Go toward God

Sometimes I’ve wondered about people who find this blog and what they might think about the content of it when coupled with the name “Catholic-esque.” I don’t talk about God all the time on here. I wasn’t really sure what direction this project might go in, but in going through it I have often had to remind myself that the content should come naturally.

What does that look like for me? It means I write what I feel like writing and I try to be truthful in how it reflects life as I know it. The only way I know how to make any of this palatable is through clarity. Sometimes I hit upon a subject that I can’t see through to its end, and it’s usually because I find that the writing lacks clarity of thought or feeling. Those would-be posts remain in my unfinished drafts–they are often useful at future points, so I don’t agonize over their incompleteness. I only regret not being able to finish one of them that I began writing after my brother’s graduation from medical school. I tried to fit too much into it–not just his graduation, but updates on buying a house and becoming engaged. I hadn’t written anything in a little while, and I had too much to say. The main point of the post was lost in all the details. I regret not finishing because it was going to be very happy. I’m not one for big events or celebrations, but my brother’s graduation affected me deeply. I had a difficult time writing about it, though.

Wanting the content of this blog to come naturally means that I’m not going to search for a Bible verse to tack onto the end of each post, and I’m not going to shoehorn God into situations where–if I’m honest with myself–he’s not playing a prominent role. God is everywhere and is present in all things, I do believe that. But if I’m sitting down to write about my problems with work, I know it’s probably not going to end up being a post about my spiritual journey. I need some room to vent. I do look toward God in times of turmoil, but I know who I am to some extent and I know I wouldn’t use those opportunities to then write about my relationship with God. God is always good to me. He is somewhere beyond those petty concerns. He is helping me in bigger ways.

I took a family vacation recently and it was mostly very pleasant. I only had some minor little brother problems–nothing worth writing about–and some confusion over how to best carve out some time to spend with just my fiancé and his son (something that I thought was important for us to do). But overall it was excellent.

We rented a house, my favorite feature being the deck. The surrounding trees were growing so near that it felt like the deck was settled upon them somehow. It was very relaxing to spend the morning time alone, on the deck, floating in the treetops.

I was trying to make a decision about my job, or to be more accurate, I had decided against taking a new job. I didn’t know that I would receive a counter-offer that would force me to reconsider my initial decision. So at the time, I was trying to make peace with my choice to remain at my current job. I was doing some writing here and there. I watched the trees from the deck.

I had going through my head so many thoughts about happiness and what causes it. It’s different for everyone. I knew I had a lot of things in my life that help to create happiness–mine always boil down to love and family. I have love. I have family. It’s hard for me to admit when I feel there’s a missing piece to that puzzle. I feel ungrateful. The knowledge that I have love and family helps put everything else into perspective, because if it came down to a matter of choice, I would choose those two things above a career, or money, or recognition. That didn’t stop the gears from turning, though. Career. Money. Recognition. Freedom. Travel. Leisure. I kept asking myself, where does my ambition lie? I tried getting myself to really imagine and feel the presence of those things in my life–what I imagine they could be like. I imagined and felt what it might be like to have a job that I loved someday. I tried to let that feeling sink in. It would be wonderful to be proud of my job. Of course it would.

I imagined what it might be like to not live paycheck to paycheck. I imagined taking my car in to the shop after the slightest hiccup, knowing I could afford the repairs. I thought of all the work we could do on the house with just a little more money in the bank. With money, I might even be able to go back to school. I could study whatever I wanted with little regard for practicality. I was imagining the kind of money that is separate from the money you work for. I don’t believe that all hard work pays off–monetarily, it does not. I just let myself imagine a life lived not hurting for money. Where that extra money would come from, I tried to imagine as well. What would I be willing to sacrifice for more money? It doesn’t appear out of nowhere. I considered what my own values were. It became more and more difficult to imagine this life with money.

I imagined myself in another scenario, one where I had more leisure time and the freedom to spend that time however I wanted. I imagined traveling to Russia. I want to visit Yasnaya Polyana before I die. I tried to feel however it might feel to do that.

I want to visit museums, cathedrals. I want to see mountains. I want to see glaciers. That’s when I start dreaming.

I return to reality. Career and money, family and friends. Love and ambition. My own limitations–what can I do with them? What can I do right now?

I watched the trees from the deck; my mind was buzzing. I couldn’t stop it. I knew the feeling, I had felt it many times before. I had read it in Tolstoy, as the screw in Pierre’s head, turning this way and that until it is stripped and no longer catches hold and keeps endlessly turning. But then mine stopped and I don’t know how. I was looking at the trees and how they moved. I forgot for a moment where I was, who I was, and what I’d been thinking about.

I had a new thought, but it didn’t feel like I thought it. I had known it already and I had known it for a long time and I knew it didn’t come from me. I wrote it down.

The only real purpose in life is to become one with God and to pursue that always.

I have forgotten it since, only to remember it again. I get to remember it over and over. One night I cried in bed because I had forgotten it. The screw had started turning again and I couldn’t stop it. I was agitated and I could not understand my feelings. The only feelings I had that I could give names to were regret and worry.

And it hit me again, I am unhappy because I’ve been neglecting God.

I think about God all the time, but sometimes I stop searching for Him. I say that I acknowledge his presence in all things, but that’s not exactly true. It’s my ideal frame of mind, but it’s not the reality of my mind. My mind easily forgets God.

God doesn’t forget about me though. I don’t know why this keeps happening, but I really feel like at some of my worst moments, God makes Himself known to me despite the neglect I’ve shown toward Him. I want it to keep happening. I have to open my heart to Him always. I hope He knows that’s how I feel.

The first time I felt God’s presence was in Texas. Howdy! I was still with my first boyfriend, and we had driven down to Tyler to visit his sister. His sister was (and I’m sure still is) a very devout Christian. I was so nervous about staying with her in her home. I was not religious, but I also didn’t talk about my beliefs (or lack thereof). His sister is a very warm and kind person and made me feel very welcome. Still, I was unsettled by how different we were. I can’t explain it. Imagine a non-believer meeting a real Christian for the first time, one who actually seems to embody everything that is Christlike and good. Again, I can’t explain it. I was so nervous about staying in her house. My boyfriend and I slept in separate rooms during our visit. I never did well sleeping in new places, especially alone. I remember wishing we could stay up and watch TV all night together, just so I wouldn’t have to be alone. I was nervous about going to sleep. When the time came, I felt panicked. I laid down in bed, overcome with nerves. I felt like crying. On the wall next to the bed hung a picture of Jesus. I gazed at it and felt like a child. I always had trouble at night. Scared of the dark, scared of everything. Monsters were everywhere.

I was looking at this picture when suddenly I was struck by the most profound sense of peace I had ever felt. I couldn’t compare it to anything from before. I felt it through my entire body, I felt it envelop my mind. I kept looking at the picture, not understanding what was happening. I fell asleep shortly after. I never spoke to anyone about it. I couldn’t tell my boyfriend because I thought he would laugh at me. I still did not believe in God. I couldn’t explain what had happened. In my heart, I knew God was making Himself known to me. I didn’t think things like that could happen though, so I never told anyone. You could say I ignored it. My beliefs did not change in that moment, nor did they change in the wake of it. But it gnawed at me, and continued to do so for a long time, because I had no explanation to offer.

God did His work that night; I believe that completely. I, on the other hand, was not working toward God in any way, and I wasn’t ready to start. I did not want God in my life. God was too complicated. I abandoned the idea of God in the first place because it complicated my life too much. If I acknowledged God, that meant I would have to reckon with a lot of things that could be painful. I’m a sinner, and I sin against God in my thoughts and in my actions. If I acknowledged God, I would have to try to stop sinning (or somehow live with myself while knowing I was sinning against God). If I continued to ignore God, I could keep sinning and feel no guilt. Back then, I liked to think that living ethically was a fine substitute for living faithfully. Forget whether I actually lived ethically–I didn’t, and don’t–it was a convenient distraction. I wanted so little to do with God, but at the same time was very much concerned with how to fill the void left in his absence. If God isn’t real to me, there should be no void to fill, right? Somehow that never occurred to me.

I haven’t found a human invention that is a perfect substitute for God’s law. Our own laws are meant to ensure justice, but they lack the moral guidance of “turn the other cheek,” Christ’s comquestand (made up a word to mean halfway between a command and a request because of how nicely it was phrased so please just roll with it) that pushes far beyond what is addressed in human law in that it acknowledges every human being’s ability to grow spiritually, to be more than mere law-abiders: to become active peacemakers in the world. Our collective purpose is to create the Kingdom of God on Earth.

An aside: I say I don’t write about God very often. I write about my beliefs and values and I consider them adjacent to my faith in some way. My faith may inform my values, my values may inform my faith. It would feel unnatural for me to exclusively talk about my faith in everything I write. Still, my moniker on here is “Catholic-esque” because I think it’s important for people to understand that faith is complicated and that is does not necessarily prescribe certain viewpoints that are typically associated with folks who believe in God. I believe in God. I really don’t care if you do or not. I know that some of the most avowed atheists are doing a better job of protecting God’s creation than are some of the most vocal Christians. It often takes the courage of a non-believer (or maybe I should say a differently-believing person) to bring attention to the most callous acts perpetrated by the Church. The Catholic Church is long overdue for a good toppling. I suppose it’s possible that someone reading this blog, expecting to find more faith-based content, would be left disappointed. I’m not writing for them. I’m writing for myself and others like me. Maybe some of this content goes down easier because readers can assure themselves that the writing is coming from the point of view of someone with faith. That’s an absurd thing to even write, given that many of my posts receive zero views. Zero, and I’m thinking about my audience. It’s a laugh. Still, I consider that this content could be read, so in some way I write for an audience and imagine who they could be. End of aside.

When I look back on the events of the last ten years or so, I see clearly that God was guiding me toward Him. I feel like he began by guiding me toward some very beautiful things in life that would serve to put me in touch with God. I wasn’t going to be a person who suddenly decides to go to church again. I wasn’t going to take comfort in reading my Bible. But I did experience a resurgence of interest in reading, just one example of God providing me with a source of comfort through a difficult time. It led to me discovering many new passions that lend the spice to life. I think God gave me Tolstoy so that I might find Him. And He made sure that I continued to experience Him through other works of art as well. It’s the only way I could ever hope to make any sense of God. I had to connect Him with everything that is good, beautiful, and true in the world.

Generation overload

I have some difficulty staying on subject. I’ve attempted to write this post I-don’t-know-how-many times, only to see each effort branch off into other unrelated topics.

I want to begin by talking about my youngest brother. In the first version of this post, I felt I had to give a little background on who he is. In order to do so, I needed to talk about my other brothers, because I believe part of our identity is formed out of our relationship to other people. As siblings, we play our own unique roles. If one sibling is a doctor, then the other three Aren’t Doctors–they are each something else, but they aren’t the sibling who is a doctor. If another sibling is married, then the other three Aren’t Married–they are each something else (single, partnered, engaged, etc), but they aren’t the sibling who is married.

Let’s say I’m talking to someone about “my brother” and they try to clarify which one by asking, “Is that the one who’s a doctor?” and the answer is “No,” then that sibling is suddenly Not The Doctor. Never mind what their job actually is–it helps define who they are in some way that they are Not The Doctor.

Our rivalries aren’t nearly as intense as they used to be, and at times I would say that no rivalries exist anymore among us. I would say that more often, but I also know my little brother, and I know that this can’t be true. Whether it’s due to his last place in the birth order, or that he’s still maturing into adulthood, or maybe it’s his argumentative nature–whatever it is, he is usually the one who is going to “stir the pot.” I think maybe the rest of us are too tired to even try.

My little brother and I get along very well. He makes me crazy, but we get along because I’m eight years older than he is and we didn’t have the tense relationship that he often had with our middle brothers by virtue of being closer in age to them.

Little brother recently completed his undergraduate degree in computer science. He’s been working part-time at a restaurant for a few years now. Last summer, he traveled across the Pacific Northwest, learning sustainable farming practices. He loves to cook. He sells me weed. If we’re hanging out, we’re probably smoking.

We talk about all kinds of things. He is usually trying to work through something, some problem or idea. Sometimes he just needs a sounding board, other times he’s looking for a conversation. He’s on his way over to my place right now and I never really know what to expect when he arrives (update: it was a quiet, pleasant get-together this time).

One of his favorite topics of discussion is the concept of generational differences and cut-offs. He visits Reddit frequently, and I know from being on there myself that you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a vitriolic argument pitting Baby Boomers against Millennials. Given his existing interest in the subject, he gets sucked further into the mentality that breaks down and divides people according to the era they were raised in.

My brother’s birth year is often cited as the terminating point of the Millennial generation, and he rejects any viewpoint that would prefer to categorize him among the generation succeeding that one. One time I made the observation that I thought the criteria for determining the advent of the post-Millennial generation should take into account one thing: If a person can’t recall a time when they didn’t have internet access on a home computer or device, that I would personally categorize them as whatever is “post-Millennial” (I’m told this is being called Generation Z). Of course, this ignores the fact that plenty of people go without home internet access all the time, but I’m speaking broadly here. The point I was wanting to make was that the childhood and upbringing of people who weren’t raised with the internet (and instead had to adopt it into their lives) seems to me very different from those who have never known that experience because they have never lived in a world without “the internet” available to them at home, work, or school.

But this is all the thought that I’ve given to this subject. My little brother reacted negatively when I shared my opinion with him. It was only one viewpoint, based on one observation and supported by no research whatsoever. The only statistics I ever looked into were ones pertaining to household adoption rates of the internet–in September 2001, the percentage hit 50%. Our household would have been in that 50%, but just as many were not.

From my perspective, my little brother was raised in a way that aligns him more with the Generation Z crowd than with Millennials, but he rejects this classification. It’s fine for him to do this. I see it as a desire on his part to distance himself from his peers and to identify more closely with his older siblings and the life we all had together. And of course being the youngest sibling of four (five if we include our step-sister) goes a long way toward shaping his identity.

What I don’t like telling him is that while I think these classifications can be helpful in identifying common traits and trends in the population, and could even be used to address struggles that are generationally unique, that I feel they are used more frequently to encourage division–rather than understanding–among people. And this has been happening since long before he or I were on this earth–let’s say thousands of years ago. They try to put a new spin on it every time, but the fear of and resentment toward the “new generation” is old hat.

The new generation depicted in Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons was marked by Nihilism–today we’re Social Justice Warriors. Either way, we’re willing to throw out tradition and forge a new path. There is a tendency to reject everything that came before as it is considered tainted by outdated values we no longer identify with. Those are just two examples, but these traits are attributed to each new generation that arises and we should not find anything special therein. The historical context differs, but the extrapolations we make from the data appear to follow similar patterns.

Most of what I enjoy in life comes from the past. I can become irritated when I encounter attitudes of indifference toward it, never mind those that consider it dispensable. With that said, I can’t attribute those viewpoints to Millennials or Generation Z kids–what signifies “the past” is relative. Boomers could be just as likely to have these attitudes, they just happen to have matured in the past that the newer generations want to move away from. We’re only discussing these particular groups because we’re living through it, all together, right now. We’re alive and this is what we know, so we talk circles around the subject without identifying that we’re only repeating patterns laid down before any of us were ever alive.

But that brings me to the past, one far enough gone that none of us have lived through it. Do we even think of it? If you’re interested in any aspect of it, then you probably think about it often, or at least whatever part of it is of interest to you. People find all kinds of ways to connect to the past–just the other day, we went on a cave tour, and there’s something about speaking in terms of small changes that take hundreds of thousands of years to occur that can put the present into a diminishing perspective. I know some people who go antiquing as a hobby, or even as a job. My fiancé’s sisters both scour for and sell vintage clothing. Some people, like my Dad, prefer to read books about specific historical periods or events (in his case, the American Civil War).

Personally I prefer older books, movies, and music more than newer varieties. This isn’t a rule, it’s just a pattern I’ve noticed. Other old things I might not care about–I don’t really gravitate toward oldness in objects or material items unless they please some aesthetic sense I have, or act as a signifier for something else that I enjoy. Like most other people, I still live firmly in my own era. I think I just hate seeing things dismissed or discarded based on age. When I talk about “older books,” I’m referring to the publication date, not the form it takes. War and Peace printed on computer paper and held together with the world’s largest binder clip is still the work of Tolstoy and is of greater value to me than an inferior novel in a pleasingly antiqued package.

Knowing this, it probably won’t come as a surprise that one of my most despised modern trends is the one that in schools seeks to replace the accepted “canon” of world literature with works that I’m told are more relevant to today’s youth. In that trend, I see a dumbing-down of scholarship, one that has no faith in young people to understand the past or the lives of others not like themselves. Suggestions go as far as eliminating adult books in favor of their “young adult” counterparts that aren’t as intimidating. I see this as an insult to any student who looks for the truth from their instructor and instead receives an easy lie. The only thing that trend has going for it is the attempt to be more racially inclusive. Even the woman part of me finds it hard to care about increasing my own representation in canonical works, so I’m happy to let someone else take up that cause. I don’t lack for female writers in my life–they are plentiful. I suppose the argument made is that they are underrepresented in the classroom. We had the opportunity to read George Eliot, two of the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston, and Harper Lee, among others, so I did not myself feel a void where women writers were concerned. There’s only so much you can fit into a high school curriculum, after all. I would just hope that the quality does not diminish in favor of inclusivity. I also feel that anything new is hot–it gets assessed and dissected immediately, but it’s still on fire. I would hesitate to teach any scholarship on a subject that hasn’t had a chance to cool down–to figure out its place in the world.

Last night at home we watched The Rules of the Game, directed by Jean Renoir. Audiences in 1939 are reported to have been so scornful toward the film that it was pulled from theaters, heavily edited, and was rarely shown in its original form. France banned it during the war. Years later, it is recognized as a masterpiece. In the informative booklet included in my copy of the movie, one contributor compares the trajectory of that movie’s reception to that of Moby-Dick: disregarded, misunderstood, and even hated in its time, it has since claimed its rightful spot among the greatest artistic works the West has to offer. But it took time for that to happen. If we were to make a habit of never looking backward, The Rules of the Game would have been lost to the ravages of time, and Moby-Dick would be the out-of-print work of a forgotten writer.

But of course not everything from the past can be held in such high esteem. People get confused when confronted with “great” artistic works that depict attitudes and behaviors in accordance with their times and not our own. They seem to think it unfortunate that a great work would be marred by outdated attitudes toward women, or racial and ethnic minorities, or what appears to be religious intolerance. I would ask that they try to predict what our world’s humanitarian causes will look like a hundred years from now (assuming the planet has not burned to a crisp). It seems impossible to look that far ahead when we’re currently in the midst of today’s specific social and economic justice issues and feeling like it’s hard enough making any progress where those issues are concerned. And sometimes we regress before we progress. We could therefore be fighting for all the same causes in the year 2119 as we are right now.

Context is everything, and I hope future generations looking back on 2019 will be able to appreciate our very modest attempts at righting past wrongs and will not judge us too harshly for the wrongdoings we collectively decided were “totally worth it” because we died off before we could reap what we had sown. It might be difficult for them to do that, just as it’s difficult for us to understand the wrongdoings that populate our histories. Also, again, our counterparts in the future are going to be absolutely sweltering under the heat of the sun, breathing in poisoned air, and probably not thinking very highly of us if they think of us at all. So please excuse me if I’m not ready to pat myself on the back just because we might someday elect a woman president.

I have a lot of sympathy for older folks and their outdated views on male/female relations. It’s hard for me to get worked up about it despite being a feminist person who routinely encounters sexism in the workplace and elsewhere. I think we could extend an olive branch to our grandparents by occasionally humoring them and actually, genuinely trying to show some respect for their viewpoints. They didn’t exactly have it easy in life. Or maybe yours did. But I believe life has become easier in many ways and we don’t always show our appreciation for the still-living people who struggled and fought through conditions we don’t want to imagine in order for us to have the lives we enjoy today.

Allow me to give an example of a time when I defer to my elders without question. First let me clarify that while I reject and abhor most capitalistic concepts of authority, I have a few people in my life whose will I would nearly always and unquestionably abide by, and it’s out of love. The number one person is my grandma, because she is old and took care of me as a youngster. If she prefers something a certain way, I want to make sure she gets her way. I agree with her when she says things that might seem old-fashioned. It makes sense to me that she would have those opinions and preferences. A man should walk on the street-side when accompanying a woman down a sidewalk, or A man should open the door for a woman when entering a building. Personally, I only care about these things when they intersect with politeness, manners, and common sense. If I were a mother, I would walk on the street-side to protect my children. I obey many rules concerning politeness, so I hold doors open for people–men or women–often. When someone lets a door slam in my face, I think, “How rude!” regardless of the person’s gender. My grandma thinks its important for men to protect women and to treat them with courtesy, and I don’t find anything offensive about that. My brothers mocked and laughed at her recently when we visited the casino and she chastised them for not holding the doors open for her and myself. I told her that I thought she was 100% right and I meant it with all my heart. They think she’s silly and out-of-touch with modern times. I think that she’s trying to teach them how to be good, well-mannered men. I don’t want that effort to die along with her. I find myself bothered by how her wisdom is received in a flippant manner. Maybe it’s a problem of youth–not a generational issue, but youth throughout time. I assume that when we’re old, gray, and irrelevant, we’ll receive our comeuppance.

Now I’ve come to the part in the story where I must share one more thing about myself that has me at odds with my own time. It is the smartphone. I dislike them more and more as time goes by. If I could wave a magic wand and have them disappear forever, I would not hesitate to wave wave wave. I’d be waving like the sea. I feel like the only reason I own a smartphone is because everyone else does. I remember what it was like to not have one and be surrounded by people who did, and it could be quite ostracizing. People simply get tired of catering to your unusual requirements for maintaining normal lines of communication. But I have one now, and I don’t feel left out anymore because of it. Instead, I have other problems. Call them issues of etiquette. I don’t like seeing phones used in situations where people have gathered together presumably to enjoy one another’s company. I don’t care if you’re at a restaurant or relaxing at home with your family–smartphones are a scourge. It feels crazy to suggest that their use should be limited to times when one is alone, but I am crazy and that is my opinion. Because popular opinion runs contrary to my own on this issue, it’s nothing that I would think to vocalize unless I was looking for a fight, which I rarely am. I must accept that this is the way of the world even though I don’t like it. I have to choose which is more important to me: maintaining contact and peace with my family and loved ones, or taking a stubborn stand on an obscure issue that is unlikely to win me any friends. It’s not a tough decision.

Until next time, y’all.

Know thyself, pt. 2

In my last post, I brought up the subject of the MBTI test and how my INFJ result has provided me with some new resources for understanding why I think the way I think, and why I do the things I do, and maybe why I’ve been feeling so tortured by all of the above.

I’ve been a little down in the dumps lately and have turned a lot of criticism my own way because I hate a lot of things about the way I am. Sometimes I can feel very lonely when I think about how I don’t really have friends anymore like I used to. I have one friend who I see occasionally, and that’s my one and only friend. My fiancé is my best friend, but I think people need friends outside of their romantic relationship in order to have a life with some balance in it. My fiancé is very different from me in that way–he has many friends, some of whom he sees pretty regularly, others he may only see once in a great while, but somehow he’s still able to maintain all of these friendships.

I have no idea how to do that. I always drop the ball when it comes to friendship maintenance. I lost contact with many friends from school after my first breakup, and I’ve never been able to get back on track. It’s difficult for me to make friends in the first place, and I am terrible at maintaining friendships with people who I don’t see anymore, no matter how close we may have been at one time.

I think this happens in part because I never think to reach out. Let’s say my work schedule allows me two days off and I realize I don’t have any plans and will most likely be alone those days. I don’t then scramble to make plans happen–I instead feel this deep sense of relief that I can just be home by myself doing my own thing. All–and I mean ALL–of my hobbies can be done in isolation. That’s probably why they’re my hobbies.

I don’t go to the movie theater anymore, but that used to be a hobby of mine and I would try to go alone if possible. I don’t really enjoy seeing movies with other people (aside from my fiancé) because I don’t enjoy the part afterward where I find out I enjoyed it and they hated it, or they enjoyed it and I hated it. I will pretend to have enjoyed something that I didn’t actually enjoy in order to spare the other person’s feelings. I am so sick of other people’s opinions that I find myself hiding my true feelings in order to avoid pointless debates about things that don’t really matter.

But I think that contributes to my loneliness. In my life, I don’t have many people with whom I can be authentic. I’ve had it here and there, and it’s a beautiful thing because it enlivens my entire world, and I have a great desire to experience that feeling. But I have no idea how to create it.

And I have no idea how to describe it. It’s about more than just finding people who like all the same stuff I like. The closest friend I’ve ever had was someone who on the surface I did not have much in common with, but we were still able to talk for hours upon hours every single day about everything under the sun. She was my rock throughout high school and had the biggest and most positive impact on me during a time when I really needed a friend to help me grow. I shudder to think about the person I’d be today without her influence. Adolescence is already such a confusing time, and a single good influence can be the difference between one following the path of truth, compassion, and light as opposed to one of emptiness, cynicism, and darkness.

Turning back to the subject of my previous post: let me link again the list for reference because everything I wrote above pertains to the #2 item said to make INFJs happy, and that is meaningful conversation.

Enough said.

The #3 item is a deeper understanding of themselves. Maybe I should also share that the way I found the list (titled 12 Things the INFJ Personality Needs to be Happy) in the first place was by typing “infj happy” into a search engine and clicking on the first result. I kept wondering if perhaps I was searching for happiness in the wrong places, even wondering if happiness was worth pursuing in an imperfect world. I don’t think I desire the material or external trappings of happiness; rather, I just want to be happy with myself. If anyone has read this blog, it may be clear that I’m unsatisfied with myself despite “having” things that are without a doubt satisfying to have. I have a loving relationship to be a part of, and my heart breaks for people who want that above all things, but are deprived of it in the present. I know that without mine, I would be in an even worse place because it would mean the loss of my soulmate. If I didn’t have a romantic partner, I would hope I would be able to find that connection in a friend. I spend a lot of time alone by choice because I am comfortable in my own company. When I start thinking about how I relate to the world, or just how to be in the world, I begin to lose my sense of self because I feel as if I fail in many attempts at properly being in the world and all that jazz. What role am I meant to play? How involved should I be in that which is outside of myself and my immediate concerns? Sometimes I think the most I’m capable of is being a background performer in someone else’s story. A stagehand for a play of someone else’s creation.

Item #4 on the list is human contact, not social contact, where human contact is described as “mutual human understanding.” It makes the point that INFJs are often mistaken for extroverts. I feel like a very shy person who can pretend to be extroverted when the situation calls for it. In social situations, if I’m doing well, it’s because I’m constantly reminding myself to try to be normal and say/do normal things. Let’s say you’re like me and you struggle to make conversation with people. I know some tricks that can help, and if I’m in the right frame of mind I can usually make them work okay. I’ve been told that most people really like being asked questions about themselves. I do not share that viewpoint, but that’s what I have to work with. So if I’m struggling to make conversation with someone, I’ll try to ask them about something that (from previous interactions) I already know them to be familiar with even if I personally know nothing about the subject. The only problem with this is that sometimes I get into bad situations because I know nothing about the subject, but my question seemed to indicate that I personally also share that same interest and therefore I hit a wall when I can’t do anything to further the conversation. Then I’m back to feeling entirely awkward all over again. C’est la vie.

#5 is alone time, the most obvious inclusion because without it, all who feel this way would go insane. It’s also so (all so-so) necessary to include it in any piece written about introverted people, because I suspect that these little lists and articles are often shared by introverted people with the more extroverted people in their lives. It’s a way of saying, “This is how I am. This is why I am the way that I am. I may sometimes wish I were a different way, but really, I’m comfortable being this way as long as I’m allowed to be this way.” We often feel like we have to ask for permission just to be who we are, or that we must provide an explanation for our behaviors. We really are very concerned with other people’s comfort levels. When I get the sense that my introverted nature is making someone uncomfortable, I try to “turn on” the extroverted side of myself even if it might be uncomfortable for me to do so. I take comfort in another person’s comfort, so it usually evens out. Any time I leave a situation where I’ve had to turn on my extroverted function in order to fit in, I find it difficult to simmer down. My head will be buzzing for a long time after. I hate this feeling because it feels to me like anxiety, but I know that this passes with a bit of alone time so it’s no cause for alarm.

Item #6 is structure. And I quote: “INFJs require some amount of routine and orderliness to function at their best. In general, they like planning ahead rather than being spontaneous, because it gives them time to prepare (both mentally and otherwise). Their plans tend to be fairly loose and flexible…Think: A weekly calendar with a few things penned in, not an hour-by-hour day planner.” Right on the money. I especially appreciate the specific example of the weekly calendar for what structure looks like for the INFJ. My friend recently asked me how I keep track of everything that I do. I told her that I don’t really do much so there’s not much to keep track of, but if I have an appointment I’ll usually add it to my calendar. Everything else I need to remember is just in my head. I don’t have a lot of things going on outside of my usual things, so once I know the pattern, it’s easy to follow. I never think much about the role of structure in my life. My fiancé has a son with autism, so structure plays a role in my life by association, but I don’t ruminate on structure as a concept. It’s just there, and I get to take it for granted that it stays that way.

Thank God I’m at #7, independence, because once again I’ve been thinking, “This is too long. I gotta bail. No one will read this,” followed closely by, “WHY do I care so much? I gotta be me, baby! If not here, then where?” I’ve been trying to listen to my intuition more, which is difficult when my intuition tells me one thing–the thing I know I want–and my brain is in close pursuit trying to substitute in its (intuition’s) place the thing that I think will be accepted. Yes, I want to be accepted, but not at the expense of being true to myself. It might sound silly to use my blog as an example of a time when this conflict occurs, but it happens so often with minor things in ways that I don’t realize, so why not provide a minor example? I don’t know what to think about independence, or the need for it (because in adulthood it seems self-evident), but I am aware I have a problem with authority. I don’t take commands easily. You can ask me to do something–sure–but if you command me to do something, I will fantasize about ways to sabotage your request so that you don’t get what you want because you didn’t ask nicely. Do I follow through on these fantasies? Not usually, because the self-preservation instinct kicks in before I fully go off the rails.

I feel like I recognize God as the ultimate authority figure, and I don’t even follow everything that He supposedly commands. I’m too arrogant and stubborn for that.

Scrolled up to check what number I’m at. Crazy Eight. An orderly environment. This one is interesting because I’ve only recently begun making efforts in this area. When my fiancé and I moved in together just recently, it acted as a wake-up call for me, a person who has often lived in filth. I saw how differing expectations regarding cleanliness drove a wedge between my parents. They are divorced for other reasons, but had many incompatibilities like this that are worth me thinking about if I don’t want to head down the same path. I see them both as happier people now that they’re each living life on their own terms, whatever that’s worth. The list describes an orderly environment for INFJs in this way: “They are probably not the types to alphabetize their bookshelves (attending to tiny details in their environment drains the intuitive INFJ), but they do need things generally picked up, put away, and clutter-free. INFJs tend to like minimalist environments, because too much stuff in sight can overwhelm their already busy minds.”

When I read the part about not alphabetizing their bookshelves, I wondered how this person knew that. I’m serious: HOW DID THEY KNOW? It’s too accurate. I’ve been deliberately not alphabetizing my books (and music, and movies) since before I was born–that is how ingrained this practice is in me. Alphabetizing seems to me one of the least intuitive ways to organize my belongings. Instead I start with two books: Middlemarch and Anna Karenina, my go-to “favorite books” (there are many more, but I try to start simply). I put them at eye-level in separate nooks. We have those Massive Kallax Shelves from Massive Scandinavian Chain that people also like to use for records (and frankly are way better for records than for books, but it’s hard to beat the price and the amount of stuff you can fit in them) so everything Eliot and Tolstoy are in the central eye-level squares and I just kind of expand outward from there. Proust, Fontane, Turgenev, Nabokov, Hardy, Mann, Woolf–they get their own squares of prominence as well. I guess I organize by author and how much I like them, then by nationality (or time period, movement, etc, because I separate Soviet writers from pre-Revolutionary writers on the basis of being totally and completely different). If bookstores were organized this way, I could find things with much less effort. With that said, I’m still a human mess, but I make a concerted effort not to be out of deference to the stability of my relationship with a person who is VERY neat and orderly. He’s the first person I’ve been with who is neat and orderly on a consistent basis, which makes it much easier for me to meet him on that level because I know that he’s keeping up his end of the bargain. I’m no longer left to deal with the mess created by two people as I was in my last relationship.

Also “Hardy Man-Wolf” is mine. I like how that sounds. I’m claiming that.

I also relate to the observation that “too much stuff in sight can overwhelm their already busy minds.” When I started Big Girl Art School, I was mildly put-off by the decor in one studio in particular. The walls always seemed to be papered in student artwork. The first class I ever had in that space was called “Creative Strategies,” and it was one of those classes where we didn’t really make art per se; rather, we engaged in projects that were meant to expand the way in which we thought about and approached our art practices. It seemed incongruent with the nature of the class to then have to look at other students’ poorly-executed drawings and whatnot pinned up all over the walls. It felt like a barrier put in place inside my head to have to look at all of these mediocre artistic attempts while simultaneously trying to make conceptual breakthroughs in our own art.

Or maybe I’m just a judgey asshole.

Love Potion No. 9 is an outlet for their insights. This blog is that; whether it contains insight has yet to be determined.

Item #10 is an outlet for their creativity. I do feel an emptiness of spirit when I’m not working on something (which is a regular occurrence these days as I’m not currently engaged in any artistic/creative projects and the most I’ve done are some goofy drawings on my laptop that I hesitate to show anyone). Combine numbers nine and ten and and they pretty much explain every interest I’ve had in life (minus sports). One change I’ve noticed in the past few years is that I’ve tried to become more of a vessel for other people’s insight and creative output. I got sick of knowing nothing and trying to create my own work because the work itself seemed like the product of a shallow, ignorant mind.

Eleven is beauty. I don’t know what it says about me that I gravitate toward beauty in prose and in film, but have less of a need for it in art. But I’ll try to explain where I’m coming from. On the rare occasion that I do see a movie that is “new” and has a wide-release in theaters, I find little to nothing that is beautiful in what I’m watching. I’ve lost enjoyment in many types of movies that in the past I wouldn’t have had any qualms about watching (let alone enjoying). I shun whatever is excessively violent or rotten; in addition to that I avoid films that are aggressively ugly not just in appearance but in their outlook on humanity. I can’t abide by it anymore. Where prose is concerned, I know little about what is being written today. I can get down with Modernism, but after that I grow skeptical. I have a disregard for plot. A book could be “well-plotted” and I probably wouldn’t notice or care. I love many books where nothing much happens and I suspect I enjoy them in part for that very reason. The same applies to film. Art is a different beast. People seem to not only desire, but require, that beauty be present in works of art in order to see their value. And I simply disagree. I also find it funny to demand that art be always beautiful while accepting absolute trash that takes on the form of books and movies.

Finally we’re at #12, at least one person who “gets” them. I do have that person, thankfully, and I plan to marry him. From what I’ve read/seen/heard about other INFJs, we seem to struggle with being able to share everything about ourselves, even with the people closest to us. Part of me always wants to keep certain aspects of my life, my thoughts and ideas, my dreams and fantasies, completely private and inaccessible to anyone. I feel like there is something I’m always trying to protect in myself so that it doesn’t leave me forever. And I don’t know what to call it. Those times when you know you could say something (read: share something), but you stop yourself without really knowing why–I wish I had the ability to remember every time this has happened, and what it was that I was thinking of sharing only to then stop myself before I did so, because perhaps I could then compile all of those “almost-said”s, see what they have in common, and figure out what I’m trying so hard to protect and why. I think I have a lot of trust in people, and faith in people, but not when it comes to me and things about myself.

Finished for today and I hope this can be helpful for some.

What do you want to do with your life? pt. 2

Continued from Part 1

I wish I could be in college right now, for the first time. I love a lot of things today that I had no clue about back when I was actually going through college. The first book I read after graduating was Middlemarch by George Eliot. I had always loved to read, and I thought I read a lot. But I really didn’t. I barely even knew what I liked to read. I can’t say I’d ever read a book before that was “life changing”. Middlemarch was revolutionary for me because when I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself: Is this the best book I’ve ever read? I think this is the best book I’ve ever read. Why have I never read this before? What the hell have I been doing?

This is my copy and I love it so much.

And I’ve spent the years since then hyper-focused on making up for all the reading I didn’t do back when I was in school. I always say that the one constant good about my job is that it affords me a lot of time to read.

I’ve learned so much in the process. Reading Tolstoy during a time when I felt spiritually lost was the catalyst for me renewing my faith in God. Who, in a time of spiritual crisis, could possibly be left unaffected by Levin’s story in Anna Karenina? Or Pierre’s in War & Peace? Resurrection was so bold and unapologetic in its didacticism and I felt so challenged by it that I was left with a greater sense of confidence in my convictions I had previously been ashamed of.

Russian literature became a focus of mine. I have yet to make peace with the fact that it was left out of my formal education almost entirely–“almost,” because we did read The Cherry Orchard once in high school. I guess that was sufficient? I could go on for ages (take this as a warning) about how depressing it is that American students are only really exposed to American and English literature during their high school years. We talk a lot about diversity in authorship these days, and how to make room for more women and ethnic minorities among the authors of standard “classics” normally touched upon in the high school curriculum. I don’t really care to get too involved in that debate. We’re failing at including female voices and black voices, without a doubt. It’s a major failure in the culture at large. Remember seeing that incredible breakdown on film dialogue? I’m sure the dialogue in today’s best-selling books would fare much better, but that isn’t necessarily reflected where authorship is concerned and how it’s addressed in the high school classroom.

I’m getting a little off-topic. The reason I don’t want to get too bogged down in that specific debate is because if I’m “speaking my truth,” I think of Americans’ fixation on America as just as large of a problem. Do we even care at all about the rest of the world? The less we engage with the artistic output of other countries, the more foreign they’re going to seem to us as people. Americans have no qualms about practicing cultural isolationism, even in institutions of higher education. When we study literature, we study our own literature. We create an echo chamber and then we’re delusional enough to award degrees in it.

In the years following college graduation, I’ve learned that I have no particular affection or preference for American literature, film, or art. I used to think I preferred it, but that was all I knew. It’s pretty easy to have a preference for something when you have nothing to compare it to.

I entered college thinking that I knew what I liked. My focus was always on the arts, so I’ll keep these remarks along those lines.

I had no clue how great a book could be because I’d never read much of anything outside of the texts assigned in school. I rarely watched films that weren’t American productions, or at the very least, films with English-speaking actors. And I thought I loved these things! They were critically acclaimed! I was having fun and getting “cultured”–L to the O to the L. When I first signed up for Netflix and was getting DVDs mailed to my house, I watched a new movie nearly every night. This was one of my passions.

When I entered college and declared as an English major, it didn’t last long for various reasons. See previous post.

I should probably be glad that I took a different path. I was friends with enough English majors to know that they didn’t get to read Middlemarch either, anyway–at least not in school. Is it too long or something? I don’t get it. Here’s a hot take: books you read in school should be difficult. You should feel challenged by them. Your teacher is not mean or evil just because they might make you read something that isn’t easy to digest. Just the other day I had to listen to my 70-something-year-old coworker rant about a book he was assigned to read for class. In his words, his professor is a stupid idiot for assigning it and shouldn’t be allowed to teach anything. Why? Because it’s written in a stream-of-consciousness manner and my coworker thinks any book written in such a manner is garbage. God help his professor. It can’t be easy teaching a bunch of young adults who think they know everything, let alone a 70-year-old man who thinks he knows everything. Why even be in school at all? You know everything. Leave.

Maybe the books I enjoy now would’ve been lost on me when I was a teenager, or possibly even in college. It’s difficult to say for certain. I would love to have the chance again to study with intensity something that I love. I don’t mean to imply that college is wasted on young people. I do think that expecting any significant level of insight from young people whose brains are still developing is a Big Ask. And yet we expect them to know and decide what they want to do with their lives before they’ve ever really lived. If college were free, this would be no big deal.

I don’t know if I’ve actually gained any insight in regard to a future “dream” career. I was hoping to someday discover deep within myself some kind of passion for accounting that had been lying dormant all my life. Then I’d just go into the family business and I’d be set. I don’t think that’s going to happen though. Maybe some of us aren’t meant to make loads of money. Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m one of those people, if indeed I am. Maybe I’m able to deal with it better than someone else would.

What I’m saying might contradict what we’re taught to believe about the American dream. Plenty have called it out as a bogus concept, often citing examples of how opportunities for success simply aren’t made available to everyone equally. It’s a good point, and I get it. I just want to question what makes it worth pursuing in the first place.

Being able to choose your own path in life regardless of your background is a relatively recent human invention. Sometimes I think true happiness would be easier to find if we weren’t seeking the answer in our choice of career. Your job is just one small part of you.

Right now I’m thinking of those faith-based organizations that preach the “Prosperity Gospel.” Here’s another hot take: they are gross and they should be ashamed of themselves. If you’re reading this and you think God not only cares how much money you make, but wants to actively help you make MORE, you’re gross. Close this tab, exit your browser window, throw your computer out the window along with yourself–whatever you have to do. You are gross. You are harming yourself and the people around you.

It’s easy to mock prosperity theology, and to tell its believers to off themselves, but I think a lot of us live by its principles without realizing it. We idolize money. We idolize people who have it. We’re taught to pursue it even if the pursuit of it destroys our soul. We refuse to be content with what we do have. We assign value to actions based on how lucrative they are. Just recently, I skipped a shift I was supposed to work at the Humane Society because it got in the way of me going to my new part-time job. The only reason was money. One pays me, the other doesn’t. Which one I actually enjoy doing more–that didn’t factor in at all. I’d rather be with the dogs (note to self: new epitaph idea). But I didn’t go because they don’t pay me to go.

It’s almost time to end this. I meant to talk about a lot of other things–mainly just movies and books I’ve loved. I can’t find an easy way to go back and add any of that in among what I’ve already written. I’m sure I’ll have other opportunities in future posts. This is getting long enough as it is. I’m at work right now, but I’d rather be with the dogs, if ya know what I mean.