Musings on life and books, March 2016 edition

I just noticed, with some surprise, that my most recent post on WordPress was from February 21, 2016. It doesn’t feel that long ago, and after briefly pondering this time warp, I realise that the last month has been terribly busy, and relatively productive, for me. I won’t delve into the minutiae of my recent existence, which consisted of a blur of being sick, the kids being sick, myriad appointments with my doctor, psychologist and *shudder* the dentist (with more to come – they have to repair an old filling, and it is with considerable gratitude that I note that I have found a lovely young, patient dentist who makes me less terrified than my previous dentists). And just when I thought things were settling down, the optometrist contacted me regarding organising the kids’ and my routine eye tests. Ah, the perpetual disintegration of these mortal bodies…

In more positive notes, I also had several catch-ups with friends. It’s the first half of the first semester of the school term for this year, and as the summer holidays (December to January) reached their end, I was bracing myself for the relative isolation that tends to come when the kids go back to school. Instead, to my relief, I have had coffee catch ups with 1-2 friends per week. I feel like a broken record at times, because maybe two thirds of us are burnt-out-for-Jesus ex-Pentecostals, and our conversations tend to follow the same route, but it is so helpful to be able to talk openly with our shared hopes, memories, and disappointments with our spiritual journeys.

You see, I can officially say “ex-Pentecostal” now. Or, more accurately, perhaps, a prodigal returning to at least some variant of Catholicism, via the teachings of the Catholic mystics and monks and ancient saints, the Trappist and Franciscan and Benedictine and Jesuit writers, and the kind and friendly group of complete strangers at the local parish church. The label ‘Catholic’ encompasses a terribly broad set of associations in people’s minds such that I’m not going to attempt to define it. If there’s a category for environmentalist, animal-loving, nonviolent, social justice-oriented, nonpolitical, contemplative, philosophical, poetic, Celtic, lectio divina kind of Catholicism, then that’s sort of where I’m at in my journey. Which will come as no surprise to the people who know me well, but will be potentially shocking and distressing to the Pentecostals in my life who didn’t realise just how far I’d gone in a different direction to them. But, I have to stay true to where I believe the Spirit leads me, and I think it would be a lack of integrity to pretend to be Pentecostal when my theology is in several ways so different to that stream, and I know there will be people who will potentially shun me now… And all I can do is accept that part of being true to myself and my journey means, sadly, losing friends for no reason more than the socially constructed labels we apply to ourselves.

As of last week I have formally ended my partnership at the Pentecostal church and I won’t delve into that here – it was a decision years in the making and I have a mix of weighty grief mingled with incredible relief. Until the bureaucratic machinations are finalised and I have worked out how I feel on it all I won’t write or talk more about it. It is enough to say that some of my happiest memories and some of my worst life decisions, and some of the best friends I’ve ever had and some of the worst antagonists in my life, have all come out of that community. I am sure that one day I will be able to look on it with nostalgic positivity, but for now I am still grappling with the raw emotions of the situation. Unfortunately, when it comes to this style of Christianity, to leave a church for any reason almost feels like leaving one’s friends behind and I can only hope that the true friendships I developed in that community will be able to transcend the often-superficial denominational differences. In some ways, I am simply being true to myself by rediscovering the profoundly deep theology that framed my childhood but that I never really understood. I can thank the Pentecostals for helping me learn how to read the Bible; I can thank the Catholics for helping me learn how to practically live the message the Bible contains. Both of these Christian streams have incredibly positive aspects and I won’t be pointing the finger at Pentecostalism and saying, “It’s all wrong and I’ve seen that now,” because I don’t believe that. Sadly there will be people on both ends of the diverse spectrum of individuals in my life who will disapprove of my decision to re-explore Catholicism, so by and large I won’t really talk much about it. I left apologetics and argumentative, defensive faith behind some years ago and while it was useful for a time, I have no desire to return to that mindframe of accepting modernist, dualistic, rationalist assumptions that faith must be provable to be valid. There are different kinds of “truth,” and while I am not fully versed in the philosophy of it, except to make little nods to what I understand of constructivist ontologies and say that I see truth in myth that is parallel to, and not in competition with, scientific truth: both are dimensions of human understanding.

In my little-remaining free time, I have been actively working on my art and writing and reading. While I grapple with all the stuff going on in my life, my safe haven has been spaces like Star Wars Amino – a mobile phone app consisting of a dedicated social network for Star Wars fans. There, under the laughably juvenile name ‘Darth Fiona Hux,’ I can ignore the real-life stresses and wax eloquent about which Sith Lord or Lady I like the most, or which version of Obi-Wan Kenobi I prefer, or indulge in book reviews of Star Wars Legends, or deconstruct episodes of the brilliant Star Wars Rebels cartoons, or share my thoughts on how I suspect Kylo Ren and Rey are cousins, or write in defense of the Prequel Trilogy while affirming that the Originals are my favourites, and tell people about the spiritually-resonant experience I had the first time I watched The Empire Strikes Back in 1994. I wrote a short essay on Original Trilogy character General Veers, for example, and it’s nice to find an online community that actually finds that sort of thing interesting.

I’ve engaged in near-daily drawing in recent weeks and to my delight it seems to have resulted in increased sales on my RedBubble portfolio, something for which I am profoundly grateful. It motivates me to keep pushing and learning and developing as an artist. I don’t want my Bachelor of Arts degree to go to waste (technically it’s in a different branch of Arts, but I’ll milk it for all it’s worth…). See, that’s another thing. I’ve stopped describing myself as “unemployed stay-at-home mum” and adopted the label of “artist.” Up until late last year I was a “volunteer” but even then, it’s not like fortnightly selling potato chips to high school kids at the local youth ministry really feels like meaningful, fulfilling work on a daily basis. Sure, if a more normal job  presented itself, like, I don’t know, some basic retail work in the local craft store or, more ideally, actual professional work in environmental sociology (anyone got any local jobs going offering sustainability courses to rural folks..?), then I would absolutely be open to that. But in these days of high unemployment and the despair or repeated knock-backs from the places to which I have applied, I decided to take matters into my own hand. I might not make enough to make a living, but dang it, it’s honest work. At the end of the day I can look at what I accomplished and as a bonus see occasional, small, incremental increases in my savings account. And it gives me a greater sense of purpose that when I wake up now my first question is no longer, “What will I do with my free time today?” – it’s, “What will I draw or paint today? How will I better myself as an artist? What imagery burns on my heart that I can express through graphite markings on paper? What type of paper and pencils and paints will I use today?” That choice alone, that is, to call myself “artist,” and not, say, “glorified yet unpaid chauffeur for children and cleaner of kitty litter trays and school uniforms and bin-putter-outer” has realigned the way I go about my daily life and changed it for the better.

I have picked up the pen again, too, and am writing more. However, rather than developing narratives I’m trying to get back to basics by composing short, paragraph-length snippets of text that will hopefully provide a springboard for me to work on a story idea I have about, as always, extraterrestrials trapped on Earth. I don’t know, I try to be original but I always come back to the wildly attractive alien-meets-human plot. The creativity is in the execution of the story, I guess. The key word here is “pen,” by the way: I’m writing all these little stories by hand, in a lovely big hardcover journal that my husband bought for me. Writing by hand helps me feel more immersed in the physicality of the text. It connects me to my words more than manipulating pixels on a screen does. Typing is, for me, ideally a second-draft stage action.

Now, as for the books. I’ve read a heap of books recently, and I wanted to share them here. I will write the reviews in separate posts. They’re a mix of topics: sci fi, dinosaur palaeontology, visual arts, creative writing instructional books, Catholic mysticism, Anglican theology, and more. Stay tuned, because my in-progress reviews of some of these books will come soon! I never thought I’d say this, but my reading pile is too big, to the point of being overwhelming. So every spare minute goes into working my way through these diverse texts. I’ll share some reviews, summaries and quotes soon. You never know, you might find a book you like!