Are you a writer?

Since I don’t have a whole lot of free time, I’ve started using the thirty-minute metro/bus ride in the mornings and evenings to do some writing. Not real substantial writing, but the scribbling, stream-of-consciousness, just getting the words moving kind. I really hate that kind of writing, and I especially hate doing it in public. The only thing worse than forcing yourself to encapsulate even the most mundane thoughts in writing is having other people see you do it.

I end up writing out things like “Blah, Blah, Blah” (literally) because I can’t think of anything else to say. But all the pros say to keep a notebook like that to keep things moving. I guess it’s like doing scales at the piano or stretches before dancing: gotta keep the old pen limber, and it doesn’t have to be beautiful.That comes later (ideally).

I’ve been carrying around my “metro notes,” as I’ve taken to calling them, for about two weeks now. So far I’ve gotten the occasional curious peek from fellow riders, but since no one can read my handwriting, I feel pretty safe. Yesterday, though, I had my first in-your-face encounter. (It’s a fact of life: do something out of the ordinary on the metro, and it will eventually get commented on.) I got accosted by a guy with loads of acne and hair gel, wearing a suit about a size too big, who wanted to know: “Is that your diary? You write really fast–do you think as fast as you write? Faster? What are you writing? Are you a writer?” His parting words to me, just before I finally managed to lose him in the crowd at Gallery Place, were, “You should write about my life. That book would be very fascinating.”

Thankfully we got separated before I had to find out what “very fascinating” might entail…

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It’s a party

I love parties. I especially love parties full of people I know, at least a little bit. And I love them most of all when they’re in my house or in my good friends’ houses. What’s better than hanging out with friends for an evening, eating, drinking, listening to music, and talking about anything from the weather to complicated questions of theology to where we’re going to go on our next roadtrip?* Still…I pulled up outside my house on Sunday night after yet another party with many good friends, and this uneasy thought flickered through my head: What will happen to the parties once all my friends–and possibly even I–get married?

Pre-marriage, everyone says they’ll still be around. “You’ll see us…it’s not like we’re dying or anything,” they say with a laugh when you start to sniffle at their impending jump from singleness into matrimony. But post-marriage? It’s only a matter of time…sometimes a few months, sometimes a year…before they start turning down most invitations. Family commitments, they say. Lots of work. Need a quiet night in. Then pregnancy. Then babies. If they live close enough by you might bump into them now and then at baptisms and babies’ first birthday parties, but in general marriage seems to be the end of parties. At least for the young adults. I suspect they start back up again when you’re married 10 years with kids–potluck dinners and backyard barbecues certainly happened a lot in my family, and I intend to keep that tradition going until I’m too senile to remember who my own kids are. (And even then, really, what’s to stop me?)

This isn’t meant in any way as a slam on marriage or the married folks I know. Really, it’s just a bit of scrutiny of my own values. Maybe parties of the good old “hanging out and chatting” variety lose their appeal after marriage because, quite simply, you’re not “looking” anymore. Not that I go to parties specifically with that intention, mind you, but if the potential isn’t lingering around in your subconscious…why not just organize the occasional girls’ night in and save yourself the headache? I hadn’t really thought of that before. Maybe along with the settling of the old restless heart comes a certain level of satisfaction with fewer–but deeper–relationships.

In any event. Until that blessed day arrives–or until all my single friends get married and stop coming–I’m going to keep right on enjoying my weekend parties. There’s really no better way to get ready for Monday.

*Which leads to the all-important question, guys: where are we going to go on our next roadtrip?

Heart on the Cross

It dawned on me this morning, as I licked some old wounds (okay, and a couple new ones, too), that we have to seek a balance between accepting when others don’t (or can’t) love us and maintaining a healthy, loving perception of ourselves in spite of it.

Easy enough to say, but how do you go about it? There are two typical, natural reactions when people we like or admire clearly don’t like or admire us back–or at least, not as much as we would like. The first: responding with anger, and eventually dislike. We dislike those who spurn us. There’s a great line from some rom com I watched a couple years ago (a movie so memorable I can’t recall the title, the plot, or the characters, but this line definitely stuck with me): “I’m angry with you for not loving me.” The main character is actually monologuing at the camera about how he can’t say that to the woman he loves…even though that’s exactly what’s going on.

Okay, so it does seem a little silly to get all bent out of shape with another person for not loving us. Who do we think we are, anyway? So to avoid that ridiculous extreme, we fall into the other: these people don’t love me/notice me/whatever…and who can blame them, really?

If they don’t recognize my value, it’s only because there’s not a whole lot of value there to recognize in the first place.We’ll call this the Eeyore response: “You don’t hafta love me if you don’t want to.”

And this goes for any type of love. Maybe it’s the cool older cousins who never gave you the time of day back in middle and high school–and who still completely ignore you at family events (when they deign to attend them at all), because in their eyes you’ll always be that nerdy 11-year-old, wearing jeans about 20 years out of style and T-shirts three sizes too big.

Or the girls in the Bible study your mom signed you up for in 10th grade, because you’d just moved to a new town (again), and she wanted you to make friends. Great girls. Great study. Only problem was, those girls had known each other since grade school, and they just weren’t interested in making new friends.

Or the countless coworkers who barely notice you or your work (except, of course, when they need something).

How about that guy you were head over heels in love with in [insert year/month/week here], who didn’t even know who the heck you were?

Or even worse, the guys who did know who the heck you were–and just weren’t interested.

Perhaps worst of all, those once-upon-a-time friends who just stopped calling, without any apparent reason, and with no explanation. Maybe he started dating someone and just doesn’t have time for “just friends” anymore. Maybe she’s been really busy. Maybe you said something wrong. Or maybe…they finally figured out that you’re not really worth the time and effort, so they stopped reaching out.

Insert your own story and your own hurts. It all adds up to the same thing: anger and resentment, and that sneaking suspicion: “Maybe I’m not worth it after all.” It’s a double-edged sword, and it maims or kills charity in us. Why bother loving others when they’ll only hurt us? Why bother loving ourselves when we’re clearly not worth it?

Whatever the situation, whatever the reasons, we have to fight to stick to the high middle way: between hatred of others and hatred of ourselves…love. Love which is freedom. It’s freedom that looks like this:

Freedom: you just open yourself up and pour yourself out.

Freedom: you allow the other person to respond–or not–according to his own needs, his own wants, his own heart.

You do this because you know you have been loved first. You, who so often ignore, neglect, or even outright dislike the One who loves you, are loved constantly in spite of all that. Lent provides so many beautiful opportunities to reflect on how loved we are. And faced with all our weaknesses, we eventually have to realize and accept that we can offer only one response: we have to love as He loves. Without asking for anything back, we must hold nothing back.

“And if by chance, before this … Cross … your heart were to show repugnance… don’t give it consolations. And, filled with a noble compassion, when it asks for them, say to it slowly, as one speaking in confidence: ‘Heart: heart on the Cross! Heart on the Cross!'”

Springtime and tyranny in no particular order

I never can quite believe in evil in the springtime. How could bad things ever happen when the daffodils are so yellow and the air smells so good?

So the issue I discussed for an hour with two friends on Sunday afternoon felt more like a dream than anything real.

We were sitting in my living room with the windows open, drinking white wine and talking about the HHS mandate, and President Obama’s ongoing war against…everything America is supposed to stand for. In the beginning, when the president first announced the new mandate, I thought, “There’s no way this can gain ground.” Now I’m starting to feel like I’m in that dream where you see the monster coming, he’s not even moving all that fast, but your legs are like cement and you can’t run. Then you open your mouth only to discover you can’t even scream…

Sunlight streamed through the windows, collecting in a warm pool on the rug at my feet. I thought, “The world is perfect and here we sit discussing the end of freedom.” Obama now wants to expand what started out as a mandate for businesses to include universities. Students who purchase insurance through their college should, apparently, be granted the “basic right” of contraception like everyone else. We can’t have them worrying about how they’re going to make their part time minimum wage jobs cover textbooks, notebooks, pens, and contraceptives. Heaven forbid. Never mind that most students have mommy and daddy forking over most of their living expenses. And never mind that students at private, Catholic universities like the one I attended don’t want this coverage. We Catholics live in a sex —–> babies world, and even those who screw around before marriage are generally pretty open to accepting the consequences. But maybe I presume too much.

I’m still completely at a loss over what Obama (or anyone) stands to gain from pushing this mandate forward. Closed hospitals, clinics, soup kitchens, and other havens for the poor and downtrodden do not look–at least to me–like a good deal for anyone. Nor do closed schools. And how, precisely, are Catholic hospitals, clinics, soup kitchens, and schools that do not pay for their employees’ contraception/sterilizations/abortions hurting the government that suddenly sees the need to jump in and get involved? I just keep coming back to the explanation a wise friend of mine gave last year when I threw up my hands and yelled, “Obamacare doesn’t even make sense!!” He just chuckled and shook his head and said, “Well, sin isn’t rational.”

It also isn’t simply personal. Once upon a time the argument went something like this: “It’s my body,” and “Keep legislation out of the bedroom.”

Now what goes on in my body and in my bedroom get described as “basic rights” that someone (else) ought to pay for.

The issue reminds me (granted, somewhat comically) of something my siblings will give me a hard time for basically till I die. They claim I force-fed them oatmeal and fruit when it was my “chore” to cook meals back in the day. Of course I never went so far as to pry their mouths open and funnel the stuff in, but I certainly did force them to sit at the table till they’d finished–and sometimes I’d even save the bowl of oatmeal for lunch and make them eat that–or nothing–then. Yeah, pretty cruel. I remember some days even thinking, “This isn’t that big a deal, I should just let it go.” But different things got in the way…like my pride, and my need to prove that I was in charge, and quite simply my aggravation with them for not understanding the importance of maintaining a balanced diet.

Now we’ve got a bossy president who has decided that contraception and population control are good things–nay, basic rights–so those of us who disagree must adjust our understanding accordingly. Of course, since our barely Christian president understands Catholicism better than we Catholics do, he has every right to cross his arms and give us one year to get over our stubbornness.

Power certainly does corrupt.

Put a community organizer in office, and that power will corrupt…absolutely.

 

Spring Fever…?

Maybe it’s because my nephew was born two days ago…

Or maybe it’s because work has been incredibly busy…

Or because the social pace among my friend-set in the DC area has picked up exponentially in recent months…

Or because spring has started to creep up on us…

Or because I bought a new mattress last week…

Or because I’m wearing new shoes…

Or because I haven’t read any good books lately (I mean “fun” reading, not work)…

Or because I’m ready to go on a trip but have nowhere to go…

Or because I’m a little bit hungry…

…but I am SO DISTRACTED!!!!!

Seriously.

My prayers are distracted. My work is distracted. My conversations are distracted. My emails are distracted. My dreams are distracted. Shoot, this blog post is distracted.

I beg you if you can: save me from the mess that is myself.

It’s all noise

Confession: I am a comparer. As in one who compares herself to other people all the time on just about everything. I know I’ve at least hinted at this before, but bear with me–I’m going there again.

I’ve been a comparer since I was eleven. Maybe longer, but that’s about when I remember starting to do it consciously. At eleven I began comparing myself to my three best friends and found them all: prettier, smarter, more athletic, thinner. I compared myself to my teammates on the soccer field, and found them faster, more agile, more confident, less afraid. Infinitely more cool than I could ever dream of being. As a teenager I compared myself to friends and acquaintances, to classmates, to everyone, and I found everyone else, quite simply, better. Better-looking, better at sports, better at school, better dressers, better musicians, artists, writers, better friends, better adjusted to their environment, better at witty comebacks and insightful answers. And I viewed all my relationships with suspicion, because it seemed clear all my friends liked all their other friends better than they liked me. On really bad days, I even suspected my family members of loving one another more than they loved me.

All this made me…small. I resented people, and in my resentment I developed a biting wit and a cynical worldview. Every instance of being ignored, overlooked, or forgotten only added to my anger and cynicism. This attitude followed me out of high school and into young adulthood.

Here’s the story I’d like to tell against that backdrop: Then, at some point in my young adulthood (maybe during college, or just after I graduated), I looked around and realized that, while other people are great, I’m pretty great too. This epiphany occurred on a windy autumn evening, and somewhere in the distance an orchestra played a deeply stirring symphony. Weeping tears of gratitude I opened my arms wide and embraced the world in which I now realized I could live as everyone’s equal. No more comparing. No more setting myself on the bottom rung. No more jealousy. No more inertia caused by that crippling sense of inferiority…I was a reformed young woman with a deep-rooted sense of her own self-worth.

Cue record-scratch.

Here’s the real story: I’m twenty-six years old, and I still compare. All the time. And I’m still surrounded by people who are smarter, prettier, thinner, more athletic, better dressers, better writers, better musicians, better artists, better organizers, better professionals, better at juggling eight and a half million things and still maintaining a gracious attitude, better friends, holier … just all around better people. I still hang back when I ought to jump in because I know I won’t do it as well as other people do. I still make self-deprecating comments. I still assume that just about all my friends like all their other friends better. I’m still learning to love the me God created, complete with her big feet, wide hips, boring hair,her natural fear of everything, her incessant chatter. It’s going to be a long journey.

But here’s where the story gets kind of amazing. You see, I always expected to wake up one morning and discover that I suddenly was the beautiful-confident-popular-talented-amazing woman I yearned to be. When that day came, everyone would love me. I’d be noticed. I’d be loved. Picture any complete-makeover movie you’ve ever seen, complete with that scene where the ugly-duckling female character appears at the top of the stairs decked out in her knock-em-dead dress and everyone sees how truly amazing she is and the guy (whoever he is) sees her and loves her: yeah (okay, minus sweeping staircase and ball gown…maybe even minus guy), that’s what I figured was coming to me. Aaaaand it didn’t.

Obviously that’s not the amazing part. The amazing part happened in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a monstrance over a retreat, when I was made to understand that it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if all my friends actually are all-around better people than I am (and let me tell you: they are. I have amazing friends, praise God). It doesn’t matter if everyone else gets noticed and I get ignored, or if everyone else actually does love all their other friends more than they love me. Because the “everyone else” factor has nothing to do with who I am, with what I need to do to become the person God wants me to be. Beyond that, what other people notice about me has absolutely no bearing on who I am. And in fact (I love it when God whacks me across the head with these 2 x 4 “no-duh” moments), wouldn’t I be an incredibly vain, proud, self-centered person if everyone did notice me? Some people have been given personalities that absorb notice without becoming conceited. I am not one of those people. So if my actual goal is to become the woman he created me to be, wouldn’t attention actually deflect me from that journey?

Of course, that’s my own version of this story. But I think it has pretty universal applications. Don’t we all catch ourselves at least sometimes peering from side to side and discovering that the people around us just seem better? Or maybe we peer around and discover that others are worse. In either case, we bog down the equation with all these irrelevant factors.

Because, cheesy and trite as it so often comes across, it’s just about me and Him. That’s it. Do I believe that He loves me? Do I think I am a joy to Him?

That’s the only comparing that needs to happen–before the God who loves you, compare yourself today to the person He’s calling you to be. Then work to become that person. The rest? It’s all noise.

Are you happy?

“Are you happy?” one of my sisters asked me yesterday morning.

The question surprised me. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before. My first impulse was to reply, “Of course I am—can’t you tell? Do I seem unhappy?” But some reaction stronger than that initial impulse kept me in check, and I paused to think about the question, and about my answer.

Am I happy? I was sitting at my desk at work, responding to the first round of morning emails and trying to organize the day’s tasks, and my sister and I had been texting one another intermittently throughout the morning, catching up on this and that. I started applying the question to the various pieces of my life like a puzzle piece or the key to some riddle. Work: yes, I’m happy at work; home: yes, I’m happy at home; family: yes; friends: yes; health: thank God, yes; day-to-day needs: yes. And most of all, spiritual life: by the grace of God, yes. I started laughing. Oh, the goofy human heart—to be so full of happiness and so (basically) unaware.

Wow. I have a damn good life, and I’m happy.

Praise God.

A few months ago I watched Happythankyoumoreplease , an artsy, indie, angst-ridden film about young 20-somethings living in NYC and trying to figure things out. At one point the main guy character* asks one of the main girls (his best friend), “Are you happy?” And she answers with a surprised laugh, “Of course I’m not happy.”

As if being unhappy goes without saying once a person hits adulthood. The question then becomes, not “How do I find happiness?” but “How do I deal with the mess that is my life now that I’ve grown out of childish delusions and accepted that I can’t ever be happy?” We young adults are supposed to take for granted that we’re not happy. That we’re not going to be happy, at least not in the long run. Maybe it’s an outlook based on the realization that feelings are fleeting things. I won’t always feel happy, but is that really the point?

Anyway, it hit me today, as I reflected on these different outlooks, that the key lies in that “of course” response. “Of course” eradicates thought. And once you eradicate thought, you lose depth. The response becomes a shallow one. “Of course I’m not happy” and “Of course I’m happy” are equally shallow, thoughtless responses to the question “Are you happy?”

“Of course” means “This isn’t even worth thinking about.” It implies that you’ve got all the pieces and all the answers. So if you’re “of course” not happy, it’s because there simply isn’t anything to be happy about. Why discuss it? And if you’re “of course” happy, then you’re taking everything you have for granted (or you’re lying). And in either case, you completely obliterate the key element that assures lasting happiness: gratitude.

Gratitude that looks at life as it is and says, “True, x, y, and z aren’t going so great, or these circumstances suck, but I’m alive. My basic needs are met.” Or that takes a step back from heady, giddy cheerfulness and says, “Thanks for this.” Either case requires the realization that something (or Someone) else is involved in everything that goes right in my life.

So I stumbled on the realization with some surprise–and a lot of thankfulness. I’m happy.

Quite frankly, I probably don’t deserve to be.

And there’s no “of course” about it.

The question remains: Are you happy?

 

*Actually, I admit–I’m pretty sure the main guy asks the question, but it may be someone else. Either way, the point is: the question gets asked.