Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Living and Reliving

It's funny, the way we make patterns in our lives - the way we live with habits we think we will not break. 

My childhood was tumultuous and strange. Sometimes I tell people little details about my life, and the overwhelming response is always, you should write a book. And here, on this blog, I feel I've begun the process of constructing my own narrative - the words which build upon each other, which illustrate, which eulogize. Very few topics have been off-limits, and if my prose has been purple, it's only been in an attempt to do justice to the crazed dance which is life.

Patterns. I read over my words and they echo back at me, and themes emerge - home, faith, illness. Justice, pain, regret. And through all of these themes are the threads of how I've lived. 

Too often, we place upon ourselves the burden of the past. We carry it with us. All the hurt and trauma, the joy and passion, the moments we remember gladly and those which we long to forget. Within us lie snapshots and vignettes of our families, our friends, our selves, a handful of days which stay with us and make us who we are. As I read my own words - an exercise in vanity, without a doubt - I notice those memories and realize that I've been reliving them. 

Trauma is like living in the past, over and over, not just remembering it but experiencing it anew. And I think a lot of life is like that, not just the difficult bits. Many memories are enriched by that reliving - my sister's birth is made more poignant by the years I've been lucky enough to know her. My relationship with my mother is more glorious because I live in the moments when we were on our own, and I rejoice in the ensuing years of adult friendship. 

But some memories become habits - worry stones we turn over and over between our fingers. We return to them, we cherish them, they lie like quiet waters within us. They are there when we are lonely and scared, and they are familiar, our childhood blankets worn thin and filthy. 

I've read the old blog posts, the old facebook memories, and in so many of them I write about drinking. 

Alcohol has been a constant in my life, from cocktail parties I attended as a child to teenage gatherings to gourmet cookouts to afternoons on the deck. And why not? Alcohol is everywhere. Costly advertisements during the Super Bowl show thin, attractive people working out, busting their butts over weights and interval training, and then rewarding themselves with beer. Another commercial shows a young man who doesn't even want to drink but who is urged by the spectral force of fear of missing out to grab a case and party with friends.

Women are encouraged to drink. We're told by memes, by jokes, that we deserve to drink - that all our work as single women or wives or mothers or professionals requires a bottle of wine at the end of the day. Drinking, the world seems to say, isn't just for the boys any more. There's so much out there for the woman who does everything - chocolate wine, birthday cake vodka, cosmos and margaritas. And we cool, tough girls get to drink the real stuff - bourbon, rye, whiskey - and smile through the burn as men congratulate us on our assimilation into a drinking culture which has elevated toxic masculinity and made it sexy.

And there's nothing wrong with drinking. But these messages with which we are constantly bombarded are bits of that tattered security blanket. Drink to feel good, to relax, to hide, to smile. Drink because everyone drinks. Drink because your parents drink. Drink because, what else is there to do, really?

Breweries, vineyards, upscale liquor stores; fun runs with a plastic cup of cold relief as a prize. Sexy twenty-somethings and craft cocktails, college students and beer pong, weddings, birthday parties, brunch. 

Five months ago I stopped drinking entirely. Personal reasons, medical reasons, any reason. 

Alcohol has been a theme running through my life, through my writing. It's been a companion, a signal of creativity and la vie boheme. I've been the cool girl and the classy girl - mixed drinks with homemade syrups and cold beers savored on hot days. And I never knew how wonderful life could be without it.

Life is so good. 

I'm thirty years old. I carried around my security blanket, I shouldered all the memories and the habits and the curses of my forbears, I believed the commercials and I laughed at the jokes. And I realized, slowly but inevitably, that I didn't want to do that any more. I didn't want the comfort of a lie. And I was lucky in that I stopped and could stop and wanted to stop. 

Everyone should do what is right for them. I'm never going to judge anyone else's consumption. If you, dear reader, enjoy drinking and feel good doing it, then great! All I know is that my life has improved, and that I've been able to discard the remnants of so many hurts, so many moments, a handful of desperate days. Choosing to abstain in our alcohol-worshiping culture may seem almost perverse - but abstinence can be the gateway to healing.

In five months I've done more healing than I had in ten years. Here's to today, and tomorrow, and every moment I choose not to relive, but to truly live. 

Cheers.  

          

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Gagged

I haven't had a lot to say.

Every day we wake up to a new horror. America is in the firm and maniacal grip of a callous and dangerous madness, the madness of nationalism and deceit, of vanity and the vainglorious, of hatred, of cruelty, of ignorance. And the horror is compounded again and again by the knowledge that it will all get so much worse. Today, we hear the words of this country's demise through executive orders. Tomorrow, these usurping tyrants go to work.

Every promise will be fulfilled.

I don't know what to say. I scroll through my Facebook feed, through twitter, and I read powerful statements of protest alongside the shocking actions of our Republican administration. Resistance is present, through marches, through protests, through discord and disagreement, and I sit, comfortable in my home, and observe.

I've always carefully curated my online presence, revealing mostly the mundane and the pleasant on Facebook. Recipes, snapshots, evidence of contentment. I've been a bit more honest here, but Facebook has been the land of the smiling Alice, the nice Alice, the Alice with very few ugly things to say. I've felt it to be an exercise in propriety, almost - a new kind of facade which shows some, but not all, as if I allow a flash of ankle under long skirts but no more.

Niceness. I fight myself, I hold back all the things which I could say. Sometimes that is wise - but now, more than ever, it is a shallow and selfish lie.

Niceness is feminine. Niceness is proper. Niceness is polite.

When millions of women across the world marched on January 21st, they were criticized for abandoning the rituals of niceness. Nice faces turned away from what they perceived as vulgarity. Reproductive organs, and any reference to them, have been criminalized, codified as disgusting or inappropriate, constrained by law and by the common American tongue. To say, pussy, is to betray our national niceness. To grab it is celebrated and rewarded.

When a woman owns her body she is shamed. When a man assaults it, he is made president.

Niceness. I have a few friends who openly support this president, and I may have others who voted for him but stay silent. Most of my friends and family number among the majority of the country who bravely say, resist. I've been struggling against my self-imposed but socially sanctioned rules of propriety, trying to find a way to stay true to myself but avoid offence. What of those friends who voted in a monster? How can I keep them?

Or were they never my friends at all?

Do I want friends like that?

Do I want to be friendly with people who would imprison the children in my neighborhood, as Donald Trump wishes to do with immigrants? Do I want to maintain my smile, my affection, as my closest friends and family are denied equal rights? How valuable is niceness in the face of climate change and the very real possibility that we are past the point of no return? Will one or two friendships outweigh the loss of everything this country is supposed to be about? Will quiet chats and quick waves justify knowing that these people, these friends, are willing to hand our country over to a sexual predator?

Am I still supposed to be nice?

Niceness is a convenient tool. It is a gag. It binds us - it binds women most of all. We are told to be pleasant, to be neat, to be quiet and calm and dignified. We are told to smile. And if we step out of line, if we curse, if we name our body parts, if we yell in the street and demand representation, we are labeled as vulgar, crass, unladylike, nasty. Society brands us as hysterical, again and again.

Niceness is not in any way what we need right now. Gentility and reserve are the costumes for afternoon tea, not for rebellion. I'm scared to rip the layers of niceness from my online and real life persona, because everything I feel right now is so, so not nice. I am angry and bitter and restless. I cry and yell and curse. I find myself contemplating a volcanic release of the defiance I have stored within my body and brain. What destruction will I unleash? What bridges will I burn? How many nice people will I enrage?

To remain nice is to take the coward's way out. I have the luxury of a safe home, a stable life, and I could sit here for the next four years and be nice. I could make tea and be silent. I could be ladylike. It would be easy.

But that life is for someone else.

To hell with niceness. I am relieved, I am grateful, and I am determined to be nasty.




Thursday, November 10, 2016

Day Two


By now, I assume - I hope - you have seen some of the immediate fallout of the election. Black and Latinx Americans are targeted for violence and hate speech. Women are being groped by gleeful men who assume that sexual assault plays a role in making America great. Muslim women are terrorized for their constitutionally protected expressions of faith. LGBT+ citizens waken to new uncertainty, bigotry, and fear. Buildings are vandalized - and we see the return of the swastika in public symbolism; we see bald faced antisemitism which too many of us pretended no longer exists.

I hope you have also seen protest. I hope you have seen that groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are accepting donations and vowing to continue the fight for decency and justice. I hope you are girding your loins for a long and righteous struggle for a better America, one unstained by hate.

But that which troubles me today is the tide of well-meaning words, the praise of positive thinking - pleasant on its surface but hiding an unwillingness to see our not-so-new reality.

I have a grudge against positive thinking, both personal and political. Having a mental illness basically guarantees that someone - a friend, a family member, a mentor - tells you that positive thinking is your savior and cure, something other than paltry palliative care against what is sometimes a fatal condition. Mental illness is too often misunderstood as a weakness of will, and stock responses to real suffering concern themselves with how a change of mindset is surely the cure. Addiction, too, falls prey to that school of thought, as if struggling with addiction were only feeling a bit blue, a bit angry, a bit down in the dumps, a bit weak.

Surely, positive thinking can fix this! And then those friends, family members, and mentors let their eyes turn away from pain they are unwilling to face.  

I've seen that nonsense happen in response to the tragedies of our nation. Well-meaning white people seem to think that Black Americans just need to forget the systematic oppression which is the cornerstone of our national identity and infrastructure. It's insidious and it's easy; it's simple to sit in front of our televisions and look at righteously angry people and say, in the nicest terms, get over it. As we wake up on the second day after the election, I see more of the same, and the guise of willful ignorance is often a beautiful image - a sunset, an animal, our flag - over which is written, we must be positive.

No, we must not.

There is positive thinking and then there is determination, and the difference between the two is immense. By telling others to be positive, we ignore their pain. Would you dare look into the eyes of a woman who has been assaulted and tell her to think happy thoughts? Would you be able to live with yourself as you stood over a Black woman who was beaten and spit upon and say, kindly, get over it? Can you look at your LGBT+ friends and know that this country just elected men who believe in abuse, in electrocution, to force a change their identity, and ask them to be positive?

If you can really do that, if you can ignore the truth, you have a strength of will I cannot imagine. But it is not a strength of character or morality or honesty. It is a strength in a willingness to unsee other people's very real and justifiable suffering.

And we are all, in some ways, suffering. I am angry here, and I understand that is uncomfortable. Perhaps we use positive thinking to hide our feelings not from others, but from ourselves. Perhaps we don't have the words to express our fears. Perhaps years of our culture trivializing mental illness have stopped us from developing the kind of skills I have had to learn in therapy - self-care, self-reflection, self-criticism. Honesty. Grief. Compassion. Maybe we use positive thinking to hide from how we feel and who we are.

But it is a gross injustice. We have a responsibility as citizens and as human beings to look into the experiences of our neighbors, friends, family. We cannot be blind, not anymore, and we must see the truth now more than ever. Tuesday thrust upon us a new duty, not to be positive, but to be determined.

We must be stronger, and that means changing the way we think, speak, and act.

I have sympathy for the moments of mourning which accompany a radical shift in the way we perceive the world. This election feels like a betrayal of a great institution, a democratic experiment, a home. But we're not going to fix it unless we get angry, get ugly, get - dare I say it - negative. We should be downright pissed off at how much and how often we have been deceived.

As a woman with a mental illness, I am telling you that we will get better, but that the only way to do it is to be honest. We hurt. We have seen others hurt. Our nation has been hurting for a long, long time.

It's time to face the truth, not with palliatives, but with determination.

We must face our pain if we want to survive.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Do Better

Many years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled, "Shame." Struggling with my bipolar disorder and my place in the world as a young woman with a mental illness, I typed out a few words on the nature of shame, the nature of being atypical in a world which, it seemed, valued conformity above all else.

I am no longer beholden to that shame, to the feeling that I don't fit in, to the misfiring neurons and the long nights of panic and mania and inspiration. I wrote, and I spoke, and I let that shame go. 

But we, as a country, as a stunted conglomeration of bigotry and beauty, of fear and faith, of hatred and hope, should be deeply ashamed today. We should mourn - mourn not only the results of our democratic process, but our very selves. 

It's difficult to take responsibility for actions and events we abhor, terribly hard to admit complicity when disgust wins. I wish I could deny any wrongdoing - after all, my politics are based on inclusion, on love, on justice, on peace - and simply hate those who step up and claim their ugliness with pride. I wish I could only be angry with that half of the country which elected a monster endorsed by modern Nazis and the Klansmen we all pretend don't exist. 

But to do so would lack honesty, because this is our country. This is the way we live. We created and venerated the smiling lies of freedom and blind patriotism, and we have benefited from them. 

Complacency, privilege, and fear won the day. This is America.

We are a country built metaphorically and literally on the graves of Native Americans, on the backs of slaves, on the continued disenfranchisement of minorities. We are built on an educational system which consistently benefits the privileged and fails the poor - and fails all of us as textbooks teach more smiling lies about the glorious American past. We are a country which allows so-called Christian evangelism in our classrooms, in our government, in our healthcare, and in our bedrooms. We are a country of dogmatic belief, a country of preachers and politicians who worship the dollar, worship power, more than they do any loving God. 

We attempt to balance our shameful history with the light of civilization and civility, and in some ways, we succeed. The world is better than it was. But the progress we have made - more women in government, more minority representatives, gay marriage, (supposed) access to healthcare and abortion services - seems hollow and insincere when confronted with the truth that half of Americans want to take all of that away. The progress is necessary, the progress is important, and too many Americans hate it. 

Today we witness the reaction of white America to a changing world. And if you, like me, have been given the gift of racial and economic privilege, you have been yet another cog in a capitalist, revisionist, and eternally hungry machine. Political pundits frame this election as a rejection of the status quo; the horrible truth is that this day of sorrow is a return to America's birth. Complacency, privilege, and fear. Freedom for white men and women at the expense of so many others.

I did not cause these things. You, my readers, did not bring these events forth. We are not entirely to blame. But any time we accepted an unjust death, when we changed the channel as protests occupied our streets, when we listened to an off-color joke, when we allowed our children to succeed while others failed, when we separated ourselves from those who suffer - we played into a long history of shameful atrocities and set the stage for today. 

This post is not an epitaph. My sentiments are grim - they are not final. I do have hope. This country must improve, and it will improve when all of us together stand up and say, enough. Enough of this legacy of slavery and genocide; enough of a system which allows widespread injustice and incarceration; enough murdered Black men and women, transwomen; enough bigotry and hate. Let us not allow one more moment of pain and stupidity and disgust. Let us rise up and say honestly, we want a better world.  

Let's not pretend for one more second that we don't see where we fail. We must look into our selves and do better. 

Today we grieve. Tomorrow, we change. We wake up and we say, this is not my America. 

My America is going to be better. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Street Harassment and Freedom

I've been dealing with a nasty cold and feel generally gross in every way, so Monday, my husband and I decided to "go out" for a little while - just a quick walk around the mall - to get me out of the house and out of my bathrobe. 

Clothes and makeup have always been my armor - I've talked about that here, before. So even when I'm sick I try to pull myself together. On Monday, I put on a nice outfit, a little makeup, and tried to will myself to be confident, instead of a snotty mess. 

My ensemble - jeans, a nice sleeveless shirt with a high neckline, black boots. Earrings, a watch. A little black eyeliner, neutral eyeshadow and lipstick. Basically, just nice clothes, nothing fancy. 

Conservatives and all-around jerks talk about how women should dress modestly, because if we don't, we are "asking for it" - "it" being everything from street harassment to sexual assault. These are the same people who influence our culture so much that young women are policed daily by school dress codes, forced to be sexual objects through the lens of adult puritanical prudishness, forced to cover themselves up because of adult perversity. These are the same people who advocate abstinence in their (and everyone else's) daughters - one form of taking away a woman's sexual agency - but complete compliance in their wives - another truly tragic and harmful method for robbing women of their bodies and their power. 

I've worn some sexy outfits. I've worn clothes that capitalized on my curves. I've worn backless and low-cut tops, and I've enjoyed compliments, because I was dressing to feel beautiful and powerful, sexual, mysterious. And those jerks would tell me that those were the times I was "asking for it."

Well, jerks, was I asking to be cat called in a shirt and jeans? Was I asking to have a man call me hot and sexy, pretty much right in my ear, as I was walking at the mall with my husband?

Tell me, do you really think my clothes are the issue? Or are you the issue? Are you scared of my flesh? Are you scared of your own sexuality? Do you think of yourselves as powerless in the face of your own mindless need to possess women? Are you scared that I hold the power to say yes or no - and is that why you are so worried about campaigns to discuss and encourage affirmative and enthusiastic consent? 

Cat calling is just another way in which jerks like you try to beat women down. Make us less human. Own us. 

I pity all of you. It must be painful to be so frightened of a woman taking control of her own power, sexual agency, and flesh. You must have truly unsatifying lives. 

I wonder how much your wives and daughters resent you. 

A man in the mall - who was bigger than me, and definitely threatening - decided it was his right to speak low and thick in my ear and reduce me to an object, a plaything, an animal. If you, jerk faces, think I was asking for it, you're even more deluded than you appear. You'd like to blame your behavior on those slutty women who wear what they want, sleep with who they want, take birth control, are feminists - but the truth is, I was just a woman in jeans with a red nose and a hacking cough, holding hands with my husband. 

You are utterly transparent in your hatred of women. 

There are so many little tricks, little twists of language, that you employ to make you sound reasonable - or worse, Christian. You hide behind a text - the Old Testament - and completely ignore the messages of Christ. You talk about decency and family values and purity and all that bull which means only this: the only sexual expression which is acceptable to you is white, male, cis, hetero sexuality. 

You literally think that women who have sex (and enjoy it!) outside of marriage are going to hell. You think members of the LGBTQ community are going to hell (for two real reasons - we defy gender stereotypes and shockingly, enjoy sex!). You throw fire and brimstone at us and become more and more enraged, because we stand outside of a culture of fear and oppression and have a real chance to be happy. 

When we own our bodies, when we make choices, when we have power, we are free. 

You, jerks, are not. 

No wonder you grasp at the straws of power - cat calling, legislating our rights to choose. You want us back in the tight grip of your own prisons. 

Until you break out, until you sever the chains you forged yourselves, link by oppressive link - just stop. Just stop the cat calling and harassment, stop the hatred, stop the slurs, stop trying to force us to join you in your cells. We will not go. 

A man spoke in my ear and asked me to imprison myself in his own shame. He tried to make me dirty. 

But I am clean in my brilliant expression of love and sexuality, in my curving flesh. And in the joy I take in my womanhood and pleasure, I am free. 


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Letter from Exile

Dear God,

Yeah, it's me again. 

It's quarter to twelve, and as is usual in late winter, I can't sleep. We've met each other hereabouts before. It's just you, me, a blanket, the rush of central heating, the stars. Hey, how's it going, good to see you. Where have you been?

God, I don't know if I should be talking to you. It's late, and I'm scared, and so many times I've sworn off you for good. I've tried praying to everything else - a Goddess, a patron saint, my Grandpere. I think I'm done with you, because I'm a rational person with critical thinking skills and a solid grasp on all the science I believe in but don't fully understand. I'm done with you because I left my church and my martini afternoons behind. 

I tell people - by the way, this is how I phrase it - I tell people that believing in you was a hell of a lot harder after seeing my Grandpere's illness and death. If I'm in a slightly more honest mood, I tell people that my connection with you was mostly severed through my diagnosis and medications. No mixed mania, no conversations with the divine. 

But at the root of it all is me at eighteen. I was young. I didn't know if I could really afford college - hell, I had no idea how to handle living on my own. I needed to get away from the way I'd been brought up and my incredible loneliness. I was just a kid, and there was affection and there was incredible loss. And in all of that you decided to back out and let me handle this stuff without your spider webbing of grace. I was stupid and bipolar and I wanted something I had never felt before. 

Love. 

Maybe your love. 

Maybe not. 

I don't know how to believe in you, anymore. And it hurts me and it terrifies me that I still ask you for help when I'm in bed and feel eighteen and so completely lost. It's been ten years, and in those ten years life has unfolded - death, births, marriages, separations, reunions. I know there's a lot more to come. I'm twenty-eight and all I can think is God damn, I'm still a kid. 

What questions should I be asking you? What should I be praying about?

If I could imagine or believe in what your grace, your true presence, would do for me, it wouldn't be lying in bed, sleepless and furious. It would be so much more than that. Because I've felt you most in impossible situations, like standing on a mountain or singing in a pub in Ireland, or holding my baby sister, or making love, or dancing in a nightclub, or reading Shakespeare. I've felt you in the bitter dregs of my coffee and in the way light catches the crystal on my dining room table. You are the smell of pine in the fireplace and the pounding rain of Baltimore in the spring. You are the promise of life which begins, ends, and begins again. 

Where have you been all this time? Please, just answer back. I keep looking for you, even though I say I'm not. 

I see you in all the ugly parts of life, too, but I keep being told that all you are is beautiful. 

I want to escape the prison of your perfection. 

I just want you to hold me. 

I am angry with you, God, and I grind my teeth and I try to make things work. I try not to be too young, eighteen and lonely, and I try not to be too old, resigned. And I just keep being here, in bed, or on the couch, under blankets, naked, and I keep asking for you to tell me one damned thing you like about me. I keep hoping you'll give me your grace. Even if, most of the time, I'm not sure I can bring myself to really believe in you again. 

Oh, God. Just say something. Don't leave me here like this. 

It's a February morning, and as usual, I'm going to crawl back into bed and will probably fall asleep within an hour. If you're real, you'll be there while I'm awake and while I dream, and if you're not, I won't necessarily know the difference. But I do long for you, and in the frightened-child center of me I believe that you're there, here, somewhere. 

Because as angry as I am, I have the quick breath of summer on my neck. I have jazz and glam rock and I have buffalo mozzarella and basil. I have ridiculous recipes and I have all the damned rules for every board game there's ever been. I have a black and white cat who sleeps on my porch when it's raining and I have bonfires in my back yard. And I really, really hate you sometimes, but I see you within the beats of Yeats's poetry and Mozart's genius, precise madness. 

If you have any grace to give, just help me to see all that, appreciate it. Just let me live in love and never be numbed to it. Just hold me in your hand and cradle me at night and whisper, it's all good. 

Dear God, I'm still here. I'm twenty eight and I don't always know how to live without you. 

I'm doing my best. 


Monday, January 26, 2015

Loving

I've been in love so many times. 

I was in love with an adorable thin boy in first grade, and I was in love for far too long with a pre-teen crush, and I've loved my sister ever since her purple eyes opened and she gave me a reason to live. 

I've loved my mother, and my step-father, and I've loved my father in impossible, painful ways. I've loved my stepmother in her brilliant vulnerabilities, and I am coming to love my second stepmother and her son in their authenticity. I've loved my grandmother and all the ways I fear to tell her my weaknesses. I've loved the way she taught me to hear music and see light through blue glass. 

I loved my grandfather and the way he made me afraid to be anything other than the best version of myself. 

I've loved my country and the idea of equality. The idea of freedom. 

The most quoted phrase from my favorite novels is, "Love as thou wilt." Those few words have taken me from ages fifteen to twenty-eight, and they've taken me from high school crushes to adult relationships fraught with social norms and religious expectations. Jacqueline Carey, in writing a blend of fantasy and romance and historical whimsy, shaped a girl whose only purpose is to love. Love, unconditionally. Painfully, wholly, unreservedly, divinely. 

I don't know how to be, how to do anything else. I just love. 

Our world is massively complex. We've got, in the United States, a battle between liberal and conservative, democrat and republican, middle class and upper class, minimum wage and incredible wealth. We've got the narrative of economic opportunity and hard work and, to put it frankly, capitalist rubbish. We've got poor people and rich people and the people who might be rich and the people who will always be poor. We've got unequal access to education and we have the palliative of religion which makes our inequality easier to swallow. We have meanness, selfishness, guilt, racism, violence, apathy. 

So little of what we have is love. 

When did we lose it?

I woke up early this past Saturday to serve breakfast. My mother and I were setting up yogurt and bagels for a group of teenagers doing a sleepover for the Unitarian Univeralist youth group. We loosened the caps on the orange juice and opened boxes of doughnuts. It was mundane. It was quite early. It was raining. My mother and I sat at a distance from the kids and we talked about faith. 

It's very difficult to believe in anything when the world is this ugly and this divided. It's hard to have faith when the world seems so faithless. 

My mother taught me that God was love. I learned many, many lessons from her - we celebrated Advent, we sang in the bath, we discussed sermons. But she always drilled into me that God was love. Even saying, Amen, was an affirmation of love and compassion and acceptance. If I learned anything about the divine it was that divinity only existed if we approached it with love. 

It's difficult. Sometimes it seems obscene, to love in the face of pain, of agony, of human suffering. How can we say, Amen, when we know the world is full of strife and hatred? How can we do it? 

Again, I turn back to Jacqueline Carey and the words, "Love as thou wilt." Those words imply choice, agency, freedom. And they also imply that love is immutable - not in who or how we choose to love, but that love is. Love is who we are. All we can do is be human, and be loving. The words don't just say, Love. Because we do. Her words say, Love as we choose. Love as we are. Love, freely. 

Somehow, we've forgotten that. 

Love isn't just a marriage, or a religion, or a political party. Love is a way of living. Most of the people I know now aren't bound by the rules of monogamy or gender - and that can be difficult, of course, but it's built on the idea that love is boundless. It is not possessive, or selfish; it is not about ownership or about being right. Love is not a commodity to be traded or valued. It is a gift. 

Imagine if our country worked like that. Just think - we share in this together. We are loving. We are kind. 

Imagine if our faiths were so giving. If all our gods were what they purported to be. 

I've loved every sort of man and every sort of woman. I've loved history lessons and literature. I've swooned over good writing and over unscripted anger. I've got that clenching in my chest which is passion and compassion and platonic affection. I've loved as I have chosen to love, and I have been swept away by surprising glimpses of faith and patriotism. 

I'm not an example. I'm not perfect. I can be selfish. I can we wrong. 

But all I have ever done, all I ever want to do, is to love. Fully, foolishly, alarmingly. 

To give of oneself can be incredibly painful. I think about my conversations with my mother and the fear that faith cannot stand up to the suffering in the world. Where is God when so many people are hurt? Where is faith when we feel alone or when we feel we cannot help others? Where is our patriotism when all we can do is count the dollars in our wallets and realize we just don't have enough? Where, really, is love, when we consider affection to be an item to be traded and priced like an antique on the auction block? 

It hurts. It hurts us to our very core. It is an old pain like an ache in our joints. It is our faith and it is our curse. 

Love as thou wilt. 

I don't know how to do anything but love, and God knows, it hurts sometimes like a dagger to my heart. I've loved too many people and too many times, and I've loved the idea of God, and I've loved the ideals of my country. As much as that has hurt, apathy would hurt more. The concept of turning away love - looking down on my neighbor, or being angry about my tax bill, or degrading a faith other than my own - is far, far more painful than accepting the suffering of caring too much. I could be cold and removed; I could protect myself from compassion; I could pretend my callousness was not a black mark on my soul. 

But I love - I love everything, and I love too completely. And I choose that, again and again. 

It doesn't matter if we are talking about sex or God or country; about possession or righteousness or patriotism; about generosity or respect or the general welfare. At the end of the day we are talking about love. 

Love is a gift. Love is a choice. And love is what we will it to be. 

And as much as it hurts, I can't imagine anything better.