Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reflections on the Job, Religion, and My Family of Origin

Hi everyone! First, let me just apologize. I know. . .reading a white font sucks, but I just loved this template and color theme. We'll see how it goes. (I kinda wanted something snowier -- to go with the outrageous snowy outside and my new snowy Firefox theme, but this assemblage of greens, well, I likes it!)

Here's something I want to remember: when I feel hurt or upset about something and just want to withdraw, sometimes the best thing I can do is go engage it! Here's why I say so: not only did I talk to my chair about the lack of electives I get to teach this year and get a good result, but I also held an event on campus that I really believed in. It started small, and I had to fight to keep it high-touch and deep rather than let it get industrialized (which might have made more "product," but would not have been a deep experience for participants), but it went better than I expected. A couple students thanked me for having it as they were exiting. Knowing that I brought something to campus that even a few people think is valuable and interesting makes much of the swimming against the tide worthwhile. Lesson learned: doing something I think is valuable makes me feel good. It boosts my morale.

I want to tell you about these realizations I've been having about my family of origin, but in order for all that to make sense, I have to back up and tell you about church. I'm Jewish and naturally skeptical about God. My father is proud of describing himself as someone who actively disbelieves in God. My mother is a seeker, one of those people who has explored religion after religion, converting to Judaism, but then exploring other things after that. I have also explored religious and spiritual traditions, feeling that Taoism makes the most sense, not that I'm good at all at going with the flow, which is pretty literally what Taoism is about. Judaism is also really important to me. I love Jewish culture and traditions. I felt bad this year until I bought a menorah for Chanukah, though I didn't light it each night. I'm proud of my Jewish background and think that there are some things that are fundamentally Jewish. But do I *believe* in the Old Testament G-d as the truth? Nope. Do I even want to *try* to believe in the Old Testament G-d as truth? Not really. I wish I had faith, have always sort of envied people of faith, am fascinated by nuns and monks and Haredi who reject our materialistic and competitive world for better values. But faith in an organized religion doesn't come naturally to me.

On the other hand, I've immersed myself in academic skepticism and found it wanting. Being a critical thinker all the time doesn't make me happy. Believing in only the material world doesn't explain or make room for the sense of awe and wonder which genuinely seems part of our world, at least the more natural parts of it. I believe that humans don't know all there is to know about this world, that just as there's light that we can't see (ultraviolet) and sounds we can't hear (dog whistle), there are energies that are just as real that our hubristic and materialist explanation of things just doesn't include or make room for. I *believe* in this, even while I also think that there are good reasons to believe it. (The history of science, which I was lucky to take as an undergrad, shows a long history of people knowing one thing to be true, then having that knowledge overturned by a new discovery. What this means to me is that while science may ultimately be progressing, we could very well be sitting right in the middle of some big scientific errors that people will laugh about generations hence.)

Since logocentrism doesn't work for me, I've been trying something else. While I grew up with the notion that those "crazy Christians" aren't very smart, many of the Christian students I've met over the years are, and what's more, they're good people with good values who do worthwhile things. Not all of them, of course. I remember some Christian students who tormented themselves and their loved ones with scriptural dogma rather than love and acceptance. Some things, like being anti-masturbation, seem to go against human nature in a way that can be seriously detrimental to all, I think.

But for a variety of reasons -- including my own curiosity and need for community -- Absurdist Family has been exploring a church. And in general it's been good. I love this pastor's sermons. Maybe I'm susceptible to a message that says that even though I'm a total fuck-up, God loves me and thinks I'm okay. Maybe I'm susceptible to such a message because of my fucked-up childhood, where even though unconditional love and acceptance was occasionally said, it was contradicted by action as well as words on a regular basis. But get Christ into the mix with all that dying for my sins and my needing to accept Christ as my lord and savior in order to get into heaven, and I check out. Out the door. But, this pastor doesn't focus on that. He says: if God is with you now, why wouldn't he want to be with you after you're dead. And the truth is, the pastor says, God is with you, with every one of us no matter what our religion. I don't know if I *believe* it, but I can see the use in believing it, in trying to believe that someone who loves me is with me in the dark times, of which there are many because, as we all know, parenting, living, working, trying to live in partnership with others, trying to do the right thing and waiting long enough to figure out what that is without self-destructing, etc. are really fucking hard.

Having written this, I find I think I'm a little crazy. I was greatly confused for a long time when I realized there were religious people in the academy. I thought those people must be a little crazy. And now here I am, a little crazy. But that's okay, I think. I can deal with a contemplative tradition (which I often can't find in the Jewish world, except in places with a high saturation of Jews).

So, jumping into the deep end of the pool, AL and I joined a small group at this church. And the group's focus was (it's over now) on the intersection between emotional and spiritual issues. One week was focused on messages we got from our family of origin. And now we catch up with what I really wanted to say, though I've long wanted to post all this church stuff, since I know many of you are much smarter about religion and church stuff than I am.

Here's something I realized was very true even though it was originally a throw-away comment to AL: I spend too much time and energy on my family of origin and not enough time and energy on the people who love me. I don't mean AL and Tot, who are my life now. But when we were back in Urban City, folks from Grad City sent me two boxes worth of gifts for Tot, even though I'm notoriously bad at remembering other people's showers and birthdays. These people care about me anyway, despite some really seriously faults at showing them how much I care. (Let's not even talk about the fact that I still haven't sent thank you notes, of which I'm deeply ashamed. Though even after two years, I still mean to.)

Instead of making sure to keep in touch with these people, who've obviously forgiven my faults time and time again, I spend a lot of mental energy being disappointed in my family of origin. It's as if they have to take up a certain mental space in my life even though they're not really in my life. I don't want to be disappointed in them. I realize that it's just who they are, but still, the way they are is just no way to be, at least for me. I managed to get very tense right around Tot's birthday, because I was paying attention to who remembered and who didn't. That is my problem. But my father texted me for Tot's birthday. Texted. Nice to know he didn't forget, and of course he sent a present, but he's not interested in seeing what Tot looks like or checking in or anything -- and for his lack of interest in Tot, I just cannot forgive him. I know my father is who he is -- one of those people controlled and overwhelmed by what is in front of him. And we're not. But my son is a treasure and has never borrowed money and not paid it back. He needs a grandpa. And my father is just not it. My father doesn't answer my emails in general and did not respond when I recently sent him a picture of Tot. At least I'm doing what I think is right. My mom is also a piece of work, frankly. Right now, I think she's giving me the silent treatment for reasons I can guess but have not been told. Not only is the behavior just totally ridiculous and infantile, but it's not deserved, if the reason I'm thinking of is the right reason. I know everyone complains about their parents (at least everyone in places like Urban City), but AL affirms that I'm not insane -- these people really are pretty awful. At the small group, we could see very clearly how most other participants really had no basis for comparison (not that I talked about it much, but most talked about their wonderful relationships with their families).

Now I'm staring down my own birthday. I should make sure my phone has plenty of money on it to accept their texts! Okay, that was bitter. But if I want love and acceptance (which is obviously a hole that no person can fill up), my family ain't it. Don't get me wrong -- my family has been good to me at times when I really needed it. But I'm still paying for that time, for those decisions. But there are these people who care about me even from a distance. Surely, I should be spending more time showing them how much I care and less on thinking about how my family of origin sucks. Instead of thinking about how much my family of origin sucks, I should thank God, heaven, or my lucky stars that I'm out from under my family enough to be able to see that they, probably through no meanness, are not good for me. And I need to have the mental discipline enough to turn my focus to things I like and can do something significant about, rather than just getting whatever it is I get out of (playing the victim, which is way too simple) opening myself up to being disappointed by them. That said, I know also that this is something significant I need to mourn -- and I'm going to feel bad about it until I stop feeling bad about it. But I think I need an outlet to explore how deep the rabbit hole goes instead of thinking about it now, when I should be working on an article with a deadline!

By the way, I never got to therapy or yoga. These are goals for January now.


Anonymous said...

I love this post. Love love love. Everything about it. From the Taoism to the God loves me even though I'm fucked-up (God totally does!) to the spending too much time on your family of origin.

I totally get what you're saying. My family of origin pretty much sucks. I am totally baffled by their complete lack of interest in my kids. My mother complains that I talk about my kids too much. Seriously? Because my MIL eats that shit up. I spend a lot of mental and emotional energy (or have in the past) on whyyyy whyyyy whyyyy waahhhh. And you know, it sucks but there are plenty of other people who are interested. So why don't I invest in them?

Meanwhile, I also know I have a terrible habit professionally of investing my time and energy in people who a) suck; and b) aren't really that interested in me. Not good. Not good at all.

Kate said...

I love this post too, so very much. I'm a pretty committed atheist with a Christian background, but even though I don't believe in God I can totally understand love and appreciation and wonder for the world. I love that you are finding a place to notice that.

What you wrote about your family was so beautiful, and so important. And I'm glad you have awesome people in your life that you can use as a contradiction to your family of origin.

You rock.

Anonymous said...

EE, I still have wedding thank you notes to get out, too, so yeah, I get that.

This is one of the best posts you've ever written in that you truly sound like *you* here. It's your voice. You sound grounded, and like you have a very clear sense of what you want and what you need. It's good to hear that.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

My husband's parents don't even text for our birthdays or the kids' birthdays. They suck. And yet, we're coming to Indiana (to my mom's) for the holidays, and they are all huffy that we aren't making a special trip to see them two hours away, when they pretend like we don't exist. Freaks! We invited them to my mom's, but they are being jerks about it, saying that I don't want them to know their grandsons. Well, let's put it this way -- they don't inspire me to make an effort, considering the fact that their effort is like negative 100%.

And I'm with you on feeling ambivalent about God. I used to have a lot of faith and lost it somewhere along the way. It would be nice to have back, but I feel like I've exited Plato's Cave, never to return.

Ink said...

This is so thoughtful and thought-provoking! Thanks so much for sharing.

Clarissa said...

I would absolutely love to follow this great blog but the white font just kills my eyes. Is there any chance you might reconsider the font color?