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Learning how to wear a well wrinkled shirt well

Yesterday was one of those days. Today is one of those days. Despite attempts to avoid it, I find that I must wade in the the edges of my swamplands. I am not in the deepest, widest part; I am not being sucked down by my mood disorder.

But my mood is somewhat disordered, like a shirt that needs to be ironed but is not completely wrinkled. I can wear it, the wrinkles eventually will smooth out as it is worn, but for a while they will be noticeable. I have made several passes with my iron, with some small success, but today, I have to accept that I must go out into the world with my wrinkles showing.

The swamplands have defined the shape of my mental landscape for over two decades. The sheer size of and the appalling numbers of hours I have spent wading in my swamplands means that I do not have a good sense of what the swamplands are like for folks without mood disorders. Everyone spends time stuck in mental muck, but I do not know what amount of time is reasonable for such an unreasonable time.

The upshot of this is that on days like today frantic flutters beat against my chest when I realize that I cannot avoid wearing muck boots and a wrinkled shirt for longer than I would like. Today, my shirt is wrinkled, my boots are mucky. I would love to be in a better mood. I really wish I wasn’t over attuned to people’s interactions with me. A very needy, greedy part of me is desperate to have my “brilliance” affirmed. That part of me keeps searching for likes and reposts and comments. It is not satisfied with I what I have received. It wants more, more, more. I may have to go on a mini-fast from online interactions.

Today is one of those days were it is easy to doubt the crooked path I walk both personally and artistically.

I sometimes do not know how to hold the fact that I am an atheist/mystic that needs a spiritual practice, one grounded in a specific tradition with a distinct history and particular practices. I have chosen one that many of my friends and colleagues love to lambast. I deal with curious confusion if I mention that I fast for Ash Wednesday and that I will not be available for meetings on Good Friday. I try to explain that I have chosen a particular mat. I relate my almost conversion to Judaism and how much I regretted not letting myself convert despite my doubts. I tell them that I am well aware of its flaws. I share that sitting in Christianity’s muck helps me bear the hypocrisies and horror found in every human institution, that it helps me bear the hypocrisies and horror found within myself. But many of them do not understand. A reasonable person shouldn’t need a religious practice. I abstain from pointing out the ways that academia and activism require a similar ability to stay present despite some seriously disturbing shit.

I also am caught in the curious confusion of Christians who cannot understand why I take part even though most days I do not believe in God/dess. I avoid it completely with those whom I am sure would be offended by my participation despite a lack of faith. With those who want to go there, I share how my faith is in the process, that I follow the practice because I believe that it helps me be a less self-centered, selfish person. I lay out the ways I believe that my imperfect practice, struggling through despite disbelief, offers me a way to deepen my commitment to loving and serving the world. I tell of my almost conversion to Judaism and the things I miss about going to shul. I share that while I always remember how different the two faiths are, I take comfort in the ways certain rituals resonate through me in similar ways. For the few that I do share all this with, most still are stumped by my statement that either path- Judaism or Christianity- would have done what I needed religion to do to my life even though they would have done it in distinct ways.

In terms of my art making, all my doubts and insecurities and worries would fill page after page. And I will not subject y’all to that. But I will share that today I had that lingering feeling of being a sham. This came up because someone asked me to do a little work at an activist conference that is coming up. I am said yes but then had a little tizzy. How dare I say anything about the world when my point of view is so limited? How dare I say anything when activism burned me from the inside out, and I am only now tentatively thinking about adding a little bit of activism back into my life? Why would anyone want to hear what I have to say since I either am talking about myself or telling y’all what to do? Of course, I do more than that but today’s mood was the kind that saw only one side.

Even a few months ago, I would go silent in the face of these contradictions and fears. I would stop interacting with people. I would stop writing. I would stop performing. Part of me hated this dose of the Good (and Not So Good) Words. That part of me felt that this was too whiney, too self-indulgent. Perhaps it has been a bit whiney and self-indulgent, but I am trying to trust my process, a process where I use much of what I encounter in this world, which includes my life, which includes the crappy little bits of my personality and the sad little worries of my soul, where I use days like today to make meaning, maybe to make a little art and maybe help someone feel less lonely or see something in a new light or simply entertain someone for a brief while.

I have grown more certain of my step. I have grown more comfortable with my muck. I slowly am learning how to wear a well wrinkled shirt well.

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