Thursday, June 30, 2011

Healing the Inside by Healing the Outside

My father's mother was raised in an extremely religious family. Her father, a minister in a Pentecostal church that I would best describe as Holy Roller, believed in demonic possession. Sadly, my Grandmother was stricken with a variety of physical maladies that left her constantly ill and often bedridden. Following the teachings of her upbringing, his mother dragged my father to one church after another, all in the hopes that someone could cure her. Taking the miracles of Jesus as literally true, she was certain that someone out there possessed the ability. This belief was so strong that she sometimes gave money to televangelists who promised to do the very same thing.

I've never known quite what to make of these frequent anecdotes about Jesus' healing powers. Though I do not believe in an interpretation of Christianity that, to me, seems excessive and illogical, there would have been times in my own life that I would have wanted someone to cast out the demons inside of me, too. Living in the Twenty-First Century, I know too much about medical science and body processes to put much stock in the idea that evil forces are occupying my body. Reading the scriptural passages describing physical illness now, I usually translate them into modern day terminology. Mental illness seems to have plagued several who desperately reached out for Jesus' healing touch. Seizures were the scourge of another. No effective treatment for leprosy existed back then. The list goes on and on.

It seems that the followers of Jesus were often among those who had been healed by this charismatic young religious leader. It is interesting to note that the author of the Gospel account I will cite below, Luke, was himself a physician. Perhaps this is why he notes the details of Jesus' ministry in such precise detail and is careful to always specify ailment and symptom.

Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, as well as some women who had been healed of evil spirits and illnesses: Mary, also called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out; Joanna, the wife of Herod's household manager Chuza; Susanna; and many others. These women continued to support them out of their personal resources.

In a very Patriarchal text like the Bible, it is rare that names of women are mentioned in this fashion, or at all, really. Christian Feminists like myself are given a tantalizing view at an aspect of the life of Jesus that is almost completely ignored by those who wrote the original texts. Who were these other women? What about the message advanced by this radical rabbi did they find so compelling? This passage lifts the veil just long enough for us to see some of what lies beneath, before slamming shut. The final verse is especially revealing. The ministry of Jesus and his twelve disciples owes its success, at least in part, to the financial support and also time commitment of women. Their income must have been a fraction of what it was for most men and yet they gave of it unselfishly.

Jesus raised women from degradation and servitude to fellowship and service. The interpretations vary, but many of these women were drawn from parts of society perceived as low class and shameful. Depending on the scholarly interpretation, some of these women may have been sex workers. Some of them may have been shamed and ostracized from society for a variety of different reasons. Yet, this wasn't always the case. Joanna was the wife of King Herod Antipas' household manager, making her a person of great authority, and also great wealth. For whatever reason, having women present and actively involved was problematic enough. In Jewish culture of the time, women, for whatever reason, were not supposed to learn from rabbis. But by allowing these women to travel with him, Jesus was showing that all people are equal under God.

Returning to how I began this post, to view things through modern eyes, we may need to interpret these miracles in a different perspective. In my own life, leaders to whom I am drawn possess specific attractive qualities. At times in my life, I have given them my fullest measure of devotion and loyalty. The best leaders of people radiate a kind of superhuman power and strength that is intensely appealing. Within Quaker gatherings, should someone else vocally summarize the whole of one's perspective and belief, he or she often rises to speak, saying, "Friend speaks my mind." Empowering others, giving all a voice at the table, and making everyone feel appreciated and acknowledged could well resemble a miracle, especially in a time when it was exceedingly rare and violated every rule and custom in the book.

Those who reached out for Jesus' healing touch were women as much as men. He could have restricted the reach of his powers only to men. But he did not. In instance after instance, he speaks directly to women on equal footing. Violating Jewish custom, he speaks to a Samaritan woman with a bad reputation. In addition to being a member of what was seen as a half-breed race, men would have had every legal right to ignore approaching her altogether. Reflecting this, her first question to Jesus is, "Why are you even talking to me?" The attitudes of his disciples are, having being told of this interaction, "Why were you talking to her?"

Another woman whose constant bleeding made her ceremonial unclean, according to Jewish law, grabbed hold of Jesus' clothing, hoping to be healed. Through her faith, her disease was removed, though Jesus could have made a great show of how disgusted he was by her act of belief. To protect himself from defilement, he would have been entirely justified in not touching, speaking to, or even looking at women. But he made a very visible point in letting the crowd know that his interpretation of the law could not be more different. To him, women were human beings who deserved recognition and respect. He made this plainly visible while in the middle of a group of hundreds.

I think God looks at each of us the same way. His love is boundless and eternal. While we might draw distinctions between one group or another, I believe we are called to resist these urges and impulses. What many forget is that religion is predicated on the idealistic ideal that we will be brought together as one people. The Kingdom of God is within each of us. In every activist, regardless of cause, the perfect solution is sought. No one seeks to change the world for the better intending to fail. And as we do so, we seek to be healed from our own limitations as we expect the same outcome in others. The cynics and the pessimists among us are only disappointed and discouraged optimists. It is only through honest belief that we are not hamstrung by our shortcomings. In time, should we have faith, we will conquer our problems.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In My Absence...

Because I will be busy today with other things, I would like to submit one of my favorite poems instead. I first read it in a freshman level literature survey class.

The Blackstone Rangers

By Gwendolyn Brooks


There they are.
Thirty at the corner.
Black, raw, ready.
Sores in the city
that do not want to heal.


Jeff. Gene. Geronimo. And Bop.
They cancel, cure and curry.
Hardly the dupes of the downtown thing
the cold bonbon,
the rhinestone thing. And hardly
in a hurry.
Hardly Belafonte, King,
Black Jesus, Stokely, Malcolm X or Rap.
Bungled trophies.
Their country is a Nation on no map.

Jeff, Gene, Geronimo and Bop
in the passionate noon,
in bewitching night
are the detailed men, the copious men.
They curry, cure,
they cancel, cancelled images whose Concerts
are not divine, vivacious; the different tins
are intense last entries; pagan argument;
translations of the night.

The Blackstone bitter bureaus
(bureaucracy is footloose) edit, fuse
unfashionable damnations and descent;
and exulting, monstrous hand on monstrous hand,
construct, strangely, a monstrous pearl or grace.


A Rangerette

Gang Girls are sweet exotics.
Mary Ann
uses the nutrients of her orient,
but sometimes sighs for Cities of blue and jewel
beyond her Ranger rim of Cottage Grove.
(Bowery Boys, Disciples, Whip-Birds will
dissolve no margins, stop no savory sanctities.)

Mary is
a rose in a whiskey glass.

Februaries shudder and are gone. Aprils
fret frankly, lilac hurries on.
Summer is a hard irregular ridge.
October looks away.
And that’s the Year!
Save for her bugle-love.
Save for the bleat of not-obese devotion.
Save for Somebody Terribly Dying, under
the philanthropy of robins. Save for her Ranger
an amount of rainbow in a string-drawn bag.
“Where did you get the diamond?” Do not ask:
but swallow, straight, the spirals of his flask
and assist him at your zipper; pet his lips
and help him clutch you.

Love’s another departure.
Will there be any arrivals, confirmations?
Will there be gleaning?

Mary, the Shakedancer’s child
from the rooming-flat, pants carefully, peers at
her laboring lover ....
Mary! Mary Ann!
Settle for sandwiches! settle for stocking caps!
for sudden blood, aborted carnival,
the props and niceties of non-loneliness—
the rhymes of Leaning.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Reflecting on Gender Parity in Sports

While watching the Women’s World Cup in soccer today, I decided yet again to raise a familiar question. Why don’t people follow women’s sports like men’s sports? Before I even started thinking about formulating something of an answer, I decided I would not make arguments that cast the distinction in strictly biological terms. I think they exist, but I don’t think they’re nearly as integral to the issue as we might think. Our visceral reaction to the action going on before us may provide information that is far more helpful.

Women’s sports tend to emphasize teamwork and basic fundamentals. Men’s sports are usually focused on skill players and a deliberately flashier style of play. The eye of the bystander has been trained to expect and follow dramatic action. Whether it is a star receiver who never drops a catch or a baseball pitcher with a 100 mph fastball, sports fans expect to be wowed, thrilled, and entertained. Superstars are supposed to stand out from the rest of the pack and win either our adoration or our derision. Greater attention on the playing field means more money and increased fame. So, because of all this, there’s a great incentive present to be in the public eye and stay there.

With women athletes, the stakes are not quite so high. With no financial advantage in the form of multi-million dollar salaries, coveted awards, or even appearances in film and television, women athletes see no compelling need to showboat. However, this means women’s sports are often perceived as much less visually exciting by an audience accustomed to men’s sports. Men’s sports have been marketed for decades to appeal to the widest possible audience. The rules are routinely tweaked to increase, maintain, and grow audience interest. In a massive understatement, men’s sports are a very lucrative business.

Advertising techniques have also been actively introduced to sell the game. I should state here that I’m not suggesting female athletes should consider resorting to the same tactics. If I were wise enough to propose a solution, I’d try to find a way that preserves a unique female standard of play and ethos while making a few reforms here and there to be more in line with their male counterparts.

Above all, the commercialization of men’s sports is one reason why women’s sports do not enjoy the same popularity. Reversing the lengthy trend of commercialism in any area is extremely difficult, if not impossible. In the beginning, men’s sports focused more on teamwork and less on individual grandstanding. Early styles of football focused on the ground game and the brute strength needed to cross the goal line. The forward pass was an invention not embraced fully until the Twenties. The shape of the ball was modified from the large, oval, rugby shape designed for quick sideways pitches to one more favorable to forward throwing.

Passing the ball is more exciting to the viewing audience than running the ball. The same paradigm shift was also true with baseball. The early days of the game were those of hard-hit singles and doubles, which necessitated a strong infield and cooperation between players. When players like Babe Ruth started hitting home runs instead, the audience was thrilled by the change, and the entire strategy of the game quickly became very different.

In men’s soccer, particularly at its most competitive levels, players often fake injuries to draw penalties. This is less prevalent in women’s soccer and may simply be an aspect of hyper-competitiveness. Wealth is a powerful incentive. Men draw much larger salaries and can compete for longer in their lives. The pay for women’s sports is much lower and as a result, women can’t afford to subsist on it. Women’s players tend to be much younger and have much shorter careers. In men’s sports, it’s possible to follow the progress of a favorite player for years. This is not always the case with women’s sports.

Ultimately, to greater parity, fans will have to change a little and the game will need to be modified, too. There may be no way to preserve the purity that exists when big money does not infiltrate sports. To obtain gender equality within sports, one might have to make a Faustian bargain or two. Instead of asking Why can’t women’s sports be more like men’s sports, I might pose something else entirely. Why would you want them to be?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Health Update: Typical Summertime Depression Edition

I recognize that a couple weeks back some readers and writing cohorts were concerned about my mental health. Back then, gratefully, nothing was present, though I do always appreciate sympathy and care. Now, things have changed, though this is not worrisome news as much as frustrating news. A mild period of depression has begun for me. The stress of my life is unlikely to have been the catalyst. This sort of thing is very typical for this time of year and one of the reasons I am no fan of summer. The past four summers in a row I've had some degree of this. The good news is that this regularly scheduled depressed episode almost never gets any worse than a mild stage.

People who have bipolar often go through seasonal cycles. For example, I am more inclined to mania in the wintertime and more inclined to depression in the summertime. As is true with so many brain disorders, modern medicine doesn't yet understand why. What I'm feeling at the moment is not horrendous, but relatively mild. However, it is potent enough that I am often in pain. Fortunately, this pain is not constant. As is true in the beginning stages, depression comes and goes intermittently. It's not constant, as is true with more intense depression. For that, in particular, I am very thankful. I haven't always been able to say that.

In response to this new development, I have done all that I can do. I contributed bloodwork on Friday, which is the only way that Lithium levels can be detected. Today, my psychiatrist will call me with the results, or I'll call him. Likely my levels are simply far too low and the dosage needs to be raised. Lithium can be a tricky drug to regulate because it is a salt, and sweating can deplete its concentration in the body. It's been warmer outside and when I've gone to the gym, I've understandably sweated more than earlier in the year. Not only that, my daily dosage, even at the best of times, is massive. My body metabolizes Lithium at a uncommonly large rate, so allowances must be made for this before a new, increased dosage is proposed.

Lithium also has a very narrow therapeutic window regarding concentration in the bloodstream. A dose strong enough to be effective but not so extreme that it becomes toxic to the body lies somewhere between 0.6 and 1.2. Predictably, what constitutes an effective dose differs wildly from person to person. An old hand at this, I increased what I take on my own over the weekend and found that I fortunately didn't get toxic as a result. This would imply that my levels are simply far too low. Increased Lithium dosage does require a somewhat uncomfortable period of adjustment, but toxicity produces nausea, weakness, blurred vision, and vomiting. It's happened to me a few times, and I usually get moderate dry heaves and fatigue when I have crossed that threshold.

The only real way to decease one's Lithium level in that instance is to drink lots of water. Lithium, unlike any other drug used to treat bipolar disorder, is, as I noted above, a salt. As a result, it is primarily processed out of the body through the kidneys, not the metabolic system. Ideally, I ought to drink 2.5 to 3 liters of water a day to properly regulate levels but I'm not going to do it for the next several days. I'm trying to get my concentration up as much as possible, so that I won't expel what I need. You can be sure, however, that the instant I find myself growing even a little toxic, I'll begin drinking as much water as I can.

What I have written about today falls under the category of "Life with a Chronic Illness." I'm sure many others, maybe even other regular readers will find something that parallels their own life experiences. But in any case, my motivation and energy are lower than normal now. Ordinarily, I'd be hard at work on a new post right now, and I just can't manage to do it today. If previous summertime depressions are any indication, this won't persist more than a week or two. It will take several days to reach a sustained state of Lithium, which is why it'll take several days. I can boost my mood temporarily with increased Lithium, but it takes days for that elevated level to be present in my system all the time.

What I can do, I will do, and what I can't, I won't. I've been extremely productive the past several months, and for that I am thankful. Since the pain is more prevalent at different instances during the day, there will be times I can write, play music, or create. But then there will be times where I need to rest and step away from the computer. Again, this is a temporary period of illness. Maybe I've needed some extended R&R for a while anyway. I just thought you'd all like to know.

Candy Says

Candy says, I've come to hate my body
And all that it requires in this world

Candy says, I'd like to know completely
What others so discreetly talk about

I'm gonna watch the blue birds fly
over my shoulder
I'm gonna watch 'em pass me by
maybe when I'm older

What do you think I'd see
if I could walk away from me?

Candy says, I hate the quiet places
That cause the smallest taste of what will be

Candy says, I hate the big decisions
That cause endless revisions in my mind

I'm gonna watch the blue birds fly
over my shoulder
I'm gonna watch 'em pass me by
maybe when I'm older

What do you think I'd see
if I could walk away from me?

Doo doo wah
Doo, doo doo wah
Doo, doo doo wah
Doo, doo doo wah
Doo, doo doo wah

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Quote of the Week

"Consider the daffodil. And while you're doing that, I'll be over here, looking through your stuff."- Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Video

Manic depression is touching my soul
I know what I want but I just don't know
How to, go about gettin' it

Feeling sweet feeling,
Drops from my fingers, fingers
Manic depression is catchin' my soul

Woman so weary, the sweet cause in vain
You make love, you break love
It's all the same

When it's, when it's over, mama
Music, sweet music
I wish I could caress, caress, caress
Manic depression is a frustrating mess

Well, I think I'll go turn myself off,
And go on down
All the way down

Really ain't no use in me hanging around
In your kinda scene

Music, sweet music
I wish I could caress, caress, caress
Manic depression is a frustrating mess

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Man Who Loved Women: A Review

I recognize that this title alone sounds trite and unappealing, but it is a deceptive one and must be taken in the context of the entire piece. This film, if it were adapted for an American audience today, would likely be cast as a typically lowest common denominator popcorn comedy. The womanizing main character would be more caricature than character, selected for good looks and the ability to easily make a fool of himself in front of the lens. His sexual conquests would run the gamut from A to B, showcasing the very best in insulting female stereotypes played by moderately talented Hollywood actresses. Shown to be little more than a crass, immature vulgarian, living in a state of suspended adolescence, Bertrand Morane, the would-be Lothario, would be reduced to a punch line for the sake of cheap laughs. The women unfortunate enough to be pursued by him would display a predictable amount of loathing, disgust, and self-righteous indignation. By its conclusion, all would agree that The Man Who Loved Women was a real creep.

Fortunately, this is not the direction famed French director François Truffaut pursues. Not even a little. Yes, Bertrand Morane does hold some undeniable, unforgivable misogynist and even creepy character traits. However, much screen time is given towards explaining in large part the reasons why he developed this persona. Moreover, most, if not all of his female conquests have severe unresolved emotional issues themselves. That would appear to be most of the appeal of this sometimes disturbing game for both parties involved. The interaction between Morane and whomever he is seducing at the moment rarely seems purely predatory. Instead, one can’t help but observe logically why and how two people with as many personal problems and as much psychological damage between them would feel an attraction to each other. Our skirt chasing protagonist may believe he is always the one in charge of this game of aggressive pursuit, but woman after woman feigns complicity and submission at first while eventually asserting her own dominance in his presence.

Director Truffaut regularly included autobiographical aspects of his own life into each of his films. The noted auteur was himself raised by two squabbling parents, both of whom viewed him as little more than an trifling inconvenience. Throughout the whole of a largely miserable childhood, he was ignored and denied much in the way of affection. The experience left such a profound impact that Truffaut returned over and over again to the same theme. Similarly, in The Man Who Loved Woman, the main character of Morane lived a similarly unhappy, isolated childhood.

Morane grew up without a father figure but did grow up with an emotionally distant and detached mother, who was too busy pursuing her numerous beaus to raise him properly. She acts as though her son is an annoyance and pretends that he does not exist, even going so far as to walk around their tiny shared apartment with nothing on more than the bare minimum of clothes, as if to say that she would rather he be invisible. That the adult Morane has mother fixations if not an Oedipal Complex altogether should come as not much of a surprise to anyone. These learned behaviors influence the women to whom he is attracted and his tactics to win their attention.

A profoundly lonely man, Betrand pursues one short-term, largely unsatisfying sexual relationship after another to compensate for a difficult divorce which transpired five years prior to the current day. While we are not told of this crucial detail until three-fourths of the way through the film, this revelation does have a humanizing aspect when we are made aware of it. A tragic figure like his needs to be shown in three-dimensions, else he is not especially interesting to contemplate, being really little more than a stock character. His behavior is sometimes inexcusably reprehensible, but neither is he a totally unsympathetic person, either.

You wouldn’t want to be the next in line, but you do at least pity his condition. We the audience strain to understand him at times, but to his credit, he does not hide his beliefs or his opinions. In situations where he is paired with his complete equal in both the bedroom and in major emotional trauma, it seems not to matter who causes pain and punishment in what proportion to whom. Both suffer, but both also receive something desired, if not yearned for altogether. Each stumbles towards love, affection, and romance for often mysterious reasons denied somehow for some past reason.

Many of these women are also heavily consumed with their own pathological fears and personality flaws. One lover insists upon making love in public places, the fear of being caught increasing the pleasure of the act. Another expresses strong interest for a time, until dismissing him as too old for her tastes. At forty-one, she now dates men no younger than twenty-nine. Bertrand is accused of emotional neglect by another lover who has fallen in love with him. He has not opened up in a way that would allow him to be capable of being loved, nor is he willing to reciprocate in loving her. Though her disappointment and anguish shows plainly upon her face, she notes that she’s not entirely crestfallen, nor surprised at this turn of events, either. In any case, Bertrand’s problems with intimacy and trust again point directly back to his childhood.

Released in 1977, towards the tail-end of what was then still called Women’s Liberation, I get the feeling that Bertrand’s obsessive, slightly ridiculous pickup lines and seduction strategies might have failed even then. They may have produced nothing more than a well-deserved slap across the face or, failing that, a swiftly filed police report. What makes them sinister more than comical is that they are offered to us, the audience, with a straight face, not with a toothy grin.

The emphasis here may be on a deliberately exaggerated parody of sexual obsession more than an opportunity to criticize certain men behaving very inappropriately. Truffaut may instead intend that we see something cartoonish and unreal about how easy it is for the philandering main character to fall into the beds of multiple women in a short period of time. The emphasis may be on the absurd rather than the real.

Taken literally, concocting elaborate ruses based on deception to secure the phone numbers and addresses of women he fancies strikes me as creepy and criminal. In one such example, he fakes a car accident as a way of finding the phone number of a random woman to whom he is attracted. Obsessive in his desire, he wishes to contact her by phone so that he may speak to her in person. Having already jotted down her license plate, he then claims that her car was responsible for the damage to his car. Tracing the phone number to a car rental dealership, he finds her telephone number at home by way of a sympathetic worker at the dealership who believes his lies. (He will later sleep with her, of course, but this nearly goes without saying).

Multi-step processes like these he works with an uncomfortable degree of success. He manages to often achieve his wishes of a face-to-face sit down with his latest planned conquest. That these schemes routinely succeed may also be over-the-top on purpose. Few people in that time or now would volunteer private information and go to bed with a complete stranger, especially one who had obtained sensitive information by duplicitous ends.

Perhaps for no other reason than boredom, Bertrand next begins to write his autobiography. Most of its content details, no surprise here, his numerous love affairs. Having found a new obsession, he spends hours a day typing the manuscript with two fingers, as he does not know how to properly work a typewriter. Upon a visit to a doctor (one of the few male characters present in the entire movie), he is successfully treated for a mild case of gonorrhea. A voracious reader, Bertrand notices the copious, extensively filled bookshelves present in the doctor’s office.

Through the doctor, he is also granted insight and guidance about how to publish his memoirs. Instructed to send his final manuscript to one of the four major publishing houses in Paris, he follows instructions. The finished product is rejected by all but one. The fourth only accepts the book for publication based on the passionate appeal of one editor, Geneviève. Her colleagues see nothing special in the text, but she does and overrules their objections. Their reservations are not that the content is offensive, but that the manuscript is rambling and unprofessional. One senses that the editor finds something oddly appealing in the author. She has become fascinated with this bizarre life and even his character flaws despite herself.

Truffaut paints Geneviève as the liberated woman of her time. Her feminist perspective is an optimistic one expressing satisfaction with the way gender roles have recently changed for the better. It’s a self-assured Second-Wave perspective in some ways, one that cannot see problems in the future and one that assumes that the reforms already underway will continue indefinitely into the future. In her place of employment, she is every bit the equal of any of her co-workers. That she would have passionately defended a book that would seem to contradict her personal politics strikes one as odd. Another element of mystery preserved, we never know why. In time, yes, they will be lovers also.

A Feminist reading of the film is problematic and complicated. On one hand, the main character is unapologetic for being chauvinistic and at times strongly resembles a stalker. When Geneviève, his publishing editor/lover, introduces the idea of gender equality to him, he dismisses it out of hand. His methodology is exploitative and manipulative, but such acts are not unique only to him. Bertrand ends up being played as much as he plays others. He is not physically violent and never intends to be. Delphine, one of his unstable lovers, however, goes to prison because she shoots and seriously wounds her doctor husband. This is in a rash decision to shed herself of his attachment to her so that she can be with Bertrand herself.

Years later, once she is released home from prison, Bertrand is deliberately warned by the police about threats she made behind bars against his own life. Quite unafraid, he still meets with Delphine after she shows up unannounced at his apartment a few days later. The complete fault cannot be easily laid at his feet, or any character, for that matter. It seems that most relationships, regardless of their length are built on a kind of complimentary dysfunction.

One reviewer, Melissa E. Biggs, describes the work as “an extraordinary film … made at just the right moment in time, when sexual obsession could still be ironic and celebrated and not held up to scorn by political correctness and feminist righteousness”. If we are to believe the opinion of Ms. Biggs, should we take The Man Who Loved Women as feminist critique, or as broad farce? The director Truffaut appears to wish to explore the intersection between the two. Our understanding of what should be taken at face value and what should be seen in an ironic context may depend upon our own interpretation, and indeed our own lived experience. For this reason among many, the film still speaks to us today.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unsteady Transfers of Power

"It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged."- Abraham Lincoln, 1865

Delegating leadership responsibilities for Young Adult Friends continues to be problematic. I should say first that most people have not given me fits, but one specific concern has recently consumed most of my energy. In our new configuration, many of the tasks that I once performed by myself are now labeled "Communications". I would very much like to continue in this role, but have decided to reluctantly vacate the position for the sake of someone else. And by vacate, I mean that I have no continued heart for a power struggle. I do not doubt her qualification for the position, but I regrettably resent her method of going about it.

David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments--lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets. But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the Ark. Then the LORD's anger was aroused against Uzzah, and he struck him dead because he had laid his hand on the Ark. So Uzzah died there in the presence of God. David was angry because the LORD's anger had burst out against Uzzah. He named that place Perez-uzzah (which means "to burst out against Uzzah"), as it is still called today.

Taken literally, this seems extremely petty on behalf of God. But the larger context is necessary. David had not prepared for the carrying of the Ark in proper fashion. God gave one set of instructions, but David ignored them because it was easier to do it his way, instead. Uzza reached out to steady the Ark, but had God's desires been followed in the first place, the Ark would never have been in danger of falling in the first place. A right intention will never justify a wrong action.

I return to the present day. The Friend first tried to undercut me by speaking to the outgoing clerk alone, the person with whom I previously shared all pertinent tasks. Observing what she was doing, and not blind to her tactics, I sent a somewhat scathing e-mail to let her know that if she had problems, speaking to me was the best option. She agreed to do so last night. Though the talk was mostly cordial, her extreme ambition was evident. With time, I have learned that certain people deliberately camouflage their true intentions. It hasn't been until I'd been able to take an adequate and accurate vantage point of the situation that I have truly realized this.

Also creating problems is that she has a different idea of how the group was formed. To make a very long story short, no Young Adult programming existed when I first moved to DC, back in October 2008. I had many ideas for change and was finally paired up with someone also willing to put the time into building the framework. Several months later, this Friend of which I am speaking arrived on the scene with a few others. When they joined, their participation did, I admit, help the group to gel. Shortly afterwards, a core group of Friends began to develop, the sort who could be counted on to attend every scheduled event and contribute to its overall development. The Friend, I think, overstates the importance of her arrival to the scene, not realizing that without the hard work that went into establishing the group, there would have been no outlet in which for her to take part.

Revisionist history aside, I am left feeling a bit bruised. Once formal leadership positions are finalized on Sunday, my responsibilities with Young Adult Friends will be a fraction of what they once were. Had I been able to give my blessing to a successor, someone who I then intended to mentor into the role, I should have nothing upon which to complain. But this is not how the matter unfolded. As I said earlier, I know she's quite qualified for the position. All of the skills necessary for the position are those she does during the work week for her day job. Though I have offered my assistance as a resource if needed, I get the feeling she believes she can do everything adequately without my instruction.

The truth is that I don't think she realizes how time-intensive the job truly is. This is one of the reasons I'm standing aside and letting her take it. If I was very petty I'd cut off my nose to spite my face and refuse to articulate to her what specific tasks are needed. Or I'd delight in seeing her struggle to fit in the demands of working along with her faith community. My feeling of anger are subservient to the greater health of the group, and, of course, the greater workings of God.

If I have any greater fear it is that she will fail to place credit where credit is truly due and not ascribe her accomplishments to a force beyond herself, whatever she may call it. I remind myself constantly that if God had not wanted this group to exist, he would not have worked through me and another Friend to establish it. If he had wanted it to dissolve, he would have let that happen as well. But I do know that God does not rush in to save us when we make mistakes. He will let us destroy ourselves for the sake of learning a larger lesson, especially when we do not follow his advice and counsel.

The world around us works on the same principle. Its life lessons are accordingly essential. I simply do not understand those who thrive on this degree of conflict and confrontation. It doesn't seem healthy. My most profound lamentation of all is the sorrow of seeing this kind of worldly squabbling in what ought to be respite from the venom of power politics outside Meeting walls. It may be a commentary on our society that we have to learn behaviors like these to fight for whatever it is we can get. These days, with the job market and the economy still lagging behind, we may feel we have to resort to Survival of the Fittest attitudes to even have a paycheck. I have learned much from this ordeal, and in the time going forward, I pray I don't let negative responses prevent me from seeing that of God in everyone, as I am to do if I am a Quaker.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Other Side of Town

The intensity and beauty of the original, which includes Curtis' gorgeous tenor vocals, cannot be matched by any attempt of mine. This is why I will present the original here instead, along with its lyrics, which are still as pertinent as they were forty-one years ago. I walk through parts of DC and these words often come to mind.

I'm from the other side of town
Out of bounds
To anybody who don't live around

I never learned to share
Or how to care
I never had no teachings
About being fair

Depression is part of my mind
The sun never shines
On the other side of town

The need here is always for more
There's nothing good in store
On the other side of town

It's hard to do right
In this filthy night
Just plain simple comfort
Is completely out of sight

My little sister she hungry
For bread to eat
My brother's hand me down shoes
Are now showing his feet

Ghetto blues showed on the news
All is aware

But what the hell do they care?
You across the track
Completely relaxed

You take a warning fact
Don't you never come back

I'm from the other side of town
Out of bounds

To anybody who don't live around
I never learned to share

Or how to care
I never had no teachings
About being fair

Depression is part of my mind
The sun never shines
On the other side of town

The need here is always for more
There's nothing good in store
On the other side of town

O baby it's hard to do right
On the other side of town
This depression's really got a hold on me
On the other side of town

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gender, Nuance, and Truth: Our Flawed Criminal Justice System

We often talk about the problems of the criminal justice system, particularly as pertains to unfair treatment towards minorities and marginalized groups. I sympathize with the plight of those for whom this is a daily reality, but I admit I cannot completely understand. Many times, violence against women goes unreported or is sloppily prosecuted. And it is for this reason that I share my own story, though one needs to reverse the gender in this circumstance. The system is designed to prosecute men who harass, physically injure, or otherwise harm women. When the reverse is true, the existing framework of laws and statutes is not easily able to respond. Men are supposed to be able to handle their own problems, but women are supposed to be sheltered from them. This doesn't mean that women aren't vulnerable in all sorts of ways, but that it's just as condescending to imply that women don't harm men.

I had been dating someone for a while, and, so far as I knew, everything was going extremely well. Her children from a previous marriage liked me. Her parents and other close family members seemed to like me, too. I was, however, working an extremely stressful job in a dysfunctional workplace. The daily strain was enough that I came home one night and angrily vented. It felt cleansing to let go of a month's worth of indignation. She saw it differently. Though I wouldn't know it for several days, simply observing that display of formerly pent up aggression was enough to make her decide to cut ties completely. In her mind, I was not the person she thought I was.

Accusations in situations like these can become very petty. I say this because I don't want this to become another instance of he said/she said. What happened is over and I've processed it adequately. Instead, I'll try to provide the facts objectively without the temptation towards bitterness. Nor am I seeking to assign fault now. But I did have to contact the police and I did have to file charges. Narrating that story is the intent of this post.

I did have a case, but existing statutes and laws would prove to be cumbersome. In short, I noticed a week or so after our breakup that I was not receiving any incoming e-mails into my account. This was odd, because I regularly received several e-mails a day. Examining the settings of Gmail, I found that someone had changed the configuration. He or she was having all of my incoming messages forwarded into a separate account, one with a very innocuous and nondescript name. I jotted it down and changed the settings back so that I could resume receiving mail.

That was internet invasion of privacy. Now, years later, with all the publicity surrounding cybercrime and the well-documented instances of similar offenses, I'm fairly certain laws have been changed. I'm sure divorce proceedings nowadays include similar accusations. I knew how she'd done it. At times, I had logged on to my account on her personal computer. Even though I'd been careful to not have a password automatically populate upon visiting the Gmail website, it is still surprisingly easy to figure out should someone have enough know-how. I understood what had transpired, now it was time to see if I could get the law to believe me, too.

I was encouraged to file an order of protection. An order of protection is not defined technically a restraining order in the state where I then lived. One must obtain the services of an attorney for that. If the both of us had lived in the same county, this would have been easy enough. However, she lived one country over. This required me to go to the courthouse of her country of residence. Once I arrived, I found the appropriate floor and department, neither of which were clearly marked. I then waited in line for thirty minutes, after which I was provided a twenty or twenty-five page long form which I was required to fill out in its entirety.

After completion, it required notarizing to be legally binding. I waited in line again. Next, one had to sign up to plead his or her case in front of a judge. Each step one takes, one is essentially confronted with the same question. Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you're sure you want to do this?

After signing my name onto the next available spot on a register attached to a clipboard, I waited once again. The process to follow was not actually conducted in a courtroom, but in what looked like a small office. The judge there looked bored and impassive. She wasn't altogether unfriendly, but neither was she especially engaged with much of anything I was saying. To her, granting a formal order meant one had to pass a particular litmus test. In this case it was evidence of physical violence or the threat of physical violence. Since I didn't meet this criteria, she refused to grant my request. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she may simply have had to follow existing law as worded. I do understand that some orders of protection or restraining orders are granted for frivolous reasons. Still, anyone who wished to not just monitor, but steal my e-mails and who was willing to yell at me for three full minutes over the phone did not make me feel confident about my physical safety.

My sympathies were for those whom physical violence wasn't yet an issue, but could well be sooner than later. I spoke with a shaken, but resolute woman who had a horror story to tell about an abusive boyfriend. It is my hope that at least she was granted some legal means to prosecute him, even though the legal system alone works far more slowly than someone with an intent to harm or injure. That it takes something absolutely horrible to make the wheels of justice spin as they must is an absolute travesty. As members of a free society, I find it difficult to understand why we allow this to continue day in and day out.

My case was eventually scheduled to take place a month from the beginning of the process. This initial hearing was only the first step in a complicated series of subsequent court procedures, should future hearings even be necessary. The day it arrived, I was nervous and afraid. It had been over a month since I'd seen or spoken to her and I knew I'd see her there. Furthermore, I had no money of my own to pay for my own legal representation and counsel. No counsel was even offered to me. She, however, arrived with a close personal friend who was also one of the best lawyers in the city. So when the judge indicated that I was free to speak to plead my case, I walked up to the microphone, my knees knocking, and informed the judge that I wanted to drop the charges. The judge looked at me quizzically, surprised, as if to say, Are you sure? Sound familiar?

I left the courtroom somewhat disappointed in myself but also aware of the fact that my life could now return to normal. At least I stood up to her. I might have been able to read the writing on the wall once I arrived, but I proved that I was going to get her attention, for sure. In the whole of the process I found I was growing increasingly more weary and, paradoxically, bloodthirsty. To motivate myself through the process I had driven myself into emotional exhaustion. It was only the promise of some ultimate justice that sustained me and propelled me forward. Had I decided that day to speak my mind, I'm not sure how I could have tolerated an extensive legal fight. From that day forward, while I still pressed for justice, I knew that my encouragement to those wronged needed to be presented along with a factual representation of the process. Those who are victimized in the world outside the courtroom can be further traumatized by the process of obtaining closure.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Where I Am

This morning I will be undergoing a minor surgical procedure. The troublesome area may not have to be fully excised, which is an outcome I am hoping for, but only the surgeon will know for sure.

I should be back tomorrow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Quote of the Week

A new member of the House of Commons asked Prime Minister Disraeli if he should participate actively in the debates.

"No, I think not; it would be better for the people to wonder why you did not speak rather than why you did."- Anonymous

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Medicating Our Identities

Starting at a young age, I was taught to seek strictly medical explanations for individual problems. My father had worked for a time counseling alcoholics and addicts, and he placed full reliance upon a combination of prescription medication and time spent on the therapist’s couch. However, my life challenges have been structured in ways that defied this logic. It is true that bipolar disorder can be treated successfully with medication. However what I was not told in the beginning is that it would take most of ten years and slightly over twenty drugs to find a sufficient combination. My recent case of abnormally low levels of testosterone and excessively high levels of estrogen is still nowhere near solved.

What causes both of these conditions? I hope someday that maybe someone reading this can develop the latest breakthrough. Simple genetics is one answer. One would think that the means of treatment might be easily explainable. Bipolar medications do not work like penicillin. Everyone who has been given penicillin to clear up an infection knows roughly how it works and also how long it generally takes to get well. With mental illness of any sort, bipolar being only one permutation, psychiatrists and researchers both have to concede that they really don’t know how psychotropic medications work. Lithium is a drug I take to stabilize my moods at a desired state somewhere between depression and mania. It works well for many, has been used for over a century to treat manic-depressive illness, but still no one truly can say for sure how it works. If only our knowledge of the brain was as adequately understood as that of basic infectious disease.

In seeking to find the proper combination of testosterone and estrogen within my body, I inject a designated amount of testosterone into the muscle of either my left or right thigh. My body then believes that a healthy amount of testosterone is excess, so it converts the remainder into estrogen. This is why I then take a pill, Anastrozole, designed originally for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Finding the optimum balance has required trial and error. At first, the dosage I was taking was far too strong and I nearly had to go to the Emergency Room to be treated. After that, I had to experiment with amount of dosage and the frequency taken. Now I take half my originally prescribed amount once every other day, as opposed to every day as was the original plan. In time, this may have to be tweaked slightly again.

When I made the conscious decision to talk about and even consider my feelings of gender dysphoria, I applied the same old logic as before. Yet again, what stared me in the face was another aspect of myself that could not be easily understood. Today, the phrase Gender Identity Disorder persists, though like homosexuality itself, it may soon no longer be considered a mental disorder or disorder of any kind. It was easy for me to accept this definition at first, since medical science has always managed to hang one label after another on me. And it was very convenient to convince my family that I was really just ill, but in a different way this time. I played along mostly to tell them what they wanted to hear and also to avoid conflict in the process.

No one’s ever done the requisite scan of my brain or analyzed how it functions, but I’d like to know what could be revealed. Behavioral aspects, social conditioning, or incidents of childhood trauma were, for a time, unquestioned qualifiers to explain transgender identity or genderqueer identity. Now they persist as controversial and largely dismissed. But one crucial word is present in each of these, acceptable or not: theory. Before I knew any of the terminology, I assumed that my thinking was just evidence of another eccentricity. I knew I was strange, and this reinforced my belief in my own eccentricity. And it was a secret eccentricity to never be shared with anyone, since obviously no one else could ever understand.

To this day, I wonder why on earth I romanticize womanhood the way that I do, as though it’s my private escape. The practical part of me recognizes how much of a challenge it would be to transition, pass, and live. And I shouldn’t build my entire self-esteem on what would be a very stressful and likely isolating process. Stressful and isolating are two words I’ve had quite enough of for one lifetime. The process is not an abstract one for me. I have observed it myself and seen its complexities and unforeseen complications. And if I felt as though it would provide me total wholeness, I’d do it. But instead I feel like a gender mutt, desperate for some degree of accepted purity and certitude, even though gender purity is a complete myth. For me, at least, knowing for sure what one is or is not falls into the category of wishful thinking. But still I want it! I want that clarity enough that I would give up much of myself to achieve it.

The aspects of myself that are masculine I concede, but rarely value. The aspects of myself that are feminine, I embrace and internally celebrate. As has been true with other significant problem areas, perhaps I assume modern medicine has a gender pill for me. What is the optimum balance between male and female that would give me the peace of mind I desire so strongly? Would I need to take one, two, or fifty? I take so many medications already on a daily basis, a few more wouldn’t hurt. I’ve already been manipulating my hormone level for months as it stands. Female-to-male transgender folks and I can already swap stories (and have).

My fear is, as always, that no one has any answers for me. Genderqueer is a very succinct way to describe the odd blend of masculinity and femininity I have always observed in myself. But I feel myself moving up and down the continuum on a daily basis, like a scale at the doctor’s office, and I am uncomfortable always with the realization. Some of my fear is defensive and some of it is adaptive. All of it unnerves me. Women are objects of both desire and jealousy. The thought of switching genders is an attractive one, and sometimes even an erotic one.

But in truth, in others who identify as queer, I’ve seen them seek to strike the same balance. It’s much more observable there because their presentation clashes with our expectation of gender and thus really stands out. In my current form, those who casually observe me note only a few superficial differences, but those who really know me pick up on many more. We modify our outsides to reflect the way we are on the inside. I will always remember the day that a girlfriend noted that I was genderqueer, without my even having to state it. I felt such joy and contentment. She validated me. Others may have picked up on it and simply not had the words to express it, but she knew and she said it.

As I think about what I'm seeking, maybe widespread understanding is what I’m looking for most of all. Sometimes in the outside world, I feel like someone who speaks a very rare language, in a place where native speakers are few and far between. The misunderstanding is simply an error in translation. Fluency would prevent problems with comprehension. Without it, I am taken out of context or misquoted. But should I find a native speaker, I delight in the conversation. How do we ensure that others understand? Self-realization should be adequate for me, but I want more than that. It is only then that gender might fall into place for me, assuming, after that point, that it even matters anymore.

The Kids

A pretty brutal song, don't you think?

They're taking her children away
because they said she was not a good mother

They're taking her children away
because she was making it with sisters and brothers

And everyone else, all of the others
like cheap officers who would
stand there and flirt in front of me

They're taking her children away
because they said she was not a good mother
They're taking her children away
because of the things that they heard she had done

The black Air Force sergeant was not the first one
And all of the drugs she took, every one, every one

And I am the Water Boy, the real game's not over here
But my heart is overflowing anyway
I'm just a tired man, no words to say

But since she lost her daughter
it's her eyes that fill with water
And I am much happier this way

They're taking her children away
because they said she was not a good mother
They're taking her children away
because number one was the girlfriend from Paris

The things that they did, huh, they didn't have to ask us
and then the Welshman from India, who came here to stay

They're taking her children away
because they said she was not a good mother
They're taking her children away
because of the things she did in the streets

In the alleys and bars, no she couldn't be beat
that miserable rotten slut couldn't turn anyone away

I am the Water Boy, the real game's not over here
But my heart is overflowing anyway

I'm just a tired man, no words to say
But since she lost her daughter
it's her eyes that fill with water
And I am much happier this way

Saturday Video

Seems appropriate for this week and all the time, these days.

Young teacher the subject of schoolgirl fantasy
She wants him so badly knows what she wants to be
Inside her there's longing
This girl's an open page

Book marking she's so close now
This girl is half his age

Don't stand
Don't stand so
Don't stand so close to me

Don't stand
Don't stand so
Don't stand so close to me

Her friends are so jealous
You know how bad girls get
Sometimes it not so easy
To be the teacher's pet

Temptation, frustration
So bad it makes him cry
Wet bus stop she's waiting
His car is warm and dry

Don't stand
Don't stand so
Don't stand so close to me

Don't stand
Don't stand so
Don't stand so close to me

Loose talk in the classroom
To hurt they try and try
Strong words in the staffroom

The accusations fly
It's no use he sees her
He starts to shake and cough
Just like that old man in that book by Nabokov

Don't stand
Don't stand so
Don't stand so close to me

Don't stand
Don't stand so
Don't stand so close to me

Friday, June 17, 2011


The house looked otherwise unremarkable. The orange-pink color of the kitchen walls was unique, but could be explained as an attempt to be distinct. Two huge pairs of high-heeled shoes stood at the foot of the stairs. These were shoes seemingly on steroids, far larger than would have ever been made for the typical woman. These did stick out. One wondered if a superhero wore these shoes, and if so, if there were others like it in her closet.

My roommate is a drag queen, he said.

During the whole of my visit, my gaze kept returning to these shoes. In particular, I remembered my last encounter with a drag queen, years before.

In college, it was fashionable in certain circles to go to the drag shows. The only place in town where such events were held was the town’s one, solitary gay bar. Everyone knew the name, but many refused to say it, as though even mentioning it aloud would prove contagious. There were always rumors of a specifically lesbian club developing, but none of these ever seemed to stay in business for very long. Once, armed with a very unspecific set of directions, we tried to find one, but eventually left for home disappointed. I had never been and she was curious to discern the clientele. She was a master of discernment.

My friend was well-known for being famously indecisive with the women she fancied. She was the sort of person who developed a whole separate identity for herself, complete with nickname, one that everyone seemed to take seriously. The entirety of the out queer girls in town knew her by reputation or by association. While at the club or in the company of the rest of the community she was someone. Otherwise, she was just that gay girl who worked as a cook at a barbeque joint.

Even then I kept company mostly with women who mostly humored me, but I think also pitied me, too. Eager to be part of the group, every Friday night was spent talking and killing whole hours before off to the show. The drag nights started somewhere close to midnight and concluded somewhere around four in the morning. Blear-eyed, exhausted, and sleep-deprived, reeking of my cigarette smoke and the cigarette smoke of three hundred other people, I felt like death, praying I’d be back in my bed before the sun started to rise. But that was at the end, of course.

I self-consciously took a place on the edge of the dance floor. Too shy to dance, I was also mostly too shy to flirt. She would, meaning well, get up in my face. Go out there and find a man! This is when that self-confidence I mentioned would have really come in handy. The drag show began, with the best amateur talent in a five state area. Not knowing how to critique the quality of the performance, I mostly just sat and stared, imagining what they all looked like without wigs, dresses, glitter, and campy dance moves.

Another performer walked on as another walked off with great fanfare. This performer’s stage name was Georgette. She was more heavy-set than many of the others, but possessed a very gentle kind of sweetness. Some were bitchy, some tried to impress, but Georgette was graceful and kind.

She likes you! Her laughter could not compete with the sound of the music blaring forth, but I knew how it would have sounded on its own. It was unmistakable, loud and braying and deep.

Georgette did like me. She liked men with broad shoulders and baby faces. And what I received was an ample and rather gratuitous display of her back end. Again. I’m sure I looked shocked, like always. Shocked and appreciative at once, but in such situations my self-confidence tended to desert me. The ideal decision in this circumstance would have been to meet her backstage afterward, even though backstage was really just an outdoor patio full of more cigarette smoking and jealousy. I never could quite get the nerve to do it.

Inevitably, by the time for leaving my friend had either found the club’s dealer in assorted pills or something that held some promise. Invariably we’d go with a car full of women and me. Most of them talked a good game but usually went home alone, much like me. My friend was well-known for her conquests, which she usually retained for later intimacy. Many women fell in love with her because she was attractive but because she was also extremely confident. I always assumed they knew they were being absorbed into her lengthy network of friends with benefits. If they ever complained, I never heard it.

With time, I finally shed my own anxieties and paranoia. I went to the club with a new friend, who was interested more in the voyeuristic aspects than to actively engage. Sometimes her partner would come along with us and say four whole words while we said four million. I avoided drag shows now because I no longer wished to wake up confused and coughing at two o’clock in the afternoon. But still I remember the excitement of those days when it felt like I’d opened a portal to a terrifying, but also strangely gratifying world.

That's the Story of My Life

That's the story of my life
That's the difference between wrong and right
But Billy said, both those words are dead
That's the story of my life

That's the story of my life
That's the difference between wrong and right
But Billy said, both those words are dead
That's the story of my life

Oh, that's the story of my life
That's the difference between wrong and right
But Billy said, both those words are dead
That's the story of my life

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Outside of a Small Circle of Friends

I tried to do a cover of this, but I simply couldn't do it justice.

Look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain

But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.

Riding down the highway, yes, my back is getting stiff
Thirteen cars are piled up, they're hanging on a cliff.
Maybe we should pull them back with our towing chain

But we gotta move and we might get sued
and it looks like it's gonna rain
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.

Sweating in the ghetto with the coloreds and the poor
The rats have joined the babies
who are sleeping on the floor

Now wouldn't it be a riot
if they really blew their tops?
But they got too much already
and besides we got the cops
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.

Oh there's a dirty paper using sex to make a sale
The Supreme Court was so upset, they sent him off to jail.
Maybe we should help the fiend and take away his fine.
But we're busy reading Playboy and the Sunday New York Times

And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends

Smoking marihuana is more fun than drinking beer,
But a friend of ours was captured and they gave him thirty years

Maybe we should raise our voices, ask somebody why
But demonstrations are a drag, besides we're much too high
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends

Oh look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain

But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Letting Go

Earlier in the week, I learned an important lesson. The effect was an abrupt about-face that revealed my own flaws and also granted me an opportunity to gain greater wisdom. For over a year, I have been actively involved in almost every aspect of the Young Adult Friend group at my Monthly Meeting. Being so closely invested in the process has provided me a sense of satisfaction and greater purpose. At long last, I have found a way to put my leadership skills to good use and, for the most part, my mental health has cooperated. And I've also gotten a chance to see the direct result of my hard work, which is one of the most gratifying feelings I have ever experienced in my life. Many toil for years in similar circumstances with nothing physically tangible to show for it. The ultimate credit, of course, is not mine to take but I couldn't help but feel pride in the creation.

This life lesson comes complete with an issue that can be ascribed exclusively to simple misunderstanding. For those who are not Friends, a person in a group leadership position, one similar to a committee chairman, is known as a clerk. Months ago, the clerk's position was offered to a friend of mine. She asked me to assist her with the work, and understanding well the need for a Young Adult Friend group, I threw myself into the task. I did not, in the beginning, seek a formal title, but as my strategies and hers began to succeed, I made an assumption that I might as well be co-clerk in all but name. It wasn't until recently that she revealed that she never saw me in that role. Hearing that was very painful. I don't intend to dwell on this more than I must, but I will briefly state that a more adequate system of regular communication would not have let this misunderstanding persist for as long as it did.

Quakers usually shy away from direct confrontation and are known to pursue almost every other avenue instead. She and other Friends believed, erroneously, that I wanted sole control, whereas that thought never crossed my mind. Instead, I just wanted to ensure that the framework which had been painstakingly crafted between the two of us would persist with new leadership. It does take a leap of faith sometimes if you've seen the way things once were and you fear their return. The two of us literally built the group from the ground up.

The entire dialogue reveals volumes. I've always been the sort of person exasperated with those who stand in the way of needed reform. Whole posts and columns I've written show evidence of this. But in a particularly ironic twist, I recognized that I had, in some ways, become that which I had once heavily criticized. I wasn't covetous of my influence, just cautious and suspicious of the leadership abilities of others. When you've done something well that is succeeding, it's tough to hand over the reigns of power to someone else, even if it is for everyone's benefit.

Some Friends felt that I wished to consolidate power and control into my own hands, but this was not the case. Without sufficient understanding, which can only come through regular correspondence, misunderstanding are inevitable. Instead, we were completely talking past one another. In a ideal situation, the clerk and I would have kept in more frequent e-mail correspondence and even met face-to-face periodically. Without knowing me and my real motives well enough, two Friends in particular assumed that I might stand in the way of a more equitable sharing arrangement. This was a misconception I had to take much time to refute prior to the actual meeting itself.

People in our society compartmentalize too much of their lives. I think this is especially true for all the Type A, super achiever sorts of people who are drawn to cities like DC. Work goes in the work box. School goes in the school box. Friends go in the friend box. Spirituality goes in the spirituality box. And that arrangement might make life temporarily easier, but it means that we always appear two-dimensional to those we encounter in life. With an insufficient perspective, we form conclusions and opinions about each other which are not correct. That is the real problem here.

It is true that over the past several months I have become much more influential in the greater Meeting. I routinely share vocal ministry in worship. I'm a member of a committee which rarely grants membership to someone as young as I am in years. To be selected, at my age, was a great honor. I would not have been the first choice of many. It was a very unorthodox selection. My presence is felt in many places, and I am grateful for what I have carved out for myself. I am doing God's work and I enjoy the way that it makes me feel.

In keeping with that, for all that I do, I may as well be a clerk. I merely wanted some acknowledgement for what I had done, by means of a title. To be told that my equal contribution with the designated clerk was not honored in this fashion offended me greatly. But again, I have put those feelings aside now. I'm no longer angry or disappointed. I use this example merely to illustrate my greater point. In some ways, it was an ego bruise. I never saw myself as a dictator, but I did see myself as the person who kept everything up and running. Self-satisfaction comes from feeling a part of something larger than oneself and is the most gratifying byproduct of hard work I can imagine. While it's true that Quakers aren't supposed to seek titles since they distract from greater equality, silly though it may be, I would have liked to have that one attached to my name: Friend Camp, clerk.

A meeting of the core group of YAFs who regularly attend almost every function was convened Monday night to thresh out a new leadership model. The rough consensus of those gathered was to instead divide tasks once the exclusive purview of myself and the clerk between multiple Young Adult Friends. The model proposed would create a leadership group of four people who would agree to take on specifics tasks and obligations between them. Under this proposal, there would no longer be an official clerk's position. This is an intriguing model and one I think is worth trying out.

Adding new blood to the organizational structure is a good idea. I believe that this arrangement will be an interesting exercise, but its ultimate success or failure is to be determined. I admit I am protective of what has been accomplished prior to now. Had I arrived to find myself in the midst of a well-oiled machine, I should have no reservations at all. But I've become emotionally invested into the process, which is both good and bad. In this situation, I know that I should probably give most, if not all of this worry to God and let him sort it out. That's going to be the greatest challenge of all. My friend Faith has written a post along these same lines.