Tuesday, August 29, 2006

purely coincidental

Over the past year of blogging I've had a number of people say "I love reading your blog" until they come across a post that mentions them. Oops. Reading about others is never the same as reading about yourself. For one thing, we usually don't have a vested interest in the stories of other people's fallibilities or idiocyncracies. They are simply funny stories we recognize as universal or particular to someone we know. For another, each of us has an internal picture of who we are, what we look like (to ourselves and to others) what we really said in any given situation, what we actually thought... and my accounts will of course be lopsided. They will be skewed by my experience, by my writing style, by my mood at the time I wrote. The fact that I often portray myself in a highly critical light doesn't count for beans. Not when I'm talking about you.

One person asked that I not write about them again. (And here I am, writing about them... sorry!) I am always torn when this happens, because I unfairly think of it as censorship, as a clamp on my creativity, even though I agree that they have every right to their request. This is not a personal and private enterprise, and I am not necessarily entitled to my version of your story. I don't write to be vindictive or unkind. But I do get carried away with a story and my internal desire to make it more than it probably was. What's a girl to do?

I'm considering dumping the blogging thing in favor of some fiction writing... work I can disclaim with "any coincidences between real life persons and the characters herein is purely coincidental." I'll let you know.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Anger Management

I don't do anger well.

If I'm really, really angry, I fold up inside myself and externally I cry. That's the worst, because I'm out of control, not only with the situation, but with my own emotional response. Luckily I don't get that angry very often.

If I'm only a little ticked off, I say sarcastic things, stoop to petty retaliations... stupid things that only make me look (and feel) small. I cannot get neutral until I'm over it. (But over it only if the same person doesn't trigger another episode.) Then I start into paranoia. That person doesn't like me and they are doing things to persecute me. It's a waste of my time and energy, and nobody wins. I'm working on it, but the work is definitely in progress.

I'm better than I used to be only in that many things that used to trigger anger, no longer do. (It's an aging thing.) Not much in life is worth ruining with a bad attitude. And as I age, life looks too good to keep ruining it.

The God of Abraham was angry a lot. The Old Testament is full of stories about the wrath of God. It may very well be that we attributed that anger to God in our own misunderstanding, but we certainly chronicled a lot of events where people died and suffered because God was angry. Jesus was angry only once in a while. There's only one instance (the fig tree) where anything died because of it. Most of the time His anger gave way to compassion and forgiveness, which is one reason why I prefer Him to His Dad. Except He is His Dad. So there you go. Maybe God gets less angry as He ages too.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Newest addition

I'm just back from a visit with old friends and family, and the baptism of my newest grandson.

There's just something about babies. They smell good, maybe because they're so new. And everything they do is wondrous, from smiling to burping to yawning to goo-gooing nonsense; it doesn't matter. This is Noah, (with his doting grandma). He managed to poop all over me just as we were getting ready to leave for the airport. Aren't babies wunnerful?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

No answer required

I have a detractor... which shouldn't surprise me. There have always been people who disliked me for the same reasons others thought I hung the moon. You can't please everyone, and making that goal a priority in my twenties taught me the lesson, but it never removed my wistful desire to have it otherwise.

The embarrassing truth is I cannot understand why some people love me and some don't. It makes no sense, everyone should love me. But as ludicrous as that sounds, my inner child believes it. I can spend time imagining why, but the possible answers: misunderstanding, jealousy, disapproval... only lead to justification for myself. My bruised ego may feel soothed, but the process sows seeds of alienation that crop up as unexpected volunteers later.

My detractor is anonymous which makes him/her slippery. I have very few anonymous commenters to my posts. One is my older son, and I can generally recognize him by his wry humor. But another asks questions which imply I should be ashamed of myself. What's that about? And why do I feel responsible for answering them? Some internal trigger pings loudly, and I ride an emotional roller coaster until I have sorted it out.

So... after sorting I've come to the following conclusion: cryptic questions that allow for several interpretations as to their intent are meant to goad, not elicit information. No answer required.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Take the blessings and run with them

Give yourself three hours, they said. All carry-on must be in see-through plastic. Expect delays, long lines. This was my first flight since the new stepped-up security measures. I deliberated over whether to wear my habit... there's been so much discussion over the pros and cons. Theological, philosophical, practical... the dress definitely marks you, no way you're not going to stand out.

On the plus side, it sends a message: God is with us. We believe it, and we stand for it. People who need prayer won't hesitate to stop you and ask. People who need money don't hesitate either.

On the other side of the argument, you're often treated with more deference than the rank and file. Preferential treatment is not what we seek or are about, and it seems wrong to accept it. The debate goes on.

I've passed through several stages since being clothed. At first, being out in public in habit gave me a confidence, an openness I had earlier learned to shut down. Suddenly I could speak to people, be friendly, without someone thinking "pervert." It also reminded me to be more polite, to watch my language, to meet the masses with humility. It was a costume that created a role and it helped me stay in character.

Once we decided as a community that sisters could choose whether to wear the habit, I learned that remembering who I was, even incognito, was an even deeper lesson. More discipline was required until one day I noticed I was who I am, with or without the outfit.

I did not wear my habit to Las Vegas. There seemed no particular reason to. But this trip to Florida includes my youngest grandson's baptism. It was easier to wear it than pack it.

Give yourself three hours. I left the convent at 5:15 for a 9:15 flight. Subway to train to airport only took forty-five minutes. Then the fun began.

Finding the correct line to check baggage was confusing enough, but once found, I resigned myself to the inevitable snail's pace. I'd been inching along with the rest of my line for about fifteen minutes when a porter appeared out of nowhere and said, "Sister, I'm going to help you out. Follow me." He pulled me out of the line and took me outside to curbside check-in. The lines there were enormous as well, but he was the man behind the counter and he was in command. Within seconds he had my suitcase tagged and on the belt, and was handing me my ticket. Awesome. We blessed each other respectively, I deposited a meager tip into his hand, and set off in search of the next line.

I waited my turn through the next phase, and by 8:00 I was taking off my shoes, belt, and cross to go through security. I had nothing to confiscate and my little carry-on was, in fact, a see-through plastic bag. Apparently that wasn't really necessary, but it made it easy for the guard to search.

I had entered into the inner sanctum of gates with time on my hands because I had been treated with preference. I went in search of food. A little deli advertised the day's special of eggs, bacon, hash browns and coffee. I didn't have that much time on my hands. I asked the server if I could purchase just the hash browns, and she gave me one in a paper bag. When I got to the register to pay, the young woman said "Thank you." I beg your pardon? "Thank you. Take it." Oh.

Was it wrong? Should I have protested? I don't think so. Both of those people had a need to be kind to a nun. Or to say it differently, their hearts were moved to be kind for their own reasons. Who was I to deprive them of that kindness? I took the second blessing of the morning and ran with it.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Stormy weather

Here at the convent, our Sunday celebrant is encouraged to give a brief homily as well as preside over the Mass. Today's was a thought-provoking mix of the appointed Scripture and current events... always a good combination if we're to take the Gospel seriously and find meaning in it for our lives.

The thrust was on our "historical memories" and how they inform (and sometimes enforce) our sense of ourselves. For example, the sense of entitlement or its opposite, victimhood. Events in the Middle East are not so different today than in the time of Deuteronomy... people killing each other over land, with all the subsequent feelings of rage and displacement. (God gave us this, we have a right. We were here first, it's ours.)

Our priest went on to suggest that these same stories, the historical memories, can also prevent the spiritual growth they were originally designed to preserve. We are not exempt from conflict just because we think God (or reason) is on our side. There will always be the flip side of the coin, the other opinion. And that other point of view is also supported by its own historical memory.

They say memory is selective. Obviously that's true in conflicts over events that both sides remember differently. We have our own microcosm here. We have two houses with differing expressions of the monastic life, and we come together on a regular basis to discuss issues, to preserve a cohesive unity.

Sometimes we're successful. Other times we break down into armed camps. The habit issue (as it's come to be called distastefully) once discussed and somewhat settled, is unfortunately still alive and well. The historical memory of those long and grueling sessions is different in both houses. I'm from Melrose, just moved to the city. So in the eyes of some sisters here, (especially regarding sensitive issues) I'm a Melrose sister, imposing my version of the religious life on them. They see themselves as both victim and entitled.

I'm trying to understand it all... and navigate the treacherous waters. Today was an especially stormy and seasick kind of day.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

There are good days and bad days.

Bible study with just one other person is better than no Bible study, but it occasionally puts us into opposing camps when interpretation is at issue. There's no third or fourth opinion to steer the conversation toward more neutral ground. Silence envelops us as we ponder each other's views on a piece of scripture.

Today was John's version of Jesus throwing a hissy fit in the temple. One translation had him making a whip out of leather, another said it was rope... but all to the same conclusion: he trashed the place.

Aside from the fact that John implies this temple cleansing is at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and not the end, my feeling was that he was preoccupied with his future and its inevitable conclusion. Deeper concerns had him in an irritable mood and this was a way to blow off steam. I can definitely relate to that, and it made the humanity of Jesus that much more real for me. My partner focused on the fact that his indignation was righteous, and I can't argue that either. But he had been coming to this same temple since childhood, had seen the same flea market atmosphere in the outer courtyard for years. Suddenly it's a problem?

People like to think of Jesus as perfect, and that everything he did and said was perfect. I rather like that he had his bad days.

Friday, August 11, 2006

And the good news is...

It wasn't my fault. I didn't do it. A Mac OSX upgrade did it. Hahahahaha.

The bad news is it will take the DSL server a while to fix it. Apparently they've been innundated with complaints from users who suddenly can't get their email. All of them Mac users. Hmmmmm. Stuff like this makes me think about going over to the dark side and supporting Bill Gates' Empire. The operative word is think.

I used to be an IBM snob. Years ago. What? You can't type the word "delete"? You drag your file to a cartoon trash can? Get a life. That was years ago, before I was converted. I'm an artist. We use Macs. It's an artist thing. Get a life.

For now, however, if you want your email, get a PC.

So little understanding

My email isn't working. At least not on my computer. It was doing fine when I got here and then it just quit. No error messages, no indication at all that anything was out of whack... just no email. For days.

I've read all the help files and looked at all the settings and fiddled with all the preferences and it still doesn't work. I seem to be able to send, but that may be a fallacy. My best friend in Florida didn't get my email that announced I was coming for my grandson's baptism. She just happened to write me and I realized she still didn't know.

How do I know all this? I can go online to webmail and see my messages, but I can't retrieve them. I can even reply to those messages, but then they go into cybervoid, and I don't have a record of them on my own mail system. The server works, obviously, but it just won't shake hands with my computer. Hey you guys... Make up, already!

The truth is, I have a nagging feeling I'm the one who broke it. I'd been getting a lot of bogus spam with vjagra in the title line, trying to sell me drugs I don't need to enhance plumbing I don't have. I went somewhere in my preferences to add that word to the blocking software, but I may have done it wrong and now everything is blocked. I don't know that... I just worry that it's true. And I can't find where I did it to undo it. Frustrating.

It is always frustrating to have so little understanding... to have a suspician of what might have gone wrong, but no proof. It happens in relationships too. Someone becomes distant and I get that same nagging feeling that I may have caused the problem. I just don't know for sure. When I can, I muster my courage and ask outright. "Hey! Did I say or do something to offend you?" It doesn't work that way with my computer. It sits there... mutely, smugly, waiting for me to press the magic button to figure it all out.

I will keep at it. Email is important in this technological age. People who never once wrote me a letter, will email me a few paragraphs that connect us over time and space. I miss that connection.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Settling in

I'm in the penthouse suite. That's what it feels like after my teensy weensy little cell at Melrose. And... after sharing a bathroom with two other sisters, one who didn't always remember to flush, I suddenly have the luxury of a somewhat private bath with a stall shower just steps away. Who knew the religious life could be so civilized? "Heaven must be like this," I say to myself.

So just why am I so special? Not exactly the luck of the draw. I'm starting a part time job in September that requires internet access. Mine is the only room in the house that used to be an office and is now a bedroom. It has a DSL connection and a phone. (It's a good thing I already did my year studying poverty, because this would not qualify.)

Okay, sure it's not mine, and the situation could change in a heartbeat if I abused the privileges, but I don't intend to abuse anything. This girl's momma didn't raise no fool. And the vibes in this room are amazing! It was once the art studio of Sister Lucia. Before joining the community she was a famous artist in her own right. She painted huge wall-sized frescoes in public spaces (I think) during the 40's. A large south facing window lets in beautiful morning light. Heaven.

The schedule here is more stable. At Melrose we planned our days around sunrise and sunset, the weather, the heat. While I loved the extra sleep during the winter, I had a hard time adjusting every month as the schedule changed. It also seems strange to be back in habit, but not that strange. I'm pretty flexible about living like the Romans, and when it's too hot for the monastic get up, we've already agreed that sisters can wear civilian clothes.

Part of settling in is the psychological acceptance of the new surroundings, making them home. I think I'm good at that. If my first few days are any indication, it's going to be a very good year.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Because she's first?

New York is famous for a lot of things... maybe signs are not at the top of the list, but we do have plenty. This one is from a series called "women we love" from somewhere in lower Manhattan. Supposedly any press is good press, but I don't believe that. This billboard misses the point.

Now tell me, of all the recent photos of Bishop Jefferts-Schori, there must have been a more flattering one to pick. Were they in such a hurry that they couldn't bother to find it? Not that Christina's shot is that great either, but at least she doesn't look hung over. I have to wonder at the pairing. Was it random or planned? We love Christina because she's fierce? What does that mean? She's a pop icon... how fierce can that be? Or are these just f words and someone ran out of ideas?

Of all the reasons to love Katharine Jefferts-Schori (and I do) the last one would be because she's first. She's compassionate and wise. She's got guts and grit. That she's going to be the first woman Presiding Bishop is a testament to a lot of things, some of it politics and some of it common sense. But even Jesus said being first was no big deal.

When she was asked for her comment about the sign, she was gracious enough to say essentially... whatever it takes to spread the gospel. I would have told them where they could put the damn sign.