Struggling

I’ve struggled to write blog entries for the past few days. Although I haven’t skipped a day, the topics have been anodyne, simply a recounting of some aspect of my daily life. I suppose that’s OK. Everything can’t be a deep, soul-searching memoir or a reaction to the latest gun idiocy.

Speaking of which… you heard about the idiot who was showing off a pistol in church and ended up shooting himself and his wife? Nothing says “responsible gun owner” like ignoring all four of the basic rules of gun safety. But I digress.

Oddly, I feel bad about the daily life posts, as if I’m not giving my best. As though my day-to-day life is not worth writing about. The inner critic whispers, No one wants to read about that. It says the same thing when I delve into memoir, too. Who cares about your past? No one wants to hear it.

I do it anyway. I want to be able to draw on the events of my life in my fiction, so it’s important to capture moments that might seem inconsequential right now. It’s also valuable to explore events in my past with an eye toward understanding how they shaped me. That will lead to more robust characters in my stories.

Mostly, what’s important to me is the discipline of writing every day, and more importantly, sharing it every day. The only way I’ll ever feel comfortable writing honestly and openly is to keep doing it, even when it feels uncomfortable.

 

Yard Labor

We spent the morning doing basic yard work, which we had neglected more or less ever since Hurricane Irma. Areca palm fronds were hanging over the sidewalk, and where they weren’t, grass in the sidewalk cracks was ankle-high. I hadn’t mowed the lawn since the week *before* Irma, so it looked pretty ragged. And the walk leading to the house from the sidewalk also had weeds everywhere. The house was starting to look like it was abandoned.

So we clipped and trimmed and mowed and I used a shovel to get the weeds out of the cracks because we never, ever use herbicides. And then I swept the walks, and we loaded all the brush into the bed of the truck and took it up to the brush recycling site. Then we went to a nursery and picked up more flowers and milkweed for the front flowerbed, which got totally destroyed by Irma, and Carolyn spent time this afternoon putting in a new flower bed.

We used to have a guy who would come out on Saturday mornings and help with the upkeep of the yard. Sadly, he’s no longer available. That’s another reason things got so out of hand. But the main reason was that it was so damned hot for so damned long this year. It was hard enough just to walk to the car in the mornings. No chance I was going to get outside and work if I didn’t have to. Time to hire a regular lawn service, I think. If not during the winter, then by spring at the latest.

Bummed

 

I replaced the ROWDIES license plate on my truck today with a generic plate. It made me sad to take the old plate off. I used to enjoy being a fan so much, but the new owner ruined that experience for me. I never liked sports very much before I started following the Rowdies, But soccer felt different. It was exciting, it was fast-paced, it was fun to watch. It seemed like there was a better ratio of nerd:meathead than other sports. It was fun to sing with the supporter group. It was fun to cheer and make noise. I loved running into people at the tailgate, I loved going to Crowley’s after the game.

Little by little, it all vanished. I left the supporter group because of the pervasive sexism and the attitude on the part of the leadership at the time that something was wrong with me for objecting to it and trying to do something about it. The games became excruciating to watch when the current coach took over. Crowley’s closed down. Although that was unrelated to the team, the fact that I was introduced to the place because of soccer meant that the two were intertwined in my mind.

Watching soccer on television isn’t the same. I don’t get the same charge that I used to get being in a big crowd. Honestly, what I really liked was not the game itself, but the socializing. The regular party atmosphere. I think if you could tailgate before a play, I’d get season tickets to the theater.

Career advice

I had beer tonight with an old friend. His adult son joined us, which was weird, because I still feel like I’m too young to have old friends who are younger than me who have adult offspring. I’m 50 but I view the world as if I were still in my mid thirties, whatever that says about me.

Anyway, the son wanted career advice, which was also weird, because again, I don’t feel like I’m old enough to be giving career advice. Also because my friend and I kept contradicting each other, then laughing about it, while the son grew increasingly frustrated because he was looking for words of wisdom. Sorry, kid, you picked a couple of idiots as advisors.

He wanted to know what being a Scrum Master was like. After a few relevant questions (and many more tangents, sub-references, and goofy questions), I figured out that what he was really asking was what he should do with his life to enable him to eventually chase his true passion, which is writing. I spent the rest of the evening arguing that he should not place writing on the back burner like that. Sacrificing what you really want to do in order to executing your backup plans is a recipe for regret. As much as I enjoy being an agile coach, I wish I’d taken writing seriously 25 years ago instead of waiting for someday to come when I could focus on writing fiction. I’d probably have a few dozen books under my belt by now.

Open Season

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After writing two posts that took a lot out of me, emotionally, I planned to grant myself a day or two of light-hearted topics. Then some dickhead shot up a school yesterday, and my mood took a less sanguine turn.

Mass shootings happen so often now that conservatives barely have time to draw breath between instances of screaming that it’s too soon to talk about it. After the Sutherland Springs massacre, flags were lowered to half-mast for three days. What will we do when the shootings start happening faster than we can raise the flags back up? Lower them to quarter-mast, I guess, and then to one-eights, and so on, in a Zeno’s paradox of mourning.

Were I a conspiracy theorist, I might imagine some shadowy cabal setting the cadence, so that massacres occur regularly enough that it’s always “too soon,” but not so often that the funeral industry can’t keep up with the demand for caskets.

That’s absurd, of course. Cremation is a perfectly acceptable alternative.

Seriously, though, there’s no cabal fomenting gun violence in the shadows. They’re operating right out in the open. The Republican Party perpetually blocks any attempt to enact sensible gun regulations that most Americans want. America’s largest terrorist organization, the NRA, regularly releases ads that not-so-subtly encourage political violence, and the approval of political violence (toward the left only, natch) permeates conservative culture.

A case in point is this ad, which I screen-grabbed earlier this week:

Dingleberry carrying a military-style assault weapon, next to the caption: Open Season on Political Correctness.

There’s your conservative mindset in a nutshell: if you can’t win an argument, shoot your opponent. And if you think this is merely hyperbole, consider this. How do you think conservatives would react if you posed Rachel Maddow holding a Super-Soaker next to the caption, “Taking Aim at Intolerance?” There wouldn’t be enough Imodium in the world to keep up with the ensuing right-wing pants-crapping.

This is why the right can only offer “thoughts and prayers” each time there’s a massacre. Because their thoughts are of murdering anyone who disagrees with them, and their prayers are that they’ll get the chance. If innocents have to die so that they can indulge their fantasy, that’s a price they’re willing for you to pay.

(Photo by Max LaRochelle on Unsplash)

Pardon me

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Yesterday, I wrote about my experience as a member of a Pentecostal church when I was in my twenties. I struggled to write it, and I struggled with publishing it.

The first reason I struggled was that I would be publically acknowledging something about myself that has been a source of shame to me for a long time. How did someone who was once thoroughly skeptical of fundamentalist Christianity get caught up in a Pentecostal church to the point where he would pretend to speak in tongues? That’s a topic that would take more than a few hundred words to explore. For now, what’s important is that it was very difficult to make this embarrassing episode in my life a matter for public consumption.

The second reason I struggled was that I was sure that it would offend some people. When I posted a link to the piece on both Twitter and Facebook, I added this note:

 

As I write this post, I have no idea if I was right or not. I haven’t logged onto Facebook, haven’t looked at my Twitter notifications.

I felt as though I had to take the risk, anyway. Fear of giving offense is the inner critic’s backup attack vector when, “You suck” stops working:

  • Your mother won’t like being presented in that light.
  • Your father will be so disappointed in you.
  • What will your family think?
  • What if your boss/potential employer/customers sees that?
  • You’re going to lose friends over this.

It sounds so reasonable, but once you give in to the impulse to self-censor, it grows. Today, you can’t write about religion. Tomorrow, politics. Soon your own memoirs are off-limits, and eventually, there is no topic you can write about.

I’m just starting to find my voice again, so I refused to shut myself down.

I had another reason to find the courage to publish the piece. I often counsel other writers to overcome their fear. How could I have any credibility if I couldn’t do the same thing? I had to show the same willingness to be vulnerable, the same courage to speak my mind that I advise others to develop.

Now, having finished this entry, I’m going to check in on social media and see if anyone hates my guts yet.

Faith and Fraud

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For several years in my 20s, I belonged to a Pentacostal church. Pentacostalism is distinguished from other Protestant traditions primarily by its belief in “baptism in the Holy Spirit” as a separate experience from conversion and water baptism. Believers who desire a deeper relationship with God seek this spirit baptism. It supposedly grants the believer spiritual gifts including “speaking in tongues.” That gift is the primary sign that spirit baptism has occurred.

I was an earnest Christian, with a deep, heartfelt conviction that I needed to yield myself fully to the will of God. And so one Sunday, I approached the altar, and said I sought to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

There were hallelujahs and hosannas. Several men, including the pastor, surrounded me as I knelt. They placed their hands upon me. We prayed. I begged God to fill me with His spirit. The men prayed, some in English, some in the unintelligible words that showed that they were themselves overflowing with the spirit of God. I pleaded for God to take me. Consume me. Destroy my will and replace it with His. Make me your servant, oh Lord. I will do anything.

I don’t know how long it lasted.

It seemed like hours.

Other people had come up to the altar to be saved, or to seek spirit baptism. All had their moment, one by one, until only I remained, surrounded

Time crawled by.

Nothing was happening to me.

I felt ashamed that what seemed to come so easily to others would not come to me. Fearful that everyone would know that God had rejected me as unworthy. My knees ached. I felt hot. I was having trouble breathing. It wasn’t going to happen. I knew it. From the changing tone of their prayers, the men surrounding me knew it, too. Someone removed his hands from me. It wouldn’t be long before the others followed suit.

So I faked it.

I leaped to my feet, threw my hands in the air, and began shouting random syllables. I mimicked the sounds I had heard others making when they were overtaken by the Holy Spirit.

The men who had been praying with me rejoiced. They shouted hallelujah. They praised Jesus. They embraced me as I babbled.

I was one of them. I had been accepted, if not by God, then by them. I would not be looked on with disdain, or suspicion, or pity. I acted Spirit-filled, so they believed I was Spirit-filled.

How was that possible? If they were filled with the Holy Spirit as they claimed, shouldn’t they know their own? More to the point, shouldn’t they know who wasn’t? Wouldn’t God tell them I was a fake?

I could only conclude that they were faking it, too.

This “spirit filled” business had to be, at best, a delusion. At worst, it was an outright fraud. Because if it was real for even one person in the congregation, that person would surely know that the rest of us weren’t for real.

That was the beginning of the end for me and religion. I found another church, but I could no longer ignore the cognitive dissonance of belief. Eventually, I stopped going to church. I went back, wondering if I were missing something, but honestly, I felt happier when I wasn’t going, so I stopped entirely. I haven’t been to a church except for weddings and funerals since.