Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Yes Man

I went to see Yes Man with Jim Carrey last night somewhat reluctantly, in a bad spot and desperate for diversion. So funny, and well written. Carl (Jim Carrey) is a 'no man;' "Carl, do you want to go out tonight?" No. "Carl, will you approve my loan (he is a loan officer)?" No. Carl... No. No. No. Carl goes to a self-help seminar--"YES is the new no." The pedaled philosophy is to stop saying 'no' to life by saying YES to any opportunity that prevents itself. It gets a little ridiculous, lots of funny scenes.

What struck me is that God, too, wants us to be YES men. Yes Lord, I will go wherever you send me. Yes Lord, I do whatever you ask of me. The saints were serious yes men and women, pedaling the gospel as an affirmative YES to life everlasting, and a firm NO to sin, whatever the circumstances. Yes Man was funny because it took YES to the extreme, throwing caution to the wind and following blindly into the uncertainty that YES promises.

When the Lord said, "quit your job," I quit. When the Lord said, "write a book," I said okay. When the Lord presented a green school bus and said, "Buy it and build it and they will come," I did, and they--press, exposure, curious bystanders--came. Now I am finding myself left out of an essential part of life--work--, dismantling the bus and donating it to charity, and struggling through writing a book that does not write itself...a lonely and rocky endeavor.

Was saying "yes" a mistake. No. I didn't know what I was getting into but when God corners you like he did me, its hard to squirm out with a "no." I don't regret any of it. But in the wake of YES, the path is not so clear where to go next. That's not part and parcel of the gospel philosophy. You need to get acquainted with uncertainty and promises and unknown roads or your YESes will soon slide into NOs.

I will make writing my work. I will trust that building the Green Ark and getting it out to the press was more purposeful than living in the contraption. I will suck up my lot and celebrate uncertainty. I took a beeting last night. But I'm back up again.

Album for the night. Morphine: "Yes"

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Prayer for the evening

I imploded like a black star
on the living room floor
shooting shards of my shattered self in all directions
breaking windows, cutting plaster.
You are the most important thing to me.
In a heap of black fleece and denim,
I fear for my future, wondering
if you had handed me the wheel to drive,
or if I was expected to keep my hands off,
let us roll into a ditch, fold like an accordion into a tree;
give away my ritches,
and be forced daily to beg it back.
Oh happy chance.
When night sets upon me I run to created things,
lighting matches, dialing worthless numbers,
and you chastise me,
My son, why do you run to created things? Am I not enough?
You are! I know that! My reason!
And yet you do not trust me? Why do you turn your back on Me,
when my arms are open to bring you in?
Where are your arms that bind? Where are your hands that caress
matted hair and soaked cheeks?
Someone who offers themselves to a black hole
gets what they deserve, they tell me.
You left Mother in darkness for half her life.
You had your reasons, I suppose. Look at all she laid at your feet,
and you return only darkness. She said
you despised her. What hope is there for me, then?
I am like a crumpled bag, empty and soiled. I ate what was inside,
what I had brought for you, because I was hungry. I wiped myself
with the bag, because I had no toilet paper.
And yet I still consider this a gift worthy to offer to you?
They throw me out out your courts
for insulting you with this filthy gift.
And yet you call me back in, chastise the guards
for how they treat me.
I am disgraced beyond belief by my profane emptiness.
And yet you take it in your hands, smooth out the creases,
erase the stains, anoint it with oil and fill it with good things.
I have nothing to give! I scream and cry,
outraged at your charity,
an affront to my vindictive reason.
I make all things new, you say. I burst into fiery tears that sear
my face, paint me with stripes.
If I loved you, if my words held any integrity,
I would stay in your courts forever,
forsake my plans, crucify my worry.
Living is so painful! And yet I know you planned it this way.
All I have to offer you are my sins and my desire to be good;
everything else is broken beyond repair,
not even worthy of the scrap yard.
Oh, that I could rest in your love forever,
but you push me out into the cold, to fight and make my way
beyond the warming hearth of your house,
among acquaintances and ghosts who do not see me;
to be blown by the gentlest gust
into a wall, to have my hands broken;
to sit on bathroom floors in the damp moonlight;
to collapse on beds of cloth;
to be surrounded by lions which circle me and wait to pounce.
Who will save me from this body of death!
Oh Paul, with hands stained with holy blood.
Are you haunted by your self, by your clinging past?
Have you cut it so far from you that the wives and children
of those who sent to be buried would not recognize your brazen eyes,
your proud zeal and lust for Christian blood.
I know who you are,
who you were.
You are no better than me.
And yet you are a thousand times better than me.
I will let you carry your own yoke.
I must carry my soiled empty bag,
to make an offering to my Lord,
soiled in sin, the stench of which offends him.
He sends for me, draws me close,
and pushes me back into the night.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Poem for the evening: Pilgrim's Lot

Oh, would I throw away my pen,
spit dirty tobacco into my mug,
make up things and jobs to tell women,
as I walk the land lady's dog
in a stained white undershirt and muffled cap.
What kind is he? A rare breed,
rare indeed. Half man-half man;
half a man, actually. He comes
from the coward genus--
notice the sagging hips, the coal eyes
that once ignited everything.
Oh, if you could have seen him! So handsome. Mmm.

Yes, we should have coffee
sometime, or bourbon,
if you are that kind of girl. Back at my place,
I think of things to do.
If you can think for yourself,
perhaps you can unyoke my straining
mind, fishing quickly for things to bring us closer
to our end, turning a blind eye
to the apocalypse.
So, who will take care of your dog?
you ask, putting me in a tight spot.
More ginger ale? I wish I had something

more to offer you. I have one plate
and a bowl, a few forks;
Which would you like?
You frowned when I showed you
my reed mat, where all the harrowing dreams
of my quiet demise hover above my resting corpse
like chunky angels, driving their fish hook arrows
in and through me as i gently move
the hair in my nostrils with tender breath.
All a man needs is two feet
of space in which to lie, I told you. I catch your eyes
flitting towards the door.

A friend told me: all girls make sure they know
where the windows are, how many flights up,
if they could jump and not break anything.
I picked a woman up off the sidewalk once,
I tell you, to put you at ease,
On my way to court. She told me she was raped
in a man's bathroom, and had jumped out the window,
and broken everything.
I set her up and we had lunch
in Love Park, smoking Kool cigarettes, me trying to keep her
sober. But she kept falling.
She was very heavy.

I'll remember your name, of course,
when I am taking my cold morning shower,
watching the sun rise through the window,
wondering where you had gone that night,
when I turned to go to the bathroom.
I wish i could have offered you some reassurance to go
with your dry baguette and mashed beans.
That, of course, I did not plan for company.
I am new to the city, know nothing
but the few blocks from my cell, the corner store.
the paper, morning tea.
A man alone needs rituals, something,

to cut the quiet air with meaning, honing the sharp
edged intellect (such useless tender)
when bread lines stretch around city blocks,
the sound of bloated children wailing.
All the calamity in the world--
I know it will fall right here where I sleep.
So you see, I must keep an eye open,
lest I unravel carelessly like a ball of twine,
my oil lamp spitting out, flicking the last splashes of candlelight
against the white plaster walls.
It is better for a man not to marry, I reassure the chair.
Roll another plug, put out the light.

Chapter __: Passion

"When I have neither pleasure nor pain and have been breathing for a while the lukewarm insipid air of these so-called good and tolerable days, I feel so bad in my childish soul that I smash my moldering lyre of thanksgiving in the face of the slumbering god of contentment and would rather feel the very devil burn in me than this warmth of a well-heated room.”

--Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf

Manic-depression is a passionate disease. It is like a relationship that is bad for you that you just can’t seem to leave. It is utterly paradoxical: as much as you suffer during those most wicked bouts of depression and mania, the strong emotions inherent in both states leave an imprint in the brain. When we are the most emotional—manic, depressed, or otherwise—we feel most alive.
I often catch myself thinking back nostalgically to the days when I was manic because they were some of the most joyful and spirit filled days of my life and I miss them dearly. Depression, strangely enough, is also a tempting mistress. The crushing weight of despair can become like a comfortable blanket to hide from the world under, and the pain of despair is acute enough to be tasted.

The reason I think back nostalgically to those times when I felt most alive is because these days I do not feel alive at all. Biologically I am functioning normally. But my spirit has been subdued, beaten down into silent submission, by an army of medications. I respond to things neither with anger or gladness, but with shrugs and half-smiles; good and bad, it is all the same. Life is a white cake with no icing; a source of calories, but without the pleasure of consuming them. There are times I wish I would choke on it.

There are times in depression in which the pain is so acute that suicide seems like the only viable respite. In mania one is less likely to be preoccupied by death but may die as a result of some reckless activity. But for one who has known thick passion, residing in the gray nothing of passionless existence is like being in a kind of cool hell. It induces a collected panic, like when a paralyzed person tries to move her limbs for the first time. Feeling the movement of limbs had been taken for granted for so long; that is, until they no longer move on command.

It seems that God is not so fond of this gray state either. In the book of Revelations, the Spirit of God says: “I know your works; I know that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were either hot or cold.” Such half-hearted commitment to the faith is nauseating to God: “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you from my mouth” (Rev 3:16).

The expression “hot and cold” usually refers to the act of vacillating between two extremes; a cycle manic depressives are especially familiar with. This can be between being passionate and frigid, generous and stingy, angry and gentle, loving and hating. So when God seems to be approving of this being “hot or cold,” does that mean that the disposition of manic-depressives has special favor in the eyes of God? I think it does.

If we are looking at the gifts mental illness brings into the world—rather than just its deficits—the disposition towards passion is one that can work favorably for us in our spiritual lives. God does not call us to do average things for Him; He calls us to great things. The ability to do great things depends on having a great spirit, a great vision, and the fortitude to carry it out.

When I was manic, I felt fortified to do great things for God. I had towering vision, and a burning energy to actualize those plans. But as is the case during these mental conditions, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” My mind was too fractured to follow through on any of the grand plans I had made to bring the Kingdom of God closer to earth. I wrote a manifesto. I still don’t know if it was God speaking through me during that time, making me work in the heat of my mania. I don’t think my mental condition detracted from my being a willing servant of God. If anything, the burning passion I laid before God’s feet constituted a “holy oblation,” the willingness to serve with zeal that God found so admirable in David.

When I was severely depressed a few years ago and seeing a new therapist, I mentioned that I was distressed at my lack of passion. After listening to me talk about how I was feeling for a few minutes he said, “I don’t think you have a lack of passion at all. In fact, you have very strong passion. It is just a negative passion.”

He was right. My life at that time was filled with the pain of emptiness, loneliness, worthlessness, guilt, despair—all those demons that accompany acute depression. They were like searing wounds that split open and festered on all parts of my body. Was this some commission from God to share in the sufferings of Christ? I doubted it. It did feel like a mental crucifixion, and I did feel completely abandoned by God at this Golgotha. But in my suffering, I at least felt human.
The Desert Fathers espoused a state of being which they referred to as “dispassion,” or apatheia. In this state the intellect is not made a slave to the passions of the senses, nor of the imagination, but is rather brought back into proper alignment with the Divine Intellect. Cultivating this state requires mortification and self-control, detachment from material possessions, prayer, and, of course, grace.

The medication-induced passionlessness I live in now is not a venerable state. It is not the result of fervent mortification or prayer. It is simply a state in which my emotional responses have been dulled and muted. My tears ducts may have dried up and my sex drive may have gone into hibernation, but I still experience the passions of desire in subtler ways. The craving for comfort, praise, and substances is still strong; I notice it the most when I deny it what it wants. With a recent switch in medication I have regained a healthy appetite and so food has become a source of craving. I have strong urges to nap during the day that are hard to resist. I do not consider any of these things as harmful in and of themselves. But it is the attachment to them, and the treating them as idols, which bring us farther away from the path God wants us to tread.
A perfect example of such raving, sinful passion, comes from one of my favorite books, Zorba the Greek. Zorba relates his father’s passion for smoking and how he overcame it in this vibrant excerpt:

“Well, he had all the vices, but he'd slash them, as you would with a sword. For instance, he smoked like a chimney. One morning he…took out his pouch and found it was empty. He'd forgotten to fill it before leaving the house. He foamed with rage, let out a roar, and then bounded away towards the village. His passion for smoking completely unbalanced his reason, you see. But suddenly he stopped, filled with shame, pulled out his pouch and tore it to shreds with his teeth, then stamped it in the ground and spat on it. ‘Filth! Filth!’ he bellowed. ‘Dirty slut!’ And from that hour, until the end of his days, he never put another cigarette between his lips. That's the way real men behave boss.”

God wants us to be passionate people, not lukewarm. But He wants our passions to be directed to the things of the spirit, not the flesh. In this way I feel that the fire of passion and desire which burns so hot in the souls of manic-depressives is advantageous to spiritual development. The key is exercising the will in a way that directs it towards the ways of holiness, not sin. Unlike the flaring of passions and emotions, how we direct our will is completely in our control.

The subduing of passion by medication is a kind of death, one that needs to be grieved, but that inevitably leads to a deeper, more mature faith less dependent on emotion-based response. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). I have come to terms with this crucifixion of my emotions by medication and my faith life has adjusted accordingly. As in the parable of the two sons in Mt 21:28-32, what one feels towards God is less important than what one does for God.

letters to Norma

hey love,

i got hit by a car (cop car no less) a few weeks ago so i'm holed up for a bit but would love to get together when im all well and my bike is all black and sleek looking at me puppyeyed saying, "well?" i'll grab my hat off its hook and hop on and glide down ridge ave in north philly dusk like a fabulous ice skater draped in pink spandex caressing the mic at woody's singing an old rendition of "where oh where has my norma gone?" you will get up, brown and glowing and all teeth and sex "to hell with this job" you will say and we will spend the day buying hot dogs from vendor carts watching babies bundled up in itchy wool flap hats waddling and careening across frozen rittenhouse fountain carousels hit the night with a bottle and ill watch you sing, maybe...


One of my favorites by Gregory Corso:

Should I get married? Should I be Good?
Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustaus hood?
Don't take her to movies but to cemeteries
tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
and she going just so far and I understanding why
not getting angry saying You must feel! It's beautiful to feel!
Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky--
When she introduces me to her parents
back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,
should I sit knees together on their 3rd degree sofa
and not ask Where's the bathroom?
How else to feel other than I am,
often thinking Flash Gordon soap--
O how terrible it must be for a young man
seated before a family and the family thinking
We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou!
After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living?
Should I tell them? Would they like me then?
Say All right get married, we're losing a daughter
but we're gaining a son--
And should I then ask Where's the bathroom?
O God, and the wedding! All her family and her friends
and only a handful of mine all scroungy and bearded
just waiting to get at the drinks and food--
And the priest! He looking at me if I masturbated
asking me Do you take this woman for your lawful wedded wife?
And I trembling what to say say Pie Glue!
I kiss the bride all those corny men slapping me on the back
She's all yours, boy! Ha-ha-ha!
And in their eyes you could see some obscene honeymoon going on--
then all that absurd rice and clanky cans and shoes
Niagara Falls! Hordes of us! Husbands! Wives! Flowers! Chocolates!
All streaming into cozy hotels
All going to do the same thing tonight
The indifferent clerk he knowing what was going to happen
The lobby zombies they knowing what
The whistling elevator man he knowing
The winking bellboy knowing
Everybody knowing! I'd be almost inclined not to do anything!
Stay up all night! Stare that hotel clerk in the eye!
Screaming: I deny honeymoon! I deny honeymoon!
running rampant into those almost climatic suites
yelling Radio belly! Cat shovel!
O I'd live in Niagara forever! in a dark cave beneath the Falls
I'd sit there the Mad Honeymooner devising ways to break marriages, a scourge of bigamy a saint of divorce--
But I should get married I should be good
How nice it'd be to come home to her
and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and lovely wanting by baby
and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair
saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!
God what a husband I'd make! Yes, I should get married!
So much to do! like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop people killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust--
Yet if I should get married and it's Connecticut and snow
and she gives birth to a child and I am sleepless, worn,
up for nights, head bowed against a quiet window, the past behind me,
finding myself in the most common of situations a trembling man
knowledged with responsibility not twig-smear not Roman coin soup--
O what would that be like!
Surely I'd give it for a nipple a rubber Tacitus
For a rattle bag of broken Bach records
Tack Della Francesca all over its crib
Sew the Greek alphabet on its bib
And build for its playpen a roofless Parthenon
No, I doubt I'd be that kind of father
not rural not snow no quiet window
but hot smelly New York City
seven flights up, roaches and rats in the walls
a fat Reichian wife screeching over potatoes Get a job!
And five nose running brats in love with Batman
And the neighbors all toothless and dry haired
like those hag masses of the 18th century
all wanting to come in and watch TV
The landlord wants his rent
Grocery store Blue Cross Gas & Electric Knights of Columbus
Impossible to lie back and dream Telephone snow, ghost parking--
No! I should not get married and I should never get married!
But--imagine if I were to marry a beautiful sophisticated woman
tall and pale wearing an elegant black dress and long black gloves
holding a cigarette holder in one hand and highball in the other
and we lived high up a penthouse with a huge window
from which we could see all of New York and even farther on clearer days
No I can't imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream--
O but what about love? I forget love
not that I am incapable of love
it's just that I see love as odd as wearing shoes--
I never wanted to marry a girl who was like my mother
And Ingrid Bergman was always impossible
And there maybe a girl now but she's already married
And I don't like men and--
but there's got to be somebody!
Because what if I'm 60 years old and not married,
all alone in furnished room with pee stains on my underwear
and everybody else is married! All in the universe married but me!
Ah, yet well I know that were a woman possible as I am possible
then marriage would be possible--
Like SHE in her lonely alien gaud waiting her Egyptian lover
so I wait--bereft of 2,000 years and the bath of life.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Joan Miro Christmas in Hell Extravaganza

I don't dream much. So when I do it feels significant, whether it is or not. Asleep on the couch, surrounded by presents and chocolat liquor and gladness, slightly drugged by pain and perkocete, i had a dream that i was in hell. it was a butcher shop a la Miro's 'Carnival of Harlequin,' with screaming cow heads on the floor prophesying...a workshop of torture and chaos. in the groggy horror upon waking up, egg nog and 24/7 jolly carols on the radio, snoop dogg at the lakers-celtics game, i had a vision of our home, a la hiroshema, a la Job...todd, dead. dad, missing right arm crying over john's missing left leg. mom also missing limbs. the pot roast, not quite done. "Quelle Catastrophe!" the comfort and safety of candles and frosty christmas wreaths...illusion! warsaw, nagasake, quernica...horror a moment from the front door, waiting to be answered, three doors down. i have not been so shaken by a dream in a long time. no one is safe from the revolving one way doors of Hell, butcher shop of eternal torture. O Lady, pray for us!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chapter __: A Place Apart

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

--Mk 12:10

Since I was in college, I have always wanted to be a monk. The Benedictines who staffed our Catholic community gave me my first exposure to monasticism and filled me with the desire to commit myself to God in a radical way. I visited the Archabbey where the monks lived a number of times and became more and more drawn to the simple, vibrant rhythm of Benedictine work and prayer.

I discerned this call for more than ten years, visiting monasteries across the country and abroad. I even made a two week retreat at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, and was struck by how similar their daily routine was to the monks’ back home. I dated, partied, and traveled, but when I reflected on my path of discipleship, it always led back to the monastery.

In 2008, as I was heading into my final semester of graduate school, I decided it was time to make a commitment to what I felt was my calling. I wrote to the abbot of a contemplative Benedictine monastery in New Mexico that I had visited a few years before and asked to be considered as a postulant. The abbot wrote back cordially and said I was an ideal candidate, aside from one thing: my diagnosis of manic-depression.

After conferring with other communities, he told me that ninety-nine percent of monasteries would not accept someone with bi-polar disorder. He said that personally, he did not like to rule anyone out on this basis alone, and that they had in fact admitted a man with bi polar disorder recently. It was not, however, a positive experience for either party, and the man left before professing his simple vows. It seems the experience of living with a manic depressive had left a bad taste in all the monks’ mouths. As the old saying goes, “one bad apple spoils the barrel.”

I was devastated. While the abbot insisted that this did not rule me out for consideration all together, my diagnosis made him cautious when considering my application. And rightfully so. The abbot was not ignorant of the fact that stress is a major trigger for people with bi polar disorder, and living in community had plenty of stress to offer.

Manic depression is a kind of “original sin.” It is something you are born with, it is often inherited, and its reputation tends to proceeds you. It does not prevent one from being mentally balanced, but by nature it makes it that much more difficult.

When I was told I may not be able to become a monk on account of my condition, I felt like a gentile, excluded from a community which was promised salvation. It felt unfair, but I knew that St. Benedict and all the Desert Fathers held obedience as one of the highest virtues without which no monk could expect to get far up the ladder of divine ascent. I submitted, trusting that when God closes one door, he opens another. What the abbot said about stress was true, at least in my own life. I know there are certain jobs that would preclude me on account of my mental condition. It didn’t take long in teaching 7th grade for me to crumble under the stress that teaching demands.

I had long entertained the idea of marriage, even while I explored my monastic vocation, and was in fact, at one point, engaged. This, too, was a great source of stress and while I don’t rule out being married all together, I know that the stress of living in this kind of two person community is not to be taken lightly.

It takes humility to accept the fact that we will not always be able to live the kinds of lives we wish to live. If you wear glasses, you will probably never be an Air Force fighter pilot. If you are five foot four, a career in the NBA may not be in the cards for you. Being what we want to be is not something a Christian should aspire to. Being what God wants us to be, however, is the mark of a true disciple. The best part is that when we aspire to be what God wants us to be, He opens all the doors for us. I may never be a monk. But there is nothing standing in the way of my being a saint but myself…manic depressive or otherwise.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I was in prison...

Christopher Carter
SCI Smithfield
Huntingdon, PA

18 Dec 2008

Dear Chris,

Thanks for your letter. I recently got hit by a car and broke my hand and collarbone so I can’t type much so forgive me for that.

Do know St Paul was in prison? He suffered there. He said it is a good thing to suffer when you have done no wrong. Prison can be just or unjust but it sounds like for you it is just punishment; that is, you did wrong, committed a crime, and now the state is making you pay for it. You must accept this but know that no man is bound to his past. Whatever you did, good or bad, it is over and done. This day commit yourself to the Lord and endure your suffering knowing this, like all things, will come to an end.

I have been blessed with a loving family and good childhood, but that is not the case with everyone, including you. But remember those who are most forsaken by men are loved the more by God.

Do you know how I pray? The Psalmist says: “ponder on your bed and be still.” This is what I do. It is listening for God, rather than running my mouth (which is fine also).It is written: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” And Samuel heard God’s call and responded: “Here I am!” God speaks very silently. Lie on you bed and follow your breath. Quiet your insides. You are surrounded by walls but you are free. There is nothing keeping you from God but yourself and your sin. You are blessed!

I will end here. You are in my thoughts and prayers this Christmas. hold the key to your freedom.

All my friends will soon be strangers...

I am back in germantown after a few days of recovery from my hand surgery at my parents' house. i heard a saying once: "if you think you are enlightened, spend a week with your parents." so true. funny how you get used to walking around with a broken collarbone when there's nothing you can do about it. the protrusion has become like a pet parrot, always perched on my shoulder. when i start talking to it, though, then i am in trouble.

now i am back awaiting my second surgery and feeling like a single mother or widow, alone in my apt, struggling in my impotence to open a can of beans. there is a quiet desperation at times like this, the mild shame of dependency. true love is wiping your lover's ass when they cant manage to do it themselves. i am glad to be back, if only for a change of scenary, in a place with less baggage, where i can pray and not feel the act to be so foreign as it is in the house i grew up in.

as i reflect more during this 'benching,' i am becoming more resigned to the fact that i will probably never marry, and what this means for my future. if i cant open my own beans, who will? in this way it makes sense to marry. but i remember what the Apostle says, that, spiritually speaking, "it is better to be unmarried, since he who marries is concerned with worldly things, how to please his wife," while an unmarried man is concerned with the Lord's affairs.

Some days I feel such an aversion to the world and temporal things; i wonder how it is that any man lives in it as he does. ignorance is like a soft blanket i want to crawl into, stripping off the rough raw hide the Lord issues his followers. i told my father in the car that this world holds nothing for me, that i would be glad to leave it. Buddha said: "I consider the positions of kings and rulers as that of dust motes. I perceive the teachings of the world to be the illusion of magicians. I see meditation as a pillar of a mountain, Nirvana as a nightmare of daytime."

monks make sand mandalas and blow them away; i have shaved my beard. beards, like comfort and suffering, come and go "as the serpentine dance of a dragon...traces left by the four seasons." besides i was beginning to scare mothers and their small children.

Of a Pure Mind and a Simple Intention

"When a man begins to grow dull and slow in spiritual matters, then a little labor greatly frightens him, and he gladly seeks outward comfort from the world and the flesh. But when he begins perfectly to overcome himself and to walk strongly in the way of God, then he little considers those labors he before thought troublesome and insupportable."

--Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Of the Remembrance of Death

"Now while you are in good health you may do many good deeds; if you fall sick, I cannot tell what you may do, for few are made better through sickness. Do not put your trust in your friends and neighbors, and do not put off your good deeds until after your death, for you shall be sooner forgotten than you think. It is better to provide for yourself ahead of time and to send some good deeds before you than to trust to others who very likely will easily forget you. For the common proverb is true: Today a man; tomorrow none."

--Thomas a Kempis

Monday, December 15, 2008

Of Inordinate Affections

"When a man desires anything inordinately, he is at once unquiet in himself. A man not mortified to himself is easily tempted and overcome by little and small temptations. And he who is weak in spirit and is somewhat carnal and inclined to worldly things can with difficulty withdraw himself from worldly desires; when he does withdraw himself from them, he often has great grief and heaviness of heart and rebels if any man resists him. And if he obtains what he desires, he is disquieted by remorse of conscience, for he has followed hi passion which has not helped at all in winning the peace he desired.

There is, therefore, no peace in the heart of a carnal man or in the heart of a man who gives himself all to outward things. But in the heart of spiritual men and women who have their delight in God great peace and inward quiet are found."

--Thomas a Kempis

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Ponder on your bed and be still..."

i am typing with one finger on account of the fact that i was hit by a car (a police car, no less) yesterday, endowing me with a broken right hand and collarbone. needless to say i will be taking a break from writing for a short while, but am grateful for the extra time to be able to listen to God in the silence of my room.

i thank God for everything. i thank Him when he fills me with light, i thank Him when He breaks my bones, for "He is lavishing His hesed on me." was i supposed to be hit by a car? what a silly question. sometimes we forget that we breathe borrowed air on borrowed time. i suppose i was overdue for a reminder...

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Single Life

A Celebration:

  • I whistle to the tune of "Three Blind Mice" while washing the dishes, enjoying the pleasure of warm water running over the back of my hands.
  • I read. I read Hesse, Kerouac, Mother Teresa, St. Neilos, National Geographic cupped in an easy chair, my leg dangling over the side.
  • I make tea, a ceremony for one.
  • I lie on my reed mat in the day, in the night and listen for God to speak, lighting candles, blowing them out, the brattle of cars on cobblestone and steel track.
  • I make an event out of going to the store, like going to the movies, and ponder unhurried over what kind of bread to buy as if I were buying a new car.
  • I look at my body in the mirror and think 'no one will see me naked,' and sigh and smile.
  • I grow a beard.
  • I sit in the back pews in church hoping a pretty quiet girl might walk in and she never does.
  • I ride my bike in the quiet cold to watch Battle Star Galactica with my ever-there teacher and friend, to relax and smoke, communing without speaking.
  • I hang my colored tee shirts and socks and underwear in the evening when I am alone, and imagine I am drying wet cotton diapers as my son sleeps in the next room.
  • I sit on the porch and smoke and watch things like the king of a great fiefdom.
  • When I am lonely I look for couples with painfully bored faces sitting across from each other in stale silence over cold food, having run out of words to exchange.
  • When I am horny I think of sex after-the-fact, of sighing and getting out of bed to make a sandwich and thinking about work the next day and wondering in the light of the refrigerator if this is all there is to life, this coming and going.
  • Sometimes I act like a perfect gentleman, just for fun.
  • I read about great stoic hermits and feel ashamed at my need to socialize.
  • I rent movies and eat ice cream in polyester Adidas pants, indulging myself in everything I deserve.
  • I shave my face, cut my hair, and celebrate the fact that I am a man.
  • I think about my future as if I am looking out over miles of Montana scrub, the wind catching my ear, and the nape of my neck.
  • I go out to meet friends as a representative of my self, and usually leave early.
  • I fantasize about giving my life as ransom for another.
  • On Saturdays I don't sleep late but I smile devilishly in the fact that I can.
  • I listen to classical music in the kitchen over the crackling of bacon, and the smell of grease.
  • My days are like brilliant sheets of white paper, a few notes scratched here and there.
  • I think about Thailand, Greece, Madrid, drinking glasses of fruit juice in the Dominican Republic, sitting silently in open air zendos in Japan, without longing, only curiosity.
  • I offer myself to the world as a free agent...

Do you like my new hat?

I thought you would. I do too! Though I am not really this surly NYC-cabby looking in real life. The hat is actually my roommate Chris', but he said I could borrow it. Ever since I saw Newsies I wanted one. But I'm afraid of wearing it outside for fear of attracting hipsters!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I found this little excerpt I had written in an email and thought I would post it. Not reflective of how I feel now, though. Now that I have phased out Lithium I feel like a fiddlehead fern starting to unravel towards the light...

3/21/05- My depths promised to bring me to summits of hope, where I could look out and down and at all the places where I had been during those times. It was simply cause and effect. But rather, now, I have been brought up to and placed in a state with nothing real to complain about, and nothing to aspire to. A dead gray filled with unredeemed suffering, like a clay-filled pie with a beautiful glistening crust.

Tonight I received a message...

"This is where you are supposed to be."

Friday, December 5, 2008


I have been struck with the "omgwhatamidoingwithmylife!?" recently. I have started sending out resumes to local Catholic colleges for campus ministry positions with the hopes that something would materialize by next fall. I want to stay in the area. I am okay for money for a while but would like to know that I would be able to do something worthwhile, something I want to be doing, sometime in the near future.

This lack of control is humiliating, in the sense that it inspires humility. I don't know where my life is going or what I'm supposed to be doing. I am completely dependent on God for my future while having to actualize it myself. I am scared, nervous, though I shouldn't be, if I had faith that God had something in store for me. Reading Mother Theresa's letters, my own issues and fears wilt like dying flowers from the radiance of her trust in Providence.

I have also decided to sell the bus. It is a very good bus but I do not want to live in a bus. It would have made more sense for me to know that before I bought and converted a bus...but I wouldn't have known until I did it. I have a guy coming to look at it on Sunday. When I thought, "I'm going to sell the bus," it seemed right. Poor bus, so much love and attention and publicity, only to be passed off to some guy...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Letter to Dom Abbot Philip Lawrence, OSB

3 December 2008

Fr. Philip,

Thank you for writing back. I do not know why Fr. Orthmann's has not written. I actually called Holy Cross and left a message for him but never heard back. I would like to speak with Fr. Genovesi again and take some more time with this issue of entering monastic life. I think he saw my last request as somewhat impulsive though of course as I mentioned to you before, I have been considering this call for some time.

I remember years ago when I graduated college, not knowing what to do with my life, I applied to Teach For America. I thought I would teach, that this was what I was called to do. I received a letter of rejection and was devastated, though I know now that when God closes one door He opens another. At the time, though, it was very dark. This is how I feel now

I trust in the obedience Benedict espoused, and i also trust in your judgment, and in the judgment of Fr. Genovesi. As I said, I would like to speak to him more, flush this out a little. I would also like to take you up on your invitation to visit next spring, to speak with you in person. So much is lost via email. I would hope that in meeting you would be able to help me discern whether this calling to monastic life is a real calling or not. I do know my desire is genuine. I want to do great things for God as HE wants me to do them. My career goal is to be a saint, a faceless one, known only to Him.

Living a monastic life is very hard on one's own. I feel like despite whatever difficulties might arise for me in community, the need for guidance and support of a community is strong. I have very few Christian friends and live out my life for Christ very much alone. I don't know if this is my calling or not, but to be surrounded and supported by Christian fathers and brothers...who knows what things I could do for God in community that I could not do by my weak self?

I wonder if you could share a little what it is about bi polar disorder that would bar someone like myself from so many communities, and maybe a little about this man who left the monastery, and how his illness affected the community. I know I cannot change the fact that I have bi polar disorder, but I would just hope that whatever it is that would preclude me from community life would be valid and accurate, not based on preconcpttions. It would also help me understand more how my illness affects my spiritual life and the difficulties it would present in living in community. If anything, my medications have been doing a good job of keeping mania and depression from occurring. The downside of this neutralization, this "lack" of moods, is that I feel empty, a little less than human. My emotions suppressed by this, I have been forced to relate to God in emptiness.

I have started reading the secret writings of Mother Teresa. They have been very good for me to read. Since I have just started most of the writing is about the beginning of her mission and her locutions and her unbelievable fire and desire to please God. When I read her I feel ashamed at my lukewarmness and all the "no"s that I answer God with. But all this is in a good way. It pushes me. I have started fasting recently, only in the sense of eating in between meals, and my weakness is astounding. i feel like the little drummer boy having nothing to bring God but my weakness and sins. But I know this is a source of grace itself.

Please write. I hope to hear from you, since your direction and support helps me in this time where there are not many lights leading my way.

In Xto,


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Spirit is Willing...

I have started reading the private writings of Mother Teresa of Calcutta elucidating her "spiritual darkness" she endured for close to fifty years.

There is a great amount of will that goes into achieving great things for God. The directions are clear enough: follow the commandments. become like a little one. give all to the poor. take up your cross. like the so called "american dream," sainthood is an invitation extended (and encouraged) to all. There is nothing preventing anyone from being great for God except themselves. Loving is an act of the will and in our complete freedom we are free to exercise it as we want.

The only constriction on this is sin, and that itself is encouraged and cultured in our personal lives; the accumulating darkness is welcomed on our behalf by what we commit in darkness. When we sow sin, we reap sin. If we sow love, we reap love. Our outwards lives are a direct reflection of the work we have put into them, what we have chosen, i.e., Sin and Death, or Love and Life.

I will never be a star athlete. I will never be the president of a company or a great scientist or rich or famous. Perhaps the 'power of positive intention' people will disagree that these things are beyond my grasp. Whether they are or not is moot to me. What I want is to dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life, for "one day in your courts is better than a thousand spent elsewhere."

Many things prevent me from becoming a star athlete, or a president, or a rich man. But nothing prevents me from being a saint except myself. The formula is easy: God wills us to be with Him. God gives us everything we need to do so. I have complete freedom to choose to sin or not, but this is impossible without grace. God gives us everything we need to make this happen...nothing can be achieved without this grace but it is not denied to anyone. Sin separates us from God. I choose sin over God day after day. There is nothing preventing me from being a saint, from doing great things for God, except myself. The flesh may be weak but it is not completely compromised so as to be immune to the exercise of the will. This is why sloth and gluttony are sins: they sow laziness in choosing to do the work of the Lord, attacking from the inside, our disposition.

Working out is hard for a reason. I don't like working out because it is hard. But if you want to become strong you have to do the work. My sloth, gluttony, laziness is an embarrassment. Sin is like is easy to keep eating it, for it does not fill up and it is always sweet. I hope to diet to make my insides like my outside, to take responsibility for my salvation, to eschew cheap grace, and to work towards the only thing worth anything in this life: becoming a servant unto the Lord.

Fat Albert

I found the following article on weight gain as a side effect of Zyprexa. After putting on 30 lbs. in less than a month the claim that the drug causes "substantial weight gain" has been substantiated in my mind. I would like to switch to Abilify but it is very expensive and until I can get samples I will continue taking the Zyprexa.

So I have decided for the first time in my life (besides my days trying to make weight for wrestling in high school) to start dieting. I don't know if it will stick or not, but I will try to eat a healthy and modest breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with no snacking in between. This fasting will be a very difficult discipline, with my appetite out of control (it seems that Zyprexa affects the enzyme that regulates eating "behavior," which is probably responsible for this).

Zyprexa: Study Finds Reason for Weight Gain

According to a recent report, the drug increases the activity of an enzyme called AMPK in cells in the part of the brain that regulates eating behavior. AMPK is shorthand for the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). The cells that make up our bodies need a constant supply of energy to function. AMPK is key in regulating cellular energy, and serves as a gas gauge by sensing how much energy a cell has.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

AMPK's increase was because the antipsychotic drugs were interfering with the important protein histamine.