Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bloom...


When asked how long it takes to complete a painting, an artist once said, “An hour and my whole life.” I understand.

The other day, as I put the finishing touches on Yellow Tulip, I was emotional, exhilarated and exhausted. The journey to produce that piece of art had been a long and meandering road through all manner of life experiences. Love. Rage. Grief. Doubt. Doubt. Did I say doubt? Years of wondering who I am and what I’m here to do came together in a few brushes of paint on canvas.

When I wake in the morning, I lay in bed looking at the painting. I imagine this is how a new mother feels staring at her firstborn child. Wow, that came from me. It is humbling because I know I had little to do with the experience. I painted from a place I didn’t even know existed. It is otherworldly, like the place music and orgasms come from.

I can’t stop looking at the painting. I have fallen into very deep love with it. It speaks to me of the depth of my own emotions, my own tattered self. It is the map of my consciousness, clearer than any psychiatric evaluation. It is just paint on a canvas, but it is God to me.

tall penguin

Let Them Eat Prozac...

Have we killed our creative genius by medicating ourselves? As I teeter on the edge of sanity, I wonder what will happen to my creativity if I go on medication. Perhaps the same brain chemistry, brain structure and genetics that causes me to be able to create is what takes me into periods of madness. What if this is not a disease but a gift? If you look back through history, it seems many of the great inventors, artists, writers, poets, philosophers would be deemed “mentally ill” by today’s standards. Have we pathologized every variance of the human condition to the point that creativity can no longer flourish? Are we killing the unborn children of the soul? If so, we have aborted more dreams than heaven can bear.

tall penguin

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Arty Stuff...

So I blogged recently about my foray into art.

This past week during what I can only call a mini-breakdown (or was it a creative breakthrough?) I spent some time drawing and painting, the first time I've ventured into this since Grade 9 Art class. Sure, I've been playing for the past year, which I think laid a great foundation for the work I'm doing now, but was not inclined to make the leap into anything "serious" until now.

Frankly, I was just curious to see what I could do. I had, and still have, no expectations of my work being deemed "good". I'm just impressed I can do this stuff at all, because I didn't know I could. It takes a lot to surprise me. And I'm always happy when those rare surprises can come from within.

So, I started the week with some basic sketching. Yes, I love tulips.



Then I moved into an abstract piece. Acrylic on canvas.



And then, this morning I woke up wondering if I could actually paint one of my sketches in colour. Apparently I can. Again, acrylic on canvas.



So there you have it. She's tall. She's a penguin. And apparently she can do arty stuff. Who knew?

tall penguin

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Do you realize?



One of my childhood JW friends died this past December. I only found out last week.

It's still a strange thing to me that I can be so far removed from a community that I once held so dear. I don't know that I would have gone to the funeral service even if I'd known about it. But I didn't even have the option. I am persona non grata. I no longer exist to them, not in any tangible way that requires action. I am this mysterious apparition that used to be one of them. But it's not just that they see me as an outcast, but that they actually see me as a threat. Little ole me with my heretic thinking. I am apostate. I am dangerous.

They think my main goal in life is to turn them away from their faith. But I am no longer in the conversion business. To each his own. As John Gray states in Straw Dogs (I shall be quoting this book for many entries to come; I am forever changed by it), "Humans cannot live without illusion." Gray echoes my own realization that life is about seeing the illusions we've acquired and created for ourselves and becoming aware of the ones we can and cannot live without. For most of the Jehovah's Witnesses I know, their beliefs are illusions they require in order to survive. Who am I to judge? Goddess knows, I've kept a few illusions myself for this trip round the sun.

Many more of those I once knew will die. And I will do my mourning in private. I am not one of them. And can never be again. Some decisions ripple across a lifetime in ways you can never foresee.

And so it is.

tall penguin

Mix CD

He slips her a CD. “Shhh, don’t tell anyone. This is me.”

She gets into her car and slips the burned CD from its cover, the word “Secrets” scrawled across its shimmery face in indelible marker. Breathing slowly, she wonders whether this is the point of no return. If she listens, she will acknowledge to herself what she’s been denying for months. She loves him. And he loves her.

She puts the CD into the player and turns up the volume. She pulls out of the parking lot. He is already halfway up the street. As she drives towards home, she hears it all; the things he’s been trying to tell her, trying to tell himself. Streams of Neutral Milk Hotel and Devandra Banhaf and Belle & Sebastian and a little Bonnie Tyler thrown in just to make it interesting. She laughs. She cries. She knows there is no going back now. The line has been crossed. The wheels of fate are turning.

Talulah Gosh plays on random on her Itunes. It is five years later. He, along with his secrets, are gone. She thinks of him and smiles.

tall penguin

Crash...

As I began to polemicize in my last entry, I really hated the education system as I last encountered it in High School. My notebooks were filled with doodles, my mind was filled with thoughts of escape and my body with filled with a deep ennui. I am beginning to surmise that the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at the age of 17 was the inevitable metaphor for how tired I’d become of all that surrounded me.

I have been off work all this week. I have no desire to leave my house. My body aches. My soul is exhausted. Being a pattern-seeker, I see this as the emerging anniversary of my diagnosis 17 years ago, perhaps an opportunity to unravel the mystery of how I became ill to begin with. I have blogged about the brain blip that happened in my teens and the subsequent crash of my mind and body. I am anxious to understand what happened then. I believe it is the key to understanding what is happening to me now.

All I want, I suspect all I have ever wanted, is to see things rightly. To understand. To perceive. To know. I am under no illusion that I can affect change. In my experience so far, the best I can do is see what is and change happens through me. Perhaps this is an extrapolation of the Observer Effect. Perhaps the observer does affect the observed. I don’t know. It could be my recent foray into quantum physics talking or residuals of my penchant for new age mumb-jumbo, but it’s the premise I’m working with now in this science experiment I call my life. I am observing, doing my best to see what is, to understand, to look deeply beneath what I have taken to be true, and wondering.

I have no certain answers. My health issues over the years have been dynamic and multi-faceted. I watch the body dance through pain so real I can taste it and fatigue so heavy the covers on my bed feel like dumbbells. I watch the monkey brain do its thing. I watch it weave all manner of crazy. But I can now watch it. This is new. This is different. It’s like watching other bodily functions unfold. I don’t always know how it all happens, I just know that the body does what it does, just as the mind does what it does. It’s not personal. It’s just what is. Until it isn’t.

It’s a funny thing. This body feels ill. This mind feels ill. But I’ve never felt saner or more alive in my life. How is it possible for these two states to co-exist? They say going sane looks just like going crazy. Maybe that’s it. Or not. Maybe the right medication, at the right dose, will “cure” me of this contradiction and return me to the working world once more.

I saw a new psychiatrist yesterday. I like her. She’s young. She’s cool. And she mostly works with children and adolescents. Considering I’m still both of those, I think we’ll get along just fine.

She was telling me about some ADHD meds she thinks might be useful for me. I told her I used to work with ADHD kids. She found the same thing in working with these kids that I did. It was rare that parents wanted to medicate their kids and opted for the short-acting forms of the ADHD drugs more often than not, so that, by the time they came home from school and on weekends, these kids could just be themselves. The main reason they’d medicate their kids was to make them more manageable in the classroom. This saddens me.

Is this what medication will do to me—will it placate me into being a “productive” member of mass humanity? Am I just a cog in the collective wheel?

I am reminded of that Gary Larson The Far Side cartoon with a bunch of penguins hanging out on an ice floe. From the indistinguishable mass of black and white, this one penguin belts out, “I gotta be me!” I am that penguin. Whatever “me” is, I wanna be it and surrender to it fully. If that’s crazy, ADHD-mind-in-Chronic-Fatigue-body girl, so be it. I can accept that.

tall penguin

Basking In Our Own Glory...

I have been reading voraciously of late. I can’t get enough of books. It’s been a very long time since I felt like learning anything. So, I am pleasantly surprised that this desire had not left me completely. There’s something incredibly powerful about self-directed learning, to find a subject that interests you, acquire materials to explore that subject and then assimilate it in your own time and space. This is the kind of education my soul craved in High School. I really hated schedules and rote memorization and exams. I was so bored. So very bored. But, I digress.


I just finished reading two books that question the new atheism and liberal humanism movements. They are Chris HedgesWhen Atheism Becomes Religion and Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals by John Gray. Hedges' thesis is what I came to realize post-JW when I began perusing atheist forums online, that fundamental atheism doesn’t look that much different than fundamental religion of any other sort. Where fundamental religionists put their faith in an unseen God, fundamental atheists put their faith in science, reason and the myth of moral progress. Both fundamental groups believe things are getting better rather than seeing reality for what it is. As Hedges concludes in the chapter “The New Fundamentalism”:

“We live in a universe indifferent to our fate. We are seduced by myths that assure us that the world revolves around us, that fate or the gods or destiny have given us a unique and singular role in the cosmos. It is hard to reject these myths and face the bleakness of human existence. It is more comforting and reassuring to have faith in our collective moral advancement as a species, to believe that we are heading toward something great and wondrous. The bitter reality of existence and the bondage of human nature, however, are real. These myths are not. All those who tempt us to play God turn us away from the real world to flirt with our own annihilation.”


John Gray, in Straw Dogs, promotes a similar thesis. We are animals and, as such, behave like animals. Our fascination and narcissistic love of our human status is deluding us into annihilation. Evolution is a morally indifferent process. Humans have not been “chosen” in any way to make the earth subject to our form. These ideas of humanity being able to create its own destiny, to create moral progress, are the same Utopian delusions of Christianity. It is amazing that the atheist who decries a God can then set himself up as one. We are animals, plain and simple. As Gray states in Straw Dogs:

“Other animals are born, seek mates, forage for food and die. That is all. But we humans – we think – are different. We are persons, whose actions are the results of their choices. Other animals pass their lives unawares, but we are conscious. Our image of ourselves is formed from our ingrained belief that consciousness, selfhood and free will are what define us as human beings, and raise us above all other creatures.

In our more detached moments, we admit that this view of ourselves is flawed. Our lives are more like fragmentary dreams than the enactments of conscious selves. We control very little of what we most care about; many of our most fateful decisions are made unbeknownst to ourselves. Yet we insist that mankind can achieve what we cannot: conscious mastery of its existence. This is the creed of those who have given up an irrational belief in God for an irrational faith in mankind.


But what if we give up the empty hopes of Christianity and humanism? Once we switch off the soundtrack – the babble of God and immortality, progress and humanity – what sense can we make of our lives?”


Gray’s book is a slap in the face. A much-needed one. If I was clinging to any of my airy-fairy ideologies about man’s progression towards great and wonderful things, this book has cured me of my disease. But make no mistake, I have not entered a nihilistic melancholy. I have sobered up to the reality of what is, a reality that becomes clearer with each passing day. There is no mass salvation, either by God’s hands or humanity’s own, nor is the hope in one necessary for a full life. I concur with Gray’s conclusion, that if there is any purpose at all to life, it is "simply to see."

And so it is.

tall penguin

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Muse

God is dead.

One day,
I shall die as well.

This body
Fails me at every turn
This mind
Wanders aimlessly without rest.

There are no illusions left
But one,
The muse,
My love.

His name is written upon my heart
And no amount of reason
Can erase its form.

Forgive me this indulgence
One cannot live without a dream
Without one foot in the clouds.

I can do nothing but surrender to love
Again and again
Surrender to love;
All the days of my life
There will always be this,
This one
To him I belong.

It cannot be otherwise.

tall penguin

Monday, March 23, 2009

On Being Stupid...


Last week, this card was posted on PostSecret prompting a reader to share this link to an article about the importance of stupidity to scientific research. Martin A. Schwartz of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Virginia speaks of the challenges many Ph.D. students feel when doing research. They feel stupid and incompetent as the creator of the above postcard did.

These students are often used to getting good grades and having answers to questions, having things clearly defined. But research presents an opposite sort of exploration. It is a journey into the unknown. If the answers were easily found, someone would have found them already. They haven't been found, which is why research is done. So, an acceptance of one's own ignorance is necessary to do really good research, an acceptance most of us don't how to encourage.

Schwartz echoes the conclusion I have reached in this great science experiment I call my life:

"The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries."

Amen, fellow scientist. Amen.

tall penguin


Fish Heads

Life is stupid. This is awesome.



tall penguin

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Poop

My friend V's four-year-old is learning to spell. He will delight his classmates and teachers tomorrow with this newly acquired bit of vocab.


tall penguin

Friday, March 20, 2009

The art of being human...

I attended an art expo here in Toronto last night. And...wow. By the time I left, I was emotional, inspired and entirely overstimulated. I love looking at art. I love seeing what the human mind can produce with a canvas and some paint. I am in awe of the creative process. I am amazed at how different people can take a medium and create such varied interpretations of a subject with it. I am delighted by every brush stroke, every wash of color, every nuance of light. And I am sincerely surprised when a piece of art calls to me and awakens in me a deep emotional response, a voice from the ether that says, "Come".

Every time I stopped to talk to an artist last night about their work, the question was invariably asked, "Are you an artist?" To which I would reply, "I play."

It seemed that they thought I was one of them. And I really couldn't figure out why. My friend D and I went for drinks after and I asked him, "Why did they think I was an artist?"

"Because you are," he replied. D's good that way. Doesn't run on when a few words will suffice.

Hmm...I've never thought of myself as an artist. Writer perhaps. Nurturer, friend, lover...yes. But artist? No. I went to school with artists. They drew and painted and sculpted. They were different from me.

My first and last attempt at formal art was Grade 9 art class. It took me half the year, much to my teacher's chagrin, to even feel confident enough to fill a whole page with medium (yes, I know...you have seen that same timidity with my blog entries). I enjoyed the class, but had a deep contempt for the artist. How dare they focus on beauty? There were more important things in life--like getting good grades and pleasing my imaginary friend, aka Sky Daddy.

I spent the afternoon with my mother the other day. I don't know what prompted the conversation...oh I recall, I just got my hair cut and my mother liked it very much, and she went on to tell me how, as a young woman, she'd cut her friends hair and perm it and style it. And this smile spread across her face like she was reminiscing about her first ice cream cone. I've never seen her express such delight.

"Why didn't you continue that?" I asked her.

"I was too shy. Too scared," she said.

"I think you missed your calling Mom."

She smiled. There was no regret in her eyes, just an acceptance that she did the best she could and if she'd had different tools in her life, maybe things could've been different. I understood. If there ever was a voice of God whispering in my ear, this was it.

Over beers, D and I discussed my current meandering through life attempting to decide what to do next. I've been toying with going to University. I've been toying with starting up my private practice again. I've been toying with letting the crazy bits of my mind take over completely and disappearing into an obsessive counting oblivion.

"You really need to pursue your art," he said.

Now, you know from my blog that I have a history of fighting with reality. From my background of religious delusion to struggling with chronic illness to battling with "the book" I'm supposed to be writing, I have a penchant for not accepting what is, nor realizing what is to others the plain and painfully obvious truth of a situation.

I wrote recently about my growing acceptance of my health situation. I watched this winter as my body did its usual cycling through pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia and general malaise. I also watched myself let it all be. I watched myself put my fighting fists down, not in defeat, but in a show of nonviolence. I have decided to stop fighting with reality as it stands now, and go with the flow. I still have to take things slowly, because the monkey brain still has its issues and is easily scared away from anything new. But I'm learning to watch the monkey brain too. I'm onto its antics. And when I don't mistake it for who I really am, amazing and wonderful things happen.

Like this morning. This morning, I bounded out of bed, headed for the kitchen table, said Good Morning to Mr. Squirrel (he's still around you know; we've actually become good friends) and I pulled out a sketchbook, a pencil and began to draw. I didn't know I could draw. But apparently I can. It's pretty basic stuff, but its a start. I don't know where it comes from. It's not something I think my way through. I just show up and its there. It's as much of a shock to me as anyone else.

Maybe, just maybe, I'm finally beginning to fall on the other side of the genius/insanity line. If I can keep the monkey brain on track, who knows what I can do. Rather, who knows what will come through me. Cause let's face it, I still don't have any idea what I'm doing. I just show up. Again and again and again, I show up. And wonder, hey, what's next?

tall penguin

Friday, March 13, 2009

These words...

You may notice that my posts of late are getting longer. It seems I am finding my voice, whatever that means. A poster here once said that my entries were timid. True.

Whenever I hit the "post" button I wonder if I'll later regret what I've written. I wonder if I'll have to eat my words at some point in the future. What I'm beginning to realize more and more is that I don't know anything, nor can I be expected to know anything, because really, no one else knows anything either. So, yes, I'll eat my words time and time again. Yes, I'll be proven wrong. Yes, my ignorance will trail behind me like a piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe. But it's okay. I'm just a tall penguin trying to make my way in a confusing, wonderful and shamelessly absurd world. And hey, after all, they're just words.

tall penguin

Personals...


Nothing like a Friday afternoon spent perusing the local online want ads. I can't stop grinning at the great social experiment that is the online environment. There are people out there looking for or offering just about anything and everything.

Here's a sampling from today's ads:

First of all, the Sugar Daddies. I have to concede that at least there's an honesty here.

Sugar Daddy Number 1: "I am hoping to meet some nice, respectful girls who are beautiful and love sex. If you are in need of someone that can rescue you from your Debt, STUDENT LOANS, CREDIT CARDS, AND clothes. If you’re working for retail stores or underpaid jobs this will not be enough to the bills, you can definitely use the help. I'm looking for someone who is young and who love sex, French kissing, clean and disease free. If you think we should get to know each other send me a message with full picture. You can make $4000.00 easy money per month, why look for a summer job that will only pay $9.00/hr?? If you can make $1000.00 a week."

Sugar Daddy Number 2: "I am a financially successful man looking for someone who would like to have a sugar daddy. I am kind, generous, outgoing and attractive. If you are the one and we have the right chemistry I will take care of you financially. If you want to start let me know and let's see if we have a connection."

Then there's the afternoon rendezvous seeker:

"tall lean fit blond guy
clean cut

this morning or afternoon
serious no games
Is there a woman who could give me ashave or a brazilian wax down there
could pay"

And gotta love this one. Oh, to be 23 again.

"Hey girls, memories of my ex are really tormenting me. I need to find a girl that will help me forget about her. Will that be you?"

What really intrigues me are the "Missed Connections" ads, where you seek out someone you made eye contact with randomly on a bus or in the supermarket, or someone you had a quick chat with on the street or at a bookstore, but didn't get the details on. For some reason, they've stuck with you and you want to reconnect. I've had a few of these moments with people. I'm often left wondering what could have happened if we'd taken the connection further.

"wanted to be sketching you rather then keeping up an awkward half conversation with my friend... up for giving me another chance... "

"This is a shot in the dark but I'm looking for a lady I saw in the airport Friday Feb. 27 at 7 PM - blonde and wearing a tan cable knit sweater. "

"It was Thursday the 26th at the bookstore, and we sat on a bench inside of the bookstore reading. I noticed as soon as you entered how incredibly handsome you were and you sat down beside me, after taking off your bag and bag and jacket and you get it. : )
You were really fidgetty and changing your position at every opportunity and I am always moving my legs around when I'm reading searching for that one-comfy-position-that-makes-my-legs-go-thanks! but because you kept moving I didn't want to move around before it seemed like I was mimicking you or copying you in a creepy way.

Eitherway, I picked up a Bob Dylan poetry book and only after you left and I put my books down on the bench I noticed you were reading the biography (I think it was) of Bob Dylan.
Anyways, I thought it was a beautiful moment and regretted not looking at you fully and smiling. "

Humans are a funny lot. Hours of endless entertainment. I sometimes think the internet is the greatest show on earth.

tall penguin

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Seven Lifetimes

It is amazing how one conversation can change the course of a life.

She washes dishes, his words echoing in her head. He’s going away. And there’s nothing she can do.

The water laps against her fingers as tears roll down her cheeks. Warm water stings the open heart. This time around, the wound may not heal.

A plate drops from her hands, cracking against another. A ceramic shard slices into her ring finger. The clear water tinged with blood, she lifts her hand to her mouth. No kisses will make it better.

A hunger groans from her belly. Just yesterday, she dreamed of having a child. Today, her womb is barren once more.

It’s love’s illusions I recall the song rings through her ears. I really don’t know love at all.

tall penguin

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Nuture Assumption

Not since I read James Penton’s Apocalypse Delayed, a detailed, and “heretical” history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (the beginning of the end for me as a JW), have I been so simultaneously shell-shocked and enlightened by a book.

The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris, has just been revised, updated and re-released to celebrate its 10 year anniversary. A decade ago it shook the world of psychology and sociology with Harris’ challenge to the sacredly-held Western idea that parents shape their children’s personality, the assumption that the parent’s nurture supersedes any nature or any other outside-of-the-home factors.


A whole industry and culture has been spawned by this assumption, from Baby Einstein to modern psychotherapy to Oprah and her long line of advice-giving guests. Anything wrong in your life? Your parents and their parenting skills, or lack thereof, are likely to blame. Harris’ theory says it just ain’t so. While parents have some affect on their child’s personality, it’s more likely as a result of the sperm and egg they started you off with, and less about how much “quality time” they spent with you as a child.

As for nurture, the environment that is more likely to have affected how you function as an adult is your peer group. Group Socialization Theory is what Harris defends in her book, and what the last hundred years of research from psychology, sociology, anthropology, primatology and evolutionary biology, according to Harris, supports. The theory is that our personalities have many inborn characteristics to begin with, as shaped by our genetics and millions of years of evolution. Beyond that, much of who we become is sculpted, not by our parents, but by our interactions outside of the home, with our peer group.

I cannot possibly do Harris’s 400-page discussion justice here. For a great synopsis of the book see Malcolm Gladwell's original review of the book from 1998.

What I can express, as I do so often here on my blog (it is my blog after all) is how this information has affected me. You may recall this entry where I lamented my own stupidity in coming to find out that God was just a figment of my imagination and my utter depression in learning that all my years as a Jehovah’s Witness proclaiming that I had “The Truth” about life and the future were complete bollocks. Well, here I am once more, standing in the shadow of my ignorance, humbled by the realization that my world view and the framework by which I live my life, once again, yes, once again, needs some major adjusting.

Now, this is huge for me. Not just because I’ve spent so much time in the mental health machine, dissecting my past for a better understanding of how I’ve come to be, but also because I’ve worked on the other side of the fence, in child development and in the self-help field advising parents and others on various issues. And most of my advice was based on the nurture assumption, that parents shape their child, much like an artist molds clay. I’ve given out some pretty shoddy advice over the years, much of it to myself, but some of it to paying customers. And geez, don’t I feel like an ass.

At least I am not alone in this one. While a Jehovah's Witness, I had only 6 million other people around who were as deluded as I was. This time around, I have a whole field of Psychologists, Sociologists, University Professors, Researchers, Doctors, Self-help Gurus, not to mention anyone who watches Oprah, to count as my deluded colleagues. I thought ignorance was just the possession of the uneducated fundamentalist; apparently it’s also the foundation of daily life for most of the Western world.

So, why do we buy into stuff that research just doesn’t support? Why are we so quick to confuse correlation and causation? It’s the same question I explored here, over two years ago . And the answer I came up with then, may still hold true. Because we want to. On some level, these outdated, unsupported notions work for us. Or we’re not aware enough to see that they aren’t working for us. Or we’re going along with the group. It’s hard to be different. Even when you’re an adult, going against the flow, holding a different belief from the one commonly held isn’t so easy. Even if it’s wrong, even if you may know it’s wrong, sometimes, it’s all you got. Meh, who knows? The mind is a vast place and the universe even moreso. Understanding human motivations is beyond the scope of my 80-year existence on this trip around. Wow, did I just say that? Now what do I do with my life?

So, what does this mean for me? It means that I should spend less time talking and more time reading good quality books. It means that much of the stuff I’ve blamed my mother for over the years wasn’t her fault. In fact, as I see it now (yes, here I am talking again when I should probably just shut up) there’s probably only two things my folks can be “blamed” for.

First of all, they had me. They gave me some questionable genetics, a tendency to whine about things is probably part of that (yes, I did just whine about my parent’s giving me the genetics to be whiny), as well as a sensitive nervous system. For all my complaints about my mother, and much to my chagrin at times, my fundamental personality is just like hers. Secondly, they landed me in a peer group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that, I would surmise, was much higher up the crazy scale than most kid’s peer groups. Thankfully, they had the sense not to home-school me (as an increasing number of JW parents are starting to do) and the balancing effect of being in a Public School along with other, more “normal”, kids was probably my saving grace. Although I never fully felt part of my school peer group (it’s hard to feel part of a group you can't get too close to because one day soon, your God’s gonna smite their heathen asses), I observed a lot and learned some pretty decent lessons in socialization as a result.

This all makes me once again question who I am and why I’m here and what I’m supposed to do next. I don’t ever again want to propose to know something with any certainty. I don’t want to be an “expert”, a talking head spouting any particular belief system. Even this book I take with a grain of salt. While it makes the most logical sense of anything I’ve read on the subject to date, there’s an increasing reticence on my part to believe anything anymore. The greatest gift this book has given me is the freedom to let go of that which I thought to be true, and enter a state of cautious awareness. I may not know much, but at least I’m getting pretty clear on what I don’t know. And that, I believe, is progress.

tall penguin

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Whose Life Is It Anyway?

For the first time, an ex-Jehovah's Witness biography has broken into the mainstream. While working Front-of-Store the other day at the bookstore (think glorified Wal-Mart greeter who aimlessly wanders a 20 by 20 foot area offering people book suggestions and directions to the Starbuck’s with a plastered smile hiding the traumatic memory that with a Watchtower and Awake magazine in her hands, she could easily be converting book-lovers into Bible-toting eschatological future-clingers) I came upon this on the “New and Hot Non-Fiction” table.



Written by former Jehovah’s Witness turned stand up comedian, Kyria Abrahams, I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing takes us on the journey of Kyria’s young life through the people-pleasing antics of a child wanting the approval of God and men, the angst of being different because you know the world is going to end any day now, and the inevitable sequelae of a life lived without the advantage of open exploration and a strong sense of self. Sounds like my life. Oh wait, this is my life.

Standing at Front-of-Store with Kyria’s bio in my hands, I smiled. Here was someone like me, someone who had broken free from the constraints of the Jehovah’s Witness world and dared to talk about it. Customers entering the bookstore gave me bewildered looks as I pirouetted around the wooden octagon carrying the new and notables.

I opened the book’s dustcover:

"I'm Perfect, You're Doomed is the story of Kyria Abrahams's coming-of-age as a Jehovah's Witness -- a doorbell-ringing "Pioneer of the Lord." Her childhood was haunted by the knowledge that her neighbors and schoolmates were doomed to die in an imminent fiery apocalypse; that Smurfs were evil; that just about anything you could buy at a yard sale was infested by demons; and that Ouija boards -- even if they were manufactured by Parker Brothers -- were portals to hell. Never mind how popular you are when you hand out the Watchtower instead of candy at Halloween.

When Abrahams turned eighteen, things got even stranger. That's when she found herself married to a man she didn't love, with adultery her only way out. "Disfellowshipped" and exiled from the only world she'd ever known, Abrahams realized that the only people who could save her were the very sinners she had prayed would be smitten by God's wrath.

Raucously funny, deeply unsettling, and written with scorching wit and deep compassion, I'm Perfect, You're Doomed explores the ironic absurdity of growing up believing that nothing matters because everything's about to be destroyed."

Seeing the world “disfellowshipped” in print, in the context of my work-a-day-world, was unexpected. A flood of chemicals rushed through me. Memories of elders and closed-door committees and judgment and shunning came flooding to the fore of my mind. I put the book down and spent the rest of the day trying to get back into my body. I realized it would be a few days before I could read the book.

Yesterday, I returned to work after four days off, and went back to Abrahams book. I held it in my hands, took a deep breath and decided it was time to delve in. I stayed up half the night reading it. I knew that if I stopped at any point I might not be able to pick it up again. The emotional roller coaster of her life, of my life and the added drowsiness of being up til 4 a.m. created an interesting backdrop for the reading. While it brought with it memories, many of them humorous, there was an odd sort of detachment, like I was free-floating above the story, watching her life unfold, watching my life unfold and not knowing if any of it was real. I believe Freud would call that dissociation. I call it my body getting some perspective on the situation.

I cried very little during the read and laughed out loud on more than one occasion. Abrahams has a way of turning a phrase that makes you laugh at the absurd, when really, you should be shaking your head in disbelief. As I pulled the sheets over my head and turned off the light, I was surprised to find myself sobbing quietly. All of it hit me. All at once.

I curled up into a possum-like ball and cried myself to sleep. It was oddly satisfying. Like Abrahams book. I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed is the train wreck you can’t turn away from, if the train were filled with confused, strange and sincerely misguided fundamentalists headed to a panda-filled eternal paradise in some not-so-distant post-Armageddon world.

In the end, the train wrecks, and a woman emerges from the rubble. The world hasn’t ended. It isn’t going to end. And the show, as they say in the biz, goes on.

tall penguin