Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Shepherd

Today hasn't been a good day. I wouldn't be lying if I said that it's probably been the hardest day I've had in months. It seems like all the stress is piling up and ganging up and attacking me at once, and I've been bottling up things that threaten to come to the surface and I don't know if they'd make me feel better or destroy me if I let them out. My boss called me worthless at work last Saturday even though I bust my ass and try to stock as much as I can, and last night he threatened twice to fire me because he said he knows someone is trying to get away with not stocking by saying things are "backstock" (what we call items that are already full on the shelves). I know this isn't true, but the morning people keep saying it's true about me (I don't know why they hate me so much) and you can say all you want "oh, if it's not true, he won't fire you" but Ive been fired before from a job when I was accused even though I didn't do anything wrong. I'm barely scraping by as it is. Losing this job would be devastating for me. Especially when I work so hard to do my job and do it well, and I'm so stressed out about everything else in my life that my job was the only thing that seemed to be going well. I don't need this stress on top of everything else.

So yeah. Bad day. And I'm so tired of trying to have hope in the midst of a sea of people who keep telling me to have hope like it's easy to do, or like it's not something I'm already trying with every fiber of my being, while I get sicker and sicker and still don't have insurance and still have so much debt and still see people losing hope all around me and giving up and dying, and I want to tell them to have hope, but I know how trite that sounds to me and I want to give them something real, so I try my best only to have people mock my words or tell me I'm a drama queen. I'm about to stab the next person who says something like that to me.

See? Now I'm threatening to stab people. I want so badly to be a good person. I want to be the kind of person I expect others to be. It's so much harder than it sounds, and I'm so tired of trying and failing. When the author Renee Alston wrote in her book "Stumbling Toward Faith" about her husband, her description of him touched my heart in so many ways that I read it over and over and over again to remind myself that there is good in the world, even when I can't see it for myself:

there was so much that was shattered and broken in me. i was distrustful and skeptical, and i pushed love away because i was terrified of it. the thought of being hurt kept me from taking risks, and kept my life protected and safe.

my husband came into my life with great gentleness. he never forced his way in. he never insisted that i give him anything that i couldn't give. he simply sat with me and waited with me and loved me.

i learned from him the wonder of being loved. he has stayed with me even when i have begged him to leave. he has respected me even when i have yelled at him and thrown things at him and refused to respect myself. he has held me when there were no words to be said, knowing that to say them would only trivialize my pain.

he walked with me through the process of intense therapy, of nights when i slept in the bathtub or the closet, too terrified to be with another person; too full of memories to be in my own bed. he has watched me sign "no suicide" contracts and visited me in mental hospitals. he has nurtured the small wounded parts of me and always believed i would make it.

i have held on to his hope for me when i have had none for myself. i have held on to his love for me when i have felt unloved and afraid. through him i have learned that there are places in me that love can reach. through him i have been willing to begin to be loved. through him i have learned the worth of letting people in. because of him i began to open up to others again, to be brave.

he has been the beginning of my ability to believe.

That description tugs at my soul. It reminds me of what I'm trying to be for other people, and for myself, a friend...someone who is there for people and tries to give them hope; and I keep trying to remind myself that even if it seems like it doesn't matter, it does matter. So many people gave up on me. I want to be the kind of person who will not give up on someone else. I honestly don't feel strong enough, like I don't have one thousandth of the resolve I need, and the light I try to shine looks so small in the face of the darkness. I try to remember that it's important that I'm shining a light at all, but it's hard to remember that when all I can think about is what a horrible job I'm doing and how messed up my life is (and how bad my grammar is when I keep putting prepositions at the end of my sentences).

Have you guys ever seen Pulp Fiction? There's this part I keep thinking about, where Samuel L. Jackson's character says this:

There's a passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you. I been sayin' that shit for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ass. I never really questioned what it meant. I thought it was just a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before you popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin' made me think twice. Now I'm thinkin': it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. 9mm here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could be you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd.

Maybe that's it. I'm the tyranny of evil men, but I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd. It doesn't seem like enough, but it's going to have to be, because it's all I've got right now.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

We are All Fags Now

Nifty title, huh? I think I have the evidence to back it up though, so please keep reading. Most of the time I rant about movies in this space (or books, from time to time) and I'm going to talk about a movie later, but first, I wanted to say a word about everyone's favorite pop culture icon, Fred Phelps. 'Who the fuck is that?' you might ask. Well, Fred Phelps is the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, that infamous little slice of fundamentalist frenzy that sends its members to picket at the funerals of famous gay people. Yes, I said “picket.” The church members carry signs that say “God hates fags” and “AIDS cures fags” and other fun things. Now as horrible as it might be to imagine picketing a funeral, a time of mourning, and pouring more grief on top of people that are already grieving, a lot of people (especially people in my small little backwoods community) wouldn't think this has much affect on them. After all, those people are many states away from us, so we don't have to see them, and we all know the bible does say something about gays being evil or something like that, so these crazy church people are only practicing their religion. It's not a big deal.

I'm not just being sarcastic, either. To be honest with you, as much as I wanted to vomit at the thought of someone picketing at a FUNERAL, I didn't think Fred Phelps and his creepy little church had much to do with my life, either. That was before Matt Webber. 'Who the hell is that?' you ask, 'Why the fuck do you keep throwing random names out there? We have no idea what you're talking about.' Well, let me tell you who he was. Matthew Alan Webber was a local soldier who fought in Iraq and died on April 27, 2006. I didn't know him beyond saying “hi” a few times, but in a town as small as this one, whenever local soldiers are overseas fighting, we see their names a lot. Local churches publish their names on bulletin boards and organize prayer chains, and when local soldiers die, everyone hears about it. When Matt died, people would come into work crying, because we all knew someone else who was still overseas fighting, and we all mourned for those who died. As much as it sucks living in a small town sometimes, this is one of the good things. Tragedies can connect us.

Something strange happened around the time Matt died, though. Remember Fred Phelps? Well, his church has decided that since God hates fags so much, that means God hates any country where a lot of fags live, so God hates America too (but...but...that doesn't make sense-hush, you and your logic, just try to follow this train of thought as it derails). So since God hates America (as we've established, because we're all a bunch of “fag enablers”) that means God hates anyone who fights for this country, so God hated the soldiers fighting for the USA, so God killed them, and people mourning the soldiers are mocking God, so they need to be told the “truth” and Fred Phelps and his church need to spread the gospel to those at these funerals. Again, kind of insane, but what does it have to do with us? Well, you guessed it, Fred Phelps showed up at Matt Webber's funeral to picket and protest and hand out “gospel” literature. We got warning about this a week or so in advance, and everyone at work was abuzz with the news, everyone wondering what kind of person would picket a funeral. When they found out that I knew who Fred Phelps was, they asked me about him, and I got to have several variations on the following conversation:

Them: Who is Fred Phelps?

Me: He's a pastor of a church that pickets at the funerals of gay people-

Them: Matt wasn't a faggot!

Me: Yeah, but since Matt Died protecting the U.S., and the U.S. has laws protecting the rights of gay people, Fred Phelps says God hates America, too

Them:..That's stupid.

Me: Yeah.

I have to hand it to people. As full as this city is of small-town rednecks, when Fred Phelps came here, no one took a shot at him. No one even threw a rock at him. The Mecosta County sheriff John Sontag (who knew Matt growing up, since he was Matt's rocket football coach) even said he'd have officers stationed around the high school during the funeral to protect the Westboro Baptist church protesters, saying: “We will protect these people, because that’s what Matt died for. He died so these scumbags can protest.” I personally think that's a laudable attitude, especially since I would have gone apeshit and at least thrown rocks at the protesters if I'd been at the funeral (this is why none of my friends would give me a ride to the funeral; they knew I'd go off on someone). I know, the protesters just want attention, I'd be giving it to them, it would be wrong to assault them, blah blah blah. I would probably have done it anyway. All my logic would have gone out the window the second I saw Matt's mother crying while people were standing across the street holding signs saying that God hates Matt. But no one from my area did that, and I admire their restraint. Score one for the rednecks.

The thing that stood out to me the most about this event was the conversations I got to have with people because of Fred Phelps' visit. Like I said, most people in this area have some idea that the bible says it's a sin to be gay, so on that basis, they can understand some church wanting to go off and preach at people about it, but that stance changes the second you start talking about protesting SOLDIERS. The grand majority of citizens in this area are military families, and we all know someone fighting overseas, so when the issue hits us closer to home, it's harder to be objective. I know people say it's a good idea to always be objective in debates and such, but I don't always agree. I don't think people really understand how hate poisons everyone it touches until they are confronted with it affecting someone they love. The people I talked with were shocked that someone would protest Matt's funeral just because he fought in a war representing a country that had laws protecting the rights of gay people. That's kind of what hate does, though. You start hating something, then you slowly begin to hate everything associated with it, and it spreads. I'm not a fan of arguing for a “slippery slope,” but this sure is the track that hatred seems to take when it infects people. For me, if anything good came out of Fred Phelps' visit at all, it was this: I got to talk to people, and they'd say “I can't believe he's protesting at Matt's funeral, that's so horrible,” and I'd say “He's done this to hundreds of funerals of gay people, too,” and they'd pause for a minute, then they'd say “That's horrible, too.” Yeah, it is. But I'm glad we all could learn something from it. Sometimes, when people are confronted with evil, they shrink away. Sometimes, they take the experience in, and they grow from it. I think the people in my town chose the latter path.

I recently watched the documentary “Fall From Grace,” about Fred Phelps and his church and how it got its start and how its teachings have spread, and it's pretty harrowing to watch. I didn't feel qualified to write a review of the movie, because I'd have a hard time being objective (there's that word again) but I thought I'd at least devote a post to the issue, because it's important to me. Watching the documentary gave me an inside seat to how hate spread throughout Phelps and his family and how it spread through their teachings and how it's grown stronger until it became what it is today; a monster that's so strong it even has his family protesting at the funeral of Heath Ledger, because he's an actor who portrayed a gay character. I guess no one is immune from the wrath of this God, because in Phelps' world, we are all fags now (well, at least we all have something in common, then). That level of hate must be difficult to maintain. I would do well to be sympathetic if not to Phelps himself then at least to the idea that it's not a good idea to hate so strongly that it ruins your entire life. So here's to taking baby steps toward not hating people. Here's to all the people whose funerals have been disgraced by Phelps' presence, and here's to Matt Webber, who even in death had a battle to fight against ignorance, and whose funeral helped a lot of people learn something. Even me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

days of inspiration

"To days of inspiration, playing hooky, making something out of nothing, the need to express, to communicate. To going against the grain, going insane, going mad..."

I had to come here and tell you that even though I have a migraine and I haven't slept in two days and I have to work tonight, today was a day of inspiration for me, and I'm so geeked I need to write about it. What was so inspiring, you might ask (you'll be sorry for asking, trust me). Let me tell you anyway, though. When I was in theater class in college ("OMG, shut up about that," cried Lillian's friend list) my professor gave us a quiz one day that was a sheet full of word puzzles for us to figure out, and one of the answers was "Theatre is fun!" and I wrote a little note under that when I turned mine in saying "No it isn't," and when she returned my graded quiz, she'd written "Yes it is [angry face]" under that. Luckily, she never marked me down for my snotty remarks or bad attitude. The truth is, I wasn't comfortable in my own skin back then, though I'd never have had words to say it (or the balls to admit it even if I'd had the words), so theatre class was an exercise in awkwardness and irritation for me every week, with plenty of opportunities for me to embarrass myself and totally not understand why I was even embarrassed in the first place. The worst part is, so much theatre is devoted to the subject of not being comfortable in your own skin, and I would have had a great opportunity to learn from that and grow if I hadn't been too busy being pissed off all the time to notice. Sorry for bringing this subject up so often in my journal, but it's something I think about a lot (I could write a book on the subject...the title "Adventures in Missing the Point" comes to mind, but that one's already taken).

Anyway, now that I've grown old and decrepit wiserha!, I've come to appreciate theatre with a grand, burning passion, and all my readers are paying for that now. So I finally got off my lazy ass and watched the Here! TV production of the 1910 drama "Awakening of Spring" (more about it here and here) because people told me I needed to watch it, and OMG they were so right, and OMG, it was a theatre geek's wet dream, guys. I kept pausing the movie to take notes and write down quotes from the movie (you're only allowed to pause a movie "On Demand" so many times before it shuts off automatically, and this one shut off on me twice because I paused it so much to document my viewing) and I want to share some quotes for you here. Believe me, though the movie has a reputation for containing more than the RDA of "gay," this is far more than just a "gay movie." It's first and foremost an annoying movie for a lot of people...there are virtually no sets, just actors reciting lines standing against a white or blue background, so the star is the dialogue and the performances, because there's nothing to distract from that, and that can be annoying for the non-theatre geeks, but if you can get past that (or don't mind it in the first place) this movie has a TON to say about the culture of repression and what harm a repressive attitude about sex can have on children (and adults, for that matter). Just read these quotes. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. They were genius for me. Exactly what I needed to hear today.

"What good's an encyclopedia that doesn't answer the most important question in the world?" Damn, I want to know the same thing. This was spoken by a young boy who talked about reading the entire encyclopedia without finding any information about sex, which is what he really wanted to read about. That's a frustrating thing, let me tell you.

"The obsessive way everyone fastens on it you'd think the entire world revolves around the penis and the vagina." Preach it, brother.

"There's something to be ashamed of in having been human without getting to know the most human thing of all." This is so sad. I used to think this, too, back when I thought I was going to die a virgin. But it applies to a lot more than sex (which all of these quotes do, come to think about it).

"I don't know what I've lost..." "Then looking for it won't help." This may be my favorite bit of dialogue in the whole play. The angst-ridden boy talking to the high-spirited girl, and he expresses his frustration and she answers in her matter-of-fact way, speaking one of the greatest truths in the world. Pure genius.

"They needed a scapegoat! They couldn't let accusations to fall on their own heads, so now my child has the misfortune of running afoul of these fogies and I am supposed to finish the work of the hangmen. Heaven forbid." I love this mom (until she becomes a turncoat, but surrounded by such a narrow mindset, it's hard to blame her).

"What can I say to you with an attitude like that? You let yourself be deceived by words." So do I, in more ways than one.

"When we think back in 30 years, to an evening like this, maybe it will seem indescribably beautiful." Ah, young love.

"I wouldn't have known contentment if I hadn't met you." Now this might be young love, but it's one of the most profound statements I've heard about love in general. One of the greatest things about being in love was that it taught me to be content, to be comfortable in my own skin. Of course, you all know that didn't last, but it's what allows me to still look back on those times with a smile today...for once I knew why those damn biblical writers were always going on so much about contentment. It puts you at ease in a way nothing else can, and there's something about knowing that you are valued and cherished that helps you value and maybe even cherish yourself because it helps you see yourself as worthy. Would that I could hold onto that feeling. Perhaps in time, at the end of all my exploring, but at least now I know what I'm looking for, when I didn't before.

"When we look back in 30 years, maybe we'll just make a joke of it, but it's all so beautiful now." Again, young love. But it's pretty profound, when you think about it. We look back and scoff at our young love (as well we should, because it's often immature and flighty and just plain ill-conceived, but at the time, it was beautiful to us, and that feeling is so easily lost in the passage of time when we forget what we ever saw in the object of our affections. It might do us well to remember, even when the feeling itself is gone.

"What keeps me going? I don't even have the strength left to put an end to it. No one ever walked among graves so full of envy." DAMN. Do I EVER relate to this fucking line. I love how he asks this, and I love how he finds the answer eventually at the end (um, not to give away the end, but trust me, I didn't give away much). I know this feeling often, and I keep coming back to the same answers that keep me going, but sometimes it's nice to know I'm not the only one who has felt these feelings (and again another reason why I should have pulled my head out of my ass and discovered this play when I was in college).

"The only sin is ignorance...the only evil is ignorance!" This is so true it hurts.

"We watch the young mistake their timidity for idealism, and the old die of broken hearts before they'll surrender their false superiority." WOW.

"Let's not be's all so beautiful now." THIS is what I need. Not worrying about tomorrow, or the next day, or even the next minute, but being able to appreciate the beauty in the NOW, even if I know it will pass.

"In years to come, things may go well or badly for me. I may be a different man ten times over, but whatever happens to me, I shall never forget you. I may be an old man with gray hair, but you may still be closer to me than all the women." This reminds me of the words spoken by David (in the bible) about his love for Jonathan:

2 Samuel 1: 26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.

Most pastors rush to point out that THIS WASN'T GAY THEY WERE JUST FRIENDS GUYS but I don't really care about that. What strikes me is that he was declaring that among all the love he'd ever felt, this love was more wonderful. I know a few people I could say this about, and I've never had OMG SEX with any of them, so I think I know what he was talking about. In point of fact, I think there's a lot of GAY to be found in this passage, but I don't think it's about the gender, it's about the love, and that's what I keep coming back to with this passage because I don't want to let myself miss the point.

So yeah. This play was written almost a hundred years ago (OMG OLDER THAN ME) and it still resonates like it was written yesterday. THAT is good writing, folks. THAT is inspiring. THAT gives me hope. And for that, I'm thankful.