Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Birthday Debbie!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hell

No one knows what happens when we die, except those people who have died, and they are dead, unless they have come back to life, which does happen sometime. Still, I wonder if saying one does not 'believe' in heaven or hell is akin to saying one does not believe in gravity, or the existence of subatomic particles. We speculate. It's as silly not to believe in heaven and hell as it is to believe. But it's also absurd to talk about these states as if we know what they are, and if they exist, definitively, unless one has been there.

I can't help thinking we are all hell-bound. For all the times I have forgotten God, hell is where I belong. Salvation is not a guarantee, not something to be counted on. My belief in Jesus Christ as Savior would be severely compromised if there was nothing for us to be saved from. If I believe in Jesus, I believe what he says, including his talk of the the afterlife and the last judgment and the 'wailing and gnashing of teeth.' My Christian faith comes with some conditions, and belief in the afterlife is one of them.

But it is just that--a belief. If someone asks me, 'Is there a heaven? Is there a hell?' I will continue to answer, 'I don't know.' But if someone asks me, 'Do you believe in heaven and hell?' I will continue to answer, 'yes,' because I do. My belief is not proof of existence. Still, I would rather live as if there were a hell than die and find out I was wrong.

So, I try to live as if heaven and hell exist, as if my actions in this life have some consequence beyond this life, as if we are playing for keeps, and every play counts. If this life is all there is, I would cash in my chips now.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Merry Christmas! I wanted to post my latest creation in preparation for the upcoming gardening season--a cedar light box. The 105 watt CFL and aluminum foil-lined walls keep my little seedlings of peppers, eggplant, spinach, zinnia, and hollyhock (and in a couple months, tomato, sweet pepper, cucumber, and zucchini) bathed in light. I actually moved them up, 12" closer to the bulb, after the picture was taken. The light box is built into a 3'x3'x7' cedar closet in Debbie's basement. I used a ballast from an old lamp and bolted it into the ceiling, and fed the wiring along the outside of the closet. It is on a 12 hr. timer. We'll see how they grow!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Message from Sri Lanka

This excerpt on the nature of happiness/unhappiness came from an email sent by my dear mate Tim who is presently on a 3 month retreat in Sri Lanka. I'm thinking he's had a few insights from the monks there and thought I'd pass it along:


The only point I want to mention is one that in Buddhism is central to
understanding why a vast proportion of what we think is good for us,
is in actual fact the very cause of so much unhappiness. As such I
think it’s worth making an attempt to communicate to the people I
love. I’ll use an analogy: think about someone who has been smoking 10
cigarettes a day for 5 years (or much less). It has become a habit to
the body and mind and smokers will often say it’s relaxing and
enjoyable. What has been shown is that as soon as habitual smokers
finish a cigarette they start to feel withdrawal from the nicotine,
and over the following minutes and hours they start to crave another
one. A sense of dissatisfaction with their current reality of NOT
having a cigarette develops as they start planning when to have the
next one, and imbuing the cigarette with all these positive qualities
(it’s relaxing; it’s pleasurable) and this object becomes anticipated
as the cause for future satisfaction/happiness. The sense of
dissatisfaction with the current reality of NOT having this
pleasurable object grows in direct proportion to the anticipation of
having it. Then finally, when you smoke the cigarette you feel a wave
of satisfaction and happiness flood over you. We call it happiness,
Buddhists call it suffering; the suffering of change. The feeling of
pleasure arises from the movement from dissatisfaction to relative
satisfaction, and the kicker is we attribute this relative
satisfaction to the object itself. So we start craving the happiness
it provides. We are all habituated to our objects of craving, whether
smoking, eating, TV, sex, whatever. We’re stuck in a pattern of
wanting the next ________ to make us happy. But it’s this very act of
grasping for the next thing and seeing happiness as an inherent
quality of that object (rather than how we relate to it) that leads us
to feel dissatisfied with what we have, where we are, and who we’re
with.

And the crazy thing is we aren’t even aware of this underlying sense
of dissatisfaction. Ask a smoker if the habit causes suffering and he
might say yes, but only because the government taxes is too high. But
the happiness and relaxation he experiences when he smokes the next
cigarette is only relative to the dissatisfaction of NOT having it.
Give a cigarette to someone who’s never had one and ask them what they
think. I’m willing to bet they won’t say it’s a pleasant experience.
By making happiness all about having/consuming objects out there (be
they people, things or simply experiences) we are setting up a
perpetual cycle of unhappiness. But as most will tell you, if you
don’t already know, giving up smoking is anything but easy. For the
short and mid-term it involves discomfort. Breaking habits is not
rocket science, everyone can do it. It’s just hard.

The good news is that if we want to find a more sustainable, and
genuine form of happiness it’s within our reach, but it doesn’t
involve getting the bigger, better next best thing. It starts with
acting ethically, being kind to ourselves as well as others, and
recognizing that lasting happiness doesn’t come from something outside
of us and can’t simply be willed with positive thinking, no matter how
much we want it or how hard we try. It takes practice and a lot of
it. Reality is reality and our culture has kind of shifted the goal
posts a little; to sell more, and make more money. We need to be
willing to develop awareness of this reality; the reality of our
inter-dependence with all things, of life’s impermanence, and of our
habitual and instantaneous tendency to impute the causes of happiness
on things out there. From my understanding true, genuine happiness
requires a solid foundation. Not an illusion. And sadly, so much of
what we’re advised to seek out for our refuge, our protection, is
anything but solid. It’s here one minute, and gone the next. The
beer is great that night, and painful the next day. The dessert
tastes delicious but leads to calories and guilt. The TV program is
distracting but seldom enriches our lives. Going out with friends is
enlivening but if you did it every night you’d be exhausted. It’s not
that any of these things are bad, they’re not. It’s not they’re not
good fun, they are. But maybe there’s something else out there which
offers a little more consistent contentment and satisfaction, and
arises from within, not without. Maybe… and that’s why I’m out here
and that’s what I’m trying to figure out. Ps. If you’ve got this far
in the email, the chances are it’s a question you’re curious about
too!

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Why do Xmas cards never show a woman in a shit-covered cowshed squatting a baby out into a rotting feed trough?" --Warren Ellis

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fall From Grace


Tiger Woods has had quite a fall from grace, losing sponsors, etc., as a result of his recently exposed infidelity--ie, 'moral failing.' It amazes me how people who can climb so high on the corporate/political/career/achievement ladder can fall so far. I guess it shouldn't surprise me; it is simple physics.

St. John Climacus in 'The Ladder of Divine Ascent,' as well as the Desert Fathers, warned of the treacherous downfall of those would-be saints who had ascended to such spiritual heights, only to fall from the rungs due to pride. Pride is the antithesis of humility, the necessary pre-requisite for salvation, and humility gives birth to compunction--true sorrow for our offenses against God. I try to keep this in mind when I forget how to please God.

The spiritual path is a dangerous path...to think of all the years spent struggling and sweating, only to be brought down in the blink of an eye! Fame and power, in my mind, seem to facilitate the opportunity for such a dizzying descent. What did Chris Rock say about a man being as faithful as his options? We've all made mistakes, and Tiger Woods is not exempt, no matter how good he is at golf. But "to much who is given, much is expected." And how much more the rich, famous, and powerful have to lose in the game of life!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Regulars

I was (in what seems like another life ago) once engaged to a very talented photographer whose most notable project, published in The New York Times Magazine, was a series of portraits of regular patrons at McGlinchey's Tavern, the bar where she worked in Philly. It was aptly titled The Regulars.

We get 'em at Starbucks, too. The Armenian father (doppio macchiato) and his son with Down's (Tall iced coffee); Nick (doppio espresso), who will talk and talk to you, no matter how busy you are. The atheist with the lazy eye (sugar-free vanilla coffee base double blended frappachino). The (Grande-in-a-Venti) chef at Chambers. There are quite a few; they are all creatures of habit.

What makes us attach so strongly to our quirky little expressions of self-identity? Does ordering a wet cappuccino every day give a sense of comfort, like Linus' blanket; does it make me "Wet Cappuccino Man?" Is it a "I-like-what-I-like-and-that's-what-I-like" thing? Sometimes I think they are all having a contest, who can be the most regular, the Best Regular, that guy who people can say "he's been coming in here and ordering the same drink for twenty odd years," the guy who walks up to the counter and the barista can ask, "the usual?"I'll call it Cheers Syndrome...sometimes people want a place to belong, their place, where "everybody knows your name."

I guess we are all that way with our own little things. For me it was Bob's Diner in Roxborough. I lived in the neighborhood, was on familiar terms with the waitresses, always ordered the same thing--two eggs scrambled with toast and hashbrowns with onions, and coffee. I wanted to be a Bob's regular, to be able to say "That's my diner" and "this is what I order." And I was, to an extent; as I kept buying breakfast there. When I ceased handing my money over, I was no longer a "customer," and as such, my existence outside the diner did not count for much.

Years ago I submitted a few poems to poetry.com (when it was run by the "International Society of Poets") and was thrilled when they wanted to publish my poems in an anthology that I could purchase for a small fee. Oh I felt so special. Publication meant recognition, and recognition meant my work was not insignificant. I, by association, was thus not insignificant as a person, since I and my Work are one. I exist, because the world recognizes that I exist. Or so the reasoning goes. I never did pay for that anthology, and later learned the meaning of the word "vanity publisher."

Are the attempts to curry familiarity with the employees behind the counter at a corporate owned coffee shop through loyal patronage a kind of prostitution? You give me $X, I love you for thirty minutes. Or maybe an escort-client analogy is more fitting...You give me $X, I am your special lady for the night. Your money is as green as the next guy's.

You give me $4.50, I'll make your drink just the way you like it and you can feel like a V.I.P. for the day, that you are acknowledged and accepted and that you are signature special. "I pay, therefore, I am." Your life is not insignificant. They know you here. You're not like everybody else...after all, you're a regular.


copyright Sarah Stolfa

Monday, December 7, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dislikes and Likes

I'll tell you a few things I don't like seeing. I don't like seeing people holding signs that have "GOD" and "HATES FAGS" in the same sentence. I don't like seeing American flags in churches. I don't like seeing "ABORTION KILLS" bumper stickers on cars, not because I don't believe it isn't true, but because the abortion "debate" in America is not so bumper-sticker-cut-and-dry. I don't like seeing people putting other people down, nor seeing people suffer embarrassment or shame because of who they are or what kind of life they have chosen. I don't like being affiliated with any political party or labeled "liberal" or "religious."

* * *

Things I do like: growing vegetables from seed; drawing garden plans on the back of napkins; day-dreaming about grow-lights and lettuce growing under frosty cold frames in December; getting deals on Ebay; riding my bike to work; getting free trash-bound food from work. I like my Honda, and making tea in my tea pot. I like that we have freedom of religion, and separation of church and state.

* * *

My bebe is so cool. She is the coolest girl in school. She's a good person and sharp too, not too churchy and loves God and is a simple girl, a good teacher, nice hair, good smell, beautiful teeth, she's my sugar mamma and i'm her handy-man. She loves learning new things and everybody likes her, I can't think of one person who would say, "Ah Deb, what a phony!" I can leave her alone with my mom. She's got this sexy haircut, ow! She doesn't nag and helps me remember things. She's a good driver, and a cool aunt. She's so cool she bought her wedding dress online for $150. I am so proud of my bebe.


this is what we do at work.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Breaking: A Play in 3 Acts

Act III
Setting: the living room.
Characters: Michael, Danielle
Danielle is sitting in an armchair, looking out the window. Michael is making coffee in the kitchen nearby.

M: You're quiet.

D [distant]: It's quiet outside. I was just following suite.

M: Mm.

D: May I have a cup?

M [Michael brings the french press over to her and pours her a cup of coffee]: Here you go.

D: Thank you. [Pausing] I'm sorry if I was short earlier, in the car. The snow always...I don't know. It is so light, and empty, and deceptive.

M: What do you mean?

D [solemnly]: It melts.

M: Yes?

D: I am a unique snowflake...absorbed in a seamless blanket...I liquefy above freezing, and evaporate when the sun comes out. Three states of being...and not one to lay claim to. I'm nothing, Michael.

M: [silence]

D: So much white. What an aberration.

M: Hon, you're not nothing.

D [putting down her cup]: Ah, but I am. I melt. I evaporate. On the ground, each snowflake has unique company. This sea of white, like drops in the ocean. Is it one thing? Is it a million separate things? Oh, I am a part of this human family. You. Me. Your mother. Papa. Isabelle. That bag boy at the Acme. The whole lot of us. One seamless blanket. We form separately in the sky, and fall to earth, and become One. We don't even see each other anymore. We are so close!

M [putting his arm around her]: That is what family is. A blanket, as you say. That's a good thing, Danielle. To be close.

[Danielle stares out the window and brings her finger to her lip, and says nothing. She lifts the window slightly, and pinches off a few flakes of snow from the ledge, and places them on the radiator.]

D: And here we are.

M: Close that window, please. It's cold.

D: No, Michael, look! Two snowflakes...you and I. Clumped together with our friends, our family. The rest of pristine humanity freshly fallen on the asphalt outside. Watch with me, please.

[Slowly, the small clump of snow begins to melt. Water dribbles down the side of the radiator. Danielle stares intently at a few drops remaining on the top. After a few moments, these shrink, and disappear. Danielle gets up suddenly, knocking the porcelain cup against the saucer.]

D [panicky]: Where am I? Where am I!?

M: Jesus, Danielle, calm down. You're right here.

D: No, no I'm not. Don't you see! I was there. My white gown. My flesh. Boiled to blood. Dried to ash. Blown away!

M: Come on.

D: Michael, you tell me I am something, I am a unique snowflake, and I will walk out this door and never look at you again.

M: Jesus!

D: Where is it...I...you saw it! Disappear. In the span of seconds. How much more, my life? Our life! Like they say at funerals, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust..." What does dust become? Will it burn?

M: D, I have no idea what you are talking about.

D [pacing, talking to self while biting fingernail]: I was here, and now I'm not. You are here...now...

M: Honey, sit down. You're here.

[Danielle suddenly rushes over to Michael and embraces him, kissing him with force, as if to consume him, then pulls back.]

D: I am a snowflake, Michael, and God is rubbing me between his fingers. In a split second, his heat consumes me. I lose my composition. Nothing stays the same. Reincarnating! No. One life. Yes...this...is it. If you put a snowflake under a microscope...and watch it melt...does it change shape? You know, molecules and what not? God is rubbing me between his fingers, Michael, I know it. I feel so close to annihilation. I can feel the fire behind the door. Remember, the Dark Knight? "In their last moments, people show you who they really are." I am a broken link, Michael, a coward. And I am being consumed...

[Michael pulls her close, and strokes her hair. He thinks she is crying, but her eyes are dry, and unblinking. She looks out the window at the snow falling gently outside.]

M: Listen. You're not a coward. You're the bravest woman I know. And you're here. I'm here. This is real! We aren't snowflakes...we're human beings. Flesh and bones! That doesn't melt so easily. Will we die? Maybe some day. But not today. No! We're here.

D: Here. I have no idea, Michael...where that is.

[CURTAIN]

Monday, November 30, 2009

Breaking: A Play in 3 Acts

Act II
Setting: in the car
Characters: Michael, Danielle


M: Careful!

D: You careful! I know what I'm doing.

M: I'm not driving.

D: No, you certainly are not.

M: Sorry. Ice scares me.

D: It wasn't ice. It was the trolley track.

M: Right.

[silence]

M: I was thinking...

D [laughing]: I'm glad to hear it!

M [smiling]: You're an asshole.

D: Oh? Is that why you married me?

M: I married you because you were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

D [mock scoffing]: "Were!" What am I now?

M: You are still the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

D: Oh, come off it.

M [rolling eyes]: And why did you marry me, I should ask?

D: No, you shouldn't.

M: Excuse me?

D: It's nice to have secrets of one's own.

M: But you've told me before!

D: I've told you lots of things before. Besides, if I've told you before, why must you hear it again?

M [disgusted]: Forget it.

D [smiling]: If you must know, I married you...

M: Let me guess..."for the comfort?"

D: Oh, Michael. Yes!

M: And what is it about me, pray tell, that is so comforting?

D: Not you, Michael. Love.

M: You mean "conditional" love, don't you?

D: But of course!

M: So, let me get this straight. Unconditional love, in your opinion, is a farce?

D: I didn't say that. The love of a parent for her child...I think that's as close as it gets to unconditional love. Even that has its limits.

M [silence]: Danielle, do you even want to be a mother?

D: How dare you.

M: It's a fair question, I think.

D [laughing]: There you go again...thinking! Oh Michael, thank you.

M: For what?

D[leaning over to kiss him]: For not throwing me to the abyss...

[close]

Breaking: A Play in 3 Acts (Repost)

Act I
Setting: an urban coffee shop, February.
Characters: Michael, Danielle


M: The Joker is a real people person. Listen to this, "You see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way, I know your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?" What type of shit is that?

D [speaking without looking up from newspaper]: The self doesn't mean much when it can be recanted in a moment at the end of the barrel of a gun.

M: Or a knife.

D [sighs, bored]: Or a knife.

M [laughing]: So, if I really want to get to know you, I could...

D [looking up]: Are you sure you want to finish that sentence? You might not be "knowing" me for a while.

M [faux alarm, waving hands]: I take it back! I take it back!

D [smiling]: That's more like it.

M [settling back in chair]: Seriously, though. We haven't been through much together, when you think about all those people at Auschwitz, or in Rwanda, or...

D [abrupt laugh]: Yes?

M: I mean, you love me, right?

D [sighs]: True love is unconditional. Everything else is true comfort.

M [furrows brow]: I love you unconditionally.

D: Please! That mouth...

M: It's true.

D: You don't know the first thing...

M [tenderly]: Hey...I will always love you.

D: Oh! I'm touched. I will remember that the next time your mother asks why I'm not pregnant yet and I'm holding her by the ankles over the Hudson telling her "this is why!"

M [frowning]: Oh, you're full of it.

D: Yes. I'm full of it. I'll remember that when I'm holding you by the ankles over the Hudson. Then we'll talk about unconditional love. Or would you prefer waking up with some cold metal in your mouth?

M: I...

D: Or maybe your best friend, what's his name. Getting to know him. How about then? You do go away on business quite a lot these days...

M: When...

D [leaning forward]: No, Michael. Love is comfort. When we first met...you know the saying...you fell in love with your self. I was simply a mirror reflecting the dazzling image of your manhood in full swing. You, too, made me look quite good. We were perfect for each other!

M [laughing]: You admit it!

D: Then we got tired of looking at ourselves through each other. So we tried looking at each other, putting the mirror down. Needless to say, you were not the man I "fell"--that is, stumbled--in love with. No, you were something quite different.

M: How different?

D: I don't know how different. Just more real. It was very nauseating. But like motion sickness, you get used to it. I got used to it. Seeing the real you. Isn't that where love starts?

M: "Love begins when the eyes meet the soul and do not turn away."

D [laughing fitfully]: Oh! I could nail you to a wall. I can see where the Joker gets his motivation!

M: What do you mean?

D [rolling her eyes]: Let's be serious for a moment. You've heard the expression, "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link?"

M: You're calling me weak?

D [sighs]: No. But think of our lives...yours, mine, the coffee boy behind the counter, the blond your eyes keep flitting to behind me....

M: Oh!

D: It's enough. Think of our lives like a chain. Each experience is a link. Our integrity as a chain...our ability to tie up and keep out and lock in...can be compromised by a single weak link. A link that bends under stress, when we are pushed to the edge of our "love." That link is us...you, me, everyone...our weakest self. When the link breaks...the "unconditional" chain is no more. Every link will snap...with enough force. That's what I think our marriage is sometimes, all marriage....a weight that increases with time, meant to strain links and test our integrity. Make us our true self...the weakest link. The man I married is not the same man before me. Who, then, do I go to bed with?

M: I'm still the same man.

D: Men change too, Michael, believe it or not. Everyone changes. You've heard we fully reincarnate every seven years. "There's not one molecule...not one...that is in you that was there when you were ten..."

M [scoffing]: Ah...

D: Can you deny it? If ten year old Daniel walked down the street, could I say, "Daniel, come to bed son." I would be arrested!

M: What about you at ten? You were...

D: I was bad, yes, a bad little girl with the good little boys. [Laughing] Have I changed much?

M [smiling]: Not much.

D: It is okay to be a broken chain. We are all broken. Some chains are like paperclips linked together, some are like titanium. But with enough force, any metal will bend and break. The thing is, can you admit we are not unconditional chains with unconditional love? Can you stop pretending we have more integrity that we really do? After all, you just haven't been pushed hard enough?

M: So I have integrity?

D: As much as anyone. That isn't saying much. You're certainly no martyr.

M: No?

D: Um, no. You and I both...we are no better than apostates that haven't been tested. Look at the Christ. Now there is a strong chain. Not one weak link. Unbreakable. Even nailed up there, he never betrayed...

M: That's a hell of a standard to set.

D [sitting back]: Well, you are the one who loves so "unconditionally." You should at least accept what comes with such a boast.

M: I do.

D: Michael, please. It's okay. I didn't marry you because you were real.

M [offended]: How should I take that?

D: However you like.

M: Why did you marry me, then?

D: Oh, Michael. For the comfort! Isn't that what conditional love is? "As long as you don't...x, y, z...I will always love you?

M: You're awful.

D [staring]: Yes, I am. I am...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Of Love of Solitude and Silence

"As often as I have been among worldly company, I have left it with less fervor of spirit than I had when I came. The world passes away with all its concupiscence and deceitful pleasures. Your sensual appetite moves you to go abroad, but when the time is past, what do you bring home but remorse of conscience and disquiet of heart? It is often seen that after a joyful going forth a mournful returning follows, and that a glad eventide causes a mournful morning. So all earthly joy begins pleasantly, but at the end it gnaws and kills." --Thomas a Kempis

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Of Inordinate Affections

"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 yet 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 his passion which has not helped at all in winning the peace he desired."

--Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Success Story" for catholicmatch.com

What the hell...gives me something to write about;)


I joined the Catholic Church in college and have spent the last ten years discerning a call to religious life. In essence, I simply wanted to serve God with all my heart, strength, and soul, in whatever way that might look like. But I took to heart the words of St. Paul: "it is better for a man not to marry," and felt that it was the Lord's will that I serve Him as a celibate monk.


In December of 2008 I made a leap of faith and formally petitioned to join the contemplative Benedictines of Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico. To my great disappointment, I was told by the Abbot (whom I had stayed in touch with since my initial visit in 1999) that I was not a suitable candidate due to my diagnosis of bi-polar disorder. It was a great blow to my idea of what God had in store for me, and I felt, in some way, that He did not want me working in His vineyard, and that as a person with a mental illness, I was "damaged goods." I just hoped that God was going to open another door somewhere else, since He seemed to have slammed this one in my face!

A priest in college told me to pray often for your future spouse (even if you don't know her yet), so I spent a lot of time in Adoration doing just that. I joined Catholic Match a few years ago in the hopes of keeping the door open to a relationship with a woman of faith, if this was what the Lord had in mind, while I discerned my vocation. I dated on and off during this time, and had a number of serious relationships, but none that felt "right." My faith does not fit into a neat little box, and this was something I felt hesitant about in my efforts to meet other Catholics. More than anything, I wanted to connect with someone who accepted me for who I was...a sinner in need of God's mercy, compassion, and friendship.

In February of 2009 I met Debbie on Catholic Match. Initially I declined her invitation to meet because I was seeing someone else, but when that didn't work out I emailed her back the day before my subscription was about to expire to see if she would want to get together for a friendly cup of coffee. I borrowed my dad's car (I was living in Philadelphia at the time and didn't have one) and drove down to Wilmington to meet her. I am very sensitive to a person's energy, and when we met I immediately felt comfortable in Debbie's presence. She was kind and calm and radiated goodness. We spent the night in the coffee shop sharing our conversion stories, and just getting to know one another.

We continued to write and talk on the phone, and I bought a car so I could see her on a regular basis. We went for walks and discussed the implications my illness might have for our relationship. I felt so humbled and honored that Debbie saw all of me, not just the good parts, and accepted them lovingly. As time progressed and things got more serious, I began to reflect more on the Creation story, how Adam longed for a "suitable partner" to go through life with. The more time I spent with Debbie, the more I realized I had found that suitable partner--"bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." She felt the same way, and we are now looking forward to serving God together as husband and wife when we celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony in July 2010. We know it will not be an easy road, but we have faith that God will give us what we need to have a successful marriage.

We are both grateful for Catholic Match and the opportunity to have met through what seems to be a quality website where the Lord can work His mysterious, awesome ways!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Letter to Regina Terrae

Read your post today, and wasn't able to comment so figured I would write in the hopes that you are reading.

Sounds like where I was last year when I was "driven out into the desert" of unconscious promptings and urgings, quit the job, moved out of the nice apartment, and lived in a bus. I can't say it was an especially enjoyful experience living in the bus, but dammit I had a good time doing it. I felt very alive. You are at a time of rebirth.

I liked what you said about security being for STUFF. Of course it is different when you have a family, I imagine, but since I didn't at the time (and still don't, yet), I wasn't really thinking of that. All I was thinking of was how to best serve God, and what he was calling me to do, whatever crazy thing that was, Noah-style; Abraham-style.

I don't really watch the news or television, or read the papers, because I don't know who to trust these days. Is the world really such an awful place, a place that you would not want to raise children in? I get anxious everytime I read about some natural catastrophe or Swine flu or terrorist attacks. So I just don't read about it.

I am finding that God really did help me in my unforeseen circumstances get a low-paying job and enjoying doing it. That last part was on me. I figure I am serving him even while mopping floors and making lattes.

I do not need nor want a lot of stuff. Medical bills and things like that are of concern. But God tells us not to worry. Think about it...in your situation, what can you really do but drop the house and move out of town? Maybe God is calling you out of it, like he was calling me out of my last job which I was miserable at. I don't think we're meant to be happy, but to be faithful. Our lives might not turn out the way we anticipated them (I always thought I would be a monk by now in the desert, look at me now).

The biggest thing I am struggling with is that "God will provide." I remember when I moved into my last apartment, a small studio, I didn't have any furniture and I was walking by and I saw this beautiful dresser out to trash just down the street, I had Debbie help me load it in her car (it fit!) and it was exactly what I needed. When I moved back to Doylestown, I needed a low-stress job, and I found one, one which I don't need to drive to and can get there and back in less than ten minutes, and one in which I work with good people. It's even kind of fun. But there have been lots and lots of people coming in wanting to apply. Why me? I will say it is providence.

I really really on the Exodus story in times like this...the Israelites called out of slavery and then imssing their fleshpots while wandering in the god-forsaken desert so long. Do you know the first night I moved into the bus and was officially homeless, surrounded by all my "stuff," I cried and cried and it rained and rained. I thought "how could I have done something so foolish!" I followed my heart. And it was foolish. That's what Christians are. Playing it safe never got anyone very far.

I don't have any financial advice for you except keep your expenses and expectations low, and accept whatever it is Providence hands out. Other than that I will be praying for you. You are beginning to lose the romantic notions of the wandering mendicant....it is nothing to be aspired to from the world's standpoint, and it is even a stretch for us really to want a life of no security. If God really exists...well, I guess he will catch you in his arms. You might suffer, die even, but just stay faithful. That's more pleasing than any accomplishment you can offer up.

Rob

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"We cannot get lost when there is no road to be found." --Jean-Pierre de Caussade

I started my part time job today at the community college processing transcripts. Working at Starbucks has not been too bad either...I get to ride my bike to work, and it only takes me 10 minutes. The stress is not too bad. I get a free pound of coffee each week. I spent a lot of time early on worrying that I didn't have my career figured out. But after all is said and done, as one of Debbie's friends told me, God may be calling me to take an employment sabbatical, to take some time to figure out what it is I want to be doing, or what is available to me. To be honest, I am just grateful to be working and making a little bit of money. My expenses are low, and the stress is limited. I have time to spend with my family, and time to prepare for the wedding. I know many people who are in much worse circumstances.

As for faith, I have not been writing much about it lately. That is because I am not sure where my own stands. It feels like I am in a fallow period. Not arid or desolate, not ardent and on fire, just...a time of rest. I am waiting for instructions from the Lord where He wants me to go, what he wants me to do. So far nothing. But I'll continue to wait patiently, and try not to get to anxious about where it is I'm being lead. I'll continue to try to avoid sin, and be mindful of my circumstances so that I can do what's right when it needs to be done.

However, I have not been spending much time in prayer. It is strange when you are living in the house you grew up in...growing up with no faith, my default is to revert to a life in which prayer is relegated to a distant corner. I need to be more diligent about setting aside time to spend with the Lord in prayer in my room. Then again, whenever I do set that time aside, it's like, "Now what? What should we talk about?" I try to listen, but what am I listening for? I need to learn to listen, and that means putting aside the time to just 'be.' Sometimes I imagine myself complaining to a wise spiritual person like Mother Teresa about my state of being with the Lord, and her asking, "how much time are you spending in prayer?" or "are you praying?" An embarrassing question. I guess prayer in this way is like lifting weights (which I've started doing, in addition to running)...you can't do it once or twice and expect to bulk up. It needs to be consistent. Doesn't the Lord deserve more of my time? Of course He does.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's Time to Get Up

"Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever."

A shelf hangs in the corner. On it rests a small empty pot with no discernible purpose. There are pots all over this house, and shelves on which they sit.

"The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises."

My parents have redecorated the dining room. Fresh wallpaper, new wainscoating, curtains. A rug. The china cabinet remains. The thought of their death haunts me; what to do with all this furniture!

"The wind blows to the south and turns to the north;
round and round it goes, ever returning on its course."


Soy latte, nonfat mocha...I take the trash out back, bags full of cups like the shells of dead cicadas. When will the garbage men come? The cans are getting full.

"All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again."


Time to pee. The bowl bleeds yellow, swallows and gurgles. I'll have another drink, waiting for the laundry.

"All things are wearisome, more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing."

How many orgasms is enough? 7,000? 9,000? All this orgasming through life, and never once a taste of heaven!



Sunday, October 18, 2009

I know. I haven't been writing much.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Letter to A.J.

Dear A,

Your writing is getting better and better. Looks like you have been doing a lot of it too. Glad to read it.

Thanks for your well wishes. I am now out of the hospital and feeling much better, but finding myself in the thick of more uncertainty. I resigned yet again from another job that was making me mentally ill. I am being forced to reinvent myself professionally and am having a really tough time coming up with something to put in the place of the case-management I've been doing for the past five years. It's such a Catch-22, having experience in what you have experience in and being hired for jobs that you don't want, and not having the experiernce to do what you do want, and how to get it? In any case, I've made peace with the decision and really hope God has something in the works. I do have an interview on Friday with a "eco/green" cleaning company. I am contemplating giving up my apartment and moving back to Doylestown for the next nine months before the wedding to try to save some money. I really have little reason for being in Philadelphia now, aside from being close to my friends. I'm tired of the city. Soo many changes.

Thanks for your last couple emails, it's been great for me to read them. Sounds like your romantic adventures continue. I hope to continue hearing about them.

One thing you said in your last email...about being special. That need to be special. This still haunts me. More and more I feel less and less special. I am not becoming a monk. I am not living in a bus. I am not consecrating myself to God in any profound way. I am getting married and looking for work. Thankfully I have met a very special person to start a new life with, which I guess is "special" in its own way. Debbie has been a huge support in all I have been going through. But in contrast to the rest of society, nothing I'm doing is all that extra-ordinary. It is humiliating, actually, to realize how much I want to be at the center of things, the main attraction. What is the antidote to this?

I have not been feeling very close to God lately. Somehow I feel like my lack of trust and faith in His providence and my constant focusing on my own uneasiness is not pleasing to Him. That fire I used to have has died down very low. Much of this is realizing how easy it is to talk the talk but walking the walk in Christian life is what makes real saints. I see how personal holiness is more than just a matter of faith and grace...it is hard work. This is very offputting to me. Intellecutally I assent to it, but when I am honest with myself, I don't want to work hard. I don't want to do what I don't want to do. It would be nice it it was clear what God's will was for me, and then even if that was hard, at least I would know I was on the right path, and would have no one to blame but myself for straying from that. But its not clear. Probably never is. I don't love enough, and fall so easily into despair and hopelessness. These conditions are not of God, and yet I sit in them like a baby in a puddle. I don't even know how to pray. Haven't been writing much for writing's sake lately, you know? It's like real life is too real or something, and everything that comes out of my mouth seems just self-indulgent or phony. No good stories to tell, no traveling to relate. Just me and my uncertainty.

Hope to hear from you soon!

R

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Well, that cold has turned into the flu which paved the way for pneumonia, so rob the fob might be out of commission for a while. Or maybe I will be writing more now that I am home from work? In any case Debbie has been an angel of a nurse taking me to the doctor, grocery shopping, renting movies, reminding me what to take when...I don't know what I would do without her. Honestly.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Well, I am officially sick with Debbie's cold...achy and coughy...so I may ease up on the asceticism a bit and try to get some R & R this week, along with some chicken noodle soup I just picked up at Acme. Thanks to Regina for keeping things in perspective. Gotta love those Benedictines...it's all about balance.

THANKS to all my awesome friends....esp. Tim and Jeremy....for the engagement party last week. I had a blast doing the cockroach with Michael, talking with everyone, and bashing the home pregnancy test out of the pinata and sleeping with its head.

More on acedia

I want to talk some more about sloth (acedia), to chase this nasty, quiet sin of mine out into the light.

I have been besieged by the demons of sloth for the past few months, so much so at points that I am calling Christian friends in desperation asking for prayers to ward off this spiritual attack. It carries with it the same shame that sexual sin induces...the shame of succumbing to the appetites of the flesh. In this case that appetite is satiated by "a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest" (Prov 24:33) But only for a time. With habit, the root of sloth grows thicker and thicker until it is like a strong vine choking the life out of the tree. One moment becomes two becomes three, and before you know it you are resting the day away and paving the way to your own demise.

What does this sin look like in daily life?

For me, it is coming home from work and falling asleep at 7:30 without eating dinner (because making it is too much work--laziness), waking up hungry (poverty) at 6am, then hitting the snooze on the alarm in succession: 6:30, 6:45, 6:50, 6:52 until I cannot put off getting up anymore and drag myself out of bed, dreadful (dejection) of the day ahead. Each minute in bed I enjoy the way one might guiltily "enjoy" a pornographic movie, or sharing in gossip, or eating copious amounts of fat and sugar laden food. It is a "sweet" feeling, a sure sign that the flesh is being indulged. It is an escape from what needs to be attended to--that is, work and prayer.

It is tied to envy, another deadly sin. I desire what my neighbor has, while not wanting to work for it. This creates another vice, the vice of dejection, as St. John Cassian describes it. I get dejected at the work before me, because I don't want to do it, wanting for myself the fruits of someone else's labor.

Sleeping 8 hours a day is healthy; sleeping 12 hours a day is indulgent. I don't think about sex much these days, but that doesn't stop the devil from hitting me somewhere else. In this case, I have become a glutton for sleep, and greedy with my time, which should be directed towards God and charity towards my neighbor. It is a lust for rest.

And so I am not just guilty of one deadly sin (which carries with it the treat of eternal damnation), but FIVE (sloth, lust, envy, gluttony, greed). I deserve to be damned.

This idea of being shut out of heaven is no joke, and Jesus makes clear that "not everyone who cries 'Lord, Lord'" will enter. Take the parable of the foolilsh virgins who missed the bridegroom because they had neglected to bring enough oil for their lamps (Mt 25:1-13). This is the "poverty of the sluggard," Proverbs talks about. I am reaping the laziness I have sown. My only hope is that I can, with grace, begin to sow better seed so that I can produce good fruit.

Am I exagerating, or being hard on myself? Laziness is one of those 'sins of omission' that is so easy to forget about in the confessional, but which is so telling of one's character. Like a woman who is sensitive to the state of her body, I have recently come out of the fog and realized just how perilous a state my spirit is in.


So what is the remedy? I haven't figured this one out yet, but I imagine it is going to come down to just plain hard work (not that hard work alone merits salvation--that is Pelagianism)...the work of the athlete. Athletes train their bodies to compete. My soul is sick and my spirit flabby and heavy, an embarrassment in the eyes of the saints. I am full of excuses. God calls us to be holy, and being holy comes down to grace...and a lot of hard work.

St. Paul admonishes the Corinthians to train their spirits with this sports rhetoric:

"Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."

What does this training look like? For one, I imagine, it would look like charity rather than being selfish with one's time. I will be teaching CCD on Sundays starting in October, and tutoring Tuesday nights starting next week. Because this spirit of acedia has taken root in me, I regard this service with disdain--that is, I have no desire to do it, in the same way a child may have a disdain for doing the dishes after dinner. But what happens when it doesn't get done?

It looks like self-control. That means if the alarm goes off at 6am, I get up at 6am. I do the work of making breakfast and packing my lunch.

It also looks like prayer. Prayer wards off the devil. It is harder, now that I have invited the lion into the den, but with grace nothing is impossible. I need to do the work of prayer.

I will continue to be tried and tested as I resist the vices I am so prone to; the temptation only ceases when we close our eyes for the last time. This thought alone fills me with weariness. Which makes me think: life is not about easy living; it is hard work, whatever that 'work' might look like. I need to get on the ball so that like the tree that bore no fruit (Mt. 21:19), the servant who produced no interest on his talent (Lk 19:12-28), and the foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13) who ran out of oil, I do not end up outside the gates, wailing and gnashing my teeth.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Forest and the Trees

Whether it is with work or directions or wedding planning, details are not my forte; I see the forest rather than the trees. I am a classic Myers-Briggs INFJ in this sense, which I guess explains a lot about how I write, how I see God and the role of religion, and how I attempt to make my mark in the world. As far as ideas and inventions, I'll think it up...I just might not necessarily be the one to "make it happen." I am attracted or repelled by certain people and things by the energy they project, something that is not always tangible or easy to explain. Environment is important; instincts and intuition even more so.

Sometimes I wonder if I should use my head more than my gut, especially with the whole 'career crisis' I have been going through. I was offered a position in supports coordination for people with mental retardation a couple weeks ago and I took it, to have a job. I really want to be doing something "more," although that 'more' has been especially elusive lately. I didn't want to be sitting around twittling my thumbs (and draining my savings) waiting around for it to show up. It was a decision made with the head, not with the heart.

I guess that's why the title of a book on Debbie's bookshelf--Searching For God Knows What (Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz)--jumped out at me this afternoon. I wanted a book to keep occupied with on the way to my parents' house for the Meeting of the Future In-Laws. The book itself, I thought, was crap--it reminded me of something written by John Eldridge--a lot of fluff and personal testimony, urging people towards a vague "something more" (that is, something more than dogmatic religion), the "deepest urgings of the heart," etc., and pedding their wares, attempting to make a name for themselves and squeeze into the already overcrowded 'Christian-Inspiration' section at Borders. 'God books' are a hot ticket item in the writer's market, and it only makes good business sense to get in on the game. After all, if you could make your living writing about something you love....wouldn't you?

I don't aspire to be a famous author, or even a published author per se. I think blogging is enough for me. I am still slowly chipping away at the book, but it is a constant work in progress (I think "Sloth" might be an appropriate next chapter). Even in that way, though, what makes me any different from the John Elridges and Donald Millers of the world? Aren't I writing my own story--a story of the intersection between personal faith, religion, and mental illness? Ah, the hypocricy.

I have the vision of the forest (the story), but it's getting down the trees (the words) that bogs me down. This is not so original for a writer. Maybe I am not cut out for the detail-laden ordeal of writing a book. Or maybe its that I don't believe in what I'm writing...that I have a story worth telling...that gets me hung up. I'm good with the wind-up but lousy with the follow through. Or maybe I'm just lazy--writing a book is a lot of work, and hard work and attraction have not always gone hand in hand for me. Somehow, I don't think these reasons are so original either. Writers write; it's what writers do. If you're not doing it...well...

If someone were to ask me: What do you want? What is worth working for? What is keeping you from moving forward in your life? I wouldn't know how to answer, except maybe that it is fear--fear of the unknown, of change, of responsibility, of growing up--in the vaguest sense of the word that has me hung up. Not the kind of fear that keeps you wide awake and terror stricken, but the subtle churning of the unsettling feeling that you are not living up to your potential...that you are not doing what God has commissioned you to do--not that you especially know what exactly that is. That instead of answering fearlessly like Samuel, HERE I AM! you stay mute, and pretend like you never heard a voice in the first place. A voice of the heart. An intuition. A prompting. An unexplainable call. Something all those who have been ransomed by God can attest to, but can not always put into rational words.

It's 2:45am and I am drinking coffee from a small purple dish. There were plenty of clean mugs, but something said that this odd cup would make for a more enjoyable french-press experience, a small unorthodox vessel to sip from in the pre-dawn stillness at the dining room table. Call it intuition. Why am I not drinking out of a coffee mug like a normal person? Because I wanted a little cup, and this was the closest thing to a little cup in the cupboard. Never mind that it is intended to hold a hard-boiled egg; it is now holding my coffee. There is no one awake to tell me this is inappropriate, and even if they did I would drink from it anyway. Details, details...maybe they are not so important after all.

* * *

PS: Thanks to Michelle for her kind words about Rob's Fobs on her latest blog. 2 years, 25,000+ hits, and still going strong!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Prayer for the Evening: Dialogue "The Sluggard In His Bed"

Depression is a coarse blanket...it hides a multitude of sins. And by hides I mean it is thick and full of shit, because it is not depression at all, but sin that I am wrapped in! The Deceptive Diagnosis: When Sin Is Called Sickness. In this case, at least, I would agree with the authors.

As long as I kept silent, my bones wasted away; I groaned all the day.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength withered as in dry summer heat.
Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide.

I said, "I confess my faults to the LORD," and you took away the guilt of my sin.

But this sin, so vile and deadly, you keep me to wrestle with...you do not take it from me, for I will not hand it over. For only in putting in is one able to take out. Oh Lord! Save me from this sloth! I cry from the water. But I will not swim; I will not move my arms lest I exert myself.

The sluggard loses his hand in the dish; he is too weary to lift it to his mouth.

My studio is a room and a bed. Like an adulterous woman, it is always there to tempt me. "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest." I go to lie with no woman but with myself and my leisure. I have no TV, no entertainment...why not sleep? I have made it my recreation, and it has taken on a life of its own, given birth to sin, and to sin death.

The door turns on its hinges, the sluggard, on his bed!

Weariness is a constant companion, but it is one I have let fester. Lord, let us cut to the chase. I am a slothful man, and I am bound towards poverty and death. I hardly eat any more because cooking is too much effort. I waste away in my sin. My muscles are flabby, my will is weak. Everything is effort, and so strong the aversion to it.

Laziness plunges a man into deep sleep, and the sluggard must go hungry.

I have been blind until now in my sin, but I see it for what it is and lay it before you. I am full of sloth. I am like a building overtaken by a vine, the life and light choked out by sin which has taken full root and has not been cut back.

I passed by the field of the sluggard, by the vineyard of the man without sense;
And behold! it was all overgrown with thistles;
its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall broken down.
And as I gazed at it, I reflected; I saw and learned the lesson:
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest--
Then will poverty come upon you like a highwayman, and want like an armed man.


Lord, as in all things, I need your grace. If it be your will, take this sin, this sloth, from me. If it be from your hand that I am to wrestle with it, give me the strength to endure. I will go to you in Confession tomorrow, since my sin is mortal, and has broken me from your grace, and dealt me death instead. I am lost without you, and have put comfort and easy living before you. Please give me the motivation to work hard, or, at least, not to avoid hard work, and my prayers, and those things that are pleasing to you. Do not let me hide behind my illness to cover my sin. Help me to tell the difference between depression and sloth. Help me work back into spiritual health, for I am not well. I have let the vines of sin and laziness grow for too long. You have said that those who do what you say are your friends, and I am not worthy to be called your friend. I praise you Father for revealing my sin, and bringing to light that which has filled me with darkness, so that I may confess it to you, and hide behind it no longer. Bring me back to life. Amen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

God...everything just feels too real to write about. It chokes like a piece of steak in the throat.

Monday, August 10, 2009

letters to A.J.--excerpts on fear

I think one thing you mentioned was the fear coming from an "incomplete trust in God." This I think is true. The best analogy for this is whenever I go swimming. I stick my toe in the water, maybe my leg, feel how cold the water is, pull it out, pace around wondering whether to jump in or not, feeling like if I do I will immediately turn into a block of ice...come close to the edge, get ready to jump, back off, pace some more, make a second attempt, lose my resolve again. Then I stand on the edge and realize I have two choices...jump in, or stand on shore. Even when you wade in the water, at some point you have to put your head in.

There is that moment of terrifying equilibrium when you do decide to jump, when your body leaves the side of the pool and your balance is such that your choice becomes irreversible. You can decide to get out once you're in, but you're on course for getting wet, and not just a little wet, but completely unequivocally submerged. I feel this every time I am in the air. It's like you make a choice, a choice to jump, and there's just a second or so before you feel the full implications of that choice. That is usually the 'oh shit!' moment, like 'oh shit! this is going to hurt!' or 'oh shit, this is awesome!' Different people have different reactions depending on their dispositions. I think the people who enjoy jumping into cold water the most are the ones who don't think about how the water 'might' feel...in fact, they are the ones who don't think about it at all. They feel the cold rush of the water when they feel it...not before, not while they're in the air or on the shore, but all at once.

The funny thing is, once you are in the water, you wonder what all the fuss was about. Sure it is cold, but your body adapts pretty quickly. You move your arms and legs. You are in a new environment, it is cold, but you are alive! You did not die, or go into shock. The more you think about how cold the water "might" be, the less inclined you are to jump at all. In short, more thinking=less action. I guess you can apply this to getting married, moving, making a career move...all that grown-up stuff.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Leap, and the net will appear...or not.

I just watched Doubt (with Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Meryl Streep), and the motto of the story seems to be existential: the choices (or accusations, in this case) we make are our own, and we must own them; there is no one who can make the hard choices for us. If one is going to accuse a priest of inpropriety, one must accept the consequences of being the one pointing the finger and supplying testimony. In the end, we are alone with our choice, and it is our choices that determine the shape of our lives. What we do now determines who we become; we reap what we sow. Doubt is the by-product of unmitigated choice, much in the same way as lactic-acid is the by product of working muscles.

I have not always made the best choices in life, and there are plenty of times where I have not wanted to own up to those choices. Maybe I blamed someone else, or chalked them up to the result of a mental illness, or just plain refused to take responsibility. I am realizing now that my lack of discipline, lax work ethic, and absence of career planning is catching up with me.

Then again, as Debbie pointed out, less than a year ago I was preparing to join a monastery. I had given away much of what I owned, moved out of my apartment, quit my job, and was ready to take a leap of faith....until I was turned down. It seemed God did not want me hiding away in the desert praying 24/7. I had planned for this kind of life since I was 19, and many of the choices I made were with the intent that I would become a monk. Now it was not to be. I put my money on double sixes and rolled a pair of snake eyes. It's kind of like surviving a breakup, and now it's time to rebuild.

So much is habit. If you get in the habit of working hard, you will naturally become a hard worker. If you get in the habit of napping all the time and avoiding work and hard choices, you will become a lazy piece of shit. Which is what I kind of feel like these days. I feel like I should have worked harder, planned better, saved more, prepared more. Not that such regrets do any good, except if they motivate me to change the trajectory of my life NOW. I have a feeling marriage is going to teach me a thing or two about hard work and commitment; children, quite a bit more. Paul prayed that the Lord would take away his pride; I pray that God unyokes me of my sloth without me having to do anything. In the end, the answer is the same: "My grace is sufficient for thee." "Be strong and courageous, and do the work." (1 Chronicles 28:20) God's men are strong and committed. I have a thing or two to learn from them.
Worry replaced with prayer equals trust.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

More Thought Clips

As my last day of work approaches, I am filled with a sense of relief mingled with apprehension. Many people have their careers in order, but not their relationships. I have the opposite problem right now; I have the best, most supportive girlfriend, but have no idea what I'm doing to make bank. I want out of the field I am in but don't know what to go into. Even if I knew, it is not an easy job market to find work in. In all honesty, I am scared.

* * *

I've been spending my lunch break in Borders reading random self-help books. I read one called 'Faith and Will' by Julia Cameron. It was a somewhat fluffy book about the fact that God is in charge of our lives, that we need to trust God, etc. In one part she is talking about when her father died, she prayed, "I miss my dad. I miss my dad. I miss my dad." I started to cry in the middle of the bookstore. I don't want my dad to die. I would miss him too much. I reached out my right hand, as I have done in the past, and placed it in the Lord's, who sat next to me. Taking refuge in Love.

* * *

The demons of worry and laziness continue to plague me. I want to lie in bed a lot, and have to fight the temptation to sleep in. The uncertainty of how I'm going to make money haunts me. I have the unsettling feeling of being a little boy in a big, bad grownup world. I am excited about getting married, but worried about how to pay for the wedding, if I would make a good husband, father, etc. I smoke cigarettes and wish the world would go away, and let me sleep, sometimes.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Very Special Fob

It's not every day you take a concrete, tangible step towards committing your life to something (or someone). In taking things 'one day at a time,' the prospect of forever seems like such an unimaginable concept. Nevertheless, sometimes we have to move towards 'to death to us part' with that kind of step, supported by trust, love, a healthy serving of trepidation...and a nice shiny rock.

Writing about getting engaged is such an awkward task, especially for a guy. Debbie and I had been talking about it for the past few months, but really the actual day started like any other Saturday. We got up lazily and played tennis. I lost 1-6, I think. We went out to breakfast at the Kozy Korner. Debbie ordered eggs and I ordered pancakes; the waitress gave me a free coffee. We came back and did some weeding, and watched 'A Beautiful Mind,' and both cried because of how close it touched home...marriage and mental illness, the topics of conversation lately. I paced back and forth in the kitchen as Debbie got dressed.

Since it was five months to the day since we first met, I suggested we go to Presto, the coffee shop where we had our first date. We shared a mozarella and tomato salad, and a strawberry smoothie. The place was pretty much empty on a nice Saturday afternoon. It was a nice day for a picnic, so we had packed a bottle of wine and Coke, a baguette and cheese and olives, and headed to Rockford State Park. I surprised Debbie with a dozen roses, and we laid in the grass on a blanket overlooking the field where we usually bring Suzy, her dog, to run around in. After we finished eating, I got down on my knee, and asked her to marry me. Debbie said she knew after the first date that things were leading to this. It took me a few dates, but I had a feeling as well that I had met my future partner for life.

When I told my friend Michael that I was going to ask Debbie to marry me, he said, "that ring is burning a hole in your pocket, isn't it?" Yes! We laughed. He was right...I had been afraid for the past few weeks that someone was going to break in and steal it from under my bed, or I would lose it, and flub up the whole thing, or lose my nerve. An engagement ring is not something you want to hang on to for too long, and besides, I don't keep secrets well. I had to ask her father's permission the weekend before, and we did it together, so it wasn't a huge surprise when the day came.

I don't have any illusions about getting married. Life is hard, and marriage, I think, tends to follow suite. It doesn't come with an instruction book, though we are trying to build our relationship on the foundation of Gospel values, and the wisdom of those who have gone before us. It doesn't come with any guarantees it is going to work; God is taking off the training wheels. But we are both excited, and hopeful about the future...despite my recent unemployment, despite my mental illness...and are doing our best to love and respect one another for who they are, and for who they have the potential to be. Debbie believes in me, and I believe in her. And we both believe in Love.

So...my Big Fat Filipino Wedding, here we come!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Two Weeks Notice

I quit my job. Without having another one lined up. In one of the worst economies since the Great Depression. Scary!

It was not a rash decision to quit; rather, things had been steadily moving in this direction for the past couple months. Besides not being a right 'fit,' having a supervisor from hell, and being generally unhappy and stressed, the job was not too bad. I was just at a breaking point, and was feeling like I could not perform at the job at the level I needed to stay employed there. People at work have been supportive, and one girl actually followed suite today after hearing that I had resigned. People are fed up with the management, and if something doesn't change they're going to lose a lot more case managers.

I know a few things in my life right now, but there's a hell of a lot I am not sure about. Will I get another job? What does God have in store? Will I be broke? Will I be a good father, a good husband? What do I do if I get in a car accident? What about medical insurance?

Deep breath. Actually, I have been trying to use this technique, a la Jon Kabat-Zinn...focusing on the breath as stress-management. I heard once that looking at life in the way I have been looking at it--as one giant insurmountable obstacle--is like looking at all the food you have to consume in your lifetime in order to live and thinking you have to eat it all at once. If you saw this mountain of food and thought you had to eat it in one sitting, it would probably make you nauseaus. But "give us this day our DAILY bread." We eat one meal at a time, one bite at a time, and eventually, we get through all that food by the time we die, and even enjoy it along the way. I guess life is similar. It doesn't have to be figured out once and for all all at once in order to proceed. Uncertainty doesn't have to be strained out before one can be happy and content. And I know I am loved, by God, and by many people who care about me, and that goes a long way.

Sometimes sins are like those gophers at Chuck-E-Cheese you bop on the head, and they disappear into a hole and then pop up from another one. The sins of the flesh have not been much of an issue lately. My chief sins these days are laziness and lack of trust. Fear is not of God, and I have been consumed by it. I have been facing some pretty big decisions lately, and have been fighting my share of spiritual battles, many of which I am losing. I pray to St. Michael the Archangel for help. I meditate on the story of Peter walking on the water and then losing his nerve and having to be rescued.

The devil knows where we are weak, and attacks us there. He works on my fears--of uncertainty, of catastrophe, of lack of security--and churns them up in my head. It ebbs and flows, but when it flows it is like a tidal wave of fear that grips and refuses to be shaken off, like a dog clamped on the leg. Eventually it settles down. Being fearful is kind of embarassing. I look at myself in the past and all the stupid shit I have done and not even thought twice about it, and all the things I am fearful of now, and I wonder, is it just getting older? Have I lost a lot of nerve? Where did it go? But Rob is very excited for tomorrow...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thought clips

In talking with my dad the other day he (lovingly) made the allusion that I had somehow 'missed the boat,' when it came to preparing for my future career-wise. I didn't disagree, but it was hard to hear all the same. I had spent my summers traveling and having adventures while my brothers got internships; I picked a major that required the least amount of credits to graduate while my brothers took majors that would actually lead to jobs. I spent time falling apart while they held it all together. It's hard not to feel like the black sheep in a way.

* * *

And now I am 29 working a dead-end job I don't like, one which makes me think about quitting every day, and wondering what doors my masters degree has really opened up for me. I'm tired of the city. Let me say right now that I am complaining, and I realize full well that many others have it much worse and that as usual I am looking at the glass half empty. Not being where I want to be in my life, feeling like my best days are over, I think, is not such a unique thing. It is the plague of many twenty-somethings. I do try to work on being grateful for what I do have, and hoping that it is all a matter of perspective. Which I think it is.

* * *

I realize I have not been writing as much. It feels like 'life has gotten in the way' of creativity, has pushed out dreaming for lack of room, has stymied pie-in-the-sky faith and coated it in the nitty-gritty gravel of real world problems and difficulty. "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Lack of time is no excuse for not writing. Lack of inspiration....maybe. I walk by the homeless with nary a look these days. Faith is proven under pressure.

* * *

I got a card from my mom today in the mail. It was the only piece of mail in my mailbox. It was just a note saying that her and my dad were proud of me, and that everything will work out. I got choked up. Having such supportive parents...that is definitely something not to be taken for granted. Thank you God.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"There's Nothing Worse Than Being Ordinary..."

I was thinking back to the bus project tonight as I gathered with some friends in South Philly to eat grilled steak and peppers and corn on a nice summer night, and how underlying this fanciful project to be an "Urban Hermit," I think, was a real desire to be "special," different, unique--to show how 'un-ordinary' my life could be, wrapped and framed nicely in the guise of a calling. It is the classic Enneagram Type 4 approach to living--ie, the "creation of an identity" being the primary desire. Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) summed it up in American Beauty: "There's nothing worse [for a 4] than being ordinary."

In many ways, though, it is no different than those types who identify their worth with their performance, or their acceptance by others, or their success. The point being--It is not that I am not special, but I should not spurn the ordinary out of fear (the basic fear of a four being 'not having significance'), nor attempt to define my worth by my 'otherness.' Living in a rather 'mainstreamed' fashion (working an unextraordinary job, volunteering, riding the bus, living in an apartment, etc.) after this extreme project has admittedly been humbling and has forced me to re-evaluate my worth not in terms of how different or unique I am, but in how much I am willing to accept and love my inability, my ordinariness, and my fear of it all; in sum, my imperfect humanity. I don't have to be different. My life doesn't have to be extra-ordinary. Maybe it will be and maybe it won't, but right now it is quite ordinary, and I am coming to terms with that. Recognizing also that this fear of living an ordinary life is just that--a fear, a cognition; i.e., not reality. I am not my thoughts; I am not my fear.

On a side note: I am currently reading two good-for-mental-health books: Feeling Good by David Burns, MD, and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. David Burns is a a cognitive behavioral psychologist who studied under Aaron Beck at U Penn; Kabat-Zinn teaches mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. I have been attempting to use the body scan and meditation techniques by Kabat-Zinn to control occasional bouts of anxiety...I think it has potential. Burns' book has been helpful in the nitty-gritty work of identifying and exposing cognitive distortions. Both, however, require that you do the work. If you don't...well, I guess you are putting your health on hold. Both books are highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

-ability

I have been a nervous wreck all week preparing for my interview for Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at West Chester University, which was today. When all is said and done, I think the interview went fine and I made a good impression. I was not prepared, however, for the anxiety that came afterwards when my thoughts of "what if I don't get the job?" turned to "what if I DO!?" I spent the rest of the afternoon with Debbie walking around West Chester (which is a beautiful town--think State College, Manayunk, and Doylestown all rolled together) and stopping in Borders and getting caught up reading Get It Done When You're Depressed by Julie Fast (author of Loving Someone with Bi Polar Disorder).

It seems there are two kinds of depression--the depression that causes lethargy, and the depression that causes anxiety. I have always been prone to the first, but have been struggling with the second lately--which is new for me. Given that I have been going through a large number of changes and life stressors in the past year (moving, changing jobs, interviewing for jobs, finishing school, getting hit by a car, new relationship, introduction to new family, entertaining the thought of marriage, etc.) I think it is only natural to be experiencing some anxiety, so I am cutting myself some slack and, as Tim says, "being kind to myself." Nevertheless, I feel the familiar cognitive distortions, overgeneralizations, emotional reasoning, etc., that hints at depression underlying a lot of this anxiety.

The job at West Chester is everything I've been hoping to find. And what are my thoughts now that it's here? "I can't do it. They'll realize I'm a fraud. Who am I to direct other people? I'm not good enough, I'm not smart enough, I'm not outgoing enough." Etc. Clinically speaking, I know this is depression talking. 99 good things about myself and all I can see is the 1 flaw, a flaw that may or may not even have any bearing on my ability to carry out the work this job entails.

But it still looms large. A diagnosis can feel like a branding sometimes. Just google my name and the article in The Philadelphia Weekly on The Urban Hermitage Project comes up, which mentions that I am bi-polar. It is kind of like having an STD. Then again, Debbie googled my name before we started dating, and saw the article, and still wanted to go out with me (if not more so, for curiosity's sake). Taking this into account in the prospective job search, I think about what my friend Tim told me, "if someone found out you were bi polar and wouldn't hire you for that reason, is that a place you would really want to be working for anyway?" He has a point, and I need to remind myself of this.

Bi polar disorder can be (and is) considered a disability, but it is a disability I have learned to live with--and not only live with, but to thrive with (or in spite of); it is as much an ability as a dis-ability. I may have a different set of limitations, but that doesn't make me any different or less capable than the next person for fulfilling the demands that a job may entail.

I am proud of all I have accomplished in spite of my illness. I recently obtained my master's degree after five grueling years of part-time schooling in addition to working full-time. I have written articles and been published in various periodicals and websites. I rode my bicycle across the country. I have kept my faith. Having to battle to keep depression and mania at bay will continue to be an ongoing struggle for me--in the workplace and in every other place in my life--but it is my own struggle, and I own it, and will continue to accomplish what I can in spite of it.

I often thank Debbie for "taking a chance on me." If she didn't, we wouldn't be where we are. I hope I can extend the same kind of thanks to WCU in the next couple weeks. If they will take a chance on me, I am pretty confident I can say I would return the favor.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Awakening Sights (2 out of 3)

When Prince Siddhartha, the future Gautama Buddha, first stumbled upon old age, disease, and death outside the realms of his sheltered palace, he was "greatly disturbed." I had a similar experience spending Sunday in the ER with Debbie's father, who was taken in for chest pains. The sight of old age and disease right before me came like a sharp blow, something I was not used to or prepared for.

My two grandfathers died before I was born, and I was sheltered from the death and funeral of my grandmothers, both of whom died when I was young. I cannot recall ever having gone to a funeral; there have been no major medical emergencies in my immediate family, and my parents are still young enough to be independent and active. I have never had to deal directly with serious bodily illness or death in my twenty-nine years among those closest to me. I guess it's about time I left the palace.

Debbie's father ended up being stable pending some tests, but it was still a scare. I found myself in an existential funk after leaving the hospital, besides being concerned for Dr. Resurreccion's welfare. Disease and death are always potentially just around the corner; old age sneaks up on us a little at a time, but promises to overtake us at some point. I know it sounds silly to just be coming to terms with this reality at such an age, but in all honesty, I never really had it in front of my face before in a way that personally affected me like it did this weekend. I haven't been able to shake this sharp, unsettling feeling that it is just a matter of time before it all hits even closer to home in my own family. Until then...one day at a time.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"When the music changes, so does the dance."

--African proverb

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Little Goes a Long Way

12 Things Rob the Fob did today in an attempt to fly a fat, action-based FUCK YOU in the face of lingering depression:

1) Rearranged my bed and made plans to build a couch;
2) Listened to Bone Thugs 'n Harmony;
3) Made a doctor's appointment for a physical;
4) Made chocolate milk after dinner, and had a cookie;
5) Went for a run for the first time in months, and did pushups and situps;
6) Went to the Salvation Army and just browsed;
7) Had coffee with Tim and talked about being present, and looking for a CBT therapist;
8) Resolved to avoid unnecessarily thinking of the future, breeding anxiety;
9) Decided to accept that work-wise, 'where I am now is where I'm supposed to be...now;'
10) Made efforts to love myself for who I am and not for who I am not;
11) Thanked God for my family, Debbie, Tim, and all my supportive friends and their emails;
12) Wrote this blog.

It helped.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Falling off the Rungs

Two of the hardest things about being bi polar is how it affects your relationships, and how if affects your work. I was told recently I was turned down for a position I really had my heart set on in campus ministry, and also had an interview today that I totally bumbled up and don't expect to get a call back for. With stress being such a trigger, I find myself wondering if there are certain jobs I would just not be cut out for.

I remember after college when I moved back home I briefly got a job working as a counselor for sexually-abused children. I was deeply depressed at the time, and I found I was more of a liability at the job because of my depression and inability to face crisis situations, and so I felt I needed to tell my boss what I was going through, and resign. I felt like such a failure, it was all I could do while driving home not to careen my car into a tree.

I faced similar feelings today after realizing that I might not be cut out for the very jobs I thought I would be so good at. My dad slugged through years of teaching while depressed simply by being stubborn, knowing he had a family to support, and that quitting was not an option. Work is hard enough; working while you are depressed is torturous. And interviewing while you are depressed feels like professional suicide.

This was posted on a Bi-polar support group site I read recently, to which I could really relate:

"I was always career minded. However, being Bipolar has now disrupted my career one too many times. Up until 7 years ago I was climbing the corporate ladder with a packaging company until I had a psychotic episode for the first time. I had to quit work for 6 months and then I scored another job with another company. But the same thing happened again. I had a hypermanic episode and became psychotic again and had to quit work. I have been through the same cycle now 5 times where I find work, get the job, relapse and loose the job. The last job lasted 2 days before relapsing again. I guess a sales career was too much pressure. What I want to know is what opportunities are out there for people like me (us) where it seems stress is a trigger. I get so depressed about my illness and the thought of going through this again is scarey. Is there other employment options that are out there that doesn't require any experience and is rewarding? I have been unemployed now for over 7 months since the last episode but it has really been 18 months since I was full time employed. What can I do? What is there to do?"


I hope to never have to go through another psychotic episode, one that has me hospitalized and forced me into taking a leave of absence from work. Thankfully my relationships are in order...I have a supportive family and an understanding, supportive girlfriend. Some people don't have this, and I don't want it to be something I take lightly or for granted. Even though I hate taking medications, I feel like I am on a pretty good set now that allows me relative stability, even with the occassional dips into depression I am presently experiencing.

But the dips are unnerving...will this spiral out of control and leave me jobless? Will I be able to do what is required of me? Can I even tell my boss of my illness, or is this something I need to keep hidden? Will I ever find work that is meaningful, or do I have to limit myself to what I can realistically do without undue stress? I know I have gifts. I know I have talents. I know I am called to do something. But being bi polar does not make this process any easier. Then again, maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Indignation of the Undignified

I went to visit the Lord yesterday down on Connaroe Street at St. Mary of the Assumption's perpetual adoration chapel. I was never fond of St. Mary's...if you asked me I couldn't put a finger on it...but there was a feeling of not belonging there. My feelings were only reinforced after yesterday.

I try to spend my time in adoration reclining, as it is written in Jn 13: "There was reclining on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. " I don't assume a stiff posture, or sit proper. In fact, my position is pretty undignified: I lay on the pew on my side, against the wall, with my head on a pillow, so I can rest with the Lord, and not be worrying about my bodily pains, sore back, etc. Sometimes I fall asleep, sometimes I just lay there gazing on the Lord in his elegant monstrance. I do not worry about being prim and proper before the Lord, because he is my Lord, and he knows me, and knows my ways, and knows I mean no disrespect, but only want to rest, and rest with him.

So I am reclining on my side, relaxing with the Lord, laying my burdens upon him, when after a while a man (I assume he worked for the church or had some official capacity, maybe as the Govenor of the Chapel or something?) comes through the door and approaches me and asks, "Is everything alright here?" And I respond, "yes, I am praying." "Yeah?," he says, and looks at me suspiciously, as one might regard a homeless person who is not breaking any laws but is sleeping somewhere he should not be, and says, "Ok," he says slowly, as if I have been stamped and approved to pray in the manner and position in which I had chosen, "it just seemed...unusual" (referring to my posture).

I was unnerved, and fought to choke down the "how dare he" idignation that comes when one is reprimanded for straying outside the bounds of social norms. There I was minding my business with the Lord, having a conversation and not bothering anyone. But I understood it was unusual. I remembered 2 Samuel, where it is written:
"Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart."

And I thought of St. Therese the Little Flower, who often fell asleep in meditation, but said:

"It ought to worry me that I go to sleep during meditation and thanksgiving. Well, I don't worry! I think of how little children are as charming to their parents when they are sleeping as when they are awake. I also think of how doctors put their patients to sleep before operating on them. Lastly I think of how Our Lord sees our weakness and knows that we are but dust."

And what the Gospels say:

"People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'"

I fought indignation when I left shortly thereafter and saw the man sitting in his sleek black Dodge outside the church, blocking the street. I do not like being judged, but then, am I not so quick to judge as well? Of course. Best to forget it; as David said: "Therefore, I will celebrate before the Lord." Besides, as it is written, "Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death." Serves her right.


Resurrection

A military wife is told
her husband has been killed in battle.
She grieves, but on the third day
she is told it was a mistake,
that her husband had the same name
as someone else who was killed,
and that her husband is alive.
She rejoices;
he has come back to life
without ever having died.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Welcome to the Roadkill Cafe

I just watched Half Nelson tonight. I had seen it before when it first came out, and knew it was worth seeing again. Ryan Gosling is an inner-city teacher with a drug problem. He wants to make a difference, while his own life is spiraling out of control. In one scene, he unknowlingly has one of his students deliver drugs to him in a motel while he is partying with a couple of crack smoking hookers. He looks up at his student from the floor with a broken wry smile; he has nothing left to hide. I know that smile. It says, 'you're lookin' at it.' This is all there is to me...this is all there is. What you see is...well, what you get.


How often, in religious circles, do people try to hide who they really are; how often do we try to prop up our fallen scarecrow of an angel guise while it's clear we are cowering behind it in plain view. "I'm just a broken-down piece of meat," says Mickey Rourke. And its true; some days I couldn't describe myself better. The trick is to try to be better--not be a broken-down piece of meat-- but even that falls short under the weight of trying to be in a relentless world of "doing." Sometimes it's just who you are.

I wonder if God has a whole freezer full of rotten meat in his back room he's picked up off the side of the road, because he doesn't know its bad meat, that it will make you sick if you try to eat it, that even when you cook it is still stanks and no amount of A1 ain't ever gonna cover that stank up, and that God has no sense of taste or smell, and doesn't see the flies flying around all nasty, and that he thinks we're the best damn meat he's ever had, and he don't get sick either. He just reaches in and grabs some of that rotten meat and sears it on the Purg-a-Tory grill and oh you never smelled something burning so bad, makes you wish you never ignored expiration dates and fell for the $.99/lb SALE TODAY Manager's Special sealed up in cellophane scam. But somehow that meat comes out alright, and better than alright, this is SOUL FOOD baby, he says, and takes off the Kiss the Cook apron and sits down with St. Peter and eats you up slow, no sauce nothing, just you on that white china bleeding out rare clean as day and says: KHATAM BOI AINT THAT THE BEST DAMN STEK YOU EVER ET??

Hats off to the chef.