The Stars Weigh In.

Just to be clear, I think astrology is a crock of shit. The idea that the position of the stars at the moment of my birth influences my behavior and personality is utterly ridiculous. However, their conclusions are often uncomfortably accurate and specific. For instance, I’ve been seeing this guy for three or four months now, and here’s what the stars have to say:

From futurescopes.com [pronouns altered]:

This zodiac pair will probably come together in their shared interest in the finer things of life. Both the Snake [him] and Goat [me] are lovers of sensual pleasures and are attracted to things in which the senses take delight like good food, nice clothes and even artistic pursuits like music. In fact if resources are not a problem, the Goat can even spend a small fortune in tailored dresses and personal adornments [I own over two dozen bowties, even though I can barely pay my bills.]. This trait owes not so much to a sense of vanity or love of spending but actually an inherent trait in the Goat to arrange things prettily. While the Snake may be motivated differently, he too has a highly discriminating nature. At any party or social gathering, the guest who is most elegantly dressed, who samples the chocolate truffles appreciates the champagne with the greatest degree of awareness is likely to be a Snake. He is apt to engage in polite social discourse and impress others with his high level of sophistication. Thus the Snake and Goat will enjoy common tastes and pamper each other with similar indulgences in a relationship. This bond of mutual interests will go a long way in strengthening their romantic bond since when couples do enjoyable things together, they are more likely to remain with each other in the long run.

Likewise, another equally strong reason for the Snake and Goat staying together comes from the mutual attachment to home. This is more so in case of the Goat who takes immense pleasure in domestic comforts and interests. While the Snake is not as home-bound as the Goat, he will still prefer to bask in sun in his own garden or terrace instead of going out to party at a nightclub or a bar. Also the Snake can be quite particular about getting the best of food and drinks and so a homely partner as the Goat suits him who can cater to such indulgences of the Snake. Essentially both are alike in their social inclinations – while neither is unfriendly and in fact can even lay claim to a measure of social popularity, each is comfortable in intimate and familiar surroundings instead of hankering after novel and external stimulation.

Then again the Snake and Goat also serve to complement each other in a relationship. The Goat is quite an emotional creature and can be quickly upset by the vagaries of life. On such occasions, the Snake partner with a steadier mind and greater self-possession can help the Goat to find his/her emotional moorings. On the other hand the Snake can be susceptible to extremely jealousy when allied to restless or straying partners like the Horse or Monkey. However the Goat with his total and emotional submissiveness will give the Snake no reason to give way to negative feelings. [I wouldn’t call myself submissive, though. Loyalty and commitment don’t have to be submissive.]

Both the Goat and Snake have different levels of inner stamina. The Snake is much stronger and more courageous, persistent than the Goat; even though it is not always evident on the exterior, the Snake is capable of feeling things with great intensity which is why it is often known to be a jealous or at least a highly possessive lover. When there is lack of mutual trust and understanding between the partners, such intense emotions on the part of the Snake can sometimes overwhelm a softer being like the Goat [softer? what?]. The latter might find himself wilting under the heat of their partner’s intensity and in fact the Snake is not even above some shrewd emotional manipulation when it can suit his needs [or outright lying, as I prefer to think of it]. In the end the excessive emotionality might drain away the life force from the relationship and goad them hurt each other to the point of no return.

However a far more likely cause of unhappiness in the Snake-Goat relationship may be a lack of dynamism. Both the Snake and Goat are rather low-key personalities and each likes to be left to himself for most of the time. Thus neither will be able to provide to the other the input that is needed to express themselves to the full and that a far more assertive personality like the Dragon or the Monkey may have brought about. While this may not cause the Snake-Goat couple to break up, it could leave them with a sense of something wanting in the relationship and in case things get worse, it could also lead either partner astray.

I looked into the Greek system, but they don’t seem as accurate unless they’re repeating things said above.

  • He’s a hard worker with a strong sense of Standard Operating Procedure. He’s recently been promoted to assistant manager of the restaurant where he cooks, so now he’ll have the authority to make things work the way he wants them to.
  • He doesn’t like the way I knuckle under to the ex on matters related to my kids, but he’s got the more aggressive personality and the legal knowledge necessary to manage his divorce precisely as he wants, and I don’t.
  • If I didn’t have the child support payments, I’d make more than he does; I think he actually prefers to make more, despite the grumbling. He likes to be dominant in most situations, so maybe I’m more submissive than I like to think.
  • In hearing about his exes, and in watching how he relates to his family, I’ve decided that he has a habit of collecting strays. I’m no exception, just a little more well-heeled than the others.
  • He’s a firm atheist, so religious/spiritual subjects almost never come up, so I seldom have to think about the type of things that would fit this blog. I’m happy to have been delivered from the Christian school where I taught five months ago, but I miss conversation on religious topics.

I voice my appreciation of his specific qualities as they come to my attention, but the more I think about things, the more I think that I love him simply because I do. It feels natural and obvious, even though it doesn’t look that way to anyone else.

 

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Recovery is not a straight line.

So. Since February, I’ve been practicing better physical and mental health habits, exercising and using emotional healing techniques that my counselor friend gave me a few years ago. It’s all been working; I’ve lost a lot of extra weight and been noticeably happier most of the time. And yet, today I was shouting profanity in church and shaking in the corner like a rescue dog.

Wait. What?

Well, this morning started off fine. I was in a good mood all through the drive into Dallas and everything, singing with the radio and bouncing around in the driver’s seat. There was a sudden change when I walked in the church door, though. I like to get there half an hour early, so that the people from the early service are mostly gone and the middle service hasn’t arrived yet. But today they were having an exposition of all the different things the church does, drumming up support for their different ministries, and the place was packed. I thought ‘Oh shit’ and forced a way through the crowd to the bathroom.

Then I went up the far aisle to get a seat. I sit in the latecomers’ section because it’s less crowded. I don’t have a big problem with enclosed spaces, but people make me very claustrophobic. I sit on the end close to the front so I know I’ll have one side where no one is next to me and I don’t have to see all the people filling in the seats behind me. But today all those spaces were already taken because there was a group of kids being confirmed, and their families were sitting there. I had to sit farther back, where there were lots of people talking around me. People kept coming to sit in my row, and one guy sat right next to me when there were plenty of open seats further in. I edged my chair away as much as I could without being rude. He tried to be friendly and chat a little bit, but I was too freaked out to respond, or even hear what he was saying. I spent a lot of time breathing deeply but quietly.

This church is known for its music. It’s often quite nice. But today was Pentecost, when we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming down in tongues of flame, and apparently that requires a lot of loud percussion. I was already overstimulated visually, and the subito forte’s of the band were way too much. So I kept my head down and focused on the liturgy and the sermon and blocked out as much as I could. It worked, mostly. I got through Communion okay — in order to get the gluten-free wafers, I have to go down to the back of the church and then up the center aisle, and I made it without incident.

And then there was the recessional. We end the services standing, so there I was, singing the hymn while staring at the music in my hand and pretending nothing was wrong. But. They like to build up to the last verse, so between stanzas three and four there’s a musical interlude, and possibly a key change. This time there were also firecrackers. I wasn’t expecting that. Freaked the fuck out. I yelled “Shit!” and backed up to the wall as fast as I could, running into two or three of the lay ministers lined up in the aisle. I pressed the side of my head into the wall and covered my face with the program, holding onto a corner and shaking like a loosely installed windscreen.

When the people had moved out of the way, I moved into the corner next to an emergency exit and sat with my knees pulled up. A few people asked if I was okay, and I said “No,” in that thin high voice you use when you want people to think you’re more okay than you are. One of the ministers sat next to me and talked to me, and even though I wanted to be left alone I let her engage me in conversation. I had already asked her to stop touching me and turned down some of the other kindnesses people had offered. She did ask if I had some medicine I could take, but since I don’t, we talked on indifferent subjects until it was time for the Spanish service to start.

I was still shaking, but I let her lead me to the door. I side-hugged one of the greeters I’m friends with for longer than was strictly necessary, and hugged the pastor on my way out. I sat in the garden to recover a little more, and then got in the car. I drove to the woods — it’s been too crowded since the weather started getting warm, but today it was cooler and overcast, so I hiked for five miles. It wasn’t as soothing as it often is, but I got better some. Now I’m at my Sunday afternoon coffee shop, looking out the window and ignoring the people who come sit next to me.

Why did this happen in me today? I couldn’t really say. I’m tired of my brain being sick. I’m tired of acting like an ex-soldier with PTSD, though I wish I had the sexy muscles and the survival skills. Last week’s service was almost as traumatic, so maybe this is all carried-over stuff about my mom. I’ve been trying to find the problem there, and what I find is a memory of being in a dark place and thinking frantically, desperately, “Where are you?” The only way this makes sense to me is back when I was a baby. I’m the fifth child, and my brother is only fifteen months older than I am, so when I came my parents were really tired of all this baby stuff. They put me on the fast track to weaning and sleeping alone. Which I responded to by catching pneumonia and nearly dying. In some ways, I still haven’t recovered thirty-five years later. I also developed an allergy to breast milk, so what gives life to others has always been painful to me. All that “bond between mother and baby” stuff makes me feel sick.

I read somewhere recently that when someone starts showing the more dramatic signs of trauma, they’re ready to deal with it. So I guess that’s where I am, though I can’t say I know how. I don’t really trust medical doctors, ever since that guy prescribed me epilepsy medication without even looking at my brain, so I’ll have to figure this out myself. My previous attempts at self-diagnosing mental illness have not been hugely successful, so I accept advice. Please.

Project for Lent

I’ve always loved the Church Year. I like having annual rhythms, knowing that cold weather will bring Christmas, an abating of the heat brings Hajj, and that the sun’s return brings Spring Break and road trips. I like feeling that my life is connected to the earth and its seasons. So although I question the authenticity of Easter and Resurrection, Ash Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and you eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and get the ashes on your forehead Wednesday night. Forty days later, Maundy Thursday is for footwashing the day before Good Friday, the Saturday is the Harrowing of Hell, and Sunday you celebrate spring and the renewal of all things. In between, Lent is a time of self-denial and contrition; we examine our lives, think of ways to make them better, and put those plans into practice. Early spring, a better time for resolutions than mid-winter, when we have the energy to stick with them.

At church the last several weeks, the pastor’s been talking about transformations; listening to this every week helped me get out of a relationship that wasn’t doing anything (good) for me, and it’s helped me think through how I want to change. I want to be happier. To get there, I need more confidence — that I can be happy, that I deserve to be happy, that if I go out into the world looking for happiness it can be found. This matches with the research I’ve been doing into training teachers; the strongest determiner of a teacher’s ability to reach a student is that teacher’s self-efficacy beliefs, or self-confidence. I’ve thought about what would help mine, and I’ve worked out a project.

Four and a half years ago I hated myself. I knew that I was attracted to other men and not to my wife, but I was afraid and conservative and unwilling to be gay. Now I’m out and proud, though I’ve moved past the phase where I have to tell everyone I see.

The problem is, that self-hating religious conservative is still inside my head. So is everyone else I’ve ever been, like the little kid who can’t stop crying — it gets crowded and hard to focus in here sometimes. I’ve been rejecting thirty-ish-year-old me, though; I refuse to listen to him and the poison he spreads. He does this because he was rejected so dramatically by the ex, her family, and most of his friends, and himself.

I want to bring him peace. I mean, I was married for eight years, which is something like 22% of my entire life. It’s too big a piece to keep ignoring. My project for Lent this year is to reconcile who I was then with who I am now. It may be too ambitious for forty-five days, but I think it’s a worthy goal.

As a sign, to remind myself, I’m shaving. I like my bearded face — I like bearded faces in general — so if I can reconcile myself to the sight of my own hairless face, I should be able to make peace with anything.

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Gratitude

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

I’ve mentioned some of the problems that I have with belief; this is a problem that I have with unbelief. I live in a world of unspeakable beauty, endless wonder, and unbounded joy. It is natural to me to say Thank you; not always for the life I live, but for the world I live in. The phrase Thank you implies a You, some second person, “some bringer of that joy.” I don’t know where the particular joys of my life originate, but they fill my heart until it will burst if I don’t thank someone.

Thank you mountains, for being round and massive. You make me feel safe.

Thank you trees, for being tall and many-armed. You restore me to myself.

Thank you flowers, for being fragile and beautiful. You remind me that an individual is delicate, but that species return perennially.

Thank you geese and squirrels and lizards and spiders and mice. You teach me to share my space, my world, with others.

And thank you, Allah, Vishnu, Jehovah, Zeus, Wotan, Gaia, unknown Creator. I love the world you have given me.

Submission

In one word, why I’m not a Muslim.

I don’t do authority. Yes, I have jobs, and I keep them, and I get excellent performance reviews and references, but I do not submit well to authority figures. My strategy is to become friendly with my supervisors — what I would not do for a boss, I will gladly do for a friend. When an unpopular piece of policy comes down, I think, “Fuck no, I’m not going to do that! Oh wait, Tom (or Chuck or Creighton or Jo or whomever) is so nice, I’ll go ahead and do it to make them happy. If I don’t, they’ll get in trouble, and I wouldn’t want that.” It doesn’t address the key personality flaw, but it gets the job done. I don’t do reverence well either, but I mask that by being naturally serious in manner.

The word Islam means Submission, so Muslims are Submitters. As such, they claim everyone who submits themselves to God, just like the Catholic Church claims to be universal. It’s a bit arrogant, but it gives them some peace about the people who don’t consciously join their in-group. And indeed, most Christians claim to submit to God’s will, so they’re Submitters too. Religious people are generally Submitters, because God is the ultimate authority figure.

But being The Ultimate, God is different from my supervisors. He’s not getting in trouble with anyone. There is none greater. He’s also not as good at giving instruction. He’s rather vague, so people interpret His directions in several different ways, and He doesn’t come by to check on us and correct our courses. The distance and the vagueness make it harder for me to care about Him, so there’s a lot less motivation to submit to His leadership.

I suppose part of the problem is in the way I’m made. You remember phrenology, which was so popular 150 years ago? People thought that the shape of your head revealed your personality. I’ve looked at their maps, and felt up my own cranium. I have a big bulbous head, so I have all sorts of skills and virtues, but I have a big dent where Veneration is supposed to be. I don’t know whether the shape causes the personality or the other way round, but whoever made me ought to have known better.

Unless there’s a god who doesn’t care about submission and reverence. Is there a version of God I can get drunk and ridicule uneducated believers with? Hm. Must keep looking…

Why I Go to Church

It may seem strange, that someone who knows that he isn’t into Jesus goes to church anyway. But I do, so let me explain.

  1. I go to a completely awesome church. Its official name is Cathedral of Hope, but it’s known around town as The Big Gay Church. In the literature and in the services, it refers to itself as a Vibrant, Inclusive, and Progressive community, and those are values that I believe in. It’s one of the largest gatherings of homosexuals in the world, because it’s hard to fit a thousand gay people into a single club. I hate crowds, but I love feeling like I have something in common with the people around me, particularly when it’s the thing that makes me different from everyone in the rest of my life.
  2. I go to church because I work at a Christian school, and I need to have some common element in order to build rapport with my students. I also have a habit of churchgoing, and it’s good to be able to tell my mom that I went to church this week, even if it’s not a church she approves of.
  3. I go to church because of Communion. When I was religious, I didn’t go up to the altar to receive the host because it’s full of gluten and I have coeliac disease, but I still used that time well. I dug into myself to evaluate who I was, what relationship I had with the universe, and what I wanted in life. I created this habit so firmly that now it’s a Pavlovian response to the ritual. During my week I pretend to people that everything is okay, and I forget that under the surface it really isn’t. Communion is when I drop the mask and face the reality of my life. It’s the time that I get in touch with my own suffering. I may not be communicating the way that others do, but it has the same healing, cleansing effect. It’s not pleasant, but necessary, and I’m not willing to give it up.

I suppose that since I’m only half an atheist, I may be getting more out of it than I realize. But since I am at least halfway to unbelief, maybe not.