The escape artist.

It was a very hard time when my Mom was sick. There were a lot of very difficult things that needed to be done, and only me to do them. I was in my early twenties and my family and friends had bailed on me.

I wasn’t prepared for any of this. My Mom wasn’t supposed to die at 53. I didn’t know how to deal with chest tubes or administering medicine every four hours for months at at a time. Just because I’m a daughter doesn’t mean I’m a competent caregiver.

So I separated myself. I believe it is called dissociation. I was there, sort of. I did all the stuff that had to be done, but I didn’t think about it. My mind wasn’t there. It was too hard to deal with but I couldn’t run away from it like my brother and father did. So I ran away in my mind. It was kind of being like an escape artist, like Houdini. I smoked a little pot to take the edge off. Years later when I had the time I went a little crazy because I’d not had the ability or time to grieve. There is nothing like learning how to deal with grief like being in a mental hospital.

There isn’t any training for this. It is hard enough to watch your mother die. It is hard to be a caregiver for someone who is dying. It is impossible when the dying person is your Mom.

It is very intimate caring for someone who is dying. It is very intimate to be with them in the middle of the night when they start freaking out about all the things they haven’t done, or about the afterlife. It is very intimate dealing with bodily fluids and pain.

In a way it was my gift to her. She gave birth to me. I helped her die. There is a strange balance here.

She didn’t die well. She had spent most of her life avoiding thinking about the future or anything really important. She didn’t plan ahead. She had no retirement fund. She didn’t take care of her health. She never got any education past high school. As for her soul, she ended up getting her religious education from me.

It is very weird being your mother’s teacher. I had read quite a bit about religious matters in the previous years, and had returned to church at 20. It was the same church where she was married, but hadn’t gone to since. The minister I found for her was from the Episcopal student ministry I was part of. He didn’t know much about how to prepare someone for death, so I got to do it. Something was better than nothing. At one point I gave her a copy of Stephen Mitchell’s “The Gospel According to Jesus.” The priest thought it was watered down. He didn’t approve of that translation. He wanted her to read the Bible. I pointed out that she didn’t have time to read the original. Sometimes you aren’t able to eat big meals, and all you can handle is baby food. This was the Gospel in a distilled version, just the words of Jesus. Easy to digest. Baby food. It got the point across in a way she could handle.

But there was nobody there to train me. There was nobody around to tell me how to deal with the heaviness of my Mom dying and the heaviness of dealing with the strangeness of dealing with the very real and very gross nature of dealing with someone who is terminally ill. I prayed a lot. God helped.

One “friend” wrote to me to tell me how sad she was that my mother was dying. Her advice to me was to “let Jesus into my heart”. I can’t stand Christians sometimes, and I am Christian. I was really angry when I read that letter. She didn’t know that I’d gotten confirmed years earlier. She didn’t know that I went to church every week on my own. She didn’t know that I’d helped create the Episcopal student ministry. She didn’t know because she didn’t ask. She’d been a friend in high school but we’d grown apart. She assumed that the answer to my problem was Jesus, not knowing that I was already a Christian. She would have taught me more about Jesus if she had shown up and helped. “Letting Jesus into my heart” didn’t get the laundry done or the groceries bought. “Letting Jesus into my heart” didn’t help when my Mom needed more pain medicine or a Valium at four in the morning.

Houdini died from being punched in the stomach. He had a trick that he did where you could punch him in the stomach as hard as you wanted and he wouldn’t be hurt. The deal was that he had to prepare for it first. He had to know it was coming. The person who punched him the last time didn’t know about that and just hit him.

We are like this. We need time to prepare for heavy things. We can handle quite a bit if we have some warning and training. But when we get blindsided, we can get really hurt.

This experience didn’t kill me, but it did teach me a lot. It taught me about my own strength. It taught me that there were a lot of people I couldn’t depend on. It made me grow up fast, a little faster than I was ready for.

Sci-Fi Girls

There aren’t a lot of women in science fiction and fantasy books. When there are women they generally need to be rescued. They are passive. They are helpless. They are there to make the hero look necessary. They are there for the hero to show he is a hero.

Maybe this is why so few women read science fiction and fantasy. People like to see themselves in what they read. If you want to learn about someone’s character or his opinion of himself, ask him about his favorite book or movie. The main character in that book is who he identifies with. Either he thinks he is like that person, or he would like to be like that person.

For full disclosure, I really like “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Hobbit”. The main character in both finds her/him-self in a strange land with no idea how to navigate it. There are some accessory characters, but the main character is the one who finds the way through the land and solves the problem essentially alone. Make of that what you will.

It is hard to want to identify with a lot of women in science fiction and fantasy, which Neil Gaiman renames “speculative fiction”. For simplicity, I’m just going to shorten it to S/F. Like regular fiction, women generally don’t have strong roles. Just like in standard romance books, women are passive agents. They are there for a man to rescue them. In non S/F romances, women need a man to rescue them from being single. In S/F books, whether they are romances or not, women still need men to rescue them, but it is usually from some monster or alien terrain.

Perhaps the two are the same. Perhaps women are being taught that being single is scary, and on par with being attacked by monsters and having to forage food for yourself out on some planet with three suns and a strange idea of gravity.

When I started reading S/F, I got into it because of Madeline L’Engle’s “Wrinkle in Time” series and Anne McCaffrey’s “Pern” series. These books featured strong characters of both genders. Nobody needed to be rescued. The female and male characters were both quite competent and worked together to solve whatever adversity was presented to them. I’m not sure if these books shaped my views on gender equality, or if I sought them out because they agreed with my already-established views.

But look at the big S/F series. Star Wars. Dune. Harry Potter. There are very few female characters. They are sometimes competent, but they are overshadowed by the men.

I like reading Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” series a lot. There are an equal amount of strong characters. Nobody needs to be rescued. Granny Weatherwax is just as competent as Commander Sam Vimes, and just as respected. Both are very capable in their fields.

Perhaps this is why there are few women who go to S/F conventions and go into comic book stores. The numbers are changing, but when I first started going to conventions it wasn’t a safe place to be female. There were a lot of socially awkward guys. The stereotype of S/F geek guy has to come from somewhere. Sadly, it was true, a lot. They would wear all black. They would talk about themselves a lot. They would smell a little funky. They spent a lot of time identifying with a hero that rescued the girl.

They simply didn’t know what to do with a woman who didn’t need to be rescued.

On going to a spiritual director and not an ordained minister.

I’m always a little anxious before I go to see my spiritual director. I had to start seeing one when I was in the process to discern if I was being called to be a deacon in the Episcopal Church. That process was put on hold by the priest in charge when I came back from Cursillo a little more Pentecostal than she could handle. Then I wrote a blog post where I feel that Jesus meant for the Church to be a) not buildings but people and b) not ordained ministers, but everybody, and c) more social outreach than social club. That ticked her off a lot. So I no longer go to church, but I still go to my spiritual director. This was my choice. I get a lot from going.

There wasn’t any help on what to expect when I first went. It is kind of like going to a psychotherapist, but weirder. We talk about my relationship with God and Jesus by talking about my relationship with my husband and friends and job. I’m not sure where we are going sometimes, and I’m not sure I see the connection. But I am sure that every time I finish a session with her I want to come back the next day even though the next meeting is in a month. She manages to uncover things that I didn’t even know were hidden.

Having a spiritual director is weird coming from a faith community that has a hard time saying “I’ll pray for you.” I’m more comfortable hanging out with my Pentecostal friends than my Episcopal friends when I’m in the mood to talk about God’s interaction with my life.

This is a little weird. Supposedly I was part of a Christian church, but we would talk about God and Jesus in the abstract. We didn’t talk about God and Jesus right here, right now. They were characters in a book, not real presences in our lives. They were ideas and archetypes.

My spiritual director is part of this faith tradition, but she says things like “Invite Jesus into this situation” and “Jesus wants to be your closest friend.” She asks questions like “Where is Jesus in this moment?” This is some pretty foreign stuff. I feel like I’m doing it wrong. I feel like I should already know how to do this, how to answer these questions. I feel like I’ve been duped by priests all these years, who have kept all the good bits for themselves and left the scraps for me. I feel like I’m adult trying to learn how to ride a bicycle for the first time, when I should already know how.

I’m grateful for this time with her, and grateful to find someone who can help me. The goal in spiritual direction is “intimacy with Jesus”. This is a foreign concept to me. This isn’t something that I was ever taught in any church I’ve ever gone to. It sounds like a good idea though. It sounds like something I should already be familiar with. It sounds like the whole point of being a Christian – how can you obey God’s will if you don’t know it? How can you know it if you don’t hear it?

The funny part is that the closer I got to this idea of hearing from God, of intimacy with Jesus, the further I had to get from church. The more I talked to the priest about God talking to me, the more she thought I was crazy. The more I go to the spiritual director, the more she wants to hear about these stories and cheers me on. I’ve written about some of these stories in my “Strange but True” section.

Oh – I get it. The priests don’t want you to hear it for yourself. They want to tell you what God says. They want you to be dependent on them. They don’t want to teach you how to hear from God.

It is this kind of control that Jesus came to remove. Jesus isn’t about hoarding power. He is about giving it away. Jesus is a radical. Jesus is a revolutionary. Jesus showed us in the loaves and fishes story that God’s rules aren’t like our rules. There is so much more to how God does things than we can ever imagine. God wants us all to connect to that power and be multiplied. God wants us all to be stronger, more alive. Then God wants us to use that vitality to help others. It isn’t about paying off our mortgages sooner, as one of the “prosperity gospel” liars says. It is about using that strength and power to help people who don’t have homes at all.

To shave, or not to shave…

I waver back and forth on shaving my legs. I’ve been this way for years. For about two years while I was in college the only thing on my body I shaved was my head. I had an awesome Mohawk, and shaggy legs and pits. It was kind of the reverse of what I was supposed to be doing.

I’m interested in questioning and challenging the status quo. Why should women shave their legs? What is up with that? Women have no visible leg or armpit hair until they start puberty, then they start to shave it off. So for a woman to shave her legs and armpits is to reduce her appearance to that of a prepubescent girl. There is something deeply creepy about this.

Perhaps you haven’t thought about it like this. Perhaps this is just a little strange to consider. But work with me here. Adult women normally have hairy legs and armpits, just like adult men have beards. In American society, men are allowed the option of not shaving their faces. But women who don’t shave are seen as outcasts or as lesbians, which often translates to the same thing.

When I did start shaving my legs I only shaved up to my knees. I remember my Mom teaching me how to shave. She thought I needed to shave all of my legs, but I don’t usually show off that much skin anyway. Why would I shave some area that people don’t see? I don’t wear short shorts or skirts. So why bother shaving that far up?

I remember one time when I was in middle school and a girl passive-aggressively challenged me on this. She said “don’t you think it is strange for someone to only shave half of their legs?” I agreed it was strange, and kept on doing things my way. My legs, my choice. I can’t stand it when people ask questions that way anyway. Anybody who takes the tack of “don’t you think that…” doesn’t really care what you think.

When I was in college some guys were really turned off by my hairy legs. This was very helpful. It was a great filtering system. If you want a hairless woman, keep on moving. If you want a woman who thinks about things rather than following along with the crowd like a cow, then we have a chance.

One guy got past the hairy legs, but then wondered if I was hard core enough to leave the pits. I was. He was impressed. We didn’t date, but he respected my choice.

It is kind of like how I like black women who don’t straighten their hair. I encourage people to leave things natural. Why do we feel a need to modify ourselves, to change our appearance other than the way that God made us? What else do we do to make others happy that is an alteration of our nature?

My husband is OK with whatever I do. He understands that it is my body and my choice. He is happy if I have hairy legs or shaved legs – he doesn’t care either way. I’m happy with however he wants to shave or not. If I was a guy I’d not shave my face. I can’t imagine how tedious it is to shave your face every day. I get by with shaving once a week, and that is partly because I wear long skirts.

But the pits? The pits are the pits. No more can I handle not shaving my pits. Maybe it has something to do with the Indian food I eat. Maybe it has something to do with “The Change” because I’m peri-menopausal now. I don’t know. I stink when I don’t shave. It offends me. So I shave my pits.

Shaving is weird. I don’t know why we think we have to do it. Some cultures make not shaving a religious tenant. Our culture makes shaving mandatory – if you don’t, you are marked as weird. I say be who you want to be. If you want to shave, do so, but do it because you want to, not because somebody told you to do it.