Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Letter 2014

Christmas 2014

Dear Family and Friends,

Christmas Letter, as per the usual. Let's see, news...
A Biscuit in a basket
Added a Cat. I acquired a gorgeous white-and-biscuit-colored kitten in late Summer named, appropriately, Biscuit. He is exceedingly floofy (his tail looks like a vast pouf of cotton candy), and bids fair to be bigger than either Bunny or Squeaky George. He is already large and in charge, and indifferent to things like other kitties' Personal Space. Very much an Alpha kitty, and he chases both his older siblings up and down the hall, especially George. George is still rather hissy about this addition to the household, and yet his affinity for licking cannot keep him from occasionally giving Biscuit a bath. It usually goes like this:
1) *hiss*
2) *lick-lick-lick-lick*
3) George remembers he doesn't like Biscuit
4) *hiss*
5) George runs away

I should mention that George is a big old coward. Bunny is beautifully dignified, as always, although she has been annoyed into reminding Biscuit of his place with an occasional *whap* of her paw. Her regular response is to simply go away when he gets all up in her grill. When he is full grown, I suspect he will prove to be either be a Maine Coon or part Ragdoll, and MUCH bigger than either of them. Hopefully he won't be a bully. But he is far more affectionate and cuddly with me than either of them, so in the "Who does Mommy love best?" contest, he's pretty much already won. But I make sure the others get equal time. Although Biscuit's determined attempts to drape himself over my keyboard while napping in my lap is a nuisance. As is the curtain-climbing.

Discovered my Specific Allergies. I had pinkeye twice this Fall, and the second bout was so bad that my eye doctor got a little freaked out. The attending doctor insisted I go get my allergies checked (it was allergy-based conjunctivitis) and it turns out that I am allergic to dust mites, cockroaches, and dog hair. Thank God, not my cats! But I am starting to take steps to reduce the dust mites in particular, with special bedding, more aggressive cleaning, and eventually putting in hardwood floors.

Resumed Choir. I went back to singing alto with the Chamber Singers and Parish Choir at St. Bartholomew. I took a choral sabbatical in the Fall of 2013, and so when it started up again this year I jumped back in, and was relieved that the burnout I was feeling 12 months earlier was completely gone. I do seem to spend a lot of time singing... more in the last 5-10 years than in all the years prior to that! I genuinely prefer singing backup or harmonizing with other singers -- I have very little wish to be a soloist.

Pining for a Farm. This year I really began to long for a property out in the country, or at least remote enough that I could keep some livestock without bothering my neighbors. My dream situation is a few acres (conveniently located near interstate exits so I can be on the road to clients frequently) south of Nashville, a smallish house, and space for beehives, and eventually maybe even chicken and goats. I want to garden and putter about and have a project shed. I want to have barn cats. I am technically "looking," but with full knowledge that it will be an Act of God if such a property were to come available in my limited price range and location.

Acquired Furniture. I finally got the last two pieces I have wanted to get for some time; a china cupboard and a good dining room table and chairs. Both were bought secondhand from dear friends, and I cannot express the satisfaction I get every time I look across the room at them. It makes me feel like I’m FINALLY a grownup! However, the floor around them is usually covered in cat toys, so it is rarely as tidy as I would like.

Ran Out of Updates. Seriously, I am sitting here racking my brain for anything new to tell about events of the past year, and I am drawing a blank! Things happened; I worked, I had appointments with computer clients, I spent time with friends and family... but nothing particularly notable! So I shall leave it there. 2014: A quiet year for me; not necessarily for the rest of the world.

God bless you and your family in 2015.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Love,

Susan

Monday, November 10, 2014

Character Flaw or Characteristic?

Read this article on Introverts first: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/07/physical-behavior-of-introverts_n_6069438.html

I felt relieved reading this... some of the points made are about things I've always felt somewhat guilty about; I feared I was selfish and a navel-gazer. I don't like trivial small talk. If I ask you how you are, I actually want to know, and if you ask me, it never occurs to me that you don't actually want to know!

I hate answering the phone unless I am actively waiting for a call. The majority of calls I get make me pick up the phone to see who it is, and sigh and mutter "please just leave me alone!" unless it is friends or family. This is why I have come to prefer texting and email; it gives me time to consider my response, which apparently is what I need. In addition, I don't like in-depth phone calls, because I am missing a lot of visual cues that I need to gauge my response. They're fine for a brief exchange of information without all the "How are you?" preludes.

I don't tend to think of myself as being overstimulated when I get stressed out; but the distractions of people in conversation nearby makes me want to tear my hair out sometimes at work. I can't tune them out, and so I feel fragmented, and I can feel my energy draining out of me.

I have no problem being on stage. It's never frightened me, even when I was doing improv. I was mediocre at best, but it never made me nervous. I can stand in front of a group of people and talk to them at any time about anything.

When in a large group setting, like choral singing, or a classroom, I move to the periphery if at all possible. So for me it's not the aisle seat, which is worthless once you're in the air since you can't leave; I pick the window seat. If it's choir practice, I sit on the far right on the outer seat of the altos if I can. I have a rather low-grade claustrophobia, but I can manage it fairly well. I can sit in the middle... but it will take energy.

When it is night and time for bed, even in my own home I always feel relieved that I can go in my bedroom and shut the door; moreso if I am in company. Heck, I'm even relieved to shut the kitties out! They are distracting and wakeful. So you can imagine when I am at my yearly work convention with 12,000 attendees, and I'm running the General Information booth! So many times co-workers or friends want to go out and do something in the evenings... I just want to go home and recharge.

Conversely, once I've recharged, I need to expend some of that energy. I do need to be around people on an almost daily basis, but for much less time than everyone else, it seems. This is one reason I suspect I'm meant to stay single. I simply can't imagine what it would be like to have a husband who was always around!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Singleness vs. Long-Term Projects

Homesteaders: Pie Town, New Mexico 1940 October
Photo by Russell Lee
 
So... of late I have been newly aware of the limitations in being Single. For years, 95% of the time I have enjoyed my freedom and independence... leaving parties when I liked, only hanging out with people I like, doing nothing much when I come home from work except sit down and watch TV, eating food straight from the container, scheduling whatever I wish whenever I wish. Come and go as I bloody well please. When you live alone, there's no-one to annoy you, to compromise with, to take into consideration of when you make noise late at night or fart or don't feel like sharing food.

But there's also no-one to do Big Things with. My friendships tend to be primarily social, and don't generally extend into the nitty-gritty parts of daily life. If I have something in the car that is too heavy for me to bring up the stairs safely, too bad. If there is a spider to be killed, I have to do it. If the car is on the fritz, I have to find my own ride to and from the shop. If Squeaky George throws up his dinner in various places around the condo, I have to clean it up. If I want to go on vacation, there's no-one guaranteed available to go with me. There's no-one to feed the cats if I'm working late. If I have an accident, I have to drive myself to the hospital if I'm not incapacitated, or ride alone in the ambulance. This is part of the 5% of dissatisfaction I have with Single Life; fortunately it usually takes the shape of minor inconveniences. And I do have friends and family I can call for emergencies; they just aren't on-call, exactly!

However, lately I have been wishing for someone to team up with on projects. I need help doing those things I am too lazy to do, or need accountability to help follow through with worthwhile things. For example:
  • I wish I had someone to exercise with regularly, to go on walks with or to go to the gym with several times a week. I'd like someone who'd help me, as I would help him. A teammate.
  • I wish I had a partner to buy a piece of property and build a house together; like one of those Not-Too-Big Houses that is cosy and charming and well-designed.
  • I wish I had someone who wanted to plan & carry out home improvements; the kind of things I think would be nice in my house, but then I consider what it will entail, and that I will have to do it all on my own, and I sigh and forget about it.
  • I wish I had someone to do yard work with, in our own yard. I want to garden, to keep bees, and maybe someday even chickens and goats.
  • I wish I had someone to travel with. I really don't like the discomforts of travel, but if I can settle into a place for a week or more, I'd love to go back to England or Japan or Europe... but not on my own again. I need help.
  • I wish I had someone whose strengths complemented my weaknesses, and vice-versa.
And no, these are not tasks for a Friend, to my way of thinking. I have had dozens of friends leave town over the years, or marry and have children, or have other occupations that, because they aren't bound to me, they will want to do instead. Please don't make recommendations of That Nice Girl You Met That Time Who Is Single Too or That Guy at Our Church Who Is Always Available. I have plenty of folks like that around me already. I'm not lonely; I just need someone who isn't going anywhere, who is bound to me for a lifetime. And I'm spoiled enough by 40+ years of freedom to not just want SOMEONE; I'd like a husband who I'd enjoy the process with.

I'm afraid I have lost my romantic streak. I discovered recently that I found myself unexpectedly annoyed when watching Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet. It doesn't feel romantic, it feels stupidly unnecessary. Romance fiction, rom-coms, etc. - no more enjoyment. Romantic love seems inconceivable. I've seen too many failed love affairs and too many horrific divorces. Since we all know that the spark of romantic love dies out eventually, and the best you can hope for is affection and mutual respect and friendship, I don't think this is necessarily a bad state of thought for me to arrive at... Although I kind of miss it; it's a nice world to visit and fantasize about being in love myself. But now I feel like someone living on a homestead in the wilderness who just needs someone to help bring in the crops.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Why I Hate Travel

It's that time of year again... time to plan for a trip to the beach for Spring Break or Summer vacation... or a trip to some lake or city or country... and once again I find myself in this unpleasant valley of no-where I actually want to go and with no-one to actually travel with. And yet, I pine for some kind of vacation.

I am actually happiest when I take off a week for vacation and actually stay home...
  • No need to pack
  • No need to travel
  • No need to spend money on an overpriced condo or hotel
  • No need to find someone to feed my cats
  • No need to worry about the fact that I have so few friends who want to/are available to vacation with me, or that I want to vacation with
  • No need to travel alone (which I used to enjoy, but now find boring and depressing)
  • I can get things done around the condo, like repairs and procrastinated decor ideas
  • I can hang out with friends for lunch and dinner, as opposed to being in a strange city where there's no-one to eat with
And yet... and yet, I feel this lack, this loss of some indefinable something. I haven't ever really enjoyed taking a trip, except for a handful of occasions that are difficult to duplicate, or were delightful for just one season in my life, and have failed when tried again (the aforementioned travelling alone). But I still feel this loss of something that everyone else I know seems to enjoy and expects to do, year after year.

There are circumstances under which I can imagine a vacation would be fun... the right group of people, the right location, that perfect balance of companionship and alone-time. But at this stage of my life, that all seems as likely as winning the lottery.

Why must this be so difficult a thing to accomplish?! Why does it seem so impossible? My cowardice and laziness are partly to blame, I know... my need for solitude is another. My limited relationships is another still. And I post this online, knowing that it will be seen by friends who would travel with me and are hurt and bewildered that I don't want to travel with them. It's nothing to do with them; it's to do with this strange block I seem to have, feeling smothered or claustrophobic with them in another city.

My family is not really an option either. We're not cold to each other, but we don't ever seem to think of each other as travelling companions. Probably because when we were growing up, we went on so few vacations.

Let me emphasize that I'm not writing this looking for ideas - I think I've heard them all. I've considered them all. I guess I'm writing it out, looking for some kind of inner acceptance that I am NOT a vacationer. I'd like to go to the beach... but literally the physical beach itself is all I care for. I'd like to be in London... but don't want to spend the money or take the flight. I'd like travelling companions... but want to be alone most of the time.

Is it possible to just be a Homebody, and be ok with it? To not feel some sense of loss or disappointment that I don't like travelling? To give up this fruitless and depressing battle every year to find some kind of holiday getaway? I don't know. I'm in my mid-40s and I've yet to find peace with it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Free Marissa Alexander NOW

Thank goodness, they threw out the ludicrous guilty verdict... but they have to choose whether to re-try the case. Please read up on this, and write a letter. Copy-paste away!

http://freemarissanow.tumblr.com/post/63774813232/dropthecase

Friday, July 19, 2013

Read

The Library, by Lori Nix
I used to be a reader. And I'm ashamed now to say that I'm not any longer. It was a slow, gradual process; college took time from it, then full-time work, then TV became more reliable a source of entertainment, then doing needlework or crafts while I watched TV made picking up a book even less likely. I never stopped buying books, though. I have an entire wall of bookshelves, floor to ceiling, full of books. Most of them I have actually read, but an alarming majority I've bought and never even opened. I find it tremendously difficult to get rid of them; I was always so proud of my reputation as a reader, and I felt a great deal of my value was dependent on how many books I owned and read. A library or a bookstore was what made any location worthwhile to me.

So how to change that habit? Part of the problem comes from the fact that in the last 15-20 years I have become far less interested in fiction than in fact; history, pop culture, biographies, and sociology are more reliably interesting to me now than fiction. I used to inhale novels, picking up and reading SO many books that now I have no interest in. I read questionable fluff too; romance novels for a long stretch there, graphic novels, etc. But now I crave information more than being swept away by a story. That's one reason historical fiction has always been a good match for me; fact combined with fiction. But that means all of the novels and books I collected over the first 2 decades of my life were no longer of interest to me.

On Monday I had 2 hours to kill between work and an appointment, and I was too far from home to make going there an option. So I decided to go to the Franklin library and find a book and just sit and read. And it was WONDERFUL. I picked up a novel by Phillipa Gregory (reasonably decent historical fiction writer) and read for ages. I did it again on Wednesday after work - I knew if I went home when I got off at 4, I would probably take a nap or sit down at the computer... so I went to the library across the street and read for about 90 minutes. This time I checked out a book and brought it home and finished it that same night.

I wish I still had the ability to read until I was sleepy and then just turn out the light and go to sleep, but I seem to have lost that disposition. A book at bedtime makes me very wakeful, and when I read one, I inevitably take an hour or more to actually fall asleep.

I don't like the person I am now who prefers TV to books... I feel like I'm succumbing to more mental laziness and have lost something precious. I've found an author I like right now, so I'm good for a while. But when that's all gone, what will keep me motivated to keep reading? Beyond getting rid of the TV alltogether? AND the ability to watch media online? Not sure.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Statement of Faith

I feel very keenly that my personal pursuit of God has taken a significant turn in the past decade... I grew up in what was ostensibly a charismatic, fundamentalist church, with a puritanistic stepfather who sought to maintain order and limited what we were allowed to do socially. And like most little girls raised within a more restricted environment (and being fairly lazy and unadventurous), I did not think to question the validity of what we were taught and what was modeled for us. The books we read, the teachings of the church, the commands of our father... all of these constructed the building of our faith in Christ. I was baptized in a river at a youth retreat (like you do!), I was intimidated into REALLY receiving the Holy Spirit (which involved digging through my past life and getting all worked up and weeping copiously, which was VERY therapeutic!), and so forth.

Time moved on. I dealt with a series of bouts of depression every few years or so, which led me to seek comfort from a God that I realized I had built more or less in the image of my father; restrictive, punishing, cold, judgmental. I got counseling from a Christian family counseling ministry, which gently showed me that I could let go of all of those restrictions. I moved to another church, much like the first, but less hippy-dippy. Hands did not need to be raised during songs and prayers to prove you were a valid Christian.

Depressions and personal growth came and went. I started attending an Episcopalian church, which initially drew me because of the reverence and liturgy, but ultimately kept me because of the community and the realization that this church would thrive, almost regardless of who was in the pulpit. This, after 30 years of attending 2 churches formed by charismatic preachers, that declined when those pastors left, and which had their share of abuses.

Right before turning 30, I went through a nuclear explosion of anxiety and came out on the other side stronger and more self-aware than I could have ever expected. One of the lasting mantras I emerged with was that "God loves me too much to leave me as I am," which made every difficulty, every personal struggle into a big step forward in my maturity. Then in 2001, I woke up to the world around me. I think a lot of Americans did. I started paying attention to what was going on, in politics and world affairs.

In 2007, I joined a campaign to free a young man from unjust imprisonment in Central America. The entire year was taken up with the fight. And I woke up to the cruelty and reality of the world outside my comfortable existence, and I mourned our losses and the utterly irrational hate directed at this man. Finally in December of that year his sentence was overturned and he was commanded to be let go... and Evil fought to keep him there. He would likely be killed if he was not removed from that country. The evening I realized that we might not get him out of there, that Evil might win, was a tiny taste of Gethsemane for me, and I cried for hours.

I could no longer excuse or ignore the evil of the world, nor could I avoid the realization that the energy of the Church*, my community of faith, was being spent on fighting abortion, gay marriage, and evolution. To paraphrase the words of Marley in A Christmas Carol, "Mankind should have been our business," and it was not. We were more worried about these issues than we were about the suffering out there in the larger world. Our efforts to control our society and our supposedly virtuous way of life was more important than the tears of millions. Evil was slaughtering lives left and right, metaphorical blood pooling at our feet as feeble children cried and clutched at our legs, while the members of the Church fixated on a tiny box on the floor and argued over whether we were allowed to open it.

That night left me changed. The right and wrong, the sinfulness or virtue of those particular battles became a minor issue to me. My disappointment in my Church, although never enough to make me doubt the goodness and might of my God, did make me less and less inclined to spend my time within the structure we had built. The almost arbitrary rules and regulations of what Christian life should be began to crumble around me. But I knew God was real, and Jesus, and the Bible... so what guidelines should I live by? I focused on those specific things Jesus said (the red letter words), and in particular Matthew 22:36-40:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
While my innate laziness and fearfulness has kept me from flinging myself out into the world to do what I can to serve (particularly because I don't have an idea of what I should be doing specifically, and because I am still waaaaay too selfish and addicted to my own comfort), I trust that God is continuing to change me and mature me, so that one day I will be spending all my time and efforts in helping mankind in true service. Someday, I won't be afraid. I don't know what it will look like... but I am hoping I am ready when the time comes.

Some of the things that are becoming clear to me...
  • I am content for there to be mysteries of the faith, and don't feel the need to be obsessed with theology. 
  • I don't need to be utterly sure about whether the Bible is to be taken literally or not.
  • I need to stay within the community of the Church. I am part of a larger body, so I cannot go off and function by myself as, say, a little toe.
  • I am more interested in the truth than in preserving the Church with lies. If a congregation or denomination depends on lies to remain standing, then it needs to fall.
  • I don't get to judge the sins of others. (this is one I all too easily forget)
  • God is big enough for evolution. I don't see how he couldn't use it as part of his creation process.
  • While I think abortion is wrong, I also think that the life of an unborn soul is perfectly safe in God's hands, and he would prefer we take care of the mothers to-be who are already here and need our help.
  • Homosexuality is... too big for me. I am pragmatic and I like a tidy world, and homosexuality doesn't neatly fit within that from a biological standpoint. But I also think that God doesn't care. Plus that I like shrimp and scallops, and since God told Peter to start eating them, then by the transitive process, homosexuality is ok. The completion of Mosaic Law through Jesus' sacrifice, ya'll.
There are 3 primary prayers that I find myself repeating often;
  1. "Help me to be a good servant today... help me to serve others well,"
  2. "Please don't let me be led astray... don't let me be deceived into thinking contrary to your will." 
  3.  "Please teach me to love you more. I'm still scared of you most of the time. But I know you're good."
*The Church: the entirety of Christians - not just one church building and the people within it, but all followers of Christ across the world. Although now that I say that, I realize this essay is about the American Church primarily.