All the World’s a Stage

I’ve been seeing lots of friends posting about World Theatre Day today, which makes it a little extra fitting that I “played hooky” from work stuff this evening to watch some friends perform in Mamma Mia.(1) It’s a show I was almost in—-for one hot second—-so I very much wanted to make sure I came out to support everybody.

I’ll admit I was a little worried that I’d have some wistful sad feelings about it all. Sorry for what I’d missed out on, desiring to be up on stage again. After the bows and the drive home, I’m glad to say that wasn’t an issue for me.

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Waiting for Harper

And so it begins. 

Winter has lots of possible beginnings: cultural (Monday after Thanksgiving), calendrical (December 1st), astrological (Winter Solstice), what-have-you. But in my experience as a newbie-Bostonian, I’m pretty sure that the winter storm season doesn’t begin until right about now. There have been exceptions to this, of course: a couple of our years here have had one biggish snowfall in December. But in most years, the first big snow dump seems to happen somewhere around mid-January or MLK day. And even in those years that had a single snowstorm in December, the rotating lineup of winter storms didn’t start until then.

And, right on time, Winter Storm Harper is scheduled to arrive tomorrow evening.

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Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness by Marie Turell Soderberg

  • PopSugar #44: read a book during the season it’s set in

I’m trying to recall when I first learned of the concept of hygge. A couple years ago, I guess. I don’t remember the exact circumstances–it was on the Internet, obviously, but I can’t be more specific than that. Some item somewhere. A link to Facebook? A book review of The Year of Living Danishly?  Gaia knows.

What I do recall is the deep sense of recognition, that aha! moment, when I saw the term and its definition. Hygge–which, roughly speaking, unpacks to an amalgamation of coziness, contentment, enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures–is about the most natural habitat for this homebody duck as I could possibly imagine.

I think I learned the concept a tiny bit ahead of the big hygge craze in 2016-2017, but I did take the opportunity that craze provided to get a couple books about hygge into my home library. (Which, in typical fashion, I never got around to reading.)

But Mr. Mezzo and I have been intentionally doing things this winter to “get our hygge on,” so when I saw this particular category on the PopSugar list, I knew exactly what I wanted to choose for my “season.” And so I pulled out the prettiest of my hygge books and put it on my “challenge shelf.”

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Assorted Updates

Yeah, the most boringest of boring titles. Sometimes that’s just how things go…

Lots of different shifts and movements in areas of my life, and instead of trying to do the grand interweaving thing right now, I’m just going to scatter out some news and work on any “deeper understanding” some other night.

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A Momentary Regression

Last night I was still working to finish my first Emma Watson post (and mentally beginning to compose my second for typing and pre-scheduling), when Mr. Mezzo told me he was about to head off to bed. And I remembered: I still needed to take my laundry out of the washer and hang it out to dry.

That task had occurred to me at least two or three times earlier in the evening. I think once before dinner, and definitely right before sitting down to write, and then again in the midst when I was walking to the kitchen to refill my water glass. During the last of those three moments, I even calculated to myself how I was probably about 10 minutes from concluding my post, so I could knock that out and then turn my attention to laundry before writing post #2.

But then gathering and writing my concluding thoughts became a longer and trickier process than I’d expected, and Mr. Mezzo’s schedule update summoned up this incredible sense of (internally-generated) pressure about how I needed to quickly shift attention and get the laundry hung out ASAP so’s not to disturb his chances of falling asleep. (The drying racks live in our bedroom, you see. Usually that’s a very good thing — but all good things have their down sides.)

That pressure, cascading on top of the frustrations over another wasted weekend, the awareness of how much more writing there was left to do, and the general dread over going back into a work environment that’s been kinda ugly for the last couple of weeks. All of it hit me like a ton of bricks. And then I said it.

I hate my life.

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Handing Out Sticks

Famous blogger Matt Walsh has kicked off a bit of a tempest by writing two posts about Robin Williams’ death. The first one, basically, tried to draw a bright-line boundary between the concepts of depression and suicide. This interpretive framework (and Walsh’s reasons for wanting to drawing this sharp boundary) is pretty well summarized here:

First, suicide does not claim anyone against their will. No matter how depressed you are, you never have to make that choice. That choice. Whether you call depression a disease or not, please don’t make the mistake of saying that someone who commits suicide “died from depression.” No, he died from his choice. He died by his own hand. Depression will not appear on the autopsy report, because it can’t kill you on its own. It needs you to pull the trigger, take the pills, or hang the rope. To act like death by suicide is exactly analogous to death by malaria or heart failure is to steal hope from the suicidal person. We think we are comforting him, but in fact we are convincing him that he is powerless. We are giving him a way out, an excuse. Sometimes that’s all he needs — the last straw.

Then, after the post went viral and lots of people took issue with it, Walsh wrote a somewhat testy follow-up to: 1) decry the vitriol of individuals who misrepresented/misunderstood his first post and 2) provide more detailed justification of his position.

Among the many voices I’ve seen either directly or indirectly rebutting Walsh’s argument….

Pastor Jean-Daniel Williams, who writes:

If I commit suicide, perhaps, as you claim, it will be ‘’my’’ choice. But I doubt it. I have spent more than half my life listening to my own body betray me, my own mind telling me that it would be better to die. . . . Living is the pro-active choice. Is suicide a choice? It has been a free choice every time I have ever said no so far. I have chosen to say no. That is not because we can blindly, arrogantly, say that it is a moral choice, though. It is because I have been really lucky that I am (still) healthy enough to say no. The thing is, saying ‘’no’’ to suicide is evidence that I am healthy enough to say no. But, if I should ever commit suicide, it will not be because ‘’I’’ made the choice, but because my depression would have.

Kristi, on the blog “What is Matt Walsh wrong about today?” provides some valuable information about the effect of depression on one’s cognitive and decision-making capabilities:

Matt says suicide is a choice, but what makes a choice a choice is the presence of logic, reason, and objectivity to evaluate its merits. Depression can rob your brain of the ability to think that way. My friend Derek, a pharmacist, knows a thing or two about this. In his own words:

“In a euthymic (or normal, mildly-positive) attitude, the effect of a choice is either a reward, perhaps the blast of dopamine from a great run, or a detriment, the exhaustion of inactivity. In a person with clinical depression, both sides of that choice respond with a similar lack of neurotransmission.

A patient suffering from severe depression may not even be able to tell the choice apart. Even if objectively they know that running is good, couch is bad, they will experience the same neurochemical state regardless.”

[. . . ] So no, depression doesn’t appear on autopsy reports. But when a 500-lb thirty-year old drops dead at his desk, the autopsy reads “cardiac arrest” rather than “morbid obesity”. As usual, Matt is glossing over nuances. He thinks things are black and white—that a choice is a choice. He’s wrong. In absence of a healthy neurological system, not all actions are choices.

[SIDEBAR] Even though the fat activist in me is yearning to give significant bandwidth to the false assumptions and lack of medical evidence in Kristi’s facile conflation of “cardiac arrest” and “morbid obesity,” I’m mostly going to let it slide because I’m on a different topical horse tonight. Allow me merely a gentle hat tip to my HAES basics post, my critique of BMI, and my puzzlement at the unproductive insanity of fat-shaming. [/SIDEBAR]

[SIDEBAR THE SECOND] I am clearly way too ill-informed about the blogosphere as I hang out typing furiously in my little isolated corner of the wild, wild web. I don’t think I had ever heard of Matt Walsh till this folderol, yet he’s a prominent enough Internet figure to have earned his own dedicated counter-narrative. I don’t know if I’m impressed or horrified. [/SIDEBAR THE SECOND]

Although he doesn’t name check Walsh at all, Peter DeGiglio might as well be writing a targeted counterpoint against Walsh, articulating more reasons for understanding Williams’ death as being caused by the disease of depression:

I tried to get the old friend to understand by using my go-to comparison in this conversation. I asked, “Well, what if it was cancer?” His answer came back like a clichèd line from an after-school special. He proclaimed, “Well, that you can’t help!”

And therein, my friends, lies the problem in our dialogue on mental illness. [. . .]

What I believe people need to understand is that Robin Williams took his own life because he lost his battle with a serious medical condition. Take again my cancer analogy. Think about it: The last possible stage of any type of cancer that can effect a person is death. When one loses their battle with cancer, they die. The cancer cells take over and shut down the body for good. The same can be said for Bi-Polar Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder (aka simply “Depression”). The last possible stage of these diseases is death. The difference is that instead of cancer cells destroying the body, the body is destroyed instead by thoughts and feelings, causing the afflicted person to be convinced that the only way to end the suffering is through death at their own hands.

Essentially, he had “Thought Cancer”

———–

I feel half-vulture playing all this out on the screen. Yet another fan doing pop psychology when a celebrity dies, and doing so without much regard for the feelings of those individuals who are actually, acutely, intimately affected by his death.

So why am I even sailing these rocky waters?

Because however much I disagree with Walsh’s perspective, no matter how fervently I believe that those suggesting we say Williams died of depression are onto a deep psychological and spiritual truth — well, here’s an uncomfortable truth of my own.

Part of me wants Walsh to be right.

I want to believe that my depression is something I can rein in, get under control. I’ve been really lucky to be able to manage the condition for several years now without prescriptions. This is nothing I’m saying as a mark of strength, of health, or of any other sort of virtue. The operative word is “luck.” Yes, I work damn hard to maintain my psychological health, but I also know you can do everything “right” and still be challenged with disease. So, yeah, I am deeply grateful for my good fortune, but I know that tomorrow’s health and tomorrow’s brain chemistry are far from guaranteed.

It’d be easier if Walsh were right. More comforting, in a childish control-freak kind of way. To know that I just need to find and follow the proper recipe so’s to be sure that I will never have to stare down the maw of despair and depression again.

But that’s not how life works.

no-cry-for-help

———-

Image credit: http://en.webfail.com/855852d8b8b

A Reason or a Season

[Set-up] The Day 6 prompt for Writing 101 is a character study, a prose portrait of “the most interesting person you’ve met in 2014.” I know what follows is more an artifact of imagination and projection than anything else, but this individual has been on my mind now and again for the last few weeks, so I’m going to keep trusting my inner guidance in this, as with so many other things, and write the words I have in me to say. [/Set-up]

———-

misty-forestOne of the things we’ve been doing as part of growing roots up here in Boston is to attend services and find other (small) ways to become involved at one of the local UU parishes.

All told, it’s sort of been an odd time to be “dating” this new church. The customary minister has been on sabbatical, so the Sunday services have been a patchwork of experiences, from lay-led services (that so often sound more like academic lectures than actual sermons), to guest ministers, to services led by the congregation’s brand-new ministerial intern.

I know enough about how long it takes to get through divinity school to expect that Jeff is actually in his late 20s. However, he has that indeterminate appearance so many young men have — at least to my aging eyes — where his age could possibly be anything from 12 to 29. His frame is slender, such that he looks just the tiniest bit dwarfed by his minister’s robes. The eyes behind his glasses shine with warmth and brightness, but the glasses themselves, paired with the ministerial accoutrements and the care with which I have seen him perform his duties have created in me the strongest impression of seriousness.

The first time we saw him lead a service, Mr. Mezzo even criticized him for that seriousness. “I just prefer a minister who’s less formal, more able to laugh at themselves,” he said in our car ride home that day.

And I understood that, but I had my own theory. “Imagine being so young,” I said, “and you’ve been tasked with providing spiritual leadership and guidance to an established congregation full of people with decades more life experience than you, with more years of involvement in this congregation than you. A congregation that won’t stop comparing your performance unfavorably with that of their oh-so-beloved minister.*

“I remember how intimidated I was with the responsibility of teaching my first college class as a kid of 24, and that was just a low stakes music appreciation class! I can imagine choosing to act with a certain level of gravitas if I were in his shoes.”

———-

My level of church involvement and attendance is still pretty minimal, so I haven’t have opportunities to get to know Jeff to any particular depth. A couple of conversations during coffee hour, a number of services and sermons. My perception has been that he’s come a bit more fully into a comfort level as his months of service went by. I was glad to see that.

In a weird way, I was also glad to see the announcement that Jeff would be finishing his internship with us at the halfway mark rather than completing two full years of service. He was entirely gracious in his announcement of this news, and shared that he was in a process of discerning whether it sensed best for him to continue the path of UU ordination or if a different faith tradition would be better-suited as his spiritual and ministerial home.

And I get that, I really do. A college friend of mine went through a similar journey as she entered divinity school — leaving the faith of her fathers (Catholicism) to be ordained as a UCC minister, because she knew the call to ministry in her soul was true and deep and not to be denied. I also have my own small degree of resonance, recalling the ways I was brought up an a devoutly atheist household** and remembering my own journey of exploration and discernment towards the understanding and acceptance of Spirit I now possess — however ego-limited, nonetheless true and deep and not to be denied.

I also admit to wondering whether the congregation really gave Jeff a fair shake with this position. Instead of being actively mentored week after week by a sitting minister, he was being used as “substitute teacher” during that minister’s sabbatical. And, what with the number of church members expressing to me how “unfortunate” it was that Mr. Mezzo and I were starting to attend church during this sabbatical:

You’ll see how Reverend ______ is just so much better than this.

Well, if I (minimal participation and all) have gotten such a strong picture of the level of regard these folks have for their sitting minister (and of the attendant, not-so-subtle disdain they have for anyone who isn’t Reverend ______), I kinda think Jeff mighta been able to pick up on it, too.

So between my imagined resonance with his journey, and my soft regret for any discomforts he may have felt during this year, I have been holding Jeff in the light and wishing him all manner of support and guidance and acceptance as he journeys forward. May he find the home that best feeds his soul and where he can most authentically be of service.

I’ve been too chicken-shit to reach out and tell him this. Like I said, he and I barely spoke once or twice. The idea of emailing to share any portion of this just feels awkward and invasive and as if I’d be forcing him into the box of the story I made up about his life, rather than honoring his own knowledge about his own lived experience.

But, however on-point or off-base my understanding of Jeff’s decision may be, even if I never see him or speak to him again: this much I know to be true.

A small prayer, whispered up to the ether. You will always be part of  the church’s family tree in my drawing of its branches. Thank you. I wish you well.

———-

* More on that later.

** Yes, that’s a del thing. At least as far as I’ve experienced it, it is.

Image credit: http://www.seedsofunfolding.org/issues/02_11/feature.htm