Friday, December 19, 2008

Book Life 2: Are you sure you can't catch things from watching tv shows about diseases?

Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive by Emily Colas

an only slightly less objective book blog...

“Scars are great. They’re this outward symbol of some personal pain. Just by looking at a scar, you know that person has suffered. Usually, or maybe almost exclusively, medically. But what about the suffering insane? We have no scars. That’s why we have to make them ourselves.”

“It was like some god somewhere was telling me, “We have something else for you. Something special.” I was honored. Until I realized that special treat was insanity.”

Like most all ocd memoirs, this one hits a little too close to home. Admittedly, she has it much worse than I do now. My early to mid-teen bout of scrupulosity and possibly some pieces of my more recent life are close, but I could at least leave the house; she couldn’t. What I was so happy to see was her description of the “crazier than you” thoughts. She has this one-up conversation with her close friend who is a recovering heroin addict about who is crazier, who has it worse. While I don’t remember ever having this conversation with anyone, there is a variation that occurs in my mind on a fairly constant basis. OCD is not generally an outwardly noticeable disorder, or at least not to people who don’t know you well. So, you end up discussing with yourself whether you can safely call yourself crazy, insane, in need of help. Maybe it’s just me blowing my symptoms out of proportion. Obviously I’m not crazy. I do not see little orange people who aren’t there. I have not randomly tried to stab a loved one or a stranger (though being in close proximity to a sharp instrument has often caused the fear that I might without intending or wanting to). So I must not be crazy…or at least not as crazy as other people. And it would be selfish to assume I am and suck up sympathy or help or time with my overblown crap. But we are nuts. And what makes it worse is that we know we’re nuts. In general, we know that the things we do have no basis in rationality. It makes no sense to check that the car door is locked 3, 6, 9, or 17 times. It makes no sense to eat candies in threes and give the leftovers to one’s wife. It makes no sense to arrange shirts by color (spectrum then shade order) and in alphabetical order. But I do it. It pisses me off that I feel I have to do it and that I know it’s nuts and still proceed with it.

That is our special curse—what colas calls “insanity lite”: “All the taste, none of the good stuff. It was as if I was suffering as much as anyone else who had lost their mind, but since I was still able to be rational, since I knew what I was doing was bizarre, I wasn’t really crazy. I had this belief that somehow life would be easier if I was just completely mad.”

One thing I envy about colas’ ocd: it was constant. That may sound strange, and I am positive that she wished it was not. But like her belief that it would be easier to be completely mad, somehow, I think it would be better if my symptoms were constant and not in this unpredictable cycle. I never know what I’ll wake up to—crazy Dawn or regular Dawn. Will I be able to open a public bathroom door with three layers of paper towels today or will I wait insanely by the door to catch it with my foot as someone else comes in? Who knows? And that is what makes me so damned unbalanced…well, a piece of it anyway…

Book Life 1: The Tale of the Renaissance Lesbian Nun

Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith C. Brown

I have been wanting this book since I came across it randomly mentioned in another book, for obvious reasons. My lifelong obsession with religion and asceticism combined with lesbian life in the Renaissance…who could ask for more.

In any case, the book was fabulous. Brown reconstructed the tale of Benedetta Carlini from documents she found in a miscellaneous file while researching another topic in Italian history. Sister Benedetta went to the convent at age 9, which was not that unusual then, and went on to establish herself as a mystic for a time. She would have visions of Jesus and various saints who sometimes spoke through her. She claimed to have literally exchanged hearts with Christ (which was not an unusual thing for female mystics in that era) and was married to Christ in a ceremony whose decorations, guests, and components were supposedly dictated to her by Jesus himself. She received the stigmata and a pale yellow wedding ring appeared on her finger.

Several inconsistencies and unusual pieces of the visions and actions of Benedetta drew an inquiry from the Church, and it was decided that she was a fraud. The Church took the more ecclesiastic route and declared her deceived by the Devil. The most interesting information that surfaced during the investigation did not precisely have to do with the divine or diabolical nature of the visions, however. When she began having visions and trance states, Benedetta was assigned a companion nun, Bartolomea, to stay near her to assist when these things occurred. In the second inquiry, Bartolomea revealed that she had been forced to partake in “lewd” activities with Benedetta, who was supposedly being used for the purpose by Splenditello, an angel that guarded Sister Benedetta for Jesus. Splenditello told Bartolomea that he wished for her to be his beloved and that what they were doing was not sinful (ostensibly since he was an angel sent by God and Benedetta had no idea what he was doing). Benedetta denied knowledge of the many, many, many occurrences (every night and during nearly every day for years), which would fit with her insistence that she was channeling Splenditello and not doing these things herself. However, in my opinion, the way in which Bartolomea described the whole encounter leads me to believe that it was a mutual relationship, and the two of them were simply doing what they had to do to prevent being burned at the stake (the likely punishment had they been discovered to have done these things willingly). One can’t really fault them for it, given the time period.

Brown discusses the Renaissance beliefs about sexual misconduct in the introduction as well as extensively in footnotes and the epilogue. What is fascinating is that the punishments handed out to “lesbian” offenders were generally harsher and more aimed at women who defied norms of gendered living rather than the sexual act itself. For instance, in one case, a young woman lived as a man to the extent that she took on a wife, and when they were discovered, it was the one living as a man that was punished. (She chose to die by hanging rather than return to life as a girl.) As far as the records go, the wife was not blamed for any wrongdoing.

A last idea that Brown included was the separation of what has been called “holy anorexia” from modern notions of eating disorders. I understand the distinction, as food has very different meanings now as opposed to then. However, in the particular descriptions given of Benedetta’s actions, I would have to say that I think she was suffering from a medieval version of anorexia/bulimia with all the attendant obsessive features, some so noticeable to the other nuns that they made constant mention of them.

All in all, Benedetta’s story was incredibly interesting, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in notions of gender either within religion or outside of it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

It is not political...

Thursday I had a conversation with a girl in one of my classes...somehow we got on the topic of gay people...she said, "I have no problem with people being gay. I have a lot of gay friends, but I don't believe in gay marriage." excuse me, what? First off, someone needs to tell your gay friends...second, how is that even possible? To be friends with someone, you should be able to empathize with them, and in order to do that, you have to actually think they are people. By saying that they don't deserve to be able to marry, isn't that just as good as saying they are lesser human beings?

I asked this person to give me a good reason why we shouldn't be able to marry that did not have to do with religion or scripture. The only response she had was to say that that isn't how it was originally created by God. Hello? A reason separate from religion. No one has yet to be able to do it...because there isn't one...Aside from their narrow freaking idea of creation and their ancient scriptures, there is nothing to be said that will hold up. I am so glad that someone else came up to talk to her after her response, because I was seriously about to go into raging lesbian mode and show the hell out. And I could not have helped myself.

To quote a fabulous lesbian I once heard speak, "It is not political, IT'S MY LIFE" We're fighting for our freaking lives here, dammit...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

oh the geekiness knows no bounds

So, I'm starting my honors thesis soon, and I had to get a thesis director. And I am very excited that one of the most awesome professors on the planet agreed to be my director--Dr. Erndl! Not only that, Dr. Gray, the equally awesome, whom I thought would not be back from her fulbright teaching in morocco by next fall, actually said she WANTS to be on my defense committee! I hugged the woman for that one...I had a really good school day, y'all!!!

and it occurs to me that the level of one's geekitude (and yes that is a least now it is) can be measured by the people on whom and the reasons for one's little crushes...i have such the academic girly-crushes on drs. gray and is sad, I must, anyway, i figure that makes me Queen Geek, Her Majesty of Nerd Land...

Book Life

I don't know how long I will actually do it, but I'm going to try to do a post for each new and interesting book I read, whether for school or not. I just got this one as a gift, and I will be starting it as soon as I am done with this semester's work (2 more papers and one more exam!). Book geek that I am, it seems appropriate...

Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith C. Brown, Oxford University Press, 1986.

Despite my relative lack of experience with the Catholic faith, I am inordinately fascinated by nuns. A few years ago I read Virgins of Venice: Enclosed Lives and Broken Vows in the Renaissance Convent by Mary Laven (Viking, 2003) and loved it. Of course, when I was born my mother was Catholic, so maybe I picked up the interest through the placenta or osmosis or something. I do remember quite vividly wanting to be a nun for a while--they were the only female images of religious roles I had...and I think I thought I was some sort of modern day girl answer to Jesus or something...I do still want to save the world...though the wimple and chastity vows don't look half so good from 29 as they did from 4...

to be continued when i actually get to read the damn book lol

The True Definition of Gay Rage

In one particular gay-bashing/murder case a few years ago, the perpetrators/defendants/evil morons tried to use a defense of "gay rage". Their definition: they were uncontrollably enraged by the victim having supposedly hitting on them. My definition: the feeling an lgbt person gets when they read crap like that and what i read today.

In the spring, I'm starting an honors in the major thesis on the quiverfull and purity ball movements among modern American evangelicals. In searching for resources, I read through some of the Duggar family website (see TLC's specials and reality show) on which Michelle mentions a "Christian medical doctor". Intrigued, I searched the web...lo and behold there is an organization for them, the Christian Medical and Dental Association ( They have various crap lying about, and I found their ethics statements on homosexuality. (see
If this is the kind of bullshit fundamentalists are being fed, no wonder they hate us and think we can't handle marriage or that we'll destroy the world at some point. I quote:

"Homosexual relationships are typically brief in duration. Homosexual behavior is destructive to the structures necessary for healthy marriages, families and society. Men who commit homosexual acts have a high incidence of promiscuity, child molestation, and sexually transmitted infections. Homosexual behaviors burden society with increased medical costs, increased disability, and loss of productivity.

Homosexual behavior can be self-propagating. Some homosexual groups and individuals engage in active recruitment. A child who is sexually molested has an increased likelihood of later engaging in homosexual acts. There is also an increased incidence of homosexual activity among children raised by same sex couples. Adoption into such environments puts children at risk.

Legalizing or blessing same sex marriage or civil unions is harmful to the stability of society, the raising of children and the institution of marriage. If the only criterion for marriage were mutual consent or commitment, there are no grounds to prohibit polygamy, polyandry or incestuous unions." [emphasis added]

Are you kidding me? I mean really, are you fucking kidding me? This is what causes TRUE gay rage...this is why the top of my head feels like it's going to blow off most of the time...These are licensed medical and dental practitioners, and they are spreading these lies! They are in positions of authority for people, and what do they do with it but spread this...someone tell me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this seem to be against some sort of oath that a doctor should take? maybe not, but dammit WHY not!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

state of the nation

okay, this will be way too short to cover everything I've been thinking lately, but...

first off...YAYAYAYAYAYAY that Obama won...I was not exactly thrilled at the idea of going to grad school in canada...although due to other disturbing developments at the polls, it may still be on the in florida, amendment 2 (an entirely redundant anti-gay amendment) passed...and then there is arizona with the same issue and arkasas amended their constitution to say that no one unmarried can adopt or be foster parents...the biggest disappointment was california...i was so sure we would be able to keep it there...

why is it that the idea of us having legal rights and protections is so wrong to these people? I get that they have this warped and retarded notion that if we have marriage, then theirs will be undermined....but I have yet to figure out how. This whole debate is all based on fucking fundamentalist xianity and I for one am sick of it...THIS IS NOT A THEOCRACY! and my lesbian Pagan ass is sick and fuckign tired of having my life decided by these people...

canada may be an option yet...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"We was po' ": College and a Low SES girl go head to head

She meant nothing by it. I know that, hence the reason I won't name her or rail against her personally. However, a few things must be said. A girl in one of my religion classes was commenting on something or other and made the following statement, "His family was fairly well-off, upper middle class, as all of us are." Maybe she felt safe in assuming, but...

I resent being assumed to be in one of these upper brackets. Now, don't get me wrong. I am in no way romanticizing poverty or the state of semi-poverty that we generally find ourselves in. Struggling sucks. A lot. I would much rather not live paycheck-to-paycheck, but such is our lot for now and the largest part of our lives up until now. But there are expectations of certain ideas when assuming economic class. People assume that your belief structures and experiences are built on the same foundations as theirs, and that simply isn't true.

"Impoverished" and "poor" are not separate planets from "upper middle class", but they can seem so. And I never saw as much distance between the groups (ideologically at least) until coming back to college. And maybe it's not the same everywhere, but at Florida State, there is this huge majority of well-off upper-middle (and maybe middle-middle) class kids. To the point that I think I know one person here who did not grow up that way. Many people I've talked to use such a different version of vocabulary that I find it impossible to talk to them.

Before someone jumps down my throat for the following examples, let me clarify that they are all from actual conversations.

1. "Broke"--me: no money or just enough to put gas in the car if we roll change. them: "I can buy the $150 bag, but not the $200 shoes to match."
2. "My checking account is all fucked up."--me: "We're overdrawn by a lot and have no way of fixing it." them: "I had to dip into my savings/trust fund/stock/$100 buffer to go out partying."
3. "I have, like, no food."--me: "really, none, well maybe some Ramen or something." them: "I ran out of chips/beer/Coke."
4. "I have no [financial aid] money left after tuition."--me: "really, I don't. I hope the financial aid office finds me enough to pay for books." them: "I only had enough to pay all of my bills for the entire semester,so I couldn't go shopping [or at least not where I really wanted to]."
5. "So this is how the other half lives."--me: we had $30-40 left over this week, or we unexpectedly came into a couple hundred dollars. them: "we had to eat Ramen last week until my dad came up and bought us groceries for the month."

Now, lots of kids here work and go to school so they can pay rent and such. Not everyone's parents pay their way, but they seem to think that this Ramen-noodle pseudo poverty qualifies them for some "welfare club" and it does not.

I'm not saying all this to get a pity party started. We have been too broke for too long for me to even give a damn about really feeling sorry for myself over it. We're just low income/poor/broke ass/low SES, and that's it. I hope to one day work up out of that, but it's reality for now. The whole point of this long-ass post is best made by the following:

I mentioned in a conversation in some random class or other that I am considering using whatever graduate degrees I get to work with low income women in the rural south (Alabama to be more precise). I don't know what or how yet, but it's a possibility. They replied, "That sounds interesting. I've always been fascinated with how those people function and deal...blah blah blah...I think I want to do something in an area I'm unfamiliar with too." [emphasis mine] Okay, first off, "those people' pissed me off, but...I promptly informed this sadly misinformed trust fund baby (she really was) that I was thinking of this because it's where I come from. "Those people" are my people--my family and friends. Not some alien race I would be descending from my ivory
tower to study and assist. We are them, just shifted to this weird planet temporarily. She had the good sense to look relatively ashamed, and then just said, "I'm sorry. I guess you poor people do need to stick together, huh?"

What do you really say to people with these mentalities?

What worries me is that this will only get worse as I progress in my studies. Grad school is even worse. Barbara Ehrenreich mentions a book in one of her fabulous books about attending grad school coming from low SES background. The author has terrible troubles adjusting to the environment and even has friends from similar backgrounds that had nervous breakdowns. The expectations and general belief structures among peers in those groups are so much different than what they were used to at home and what they were struggling not so much to overcome as to keep but with a higher salary that they just snapped. Goddess knows, if grad school is anything worse than this elitist snake pit, nervous breakdown is a possibility.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Back of the Bus

I missed the actual VP debates because I was at an awesome Indian dinner, but I was watching parts of them on youtube. Let me preface this by saying that I will be voting--for OBAMA. I do not think that not voting will help anything.

That said, I am highly unimpressed and pissed off by the Obama/Biden response to gay marriage. Biden specifically said that he thinks the definition of marriage should be left up to "the faith communities". Um, is it just me, or does letting the "faith communities" decide ANYTHING legal such as that seem like a serious breach of the separation of church and state?! Maybe that's just me...

Aside from that, I am happy that Obama supports civil union-like legislation. We would have many of the things that, because we don't right now, keep me and many other gay and lesbian couples in constant fear. However, civil unions strike me as simply a newer version of "separate but equal". by naming our relationships anything but marriage, it opens the door for the changing of wording in contracts, employment policies, etc. All opponents would have to do is say only married couples are included in whatever, and our frail little civil unions are worth nothing. Our families are worth so much more than a "shut-up" change. Yeah, we may not have to ride in the back of the bus, but they are sure doing their damnedest to make us uncomfortable enough at the front that we go there anyway.

Thoughts on Meditation and Nothingness

As some of you know, I have been occasionally attending the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Tallahassee. Yesterday, Rev. Robin talked about prayer and meditation using types from a book whose title escapes me now. Anyway, she talked about prayer as not needing a deity to focus on and then discussed meditation as, to her, the most difficult form of prayer, at least in regards to the clearing of the mind. The nothingness that Buddhists and others who meditate seek seemed to her the hardest thing, and it very well may be.

Years ago after becoming Pagan, I took up periodic meditation mainly as a stress reliever and centering action. I do not do it as much as I probably should, but nonetheless, I do practice in my own way. In any case, after only a short time attempting to meditate as I thought you should...the stiff posture, blank mind search for the black nothingness...I realized that it really didn't do much for me. I could clear my mind and relax after a bit, and if you have silence then, it is truly fabulous in its own way. However, I have come to realize that the most effective meditation for me is to sit and relax quietly and look at the trees, water, whatever nature is handy. Sometimes, if the need is great enough, even a flower on someone's desk or a picture is sufficient. I do not try to force thoughts away, but allow them to float through on whatever topic they wish. And I have found that after a while, the thoughts quiet down on their own, though they never disappear completely. I can compose pieces of whatever I'm writing at the time or think of what I need to do later in the day without rush and anxiety.

This type of meditation, to me, seems more difficult than the other. We constantly push thoughts and duties aside during the day. We quiet our inner voices to the point that they feel they must scream at us to be heard. Yes, we need silence, but I think outside silence is more important than that on the inside. By silencing the inner voice completely, even for short stretches, we may miss something incredible. In our search for periodic inner nothingness, blankness, quiet, we may find it, but we may also lose moments of wonder---which considering the state of the world, are too few and much too far between.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pagan Pride

Saturday was the local observance of Pagan Pride Day, a national event celebrated around Mabon every year. It was held at the lake directly across from my house, but I did not go. Oh, I knew about it beforehand; I just didn't go.

This is not to say that I am not proud of being Pagan. On the contrary, I am extremely proud of the path I have chosen. Who wouldn't be? Most (if not all) forms of Paganism are liberal positive faiths which recognize the inherent worth of every person, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, etc. My marriage to the wonderful Anna is accepted and celebrated within its bounds. I have never (and cannot see myself ever) considered converting to any other faith. Even in my involvement with the local Unitarian Universalists was not in search of a religion to convert to, but an intellectual community of spiritual people with social justice foremost in its priorities.

So, if there is enough of a local Pagan community to hold a Pagan Pride event, why did I go searching? In churches, and covens and Pagan groups, you look for a place that not only fits with your worldview and spiritual intentions but in which you feel welcome. All of teh events I have attended have had one thing in common--I most certainly did not feel welcomed. I will probably attend the Samhain Labyrinth as I did last year because of the wonderful calm and spiritual refreshment I found. I will not however stay for the social time after the ceremony like I did last year; it would only serve to shatter the calm I gathered in the candlelight with confusion.

The Myth of the Wealthy Gay People

Let me just start by saying that I love Chris Rock. I think he is hilarious and tells the freakin truth when it needs to be told. However, he made a comment in a show I watched the other night that bothers me. And truthfully it didn't offend, and really it isn't even something only he says. He just happens to be the one that said it the most recently in earshot.

There is this notion in the media and among the straights that we gay people are significantly more well-off than the straight people. While in theory, this might make sense...many of us do not have kids and therefore do not have the extra expenses that this brings with it. However, it is simply not true. As a matter of fact, the majority of gay couples and singles that I know are working class or just plain poor, myself included. We do not have all this expendable income lying about. We live paycheck to paycheck just like some straight people (and I would say the majority) do. Even our own media and larger community buys into this or at least gears itself toward this ideal. Take a look at Out magazine or The L Word sometime. The people are generally affluent. And these are just two examples. When was the last time you saw a poor gay person on tv? Chris Rock also made the joke that there are no gay homeless people. This, again, is simply not true. The first two homeless guys I ever met (as in more than a conversation about whether I had change) were gay.

So, what does it matter if the world thinks we're fabulously wealthy? Well, it matters. If we are presented as this community that is kind of elevated above the "regular" society, this is just one more way for us to be the "other" rather than just the people next door. In the long run, this will hurt us. The only major difference between my marriage and that of my straight friends is my spouse is a woman rather than a man. Once the world can accept this, we might be able to convince them that certain rights and privileges would not be out of order.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A little intro

According to the National Institute of Mental Health,

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as handwashing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called "rituals," however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.

This of course, is only the tip of the iceberg for those of dealing with it on a daily basis. Definitions are only a way for outsiders to put a practical, working face on what can be a debilitating condition. Sufferers know better. These "rituals" are, in reality, not just a function of making the thoughts go away. While this is a part of it, it's more a matter of, if they are not done, the anxiety and untetheredness to reality is increased to unbelievable levels. For some of us, there is a belief that if certain things are not done, and done in a particular way, harm will befall us or our friends and family. My particular neuroses do not have this addendum, which I am thankful for, but it doesn't make the struggle any less difficult.

What makes OCD such a horror is that most of the time, we know perfectly well that our actions and compulsions make little to no sense, but we simply do not have the capacity to stop them. My particular OCD seems to be cyclical and conditional. At home, I am usually okay, with the exception of various standard rituals and occasional fits of truly frantic action, but in public, I feel the things I know to be the least sensical creep in. For instance, I went to the bathroom the other day before class. I used the bathroom and washed my hands normally, but then I was confronted with the task of getting paper towels out of the dispenser. What if the previous person hadn't washed her hands thoroughly enough? So, I used my wrist (which usually fixes this situation), but then I felt my wrist had gotten the germs, so I had to wash my hands again, after which I simply shook them dry. But then I had to leave the bathroom, which meant touching the door handle. In order to get paper towels to open the door, I would have to touch the dispenser again and wash my hands again. AND this bathroom had two doors. Needless to say, it took me literally about 20 minutes AFTER using the bathroom to get out. I knew the whole time that it made no sense, and that I could simply use hand sanitizer, but that wasn't enough. The thought of touching these things left me stranded, both mentally and physically, and exhausted by the whole affair afterward. Medications do not work and self-checking my behavior usually only causes higher levels of anxiety.

Welcome to our world.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

just noticing

While this is neither important nor profound...the hotel room I am in at the moment has an individual coffee maker in the room. Not unusual. BUT it has no pot! The coffee is in individual packs, and you place a coffee cup under the spout to use it rather than having a glass pot that has goddess knows what manner of germs and bacteria festering in it. obsessive compulsive coffee drinkers rejoice!! There is hope yet!

To Begin...

This is the first post of probably way too many, or very's hard to my earliest romps on the net I gathered at least a dozen email addresses and several now defunct webpages, all of which I obsessed over for a while and then abandoned mercilessly as the desire left me...I am a bad internet mother. I create these wayward children of my diseased little brain and then leave them to flounder in the open vacuum of cyberspace. Do you think the virtual social workers will come for me soon? Should I be blogging under an assumed name? Considering some of the things that occur to me to write, it is a distinct possibility.

In any case, here I am, just what the title says and obsessive-compulsive feminist lesbian pagan...I am currently working on dual degrees in women's studies and religion at Florida State University, and on some days, I would also say a nervous breakdown. I struggle daily with my ocd as I have for years, and it has, over the last few years, become an increasingly large part of my mental landscape. I also struggle daily with what it means to be a feminist lesbian pagan who hails from rural Alabama and with what I am planning to do with my degrees once conferred. Whatever weirdness and possible profound thoughts appear here are my way of working through all of this and, sometimes, lashing out a world in which I find it increasingly hard to function on both practical and existential levels. Forgive my randomness and occasional rage, and we shall be wonderful friends.