Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

As my Thanksgiving present to you, stand in awe of what can be made with leftover pumpkin! STAND IN AWE, I SAID!!

Pumpkin Socca

Monday, November 21, 2011

Un-Theological Talk About the Nativity Fast

I don't follow Orthodox blogs because everyone seems so much Orthodox-smarter than I am. I'm definitely a beginner, even after being in the Church nearly five years. I think I'm a bit unique in that my path to the Church was much more emotional than intellectual. It made no difference to me that the way we worship in the Orthodox Church is the same way Christians worshipped after Pentecost--what mattered was that when I told Chris, "I don't know how much longer I can pretend that I'm not going to convert," I was washed over with the feeling of, "YES! You've made the right decision!" It still doesn't matter to me that it's the same way of worshipping--it's a comfort, and I don't make an idol out of it.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about my favorite fast, the Nativity Fast--the 40 days leading up to the Nativity of Christ (Christmas). When I was growing up as an Episcopalian, Advent had to be my favorite season. There was such wonderful anticipation of something great about to happen, and really there was: We were going to celebrate the fact that God became man for our sake. It's a magnificent miracle, one worthy of lighting the Advent wreath, of hanging fresh greens from the rafters until the smell made the church positively bucolic (you'd think we were out in a forest instead of the middle of town), of such beautiful hymns as "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel". In children's choir, we asked our director why we didn't sing Christmas songs leading up to Christmas. The answer was simple: It wasn't time yet.

Fast forward to high school, when our Sunday school teacher Elaine presented us with the idea that Advent was a time like Lent, and asked us to give up something for the season. I gave up "Dragon Ball Z" (I've always been an anime nerd--an otaku, if you will), and that lasted about a week. (Saying it was a week may be quite generous.) I just didn't associate the depravation of giving something up (no matter how minute) with the spiritual gluttony of the time. This was a wonderful season of the Church--how could I rearrange my life around that?

Fast forward again to the days of Orthodoxy. What used to be depravation is now discipline: Take your mind off of food, off television commercials, off the daily distractions that keep us from a good spiritual life, and instead focus on THE ONE THING NEEDFUL. (I highlight that because it's a phrase that runs through my mind a lot.) Starting November 15th, Orthodox Christians begin a fast from meat, dairy, eggs, oil, and alcohol in order to prepare for the coming miracle of Christ's birth. Ah ha, astute readers of the blog already notice a problem! Most vegans get asked the question, "Where do you get your protein?" The question Chris and I get the most is, "How do you fast?" Yes, we're meatless, eggless, and dairyless all the time, but fasting is about more than what you eat. Chris and I strive to pray more, to cut out things like television and valuable time with the Wii, and like everyone else we cut out oil and alcohol. When we were out west in Marfa, our priest Father John was diagnosed with diabetes and had to eat meat during Lent. He said that it's hard to remember that there are other parts to the fast like praying more, and that's stuck with me as I converted from omnivore to herbivore. In the omnivore days, I was stuck with the common problem of focusing on diet only and forgetting the rest. Now I can focus on other things.

But enough of this blather--how does this relate to Advent?! My love for Advent as a child and young adult has translated into my love for the Nativity Fast. Christmas is like a warm fire in a cold season, and the fast is us making that journey towards it. It's strange: When you become Orthodox, every act you do is part of the church. There is no personal life versus church life--it's all life. Everything you put in your mouth, every time you pray, every room in your house that does or doesn't have an icon--all that is Church. To me, even letting the dogs out for their late-morning romp is a spiritual act. I am a part of something huge at all times, no matter what I'm doing. Had I known this when I was Episcopalian, then giving up a TV show during Advent would have made perfect sense. How much more would the hanging of the greens meant to me if my whole life had been focused on it? Would the pine boughs have smelled sweeter?

Like I said, this is un-theological and highly emotional drivel. That's just how I am. And frankly, there needs to be more in the Orthodox conversation than patristics or graphs tracing all of Christianity back to Orthodoxy. As Orthodox Christians we must look to our beautiful heritage, but can we not also ask, "How am I now?" How am I now? I'm suffering the consequences of having no prayer life, I'm weakened by a frustrating diet that's taken away everything I loved, I'm struggling to impress other people who don't matter, but I've got enough in me to say during prayer, "God is the one thing needful." And suddenly nothing else matters.

Have a blessed Nativity Fast, and may it be fruitful for you.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I hope at least one person enjoys the randomness of this post.

Last night, two songs were duking it out for supremacy in my head (read: which song would be in my head for all of eternity). The first was shamelessly embarrassing.

The second was infinitely catchier, yet somehow seemed to be losing the battle.

So ... what won?

I hate my life. :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Mental Illness, Web Comics, and Gory Anime

It's been about half a year since I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Right now that's just like, "Whatevs." I've only dealt with mild spells of depression for a while now, which is wonderful. I owe a lot to my psychiatrist and my psychologist-in-training (a doctoral student at UNT), and I realize now that both are and have been instrumental in my recovery. Thanks, Dr. Hamilton and Greg.

Anyway, when I was depressed actively, I would often find "explanations" of depression that hit home. Usually I'd share them on Facebook or something to help explain what was going on in my little brain and perhaps help someone who didn't realize they were going through the same thing. One such example (which I naturally can't find) is from Seaneen Molloy's blog  Mentally Interesting: It was a comic about the little depression man who lives in your head and reinterprets everything people say negatively. Case in point, "Hi, how are you?" is reinterpreted as, "Why are you still alive?" It sounds extreme, but you have no idea how much truth there is in this. Seaneen Molloy is important to me. Shortly after I realized something was wrong with me, she was on the Ouch! podcast talking about her battle with bipolar I disorder. I clearly remember her saying that it takes time to get the right meds and treatment plan in order, and I remember crying when she said that. It was just the thing I needed to hear when I began this long journey ... and she was right. I've been on a good mix of meds for a year or more, but things were dicey until then. Again, thanks Dr. Hamilton.

Onward. I don't feel the same acute familiarity I felt when reading something when I was depressed, but I still know a good example when I see it. Enter Hyperbole and a Half. I got back from tending to my mother, and Allie Brosh published an entry in her web comic that took me by surprise: "Adventures in Depression." (I will now allow you time off from the Loquat to read this comic. It's essential for understanding the rest of my own blog.) I'd gone through some minor though annoying depression while I was helping my mother, so my own adventures in depression were fresh in my mind. Her words hit on an essential truth of depression: "Essentially, I was being robbed of my right to feel self pity, which is the only redeeming part of sadness." I shared it on Facebook, but what I said was that I didn't ever reach the point she reached in the video store. 

Turns out I was wrong. Enter Claymore:

Seriously, I could listen to this song all day. In fact, I have been. I listened to it while I ordered the Claymore manga, which is something I've never done before nor ever wanted to do before. Yes, I'm a loser. 

I decided for Halloween that my husband and I should hide in the dark and watch Claymore for some good gory fun. Then I thought about how I came to watch Claymore in the first place. I'm prone to bouts of insomnia, so one sleepless night during spring I curled up on the couch and watched Claymore until Chris got up at 6:00. The series is 26 episodes long--I got through 13 in one night. What was so intriguing about it? It was rated TV-MA. It was labelled "Anime Horror." And only on Halloween did it click. 

I, like Allie Brosh, vegged out in front of the TV watching some scary (and occasionally gut-wrenching) stuff. I felt the immunity of depression. Nothing was too scary. Nothing was too gory. I was impenetrable. 

Nowadays, I'm just obsessed with Claymore. This is strange because, frankly, it isn't very good. But it's engrossing. And now I know it's part of the story of being mentally ill. So now this anime horror series has meaning to me. 

Mental illness is a long journey. Take whatever comes your way as a gift. Even mediocre anime.