Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Grey Stripes

I am house sitting for some folks right now: one Victorian home, five chickens, and six cats. Yes, six. Diesel, Pepper, Annie, Gracie, Jackson, and Grey Stripes.

I want to tell you about these cats. You see, these cats and I, we have much in common. Take some allergy medicine if you must, swallow your aversion to felines, and press on; they are worth getting to know.

Let’s start with Diesel. Diesel is big; not fat, but big. Kind of like me. We are different in that he (is a he) begs for attention and is rather passive-aggressive. He likes to move from sitting innocently to pouncing on/attacking his sister—Pepper—back to sitting innocently.

Pepper is a sweetheart. She braves human touch, particularly if it is gentle: she reclines on my arm as I read and write. She is untrusting of other cats, especially her brother. (I don’t blame her!) And that’s where we’re most similar. I distrust other humans—cats aren’t bad, though. Hell, I’ll even let them touch me.

There’s Annie Oatly. And we have much in common outside of our name. She is serious, stoic even, quiet, finds touch to be thoroughly unnecessary, and is often out of sight. Despite her low likelihood of initiating touch, she can and does . . . occasionally.

Gracie, well, Gracie is my furry partner in crime. Looks, that is. We have simultaneously curly, matted, and dreadlocked hair. Fur. Whatever. Yet somehow it is soft. Perhaps it would be healthy for me to find it embarrassing that she cleans herself more often than I. Oh well.

Jackson. Oh Jackson. A long-haired, skittish feline. He craves human contact, but, like me, is awkward in initiating it and flinches away as he is easily frightened. Poor guy. At least he finds comfort in food and the outdoors.

And finally, my real reason for asking you to suffer my feline friends: Grey Stripes. I understand that you may be “catted-out,” but please, press on a little, she needs your love and patience, and gentle attention. Softly now, let us visit her:

Grey Stripes is special needs, I guess one might say. Her owners affectionately call her their bipolar-schizophrenic cat.

She writhes with anxiety, so she takes anti-anxiety drops in her food. Like me. Except mine are “as needed,” not preventative; they are for once I’m writhing. She twists and walks crooked, pigeon toed, almost as though she is drunk. And she shakes. Just like me. She has wild eyes. She goes from purring to hissing on a dime. Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, she is mostly still. I guess we would call that “stable.”

Somehow, she reminds me of myself: my internal symptoms are externalized and made manifest in this poor, tortured animal.

The other cats leave her alone. And she is scared of them. Is she like me, with sign I’m blind to on her forehead, a glowing neon fuck-off sign?

Grey Stripes lives alone. It sounds cruel, but I promise, it isn’t: she has a hutch tall enough for me to stand in, long enough to stretch out in (and then some), with a play structure, a shaded, carpeted bed, wet and dry food, water, two litter boxes . . . on nice days, she sometimes even gets to come out—she lays in the greenery just beyond the wooden doors. There is nothing inhumane about her treatment. She lives in peace.

Her hutch is like my ritual of medicating, attending therapy, and seeing a psychiatrist. It can seem cruel, even to me, but it is for good. The difference? I don’t get out. To leave the structure is to risk injury to everyone.

Grey Stripes and I have perhaps too much in common. She fears other cats; I fear other humans. We shake. We are anxious. She moves almost drunkenly and trips often; my mind moves similarly: trying to step, twisting, stumbling, tripping.

One can see the “crazy” in her wild eyes. I can only pray the world doesn’t see through mine.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Understanding and Acknowledging Omniwhateverness

“I don’t know what it means to say that Christ “died for my sins” (who wants that? who invented that perverse calculus?), but I do understand—or intuit, rather—the notion of God not above or beyond or immune to human suffering, but in the very midst of it, intimately with us in our sorrow, our sense of abandonment, our hellish astonishment at finding ourselves utterly alone, utterly helpless.” Christian Wiman My Bright Abyss

I’m not sure what Wiman  means. (Although I’m afraid I might agree if I did.) It does not help that he used the word “calculus.” What I do understand—“the notion of God not above or beyond or immune to human suffering”—I do not find to be very original. Perhaps that is not his goal.

I share this quote in full to give a little context to the last segment: “God . . . in the very midst of it, intimately with us in . . . our sense of abandonment, our hellish astonishment at finding ourselves utterly alone, utterly helpless.” God with us.

Is he serious? When we are “utterly alone?” Abandoned? “Utterly helpless?” By and because of God herself? At least Wiman calls it a notion, not a fact. Because I don’t sense/feel/understand/ fill-in-the-blank it.

God, he says, simultaneously allows us to feel searing loneliness while . . . standing by our side? No, no, not simply standing, but being “intimately with us.” It’s lovely. How it is written. I actually wrote it down for that reason: it is lovely. But it whispers of the idea that if only I would turn, God will be there. It’s my fault. God never walked out. He is omnipresent.

Right. Which is not a strong enough word. My actual response? Fuck that. But I’m trying not to swear so much.

So present that she can hide herself and be present? (!) It doesn’t make sense. (And, you say, God doesn’t have to make sense.) (So I say, shut up.)

“Our hellish astonishment.”

Yes. That it is. A God who is said to be omni-whatever suddenly or gradually gone, leaving us “utterly alone, utterly helpless,” and in the most torturous way.

Sure, I understand it as a “notion.” But not as a reality.

Perhaps, though, perhaps I am being unfair. The godliness that I believe in most is that which shines (or glowers, or peeks, or . . .) out of another being’s eyes, words (written or spoken), and heart, by virtue of listening, of hearing. If I believe in and observe these, even amidst the most godforsaken, lonely, abandoned, helpless times of my life, then I believe in and observe God despite it all. And when I say “thank you,” or even feel a smidgen of gratitude, I acknowledge God’s existence in my otherwise abandoned state.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Unfinished Epistles and Prayer

“I have never felt comfortable praying. I almost feel I should put the word in quotes, as I’m never quite sure that what I do deserves the name. I have a litany of stations through which I move—thank you, help me, be with, forgive—but mostly I simply (simply!) try to subject myself to the possibility of God. I address God as if.” Christian Wiman My Bright Abyss

These are the words I have felt but have been unable to put to sense: “I address God as if.”

To “address God as if” is to acknowledge the possibility of God and to then step forward in [an attempt at] conversation. To address someone is to honor their humanity, their personhood, their existence.


There is absolutely nothing simple or facile about calling someone into existence. It is brave. It is terrifying. It provokes the possibility of a response, of a reaction, of a relationship. And the strongly introverted would rather coexist in a sacred silence.

And so, like Wiman, I feel I should put the word in quotes when I use it, for I’m not sure either that what I do qualifies as prayer.

I write. I write God letters. Little ones. “Dear Lord, Please . . .” “Dear Lord, Fuck you . . .” “Dear Lord, Thanks . . .” Except I don’t sign them or even “amen” them. They end with a period or set of ellipses as would an unfinished epistle. And they stay rather put.

These missives never roll off my tongue or roll through my mind into a cognitively constructed parlance. Rather they roll out of the ballpoint pen, stain the paper, and are shut into the suffocating stillness between pages.

Ask me, then, do you pray?
Well. Not quite.
But rather, “I address God as if.