Because of how much “stuff” I have to catch you all up on, I’ve created an outline:
- Visiting the Kingdom Hall
- Visiting a new friend
- Visiting another new friend
- Visiting the Unitarian Universalist Church
- Discovering something about my tattoo artist
I’ll try to stick to it.
One of my honest best friends is a Jehovah’s Witness, and a few months ago, as were riding alongside each other (my bike, much cooler than hers), I offered: “You know… you’re a really great friend.”
“Why do you say that?” She asked.
“Because you came out to watch me and my band perform a year and a half ago, dropped into Saturn a few months ago to ‘check it out’ because you know it’s my favorite coffee shop ever, and now here you are in downtown Birmingham, on a 10-mile Trample ride with me.”
She nodded. “Yeah… I AM a good friend. I’m interested in what YOU’RE interested in, and I like to show it. Sure would be nice if you’d come hang out with me at a place I like sometime.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled, and she laughed, because we both knew what she was talking about.
And after a few weeks of turning her words over in my mind, I told my friend that I would go with her to the Kingdom Hall. “Now DON’T get your hopes up,” I warned her RIGHT off the bat. “I won’t be visiting in some kind of effort to ‘find god’, because I don’t think that any one religion has ‘it’. My spiritual objective in this life is to just uncover and piece together the best truths from each religion and denomination that I study and to live my life as kindly and insightfully as possible. So, with that on the table, me attending a Kingdom Hall service with you will achieve a few things: A. it will show that I AM a good friend and B. it’ll be like a social study. For me.”
Satisfied with this, she gave me a date, I put it on my calendar, and the day rolled around quickly — last week, on Tuesday.
I messaged her that morning: “You know, with your friend visiting from out-of-town, I’d understand if you would prefer that I not show up this evening. That way, you two could have a little more one-on-one time together.”
“I’ll see you a few minutes after 6,” she responded curtly, via text.
“Alllllllllright,” I breathed out slowly. “So that’s it; I’m going to church again.”
We met at a local Mediterranean cafe for dinner first, and I listened to her visiting friend (a beautiful young girl, apparently my age) speak about her international work and travel.
“I’m already READY to go back to Maui,” she confessed at one point. “It feels strange, being back in the states again. Like, I dropped into a Walmart a few days ago, and the lights were on… constantly. Consistently. So people could shop. Back in Maui, I’m working in hospitals where electricity is available 25% of the day. The other 75%… we have to figure out how to keep patients, and babies, alive.” She shook her head. “It’s so depressing.”
“Welcome to the nihilists club,” I murmured, dipping my spoon into the container of tabouli again.
We continued on to the Kingdom Hall, and the service was, in a nutshell, nice, like most church services are. The congregation was welcoming and while the atmosphere felt distinctively conservative, I could also sense the nervous, happy and concealed energy of liberals testing the ceilings, the walls, and floor. The service also contained a nice mix of training methods; a few videos, a couple of role-play scenarios, Bible readings and – my favorite – a short grammar lesson!
The message itself, delivered by a guest speaker, wasn’t anything to call home about, but I extracted two helpful ideas that seem pretty universal:
- Protect your spirituality. Guard your mind. Fight off hypersensitivity, laziness, and immorality.
- Seek out people who possess the qualities you desire.
To comment on the first bullet point, what appealed to me, particularly, was the bit on guarding your mind. The speaker specifically admonished the congregation to resist engaging in sexual immorality and to avoid pornography, but since those aren’t things that I personally “struggle” with, I found a different application for the phrase.
For me, guarding my mind means disciplining it; IE, critiquing and controlling my thought process. I have a tendency to ruminate over the past; like a horse that’s been walking a circular track, over and over, SO many times that it’s difficult to go anywhere else or do anything new, I’m so in love with the people that I’ve lost and the pain that I feel without them that I have little ambition or resolve to continue onward with “life without them.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: my life, and perhaps yours, feels like a series of stages. I take on a new role from time to time, drinking down the lines like water and falling in love with the new cast… and then suddenly, it’s show time, and everyone knows when the show’s over except me. As my favorite characters fade into a quick and easy oblivion, I play my best memories of them on repeat until they’re so degraded that my fiction fucks with the reality of it all and I’m just left crying, wondering what’s real, what’s imagined, and who the hell we’ve all become.
But it’s time to move on. Maybe it wasn’t before — maybe I needed to pace the track and reflect on life with them; maybe it was okay to generate such little productivity (outside of writing, keeping a German Shepherd dog alive, and working a full-time job) for a whole year and a half to achieve this level of stability and sanity. But time’s obviously up.
To comment on the second point — “seek out people who possess the qualities you desire” — this statement really reinforced a quote that I fell in love with recently. That quote was:
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
Upon reading it, I immediately located a piece of paper and a pen and wrote down the names of the five people I spend the most time with (it was a fun exercise! I’d encourage you to do the same). I also listed, beside each individual’s name, what characteristics I really liked about or admired in that person. I found that the qualities (recorded in adjectives) I appreciated most were these: adventurous; confident; brave; passionate; easy-going; sensitive; gentle; creative; unorthodox. Then, I asked myself what prominent good qualities I had to offer people and the world, and I boiled it to down to these three descriptors: love; empathy; optimism.
I considered the idea that each person will likely gravitate towards something, or someone, very different from the next. For example, if you long to be rich, you’ll want to surround yourself with wealthy people; if you want to be famous, better surround yourself with ambitious and socially active characters; and if you simply want to be a better person than you are right now, surround yourself with people who will nurture and encourage your good qualities as well as challenge you to better yourself. In the world of self-betterment, I have only one word of advice to offer: Compete with yourself only. Resist comparisons.
A few days before this, I was sitting in a friend’s comfy, over-sized chair. Her boyfriend had just left the apartment for a few moments to drop off his laundry and to pick up an order of mozzarella cheese sticks and a fancy fruit-and-cheese plate from Rojo, just down the street. The front door closed; I watched my friend take another hit and then listened to her as she thought out loud: “Sometimes, I feel like a masculine dude,” and here, she paused and flexed her muscles, making me smile. “Other times, I’m like a fairy tale princess,” and she smiled cutely to illustrate. “And then other days, I just… I’m just a cat.”
“Rabbit, over here,” I rose my hand and volunteered.
She looked at me and nodded.
“You ARE a rabbit,” she declared seriously.
“I wish,” I murmured, considering how much simpler a rabbit’s life would be than my own.
“No — with how crazy the world is,” she continued, lighting up again, “you probably are a rabbit.”
It was the most beautiful thing anyone had said to me all day.
On Saturday evening, I was sitting outside of Redcat with a beautiful girl, another new friend. She was talking about lots of things: her partner, who studies computers and plants; her art, which includes sculpting and painting; her travels, from dog-walking in a suburban neighborhood to attending three trimesters in Austria; and then she began discussing social media.
“I check in every few weeks,” she stated, her voice soft, steady, and whimsical. “I used to do so more often, but I’d feel this nagging sense, like I had to check, and it bothered me — for a long time, I listened to it, but then one day, I asked myself: why? Why am I checking again? It was overstimulation; exposing myself to so much news all of the time… having such an intimate view into the lives, problems, and tragedies of others. So I resisted the urge to check and then observed my feelings about it. I did something else instead of checking, something more productive. I would Google a topic and educate myself. Go for a walk. Complete a task.” She paused, took a breath, and then continued. “I wake up sometimes and am unable to fall back asleep; I used to try to force myself back to sleep, but now, I recognize that — fully awake at 3 AM, I must have some kind of extra, free, creative energy, and that I need to do something with it. It shouldn’t be wasted.”
The sun was setting, her brown hair was cascading in small waves down her bare shoulders, and I knew that I was falling in love with her.
So I said that I needed to go, hugged her goodbye, and walked away without turning around, as I’ve learned to do.
I went to church again yesterday. Not at the Kingdom Hall, though; this time, I was visiting with a Unitarian Universalist congregation, sitting next to one of my inside-and-out beautiful friends and hoping to catch a real message.
It came about 30 seconds before the closing song, cradled inside of what felt like the most authentic and unrehearsed statement of the morning. And it was:
What you say, do, and are in this world matters.
I’m sure people have said it, or something like it, before, but yesterday, I heard it for the first time.
An LGBTQ friend of mine posted in an online forum recently, sharing that they were experiencing ‘imposter syndrome’ and that they felt like everyone around them was just putting up with them — like these acquaintances felt sorry for my friend, but weren’t actually interested in being their friend. I commented that I feel like that, too — like an outsider, or imposter, everywhere I go. Whether it’s a Kingdom Hall, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, the uppity Whole Foods grocery store over in Mountain Brook, or one of the credit union branches I train at. I always feel as though I don’t belong. And I’m trying SO HARD to figure out why. Is it perceived only? Or is it real? Is it a lack of confidence on my part (all those goddamned years of homeschooling), or is it genuinely intuitive?
So to hear that what I say and do and who I am in this world matters — even if it came from some random guy who has never made eye contact with me — was a friendly punch on the shoulder. And if that punch could have spoke, I think it would have said:
“Your #crueltyfree Instagram posts, your transparency about your depression, your investment in your work, your whiny and strum-strum-strummy original songs, and your long hours spent sweeping and mopping and washing the stupid fucking dishes are all making a difference. Stay here. Stay here so that you can see what happens next.”
I was over in Crestwood on Saturday afternoon, getting a tattoo inside of Aaron’s new shop. I sat down, and he cleaned slashed prepped the area, and then we chatted away while he etched the outline of this new tattoo into my skin.
“There’s a comic book I wanted to tell you about,” he said while he worked. “Because of the conversation you and I had the last time you were in here.”
“Oh yeah?” I signaled for him to continue.
“Yeah — it’s getting a bad rap in the literature world right now because of some questionable content, but it’s basically about a girl who’s exploring her identity — her gender, her sexual orientation — all of it. It’s very empowering. When it came out, I thought of you.”
I felt like crying. Not only did he listen to my incessant rambles during tattoo time, but he actually remembered what I said, and he obviously cared.
“Do you have it in your shop?”
“I’m buying it today,” I smiled.
He finished with the outline and then paused to dip the needle into a new ink color, and as he paused, I ventured a quick look down at my wrist.
“Whoaaaaaa, shit; is that REAL blood?”
He looked scared. “Yeah —–”
“Neato,” I whispered. I could feel Aaron looking at me.
“Do you… want me include a few drops of blood in your tattoo?”
“Well, the shattering bunny glass DID make me bleed, and life is painful, so yeah. Let’s do it.”
He laughed. I did, too.
5 Short Stories, 5 Simple Lessons
- Seek out people who possess the qualities you desire. While you’re at it, control (aka discipline) your thoughts; whip those suckers into shape.
- You are whoever (and whatever) you imagine yourself to be, so don’t value or gauge yourself, your abilities, or your worth based on the real OR imagined perceptions of others.
- Don’t squander your short bit of time here on some e-version of life.
- You matter, and every time you choose to stand for something (politically, socially, or otherwise), you’re making a layered impact on others — directly, indirectly, and subconsciously.
- People care about you (and I’m not talking about your mom; I mean people you wouldn’t imagine care about you care about you). Isn’t that wonderful?
Still Here (and attending a Kundalini class with friends tomorrow so that I can really purge this shit from my mind),