Rain, Cleansing, Healing

I started going to therapy, which turned out to be an excellent decision.

I had to accept that I was emotionally abused as a child.  It is something I’ve been denying or at least not confronting for a long time.  It was easy to think that I was just over-reacting, or it wasn’t that bad.  This is something that emotional and psychological abuse does: you don’t trust your own judgement or interpretation of your experiences, because your own judgement is continually treated with contempt.  I thought I was just being dramatic, or that admitting this would just be a way to get attention.  But it’s not about attention.  It’s about deeply feeling the pain I went through, confronting it, and helping myself heal.

Some things I have learned:

I have to honor my past selves, acknowledge what they went through, and feel the pain and sadness from those periods of my life.  The 7-year-old whose feelings were dismissed and invalidated: I see you, I understand what you felt, and I’m sorry you didn’t get the support you needed.  The 13-year old who was trying to hard to please God and her parents: I see you, I see what you were working so hard to do, I see that the mistakes you made were minor mistakes, just part of growing up and learning about the world.  You were beautiful, you were a blossoming person who was continually shut down, shamed, and ridiculed by your parents.  I’m sorry you didn’t get the encouragement you needed to grow into your self.  The 16-year old who was angry, who felt mistreated and misunderstood, who sought help from adults who didn’t know how to help you: I see you, you were doing what you needed to do to survive an abusive household, and you were right and justified in your anger, you were right in your judgement that things were not right at home.

I have to grieve.  I have to be sad for what happened, and sad about who I might have been without what I went through.

I can be the adult my past self needed.  I am the adult who can take care of and heal my past self.

Healing is hard, painful, and good work.  It takes time and space to feel the emotions I need to feel.  And it’s exhausting.  I can’t do it all the time.  But I can make space for it in my life and heal.


Reading for 2017

As I have mentioned before, I wanted to have a page number goal for this year.  I tallied up the pages I read in 2016 (via goodreads) and was surprised to learn that I read close to 11,000 pages!  So, I decided to choose 10,000 pages as my goal this year.  Already, I find I’m enjoying the freedom of being able to put down a book (and maybe pick it up again later), and not feeling the push to finish a book that I’m really not enjoying.

Along with this goal, I’m reading 6 books with a friend with a focus on nihilism, humanism, and other related or secular philosophies.

Our first book is The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus.  I saw this book on a reddit thread and decided to give it a try.  I am not very familiar or well-read in the area of philosophy, so I hadn’t heard of absurdism until I started reading this text.  I liked wikipedia’s summary of the philosophy: “In philosophy, “the Absurd” refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any. In this context absurd does not mean “logically impossible”, but rather “humanly impossible”. The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously.”

So far, the book is relevant to my life as I have been questioning how life is worth the struggle.  I don’t have depression (at least I don’t think I do), but I struggle with hopelessness, lack of motivation, and low confidence or self-esteem.  Especially now, where I am waiting on my license to practice my profession in my new home state, and I can’t work until I get it.  I’m stuck in limbo at the mercy of faceless state boards, and find I can’t even be bothered to finish tasks like keeping up with the dishes.  Low productivity often breeds lower productivity, and  I am slowly falling into a “why bother” stage.

I used to run from emotions, or try to squash them from existence, or get angry at myself for having any “negative” emotions.  One thing I’ve learned is that some emotions, you just have to sit with.  I’m still not very good at it, and I’m realizing I haven’t been sitting with this emotion.  I’ve just been avoiding it by playing video games or finding other little pointless distractions.  When I first became an atheist, the meaninglessness of life was so freeing to me.  I felt like the world was open, vast, and full of possibilities.  The meaningless nature of life opened to me more ways to learn how to love and serve others, to explore my humanity, and to live without the anxiety caused by the God I grew up with.  Now I feel like I need to come to terms with the hopeless side of that meaninglessness.  I also have difficulty not having control over the situation and just having to wait on others to get things done, and that’s really challenging for me.  Not to mention the added helplessness and anger I feel any time I read a headline about something else that’s happening with our political situation in the U.S..

I can think of plenty of things that bring me happiness or satisfaction – a warm cup of coffee, falling snow, getting to stay home all day, hugging my husband, the feeling after a good run.  And I know I have a lot of privilege that makes it possible for me to not work for a few weeks, but everything is ok – my husband has a decent paying job, I have employment opportunities lined up as soon as I can get  the license, I’m able-bodied and healthy, and we have supportive, middle-class parents who can help us financially if needed.  This helps give me perspective, but I still have to respect what I’m going through and validate my own emotional experience, even as I recognize that life is going pretty well overall.

Life is inherently meaningless, so we get to make our own meaning.  What gives your life meaning?  What is important to you?  What makes the struggle of life worth it?

Thoughts on Anti-theism

I am a fan of the patheos atheist channel, which recently changed names to be patheos “nonreligious.”  Recently I’ve been noticing a conversation about anti-theism, mainly starting with a post on Barrier Breaker (for some of the posts I’ve read on patheos and other places, click here, here, or here; though there are many posts about anti-theism I’m finding now such as on Barrier Breaker and The Gaytheist Manifesto that I haven’t read yet).

To summarize, Martin Hughes of Barrier Breaker states that he is not anti-theist anymore.  He sees and acknowledges some of the harm religion does, but also sees the comfort it provides to people in times of stress.  I feel like the last paragraph sums up his point well (noting that “the work” he mentions is the work of figuring out how to best love and care for others):

I think it’s important to say here that I’m not trying to tell you that you have to do this work. I’m saying that I’ve come to a point in my life where I have to do it. Atheism — the mere denial of God — was the entry, for me, into a life in which I cared about people more. It’s the Truth, but it matters, in my current perspective, only insofar as it can help me work towards a more understanding, loving world that enriches our lives. Perhaps that does, indeed, require getting rid of God. But if it does, I want to do it in a way that ensures people’s lives are enriched, that they are being understood and cared for, and that they have a home in the hearts of people who they know have given them reason to care about themselves and others.

In other words, for him, being anti-theist can get in the way of the work towards a more understanding, loving world, and Martin doesn’t want to fight that anymore.  He takes a different direction in later posts, admitting that recently he prayed and found comfort in the idea of god, even while being an atheist, which I think is an interesting part of the conversation as well.

The “On the Margin of Error” blogger Kaveh Mousavi writes that this response is out of line, saying that the attitude is condescending (“I can see that you need God to get through the tough times, poor you”) and not a good solution.  Stephanie Zvan offers a good reason to stay in the anti-theist movement (the actions “like these” refer to discriminating against groups of people, and other unethical actions taken because “God said so”):

The reason I continue to speak up as an anti-theist is that it takes the ethical muddles many people face in situations like these and makes them crystal clear. We already believe religious belief isn’t an appropriate reason for actions like these. Explaining why requires us to tackle religion head-on. It requires us to undermine and deny its ultimate authority.

Add this to the thoughts stirring in my head from reading Faith vs. Fact, and I found that I wanted to determine my own position on the anti-theism scale.

Where Do I Stand?

Wikipedia states that in secular contexts, anti-theism “typically refers to direct opposition to organized religion or to the belief in any deity.”  I am not very educated in this matter, but it’s my impression that anti-theists often make several points:

  • religion is a net harm to societies and individuals
  • belief in god/gods in harmful
  • belief in god/gods can cause people to act in unethical ways when they otherwise would not

I keep going back to my thoughts about faith, and that what I really have a problem with is faith that causes people to deny facts and evidence, or believe things without evidence.

Also, I noticed Stephanie Zvan mentions in her article, “It’s fashionable these days to talk about “growing out of” anti-theism, as though that were a stage of leaving religion.”  I found that interesting because I feel like I am becoming more anti-theist as I further explore and understand my secular world-view.  When I first became an atheist, I was very much in a stage of “live and let live.”  I find myself becoming more critical of religion and faith as I read, question, and understand more about the world from a secular point of view.

I think that promoting belief in things unseen and un-testable is harmful.  I think that encouraging people to listen to and respect an ultimate authority is harmful.  I feel like to attack “religion” is too broad, and also too narrow.  It is too broad in that it’s difficult to evaluate all religions as they affect all societies.  It’s too narrow in that religion is not the only source of promotion of blind faith.

Attacking the belief in God is a more gray area for me personally.  In some ways, it is clear: churches promoting the belief in a God who sends people to hell, who ordered the genocide of thousands of people in ancient times, who stated that if you were raped you must marry your rapist or else be put to death – this is a huge problem.  This is a deplorable authority figure who should never be respected, much less worshiped. On the other hand, what about personal gods who accept you for who you are, who will guide you in the small ways, who ensures that there is a plan for your life?  My problem with that is that there really is no evidence for such a being (or, if there is, do you really want to be involved with a deity who only picks certain people to have happy lives, and lets other people die of cancer when they are children?).

And, how does this affect my interactions with my friends and family who believe in God?  Some of these people are people I have a lot of respect for.  My aunt who works with a Christian youth group and donates to support shelters for homeless LGBT+ youth.  My family members who are pastors in Christian churches that are welcoming and accepting, and who clearly show love and kindness to all they meet.  Even my mom, even though we have huge ideological differences, I respect that she makes time each week to volunteer at a homeless shelter for men in her community.

Where does that leave me?

I am anti-blind faith. Belief in energy, in homeopathic medicine, in an afterlife, in 7 day creationism, in souls – all of this is against current evidence, and not all of it falls under the umbrella of “religion.”

I am anti-unyielding respect for authority figures.  God, the president, policemen, parents – these people do not deserve respect just for their position, but rather for their character and capability of doing the job.  If you look at the world and evaluate how an all-powerful God is doing, you have to say there’s a lot he could do to improve conditions down here.  This could even extend to organizations, such as churches.  Churches do not deserve my respect just because they are churches.


I keep coming back to wanting to be a more loving, understanding, compassionate, and accepting person.  In my small way, I hope to make the world a better place.  I think that calling out harmful beliefs will help make the world better, but not if it’s at the expense of my close relationships.

This is why I acknowledge: religion can help with suffering.  Religious experiences, while I don’t think there is anything supernatural about them, are real human emotional experiences that matter.  Belief in god and prayer can help during the tough times.

I want to learn to acknowledge these experiences, and maybe, slowly and gently, to nudge in the direction of reason, logic, and non-supernatural solutions to life’s big emotional struggles.

There’s a time and place for the cold hard truth, but that’s not always what gets people.  In the end, acknowledgement of real experiences, validation of emotions, and gentle pushes are often what help people change their minds.

Does that make me anti-theist?  I’m not sure, and it’s not a big area of concern for me at the moment.  I think what is more important for me is to find the balance between calling out where religion and religious belief is being harmful, while also acknowledging the validity of individual’s experiences and spreading the good news that an atheist’s life can be full of comfort, happiness, joy, and rich emotional experiences.

Looking forward to January

I usually love Christmas, and December.  While I think I will enjoy the rest of the month, spending time with both sides of the family and my friends, this year I’m especially looking forward to establishing my new routine in a new place!  Unfortunately, with all the traveling and family gatherings and such, new routine won’t happen until next month.  That means January, the month I usually find dull and uninspiring, is actually a bright spot on my horizon this year.

I am also very angry all the time about everything surrounding the US election, but I don’t know how to deal with it.  I’m mostly ignoring it for now, which is not healthy or productive.  But, as I was discussing with my brother the other day, you can’t tell people how they are allowed to cope.  That includes me.  I am coping the best I know how for the moment.  I think having time and making a routine will help me figure out how to process the emotion.  And I hope to be able to move on to action.

But anyway, back to ignoring the anger and despair.

Goals for the New Year

  1. Get back into running – go to the gym 3-4 times a week, focus on getting stronger and keeping up my cardiovascular health.
  2. Figure out a page number goal for reading – instead of a number of books, I want to have a page number goal.  This will give me the flexibility to commit to longer books, or quit reading a book if I’m just not into it.  Also, I’m thinking about starting a reading blog and reviewing books, because I think that could be a nice side job for me someday, and after reading the requirements for several of these jobs, it looks like a book blog is a good way to start building a resume.
  3. Post at least once a week on this blog, and maybe on facebook – I hate facebook but it can be fun to post updates and keep my family and friends in the loop, so maybe I will do that.  But I absolutely want to post on here more often, and I’m going to begin some projects, such as writing about philosophy books, or atheist books, or Christian books that I can analyze.

Honestly, that’s all I have for now.  I may come up with more areas of focus as I really get settled here in Illinois.

I am so excited about getting back into writing and posting here, though!  And very excited to say that I will meet my goal to read 36 books this year!

Josh Harris, I wish I had dated more casually

Background: Josh Harris has been asking for stories about how his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, influenced his readers.  However, in the asking, he is wanting permission to edit the stories, possibly taking things out of context and getting to decide the impact of his book.  But I, and others like him, want control over the telling of our own stories.  Read more about it here: http://www.lifeafterikdg.com/

Josh Harris, I wish I had dated without the intention of marriage.  And I wish I had had more casual sex.

I am so happy to be married to my husband of two years.  We did not wait to have sex – we slept together after our first real date.  And we did not have the pressure of it being a relationship heading towards marriage at that point.  We weren’t even exclusively defined at that point.  The relationship blossomed naturally after that, and the level of commitment deepened as our knowledge of each other grew.  Along each step of the way, my husband and I communicated how we felt about each other and what we expected of each other.  No cookie-cutter path, no assumptions.  Just clear communication.

We had had sex with other people before knowing each other.  This has not negatively impacted our relationship – except, sometimes, in my head, due to the teachings of purity culture, and teachings from your book that I am still trying to untangle.

Growing up as an evangelical christian, I got bombarded by purity culture from many angles – youth group, Brio magazine, parents, and your book, Mr. Harris.  I learned many strange things about sex and human sexuality.  Lessons such as:

  • You give away part of yourself when you have sex with someone, and you can never get that part back.  As if having sex with a person makes you less if it is outside of marriage
  • The lines with physical closeness and boundaries are very fuzzy – is sitting close to someone ok?  Holding hands?  Touching?  Touching over clothes?  Kisses that don’t linger for too long?
  • Dating without intention to marry is wrong – you’re leading the other person on, you’re just playing with something that is meant to be taken VERY. SERIOUSLY.
  • You should be able to decide to commit the rest of your life to someone that you only know in certain lights and certain contexts (because God will magically make it work when you follow his path…).  You don’t need to live with them, to see how sexually compatible you are with them, or to have those very honest and vulnerable moments that come from being completely yourself around a person in order to decide whether or not you can be with them.  Seriously, fake-it-till-you-make-it is an excellent strategy for making marriage work…

In my naive 13-year-old head, I imagined my first kiss to be at the alter – so pure!  So holy!  So hot!  And I imagined my wedding night being full of steamy perfect sex, even though we would both be completely inexperienced at this kind of closeness with another body.

Luckily I abandoned the idea that physical purity was the holy grail by the time I was 15, but I had many weird ideas that held on for years after that, inspired by the lessons I had learned from purity culture and IKDG.

Having sex makes you lose a part of yourself.  I gave up on part of this concept.  I decided that there was nothing wrong with sex before marriage.  Sex didn’t make me dirty.  But I didn’t give up on it making you less whole, or the idea that you give part of yourself away if you have sex with someone else.  Mostly, this interfered with how I felt about anyone I was with having had sex with someone else before me.  Selfish, I know.  There was this trippy head-game: “But he’s had sex with other people.  What does he think about them?  Does he still think about her?  Does he wish he was with her?  They’re still connected in that way – is there less of his ‘heart’ for me?  Was it better with her than it is with me?”  Even though I could look back at (most of) my sexual experiences fondly and with little connection to who those people are today, I had difficulty understanding that my partner could have this perspective as well.  Now I can see it more like: I was connected with this person for a time in my life, and we shared these experiences together, and now we have both moved on.  Not to say there are no regrets or mistakes, because there are.  It’s just that I have peace with my experiences and treasure the lessons I have from them.  And I can understand that my husband probably has a similar view of his past relationships.  I also know that my husband married me for more than sex – he chose to have me as his life-partner for my sense of humor, my silliness, my kindness, my brain, and my sexuality.  I never reached this understanding with my first husband.

The lines with physical boundaries and closeness are very fuzzy.  In the version of purity culture I grew up in, kissing was actually ok… unless it became too passionate and started leading to sex.  Again, I thought I had abandoned this concept when I decided that sex before marriage was acceptable.  Except, it lead to me having an affair during my first marriage.  The lines were still fuzzy, and I didn’t realize I had been taught very bad boundaries.

The game when you were single and in purity culture was: how far is too far (for God)?  The game continued when I was in that relationship through college: how far is too far (and considered cheating)?  I fully realize and disclose that this is the part in the relationship that made me a horrible person.  I also realize that I really should have ended that relationship years before, if not just before we got married.  There was one person I didn’t have sex with but I think I cheated because we cuddled and held hands, and given the chance I would have definitely had sex with him.  But we didn’t, and the lines were blurry, so at the time I didn’t call it “cheating.”  And my partner didn’t care that I was hanging out with this single guy friend often.  So it was fine, right? (So. Wrong.)  I also did have a sexual affair with another person which ultimately lead to me ending that marriage, but that’s another story.

It’s difficult to write about this and make peace with this part in my life.  At the time I still had very bad ideas about commitment, marriage, and sex.  Combined with low self-esteem.  It doesn’t change that I was in the wrong.  To paraphrase a good friend, “When all you know is what’s wrong, you don’t even have a concept of what it means for things to be right.”  I didn’t have enough of a sense about appropriate boundaries and healthy relationships to know what “right” would look like.  The pendulum swung between “This is ok, right?  I’m fine, right?” and “I have problems in relationships and I don’t deserve to be fulfilled.”  And all the lines were fuzzy because the focus was so much on physical sex and not having it.  Purity culture didn’t actually teach me what an emotionally healthy, intimate, physical relationship looked like.  It just told me what I was NOT supposed to do.  Once I decided that sex was actually ok, I still had no foundation for what else was morally ok.  Purity culture said, “Wait to have sex until you’re married,” and everything would be fine, because God.  Purity culture did NOT teach me about how to find a fulfilling relationship, and what it felt like to be with a person who is actually a good match for you.  I had to figure that out through a variety of mistakes – including my first marriage.

Dating without intention to marry is wrong.  This is a concept I didn’t give up on until after my divorce from my first husband.  I wish I could have those college years back and get to enjoy dating without the pressure.  When I entered a relationship, the question was always, “Could I marry this person?”  That goal was in mind from the beginning, and it determined the course of the relationship.  Also, my fulfillment was less important than figuring out how that other person felt about me.  I think this has something to do with the idea that marriage means sacrificing yourself for the other person.  I knew (read: naively thought) I was ready to do that, and I was always watching for signs that the other person would do that for me.  (In some ways, I feel like during my high school dating relationships I had a better perspective – possibly because I could not get married at that time.)

I wish my adult dating relationships had been lead by a variety of different questions, such as, “How does this person make me feel about myself?”  “What am I enjoying about being with this person?”  “How is this person affecting my life overall – positively and negatively?”  After my first marriage ended, I did approach dating this way.  I just wish I had done this during college as well.

God will make your marriage work, if you have enough faith.  Though I abandoned the idea that God had one sanctioned path that you should follow to marriage (like courtship teachings), I still had the idea that two people who believed in God could make their marriage work.  Things like personality, sexual compatibility, open and honest communication.. those were all secondary to faith.  Faith was the #1 factor in making a marriage work.  But that simply isn’t true.  My first marriage was a complete failure, and it should never have happened.  But I had faith.  Growing up with teachings about being a horrible, sinful person, I thought that the problems in my marriage were my fault because I was a sinful being, and I had to keep praying and trying to make the marriage work.

Of course, this is one of those un-falsifiable statements.  A Christian could say I just didn’t have enough faith, and that’s why my first marriage failed.  And it’s true now that I don’t have any faith.

I look at my marriage now, however, where my husband and I are both atheists.  We communicate.  We connect sexually.  We are honest with each other.  We are more compatible, personality-wise.  My husband builds me up, makes me feel good about myself.  He never shames me for my emotions, or makes me feel guilty about, really, anything.  He calmly and patiently listens to me, even if I am complaining about something he has done.  This is how we make it work – with respect, communication, and love – in our faithless marriage.

While I couldn’t be happier about how things have turned out, there is a part of me that wishes that I had dated more casually before meeting my husband.  I feel like I would be able to enjoy dating, instead of going through the disaster that was my first marriage.  I could have explored different types of adult relationships more – casual hook-ups, going on fun dates or fancy dates, having the courage to stand up and say “No, this relationship isn’t what I want,” and break up with the person because there’s no expectation of marriage.  Instead of learning these lessons through an incredibly painful and humiliating experience, maybe I could have been taught better lessons about sex, love, and self-respect.

Can I get those years back?  No.  Can I try to share my story to hopefully influence other people, and maybe one day be able to talk about these kinds of things with my nieces and nephews to help them make better choices about relationships?  I will try.


October Update

Yesterday I got to take a hike with one of my closest friends.  We have gotten together once a month to keep each other on track regarding goals and general direction for the year.

I noticed over the year that, of course, I lost some focus on my New Year Resolutions.  I know this is common, but I still enjoy making them every January.  Having these resolutions and meetings helped string together the months, give me overarching goals that I can look back on.  Meeting with my friend each month seemed to make a difference in keeping my resolutions in my consciousness, though.

I chose 4 areas this year to focus on: eating and fitness, reading, career, and clutter.  I feel good about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown in all of these areas.

In clutter, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up which I feel helped me learn how to get rid of stuff as well as how to choose new purchases that I actually enjoy – not just buy things that are on sale because they are on sale, or get something because I think it will be useful, or because I’m too impatient to seek out what I’m really wanting or needing.

In eating, I’m learning more about how to accept my weight, and learning that food is food.  Food isn’t “good” or “bad,” and I am not “good” or “bad” for eating certain types of food.  I feel like I’m having less anxiety regarding food, and learning a more balanced approach to eating.  And in fitness, I’ve kept up the ability to run a mile, and am ever-so-slowly getting closer to the 10-minute-mile goal.  The big triumph for me this year has been the fact that I want to be active now.  If I don’t go to the gym in a few days, I go to the gym out of desire.  That’s so different from the dread, making myself get into my gym clothes and go.  I never really believed that I would ever want to go run a mile.

In reading, I’ve read 28 out of 36 books this year, so I am on track!  I love variety in reading and I’ve read novels, short story collections, poetry, memoirs, essays, and general nonfiction.  The problem I have with a book goal is that I tend to pick books under 500 pages because I have the pressure to meet the number of books… my husband suggested a page number goal, and I think I’m going to go with that next year.  I’m going to look at goodreads and add up the number of pages I’ve read this year to make a goal for next year.  That will give me flexibility in different ways.  1. I can choose to stop reading a book if I’m not enjoying it (or choose to push through) and count the pages towards my total, and 2. I can choose 800-900 page books if I want!!

Career: I’ve changed jobs and decided that I want to apply to Ph.D. programs.  Which is a huge decision, but it’s something I’ve always toyed with.  After starting a new job working from home, I’m realizing that I like this job better, but it’s still not where my passion is.  Higher education and research are more appealing to me, and that’s the direction I want to go in.

I have some areas I’ve been thinking about for next year.

  • I’m always reading, so I’m going to keep a reading goal but modify it to page numbers instead.
  • Meditation – something that’s always been in the back of my mind as a thing I’d like to do regularly, but I’ve never dedicated myself to that goal.  I haven’t decided yet – 10 minutes a day?  Every Sunday?  I’m not sure what I want to do with this goal yet.
  • Personal blogging – this blog is something I just started, and it’s been easy to watch the months go by without a post.  Especially with many life changes, like starting a new job and moving, I’ve put it on the back-burner.  I think I do want to do a reading review, because I enjoy when others do this and think it’d be good for me on my journey as an atheist.  So… I might make a goal of reading through and blogging the Bible, for instance (though Neil Carter has been doing an amazing job of that on his blog).  Or Redeeming Love (Though Samantha Field is doing an amazing review of that too!).  Even if it’s redundant, though, if I feel like it would be good for my emotional and mental health and growth, I want to do it.
  • Continue eating/fitness goals, maybe make some measurable goals like “run 2 miles twice a week” etc…
  • Apply to Ph.D. programs, see what happens

Obviously there are still 2 more months in the year, but it’s nice to have some direction about what goals I might want to make, instead of it, suddenly, being December 31 and I’m thinking, “What do I want my resolutions to be?”

What about you?  Do you make yearly goals?  What do you think about New Years Resolutions?  In what areas of life do you want to see change and growth?

Music for my godless soul

I’ve always been a fan of music that affects me emotionally, and lyrics are generally the thing that gets me.  Of course, powerful chord changes or a strong vocal line are excellent for causing strong emotions, but for me it’s being able to relate to the words.

So, I thought I’d do a fun post and list a few songs that I enjoy – some because I’m an atheist, and some because I’m just me 🙂

In no particular order:

1. “Unbelievers” by Vampire Weekend.  I like this song sort-of sarcastically.  The rest of this album (Modern Vampires of the City) gets a little too religious for me to relate to – or rather, I relate to it with my past self, and that feeling isn’t too pleasant as the wounds are still fresh.  But Unbelievers is a great song to get me feeling like, “I don’t believe what you wanted me to, and I don’t believe in your hell!”

We know the fire awaits unbelievers, all of the sinners the same.  Girl, you and I will die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train.

2. “Born to Die” by Lana del Rey.  Lana del Rey really had to grow on me, but now I’m hooked.  “Born to Die” in particular is great because I like songs that focus on mortality.  (I realize as I’m writing this that I don’t know for sure if she’s talking about death or death of a relationship in a more metaphorical sense.  But I like to think about it as physical death).  I used to fear death when I felt like my entrance into heaven wasn’t guaranteed and hell was real.  Now death is not so uncertain, and I think I’ll just become unconscious, which is not scary and actually brings me a lot of peace.

Choose your last words, this is the last time, ’cause you and I, we were born to die.

3. “Do You Realize??” by the Flaming Lips.  What a fantastic song, especially for when you want to feel awe and wonder at the world without any religious metaphors!  My husband introduced me to this song and I’ve been enamored ever since.  We had it on our playlist at our wedding – at first my husband was hesitant to put this on the list, but I argued that it’s perfect because it’s all about enjoying everything while it’s here, and it won’t be forever.

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face?  Do you realize we’re floating in space?

4. “Gypsy” by Lady Gaga.  This song appeals to my sense of wanderlust.  I want to travel everywhere!  I want someone to see the world with me!  I want to be someone’s gypsy princess and chase the sunset!  Just a good song for feeling upbeat about life’s opportunities… and I love Lady Gaga anyway.

I don’t wanna be alone forever.  Maybe we could see the world together…

5. “Between Two Lungs” by Florence + the Machine.  I don’t love cheesy love songs.  I do like interesting love songs.  And I love Florence + the Machine, for their interesting lyrics, amazing metaphors, and musicality.  This song in particular, the beginning notes remind me of a heart beat, and the focus on breath is fresh and satisfying.  Warms my metaphorical soul when I’m in a good mood.

Each breath screaming, “We are all too young to die.”

What are some of your favorite songs?  Are you a fan of lyrics, beat, popularity, melody, or is there some other aspect of songs that makes them appealing?


Just wanted to write a quick post since I noticed I didn’t write anything for the month of June!

Sometimes the distractions of life are a good thing.  It was good for me to be more present with family and friends in real life, spending hours by the pool on these hot summer days and taking a break from reading and writing as much.

In the past couple of months, I got a new job where I will be able to work from home.  This is a dream for me and I’m very excited about starting this next chapter in August.

My husband and I will hopefully be moving, and the wonders of technology make it possible for me to take my job with me.

And I’ve been obsessively watching Orange is the New Black.

I have several drafts in my box so I’m hoping to jump on those soon.  After all the life transitions happen I’m hoping to get back to writing more here!

Grief for a Best Friend

Every day on my drive home from work, I pass close to your house, close to the high school we attended together – the place where we became best friends.

Often on this drive scenes from our friendship flit through my brain.  I see us in your car laughing with total teenage silliness.  I see us in your room studying physics and eating popcorn and Doritos.  “The heat from the popcorn melts the cheese a little bit,” you explained.  I see your face, framed by your hijab or by your silky, shiny brown hair.  I see you petting my dog at my parents’ house, even though you didn’t always care for dogs.  “She’s such a polite dog,” you would say.

(How do you capture a friendship so that it doesn’t fade?  I can make a list: she loved my handwriting, I loved her laugh.  She loved my poems.  I, like everyone else, was drawn by her magnetic personality, jealous of the way people admired her, but mostly just so honored that she chose me as one of her best friends.  She had a way of making me feel how important I was to her.)

I get the impulse to call you.  Why can’t my brain understand that I can never call you again?

I have dreams where you come back from the dead.  I hear your voice when listening to certain songs.  Is this what it means to be haunted?

(Maybe I can capture it with a photo album.  Paste a picture here.  Write a quote here.  But the sentiments seem shallow and the quotes don’t reflect the depth of meaning without the context of the entire friendship).

In 5 years, my life has changed dramatically.  I got divorced and got married again.  I started my real life grown-up career.  I’m researching Ph. D. programs.  But I can’t talk to you about these decisions, these changes.  I have emotions I want you to help me process, but you can’t.  I want your advice, and you have no more to give.

We didn’t talk with each other constantly, and we didn’t need to.  It’s not that I wish we had.  It was the kind of friendship that we knew would go on for the long run.  The kind where you pick up the phone and call me, no matter how long it had been, and the friendship is always the same, if not growing with time.

I don’t think I even have your old number saved in my phone anymore.  Who has it now?

(How do you capture conversations?  We talked about our parents.  We talked about the expectations put on us.  We talked about boys.  We talked about career, school, ambition.  We talked about relationships, friendships or romance, the different roles people play in a life.  We talked about my divorce, my life being shaken.  We talked about how life can be so hard sometimes.  But so many words are lost, and though I can still hear her voice, it does fade with time.

And I continue to grow, but she’s left behind at 23.)

I’m not crying all the time anymore; that only lasted a few months.  I’m not carrying around the hurt, a black tightness in my chest which left me feeling heavy and hollow.  The experience of grief isn’t constant sadness.  It can be longing, sorrow, disorientation.  Confusion and non-acceptance, needing to replay the events and understand that they were real.  There I am, at the hospital after you died.  I hugged your cousin and a friend and then we left, without words, because there was nothing else to do.  There I am, at the funeral, needing a man to walk up to the graveside with me due to cultural tradition.  There I am, hugging that man, a friend I was in love with who was in love with you, sobbing at your graveside.  Laying on a couch next to your sister.  Pretending like my presence at your family’s house was at all a comfort to anyone.  But it was a comfort to me.

“Why hasn’t it gotten better?”  I asked my husband.

“Because she still hasn’t come back.”

(A timeline?  Here’s when we met.  Here’s when we worked on a project together and she admired my handwriting.  Here’s when we started studying together.  Here’s when I first went to her house, first saw her without a hijab.  Here’s me attending an “Arab girl party” as they called it, and feeling very honored by the inclusion.  Here’s when we discovered how similar our home-lives were, our relationships with our parents, how her family’s Islam and my family’s Christianity lined up at x, y, z.  And on and on until our lasts texts of “I love you!” just a few days before she died.  The end of a friendship, still uncaptured.)