Interesting

It turns out that if my memories of New York are from the 18th Century rather than the 19th, then it’s possible many of the places I remember near the waterfront were burned back in 1776.

This means it will be even harder to track down that building I remember… I think I know its location (down where the Brooklyn Bridge is now) which would figure into the 1776 action between Howe and Washington.

On a related note, there isn’t much radical scholarship on the American Revolution.  Most of it flatters the American or British traditional narratives and doesn’t reflect in very much depth on its applicability to the present crisis.  I intend to fix this.

Always There…

I hope I haven’t touched off another one of those horrible moods about the war.  They’ve been getting less frequent and severe, and they almost never come with/from spontaneous memories like they used to, but every so often something will bring it back to my attention again.

I was watching a documentary on YouTube about Irish ghost stories.  I figured it would be just a bit of harmless fun.

Then they got to this one story about a fellow who had died at Armentieres with the Rifle Brigade and had supposedly been seen in apparitions at the castle he lived in.  They gave a name and date and I felt compelled to look him up.  Every time I hear about someone who served in that sector I try to find out more about them, even if they served long before or long after Jack was there.

It took a couple of tries to find the man they mentioned.  First I looked through Houplines Communal Cemetery Extension and saw quite a lot of names there from the Irish regiments laid low in the autumn of 1914.  That’s what got me.  But I didn’t find the man mentioned in the documentary.

I did finally find the man they mentioned in the program, by the way.  Either they got his date of death wrong or it wasn’t documented until 11 days later: http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/573430/LESLIE,%20NORMAN%20JEROME%20BEAUCHAMP

Our boy Norman was there long before Jack, but lies only a short distance from him, in the Chapelle D’Armentieres Old Military Cemetery (in all the old trench maps I’ve examined, Chapelle D’Armentieres was very close to Houplines).

I didn’t expect to feel like this.  I don’t miss feeling like this.  I hope this is a short-lived mood like the ones I’ve had more recently.

Mass

I went to mass today, the first time I’d been in some time.

I still feel different about it, but I don’t know if I’ll walk away completely.  The overall message I got is that my decision to step back and work on myself more was probably a good one.

I still got communion in Latin; that told me all I needed (this is something reserved for those who have begun service with the church).

I feel like I want to explore other belief systems.  Calling myself gnostic feels like it’s not a real clear description of where I really am.  I’m going to learn a bit more about other systems; there’s always something new when you look at Buddhism and Hinduism because they’re so nuanced, and Sufism and Sikhism both hold a lot of promise I think.

Phil once described himself as a “religious anarchist.”  I feel that accurately describes me.  I thought maybe I’d found a place to rest though.  I didn’t want to limit myself to simply living the same life twice.  I wanted to feel like I’d arrived somewhere.

But I haven’t.  I’m reckoning with just how little I still know, after everything that’s happened.  And if I’m perfectly honest with myself, I find more joy in seeking than in staying put.  Perhaps the Buddhists are right, and journey is the destination.

Another part of why I’ve second-guessed my decision so relentlessly the last few days came from my neurotic fear of being like people I’ve known throughout my life- many of them coworkers whose only comfort was cheap cigarettes that reeked of ammonia and failure- who simply gave up on their dreams and settled for life’s dead ends.  “Yep, I was gonna write a book once,” I remember a coworker saying once when I was doing inventory work under contract to Wal-Mart.  We were standing in a parking lot by the work van, somewhere in eastern Oklahoma I think.  I’ll never forget how broken that man looked.

I didn’t want to be the one to say “yeah, I was going to join the clergy once…” I wanted to see it through because I felt so much resentment for those people who gave up on their dreams.  I resent them because I feel like they tried to drag me down.

But I thought of everything I’ve done, and every time I can’t say I didn’t go all the way, and I realized, I can’t blame anyone for dragging me down.  I was never down to begin with.

I can’t say “I was going to write a book once” like my coworker did.  I actually did it, several times over, and I got it published to boot.

I can’t say “I was going to move out west once.”  I actually did it.

I can’t say “I was going to go to Europe once.”  I’ve done that.  Multiple times.

I can’t say “I was going to get a degree once.”  I did it and I’m proud of it.

I can’t say “I was going to get married once.”  I married a very talented artist and musician, and our relationship has been extraordinary.

As I mature, I’ve come to realize that having to back down from some dreams that don’t suit you isn’t the same as giving up on having any kind of dreams at all.  But if you plant a garden, you have to pull weeds and choose the strongest seedlings if you want it to grow right.

So I walk away from the clergy, perhaps for a short while but probably on a more permanent basis.  I still have other dreams though; if I can still dream, I’m not dead inside.

On The Mend

I’m glad to say that my condition has improved.

I’m able to enjoy music again.  I’m able to write.  I’m able to sleep.

Work has resumed on my novel once again.  I did more in one night than I did in an entire week on meds.

I think I’m going to stay off meds at least until I’ve finished this latest draft of my novel.  I’m unable to work a day job but my writing has always been better when I wasn’t laid flat on my back with side effects from meds.

I have to choose between having my emotions flattened on harsh medications to be able to function in a job of some kind, or being unfit for work while managing to publish at least one thing a year, with my writing career poised to go into its next phase.

I don’t know what to do yet…  I’ve got a lot going for me as a writer though even if I’m not earning a steady income from that yet.

I might have to contend with negative emotions for a while though.  The book I’m writing is taking a lot out of me because it’s the most personal novel I’ve ever written, with parts of it based very heavily on what my memories of the war did to me (though in the editing process I’ve removed most of the details of my actual memories or their confirmations).

The hardest thing to write about was the panic attacks.  I’d never had one until those memories broke.  I think just writing that set me back on my recovery.

But I have to do this.  I have to weather the storm.  As a writer friend of mine likes to say “writing is easy, you just open a vein and bleed.”

Well, I’m bleeding.  Bleeding from wounds that opened 25 years ago.  Bleeding from wounds that opened 100 years ago.  And if I’m going to bleed this much, I hope I’ll at least have something to show for it.

Frustration

I tried to ride out the side effects from meds but they just kept getting worse and worse.

I’ve had to go off the meds on my prescribing NP’s advice.  We’ll probably meet soon and discuss trying something better tolerated.  I think the SNRI class is a good option and I did well at first but the side effects were making it impossible to get enough sleep, impossible to concentrate, and causing some really alarming episodes where I’d cycle through emotions rapidly. Also, the headaches were getting to the point where I was having to pop ibuprofen like candy which isn’t good.

I’ll be upfront: if psilocybin was legal and easier to obtain, I’d be doing that instead. It had the best results with the least unpleasant side effects. Last time I did shrooms (early 2016) my depression went into a full remission for several weeks and I managed to bang out a screenplay.

Can’t Escape It

I haven’t posted this anywhere else, but I’m starting to feel like I’m inescapably drawn away from the church I’ve been attending for nearly two years.

I joined because I figured that if I was reincarnated, it was because of an error on my part.  But to begin with, this particular gnostic church never quite shared my maltheism or pessimism for the world.

The priesthood in this particular church isn’t paid, either.  The organization’s too small to really afford it.  It’s good that they’re not big on chasing money but this leaves me with the problem of finding a living wage; I don’t want that distraction if I’m trying to become an ascetic.  It honestly made my devotion feel less serious, like some kind of hobby that with my finances I couldn’t really afford to take seriously.  I don’t want that. If I serve God, I want it to be a full committment that I can live by.

Moreover, it always rubbed me the wrong way how they tried to walk some middling way between the spiritual and the material.  It felt forced when I was longing to escape the flesh altogether.  It carries an all-too-familiar, bourgeouis sort of falseness.

I’m reminded of this passage from Hermann Hesse’s “Steppenwolf:”

Now what we call “bourgeois,” when regarded as an element always to be found in human life, is nothing else than the search for a balance. It is the striving after a mean between the countless extremes and opposites that arise in human conduct. If we take any one of these coupled opposites, such as piety and profligacy, the analogy is immediately comprehensible. It is open to a man to give himself up wholly to spiritual views, to seeking after God, to the ideal of saintliness. On the other hand, he can equally give himself up entirely to the life of instinct, to the lusts of the flesh, and so direct all his efforts to the attainment of momentary pleasures. The one path leads to the saint, to the martyrdom of the spirit and surrender to God. The other path leads to the profligate, to the martyrdom of the flesh, the surrender to corruption. Now it is between the two, in the middle of the road, that the bourgeois seeks to walk. He will never surrender himself either to lust or to asceticism. He will never be a martyr or agree to his own destruction. On the contrary, his ideal is not to give up but to maintain his own identity. He strives neither for the saintly nor its opposite. The absolute is his abhorrence. He may be ready to serve God, but not by giving up the fleshpots. He is ready to be virtuous, but likes to be easy and comfortable in this world as well. In short, his aim is to make a home for himself between two extremes in a temperate zone without violent storms and tempests; and in this he succeeds though it be at the cost of that intensity of life and feeling which an extreme life affords.

That was how it always felt. Like a very light, milquetoast sort of existence when I was attuned- at the time- to a more extreme asceticism. But I really did try it. I tried to see things as a golden mean that I could live by.

But then the world went mad, and far from cherishing the stability the church afforded I found a certain excitement in the madness.  The march back in November changed me.  It awakened something I didn’t know was still there.  I wasn’t among the people committing acts of vandalism (which, by the way, the media seriously exaggerated the scope and scale of).  But I was there when the police deployed flashbang grenades and a full paramilitary response to what had been- until their provocation– a peaceful march.  I was there, watching the state use strongarm tactics against free speech right before my eyes, and my adrenaline surged.  I realized that the old soldier was still there inside me.  The gas and explosions didn’t faze me; they invigorated me.  They made me feel alive.

I thought I’d had enough of being involved in this world’s affairs up until that point.  But seeing state violence firsthand like that challenged everything I stood for.  Suddenly, I got no pleasure swinging the censer.  The mass felt less like a respite and more like a distraction.  I had a few more good times (Christmas and Easter were very nice), but ultimately, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was really what I wanted to do.

I’m still not entirely sure what I actually intend to do if I do get involved in current affairs.  I’m keeping my options open; times are crazy and I’m trying to stay as adaptable as possible.

There’s another dimension to this though.  At the time I joined the church I felt I had seen all there was to see and done all there was to do, and the world had nothing left for me.  What I was actually experiencing- though I didn’t realize it- was anhedonia brought on by severe depression and trauma caused by a series of bad events after I was betrayed by several people I had only gotten involved with for sexual reasons.  My ability to enjoy sex was devastated after that.  But now that my depression is being treated and the last person from my lost years I had a sexual history with (the bad roommate) is gone from my life, I feel as if I’ve been half-dead for the last five years and I’m only just starting to wake up again, feel pleasure, and enjoy the things an ordinary person would.  Perhaps being unable to commit to a totally ascetic path for financial reasons wasn’t the loss I had feared it would be, since I’m starting to regain interest in sexual practices which, while not forbidden by my church per se, would give people reason to shame me if I professed to be clergy (among these, polyamory and kink).

I still consider myself a gnostic in some capacity.  At least, I see a lot of truth in the Nag Hammadi scriptures, the Pistis Sophia, and the treasury of wisdom made living.  But between being unable to withdraw from the changes I see all around me by committing fully to an ascetic life, and being faced with so many changes in such a short period of time, I need to engage with change for a while… both in the world and in myself.

Foreword to the Future

My lost years seem to have ended abruptly a few days ago when the roommate I’ve been trying to dislodged for years finally got his things and, in a fit of impotent rage, called the police and told them three strangers with guns were in the apartment.  He had asked that I be out of the apartment at the time; I now believe his plan was to have the police kill my husband.

The cops weren’t having it and didn’t give him the satisfaction of swatting my home. With his half-baked plans for revenge fizzled, he left a few items of furniture and told us to do what we want with it.

Can’t shake the notion that I knew him centuries ago and, as in the present, he was an impulsive low-functioning psychopath who couldn’t deal with the consequences of his own bad decisions. But instead of Earldoms and kingdoms, our final spat was over a run-down apartment.  And what do you know? Once again, I came out looking so much better than he did.  You’ll never win, John Lackland.

Our new roommate is a nice person who is dealing with her issues in a healthy way. This is the kind of supportive environment I need since I finally quit getting high and went back on meds again. Trying a lower dose of Wellbutrin and it seems to work just fine.

I haven’t worked on my latest novel in a while but I need to get back on it. I think with my troubles moving  behind me, my head clearer, and more energy I can finally tell the story of trauma and healing I wanted to tell but hadn’t lived yet.

Still wondering if I will stay involved with the Gnostic church.  I feel like I may attend mass again but I no longer have the drive to enter the priesthood.  I feel like I want to focus more on writing, particularly the historical fiction I’ve wanted to do for so long.  The project I’m currently most interested in is a book based very loosely on my fragmented memories of the 18th Century.

The lives I recalled haven’t ceased to be real to me but I feel more integrated. I still hope to go back to Flanders before I close this blog but that seems to be one of the few loose ends left.

Perhaps something will emerge from all this, though. Perhaps I’ll remember something I’ve been blocked about. It seems to happen from time to time, but only time will tell.