So, what would you like to read?

I’m back to thinking about writing again. It’s one of those things that just won’t leave me alone.

When thinking about writing a novel, I usually come up against what seems to me like a big problem, namely, that I think people want to read about relationships, and I’m not sure how to write about those. Oh, I think I could do justice to a romance. I’ve always been passionate in that department, if not downright lusty. In fact, it’s safe to say that in my younger years, I was obsessive.

But family? Nah. Not much happening there. Friends? Don’t have them. Don’t need them, don’t want them. I don’t have the energy for all that.

And I feel like I can’t write about something I don’t know about, something I haven’t experienced firsthand. I feel like if I were try to write about a web of complex relationships, it would sound fake and nobody would want to read it.

I really want to write a book with an introverted hero/heroine, but I haven’t got any ideas.

What sort of introverted protagonist would you want to read about? Who would you root for, and what would he or she be doing? What would you relate to? What kind of story would make you feel great about being exactly who you are?

The Right Thing

right“You will never regret doing the right thing.”

I hope this is true.

This morning, I unpublished all my little erotic ebooks. From Amazon, All Romance, Smashwords and its retailers, and Google.

Sigh.

It was hard to do. I had put a lot of work into them. When I looked at my Amazon Bookshelf, I was so proud. I’d made most of the covers, and they were pretty good, if I do say so myself; I’d paid for stock photos and learned to use Corel Photo Paint Shop Pro to put them on my own backgrounds, and my little books looked good, dammit. And across all platforms, they were selling well enough to make me a little extra spending money. It wasn’t easy to let that go.

But I had to. I’m feeling such a powerful call to the religious life, as I’m able to live it, “out in the world.” I sit down for what is supposed to be 15 minutes of prayer and meditation and it turns into 45 minutes. I feel as if I was born for prayer. I am taking to a daily discipline of it like a duck to water. And the mystic in me, who has been kept hidden and starving for years, is coming out and singing Alleluias at the prospect of being set free.

Yet, I need guidance. I need to find a spiritual director. I need help. And I can’t see sitting down with a spiritual director to talk about my calling, while hiding the fact that “Oh, yeah, I write dirty ebooks and sell them.” That’s just not going to work. My “porny shorts” were an obstacle, and I’ve removed them. I’ve already got enough challenges and impediments standing in my way, when it comes to figuring out if I have an actual vocation – I sure don’t need to add more of my own creation.

Mind you, I don’t think erotica is terrible. I don’t think sex is evil or bad. But my little stories were pornography, not erotica. They were actually kind of gross, if titillating. My writing time can be spent on better pursuits than trying to come up with yet another way to describe fitting tab A into slot B.

The writers I most admire, the writers who inspire me, don’t write porn. And I knew from the start that I didn’t have a dream of being a self-published erotica queen. I just saw dollar signs and thought this was the way to get out of debt and quit my job. That’s all. And to be perfectly honest with you, if those little stories had been selling like hotcakes and making me lots of money, I’m not sure I would be doing the right thing right now. I might have been happy to remain a “pew sitter,” attending worship on Sundays and writing filth the rest of the week, and calling it good. But it didn’t happen that way, and I’m actually glad it didn’t.

Now I feel liberated to seriously pursue my calling. I mentioned it to my priest but we haven’t sat down and discussed it yet. I plan to corner her today after worship and press hard for an appointment. I need to find a spiritual director. I’ve been a seeker all my life; I’ve always known there was “something more” out there; I’ve always felt “different” and out of step with the world. I used to think that was a bad thing. Now, I think it might be a very good thing, indeed.

Onward!

 

 

Called to the Contemplative Life?

Hands with prayer beads

A peaceful occupation

I’ve been wondering for a long time how an introvert like me, with such an inward orientation, could follow any sort of spiritual path. I’ve touched on this before. We seem to always be exhorted to ‘live for others,’ serve other people, love other people, be so damned social, in order to be “good.” Where do people like us fit in? Or don’t we? I was really starting to feel like we don’t. “God created us to be in relationship,” I keep hearing. “Christ calls us to be in community.” What’s a person who loves silence and solitude to do? Abandon religion and spirituality entirely? That isn’t acceptable to me, especially when I feel like I’ve finally found my home.

I guess sometimes frustration and discomfort can be good things. In this case, they motivated me to start searching and seeking and praying, trying to find a way to serve and contribute to my church without having to be someone I’m not.

I’m learning a lot. First of all, God does answer prayer. He really does. OK, so He’s turned a deaf ear to my appeals to bless me with a big lottery win so I can retire from my hated, meaningless job. He’s ignored my pleas for Him to supernaturally remove about 60 pounds of fat from my body overnight while I sleep. (Just kidding, I haven’t actually asked for that.) Better minds than mine have wrestled with the question of what Matthew 21:22 is really saying to us so I’ll leave that alone for now. What I want to tell you is that I’ve asked for direction, I’ve asked for help, I’ve asked for the grace and strength to “bloom where I’m planted,” and for a more content and grateful heart. These prayers are being answered daily. I do feel like a new person lately, full of fresh hope and a good reason to get up in the morning. (That doesn’t mean I’m not still cranky and selfish and irritable some of the time, but I think I’m getting better, I really do. I feel better, at least.)

And I’m finding lots of resources for people like me, for people like us, the quiet ones who need solitude and silence like we need air to breathe. There are books by people like Thomas Merton. There are websites and blogs. There is a whole world filled with people living the contemplative life, in many different situations. I’m just amazed that I never really saw this or understood it before. But maybe I shouldn’t be amazed about that, about not having seen it before. Because here’s something that’s hard to realize, but it’s true. In my previous seeking, I always held something back; I thought I could find my answers on my own. When I was trying to learn Wicca as a “solitary practitioner,” I thought I could do it by reading books and never talking to anyone. When I tried to be a Baha’i, I did have someone I talked with (via email, mostly) and I went to a few meetings, but mostly I tried to read and do it on my own. When I discovered Tibetan Buddhism, I went to a few teachings and empowerments but again, mostly tried to figure it out by myself. Each of these spiritual forays ended in discouragement and eventual loss of interest. Why? I hate to admit this, but it was at least in part because I was never plugged into any sort of community. I was afraid to connect with anyone and say, “This is who I am and this is what I need.” I thought I could sort of flirt around the edges of whatever community existed, and just do my own thing. As it turns out, I couldn’t.

What’s different this time? Aside from the fact that I’ve come full circle in my faith journey, back to Christianity? Well, for one thing, I asked God for help and then paid attention when help appeared in the form of an Advent offering – a series of four classes on contemplative prayer. I put aside my reluctance, and I went. And I learned, and I was encouraged, and received validation for the way I am. That gave me the courage to keep going, to keep looking, to reach out, and to speak out. I think if not for having been willing to plug in and leave my comfort zone, I wouldn’t have made this wondrous discovery that there’s an amazing support network out there for people like us.

I’ve had to admit that even for someone like me, community is important. But it means different things to different people, and that’s OK. To some, it means being very social – attending every meeting and party possible, and serving in very outwardly-focused and visible ways. To others, like me, it means appreciating the “communion of saints” that we refer to when we recite the Nicene Creed. It means coming to church on Sunday morning to get recharged, in the company of other people of faith. Sometimes it even means staying for a few minutes at coffee hour, enjoying one-on-one conversation with a friend. (Can you believe that?) It means spending over an hour a day in solitary prayer and contemplation, during which I think about and pray for others. But it also means reaching out to my priest to talk about this life I’m feeling called to. It means looking for a spiritual director. I have had this idea that when people say “community” they always mean big groups and lots of noise and plenty of activity. I’ve been wrong.

There are ways to live the contemplative life “out in the world,” and I’m going to need help in order to find the best fit for me and for my circumstances. Asking for help has always been hard for me, and I shocked myself last week when I said to our priest, “I need help.” She’s been very receptive and now it’s just a matter of finding a time to meet that works for both of us. She’s insanely busy, so I may need to wait a bit, and that’s hard. I want to talk to her NOW. I want to find a spiritual director NOW. I have never been good at being patient. I’m so excited to have found a path that suits me, I feel like I can’t wait to start. Of course, I already have started, so what is it I’m really so excited about? I guess I’ll need to go home and contemplate that.

 

 

 

On Being a Solitary

hermit

The Hermit is wise.

 

I am beginning to understand and accept that I truly am a spiritual hermit. I am a solitary. I have always been this way, and fighting it only leads to unhappiness. I’ve tried many spiritual paths in the nearly 55 years I’ve been in this body, but on all of them, the solitary way felt most natural to me.

Now that I’ve returned to Christianity, I’m finding that certain words trigger aversion and distaste in me. One of those words is “fellowship.” Good Lord, I am tired of that word.

I love coming to church to worship on Sunday mornings, and it’s actually nice for me that Cat’s in the choir, because it means I get to sit alone in my pew, and I don’t have to talk unless someone approaches me. My instinct is to be silent and reverent before the service, but that’s not shared by many, and often people will stop by my pew to chat. I don’t mind it too much, and sometimes I actually enjoy it. It’s pleasant to be liked, and I’m not too proud to admit that. And I do feel genuine regard and affection for my fellow parishioners. There is a peace and comfort that comes from gathering together for “corporate worship,” as they call it. (I don’t care for that term as it reminds me of business, of work, but I digress) I sometimes sense the “communion of saints” quite strongly, and I treasure that, and am glad to be part of it.

“Fellowship,” though, is something different. I get just about all the “fellowship” I need from actually attending worship services. I don’t like coffee hour afterward and generally skip it unless Cat and I are hosting it, or I have something specific I need to speak with someone about. But I have no interest in hanging around chatting after the service. So I usually don’t.

Our church is really big on “fellowship” activities. That’s great, for the people who enjoy them. “Knock yourselves out,” I want to tell them. “Don’t take it personally that I don’t want to come to your meeting/party/dinner/excursion.”

There is something that I’m taking personally, though, and that’s the fact that I can count on the fingers of one hand, or half the fingers of one hand, the number of times I’ve heard any kind of recognition or support from the pulpit for those of us who prefer to worship and serve quietly. There is constant encouragement to be “in community,” to “come together” for things, to offer your gifts of time and service in social ways. I love our rector, I truly do, but I think she overlooks the quiet ones, the ones like me who aren’t always talking, or trying to get attention, or making their presence known at every single event that happens.

Truthfully, it hurts a little. Maybe more than a little. “I’m a Christian too,” I want to say. “I’m here. Where is the support for people like me? Where is the recognition and appreciation for those of us who write checks without fanfare, and bake cookies and buy socks and food for your different programs, but who drop them off to go home and pray, in solitude, for the success of those programs? Why don’t we have a quiet room in the church, where people can go to pray and meditate in peace without being approached for conversation? Why isn’t there more support and love for your contemplatives?”

I did attend a meeting last week. It’s not that I never participate in anything, it’s just that I need to be very selective about what I choose to do. It was a study session for those considering joining the Order of the Daughters of the King. One question posed to everyone was, “What are your stumbling blocks?” I decided to speak up. I said, “I am going to go out on a limb here, and tell you that one of my biggest stumbling blocks is the constant emphasis on fellowship and community. My spirituality is of a more solitary and contemplative nature, and I don’t have the energy to be with other people all the time.” It was hard to say that. But to my pleased surprise, I was met with understanding and acceptance, and one woman said, “I know exactly what you mean. I’m an introvert, and while extroverts gain energy from being with people, I get recharged by being alone.” And that led to a thoughtful discussion about the differences between introverts and extroverts, and the need for balance and how each type of person has something to offer. It was wonderful. I expected to be told that I need to learn to be different, but that didn’t happen. So there is hope, I think, and perhaps if I continue to speak up, I can increase awareness and understanding so that the quiet members of the church can feel appreciated and supported too.

That said, though, I’m learning that I can’t look to others for validation of how I am. It’s just not going to happen. I had high hopes for developing a friendship with the fellow who ran the contemplative prayer classes, but he seems uninterested in communicating much with me. He told me I was welcome to email him, but when I did, it took him over a week to answer, and he’s never responded at all to my second email. So much for that. But I’m finding there are lots of resources out there. Lots of excellent reading material about the calling of a Hermit. You can even manage it while living in the world and having to go to a job and be out among people every day. The more time I spend in solitary contemplation and prayer, the more confident I feel about it.

It would be wonderful if the church could be more supportive and appreciative of its introverts. I’ll work toward bringing that about, as I’m able to, in my quiet way, for the sake of others like me who might be feeling “less than” because of the way they are. I don’t want anybody else to feel hurt or inadequate because they just aren’t up for the constant fellowship activities. We are all members of the mystical body of the church. And the quiet backbone that nobody ever notices is just as important as the noisy mouths and the busy hands.

So don’t feel inadequate just because you’re not a social butterfly. You don’t have to be on a bunch of committees, or go to every church supper that comes up, in order to serve and contribute. Your quiet prayers matter. Your “behind-the-scenes” contributions matter. Your presence in your pew on Sundays matters. You matter!

 

An INFP in Church

altarIt’s not easy being an INFP, period. I wouldn’t trade the way I am for anything, though. I might like to change the way the world is, but I like myself just fine the way I am. It’s splendid to be able to spend hours in my own company and be happy. I would hate to be dependent upon the presence of other people for my happiness. I know so many people who can’t stand to be alone, ever, who can’t tolerate silence for longer than about thirty seconds, who never seem to stop talking, who always have to have either the TV or the radio on in order to drown out their own thoughts. I don’t have any desire to be like them.

But it has really been hard adjusting to “church life.” I had a bit of a crisis at one point, feeling like perhaps I didn’t belong, didn’t fit in. The constant emphasis on “community” and on doing things with people and on serving in active, visible ways was starting to make me feel quite alienated and misunderstood.

But I’m coming out of that, thanks be to God, and I mean that literally. I realized that God made me this way, and He is the one I need to be talking to about it. So I started praying about it, and several things have happened.

I was led to investigate what it can mean to be a hermit, in the spiritual sense, while making one’s way in the secular world. I started learning about “Rules of Life,” and decided to work at establishing a habit of regular prayer – morning, noon, and bedtime. Insights and new thoughts started coming to me. Then, for Advent, a class was offered – four sessions on “Contemplative Prayer.” I could hardly believe it. I signed up. The parishioner who led the class is a wonderful, gentle, introverted man who, having been ordained as a Roman Catholic priest at one time, has had lots of training and guidance and believes that mystics and contemplatives do have a place in the church, and do serve in an important, albeit invisible way, through prayer.

I’m starting to finally believe that you don’t have to sing in the choir, or serve on the Vestry, or be in the Altar Guild, or volunteer for everything, or help with the feeding program, or make small talk at coffee hour, or lead the youth group, or teach Sunday School, or attend every single meeting that comes up, in order to be a good human being and a good Christian. Don’t misunderstand me – these are all wonderful things to do, and I’m glad there are people willing to do them. But there are also “invisible” ways to serve and they are perfectly valid and valuable.

I’m serving when I drop money into the collection plate, and when I contribute to special needs that arise. I’m serving when I pray for others. I’m serving when I take photographs for use in the newsletter or on social media. I’m serving when I update the church website, which is a job I’ve just agreed to take over from Cat, because I finally feel confident enough to do it. I’m serving when I bake cookies for the Kairos prison ministry or for a bake sale. Let the more extroverted folks have a get-together to pack them – it’s fine for me to drop them off and leave.

I sat in my pew on Sunday, drinking in the sight of the altar before me. It was beautiful – the stained glass windows behind it, the big gold cross shining in the middle, the warm light of the candles, the beauty of the flowers. The white linens, and the big red Gospel, and the figurines of the Three Wise Men, carefully arranged there in honor of Epiphany. I had my own little epiphany as I sat there letting the beauty and power of it all wash over me. To me, all of those visual symbols are mysterious and magical. If I were on the Altar Guild (which I have been approached about) and had helped to arrange all of it, if I’d unpacked the Wise Men and set them into place, if I’d laid out the linens and arranged the flowers and placed the candles, the whole scene would have lost its power, for me. My proper place is in the pew, in the congregation, where I can lay down the burdens of life for a week, and commune with my God, in my heart, in my own way. I can best appreciate the liturgy from that perspective, as one of the “people.” It’s how I recharge my spiritual and emotional batteries. After a week out “in the world” dealing with all the pressures and hassles of my job, I need to come and sit and be reminded that there’s more to life than stress and noise and rushing around. I need to be refreshed. The gifts I have to offer need to be nurtured and cared for; if I allow church to become another job, I won’t be able to serve God the way I’m suited to do.

It’s interesting that it’s in church where I’m finding a way to free myself from the extroverted majority’s opinion that you have to be social and busy and outwardly productive in order to matter. And I’m grateful.

 

Writing Angry

It’s sad to say, but most of the time I think my writing stalls because I’m not being honest.

What I mean by that is, I often try to write “nice.” But I’m not nice.

I took one of those stupid Facebook quizzes the other day. “What emotion are you hiding” or something like that. Now, I don’t put any stock in those whatsoever, but I found it interesting that my result on this quiz was “anger.” Because that’s exactly right. I usually don’t show it. In fact, it’s probably my bland and pleasant expression that draws the lost and befuddled to me like flies to shit, with their endless questions, all the time. If I looked the way I feel most of the time, nobody would come near me.

But I’ve spent a lifetime perfecting the “mask.” Hiding my feelings. Never letting my hurt and anger show. People think I’m friendly and kind. They have no idea what goes on inside me. X has no idea that while he’s holding up the wall across from my cube, wasting my time with his yammering, I’m thinking to myself how much I would love to just duct-tape his mouth shut. The third person in a row who interrupts my solitary walk to ask me how to get to “Z” building has no clue that while my mouth is saying “Go down that street and turn right,” my brain is shrieking, “You fucking idiot, why the hell did you come here without a map, or without calling ahead for directions?”

am angry a lot of the time. I’m angry that the world is so damn noisy. I’m angry that people won’t leave me alone. I’m angry that I have to go out into this noisy world full of needy people every day, when all I want to do is be alone, safely at home or out in Nature by myself. I’m angry and I’m tired. I’m angry that nobody seems to understand me. I’m angry that people judge me harshly for my introversion. I’m angry that people seem to think it’s funny to irritate me with noise. I’m angry that everywhere I go, there’s music I haven’t chosen, or a TV blasting. I’m angry that people never seem to shut up, and that when I do have something to say, I can’t make myself heard over the more aggressive people who won’t let me get a word in edgewise. I’m angry that it’s practically impossible to find time alone, unless I lock myself in my room. I’m angry that the parks are full of people. I’m angry that there isn’t a ‘quiet room’ in our church where people like me can go to just sit without being approached for conversation. I’m angry that I just don’t fit into this crazy world, but I’m stuck here.

And yet – and yet, I really don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t. So I put up with the questions and the talking and the constant sucking at me. I smile and I keep my mouth shut, because if I were to lash out at someone and cause pain, I’d feel terrible. I sure hope that counts for something with the Man Upstairs, or I’m in trouble. I sure hope I get heavenly credit for being “nice” when I don’t want to be, for smiling when I’d rather snarl, for listening when I would rather tell someone to STFU.

I have a lot of angry energy inside me, and it could fuel a novel or two, if I only had the courage to let it out, to write what I feel. I can’t write a “nice” protagonist. I can’t write a story about the would-be hermit who suddenly has an epiphany and realizes she really does love people and wants to devote her life to serving them. I can’t write happy sappy Pollyanna bullshit where the main character gets transformed from a crabby misanthrope into a social butterfly. I can’t, and I don’t want to. I have to be honest.

But fuck, that’s scary.

I “should” love other people . . . but . . .

I think that we spiritually-minded introverts face many challenges. I’ve explored many spiritual paths over the fifty-odd years I’ve been on this earth, and many of them emphasize how important it is to love our fellow human beings, how interconnected we are, how we should care for others, and how we should always keep in mind that our very existence is dependent upon the efforts and good-will of other people.

That’s all well and good. My intellectual self gets it. Yes, of course, I wouldn’t have survived infancy if not for the adults who took care of me. I wouldn’t have food on the table without the work of those who grow or raise it, gather it, prepare it, get it to market, sell it, and all that. If I had to find/grow/kill my own food, I’d starve to death. And that’s just one example. So I get it. I “should” be grateful to other people, and I “should” appreciate them and care for them.

But in day to day life, I just don’t feel that way. I feel like other people are obstacles at best and infuriating at worst. They’re always in my way.  They’re always bothering me. They’re always making noise when I want quiet. They’re always intruding when I want to be alone. They’re always stopping me from things I want to do. In small ways and in larger ways, other people drive me crazy.

I love my fellow man – as long as he leaves me alone. As long as I don’t have to hear him or smell him or see him. In the safety of my own home, I feel love and tenderness and compassion for the beings, human and otherwise, with whom I share this planet. But when I go out among them, all bets are off.

Sometimes it feels to me like there is no place in the universe I can flee to for refuge. I can seek out the most out-of-the-way park I can think of, and someone will follow me in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven to a park, looking forward to some true solitude, arrived to an empty parking lot, thanked God and the universe to find nobody there, only to have a car pull in right behind me. I don’t get it.

I took yesterday off work, and once I was done with errands, I went out to a little-used park not far from home. It was a gray, chilly day, and I hoped I would have my destination to myself. But of course not. A dogwalker was setting down the trail in the direction I wanted to go. Naturally. Well, I went the other direction, and that was fine. We did meet later, as the trail is a big loop, and I love dogs, so I exchanged greetings with the friendly pups and went on my way. I ended up at an observation platform from which I hoped to do a little birdwatching. I only had the platform to myself for five minutes, if that. A young man came along with – I kid you not – a radio controlled airplane. Completely uncaring of the fact that I was there, with binoculars, he waltzed onto the deck with me without so much as a “Hello” or “Is it OK if I fly this here” or anything. Let me tell you, the names I called him under my breath were decidedly unChristian as I left, feeling disgusted and hostile.

I realize that parks are public places and people use them for many things. I do understand that I can’t expect to have them to myself. (Believe me, a fantasy of mine is to win a huge lottery amount and buy a gigantic tract of land that I could turn into my own private nature preserve) But so often common courtesy appears to be lacking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been trying to photograph a bird, only to have some oblivious person walk right up and scare it away. I’ve stood on a beach watching shorebirds with binoculars and had people tramp right between me and them, when they could just as easily have gone around behind me. A little consideration would go a long way. But most people seem to lack it.

Often, I do hate people, after all. There, I’ve said it. And I do not know how to reconcile this truth with my desire to be a good person and live a spiritual life.

Sigh. Anybody out there relate to this?

 

The Question of Community

crowdSo. I’m a churchgoer now. Have been for about a year and a half. I never would have expected this to happen. I went through a “born again” Christian phase when I was younger and thought I knew all the answers. I was pretty obnoxious, I’m sure. I was very worried about being “saved” and making sure everyone I knew was “saved.” But by the time I was in my twenties, I just didn’t believe the conservative, fundamentalist teachings of the church I was attending, and I left. When I did, I turned away from Christianity altogether. It took years for me to get comfortable saying, “I’m not a Christian.” I was very proud of myself when I was finally able to do it. So to be back in church now is strange yet wonderful.

My journey away from a very conservative Christianity to the progressive liturgical tradition I find myself in now could fill a book, and I may actually write that book one day, but the journey isn’t what I want to talk about right now. What I want to talk about is how difficult it can be, to be an introvert in church.

Speaking for myself, I enjoy a wonderful sense of belonging most of the time, in church. Actively participating in a liturgy that has a rich history is a powerful experience. Not only in the sense of being there in the church with other people who are all singing or chanting or reciting the same words, but in the sense of unity with those around the world who are doing the same thing, and all the ones who came before. It’s nourishing. I am often awed by it. The feeling of “belonging” is not one I’ve often been privileged to experience, and I cherish it when I find it. I am incredibly grateful for it.

Over the years, I managed to convince myself that I don’t need this “community” thing. That I don’t want it. But when I first felt it, at this church, during the services for Mabel, I loved it. It was like being given a cool refreshing drink, when I hadn’t even known I was thirsty. Cat and I were warmly embraced and accepted and helped by these people who only knew her through her mother, and didn’t know me at all. They took over everything. They provided a lovely service and a wonderful reception and took care of us in a way that I will never forget. They accepted me as Cat’s partner without batting an eye. One white-haired old lady took my hand and told me, “I’m so glad Cat has you.” It brought me to tears then and it still does even now. I got a sense, that day, of what community can be. It kept me coming back.

But I’m aware, and rightfully so, that it’s not something from which I can only take, when I need it, without giving something of myself in return. As we kept attending, Sunday after Sunday, getting to know people and sometimes joining them for social events, it became obvious how much work goes into things like the reception the church provided after Mabel’s service. The setup, the food preparation, the serving, the cleaning up afterward. All of it takes time and effort and many hands. If I want to be part of this community and enjoy these things, I have to be willing to help.

And therein lies the rub. Because no matter how good my intentions are, the fact still remains that I have limited energy for social interaction. I have limited free time. And I need a lot of downtime in order to function as a reasonably civilized and happy human being. I have to be “out in the world” eight hours a day, five days a week. During my off time, like everyone who works, I have to deal with all the “business” of life – the grocery shopping, the laundry, the yard work, balancing the checkbook, making sure car maintenance gets done, meeting obligations to family, etc. etc. ad exhaustionium. Somewhere in all that, I need to find time for myself, too. For quiet time. For time alone. For time in Nature. For time to read. For time to write. It isn’t easy to juggle all of this, and it was already tricky before we added church to our Sunday mornings. Now it’s even harder. In some ways, I’m still adjusting just to that. So it’s very difficult for me when our church membership leads to more invitations. More social opportunities. (Which, as an introvert, I tend not to see as opportunities at all) More requests for money, for time, for effort. There is always something happening for which people are needed.

We were talked into joining the ‘coffee hour hosting’ rotation months before we even formally joined the church. Cat was asked to join the choir, and did. I was asked, and politely declined. I was asked if I would consider becoming an acolyte, or joining the Altar Guild. No, no, no. no. Cat has gone all out with her involvement and serves as an occasional lector, and as the leader of the youth group, in addition to her choir membership. She and I jointly volunteered to help with the church website, but she pretty much took over that and I don’t do much with it. One a month, she helps prepare and serve food in the lunch program that ministers to the homeless and hungry. She attends Christian formation classes and she’s also doing Education for Ministry. I compare myself to her, and to the others who are so involved in the church, and I feel inadequate and guilty – and then I feel resentful.

I should make it clear that nobody at church is pushing me or pressuring me to do more than I do. I bake cookies when cookies are needed. It’s something I can do at home, in peace. I take photographs when asked. I try to be generous with money and food donations and the like. It really feels like all I can manage. It honestly feels like I can’t do more. There is one Sunday each month that Cat is basically at church all day – she gets there at 9am for choir practice, we attend worship at 10:30, she stays afterward to help with the lunch program, then has maybe an hour or two before she has to be in EfM class which runs until about 7:30pm. She thrives on it. She gets tired, but it’s a “good” tired.

If I tried to do that, I would be a basket case. I would be living one long introvert meltdown. I just can’t do it. I don’t even attend coffee hour most Sundays; unless we’re hosting, I am out of there after the service, and I usually try to get out for a few hours of solitary hiking or birding. I call it “church after church.” I need it. On weekends that I’m not able to do that, I find myself cranky and irritable.

I guess I’m not making a point. I’m just venting how I feel about all the activity, and how hard it can be to feel “okay” when comparing myself to the “doers,” the people who never say “no,” the people like Cat who love being front and center doing things. It’s a challenge. But it’s one I’m willing to stick with and figure out, because I need to. I love my church. I love worship. I will not let my own feelings of guilt and inadequacy drive me out. God made me the way I am for a reason – I try hard to believe that. He doesn’t need me to become an extrovert, or even to act like one. I do have a part to play, and I want to find out what it is.

I just know what it isn’t, and it isn’t serving on six committees or working with the youth or helping with the lunch program or attending every single party and meeting that happens or being on the Altar Guild or being in the choir or serving as an acolyte. I can’t afford to make church into another job. I already have a job and it’s hard enough to deal with that. I do want to give back and I do want to contribute but I can’t be like Cat. I just can’t.

Perhaps for some people, being in community means physically being with other people and doing things together – often. Perhaps some people need a lot of “face time” in order to really feel connected. I do not. And I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m not saying that the “doers” aren’t needed and important. Where would we be without them? We need them. And I appreciate them. I just can’t be one of them. But maybe what I can be is a voice for people like me. People who struggle with the message, sometimes spoken but often unspoken, that to be a truly good person one must be social, must be busy, must be productive. I want to raise my quiet voice against that. We get enough of that message out in the world. We should be able to find sanctuary and peace in our spiritual homes, whether we’re Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Wiccan or Buddhist or whatever. We quiet ones have our places in the communities we choose. We do.

 

 

Writing II

Ah, yes. Writing. When I think about writing, often I run smack up against a wall that I don’t know how to get past.

You see, it looks to me as though many interesting and best-selling books are about relationships. Many of the novels I enjoy are full of interesting and complex characters who have many complicated relationships. Big families and lots of friends.

I don’t have that. I have never had that. I will never have that. I don’t even want that. So what the hell do I write about? When I read a story that’s full of all these relationships, I feel like a street urchin of old, gazing into a modern department store full of amazing and glittery things that I will never be able to touch and cannot hope to understand. I stand there fascinated, drawn in by the beautiful displays, but between me and that world is an invisible barrier that has always kept me out, and always will.

It’s a good analogy but where it fails is in the fact that I don’t feel particularly badly about this situation. I don’t stand there with my lonely snotty nose pressed against the glass, longing to go inside. I’m content to look. That world isn’t for me, and I know it, and I’m honestly OK with it. I’ve grown to prefer it this way. I’d rather go off to the woods by myself, and take pictures of birds, than enter into that world.

The trouble is that I don’t want to just write for myself. I want to write stories that people will read. And I doubt my ability to do that, because of the experiences I haven’t had. I grew up in a small, insular family. Our relatives were all in Europe and my parents made little effort to stay connected with them. My parents didn’t have friends. Hell, they weren’t even friends with each other. We didn’t do the things other families did. My childhood wasn’t bad – don’t get me wrong. But I missed out on a lot. I didn’t learn to be interested in other people, because my parents weren’t. I never even went to a funeral until I was in my early twenties. So how do I create an interesting protagonist? I don’t feel as if I can write about what I don’t know. It won’t be authentic.

The story that seems to want me to write it is about someone a lot like me. Someone who feels pressed and harassed and “sucked at” all the time. Someone who only feels completely relaxed and at peace when she’s alone, but who only rarely gets to be left in peace. Someone who is constantly fending off the demands of the outside world and of other people. Someone who feels like prey. I just can’t think of what the story is. I am reminded every single day that this wants to be written; I just can’t see the story yet. Things have to happen. Interesting things. A bunch of chapters detailing the unwanted encounters of each day won’t add up to anything. Who would want to read that? Hell, I could publish my own journal if I thought anyone would want to read that. If you just look at word count, my journal over the years would add up to quite a few novels. It’s just not very interesting.

No wonder I got all excited about writing porn. It seemed easier than struggling with this shit.

 

 

 

 

Writing

I guess it’s a good thing that I don’t have to earn my living by writing, because if that were the case, I’d be living under a bridge somewhere.

I want to write. At least, I think I do. But I’m lazy, and I’m tired, and I haven’t found the spark that will keep me going.

I have a confession to make. Late last year, I read an article about bigfoot porn. You read that right. I read about a woman who supposedly made a fortune writing smut about bigfoots. I got excited. I’ve always been a bit of a pervert. And I thought, this is it! I can write filthy short stories and self-publish them and make money and retire and life will be amazing!

I wrote my first 11,000 word story in a week. It was one of my favorite fantasies, written out, in explicit detail. Cat proofread it for me, and let’s just say she found it to be very exciting. I paid for a cover and I published that puppy under a pseudonym and I waited for the money to roll in. It didn’t.

Undaunted, I wrote more. I channeled my frustration with a work situation and my bad feelings toward my boss into a series of short stories about office sex. I published each one separately and then bundled them into a set. I waited for the money to roll in. It began to trickle.

Having learned that monster porn was a thing, I then decided to write about a human woman who gets captured and impregnated by a monster. I have three of the four in that series finished. They aren’t selling well.

I wrote a 10,000 word erotic horror story; that’s done poorly.

I tried an office sex story from a male POV. That’s sold reasonably well.

But the money certainly isn’t rolling in. I’ve probably made about six hundred dollars in a little less than a year. That ain’t retirement money, people.

I know myself well enough to know that if these stories were selling well and making me money, I’d be writing more of them, even though I’m back in church and often have an uncomfortable feeling that writing porn (and let’s face it, what I write isn’t “erotica,” it’s porn) isn’t quite compatible with my newly reborn Christian faith. If they were making me lots of money, I know I’d find a way to justify it. “God has bigger things to worry about than my dirty short stories, He doesn’t care.” But since they aren’t selling well, I am finding it very easy to tell myself, “Well, it’s wrong to do that, you’re better than that, you need to find a way to serve God with your writing, you need to write something you don’t need to hide and be ashamed of.”

Sigh. So now I’m not writing at all. I’m back to square one. I have four different novels started, and no real drive to finish any of them. And they’re all over the place – one is a young adult magical fantasy, one is a contemporary story with elements of magical realism, one is a lesbian erotic vampire romance, and one is about a young woman with strange powers.

I’m starting to feel like what I really want is to have written; I don’t really want to do the work of writing. And that’s sad. I hope it’s not true. My life’s dream has always been to write a novel. So why don’t I park my ass in my chair and do it? I wish I knew.

While I try to figure that out, and try to motivate myself, I need to be writing here again. I have lots to say. I know I’m not the only introverted person struggling with how to function as a member of a church community, for example. I can’t be the only quiet one who looks at the social butterflies and the busy “doers” of church and wonders where I fit in. I’m sure I’m not the only person who struggles with wanting to be a good person while also wanting to do something that many people would see as “wrong.” And I doubt that I’m alone in feeling like God can’t possibly love me just the way I am, when the way I am wants little to do with my fellow human beings.

I don’t hate people. I just want them to leave me in peace, for the most part. I am happiest when I’m alone in Nature, without another human in sight. Can I be a Christian and still be true to my nature? I don’t know. Even in church, so much value is placed on doing things “in community,” on socializing, on being together. It’s hard to deal with, sometimes. I want to explore that question here. And I’d love to hear from people who are also struggling with it.

But that’s for another post. I’m not sure how I went from writing porn to surviving as an introvert in church. No wonder I can’t seem to finish a novel.

More soon.