NaPo struggles

A short update – I haven’t forgotten NaPoWriMo but I sure dropped out of the race way too quickly this year. I did write a lengthy explanation post that topped out at 7,000 words (good heavens, if only the poetry came that easily for me). Upon reflection, though, I felt that the post was best left as a private journal entry rather than a public post. The thing is that, despite all my good intentions for creativity and productivity and churning out some sort of art that will make my mortal existence feel worthwhile – I am battling some big (metaphorical) demons in my life. Processing some deep trauma, transitioning to a new phase of life and leaving behind my comfort zone to find a new space, along with all the underlying challenges of being a mental illness sufferer – which is hard enough without it being overlaid by unnecessary interpersonal dramas.These things take up a remarkable amount of my energy to the extent that some days all I can manage is to make sure the kids and the cats are fed and safe. Anything more, like writing or art, is a bonus, but definitely not my first priority.

Part of the difficulty of trying to write about my experiences, as in the aborted 7,000 word blog post I nearly shared two days ago, is where it intersects with the lives of other people – because their lives intersect with mine (for better or worse) and I’m conscious that their narratives of the same events will be markedly different. For example, where I might lament about the individual who crashed into my life in my early 20s via a proxy familial relationship and then proceeded to take control of all of my life decisions, I imagine they would see themselves as the heroic figure who helped me take a hold of my life when it was seemingly going nowhere (it’s a pity their version of the best life I could lead was one that in every respect emulated theirs).

What value or point is there in trying to share my heartfelt journey through depression, anxiety disorder, the ex-cult process, clinging to a tenuous though still very much alive faith in Jesus Christ despite all the reasons not to believe, and so on, knowing full well that there are…?:

(a) people in my life who won’t rest on unresolved stories. They don’t want my continued progression nor the stream-of-consciousness retelling of my life as it happens. They want a neatly wrapped-up little testimony about who I was, and why who I am now is far superior. What lessons I learned along the way. Preferably in a fashion that upholds their own pre-existing ontological standpoint.They can’t handle the real-life tension of a person in a state of existential flux. They want a start, middle and end, with a clear conclusion and a big fat full stop at the end of it. No matter how unreasonable such an expectation would be.

Also I am suspicious, these days, of testimonies. I gave many a testimony in various church settings over the last decade or two, only to realise that I not only came to a point of disbelief in most of my own experience (“that probably wasn’t spiritual – it was most likely a symptom of my then-undiagnosed mental illness” seems to be my major refrain these days), I felt exploited by a community who just wanted outlandish stories of [Catholic-turned-pagan-turned-nondenominational protestant Christian] because it gave them hope that they might one day convince their own heathen acquaintances that theirs is the One True Religion. In the end, my lived reality was irrelevant to them. When my health disintegrated and my personal doubts resurfaced (not doubts in Christ, but doubts in what I saw to be the dysfunctional and unhealthy social dynamics of megachurches – a system I only began to critique once I got my sociology degree), I was tossed to the side so fast that people who had once asked me to pray for them now ignored me when they passed me in the street. (And in a weird way I thank them, now, because in their sudden hostility towards me while I was still an active member of the community, they revealed themselves, and pushed me so far to the edge that I later found the last remaining option was to seize liberty in ending my involvement there. By shunning me they made it easier to leave.);

(b) emotionally and psychologically dangerous and difficult people in my real life. I concede that I may be over-dramatising this. My anxiety disorder tends to catastrophise things that mentally healthy people might not find so stressful. But if any of them were to read this blog, the amount of in-real-life difficulty they could cause me would be devastating. The more I learn about dealing with pathological narcissists, the more I realise how much my honesty in sharing my struggles could be used against me;

(c) and ultimately I never really wanted my blog to be a space of angst and lament. While it’s a central factor in my own lived experience, what I really want is to see my art and creative writing reach a wider audience. So I will sit with this goal in my mind and see if I can get back on track. Hopefully I’ll get in a few more Napo posts, too, before April ends.

And in other things…

Failing all that, I have been working on some palaeo art and personal creative writing recently. It brings me far more joy than focusing too much on the people and situations that have hurt me. I’ve been reading good books – I have a few on the go at the moment.

Palaeo art has, in a weird way for me, become an act of resistance. It’s first and foremost because I just love animals and find imagining prehistoric creatures a mentally enjoyable exercise, and because I love to paint and draw. So I can lose several happy hours researching, for example, the latest reconstructions of ornithomimid dinosaurs and try to render them as they are nowadays sometimes understood, as covered in ornamental or insulating proto-feathers. But it’s more than that. As I have mentioned before, I got caught up in Young Earth Creationism (YEC) upon marrying an individual educated in ACE schools. I faithfully read YEC books, memorised the strongest of their apologetics arguments, ran countless Bible studies on the topic so that there are people in my life who are now committed YECs partly because of my input… I believed YEC claims that to disagree was to risk an eternity in Hell, and eventually, after careful consideration, wider reading, and a higher education, I left. In the meantime, one of my favourite science subjects – dinosaur and pterosaur palaeontology – had advanced enormously, particularly with the increasingly strong evidence for a close evolutionary relationship between birds and dinosaurs.

Now, does this mean I ridicule and criticise YECs? No, I don’t. Actually, for those of us who’ve come out of it, it’s terribly frightening to question it. It’s an all-encompassing worldview and the vast ~13 billion year old universe seems so cold and terrifying. When you’re taught that the truth of Christ’s resurrection relies on the literal truth of the first chapters of the Bible, it makes sense that some writers believe the emphasis on YEC pushes those with science questions right out of Christianity… rather than their perhaps moving to a less Genesis-focused form of Christian belief. That is, they’ll still have more-or-less the same worldview regarding the centrality of Christ and the ethical framework that comes with it, they just won’t fly into a panic upon hearing that some people sincerely believe the universe to be older than 6,000 to 10,000 years. I am personally convinced that evolutionary biology and the long ages such a process entails (which is separate from materialist philosophy, so I don’t mix the two) best describes the process of diversification among life forms. This, according to YEC arguments, sees me relegated to the “compromisers”category, at best – or at worst as one who has lost their salvation by refusing to accept the cultural-political worldview of modern American Biblical literalism.

By drawing feathered dinosaurs I am both exploring a science I have found fascinating since early childhood and saying “good bye and no more” to the decade of my life I poured into YEC in my 20s – a time when I also felt pressured to give up every other aspect of my God-given identity in the name of trying to convince a few fundamentalists to be more accepting of me (only later finding out that the church did not in fact posit any one theory of creation or evolution as being their view, because they wanted congregants to study it for themselves). In my YEC heyday I read more articles I could count from the mainstream YEC proponents on why feathered dinosaurs are faked, or not plausible, or maybe real but actually birds. Then, I saw it. Yutyrannus. Enormous. Intimidating. Unmistakably a tyrannosaurid. But FLUFFY. Like a baby chicken. And I realised that in my years of faithful adherence to YEC tenets of faith, I had missed the continued evolution of scientific thought that comes with the discovery of feathered tyrannosaurs. Quite frankly, I felt ripped off, by the heavily mediated and moderated presentation of science, reinterpreted through a YEC lens, and given to laypeople like myself because we purportedly can’t be trusted to read Nature or Australian Geographic without suddenly morphing into not just a nonbeliever, but a Jesus-hating church-hating sexually immoral hedonist.

I mean, really? The nuns in my old Catholic school had no problem with teaching us evolutionary biology while still adhering to a Christ-focused, celibate, social justice-oriented faith. It’s a false dichotomy and sadly one that sucked me right in with all its promises of rationalist answers to a mystical belief system.

Beyond that slide into rampant atheistic behaviours &/or taking a bit of a breather and not getting so worried about scientific progress, I’ve also been listening to some fascinating theology lectures, on the history of Christian mysticism and Celtic Christianity, something that helps me keep going when Christian community is so often hurtful – it reminds me that the faith to which I ascribe has a rich history, philosophical depth and profound understanding of the embodied nature of spiritual being… though one only sees this when one digs a bit under the surface. And that depth is what keeps me coming back.

I’ve noticed that since I left the previous church, I’ve had a sudden wave of well-meaning acquaintances try to convert me to their particular position. What they perhaps didn’t realise is that I haven’t given up on God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit. I am not looking to fill the void with the practices of another belief system. I don’t want to jump from one cult or controlling religious system to the next.

Does it have a huge lexicon of terminology not normally accessible to lay people, secret knowledge or systems of ritual that demand extreme physical hardship in order to attain them? Count me out. If I want exercise, I’ll ride my bike or dig in the garden. If I want meditation, I’ll sit silently for 15 minutes with my Rosary beads or some Taizé music or just enjoy the birdsong outside. If I want crazy terminology, I’ve got my sociology training as an outlet for learning profoundly complex ways to say simple things. (And I love it…)

I am most definitely not interested in being the kind of person who co-opts other cultures’ religions, picking and choosing which bits I want to believe while ignoring the deep cultural context in which these religions were founded. I do not want to start paying for classes on how to look and feel spiritual when I compare it to the relatively simple statement of Christ’s “follow me” – I have all I need in His teachings and in the support of fellow pilgrims along the way. I hasten to add that I in no way feel antagonism towards anyone who believes differently – it’s just that I find it really fascinating to observe that most of the people in my life seem to just want to convince me of their own particular truth. As if they had to be competing worldviews…

Anyway, as always, my attempt to write a lighthearted post about why I got NaPo wrong has descended into existentialist despair and spiritual narrative, so I will stop right there. I need a coffee after that.