I got stressed out about this for the entire month of October, totally unable to enjoy costumes and treats surrounding the holiday.  A couple of times my mother had to have me excused from classroom Halloween parties, for fear that a classmate would have a costume too scary for me to handle.

Church offered no comfort.  Everything they taught about Halloween was designed to frighten.  Even the alternative parties they threw only served to highlight how no other place was safe that night, not even home, where strangers would knock on the door all night.  We were convinced they were looking for something more than candy.  God help us the years that the church held that alternative party on a night other than Halloween.  I wouldn't be able to sleep on Halloween night, I would lie awake terrified  of every little noise, until exhaustion claimed me in the wee hours.

Ironically, I did not make any progress in facing my many fears until I started seriously questioning my faith.  Because which was scarier, really: Halloween celebrated normally, or the way the church seems determined to ruin the holiday in the most frightening way possible?  As I got older and gained strength in my own mind, the things that frightened me began to fascinate me instead.  I used to fear skeletons, zombies and demons, now my favorite video games and books and movies feature them prominently.  Now, I love dead bodies.  Scary movies rarely frighten me, almost every character just seems too stupid to be believed.  I am fascinated by deviants and cultists.  I love to read about what can go wrong in a person's mind to make them hate and kill.  I can't sleep well in a room that is too brightly lit.

I feel like I have come full circle.  The other day in a store, I came across an inflatable skull, five feet tall, with motorized spinning bloodshot eyes.  A Halloween lawn decoration.  Ten years ago, this would have scared me to death, now I love it.  I pointed it out to DH, and told him that if we had a lawn, we would buy that.  He preferred the five foot tall, inflatable jack o'lantern version.  Whatever.  For the first time ever, I wanted to buy Halloween decorations.

I understand that some Christians sincerely believe in the evil of Halloween, but I would encourage them to look closely at this belief.  Are you afraid, or do you feel empowered, knowing the truth about the holiday?  Are you frightening your children, or teaching them to protect themselves?  By all means, choose positive costumes, trick-or-treat with a trusted adult, and check your child's candy.  But fear only has as much power as you give it.  Be sure you give the love and light of God all the power He is entitled to this Halloween.

Don't deny a child at your door.  Give the world your sweetness.  And be not afraid.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I want to K.I.S.S.

Romans 7: 15, Proverbs 10: 4

During the summer after my junior year in college, I attended an intensive language study course that became a revelation for me, not just academically, but personally as well.  In this program, we followed a strict routine of classes in the morning, study and activities in the afternoon and evenings.  Speaking English was not allowed.  There were days when I did four things.  All day, I engaged in only four activities: class, homework, play rehearsal, and eating. (The cafeteria food was the best I've ever had.  Better than many restaurants.)  Fun consisted of foreign language film screenings, cultural lectures, and any group activity we could manage to engage in in our second, or third, language.  Have you ever played charades in a foreign language?  It's more work than fun.

But I loved every minute of it.  I functioned extremely well once I surrendered to the routine, and the level of focus required to just pass the classes, much less do well, felt wonderful for my laser-like mind. I reveled in having everything taken care of for me.  The only chores I had were laundry and sweeping out my single room once a week.  Brooms were provided.

And oh, the single room: 8x10, tile floor, one small window, a tiny closet.  For furniture: a bed, a dresser, a desk, a chair.  There was a light on the wall, and a desk lamp, and two bookshelves.  The window had a dysfunctional shade, but the view was cow pasture, so I just left it up.  It was every moment self-contained bliss.

I have spent the past eleven years romanticizing, even fetishizing, this academically Walden experience, and I've been thinking about it again lately since I've once again come smack up against my total inability to put myself on any kind of routine.  This is yet another post about how I have no self-discipline.

I remember fondly this monastic experience, but I seem powerless to recreate any little piece of it for myself in my adult life.  I let everything sabotage me.  I can't say no to anything.  I tell DH that our place is too small, that we need to cull our possessions, and he agrees.  Gamely, he gathers books and CDs to get rid of.  They are in a pile by our front door.

Meanwhile, one of my managers at work is reducing his own CD collection, and every night I bring home another little treasure.  Or three or four little treasures.  I'm a horrible hypocrite.  When will I stop whining about simplicity and start disciplining myself to it?  Keep it simple, stupid.  But no, I keep indulging myself at even turn, terrified that I might be missing out on something fun.

But I don't need fun.  I need work and focus.  I need to keep writing Old St. Nik, and I need to finish it and publish it.  I need to learn to finish what I start because it is the only way I am ever going to be able to change anything about my life and myself.  I know I sound like a horrible bore, but work makes me happy.  Fun just makes me lazy.

See, my memories of my time in the intensive study course are very idealized.  When I'm honest with myself, I remember that I was miserable there.  I was lonely much of the time.  The work was so hard, I often felt inadequate, and progress was subjective.  I was very surprised at the good grades I got.

But I look back on how I felt then, and compared to how I feel now, it was paradise.  And when it was over, I had an amazing sense of accomplishment and strength.  I felt like I could take on the world.  No amount of fun now can compare with the strength I earned from that difficult stint, and that feeling is what I am really chasing when I try to routinize myself.  Failure now is painful compared to success in the past.  God, help me get back to that routine, that focus, that strength.  Help me keep it simple, because I hate feeling so stupid.