Me and the Atheist

A few weeks ago I found myself trying to describe to an atheist what I feel about God.  The atheist is a very, very smart man.  An exceedingly talented writer, director and performer.  He is also an absoluteist, in my estimation.  He is fun to talk to, but sometimes can get so loud and smart and certain that I begin to feel like he's not really in it for the exchange but for the delivering.  The conversation went to many places, including my feeling that atheists can be zealots on the same level as evangelical religious types. Atheists don't like it when I say that I feel atheism has become its own religion, that you can not merely point to the absence of A god, and the lie of THE god and sit back and say, "See, I've cured the human need for spiritual fufillment".  I'm not here to tell you about that part of the conversation, though I'll expound on it if asked.  The end of our discussion was when the atheist pointed to the dictionary definition of God when I suggested that I had formed my own meaning, my own relationship.  He said because of the dictionary, (the atheist bible!!), (I am gonna get myself yelled at, I can tell), there is no room for discussion about the meaning of God.  I have been thinking about this for weeks, I felt unfinished with him, and wanted to think more clearly about what I meant. Then tonight I wrote the entry before this, about love and hunger and sadness, and then  had to write him an email, because I felt I had clarified something for myself.   I have excerpted the email here, because I want to keep talking about this and finding my own way. It is as follows:

"I have been thinking constantly since you and I spoke at the party, since I attempted to describe to you what I feel in my heart and soul is my connection to God, and what it means to me. I wanted to say to you that I have been bothered by your assertion that the dictionary definition of God means that I can not develop my own idea of what God is, my own feelings, because once the definition is set, there is no longer room for growth.  I can not accept this, as I can not accept that there is no room for evolution and interpretation when it comes to language and the poetics of the soul.  I do not subscribe to the Bible as truth, nor do I feel that the organizations of specific religions are doing the world anything but harm, unless you are a fat rich white man, then organized religion is totally your friend! I do, however, feel a strong connection to the divine, to a powerful force that is created by the collective energies of humans and nature. It is, on a very large scale, much like the entity that is created when two humans fall in love. The nurturing of that tender and fragile relationship allows a third thing to be born, something alive because of the two people loving each other, but also separate from those two people, and available for them to draw strength from, but also able to turn dark when not properly negotiated and tended to. I hesitate to suggest symbiosis, because that isn't quite it, but certainly the love can not exist without the humans, and the humans can not rise up without the love.

I feel there are so many more words for love that we have not even invented, because there are so many kinds of love, and the same is true for God. We have defined it narrowly, but it encompasses so much more than Oxford or Merriam-Webster can describe. I will continue to use the word to find common ground with other humans, to be a beginning of a life long conversation and exploration. I do not think there is a single being that rules us all and decides our fates and eternal dwelling place, but I think that all humanity continually creates something together, a temperamental and divine, humming consciousness that both gives and takes, can be unpredictable though comforting, and which you can not always find, even if you are looking, because it can also be petulant. Just like love.

I have not written this in a draft after draft fashion, I'm just thinking and talking. I believe language to be malleable, and love and God to be ever searching for their own place in the lexicon."

That is what I wrote to him, but it just scratches the surface of what I mean, and leaves out the details of a lifetime of divine experiences and the reception of both destructive and inspiring energies from beyond myself.  It is, perhaps, the continuing search that keeps me alive and breathing.



But you're in love!

As if it can save you. As if the fragility of romantic love can withstand the cloying pressure of being the only source of happiness, of health. Trust me, it can not bear that kind of weight. Romantic love wants tender ministrations, it needs seeing to, watching over, particular and detailed negotiations. It can not thrive in darkness, it can not sustain when it is only drawn on and never replenished. It will be bled dry, left sere and cracked beyond repair. It is so temperamental, unpredictable, a river which alternately floods its banks and is reduced to a trickle, if there at all. There is no resting state, no compromise. It can not save you for it is always asking to be saved.

So, certainly, it has been wonderful to fall in love, it has even felt transformative along the way. But in the face of what I perceive to be irretrievable sadness in me, when all I desire is silence and stillness, the entity that we have created between us, that draws its own breath, it can not be asked to stop breathing, to put aside its own insatiable hungers and thirsts and look only outwards. It will always be greedy.      


Why I Left Facebook and How I Am Doing Now

The process of my quitting Facebook began, if you don't mind a bit of fucking dramatic license, the moment I signed up.  I resisted Facebook for a while, kept hearing about it in 2007, dewy skinned pretty people kept telling me I just had to join.  I was living a quiet little life, had taken a break from comedy and wasn't really in the mood to get, you know, CONNECTED.  Then I guess I was, because I did it. I don't remember much about what that first experience was like, I remember being reluctant to post too many pictures, wondering about ownership and whatnot, and enjoying the way the status updates were formatted, that they always started with your name, encouraging, if not forcing, you to tell your stories in the present tense.  "Riel is excited to announce she bought a pair of pants that seemingly fit." I don't know, I can't remember my status updates and I can't go back and research them because I never, ever want to sign in to Facebook again.

Honestly, I'm peacefully hopeful that I am part of a domino chain, that the speed is increasing, and that Facebook will ebb off into the ether, destined or doomed to the realm of specialty or niche social networks, like Friendster or Myspace.  I also know you're not all with me.

I could have done the French goodbye, left the party by quietly slipping away, leaving my 1,500 connections to wonder what they'd done to deserve being unfriended and possibly blocked by me, none of them wanting to address the teeny tiny voice at the back of their brain, whispering the suggestion that I may actually have just up and gone. Deleted the whole shebang. I could have done it that way.  I didn't, though.  I announced it. I created a stir. I made regular status updates over a week or ten days letting people know they could still reach me via email, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Soundcloud and my blog.  Disconnecting, my ass.

At first people scoffed, "YOU? You leave Facebook? Preposterous! You love Facebook! You'll never do it, you don't have the GUTS to do it!" I smiled to myself, knowing I did have the guts. My very first step, before announcing it, was to delete it off my iPhone. That step was a revelation, freeing up my mind and beginning the healing journey of expunging "like" out of my brain as my first reaction to any joyful, interesting or engaging experience. The comment threads on my status updates were steady, repeating choruses of "Why?" Why, you asked, and I told you.

My relationship to Facebook was not healthy. I spent too much time there and, because of the oft repeated message in the entertainment industry that you must promote yourself via social media, that there is no career for you if you don't maintain a presence, a page, where everyone can like you...because of that message all the time I spent there gave me a false sense of productivity. I could spend hours going down the rabbit hole of reading articles and commenting on statuses and writing the story of my day, and chatting on messenger. It felt like I was doing something important for myself, that somehow this would all lead to success. Really, though, all I'd done was avoid my real work, writing, for another hour, two hours, three hours...

Success. Reason number two I left was the anxiety, depression. It was increasingly apparent to me that everyone I was connected to was having a more adventurous, prosperous, joyful, fulfilling life than I was. And I felt like a big liar knowing that due to my desire to keep any whining to myself, what I presented to Facebook made everyone else feel the same things about me.

I also felt like I was losing a sense of proportion about how much time and energy I was supposed to be devoting to friendship, and with whom. I have spent the last couple of years examining my behaviour within personal relationships and cleaning up my act. I wanted to learn how to be honest and calm, thoughtful and receptive to the humans I most wanted to keep close. It took practice and there were some mistakes made, some embarrassments had, some painful separations, and some extremely surprising revelations. The result is a smaller group of people who are close me, who I feel myself with, both because I show them my true self and because I let them love me. I have also found a romantic love that surpasses all the hopes and expectations I ever had of such an experience. As I made these changes and fostered these relationships, Facebook seemed to drift farther and farther from my value system, became a glaring example to me of the person I did not want to be.

When the private messages started trickling in, along with the phone numbers and email addresses came feelings. Many people applauded me for my courage (?!) and berated themselves for not having the strength (their word!) to do the same. I was a little surprised by the language around the topic being so filled with guilt and shame, so like addict language, of the apologies for being weak, but I remembered using all that same language around my relationship to Facebook. I was more surprised by the angry responses. I was called selfish, chastised for my lack of professionalism and dedication to my work as an entertainer, accused of abandoning people and their ability to keep in touch with everyone they like but don't have time for because they have children and jobs. How dare I!

Well, I dared. At the decided time on the decided date my finger hovered over the keypad and I bit my lip and then I did it. I felt nervous and exhilarated, and proud. I did it! I was free! As I'm sure you would suspect, my immediate instinct was to proudly announce it on Facebook! I resisted. And then Facebook told me I would have 14 days to really really decide, it would keep my account warm for me, the home fires burning, should I want to be embraced back into the fold, the family. I made that my private date with deletion. I kept away for the two weeks, never peeking, never checking to see if it was still there, never succumbing to the jones I was having for praise. In those 14 days Facebook mysteriously reinstalled itself four times on my iPhone, taunting me. I stayed true to myself, though, and found myself coincidentally, or not, flossing more, going to bed earlier, biking to the pool to swim a kilometer each day and reading more books.

My boyfriend says I spend way more time on Instagram and Twitter now that I don't have Facebook, but we're just getting to know each other, too, and he isn't entirely aware of what life was like before he came around. I think Facebook took up the space where he is now, the space where my nightly talk show at the Fringe is now, the space where I am writing for a living now.  I left the virtual love behind to make room for all the tangible love I can get my hands on, and I am delighted to report I feel solid in my footing.  Attached to the planet and connected to humanity in a more visceral, exciting and consistent way than I have in five years. I know less about 1,500 people than I did a month ago, but get to put my hands on their shoulders and look them in the eye and say thank you for your time and affection after I've run into them on the street and they've filled me in on the goings on.  It's nice to look people right in the eye when they're telling you their news.

It's a new era in some ways, and a return to something older, too. Something human.

Feel free to share this blog post, you know, on Facebook.




Dispatch from Marin County

Just overheard the quintessential Northern California Lady conversation at the health food market.  The phrase "I hear you, and for me..." was used multiple times by both parties, as were "personal growth bootcamp" and "I now see my needs as blessings".  I just ate my beets and blueberries and felt glad to be loved.


The Wasp

I am watching a wasp try to escape through a glass window.  It must be so frustrating for him, banging his head against the glass that way.  The intensity of his buzzing ever increasing as he takes harder and harder runs at it.  At first, because I loathe wasps, I am inclined to think, "What a dumb fucking wasp", and snicker derisively to myself.  I think of him in the same category as a fat, slow fly, who will not fly out the nearby open door no matter how you try to shoo him in the right direction.  I try to make a Vine video of the wasp, because I think he's funny, which I think I will title "Dumb Wasp", which is why I watch him instead of killing him, my usual first instinct with wasps.  There is a nest close by, which we have located and plan to dispose of with harsh chemicals in the dead of night.

As I watch this wasp through the lens of my iPhone, on the tiny screen, over and over again erasing and reshooting the six second video trying to make it perfect, I become intrigued with his system of searching for a way out.  He is not like a fly at all, just hitting at the same spot over and over and over until he drops from exhaustion onto the windowsill, his wings listlessly and desperately buzzing with less and less frequency until he finally expires, with so much time to wonder where it was he'd gone wrong.  I stop trying to film the wasp and just watch him.

I have time to watch him, as I am holed up at my mother's, contemplating my future and wondering about the paths I have chosen, and which ones to choose next, and going in circles in my mind, day and night.  I have all the time in the world, until I die.

The window he is trying to bust through is made up of nine square panes of glass, each about 10 x 10 inches.  He starts in the middle pane of the top row.  He crawls every which way he can on this pane, then buzzes intently and bashes against the glass.  At first it seems he is going to go around and around it forever, and at one point really makes a run at it, backing way up from the window and throwing his little body, dare I say shoulder, furiously against the resistant pane.  He must feel so close, be so frustrated to be able to see outside, right in front of him, and not be able to get there.  I start to feel like I am in for a long day of watching this guy.

After a few minutes of crawling diagonally, then all the way around the perimeter, then more diagonals, then lots of buzzing and crashing, he pauses for a moment and his front legs gently stroke his antennae, like a cat pausing to clean itself, like he is thinking.  Then he surprises me and crawls over the wood frame to the next pane.  He does not take so long to explore that pane, does a bit of buzzing, once round the perimeter, not even the whole way, and crawls back over the frame to the original pane.  More pausing and antennae stroking.  He walks over the frame again, to another pane, and does an even shorter explore.  Another pause, stroke, think, I can almost see his little brow furrowing.  Then, very quickly and with clear intent, he briefly investigates each other pane, quickly and obviously coming to the conclusion that they are all the same as the much explored first pane.  He makes a decisive move away from the window, forcing me to duck, and while I worry that he is going to fly up my skirt and make the necessary adjustments, he, no pun intended, beelines past me and right out the wide open door, and suddenly the sunroom is silent, buzz free.

Just now a fly has come in and is frantically thrashing about from window to window, all over the room, mad and making wild, irrational guesses, ignoring my attempts to urge him towards freedom.  Stupid fly.

Now I am thinking about sneaking up to the wasp's home in the middle of the night and ruthlessly killing he and all his brethren, seeing his application of logic and inference, his easy acceptance of the evidence.  That fly and his slow, regretful death on the sill, am I him?  I would rather be the wasp.  I am holding his story up to my own and wondering when I will see that this window is not my way out, and that maybe I ought to just turn around and use the door.


Another One (a poem)

I dreamed you were a blond coyote
I held you and we cried because your blue eyes were so clear
And your smile was genuine
Not Cheshire or gritted show biz face
You were so blond, standing, leaning on that porch
Cool as the day you were born into your thirty names
Our Geronimo

In the morning after waking to a tear stained pillow
And your face in everything
I had a run in with a coyote
Not a blond, but still
Blue blue eyes and ragged
Not too long ago soft and beautiful, hope soaked and playful
Pacing, confused, back and forth in front of the little church