Real Life

It's addictive, using these posts as a way to warm up for my writing each morning. I feel like I should be doing my morning pages--more private, less structured--but there is something about putting words on the page that you know others will read that makes it more vital, if nevertheless rather more constrained. If these were morning pages, I might start by writing about people with whom I am frustrated or things that I wish I could change about myself, but here, on the blog page, I am doing something different. Trying to communicate with you, my blog readers. Who are you?, I sometimes wonder. It is comforting to know (thanks to my sitemeter) that you're out there, but, no, it's not necessary that I meet all of you (although I am very grateful for all of your comments!). Reading someone else's words is at the same time a very public and a very private experience, something to be shared but also something to be cherished (or grimaced over) in solitude.

One of my friends (who is also one of my blog readers) wrote to me recently asking how I was, apologizing for not being in touch more but reassuring me that he had been reading my blog. How was I really doing?, he wanted to know, as if what I say on my blog is not somehow "really real". Oh, yes, there are things going on in my life that I do not blog about: everything, for starters, that falls under the dreaded heading of "TMI". Although I do wonder about that: what counts as TMI? One of my friends on Facebook recently made a comment about what eating a certain pickle confection might do to his GI tract, to which one of his friends responded, "TMI!" But why, I wondered. What was "too much" about this information? That he likes pickles? That he has a GI tract? (Guess what? I have one....)

In this context, at least, TMI would seem to be everything about what makes us physically alive, which, of course, at least on the Internet, we can pretend simply doesn't exist. All the squishing and oozing and gurgling and groaning that our bodies do, that we try, in "real life" to hide from each other, pretending that, no, that doesn't happen to me. Another friend on Facebook has posted a tally of fines for a variety of naughtinesses one might have committed, e.g. smoked pot, went streaking, vandalized something, lied to your mate. To play, one only need add up the amounts and declare the total, thus giving a general impression of one's level of misdoing, but without revealing what, specifically, are one's sins. Except for one: peeing in the pool, for which the fine is 50 cents. There is no other fine that is in anything other than 5's or 10's of dollars, which means if you count peeing in the pool in your calculation of foibles, everyone will know--much as we used to believe that the water had something in it that would make the urine turn red if we, um, relieved ourselves without getting out. TMI? Oh, yes, but I bet you did it, too. And yet, I don't see anybody's total adding up to something-something dollars...and 50 cents.

Sorry, about that, I just had to nip out to the loo. (TMI?) Will the Real Fencing Bear please stand up, TMI and all? I'm really not sure you'd like her very much. Or maybe you would, I don't know. I don't often know who the real me is. Is she the frightened, spiteful, selfish, insecure loner she is afraid that she is? Or is she the caring, thoughtful, attentive, creative mother, wife, friend and mentor whom she would like to imagine she could be, if only she weren't so frightened, spiteful, selfish and insecure? How much of ourselves do we spend hiding from each other, convinced that we are more despicable than everyone else, and how much of this conviction of sinfulness is actually hubris, imagining that we are worse than we really are, at least in comparison with other human beings?

One of the psalms for this morning's prayer was Miserere mei, Deus, Psalm 50 in the Vulgate numbering, 51 in the Hebrew.* It's one of those psalms you either love or hate, depending on your mood.

"You are just when you pass sentence on me,
blameless when you give judgment.
You know I was born guilty,
a sinner from the moment of conception."

But, on the other hand:

"Yet, since you love sincerity of heart,
teach me the secrets of wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop until I am clean:
wash me until I am whiter than snow."

Which of these states is more likely: that I am a sinner in everything that I do (I don't feel that way; sometimes it seems like I am actually a fairly good person--ask some of my friends, they seem to think so); or that it is possible for me to be wiped clean of all of my sins, purified until I am whiter than snow (white snow, not yellow, just to keep with our TMI theme)? I really don't know.

"Instill some gladness into me,
let the bones you have crushed rejoice again.
Hide your face from my sins,
wipe out all my guilt."

Oh, that it were possible. Oh, that I could bring myself in fact to confess all my sins so that I could be made whiter than snow.

This is my favorite verse:

"God, create a clean heart in me,
put into me a new and constant spirit,
do not banish me from your presence,
do not deprive me of your holy spirit."

In the KJV:

"Create in me a clean heart, O God;
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence:
and take not thy holy spirit from me."**

If you've read my post from yesterday, you know what a state I'm in at the moment. This is what I see when I look inside: a dark tangle of thoughts, all jumbled up, every thread leading to every other thread. What I wish I could see is one single shining thread, guiding me to God, clarifying what it is that I am meant to be doing in this life, reassuring me that I have made the right choices and am not just fooling myself with self-indulgent nonsense. It is, in fact, rather like I feel when I am on the strip. If only I could calm and order my thoughts, then I could see clearly what to do. Instead, I'm a mess: anxious about whether I might lose, trying to keep my breathing steady but unconvinced that there is actually anything I can do to keep myself calm, worried about what my coach will think, angry that I'm not better at this already...and on, and on, and on. When what I should be--if only I could be washed clean--is simply concentrating on my opponent. Or not even that: no-mind, simply there, watching without watching, relaxed, expecting nothing and everything, open focus, no thoughts of the past or the future, simply alive in the moment. That is what (I imagine) it would feel like to be washed clean of sins, one's mind wholly open to God.

And yet, here I am, trapped in real life, with all of its messiness and ambition. How am I doing, really? Much as anyone my age, I suspect. I'm worrying about what it means to get older and have my body start to gradually (hopefully, only gradually) fail; what it will be like when my skin is no longer elastic and my eyes can see only with multiple lenses; what it will be like to look in the mirror and see someone old, when inside, I know, I will feel still very much my childish, frightened, insecure self. I'm worrying about my book and whether I will finish it in time and what "in time" means. I'm worrying about my son and letting him grow up and about how much I'll miss seeing him every day once he's moved on. I'm worrying about our world and our economy and my friends who are starting to lose their jobs and about how bad it can possibly get before (when, hopefully not if) it improves. Perhaps, indeed, we have lived through our golden age and we are now on our way to decline. And then I think about how wonderful it is to be alive at all, thinking these thoughts, hoping beyond hope that I will live long enough to write at least some of the things that I seem to be compelled to say. Washed clean? I don't know. Sometimes it feels right to be a mess, something about the human condition. And then I think again and wish that I could find that thread.

Oh, look, it's 9:55am, which means I've been writing for well over an hour. Time to get back to the "real" page.

*I am using M. Basil Pennington's The Abbey Prayer Book (Ligouri, Missouri: Ligouri Publications, 2002), highly recommended, even if I don't like the Psalms translation so much.
**An historical tidbit about this psalm: in the thirteenth century, caretakers in hospitals were expected to say their Hours every day, but not everyone had the Latin or learning to be able to say the full canonical Office. One option, for those who knew neither the canonical Office nor the Hours of the Virgin, was to recite Miserere mei, Deus seven times at Matins and once at each of the following hours of the day, prefaced by a Pater noster, the opening versicle of every Office "Deus in adiutorium meum intende", and a Gloria patri, and followed by a Kyrie eleison, another Pater noster and a prayer (here I am paraphrasing from actual text of my book; see forthcoming--in a few years--for details!).


  1. Interesting reading here, these past few days. The themes here resonate, especially today. The 'already and not yet' dynamic of our existence can be painful. Sometimes exquisitely so, but painful nonetheless.

    You ask which state is more likely, 'sinful' or made clean. For me, the daily struggle is trying to comprehend what it means that both are simultaneously very real. I'm a whole lot worse than I actually believe myself to be, but I'm loved much more than I could ever imagine.

    In response, I want to be able to say Deo Gracias! But somehow, lately, anyhow, I usually feel like Heman the Ezrahite: Darkness is my only companion!


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